Monday, February 20, 2006

Intelligent Design?

I should first make it clear that this is emphatically not an area of speciality. My level of scientific knowledge is decidedly low - when I did unexpectedly well in my Physics GCSE it caused my teacher to publicly disavow the credability and value of the exam - but even so...

There is very little verifiable evidence that supports the idea of an intelligent designer. Most of its arguments are tendentious or misleading and many of its proponents are creationists, in effect or in fact. Darwin's theory of evolution has compelling evidence to back it up, persuasive arguments in its favour and, helpfully, faces most of its opposition from loonies.

BUT, the key demand of the Intelligent Designers appears not to be that ID and Darwinism are given equal weight in the curriculum, but that Darwinism not be taught as established fact, but as a persuasive but unverified theory. Now, the theory of evolution is just that: a theory. It cannot be definitively proved as a hypothesis and there are, apparently, certain elements of modern science that sit unhappily with pure Darwinism.

In this context, it is clear that Darwinism isn't, and isn't supposed to be, gospel (so to speak). It should be the duty of every good teacher, from a very early level, to teach pupils how to question concepts, how to recognise the flaws in received wisdom, how to challenge perceived truth. It is a widespread complaint of University tutors (and here I can speak with a little more authority) that increasingly students want to know what the answer is - not seeming to realise that the key role of a tutor is to provide guidance as to what the question is, allowing the student to find out the answer themselves.

In this context, provided that it is taught well, allowing teachers to point out to students that there is an argument to be made on evolution should allow students to look at the data, look at the relative strengths of argument and make up their own minds. Or is that completely unrealistic?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every scientific theory is just that, a theory - just as it's a scientific 'theory' that the earth goes round the sun. It doesn't mean that it hasn't been proven beyond reasonable doubt. A scientific theory is a disprovable hypothesis which is tested against evidence, and all the evidence suggests that evolution through natural selection explains the development of life on earth.

Intelligent design shouldn't be taught in science classes because it's not science. It's not a disprovable hypothesis and has no base in evidence. It simply says that the answer to every question to which we don't yet know the answer is 'god did it' - merely replacing one mystery with an even bigger one. One might as well teach alchemy alongside chemistry or astrology alongside astronomy. The answer to unanswered questions lies in more science, not abandoning it for mysticism.

The point about science classes is that they should teach people how to think using the scientific method of testing ideas against evidence. Intelligent design assumes the answer beforehand and seeks to find evidence to back up prejudged claims. It's simply creationism with the word 'god' taken out and has no place in the classroom.

Science is always evolving, new things are discovered all the time and doubtless these will change our understanding of evolution in the future, but this shows the strength of science in self correcting its mistakes and not its weakness in not knowing everything. Intelligent design has no part to play in this process.

Just think about the numbers for a moment. The universe is perhaps 14 billion years old, there's hundreds of billions of galaxies each with hundreds of billions of stars, while the earth is about 5 billion years ago and has had life for three and a half billion years. Homo sapiens, just the latest of a big family of hominids, has been around 250,000 years tops. If one was designing the universe to produce us, wouldn't one do it in a rather more efficient way?

1:44 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

I do, of course, agree with this, and tried to make it clear that I find the idea of Intelligent Design wholly unconvincing, if not entirely without merit. My point was that many of the more vociferous supporters of Darwinism seem to want it to be taught as unchallengeable fact. I'm not making an argument for ID to be taught in schools - far from it - but against the idea that the point of school is to provide truths set in concrete rather than the tools with which to learn.

12:12 pm  

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