Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Florida Board Games

I heard about this story on the national news last night so I followed up on it today, only to find that, once again, the whole point of the controversy has been missed. In Florida, the State Board of Education has been wrestling with the issue of whether or not to allow the word "evolution" to be included in the state's science standards. Today they approved the inclusion of the phrase "scientific theory of evolution," as if wordsmithing a compromise would satisfy those on both sides of the issue. The problem with battles like this is that, while defending their narrow interests, everyone seems to miss what is really important.

On the creationist/religious side of the debate, the problem lies with two issues: one a misunderstanding and one a needless fear that could easily be turned to an advantage.

First, the misunderstanding. Many creationists believe they have scored points against the Darwinian opposition by making them admit that Evolution is "just a theory." As you can see, this is part of the compromise phrase that was agreed to in Florida. The misunderstanding is that labeling something a theory is far from an indictment of the view. In scientific usage ...
... a theory does not mean an unsubstantiated guess or hunch, as it can in everyday speech. A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from or is supported by experimental evidence. In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations, and is predictive, logical, and testable.
In other words, theories are well-substantiated and, in many cases (the Big Bang for instance) not far removed from the realm of scientific laws. So let's not get too enamored with dismissing evolution as "just a theory." That tactic isn't getting us anywhere. Instead, we should be deliberate and specific in pointing out the fatal flaws and assumptions that undermine the theory in question.

And that brings us to the needless fear we can turn to our advantage.

Many creationists are scared silly about the word "evolution." To utter the word is to capitulate to the godless demands of secularism. This is what began the fight in Florida. Creationists, defending the former version of the State School Board's standards, were determined not to allow the word "evolution" into the fray. This knee-jerk reaction is understandable but incomplete. Instead of fighting blindly against the word "evolution," the defenders of theism would be better served and more credible if they were to point out the subtle but more significant issues involved. Doing so would go a long way toward undermining the status quo view of creationists as scientific illiterates who seek only to inject their religious ideas into the classroom.

Here is what I mean. I won't repeat the discussion now but I have elsewhere addressed the issue of being clear and specific about what we mean when use the word "evolution." In this case, this issue is at the heart of the problem. This is how the pro-Evolution lobby describes the controversy on their website:
Evolution occurs because of the need for organisms to adapt to their surroundings in order to survive. Natural selection allows this adaptation. The denial of this natural process assumes that God is responsible for the complexity and diversity of life on our planet. That is religion, not science.
This is the classic bait-and-switch (discussed here). Notice that the proponents of macro-Evolution appeal to the reality of adaptation (micro-evolution) as the "process ... responsible for the complexity and diversity of life on our planet." But these are two completely different things!

I would agree that we see adaptation in nature. In fact, I see adaptation as being completely consistent with the work of any good designer whose goal is to equip his product to survive in different and changing environments. But the acceptance of adaptation in no way entails the acceptance of speciation. In fact, there is no evidence (fossil or genetic) for any mechanism that explains just how adaptation could exceed the limits required to bring about macro-level changes.

Those who claim that it is a fact that such a thing occurs do so solely based on the Naturalistic presupposition that this must be the way it works. And while they claim that the creationist urge to see God as responsible for that change is "religion, not science," their lack of evidential support makes them vulnerable to the same charge.

If creationism can be dismissed as nothing but religion, the Naturalistic lobby can be likewise dismissed as nothing but an appeal to the "religion" of Darwinism. I wish the creationists in Florida would have made that case instead of demanding the non-inclusion of the word "evolution" -- a word that in itself does their cause no harm.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Though I do not moderate comments, I reserve the right to delete any comment that I deem inappropriate. You don't have to agree with me, but I don't tolerate abusive or objectionable language of any kind.