Tom Gilson

Evolution education is a ‘must’ says coalition of scientific and teaching organizations

Here we go again:

According to an article appearing in the January 2008 issue of The FASEB Journal, the introduction of “non-science,” such as creationism and intelligent design, into science education will undermine the fundamentals of science education. Some of these fundamentals include using the scientific method, understanding how to reach scientific consensus, and distinguishing between scientific and nonscientific explanations of natural phenomena.

Let’s say it again:

  • No credible Intelligent Design advocate is calling for anyone to stop teaching evolution.
  • ID advocates want more of evolution taught, not less; the inclusion of scientifically acknowledged difficulties in the theory. This is not the same as introducing ID.
  • “How to reach scientific consensus.” Well, in addition to the time-tested method of coming to agreement over time on clearly supported theory, there’s also chasing dissent out of the academy, and the No True Scotsman method (see also here).
  • “Distinguishing between scientific and nonscientific explanations.” How about true versus false explanations–or logical versus illogical explanations? Because “scientific versus non-scientific” seriously begs the question of origins, when “scientific” admits only naturalistic causes, as I’m quite sure this group believes.

I would happily admit “scientific vs. non-scientific” if “scientific” were properly defined as being just one of the many valid routes to genuine knowledge–immensely useful in its proper sphere, but not unlimited in its scope and power. That, by the way, would also go a long way toward resolving that other straw man in this short quote: the “non-scientific” epithet applied to ID.

The coalition of scientific organizations mentioned in the articles headlines includes 17 different groups. Among them are the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Physics, and the National Science Teachers Association.

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15 thoughts on “Evolution education is a ‘must’ says coalition of scientific and teaching organizations

  1. Tom,

    You know I’m going to answer these every time. 🙂

    ID advocates want more of evolution taught, not less; the inclusion of scientifically acknowledged difficulties in the theory. This is not the same as introducing ID.

    The difficulties in evolutionary biology are like the difficulties in gravitational physics. But we don’t go teaching high school students that gravitation is “just a theory” because we haven’t been able to quantize gravity yet.

    Like gravity, NDE is a verified fact. We don’t know every detail, but that doesn’t change the fact that the theory is verified (via common descent) in the same way that gravitation is verified. Just because we don’t understand quantum gravity (if there is such a thing) doesn’t mean that we lose our ability to explain planetary orbits. And so it is with NDE.

    ID does not predict common descent, evolution does. There are many more ways of doing design without common descent than with common descent. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that design is extraordinarily unlikely. ID is dead until it can produce evidence, and it has nothing.

    Folks who don’t get this deserve to be hounded out of academy (if they’re in a science department, anyway). I’ll fetch the hounds personally.

    Because “scientific versus non-scientific” seriously begs the question of origins, when “scientific” admits only naturalistic causes, as I’m quite sure this group believes.

    By my personal, unusual definition of naturalism, maybe, but not by your own definition of what is naturalistic. God could reveal himself scientifically if he wanted to. In my book, “scientific” begs the question against non-physical forces that conspire to stubbornly hide in personal bias. And, IMO, I would rather be committed to truth over personal bias, than believe in a conspiracy theory that allows God to exist in the shadows.

  2. Sorry, but I just can’t accept that “The difficulties in evolutionary biology are like the difficulties in gravitational physics.” Much deeper, much more profound.

    ID does not predict common descent, evolution does. There are many more ways of doing design without common descent than with common descent. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that design is extraordinarily unlikely. ID is dead until it can produce evidence, and it has nothing.

    Has nothing? Not so, but I won’t belabor it again. I’ll just drop the assertion here, as you did, so that we make an even exchange.

    But I will say that we’re hardly “forced to conclude that design is extraordinarily unlikely,” when design is the only thing we see in every other activity that produces complex information.

    God could reveal himself scientifically if he wanted to. In my book, “scientific” begs the question against non-physical forces that conspire to stubbornly hide in personal bias.

    It begs the question. I’m glad you agree. When “scientific” means both:
    1. Admitting only natural explanations of anything, and
    2. The only source of truth

    then “scientific” begs the question by deciding in advance that God could not have created anything. These are the presuppositions against which I will always stand, for they are unsupportable.

  3. DL:

    But we don’t go teaching high school students that gravitation is “just a theory” because we haven’t been able to quantize gravity yet.

    It’s not gravitation that’s in question. It’s not evolution that’s in question. It’s how gravitation came to be what it is, and how evolution came to be what it is.

    ID does not predict common descent, evolution does.

    It has nothing to say about it from what I understand. I assume you have no problem accepting the fact that evolution does not predict the first life form, while OOL theories do (in theory)?

    ID is dead until it can produce evidence, and it has nothing.

    I don’t think it has nothing. It’s working from the same pile of evidence that evolution and OOL theories are working from. Remember, evolution is not necessarily in question here. The question is how evolution came to be what it is.

  4. The OOL theories try to predict the first life form, right? Not saying they do now, just that they are working on it. I modified my comment above to include “in theory”.

  5. Tom,

    But I will say that we’re hardly “forced to conclude that design is extraordinarily unlikely,” when design is the only thing we see in every other activity that produces complex information.

    This is incorrect. It was Darwin’s most profound discovery that nature can invent through variation and natural selection.

    Normally, when we humans invent, we
    1) envision the solved problem,
    2) combine existing knowledge/discoveries with random variations in new configurations,
    3) test the new configurations, and
    4) maintain successful variations.

    Darwin discovered that (1) is superfluous. Nature already has (2) and (3). Nature also has (4) in the sense that the goal is survival, and “recognition” of a successful solution is automatic.

    This technique is used in genetic algorithms. Every time I bring this up to the ID crowd, they argue that every useful genetic programming system was set up by a designer. However, they completely miss the point that GP proves that a completely physical system can “design” all by itself. Typically, the fitness function is carefully chosen by a human designer because only certain measures of fitness are useful to us. However, any old fitness function creates complexity, not just the fitness functions we find useful.

  6. Darwin discovered that (1) is superfluous. Nature already has (2) and (3). Nature also has (4) in the sense that the goal is survival, and “recognition” of a successful solution is automatic.

    From what you have here, nature can produce successful variations of anything. Question begging? Yes.

  7. The New Year starts as a festival of assertion and opinion.
    NDE is not a fact.
    Darwin did not discover anything(he misapplied a faulty analogy).
    GAs prove nothing about nature and its capabilities .
    Universal common descent is not proven.
    Design may or may not necessarily entail common descent.
    Assertions are not answers.

    DL (not a biologist and admittedly inexpert in such fields), don’t you have your own blog and your own audience to soap-box your opinions, assertions and feelings?

  8. Steve,

    It’s not gravitation that’s in question. It’s not evolution that’s in question. It’s how gravitation came to be what it is, and how evolution came to be what it is.

    There’s little (if any) scientific consensus on the answers to those questions, so there’s nothing to say about it in science class. The purpose of science class is to teach established scientific theory.

    ID does not predict common descent, evolution does.

    It has nothing to say about it from what I understand. I assume you have no problem accepting the fact that evolution does not predict the first life form, while OOL theories do (in theory)?

    ID has a lot to say about common descent because common descent is a design decision. There are very few instances of human design that use common descent. Domestication of plants and animals is the exception, and even then we use breeding and hybridization because we cannot design life from scratch.

    OOL is not necessarily part of evolution because primordial soup may not have had the prerequisites for evolution (although I suspect it did in some imperfect form). The assumption of NDE does not carry back to OOL because NDE does not assume that our present state was envisioned ahead of time. ID does carry back because it does assume the present was envisioned by a designer from the beginning.

  9. dl,

    But I will say that we’re hardly “forced to conclude that design is extraordinarily unlikely,” when design is the only thing we see in every other activity that produces complex information.

    This is incorrect. It was Darwin’s most profound discovery that nature can invent through variation and natural selection.

    Wow! Are you saying it’s incorrect that every other activity we know of that produces complex information comes from design? Can you show me the example? Note that “other” means “other than putatively evolved biological systems,” since of course that was the reference in the first place.

    It’s not incorrect, in other words. The only possible exception is putatively evolved biological systems, the “other than” category. GAs are most definitely not analogous.

    So it seems to me this statement of yours is overstated to say the least, because there is an alternative statement that carries as much force, if not more:

    There are many more ways of doing design without common descent than with common descent. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that design is extraordinarily unlikely.

    Here’s the alternative statement:

    There are many more ways of accomplishing design with intelligence than without. Therefore, we are forced to conclude that design without intelligence is extraordinarily unlikely.

    Any probabilistic analysis you could apply in favor of your statement would also apply in favor of mine.

  10. Very few instances of design utilizing common descent?
    While it is true that design need not utilize common descent this assertion fails against so many practical examples that it is hard to imagine it being made.
    How about the design of the saddle? Or firearms? Or bows and arrows? Or bicycles? Or computers? Or canoes? Or houses?Or or or…

  11. Charlie,

    DL (not a biologist and admittedly inexpert in such fields), don’t you have your own blog and your own audience to soap-box your opinions, assertions and feelings?

    Kettle, meet pot. I understand a whole lot more about this subject than you do, so I wouldn’t go there if I were you.
    Moreover, you guys are the ones contradicting the science. Sorry if the prospect of having your facts corrected offends you.

    More corrections…

    NDE is a fact.

    Darwin did discover something, even if it was discovered independently by Wallace.

    GAs prove a great deal about nature and its capabilities.

    True, universal common descent is not proven because we haven’t analyzed the DNA of every species. But there is a massive amount of common descent, don’t you agree? Are you predicting common descent will break? Maybe you ought to. A new ID research program?

    Design may or may not necessarily entail common descent. Correct, but NDE always entails common descent (even if there are multiple lines, they all trace back to the first life). We find common descent. Therefore, design is less likely.

    Assertions are not answers. True, but my assertions are the facts if you would care enough to study the subject.

  12. DL:

    There’s little (if any) scientific consensus on the answers to those questions, so there’s nothing to say about it in science class. The purpose of science class is to teach established scientific theory.

    I agree you can’t teach what you don’t know. How about just discussing some of these things? Would you object if a professor chose to spend a few hours per semester discussing the merits/problems of ID theories just as they probably discuss multiverse theories, OOL theories and gravitational theories?

  13. Hi DL,

    Kettle, meet pot. I understand a whole lot more about this subject than you do, so I wouldn’t go there if I were you.

    I know where I went. No problem.

    More corrections…

    Another assertion unsupported. You made no correction and this statement is followed by nothing but repeated assertions.

    Assertions are not answers. True, but my assertions are the facts if you would care enough to study the subject.

    No they aren’t.

    Darwin did discover something, even if it was discovered independently by Wallace.

    Neither discovered anything about nature. As was said upon the presentation of their “joint findings”, what was true was not new and what was new was not true.

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