Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Happy Darwin Day Eve!

Tomorrow is Darwin's 200th birthday, and celebrations are expected worldwide. Not bad for a guy who boarded a little ship called the HMS Beagle mostly to avoid his studies to become an Anglican Parson (much to his father's dismay). This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the theory of evolution.

Interestingly, as the Economist points out, Americans are still not that convinced. According to the publication, "[i]n 2008 14% of people polled by Gallup agreed that “man evolved over millions of years”, up from 9% in 1982. " While that is "up," that seems to be a remarkably low number. Although considering that there continue to be attempts to replace evolution as the primary scientific explanation for "how" we are here (as opposed to the "why" which I think gets conflated sometimes), perhaps this makes sense.

In June of last year, Louisiana became the first state to pass what has become known as an "academic freedom" law. In the past, fights over evolution took place at the local school board level, but academic freedom proponents specifically target state legislatures.

Such laws back away from outright calls for alternative theories to evolution, electing instead to legislate support for teachers who discuss the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of issues such as evolution in the name of protecting the freedom of speech of instructors and students alike.

Whole article from the Christian Science Monitor.

This recent not-so-subtle attempt by the not-so-subtle creationists to try and insert a watered down version of something other than evolution (since their forays into intelligent design didn't go so well) highlights the problem. Science is, by definition, able to be proven false, i.e. it is has falsifiability. Not that it it is false, but only that, by definition, a scientific theory can be proven false. Karl Popper argues, convincingly, I think, that this is what separates science from pseudo-science.

Religion, whether it be Christian, Hindu, Islam or other, lacks falsifiability because we cannot by experiment or observation disprove that God created Adam and Eve, or Adam and Hawwa, or that Brahma created all life at the same time. Thus, it is not "science."

Evolution, as a scientific theory, however, is falsifiable as one observation (though I don't know what it would look like, maybe a mermaid) could bring the whole theory down. In fact, to this day, the theory of evolution continues to...well...evolve based on observation and experimentation. And some initial theories that would fall under the umbrella of "evolution" have been proven false (I can't find any specific examples, but I think some of Darwin's initial theories about sloths and birds on South American turned out to be false, so he had to later revise them to fit the data). That's what makes it "science" and thus proper for the class room.

This distinction is obviously not understood by these lawmakers who want teachers to discuss the "'scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses' of issues such as evolution." The strengths and weaknesses of the theory are part of the theory itself. Evolution could be proven false. It just hasn't happened yet, after 150 years research and academia.

So in honor of Charlie getting on that boat and taking a pretty remarkable trip around the world, why don't we concentrate on making some good laws that don't involve thinly veiled attempts to put your religion into the classroom? Just one day?


tangobaby said...

Ahh, aren't you the smart one for getting in an Darwin Day EVE post?! Now that had not occurred to me.

I am going to link to your post in mine tomorrow, In honor of "Charlie getting on that boat" and you asking "why don't we concentrate on making good laws other than those trying to shove creationism into the classroom?"

Happy Darwin Day!

the default attorney said...

Happy Darwin Day and thanks! I can really only post when I have a lull at work, and I knew that probably wouldn't happen today, thus "Darwin Eve Day!"

Anonymous said...

For those interested in more fully understanding the influences that cause changes in species over time, the following sums it up pretty succinctly:

"Evolution: More Than A Wild-Assed Guess!"

(yeah, I got it off a bumpter sticker, so what?)