First Person Life

2005-12-20

Evolution - Religion in the classroom


I've been reading through the recent court decision in the Evolution/Intelligent Design debate. There are numerous things that I'm irritated about in the decision. Mind you, Intelligent Design lost because under the rules of the game, it should have lost. It IS a religious explaination.

I have a feeling I'll have LOTS to say about this in the next few days, but the first issue which I would like to consider concerns something that is actually missing from the decision -- and the entire debate.

I've done some preliminary research on how the courts have defined religion in American law. So far, I've found some evolving theories, but no clearly designed definition (pun intended).

In the "Religion vs. Science" debate, there has been no attempt to frame the discussion of what is "scientific" and what is "religious" in a mutually agreed upon manner. Something that claims to be "scientific" often gets a "pass" from a critical review of the presuppositions because it is touted by a "scientist." Furthermore, "scientists" can deride anything with which they disagree as "religious" by pointing out that it has a presupposition which is untestable. The practical result is that "science" is anything a "scientist" says it is.

In an effort to make headway in this debate, therefore, I would like to propose a couple of defnitions for use in the public square.

Religion: n. A system of beliefs, practices or explainations which presuppose a judgment regarding the voracity of one or more facts that cannot be directly experienced by an objective observer.

Science: n. A system consisting of one or more explainations, capable of being validated by independent testing, describing the relationship of facts all of which can be directly experienced by an objective observer.

Some may claim that the inferential nature of science gives it permission to establish "fact" from independently validated testing of proposed explanations. However, the scientific literature is replete with instances of things that were at one time considered "fact" (i.e. valid theories) that were later disproven. This usually occurred when the explaination (theory) failed to properly describe the relationship of one or more facts that weren't considered in the initial experiment.

Darwinian Evolution is itself based on judgments of the voracity of facts which are both untestable and unobservable and every ninth grade science student knows that to be a "scientific fact" it must be both.

The presentation of Darwinian Evolution as "fact" in textbooks purporting to be "science texts" is, therefore, the endorsement of a religion. Furthermore, this religious belief is being endorsed to the exclusion of others. Thus, by the logic this court applied in rejecting intelligent design, Darwinian Evolution violates the anti-establishment clause of the first amendment which is applied to the states through the fourteenth amendment and thus must be stricken from the curriculum of public schools.

It seems that the best defense may be a good offense. There is no way to get a declaration that Intelligent Design or Creationism is not religious in character. It may be better instead to focus on the real issue, that the philosophical underpinings of the scientific establishment and the explainations put forth by that establishment for the origins of life, the universe, and everythying are, in no uncertain terms, religious in character -- and therefore only fit to be taught in the context of "religion" class in the appropriate religious institution.

Update: 12/21/2005 9:30 AM
A Science Magazine article from March 2003 indicates that there are two facets to "evolution."

From the article:

    "There is professional evolutionary biology: mathematical, experimental, not laden with value statements. But, you are not going to find the answer to thw world's mysteries or to societal problems if you open the pages of Evolution or Animal Behaviour. Then, sometimes from the same person,you have evolution as a secular religion, generally working from an explicitly materialist background... Consider Edward O. Wilson, rightfully regarded as one of the most outstanding professional evolutionary biologists of our time, and the author of major works of straight science. In his On Human Nature, he calmly assures us that evolution is a myth that is now ready to take over Christianity. And if this is so, 'the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competition, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline.' "

Overall, the article does a good job at making the point that there is a distinction to be made between what is "scientific" and what goes beyond science -- and frankly, makes my point for me that we need clearer definitions when it comes to discussing "science" and "religion" in the public square.

Update: 12/21/2005 12:00 PM
And there it is... after I could finally stomach reading more, I found the definition I've been looking for: (pp. 65-66)

    As the National Academy of Sciences (hereinafter NAS ) was recognized by experts for both parties as the most prestigious scientific association in this country, we will accordingly cite to its opinion where appropriate. (1:94, 160-61(Miller); 14:72 (Alters); 37:31 (Minnich)). NAS is in agreement that science is limited to empirical, observable and ultimately testable data: Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science. (P-649 at 27).


So we have science defined as explainations:

  1. Restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data.
  2. Confirmable data is results of observations/experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists.


Thus, with regard to (1), that which is inferred from confirmable data + inference is not "scientific". And with regard to (2), it is noted that in years of trying, no part of the Darwinian Evolution's thesis of "macro evolution" has been directly observed. Thus, Darwinian Evolution fails the definition of SCIENCE put forth by the National Academy of Sciences.

Question: Then what is it doing in a "Science" text book?

I also (smugly) note that the NAS definition closely matches my own (see above).

Update: 1/4/2006 2:45 PM
Just to prove I'm not "all wet"... here's some more info on atheism as religion.


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