Teaching Creationism in Schools

The basic question is does creationism or one of its variants such as intelligent design have any place in the science classroom?

I would argue that it shouldn't be taught, but this is not a religious objection like you might expect. I object to it first and foremost because neither creationists nor the proponents of intelligent design can put forth anything which could be rightly considered a theory, at least not in the scientific sense.

The defining characteristics of a scientific theory are the following:
  • It makes falsifiable, testable predictions.
  • It is consistent with pre-existing theory.
  • It is supported by many strands of evidence, rather than a single foundation.
  • It is tentative, correctable and dynamic, allowing for changes as new facts are discovered.
Science examines data in the real world and then forms laws or short statements which describe what has been observed. Theories are structures of ideas, built upon these laws that explain and interpret facts.

For example, imagine you are sitting under an apple tree and witness several apples falling to the ground (sound familiar?). You might, if curious, make some more observations along with some measurements and jot down a few laws, along the lines of, an object (apple) when dropped, if not inhibited by an outside force, always falls toward the earth; secondly they fall at a constant rate of acceleration of 32.2'/sec/sec. We now have two laws which explain what happens. Neither of these laws explains the why, they are only descriptions of what we saw. When we later come up with a reason for what happened, i.e. that there is an invisible force exerted by each object on every other object based on the mass of the objects, we then have a theory, it explain why and makes predictions. For example, if our theory is true, it predicts that I will weigh more on Jupiter than I would on our moon. As you can see this prediction would not be obvious from the laws alone, and it is also easy to falsify my theory by simply taking a trip to Jupiter (ok, there is probably an easier way…), but the point is that a good theory is falsifiable and makes testable predictions.

Theories become accepted by a process of being peer-reviewed in journals, a process that can take months or years. By having other scientists examine the same data, doing experimentation, particularly experiments which will disprove or falsify the theory, and ultimately it gains acceptance by the majority of the scientific community. Given the grueling process that a new theory must go through in order to be validated it is extremely rare for a new theory to totally replace an existing and accepted one.

Creationism and Intelligent Design differ from real scientific theories in that:
  • They derive from doctrinal belief instead of data and then look for facts to support the premise. 
  • They are not falsifiable. If God spoke, it must be true so any evidence which doesn’t fit the theory must be skewed or misinterpreted. 
  • It makes no useful predictions. Saying “God did it” says nothing about what He might do the next time, it provides no useful information for learning more about the universe. 
  • Neither theory has even attempted to be peer reviewed in scientific journals.

Biological evolution is a fact which is not disputed by any reputable scientist. The definition of biological evolution is, quite simply, "the occurrence of inheritable changes in the gene pool of a population over time". Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty.

Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. Humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

Creationists and those who support Intelligent Design are doing nothing more than trying to advance religious dogma under the guise of scientific inquiry. They want to skip over the vetting process that gives theories their credibility and turn our high school classrooms into the new crucible of scientific truth.  Their motives are plain to see, they have no evidence which can stand up to the rigor of peer review and they wish to gain a foothold in the lives of our children by teaching religious ideologies at the expense of good science.

Please, do not permit this to happen, keep ideologies in the philosophy, comparative religions or sociology classes, but not in the science classroom.


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