Saturday, October 08, 2005

"It's Not Science!"


I’ve noticed that the Creation/Evolution debate has drawn increasing media attention lately due to the Dover school board Intelligent Design court case. Almost every newspaper you pick up is bound to have some column or editorial or even cartoon either defending or decrying the Intelligent Design (hereafter “ID”) movement. Almost every time you check the headlines on Yahoo or elsewhere on the Internet, some new article or story is out discussing the subject. Even the blogs are buzzing with private debates over which side is right.

In all of this discussion and debate, there is one particular statement that is thrown back and forth probably more than any other. Everyone is using it or commenting on it, whether they be scientist or politician, media or religious leader, lawyer or the guy on the street. The statement is, “Evolution is science; Creation and Intelligent Design are not.” In almost every secular media story or article I have read on this subject, if not every, this statement or something to that effect has been made.

In the next few posts, we will investigate this argument, with all its implications and ramifications, as thoroughly as my time and knowledge of the subject will permit. We will look at the claims of each side and analyze them to see what kinds of claims are being made, and whether those claims are “scientific” or not. We will do all of this without actually examining the truth of the claims themselves, only by classifying the types of claims being made.

But first, we will look at a few specific examples of this argument taken from various sources. We will also define the terms “evolution” and “creation,” as well as take a look at what, exactly, science is and what it is not.

The Argument

One need not look far for examples of the “It’s not science” argument. Almost any article about evolution and creation in the secular media or secular science websites contains variations of it. One of the most concise statements that I have found is on page three of the legal complaint filed by the ACLU on behalf of the parents in the Dover school board case:

Unlike the theory of evolution, however, intelligent design is neither
scientific nor a theory in the scientific sense; it is an inherently religious argument or assertion that falls outside the realm of science.
Or, there’s this more general statement from the National Association of Biology Teachers (taken from a list of such statements from the ACLU website (“What the Scientific Community Says about Evolution and Intelligent Design"):

Scientists have firmly established evolution as an important natural process. Experimentation, logical analysis, and evidence-based revision are procedures that clearly differentiate and separate science from other ways of knowing. Explanations or ways of knowing that invoke non-naturalistic or supernatural events or beings, whether called ‘creation science,' ‘scientific creationism,' ‘intelligent design theory,' ‘young earth theory,' or similar designations, are outside the realm of science and not part of a valid science curriculum.
Other versions of the argument are not nearly as precisely stated, nor as nice. They range from mild condescension--“the alternative reality that is biblical creation science” In Evolution Debate, Creationists are Breaking New Ground by Michael Powell from the Washington Post; also, the September 26 post on the blog Bad Methodist--to outright ridicule--Dark Ages Primary by Harold Meyerson from the Washington Post; also, the October 3 post from the blog The Strongest Note.

And I’m sure that if you read the newspaper or news stories on the web, you can find many more examples of your own. And these are the nicer ones. When you get into atheistic/agnostic/skeptic websites and blogs, things can get really nasty.

Why This Argument?

So, why is this argument used so emphatically, so persistently, and so extensively? Why does everyone feel a need to make sure you know that creation is not science, but evolution is? Why is this argument so important to them?

Furthermore, if this argument is repeated so often and so dogmatically, shouldn’t it be examined and tested closely? After all, since we are talking about science here, shouldn’t we take the time to prove our arguments?

I believe this argument has gone too long in the media without sufficient investigation. I think it is time we critically examine this claim, and see how well it holds up under scrutiny.

But before we do that, we need to take a little time to define our terms, just to be sure that there is no confusion. What, exactly, do we mean when we say “evolution”? What are we talking about when we refer to “creation”? We’ll take a look at the definitions next time.

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