Short-circuiting science, short-changing our kids
Ken Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University, Providence, R.I.
This week's flurry of excitement with the near-completion of the human genome project shows how quickly science embraces change. The flood of data from the project has already generated a stream of scientific papers and meetings, and many of our ideas about human genetics have already begun to change.
As molecular biologists produce and check their data, a new science of "genomics," the study of whole genomes, is already beginning to show up in the curriculum, and biology education will never be the same. At the same time, however, an impostor is knocking at the schoolhouse door. Unlike the genome project, this one has no data behind it, has produced no scientific papers, can claim neither innovation nor breakthrough. The impostor, masquerading as a scientific theory, is called "Intelligent Design" (ID).
ID is nothing more than the argument that evolution is not sufficient to explain the events of natural history, and therefore an outside intelligent agent (like God) can be shown to have involved itself in the history of life.
A conference held June 22-24 on the campus of Concordia College in Wisconsin showed just how far removed ID theorists are from genuine science. A biochemist argued that evolution cannot explain the complexity of the cell, and offered as proof the contention that no scientific journal had ever published a detailed, step-by-step account of the evolution of a complex biochemical system. That argument sounded compelling, until the conference was presented with a list of published papers that had done exactly that.
A mathematician claimed that ID was required to explain the appearance of new species over the course of earth history, which sounded interesting until he was asked to look at part of the fossil record and explain when "design" events might have taken place. He couldn't, and he flatly refused to make any specific statements as to when or where these events might have taken place. Intelligent design, he made it clear, has as little to add to natural history as it does to biochemistry. As one watched the arguments for ID collapsing under the weight of scientific scrutiny, it became clear that the entire ID movement amounts to just one argument: that it is possible to see God's plan in the workings of natural history. Ironically, that's one assertion in which I and many other religious scientists would concur. But that doesn't make it science.
The weaknesses of the ID movement explain why its advocates wish to short circuit the process of scientific review: they know just how quickly their "theories" would disintegrate if held to scientific standards.
Therefore, they've tried to do an "end run" around the scientific community, pleading with school boards and state governments to inject their ideas into the scientific curricula of public schools. Parents and teachers who are interested in quality education have every right to demand that our schools present the latest scientific developments to our students; but they also have every reason to tell the impostor of "Intelligent Design" that if it cannot stand the heat of scientific scrutiny, it doesn't belong in the classroom.