Thursday, November 10, 2005

Darwin Was Right

The citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania elected a new Board of Education on Tuesday. Dover, PA has been in the news lately because the former school board has made the teaching of "Intelligent Design" mandatory in high school science classes. Several parents brought suit against that school board, and the suit is currently being tried in court.

In the meantime, a bi-partisan group of eight people ran for the Board of Education solely on their opposition to the teaching of "Intelligent Design". Although the election was close, all eight people were elected to the board.

Clearly, the people of Dover have no desire to be the site of the 21st century's version of the "Scopes Trial". Most residents refused to answer reporters' questions following the election. But the vote makes clear that the majority of that town are too intelligent to allow creationism to be passed off as an alternate theory to evolution.

The proponents of "Intelligent Design" have claimed it should be taught as an alternate theory to evolution. After all, evolution is "only" a theory.

One of the things science class is supposed to teach a high school student is the scientific method. This method begins with observation; the scientist observes a phenomenon, an apple falling, for example. The scientist develops a theory that explains the phenomenon, then tests that theory. If the theory seems to explain the phenomenon, the scientist presents his or her work to a group of peers. These peers repeat his or her tests, and possibly develop alternate experiments to test the theory. If the theory, or hypothesis, survives these tests, it is considered "proven', to an extent.

Science is less concerned with what is "real" than with finding the best explanations using the best tools at human's disposal. Because our understanding and our tools are always progressing, it is possible that a theory which once found favor is overturned, or a superior theory is developed.

"Reality" and "truth" are concepts for philosopy class, or your favored religious institution.

The theory of evolution has itself evolved. What began with Darwin's Origin of Species has grown more complex and exacting with advances in archeology, DNA research, and so on. Few scientists would claim "evolution" as an absolute; many would agree there are questions that remain to be answered. But evolution remains the best scientific explanation available.

"Intelligent Design" posits two primary responses to the theory of evolution: 1) there are gaps in the theory; and 2) the design is so complex, there must have been a designer. In other words, they would throw out the whole of evolution because it does not address 100% of creation. They would throw out the whole theory, for example, because of inconsistencies in the fossil record.

Now, in order to be a scientific theory, "Intelligent Design" would need to be testable. How does one test for a designer? To say the design "proves" a designer is a circular argument that would not survive a high school debate contest. Since it is not testable, it is not a theory, and cannot be legitimately proposed as an "alternate theory" to evolution.

Intelligent Design may be a fit topic for a philosophy or logic class. But it is not science. The people of Dover, PA understood that, and voted accordingly.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Kansas, nor for an Oklahoma legislator who plans to propose "Intelligent Design" legislation early next year.

We can only hope that the majority of voters will select to oppose those who support these measures.

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