Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Evolving Threat of Creationism

Here in my home county, creationists were beaten back this past year in their attempt to put caution stickers in science textbooks, warning that evolution is "only a theory." But the creationists haven't gone away, and my constant dread is that they will capture the local school board, as creationists did in Kansas, with considerable ensuing mischief and ridicule.

So I'm always a little dismayed when I read things like this exchange, no matter how high-brow, in First Things. Intelligent design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo as one bitter wag put it. To my mind, it is the rankest sort of mind control, poisoning students against one of the top two or three scientific discoveries in history. As Larry Arnhart says in the above-linked FT article,
The biologists who reviewed Behe’s book had to admit that he was right in claiming that evolutionary biologists have not explained the exact evolutionary pathways for the six biomolecular mechanisms he considers. But as the reviewers indicated, this does not show that such evolutionary pathways do not exist; it only shows our ignorance. Developing such an explanation in the future remains a realistic possibility, claim the scientists, and so Behe’s argument from ignorance is weaker than he allows.

In other words, when scientists encounter a mystery, the proper response is not to fall down and rejoice that they've found workings of the hand of the Almighty. It's to knuckle down and try to extend the frontiers of the known, the same as has been done countless times in the past, by the scientific pioneers who helped get us to our present plateau of knowledge. As Longfellow said,
It is curious to note the old sea-margins of human thought.
Each subsiding century reveals some new mystery; we build where
monsters used to hide.

I am a life-long fan of science popularizers like Isaac Asimov, although I certainly don't look to Asimov and Sagan and the rest for spiritual guidance. (And isn't it ridiculous, on reflection, to think that a scientific theory will cause all of God's workings & love in one's life to vanish in a puff of empiricism?) So I resent it, on purely "truth-in-labeling" grounds, when Christians misrepresent the science behind evolution, attribute immorality and social decay to it, and try to float comforting claptrap as science in its stead.

UPDATE

Some days after I posted this, I see that The Commissar has started blogging about paleontology. here's a good typical post in that vein.

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