Wednesday, May 25, 2005

unintelligent design

The April 28 edition of Nature carried this label on the front cover: This journal contains material on evolution. Evolution by natural selection is a theory, not a fact. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered. Approved by the University Board of Regents, 2006 An eye-popper, huh? Particularly if you're the kind of person who reads Nature. The meaty bits came in an editorial ("Dealing with design") and a news story ("Who has designs on your students' minds?") If you find the "Intelligent Design" debate at all interesting, hunt down this issue of Nature . . . and read on: The gist of the editorial was that scientists should, if they themselves are religious, "[take] the time to talk to students about how they personally reconcile their beliefs with their research." Ahem. (That's Ahem, as in Gag me with a rusty spork, not Amen.) In the May 19 issue of Nature, I was gratified to discover that I wasn't the only one to find this a wishy-washy position. David Leaf (Dept. of Biology, Western Washington University) wants Intelligent Design to be taught in college classrooms -- and he makes a great point: In my experience, upper-level biology students with the appropriate background in molecular biology, genetics, developmental biology and evolution are capable of distinguishing the scientific merits of evolutionist and ID claims -- to the great disadvantage of ID. He goes on to write that we should keep it out of high schools primarily because high school students lack the scientific equipment to make "a well-reasoned judgement about the status of any scientific theory, including evolution". (I would argue that it is possible, and it is worth the effort; but are our high school biology teachers up to the job? Mine certainly wasn't.) Chris Miller (Department of Biochemistry, Brandeis University) points out that our analogies are all wrong. We shouldn't be calling evolution "a blind watchmaker or any other kind of engineer" but rather a short-order cook, and -- looking at the phenomenally complicated structures -- one who is less like Isaac Newton than Rube Goldberg or W. Heath Robinson. After first referring to the Wnt signalling pathway and G-protein control of cellular calcium, Dr. Miller concludes, "Just look at the details, and you'll immediately abandon all thoughts that biological systems were designed with any intelligence whatsoever." (I came to that same conclusion after pondering the wit of Intelligent Design proponents.) There are many more great letters. I urge you to pick up a copy and read 'em for yourself (pages 275 - 276 of the May 19 issue). As a parting shot, I'd like to quote from one last letter written by Jerry Coyne (Dept. of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago) and signed off on by a few blokes like, oh, Richard Dawkins, Richard Lewontin, James Watson, Steven Weinberg, Lewis Wolpert . . . the list goes on: The real business of science teachers is to teach science, not to help students shore up worldviews that crumble when they learn science. And ID creationism is not science, despite the editors' suggestion that ID "tries to use scientific methods to find evidence of God in nature". Rather, advocates of ID pretend to use scientific methods to support their religious preconceptions. It has no more place in the classroom than geocentrism has in the astronomy curriculum. . . . . Scientists should never have to apologize for teaching science. Amen to that. D.

5 Comments:

Blogger amanda m. said...

It really scares me that this "designer" model thing is being pushed. A quote ...

Faith is a cop-out. If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can’t be taken on its own merits.

Dan Barker, "Losing Faith in Faith", 1992


This backwards slide that the US is freaking me out.

5/26/2005 07:24:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Hi Amanda. Intelligent design isn't nearly as scary as the political ambitions of the radical religious right. Harper's Online currently has full text of Jeff Sharlet's article, Soldiers of Christ. There's another article in this issue of Harper's, equally creepy, about the recent Orange County convention of Christian radio and TV broadcasters (Feeling the hate with the National Religious Broadcasters, by Chris Hedges). Shiver.

5/26/2005 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger amanda m. said...

Did you see the AP article today about the crosses burning in North Carolina???

5/26/2005 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Nope. I'll have to go snoop that out. But I can see it now . . . bumper stickers on pick-up trucks:

CROSS BURNING

It's not just for the KKK!

5/26/2005 12:48:00 PM  
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