Sunday, July 20, 2008


Every year it seems as if one state in the United States is hell-bent on getting intelligent design into the classrooms. And every year scientists shake their heads and bemoan the state of science education in the country, and wonder how the hell the US is going to maintain its standing as the place for scientific research.

The debate itself is nothing new--how something arises out of nothing is, admittedly, one of those things that science does a piss-poor job of explaining. The fact that it happened, though, is hardly evidence of divine intervention.

So why do people insist that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution?

Let's take a step back, first, and wonder why it is evolution has been singled out as the one aspect of science that people don't seem to want to believe when the evidence for it is right in front of them, and not, say, the Big Bang theory. Although there are some kerfluffles over the true origins of the Universe, it's not as if science teachers get reamed over teaching the Big Bang--at least, not yet. Or quantum theory, for that matter--being in two places at once? Apparently, it's not a problem for people to stomach, although they'll fight tooth and claw against being taught that small changes over time leads to big changes.

Let's also consider the seemingly contradictory belief amongst scientists that coincidences are just coincidences, even if you get a lot of them: There's a belief that bench scientists like myself like to call "the rule of threes". If you get an odd result once, you examine your protocol and make sure you didn't screw it up. If you get an odd result twice, you go over your methods with your supervisor, check and double check your reagents, make sure the equipment settings are right, make sure your tubes are labeled correctly, and so on. If you get the same odd result three times, you're onto something--possibly something big. (There are other rules of three--washing a beaker three times means it's clean, for instance, experiments performed in triplicate for some reason have more validity than experiments in duplicate. We scientists are not as rational as many people would have you believe)

The questions to be addressed this week include the meaning of divine intervention in intelligent design theory. Why does it hold so much significance to so many people, that we should not be the result of blobs of goo meeting other blobs of goo? That's the topic on the table this week--not so much the what, but the whys of the evolution versus creationism drama (and let's not sugarcoat it with the whole "intelligent design" title, please--it's creationism).

1) Why the "need" for creationism?
2) What is the role of faith in science?
3) Can, and should, evolution and creationism be reconciled?
4) and 5) Genetics, creationism and evolution--something's hitting a fan, and it's not going to be pretty.

For the record, I'm one of those "immoral heathens" who believes in evolution. But that, ironically, doesn't mean I don't believe in a divine entity who guides our lives. Blasphemy, you say? To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." If I'm not the first to believe it, it must be true--and ain't that the truth?

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