Thursday, January 19, 2006
The recent ruling by conservative Republican U.S. District Judge John Jones was heralded as a much-needed precedent in the long-raging battle against efforts to install religious dogma into public school science classrooms. The judge will take considerable heat for his ruling, for the forces behind the insertion of creationism are loud, aggressive and exceptionally well funded.
While a well-funded full-time army advances the agenda of fundamentalist creationists, the members of the scientific world primarily are occupied with doing science. It is an uneven contest, and we must applaud Jones for letting common sense, rational thought and facts dictate his ruling.
"Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge," wrote Jones. "If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist court." But the ink was still wet when fundamentalist spokesmen decried the George W. Bush appointee as an "activist judge."
A great many people disagree with the ruling. Some will object because of religious reasons, and others believe that somehow the principle of fair play has been violated. After all, they ask, isn't intelligent design a scientific alternative theory to Darwin's?
Intelligent design is not a scientific theory. It is a religious explanation based on a particular interpretation of biblical accounts. The biologist who came up with the idea for ID -- a modified version of the creation account -- believed that certain biological structures were too complex to have evolved by chance. He called this premise "irreducible complexity."
It goes like this: I own an SUV, but am not a mechanic. I know that when I turn the key in the ignition, the engine starts. I do not know how the engine works, but I accept that (today at least) it does. According to "irreducible complexity," the fact that I don't know how the engine works doesn't mean that someone else might know. Instead, I am supposed to believe that God made the car. And therein lies the hubris.
The ID faction claims certain structures in living cells are too complex to have "just happened," so they invoke God. Never mind that other scientists have no trouble explaining the structures, or that a variety of experiments and observations consistantly and repeatedly have demonstrated evolutionary processes. No, what matters is if Professor ID can't understand something, it must be explained by God.
It is a sad indictment against science education that most Americans do not understand or accept biological evolution and its profound influence on our lives. Nevertheless, facts and truth are not determined by opinion polls, and the reality is this: Evolution is a fact. Darwin's theory is an explanation of how evolution works, so dumping Darwin still leaves the reality of evolution as a process. There are no current scientific contenders for Darwin's theory. ID may be an explanation for the diversity of life, but it is emphatically not a scientific theory. As Judge Jones correctly noted, ID fails to be a scientific concept because (1) it violates the No. 1 rule of science by invoking supernatural entities; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity employs flawed and illogical contrived arguments; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been thoroughly refuted by the scientific community.
Robert Sprackland, Ph.D., of Seattle, is director of the Virtual Museum of Natural History; www.curator.org.
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