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Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: It’s that simple.

June 9, 2012

I’m saddened to have to write a post of this nature, but it seems the time has come for another rehashing of this tired old crock of publicly debated hell. Evolution vs. Intelligent Design (or Creationism, if we have some straightforward honesty from our theists)! Should they be taught alongside each other in schools?

No. They shouldn’t. Really, it’s that simple. Evolution is a valid scientific concept which is worthy of being taught in high school science classrooms, and ID is not, nor has it ever been, a valid scientific theory. However, many of you will want to know why, and I aim to please, so here is the reasoning…

  • The word “Theory” is almost always being used incorrectly.

    One of the key components of the ID argument against Evolution being taught is that the foundation is the Evolutionary Theory, emphasis of course added on the word theory. Proponents of ID Theory use this to try to equalize the two theories, making it seem as though both are actually just some developed guesses.

    However, this is simply misleading, because the word theory (as many words do, in the English language) has multiple definitions. This is extremely important, because one definition deals with the use of the word theory in the general casual context, while another is used in the scientific context with a very different meaning.

    A quick Google search for the definition of “theory” finds (on dictionary.com) that one definition is in line with this classification previously mentioned: “A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact. ”

    Another definition for theory (coincidentally listed as the first definition, before the former definition, which is the second) is: “A coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena.”

    It is this second type of theory which is being used in the scientific community to refer to constructs such as the Theory of Evolution. Technically, yes, this definition does leave open the possibility for the theory to be shown false; we are humans, after all, and must account for our errors. However, what this does not do is license anyone who does not like the Theory of Evolution to dismiss it out of hand as a guess. Simply as a matter of common sense, though, is the aspect that if well over 90% of the  relevantly-educated scientific community accepts that the theory is correct, it is unlikely that every pro-ID-advocate with a humanities degree and 10 minutes of online research has “debunked” or “refuted” the ToE; that is patent nonsense.

    Do we understand the point here? Let’s take a look at some other big T Theories of science:

    1. The Theory of Gravitational Attraction. Do you see many people jumping off of buildings saying that this one is bullshit?

    2. Atomic Theory. Should we “Teach the Controversy” and bring back the Aristotelian Five Elements system to teach them side by side?

    3. Germ Theory. Pathogens cause disease, right? We know this and can use that knowledge to create vaccines and antibiotics, yes? Bonus, many of the implications of this Theory would be complete insanity if the ToE weren’t correct.

    How many of these are being questioned on the basis of being a theory?

  • Biology only works with Evolution (and it clearly works).

    I mentioned this briefly with the last point, but the plain fact is that nearly the entirety of modern biology is dependent on the knowledge and constructs we gain from the ToE. No one living in a modern society can claim that biology isn’t doing its job. We have unprecedented work in genetics, the elimination of diseases through vaccinations (when was the last time you knew someone to get polio?)  and antibiotics, and work dealing with the drug resistance of pathogens. None of this would be possible without the ToE.

  • Evolution has been confirmed countless times.

    Evolution draws on a vast majority of fields to show confirming instances of the theoretical projections. Fossil observation, DNA sequences, biogeography, and laboratory experiments all provide a wealth of information which are exactly the type of data we should be observing if the projections made by the ToE are correct.

  • Intelligent Design does not provide compelling counter-evidence.

    Many proponents of Intelligent Design claim that evolution (driven by random mutations) cannot account for the presence of many complex organic systems. This concept is “irreducible complexity”: the idea that a structure is too complex to have evolved from simpler, or “less complete” predecessors, through natural selection acting upon a series of advantageous naturally occurring, chance mutations. One commonly cited example of a structure which would be irreducibly complex is the bacterial flagellum. You may remember this structure from your high school biology class: In essence, it is a long propulsion tentacle with sub-parts devoted to attaching the tentacle to the cell wall of the bacterium. Since we cannot understand how such a structure would come to be through the process of evolution, ID proponents argue, then it must be that the structure was created, rather than evolved.

    However, this argument is fundamentally flawed. First, it is an argument from ignorance, and hearkens to the “God of the Gaps” argument: If we don’t know how it works, God must do it. Second, the concept of “irreducible complexity” is rejected by the scientific community. The overwhelming majority of respected, peer-reviewed, papers and books on the topic of the bacterial flagellum have demonstrated that it is entirely possible for such a structure to evolve.

  • Even further, Intelligent Design does not qualify as science.

    You may notice, while perusing the Wikipedia articles of the scientific Theories I listed above, something all of those Theories have in common: They have structure, make detailed positive claims, and can be used to explain past events, as well as to predict future events. Intelligent Design does not contain these features. Instead, it merely claims that the ToE is wrong, and that structures must have been designed by an intelligent agent. There are no structures, it makes no detailed positive claims, and cannot be used to explain the process of past events, nor can it be used to predict future events.

The evidence weighs heavily against Intelligent Design and Creationism, as theories explaining the variation among organisms. Not only do they fail to fit the data which we have from observing the world, but they do not fit the characteristics of a scientific theory.

There is no reason to entertain the notion that Intelligent Design is remotely in the same league as the Theory of Evolution. There is no reason to equalize the two theories. There is no reason to teach Intelligent Design. It’s that simple.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2012 10:56 am

    of course, ignoring the theological elements we must ask ourselves this: which is more logical, that life arose on this and potentially other planets in a process that is mathematically impossible, or that a being or beings beyond our understanding may have had a hand in the formation of things?

    Both are rather unbelievable able. Yet clearly life exists. People, however, would rather believe in a statistical/mathematical impossibility, however, than believe that a our limit science might not be able to detect such beings as could have the power to create and guide the processes of life. Or perhaps they delude themselves as such because they do not wish to face the possibility that there are things out there greater than us…

    • June 9, 2012 4:20 pm

      Lucius, that’s a pretty rank betrayal of the reason you’re purportedly trying to uphold. First, life arising on this planet without the intervention of “…a being or beings beyond our understanding…” is certainly not a mathematical impossibility.

      More importantly, though: None of this makes any statement about the existence or lack thereof of any of the sort of being whose existence you’ve proposed! The Theory of Evolution simply talks about the change of organisms over time, not the beginning of life itself. You’re conflating evolution and abiogenesis.

  2. June 11, 2012 3:17 am

    I love this post. Although when you mentioned “ToE”, I thought you were referring to the Theory of Everything” since I recently read an article about it. ^^

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