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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Making New Jersey Stupid in the Name of the Lord

A friend sent a notice of this story from the Star Ledger yesterday. I have to admit that my first tendency was to roll my eyes at the incredible stupidity of people to try and push things that they claim to have no stake in. After I called several people in the story a liar, I looked a bit deeper at the issue.

I've already looked at the "discussion" on "Intelligent Design" and how its proponents like to lie (or maybe they prefer to be purposely ill informed) about evolution. I'll try not to rehash old territory too much here.

First, the liars exposed:

Annie Imbesi - the woman who is pushing this issue, but claims that her aim is scientific, not religious. Right. Her claim is that "Darwin's theory is contested by many people in the scientific community". Sure it is. Actually, Darwin's theory isn't even taught. Evolutionists consider themselves to be "neo-Darwinians" because they have plugged several problems that Darwin foresaw in his theories.

As for the "scientific community" that opposes evolution, they do so on very unscientific grounds. For example, John Locke likes to quote Michael Denton that the "missing link" has yet to be found. This is simply a stupid argument. The fact is that there is not a single "missing link" theorized by evolution, but an infinite number of them. To dispel this critique would require a complete fossil of every creature that has ever lived. That is simply not possible. One of the basis of scientific theories is that they have to be falsifiable - they have to be able to be proven false. This applies to objections to scientific theories as well. Since it is not possible to have every single creature saved in perfect fossilized remains, Locke's reliance on Denton is not a scietific objection at all.

His contention that "the more we dig, the more we keep finding the same forms over and over again, never the intermediates" is patently false. For his statement to be true, we would have exactly two specimens of humanoids - one very ancient and one modern. There are dozens of intermediates that have been dated sequentially. Here, Locke is simply lying.

His contention that a computer program has disproven evolution is also weak. A computer program can be made to say anything the designer wants it to say. You can make a program that predicts birds will swim and fish will fly, but that doesn't make it so. If you consider a dog's tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it so. Calling a tail a leg a scientific grounds for disagreement doesn't make it so, either.

There are similar problems with the discussion Darwin's Black Box. How, it asks, is half a wing useful? No where in any evolutionary text does it theorize that half a wing was ever developed. A bird that developed half a wing would die and that change would not have survived. It's a question that an eighth grade science student can refute - if they are actually taught what evolution says and what it does not.

Locke concludes by comparing Newton with Darwin and throwing in Sir Karl Popper. Newton's theories of gravitation, you see, were overthrown by Einstein and Newton's gravitational equation was discarded. But, there is significant information left out of that. You see, Newton knew he was wrong. He didn't know why his calculations weren't correct, but he did predict that someone else would improve on his theory based on inaccuracies. So did Darwin. The exact weaknesses predicted by Darwin have been explored, greater evidence has been found, and the theory strengthened (not weakened as Locke claims) by new evidence. This is exactly what Popper said about how science should proceed.

So, if Ms. Imbesi is to be taken seriously, the best we can teach is that some scientists refuse to believe their own science and are willing to turn off their brains to do so. This is hardly, in my view, what we need to do in science classes.

Ms. Imbesi is simply lying about not wanting faith-based explanations to be taught. She admits to using the Discovery Institute as a resource to come to her conclusion that evolution is wrong. Folks, the Discovery Institution is a religious organization dedicated to putting creationism into public school curriculum in some form or other.

For example, the Discovery Institute says "its work includes a belief in God-given reason and the permanency of human nature; the principles of representative democracy and public service expounded by the American Founders; free market economics domestically and internationally; the social requirement to balance personal liberty with responsibility; the spirit of voluntarism crucial to civil society; the continuing validity of American international leadership; and the potential of science and technology to promote an improved future for individuals, families and communities". This is what I teach my students to read as a "values laden statement" and indicative of institutional bias.

"a belief in God-given reason" states openly that it is religiously based and the "permanency of human nature" indicates that it is inherently against evolution. You should expect as much "fair and balanced" reporting of this issue as you do from FOX NEWS - which is to say none. What the Discovery Institute is is an organization dedicated to a fundamentalist view of Christian America - whether such a history exists or not (it generally doesn't). Their goals are lies because their whole organization is built upon a lie that was built upon yet another lie.

The President of the Institute is not even a scientist - he's a specialist in public policy development. One VP is a co-founder of Stewardship Partners and one is a lawyer and software design manager. Only one of the four principles has any scientific credentials at all. Yet his credentials are limited to his dissertation on the history of creational biology and a stint as a geophysicist - so his "scientific credentials" are limited to, effectively, a history of disputed theories of creation and a rock collector. Rather than publishing for academic presses (where his blindness to real scientific theory would be exposed) he prefers to write for the Wall Street Journal and the National Review - neither of which is particularly well-known for rigorous scientific review of material.

The problem is that Social Conservatives - Republivangelicals who are intent on mixing church and state in all its myriad forms - have created a false credentialling system so that their points-of-view can take on a thin veneer of academia. For the person who is only vaguely aware of the issues, it becomes a competition of Ph.D.'s and the result is a push - let's teach both so we don't do the wrong thing.

But teaching anything that is not science as science is inherently the wrong thing. Intelligent Design does not hold up to any criterion of a scientific theory. It is untestable, it makes no predictions, and it is not based on any observable occurence. It holds its own truth - it creates its own truth.

ID is a creational response to the hard science of evolutionary biology and paleontology. It is an attempt to get creationism into schools by creating a false sense of science around it. It is pseudo-science that cannot be argued on scientific grounds. If you want to believe it, that's fine. However, you can't say it's science and insist that it should be taught in science class. Doing so is, at best, stupid and at worst dis-honest.

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