Sunday, October 01, 2006

Look Into My Evolved Eyes

Here we go again...

Proponents of "intelligent design" in the United States are waging a war against teaching science as scientists understand it. Over the past year alone, efforts to incorporate creationist language or undermine evolution in science classrooms at public schools have emerged in at least 15 states, according to the National Center for Science Education. And an independent education foundation has concluded that science-teaching standards in 10 states fail to address evolution in a scientifically sound way. Through changes in standards and curriculum, these efforts urge students to doubt evolution -- the cornerstone principle of biology, one on which there is no serious scientific debate.

Repeat after me: Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory. It belongs in a comparative religion or philosophy class. ID relies on an axiom that is fundamentally untestable. No test can be designed to prove or disprove the existence of a Primal Cause, be it God or ET. Beyond the heavens opening up with angelic choir, or a visit from an alien (they better have damn good lab notes to back up their claims), ID is an unsupportable hypothesis from a scientific standpoint.

This is not a war of religion against science. The two have thrived together for centuries. Nor is it a struggle of believers against godless materialists; many believers practice science and find inspiration for it from their faith. It is a battle between religious dogma cloaked as science and open inquiry that leads to new knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

The notion of intelligent design is clever; it has a certain philosophical appeal. The evolution of a human eye from a series of random mutations, for example, is indeed difficult to understand; the notion of an intelligent creator solves such problems, and feeds our spiritual needs. But it distracts us from learning what is scientifically testable and reduces students' will to probe the natural world.

Oh, for Christ's sake! That lame "the eyeball could not possibly be a result of evolution" argument. Of all the arguments these... alternative scientists could make, this one is the stupidest. No engineer would ever design a light sensitive organ with the structure of the eyeball (except for maybe an octopus eye -- that one is pretty damn cool). Hell, there's a blind spot smack dab in the middle of our field of vision. That's because the optic nerve is attached on the inside of the eye as opposed to the back.
The eyeball is a poorly designed organ, but its structure makes perfect sense if you look at it as an organ that has evolved from a cluster of light sensitive neurons. Difficult to understand does not mean impossible to understand. Well, perhaps in the IDers case it is impossible to understand, since a foundation of basic biological science, which they seem unwilling to acknowledge, is necessary.

If the US wants to remain competitive in the world of pharmacology, medicine, genetics, --hell, anything related to biology, we need to stop producing scientific imbeciles in this country. Trying to inject Intelligent Design (which is Creationism playing dress-up) into a science class or downplaying the importance of evolution in biology class is ignorant and irresponsible.