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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Teach Evolution in Social Studies?

A friend of mine suggested that Intelligent Design should be taught in social studies, but not in science class. His argument was that Intelligent Design required faith and could not be proven.

My friend unwittingly identified the core issue of this debate – how does one distinguish faith from proof?

The bulk of the scientific community has devoted enormous resources toward proving the Theory of Evolution. They have discovered a wide variety of species on earth – some living, some extinct – with many sharing apparent similarities. Scientists then hypothesized that the simpler of these species somehow mutated into those that are more complex.

While scientists have found evidence that COULD be explained by Evolution, they have not been able to demonstrate that Evolution is the ONLY possible explanation. Moreover, science has not been able to test or prove the PROCESS of Evolution – the means by which one species evolves into another.

After nearly 150 years since Darwin published his theory, scientists have been unable to prove that a simple organism can mutate into a complex one. To the contrary, mutation has been discovered to be a process that subtracts from the organism. It is more likely to evolve a complex organism into a simpler one.

Let’s face it. The argument supporting the Theory of Evolution is based on conjecture that has not, perhaps cannot be proven. It is based on the belief that the complex evolved from the simple. Evidence is limited to discoveries of different species that could represent the different stages of development. But, the ability to test the process – and hence prove the theory – is still out of reach. It is only through faith that one can believe that this process exists – or that it will someday be proven.

It is easy to understand how many are willing to accept evolution as fact. For those who believe in Atheism, no other explanation is acceptable. But, it is still faith that leads them to their belief in evolution.

The Theory of Evolution, like that of Intelligent Design, is unproven and requires faith to accept as true. Does this mean that both should be relegated to social studies class?

My friend was willing to accept the notion that evolution was founded in science and that Intelligent Design was not because he was not exposed to the science behind the latter. (He has yet to find the time to open that copy of James Perloff’s “The Case Against Darwin” that I gave him many years ago. Young kids, a job, and home improvement have a way of crimping one’s free time.) If anything, his lack of knowledge regarding the science for Intelligent Design helped prove the point of my previous post. The future of science is best served if our students are exposed to a wider spectrum of scientific study regarding the origin of life.

So, how does one distinguish faith from proof?

Faith is the belief that something unproven exists or existed. Proof is a physical or logical means to demonstrate that a theory is true. If one cannot test the theory, it is scientifically acceptable to “prove” it through logic based on evidence that is physical. One can either prove a theorem directly or “by contradiction” – that is, to prove the “opposite” is false. (Those with Bachelor of Science degrees are undoubtedly all too familiar with this concept.)

Intelligent Design is essentially a “proof by contradiction”. It seeks to prove that one species cannot change into a more complex species without help from some force external to its immediate environment. Some supporting evidence is found in that which contradicts the Theory of Evolution.

Intelligent Design is therefore the theory that directly opposes the Theory of Evolution. Arguably, if one is proven false, the other must be true.

The science behind the Theory of Evolution has been focused on proving it directly. The single biggest factor supporting the theory is the belief (or the faith) that no force outside the environment could possibly influence the creation of a new species. Therefore, the Theory of Evolution is accepted when no other explanation is entertained. But, this does not constitute proof.

If, indeed, a higher power exists, then it is only natural to speculate that such a power had a hand in the creation of life. To exclude this possibility from scientific exploration is to foster the potential for junk science. Supporting Intelligent Design in the classroom is NOT the endorsement of religion. It is merely an effort to open the minds of future scientists. Unfortunately, it is an uphill battle for many minds, arguably more liberal minds, are tightly closed to the possibility that we are not alone in this world.

Question for those who do believe that God exists: Assume that God did have a hand in the creation of life on earth. Is it hard to understand that excluding Intelligent Design from scientific exploration -- that interpreting all discoveries of life on earth as products of mutation -- could result in junk science?

[Comments to this post are not only welcomed, they are invited. But, for those who wish to simply write-off Intelligent Design as nonsense or a conservative plot to sneak religion into the schools, I offer a challenge. Using scientific evidence or logical reasoning, prove that some higher power – be it God or the Ancients from Stargate SG-1 -- could NOT have influenced the creation of the many species of life on earth.]


Blogger G-man said...

Are you planning a comment to take me up on my challenge? Remember, you are challenged to prove that some higher power could NOT have influenced the creation of the many species of life on earth. Don’t get hung up on “who” that higher power might be. To suggest that the Ancients were only recently conceived for a TV series, is not the proof you are challenged to provide.

11/11/2005 12:35 AM  
Blogger cosmosis said...

What distinguishes science is NOT the fact that something can be proven. There are MANY scientific theories that fall short of being proven - and in fact are later proven false. What separates science from faith is that science is entirely dependent on a universal method of observation, hypothesis, and experimentation. It's the best we mere humans can do. Having evolved from apes, I'd say that's pretty good. Science does also presume that man can do each of these things, and that they can be repeated by others. When a finding or result is obtained, it is shared (part of scientific process) and verified. Remember the low temperature fusion claims of a few years ago? The fact that it could not be repeated by others under similar conditions was enough to undermine its acceptance in the scientific community. What would an experiment look like in an ID science class? "Okay children, remember how we boiled water with a Bunsen burner yesterday? The water might have boiled because the heat transferred to the molecules of water and increased their kinetic motion resulting in steam. Or it could be that God made it happen through his mysterious ways." In all seriousness, I say that either is possible. If science intrudes into matters of faith, it is equally as offensive to me as when faith intrudes into science. I'm aware of the Texas pre-med student who was denied a letter of recommendation to medical school because he refused to declare that he "believed" in evolution. That case offends me. Knowledge of evolution and other scientific matters, and the ability to apply that knowledge is required, but your personal beliefs should be non-negotiable. I want the government-funded public schools to teach science, not faith. Leave the faith and religious teaching to families.

11/11/2005 10:08 AM  
Blogger Jambo said...

The essence of a good scientific theory is that it is predictive and testable. ID is neither of these. How could ID be disproved? I can't think of a way, can you? And what does ID predict? Damned if I know. Evolution on the other hand IS disprovable. If tomorrow morning a dig in South Dakota turns up a T. Rex skeleton with the fossilized remains of a caveman in its stomach it would rock the scientific world to its core. What would rock the ID world in a similar way? If there is nothing then it's not really a scientific theory. Cosmosis presents a very good argument but makes one common mistake: humans did not evolve from apes, they both evolved from a common ancestor. Just as Great Danes did not evolve from poodles rather they both evolved are descended from an old species of wild dogs. Or does ID claim they were both created in their present form?

"After nearly 150 years since Darwin published his theory, scientists have been unable to prove that a simple organism can mutate into a complex one." No one claims that one species "mutates" into another one. It is a long slow process over a very long time. I sometimes wonder just what IDers think. Lions and tigers are different species, do they think they don't have a common ancestor? If they accept that they do then they should accept that all it takes is a longer time frame and you can get just about any thing else as well.

"To the contrary, mutation has been discovered to be a process that subtracts from the organism. It is more likely to evolve a complex organism into a simpler one." The first part of this is simply untrue but leaving that aside the second sentence does not contradict evolution. Modern biologists accept that evolution can work to make organisms either more or less complex. The natural world does not select for more or less complexity, it selects for fitness. 100 mutations could result in 99 less complex organisms and only 1 that is more complex. But if the more complex one is "fitter" it will be more reproductively successful even tho tho the vast majority of mutations resulted in less complex organisms. Take those same 100 mutations and put them in a different environment and it might be one of the less complex ones that is fittest.

The wonder of Darwinian theory is that it has been tested and tested and tested for 150 years and it keeps working. Here is my kind of tortured analogy. Evolutionary theory predicts that as we learn about the world we will find the following: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. We started out with 1,_,_,_,_,_,_,_,_,10. As we discovered more we found 1,_,3,_,_,_,_,_,_,10. As we found still more we saw 1,_,3,_,_,6,7,_,_,10. Today we have 1,2,3,_,5,6,7,_,9,10. The theory is so far batting 1.000 and the IDers crow "There's no 4 or 8! The theory is wrong!" yet offer no real prediction that would result in 2 or 8. Or any thing else for that matter. And the thing that makes science great is that if it turns out that the fourth number is 27 scientists really will decide they need a different theory. Call me when something other than 4 or 8 shows up.

There's way too much wrong with ID to refute in a simple blog comment but suffice it to say that anyone pushing ID either has a poor understanding of biology or a political agenda. And maybe both.

11/11/2005 4:32 PM  
Blogger G-man said...

Thanks for the comments. But, there remain two problems with the “science” behind evolution.

1. As of yet, evolution is NOT testable. Borrowing from Jambo’s example, finding 1,2,3,_,5,6,7,_,9,10 does not test the process by which 1 allegedly mutated into 2 and eventually into 10. It only proves that 1,2,3,5,6,7,9, and 10 once existed. When I.D. is excluded from possible explanations, then some form of evolutionary mutation is assumed to be the process. But, again, the challenge for science is to test the process itself – to prove that an organism can mutate into something slightly more complex.

2. Mutation from one species into another is indeed the process that Darwin hypothesized. In “The Origin of The Species” Darwin wrote “…it seems to me almost certain that an ordinary hoofed quadruped might be converted into a giraffe.” This is to suggest that, given the right environment and enough time (as in millions of years) donkeys could eventually mutate into giraffes. Or, fish into man.

Dr. Lee Spetner from John Hopkins University extensively studied mutation. In his book “Not by Chance: Shattering the Modern Myth of Evolution”, he wrote “All point mutations that have been studied on the molecular level turn out to reduce the genetic information and not increase it.”

If mutation is not the process of evolution, that is, the process that one species takes to eventually evolve into another, then what is?

Oh, that political agenda? It is to promote a good education in our schools – to ensure that our tax dollars are well spent. If there exists scientific support for I.D. – and there does – then it is reasonable to include it in the curriculum. I am beginning to think there is a political agenda to EXCLUDE I.D. from the classroom out of fear that I.D. is a grand right-wing conspiracy to sneak religion into the classroom.

I.D. proponents want BOTH theories as theories. We support presenting the evidence and the arguments supporting both while not endorsing either to be fact.

There is no conspiracy here. But, there is a healthy debate. Remember, many Christians believe that God used evolution to create man. While I am not among them, I am open to the findings of scientific study. However, I am highly suspect of scientific study that is focused exclusively at proving Darwin’s theory – and closed to all other possibilities. That is what the I.D. debate is all about -- opening the minds of future scientists. Why should we shelter our students from the debate that we are engaged in on this blog?

What I find frustrating is that many have not been exposed to the science supporting I.D. (a.k.a. the science opposing Evolution). From this lack of knowledge comes the assertion that evolution is fact and I.D. is bunk – or a political agenda.

11/12/2005 12:05 AM  
Anonymous Wild_strawberry said...

I am a natural resource manager; my graduate and undergraduate education focused on plant/microbe evolutionary ecology. I've been involved with the construction of phylogenies (family trees) of fungi based on DNA of modern fungi. I have never doubted the existence of God one day in my life, and the theory of evolution is the best explanation of the natural world.

Let me clarify a few common misconceptions about evolution:

-In science you can not "prove" anything, you can only "disprove". Experimentation allows science to support or disprove a hypothesis. Evolution has not been "proven" nor disproven, only supported.

-We DID NOT evolve from apes or monkeys. The theory of human evolution says that apes, monkeys and humans shared a common ancestor in the past (one that was not an ape, monkey, nor human, but the ancestor of all three). Monkeys and humans share a more recent common ancestor than they do with apes.

I am more familiar with the inner workings of the evolutionary process than the majority of people. My understanding has only strengthened my wonder and love of God. Evolution is such a fantastic process... no different in its glory than weather patterns or the formations of mountains and valleys. God is mysterious, but I know God does not do things with "magic"...suddenly creating species, mountains, or river valleys.

I do not agree that intellent design should be taught in science class becuase it is not science... yet I do think that some forum for students to explore their questions about evolution needs to exist... Whether as a three-day discussion in science class or in social studies class.

By the way, I read the Bible to my young son nightly. The creation of everything is our favorite passage.

11/13/2005 12:48 PM  
Blogger John said...

G-man, I've found a wonderful list on Amazon of some reading material to help you refute evolution. As more of a wise-ass than a real participant in this ongoing debate, I couldn't help but notice that you appear to be, well, losing. So here's the URL; I honestly believe it could be helpful:


I think it cuts off the right end of the URL, but I believe that you can recover it by scrolling left to right as you copy it.

11/16/2005 10:34 PM  
Blogger G-man said...

John, to the contrary, I think I’m winning.

Those who do not appear to be familiar with the evidence supporting Intelligent Design (and refuting Evolution) are the ones who want to blind our students with the science behind Evolution and only Evolution.

Those willing to explore both sides of the Evolution debate are more open to teaching both sides in school (and I.D. is the other side).

It is my point that a well educated high school student should be aware of the science behind both theories. Whichever theory they choose to believe is most likely true, they should be able to speak intelligently about both. Those posting comments that summarily dismiss Intelligent Design have not demonstrated this level of education.

11/17/2005 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intelligent design? Idiotic believer.
And, anyone on either side of the debate that believes God and evolution must be mutually exclusive have lost their grip on reality.

P.S. Kate Knuth is still way hotter than the lady she defeated in the election.

2/20/2007 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And, it is the job of the science curriculum to present the theories (and while we're at it, look up the definition of theory as applied to science) that are most accepted in the scientific community.
Want creation/I.D. taught in school? It should go in a class that covers world religions, which is sadly an area that our public schools gloss over.

2/20/2007 10:05 AM  

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