Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Separating Church and Science

In a previous post I mentioned Bush's position on Intelligent Design and why it's bad for this country and the world. It's actually worse than that. By supporting the idea that science should be guided to any degree at all by religion, Bush is supporting an idea that should have been buried long ago. In an earlier post I suggested that the Catholic Church probably doesn't want to repeat the mistake it made with Galileo: substituting religious conclusions for scientific ones. Once should have been enough.

Science is the search for observable phenomena along with the attempt to construct a coherent framework to understand them. That's a hard enough job without handcuffing oneself by refusing to consider certain possibilities on religious grounds.

I would have thought that we had learned that lesson already. By recommending that intelligent design be taught along with evolution, Bush is saying that science and religion are equivalent ways of understanding the same phenomena. They aren't, and for Bush to say so just weakens this country.

One might argue that intelligent design is not religious (that's what the intelligent design people say), that it's a scientific claim that biological phenomena are too complex to have evolved. If that were the case, that would be worth teaching. But I know of no scientific support for that claim. Intelligent design is voodoo science, and the only reason it has received any attention at all is because it implies a creator. Take away the religious implications and no one would be interested in the claim because it has no basis in reality.

Intelligent design's primary non-religious conclusion is that we should stop attempting to understand biological complexity, i.e., stop doing certain kinds of science. That seems like a foolish thing to recommend. Should we stop DNA research? Should we stop looking for and analyzing fossils? Should we stop looking for similarities among living beings? I doubt that even Bush would go that far. So what sort of science should we stop doing on the grounds of intelligent design? I doubt that there is any science that even the intelligent design people would ban. And if there is some, who are they to ban it anyway?

Are the intelligent design people recommending that we teach children that certain forms of science are a waste of time? That's essentially what the secular meaning of intelligent design comes down to. If that's really what they want to teach, then that lesson should be taught in courses that warn students about scientific fallacies. There have been plenty of these — such as perpetual motion and cold fusion — and it would be worthwhile to teach students about them. If there were a course in which that material were covered, and if intelligent design could make a good enough case that evolution is a scientific fallacy, then it should be taught in such a course. But it shouldn't be taught as a side-by-side alternative to evolution. If evolution is scientifically invalid, it shouldn't be taught at all.

But of course, the intelligent design people cannot make the case that evolution is a scientific fallacy. Intelligent design is really a non-sequitur except for its religious implications, which shouldn't be taught as if it were science.

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