Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Putting "Intelligent Design" into Science Classes, Intelligently

I've been reading about Representative Rick Brattin's bill in the Missouri Legislature that mandates equal time be spent in Science class presenting Evolutionary Theory and "Intelligent Design." (e.g. look here and here). Unlike other such bills, which bubble up on a fairly regular basis, Mr. Brattin's actually spends time defining Evolutionary Theory, Intelligent Design, and even Science. For example
  • Scientific theory: "an inferred explanation of incompletely understood phenomena about the physical universe based on limited knowledge, whose components are data, logic, and faith-based philosophy."
  • Hypothesis: "a scientific theory reflecting a minority of scientific opinion which may lack acceptance because it is a new idea, contains faulty logic, lacks supporting data, has significant amounts of conflicting data, or is philosophically unpopular."
  • Standard science: "knowledge disclosed in a truthful and objective manner and the physical universe without any preconceived philosophical demands concerning origin or destiny.
We could wrap ourselves up in the complexities of word meanings here, since even the terms that Mr. Brattin uses to define these concepts are going to need clear definitions of their own.

Anyway, all this complication is unnecessary, as long as we leave the origin of life out of the discussion. The Theory of Evolution has nothing to say on the origin of life, anyway. Other theories speak for that (the RNA World Theory, the Bubble Theory, the Pumice Raft Theory, and so on). Nor, apparently, does Intelligent Design have much to say on the origin of life, according to Mr. Brattin's bill:
The hypothesis does not address the time or sequence of life's appearance on earth, time or formation of the fossil record, and time or method of species extinction. The hypothesis does not require the identity of intelligence responsible for earth's biology but requires any proposed identity of that intelligence to be verifiable by present-day observation or experimentation.
I believe that Mr. Darwin would have no trouble introducing the concept of Intelligent Design in a Science class, as long as it was introduced as a scientific concept. How could he, when he was quite aware of the idea of Intelligent Design, which he called "Artificial Selection," and begins his book The Origin of Species by demonstrating how it has affected the evolution of, for example, pigeons. The "intelligence" that affected the design of these birds was human. However, Darwin then advanced a new theory of evolution, called "Natural Selection" to explain evolution in cases when no agent of Artificial Selection was apparent.

So the solution is quite simple: teach both Natural and Artificial Selection in school. Simply challenge students to show that Artificial Selection has stronger supporting evidence than Natural Selection in any given case. That should include identifying the entity responsible for the change, since science seeks causes. Such an entity, according to the bill, must be "verifiable by present-day observation or experimentation." That would, by the way, exclude both God and Aliens, as they are neither directly observable nor amenable to experimental proof. In the process, the students may learn something about the Scientific Method.

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