2008-01-15

Weird Science

For some time now, there have been repeated attempts to blur the line between religion and science in public schools by suggesting that Creationism and Intelligent Design (CID) are philosophies that should be taught in science courses. Though I have no personal qualms with either of these philosophies (and, in fact, agree with parts of them), the thought of them being passed off as legitimate science terrifies me.

As I have thought about the science that I have studied and the historical context under which scientific discoveries were made, I have reached the conclusion that true science must satisfy the following Laws:

The Law of Observation:

True science is based off of observation, or, in other words, the process of doing experiments and collecting quantifiable data. Every attempt is made to remove bias from this process so that a scientist elsewhere can repeat the experiments and obtain the same data. One might say that this is the greatest challenge in all of science: to isolate and remove bias.

Where is the experiment, data collection, and bias removal in Creationism? Personally, I can look at a tree and say, "I see God's hand in this tree," but this is not a valid scientific observation. Not only is it unquantifiable, but someone with a different bias may make a different observation that is entirely valid from their perspective. In science, an accounting must be made of every observation -- and it is actually the differing observations that tend to lead us to the greatest discoveries. Creationism discounts these contrary observations automatically based on the religiosity of the observer.

The Law of Utiltity:

Science is useful. The laws and theories produced by science provide us with increased understanding of the world around us. This additional understanding may serve to further the pursuit of the science in question, but also frequently leads to the development of technologies or predictive models to benefit humanity.

The philosophy of Creationism supplies no useful observations about the world that apply outside of their religious contexts. If we simply assume that things are "created that way", then what conclusions or predictions can we attempt to make about the physical world? In contrast, the theory of evolution helps us to understand how organisms adapt to their changing environment. How does Creationism help me to make predictions of the world around me?

The Law of Supersession:

The most basic tenet of scientific theories is the understanding that the theory represents our best understanding at the current time. A theory may be superseded by another, more complete theory. The history of physics is a perfect example. We started with Newtonian mechanics, which were eclipsed by relativity, which is, as we speak, being augmented by quantum mechanics and string theory.

The problem with Creationism is that it precludes the possibility that any additional data could change the theory because virtually everything is evidence of Deity's involvement. If you contrast this with even the most robust and well tested theories of science, one will find that EVERY scientific theory is open to review and adaptation as more experiments are performed and more data is collected.

The bottom line:

Creationism is not science and simply shouldn't be taught in school as though it were. The debate surrounding Creationism, though, is a lively and relevant one, so I do think it should be included wherever possible in government, history, and whatever classes it might come up.

The thing that must also be remembered is that science is amoral. Science in no way suggests what we should do, or whether one thing is right and another wrong; it merely provides data and predictions for which we have the responsibility of interpreting and acting upon. This is where the religious principles at the core of Creationism and Intelligent Design come into focus. Coupling accurate scientific observations with the moral tenets of religion can guide us to make decisions that are satisfying to both the soul and mind. Pretending that these philosophies are science does nothing to strengthen them, and may in fact, sully their potency.