Defenders of the Faith

Paul Campos offers some interesting observations on the latest skirmish between religious and secular fundamentalists…

A sure sign that a belief system has triumphed over its opponents is that it stops thinking of itself as a belief system at all. Instead it becomes “what every rational person knows to be the case,” or “simple common sense,” or, more concisely still, “the truth.” (more)

Given the politically-correct camels that school boards swallow routinely, the mild incarnation of Intelligent Design that proponents tried to introduce in Pennsylvania seems a fairly harmless gnat to strain from the curriculum. Although there is immense evidence that evolution happens, it is not obviously absurd to suggest that it may not be the only thing that happens. Just as physicists may invoke a strong or weak Anthropic Principle to explain the apparent fine-tuning of nature’s laws, a weak Intelligent Design principle at least addresses — if it doesn’t explain — the fact that the universe seems to be amazingly self-organizing and that we don’t have the remotest idea how a birdsong, let alone a symphony, can be “emergently” encoded in DNA molecules. If nothing else, I.D. may serve as a challenging memetic placeholder to remind us that we don’t have all the answers.

Contrary to the assertions of the scientific establishment, I.D. is a falsifiable theory; its opposite —the quest for a Theory of Everything — is a de facto attempt to falsify the notion that any natural process may be the result of unknown, and perhaps unknowable, forces. Darwinian evolution may indeed be able to build brains from quarks in a mere 14 billion years, but physicists who assert that we inhabit a universe capable of such feats because — (A) that is the only kind of universe we could live in, or (B) that we just happen to inhabit one of the few perfectly-adjusted universes in an infinitude of parallel universes — might reasonably be accused of embracing non-falsifiable hypotheses themselves, particularly when the most promising new physics models postulate the existence of entities and events of such microscopic size and duration that they cannot ever be observed, even in theory. The scientific establishment has constructed its own glass house. Its occupants should be reticent to throw stones.

Quashing unfashionable theories by government fiat is hardly an effective way to sort out the truth. Chemistry texts have been able to mention the abandoned theory of phlogiston without producing a glut of alchemists. Medical students learn that disease was once thought to have been produced by imbalanced bodily humours. Economics majors are even exposed to Marxism. Why can’t biology students be advised that some people find evolution far-fetched, even today? How would students be harmed by exposure to, for example, competing textbook sidebars excerpting essays by Fred Hoyle and Richard Dawkins; the former arguing evolution’s improbability and the latter its inevitability? The few students in each class capable of creative thought might actually be inspired to ponder the issue and learn more.

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