Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bill Press continues to prove he skipped school

Bill Press's "article" titled "Intelligent design ... isn't" is a hoot for anyone who didn't skip science class. Evolution is one of those hot button issues so I will start, for the sake of clarity, with my own opinion before quoting Mr. Press.

Darwin posed essentially two separate theories on evolution, micro-evolution and macro-evolution. When lay people talk about Darwin's theory of evolution they are usually talking about macro-evolution as micro-evolution is not controversial. Micro-evolution is considered proven scientific fact. Darwin posed the postulate, it was eventually accepted by the scientific community and has been not only proven to be possible in a lab but observed outside of the lab many times. There are no other competing theories to micro-evolution to explain those observations and it is accepted by everyone I know of who didn't sleep through high school biology. Individual species change in small ways over time. Some genetic freaks turn out to be stronger than their "normal" peers and survive to spread that new characteristic. Other genetic freaks turn out to be weak and die off before reproducing. Survival of the fittest (or Darwinism if you prefer) at its best.

Macro-evolution, as described in Darwin's "Origin of the Species", on the other hand is not accepted scientific fact. Darwin himself stepped away from the theory before his death and there is little evidence to support it. The idea posed by Darwin is that all life forms, both plant and animal, evolved from a single source. All species have a single common ancestor from which new species evolved. This is a very controversial statement for a lot of reasons. There is no observed instance of this outside of the lab and to my knowledge nobody has managed to even make it happen in a lab with a surviving result. We are not talking about modifying a segment of a species population, we are talking about making a new species through the normal reproduction processes of that species.

The trick here is two fold. First, we have no competing scientific theory to explain the existence of the vast numbers of species on the planet. Intelligent Design does not explain how this could have occurred. My understanding is that it does not attempt to. It merely says that there is substantial evidence that however all the species came to be it must have been guided by an intelligent source because the odds of it happening randomly are so unbelievably small. Either of these theories COULD be proven to be correct without disproving the other. Likewise, either could be disproven and not prove the other correct. They are not mutually exclusive. Many scientists, like many people, have a hard time with "I don't know" and this explains the blindness that has people who did well in biology class defending macro-evolution instead of putting it where I do. It is a quaint little unproven theory from a brilliant guy who denounced it later in his life. It hasn't been proven or disproven and isn't likely to be in my lifetime. We simply do not know how the species came to be from a scientific point of view.

The second trick here is religion. Many people, apparently including Mr. Press, believe that not wholeheartedly supporting macro-evolution and teaching it as scientific fact to kids in school is somehow an imposition of religion into science. These people are very small minded. God could have created all of the species through the process of macro-evolution as Darwin originally envisioned it. Mr. Press claims to be a believing Roman Catholic and he, wrongly, believes that macro-evolution is proven scientific fact. So why is it such a leap for people like him to make the leap to not teach either macro-evolution or the existence of the Hebrew God as fact in science class? I believe in the Hebrew God and Mr. Press claims to as well. I do not believe macro-evolution as Darwin envisioned it will ever be proven to be fact. Mr. Press has a misguided belief that it already has been. He is not right, but I could also be wrong on this topic. Neither of us probably finds either reality at odds with the Bible. Many of us just believe that presenting the reality to children will not lead to bringing out Genesis in biology class. I believe that Jesus turned water into wine. A bunch of people saw him do it. I haven't a clue HOW. I don't let that alter my belief that he managed it somehow. I wouldn't teach it as scientific fact in a chemistry class.

Let me make one more point before giving you the highlight quotes from Mr. Press. I stated above that God could have created the species via evolution which would make the Bible, Darwin's macro-evolution, and Intelligent Design all correct. Likewise, we could learn that we were created as a big science experiment being conducted by a highly advanced alien race (I seriously doubt this but nobody can prove it isn't true). That would make Intelligent Design correct and my Bible a fallacy. Evolution may or may not have been used by the alien creatures to create us. Scientifically, I have no problem with that. I BELIEVE that there is a God who made all of this happen but it isn't a scientific theory yet alone a scientific fact. It is based on a belief system not any evidence. While I believe Intelligent Design is still somewhat weak, the basic premise has much more evidentury support than macro-evolution at this time.

I have no particular position on teaching Intelligent Design within the bounds of it's scientific scope in high school biology. I do strongly believe that we have to teach micro-evolution as fact and macro-evolution as unproven. And then we have to say that this is one of many things in nature that we just cannot completely explain with science at this time.


Before leaving for another five weeks on his Texas ranchette, Bush told a clutch of Texas reporters that he believes the so-called theory of "intelligent design" should be taught in public school science classes, right up there alongside evolution. Demonstrating what little intelligence he has himself, Bush said: "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."


No, Mr. President. What education is all about is teaching students the facts, and teaching them the truth. It is not about confusing fact with fiction. Nor is it about mixing science with religion. And make no mistake about it, the bogus doctrine called "intelligent design" has nothing to do with science. It is nothing but poorly disguised religion.

I agree with Mr. Press that we should teach students facts. But we should not teach them things are facts when they are not. That is poorly teaching religion, not teaching science well. A big part of teaching science is, in fact, teaching "different schools of thought". Much of science is unproven. In some cases there are competing theories. In those cases you teach multiple theories along with their strengths and weaknesses.

According to intelligent designer backers, certain higher forms of life – like cell structure, molecular design or the human eye – are too complex for us to understand. They couldn't have just evolved that way. They must have been set in motion ahead of time by some intelligent designer: namely, God (unless you believe in space aliens).

This is, first of all, a ridiculous theory. There are a lot of things we don't understand. I don't know how my TIVO works, but that doesn't mean God made it. Besides, throughout history, our understanding and knowledge have grown with the advance of science – which is one good reason for not derailing science by replacing or confusing it with fairy tales.

The first part of this is just a lie. Again, having clearly slept through biology class, Mr. Press may not know that, but it is a lie. No scientist I know of, whether they support Intelligent Design or macro-evolution or both or neither, claims that we don't understand cell structure, molecular design, how the eye works, etc. We don't know how that structure came to BE but we certainly understand how it all works at a biological and chemical level.

The second part is a classic head fake. Not only do I understand how my TIVO works (I am a computer geek after all), I understand how it came to be. He doesn't understand how it works but certainly understands how it came to be (unless he believes that space aliens brought it to some guy in garage in CA). Further, nobody in the Intelligent Design lobby is asking to replace Darwin's unproven theory with theirs. They are asking that both unproven theories be taught as such. To teach macro-evolution as fact is to derail science by changing the threshold of proof for political and anti-religious reasons.

The main argument made by intelligent design proponents is that evolution is still not 100 percent proven. Which is ridiculous. Maybe we haven't yet discovered physical evidence linking every single step in the growth from slime to slug to sloth to sleuth. But there is zero physical evidence for intelligent design. It's just a zany theory. Period. I'll take 98 percent over zero any day.

Just in case you thought I was kidding when I said he thinks it is proven. And by the way, Mr. Press, 98% isn't good enough in the scientific world to call something a fact (not that macro-evolution is anywhere close to that level of proof). We call such things accepted theory rather than proven scientific fact. Macro-evolution does not even rise to the level of accepted theory due to the very high percentage of scientists who do not accept it. It is a theory accepted in some circles and not in others.

Go ahead and oppose teaching Intelligent Design to high school kids. I have no dog in that fight having not studied the theory in great depth. Stop teaching kids that things which are not only not proven but rejected by a large percentage of the scientific community as scientific fact. I don't even accept that kind behaviorour in my bible study.


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