Saturday, September 27, 2008

Asshat of the Day - September 26th, 2008

For Friday's Asshat of the Day, I bring you: The Discovery Institute, and, to a lesser extent, the Louisiana Legislature for making it all possible.

Now, what's got me pissed off at DI? It's not their championing of alternative fuels - if that were all they got up to, I'd be delighted. It's not their claim that Spore is a good tool for teaching Intelligent Design (they're right, it is - shame on you, Will Wright).

It's the textbook they've produced and are now trying to wiggle into high school curricula:

Explore Evolution

The book very carefully never uses the words "Intelligent Design", and stays a long way away from "Creation", but it's quite simply a tool of "Intelligent Design", née "Creation Science". It introduces controversy where there is none, uses "neo-Darwinism" to make evolution seem like some sort of cult, and uses as one of its sources a man who believes that all life evolves as proto-life stem cells beneath the surface of the earth, and then emerges and self-assembles when the time is right.

Ars Technica does a better job of critiquing the book than I could.

My beef, however, is not only with the book itself, but with the mindset behind both the people who wrote it and those who seek to introduce it into schools. For pity's sake, folks - "God did it!" isn't science. In fact, it's the kind of crappy, baseless argument that engendered the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Assume the presence of an all-powerful, omniscient being, be it a father figure in the sky, a big bowl of flying pasta, or an invisible pink unicorn (Blessed Be Her Holy Hooves). Life evolves on a planet, with the descent of species through mutation and selection pressure. Can you prove that the being, capable of literally anything, did not in fact place everything where it is, fully formed? Can you prove that the world existed even a second ago, and that the being did not place you, the world, and everything else, including your memories of a past, where they are? Of course not. We have no means of testing for that, because if such a being were to do such a thing, they could also be able to ensure that we would be unable to distinguish it from a world that developed over time.

So if you say "God/Allah/TFSM did it, and you can't prove otherwise!", you're right, at least about the last part. But if someone examines creatures and fossils, and finds the properties of both, and says "Well, according to all the evidence that is visible to mere mortals, this whole thing could easily have happened without any intercession from any intelligent force", "Yeah, but it COULD have." is not a valid counter-argument. More to the point, it's not science. Science involves things that it is possible to disprove. Theology, by definition, involves things that must be taken on faith.

So, unless you plan to start teaching evolution, chemistry, physics, and math in Sunday school, don't expect "God created us!" to show up in a class designed to teach that which we can see and test, and therefore do not have to take on faith.

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