Scientific Method is Under Attack in Evolution Debate, Specialists Say
Proponents of "intelligent design," a faith-based critique of evolution, are doing more than attack a well-established scientific theory, says one leading defender of Darwin. They are intent on undermining the fundamental methods of scientific inquiry, she said.
"Evolution is a concept that applies to all sciences, from astronomy to chemistry to geology to biology to anthropology," Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said in a 28 June online chat sponsored by EurekAlert! "Attacking evolution means attacking much of what we know about the natural world" that has been acquired by application of scientific principles and methods, Scott said.
Backers of intelligent design, she said, want to "change the very way we do science itself, by abandoning the reliance upon natural cause as the keystone of explaining the natural world." Instead, she said, they "want us to abandon methodological naturalism, throw up our hands and say, 'The problem is too hard. God did it.'"
Intelligent design proponents argue that some structures or processes in nature are "irreducibly complex" and could not have originated through small changes over long periods of time. They presuppose there is an intelligent designer, outside of nature, who intervenes to insert design into the complex world around us.
"What this means, of course, is that intelligent design, because it appeals to agencies that lie outside of nature, is not testable and therefore is not science," said Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University and another participant in the online chat for reporters. EurekAlert! is an online, global news service operated by AAAS.
Miller said he is concerned that the push in Kansas and elsewhere to include discussion of intelligent design in science classrooms "will drive a wedge between the American people and their support of science. What the ID movement may do is convince a large segment of young people in the United States that mainstream science is inherently anti-religious."
But Miller and many other scientists have said there is no conflict between science and religion regarding evolution. He cited a 1995 book by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, that takes what Miller called "a profoundly pro-science view of human origins and the history of the universe."
Miller also noted that Ratzinger had presided over the production of a document, "Communion and Stewardship," that includes a statement that "converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for a theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution." Miller added, "I think most biologists today would agree completely with the sentence I have just quoted from that report."
Barbara Forrest, professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and co-author of "Creationism's Trojan Horse," said that intelligent design rejects the methodology of modern science and represents an attack on secular public education. "Good science teachers have their hands full just teaching science," Forrest said. "Science teachers did not start the Intelligent Design controversy and should not be tasked with resolving it. School principals, school boards and state boards of education are responsible for protecting the science curriculum so that teachers can do their jobs."
Read the complete transcript of the online chat at www.eurekalert.org/expertchat.
30 June 2005