Monday, January 02, 2006

WSJ Opinion Journal: Faith in Theory

Why "intelligent design" simply isn't science by James Q. Wilson:

When a federal judge in Pennsylvania struck down the efforts of a local school board to teach "intelligent design," he rightly criticized the wholly unscientific nature of that enterprise. Some people will disagree with his view, arguing that evolution is a "theory" and intelligent design is a "theory," so students should look at both theories.

But this view confuses the meaning of the word "theory." In science, a theory states a relationship between two or more things (scientists like to call them "variables") that can be tested by factual observations.
We have a "theory of gravity" that predicts the speed at which two objects will fall toward one another, the path on which a satellite must travel if it is to maintain a constant distance from the earth, and the position that a moon will keep with respect to its associated planet.

This theory has been tested rigorously, so much so that we can now launch a satellite and know exactly where it must be in space in order to keep it rotating around the earth. It was not always that way. From classical times to the Middle Ages, many important thinkers thought that the speed with which an object falls toward the earth will depend on its weight. We now know that this view is false. In a vacuum, the two objects will fall at the same speed and, thanks to Newton, we know the formula with which to calculate that speed.

The other meaning of theory is the popular and not the scientific one. People use "theory" when they mean a guess, a faith or an idea. A theory in this sense does not state a testable relationship between two or more things. It is a belief that may be true, but its truth cannot be tested by scientific inquiry. One such theory is that God exists and intervenes in human life in ways that affect the outcome of human life. God may well exist, and He may well help people overcome problems or even (if we believe certain athletes) determine the outcome of a game. But that theory cannot be tested. There is no way anyone has found that we can prove empirically that God exists or that His action has affected some human life. If such a test could be found, the scientist who executed it would overnight become a hero...

Mr. Wilson actually makes a mistake in his essay which does not detract from his overall argument:
...Some people worry that if evolution is a useful (and, so far, correct) theory, we should still see it at work all around us. We don't. But we can see it if we take a long enough time frame. Mankind has been on this earth for about 100,000 years. In that time there have been changes in how people appear, but they have occurred very slowly. After all, 1,000 centuries is just a blink in geological time...
There is plenty of evidence of evolution going on right before our very eyes. Take for example the Peppered Moth, antibiotic resistant bacteria and avian (soon to be human) flu.

3 Comments:

Blogger NixGuy said...

ID agrees that evolution is happening, what they don't agree with is universal common descent and an abiotic origin. These are quite different things.

There may be some ignorant ID supporters who don't know this, and it should be pointed out for both sides.

January 3, 2006 at 1:16 PM  
Anonymous J. Cohen said...

Sir: the peppered moth and antobiotic resistant bacteria are NOT examples of evolution. They are examples of ADAPTATION - types of specie survial mecahanisms that insure the survival of the species under adverse environmental conditions. The 'moth' in your example can just as easily revert to a dark population if conditions favor dark coloration for survival.
This kind of variablity is not evolution but rather, attempts at stasis.

January 5, 2006 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Porkopolis said...

J.Cohen:

You're spliting hairs.

Adaptation (see: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIIE5Adaptation.shtml) is a component of Evolutionary theory. See also: http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/ridley/a-z/Adaptation.asp.

January 5, 2006 at 7:44 PM  

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