Friday, December 02, 2005

Another response from the trenches:

This e-mail is in response to a person who pointed out that when she took biology and was taught evolution the instructor DID point out things we do not understand about evolution. The point is that the teach the controversy mantra of the ID proponents is bogus:

My response:

You are absolutely correct.

I think part of the problem is that people don't understand what a scientific theory is all about. A theory is often times said to consist of a hypothesis or set of hypotheses that have been well tested and attempt to explain some aspect of the universe. But scientific theories are incomplete by their very nature and part of what a theory provides scientists, is a set of pointers to interesting problems.

To take a simple example, in biology one of the first unifying theories was cell theory which says that
1. A living things are made of one or more cells
2. All cells come from preexisting cells
3. There for there is no spontaneous generation.

Obviously this theory leads to a basic question about the origin of life: where the heck did the first cell come from? In biology this is an active area of research. So what the ID people often do is conflate weaknesses in our understanding of evolution in specific instances(and there are gaps in our understanding as anyone who takes my classes learns) with a claim that evolution is not large responsible for the vast amount of biodiversity we see on this planet.

Darwin had a piece of the evolutionary puzzle, and while he had a very modern viewpoint about evolution, he was missing, as he was careful to point out in Origin of Species on numerous occasions, many of the details. Darwin's theorizing laid bare important problems in biology which are still important areas of investigation. My beef with ID is that Intelligent Design basically gives up of attempting to answer some real hard questions including things like the origin of basic cellular structures and processes and jumps to claims about a mysterious designer.

They may gussy their arguments with flawed or inappropriate mathematical arguments a la Dembsky or introduce new scientific sounding terms (such as "irreducible complexity") a la Michael Behe or as Michael Behe did this summer, make inappropriate conclusions about the evolution of proteins by citing numbers and research about protein evolution that have no relevance to the role of natural selection as part of the evolutionary process.

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