Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Why Creationism and Intelligent Design Do NOT Belong in the Science Classroom

Presently nineteen states are considering proposals that would require including Creationist/Intellectual Design (C/ID) models of the origin of life in high school science curricula. It is argued that these are alternative explanations of the origin of life to evolution, and therefore need to be presented side-by-side so students can choose what they believe. However, there is one serious problem with the inclusion of C/ID in a science class: C/ID are not scientific theories, and simply are not appropriate to study in a science class.

Science is a process that is used to try and understand the world around us. Scientists are child-like in the sense we ask countless questions about why and how things work the way they do. But, of course, religion and philosophy are also areas of human intellectualism that attempt to understand the world around us, so a natural question becomes how is science different? In a word, experimentation. In other words, scientists base conclusions on observations and results of controlled experiments that are repeatable by other, independent groups. Models, theories, and conclusions that cannot be tested in a way that yields direct, physical evidence that conclusions can be based on are not scientific. As a brief example, Aristotle concluded by philosophical/logical arguments that heavy objects should fall faster than light objects. This logical, intuitive conclusion makes sense to most people, and in fact that was the understanding for many hundreds of years. The problem is, the conclusion is incorrect when one actually observes the physical world. In the absence of air, a feather really does fall at the same rate as a 1-ton boulder.

Creationism and, more recently, intelligent design, argue that a Creator (God) or supernatural intelligent entity is responsible for the complexity of life, in particular human beings. In intelligent design, for example, it is argued that even a single-celled organism, let alone a human being, is so complex that it is difficult to believe that it could have developed through natural, random processes. Only something that had a plan in mind could have produced the end result. This is a perfectly valid way of thinking, and it is the simplest way to explain the complexity of life. My question is, how does one test for the existence of the intelligent, supernatural being? What experiment can one do that can produce evidence that this model is correct? Almost by definition one cannot create a controlled experiment for the existence of God or some other entity. Because of the lack of experimentation for the basic foundation of Creationism and Intelligent Design, these ‘theories’ are absolutely not scientific. These belong in a science class as much as evolution belongs in a Sunday school class.

A future post will conclude this commentary about the essence of evolution, and why those who study science overwhelmingly believe in it. As a science educator, it is important for the general public to gain a better grasp of the nature of science and why we need to try to prevent movements that attack science from making their way into science curricula.

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