Double Harrumph.

Ninme disagrees with my post below and makes a fair point, which I'll get to in a minute, but first I must bash WaPo for publishing as an "analysis" this shameless cheerleading for the PA judge's No ID decision (pdf). The piece belongs in "Outlook," not the "A" pages. Plus, I can't help but notice they praise the logic of the decision, which comes down to: "I am a judge and I hereby rule that only scientists can define what science is; behold my definition of science. . . ." The judge then proceeds to give a history of science, leaning heavily on the fact that a precursor to Intelligent Design theory can be found in Thomas Aquinas' discussion of an unmoved mover.
Except here's the thing, Your Honor. Thomas didn't get that from the Bible or the Pope. He got it from Aristotle, who argued that "infinite regress" is an irrational idea. You can't say "a" comes from "b" which comes from "c" which comes from "d" and so on ad infinitum. At some point you must reach a beginning. Aristotle postulate an "unmoved mover". It's a point of natural philosophy, not theology.
Now to ninme's objection. . . .which I think is not really an objection, but what Hadley Arkes calls "heated agreement." She says kids in Science class should be taught the mechanisms of things, and save the philosophical disputes for later. (She can correct me if I'm mischaracterizing her position). I would be satisfied with that --and so would all the leading ID adherents. I (and they) have no problem whatsover with kids being taught Darwinian theory. Indeed, Darwin plays such a part in the history of science that it would be a crime not to teach evolution. Here the ID guys and I part ways with the Pat Robertsons of the world, who really do wish to teach Genesis 1 side by side with evolution. I would argue that does harm to the Genesis text and misses its significance (see previous post). The Press, ever eager to rush in and miss the story, puts the ID scientists in the same category as Pat Robertson: not fair.
What I object to is hiding from kids the fact that scientific research has progressed in the past century and a half, and that there are scientific reasons to question certain elements of evolutionary theory. To cite just a few elements:
  • the typical classroom textbook completely ignores the fact that the fossil record is not as complete or simple to decipher as Darwin originally thought. This is demonstrably true, and many reputable scientists have different theories about this. "ID" does not ask schools to teach that because the fossil record is incomplete, therefore God must be responsible for it or even (as the judge claims) that therefore all life forms must have occurred more or less simultaneously; but it does mean that there are competing, rational, testable theories about what the fossil record reveals. The ID proponents are merely demanding that the several working theories be allowed to compete, all based on the scientific tools of observation, testing, etc.
  • One of the perennial questions regarding evolution is: "Where in the fossil record do we see transitional species?" In my high school science textbook, we learned that the fossil record was more or less complete, and the text presents a triumphant example: the archeoraptor, whose fossil is supposed to show a transition from lizard to bird. Very convincing, except it was shown to be a fraud. Ditto the famous Ernst Haeckel drawings purporting to show that the embryos of fish, amphibians, pigs and humans are virtually identical. But go check your kids' science textbooks, and I'll bet most of you will still find those examples there. They're certainly still on display at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. Understand me, here. I am not saying that one fraud (or several, since there are many things I was taught in high school that turn out not to have been quite honest) calls a whole theory into question. I am saying --with the ID guys-- that "Science" doesn't get to be dishonest and cling to errors. A real science class would, as ninme says, teach whatever the latest science really reveals --but honestly, and where there are competing scientific explanations, kids should know that the science isn't settled. Why pretend to know what we don't know? You try stuff, you test it, you keep what works, you move on if it proves false. What's religious about that?
  • To sum up, I like the formulation of the Kansas School Board, which calls for “students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory.” It's the only scientific thing to do.