Sunday, August 07, 2005

ID-iots on Parade

Not much commentary action on my Intelligent Design posting - I guess that the folks who believe in that sort of baloney don't read this blog. Or don't read.

Anyway, I wanted to add on a few rather random thoughts about the idea of evolution on the day that the History Channel airs a show on the development of the theory of evolution.

[1] "Evolution is just a theory."

A tired old canard frequently used by Creationists and ID-iots. Evolution is a theory - there is no "just" to being a scientific theory. The scientific use of the word "theory" means a model of how the universe works that has been extensively tested and has "passed" the tests. By the time a model is considered a theory, it has been tested enough to be generally considered (there are always a few cranks and crackpots who resist to the end) to be "true".

This is in contrast to a "hypothesis", which is a model that has not been tested enough to be considered accurate. As an analogy, a theory is a seasoned veteran that has survived many battles - a hypothesis is a raw recruit that has not even made it through Basic Training.

The theory of gravity is often used to rebut the "just a theory" canard - one can question the theory of gravity, it is said, but that will not save you if you step out of a fifth-story window. But this trivializes the point.

The theory of gravity, like the theory of evolution, has been modified slightly over the years, refined by experiments and observation. Both theories have accurately predicted the outcome of every experiment done to test them. If they had not, they would be considered ex-theories and would be taught only as history, the way that Creationism is now. And, one fervently hopes, the way "Intelligent Design" will be soon.

[2] "There are disagreements over the facts of evolution."

Canard number two from the Creationists and ID-iots. One of the biggest evolution controversies among real scientists is whether or not punctuated equilibrium is valid. No matter which side "wins" in this argument, evolution is still intact. This is the equivalent of arguing over whether couch is "taupe" or "beige" (or, perhaps, "bisque") - it is still a couch, regardless of what color it is.

If we take this argument and turn it back on the ID-iots, we find that "Intelligent Design" hasn't any room for disagreement. That's because is doesn't predict anything and, therefore, can't be tested. And a hypothesis that can't be tested isn't a hypothesis - it's dogma.

In short, there are disagreements over the finer points of evolution; there can't be any disagreements over "Intelligent Design" because it isn't really a hypothesis - it is religious dogma masquerading as a hypothesis.

[3] "Do you really believe that your ancestors were apes?"

This is what the whole argument is really about, isn't it? People are uncomfortable with the idea that we are animals, just like cows, dogs and nematodes. Get over it, folks - we're animals. Wishing it were different won't change anything.

The surprising thing - to me - is the number of people who would be "OK" with evolution if it didn't involve humans. This is what really puts the lie to "Intelligent Design" - that people support it only because it allows them to keep humans in a privileged place - above and separate from the animals.

My ancestors were apes - your ancestors were apes. And I swear that some of the people I see on campus arguing for "Intelligent Design" are apes. You'd think they'd be able to see the connection better, but they don't. Go to any children's playground and then argue that we aren't descended from arboreal primates.

[4] "Teaching evolution leads to teen sex, abortion and crime."

I'm surprised they don't include cavities, tatoos and Alzheimer's Disease. But is there any data to support this assertion? Let's see... Darwin's book, "The Origin of Species" was first published in 1859 and the theory of evolution has been taught - at least in universities - since then.

It is certainly true that a number of social ills have arisen since that time: intravenous drug use, AIDS, MTV, Britney Spears, nuclear weapons, cell phones and televion, to name a few (in no particular order). However, teen sex, crime and - yes - abortion were with us before Darwin was even born. So it's a bit of a stretch to blame them on teaching evolution in the schools.



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