Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Locusts (except what I meant was cicadas) and Deepak

Welcome to the first post I’ve ever written outdoors. Of course, my wireless is still buggy, so I’m going to have to save this to Word and actually POST it when I get back inside, but there’s still something about writing this thing out of doors. Call it silly, but I’ve never had a laptop before, and now that I’m able to actually transport my computer without a back brace, I’m going to take advantage of it.

I’ll start with this, because this is what’s calling itself to my attention at the moment.

I hate locusts. Hate. Not because of their devastating effects on crops when they present themselves in swarms, but because they creep me the hell out.

*EDIT* I do still hate locusts. But only because they do the swarmy thing. The rest of this refers to cicadas, as was pointed out in the commentary by Shane. Thanks Shane.

Two reasons for that. The first…I hope I’m not the only person who this has happened to in the past. Let’s say you’re…ten years old. You’re playing around outside, climbing trees and whatever else you do when you’re ten (I think we can safely rule out trading stock, at least for most of us) and suddenly, there it is. Right as you take hold of the next branch and pull yourself up, you find yourself face to face with a largish insect mold thingshell. I fell out of a tree once doing that. Perhaps I’m just jumpy.

The second, and this is what’s calling my attention to them now, is the incessant noise. Granted, it’s much better now than it was two summers ago (I think) when the dreaded 17-year buggers resurfaced in this part of western PA. There’s nothing quite as horror-movie-esque than walking down a street not able to hear the person next to you talking because of the chirping of what you know in your mind to be little tiny hellspawn. Creepy.

Anyway, on to other things.

I was up for quite some time last night, my attention divided between Moneyball by Michael Lewis and, oddly enough, Larry King. I tend not to watch Larry King, as I just don’t enjoy interviews that much, but this was different. Six guests discussing the controversial remarks made recently about teaching Intelligent Design in schools. As opposed to Darwin’s theory of evolution. A veritable oil field of knowledge, ranging from a young earth creationist pastor (espousing strict adherence to the Genesis account of creation) to two Republican senators who were on opposing sides of the debate, an evolutionary biologist, a representative of the Discovery Institute, which is espousing the theory of intelligent design (though not necessarily the position that it should be a mandatory part of the science curriculum in high school) and, just for good measure, Deepak Chopra. The result? Absolutely nothing in the way of progress or resolution. The evolutionary biologist was disappointingly only interested in verbally berating the guy from the Discovery Institute, the senators were actually somewhat irrelevant and the pastor guy and Deepak Chopra argued over whether or not the Genesis account should be taught in schools. Chopra was somewhat off topic, claiming that no, of course we shouldn’t but what we should teach in science classes is meta-cognitive theories of evolution (evolution of the mind and awareness) while the pastor guy laughed at him and told everyone to go to Hell if they didn’t accept his truth as the truth, even implying that the senator that disagreed with teaching ID in schools (who said he personally believed the Genesis account) was “un-Christian”.

My take on the whole thing? There is no way in hell Intelligent Design theory should be a mandatory part of high school science classes, in that it is in now way science. The scientific method is scrapped for “well, your theory doesn’t really explain it perfectly, so maybe this is what happened but I have no evidence to support that and it’s therefore an unfounded claim” as well as being untestible and not falsifiable (that is, there’s no test you can construct to disprove the theory of an intelligent design). As for “teaching the controversy,” that is, requiring that the weaknesses in the theory of evolution be taught, sure. Teach the kids to question, which is about as close as I get to agreeing with Antonin Scalia’s 1987 dissenting opinion. Most of the holes rely on the premise on which Intelligent Design is based, Behe’s argument (in Darwin’s Black Box) that things are too complex to have evolved on their own and that the idea of irreducible complexity disproves evolution. It does not. Take the eye. Behe’s argument would claim that there are too many parts of the eye… the light sensitive surface, the lense, the pupil, to have developed independently. Evolution posits that it didn’t have to emerge as a finished product all at once. Perhaps first there were simple structures that just enabled life to follow light. Then perhaps another mutation that accounts for the concavity of the lens. The lack of fossil evidence of the interim steps is crucial to Behe’s argument that it was all designed at once, but then that’s a logical fallacy. Argumentum ad absentum. The lack of evidence is not proof.

As of right now, Darwin’s evolutionary theory is the most successful at explaining the origin of life without taking steps that render the scientific method, and indeed science, completely impotent. It’s the job of parents to teach their kids to question, of churches to offer explanations that deal with the supernatural. Not the science teacher. Their job is to teach the scientific method and sound reason. One caller suggested that the science teachers should acknowledge God’s hand in creation in the interest of simply presenting another theory. Whether or not an intelligence (such as God) created life is moot, as to teach such would be overwhelmingly impractical, as it would demand that each creation story, from each religion be presented. Between presenting the accounts of the origins of life from Darwin’s perspective, the Christian Genesis theory, the Buddhist theories, the Hindu theories, the way in which Zoroastrians think the world came to be, the varying Pagan theories, the Baha’i theories, there’s no room to get past the origins of life and talk about the circulatory system. Science is science is science, as it were, and should only deal with what can be subjected to the scientific method. That doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t be allowed to maintain their own theories of creation. That doesn’t disprove the theory that God did create the universe and everything in it in six 24 hour days or the theory that we’re created from the sweat drops of a Norse god. As Francis Collins of the Human Genome Research Institute says in a recent Time article, it is very possible to believe in both Evolution and God. They are not exclusive, except in that evolutionary theory attempts to explain the result that we’re alive and that life exists according to the scientific method. We can’t prove or disprove theological accounts, and that’s why it’s a matter of faith, not science. Teach it in churches. In synagogues and mosques. But to demand that a science teacher abandon the scientific method to teach a theological subject is ludicrous.

Similarly, the suggestion that Intelligent Design is not a religious theory is completely bunk, as, if you accept that life was created by some intelligence, you are then left asking who that is. “It doesn’t have to be God!” IDers claim. Sure. But then who created the designer? You’re left with an inevitably theological question..

One last point. Claiming that evolution is “just a theory” is to misunderstand the term theory and the point of science. As a scientific theory, it if testable and falsifiable. Being a theory does not mean it has nothing backing it up. Quite the opposite. So stop it with all the “but it’s just a theory”. So are our ideas about why we need to breathe, but that’s rarely, if ever questioned merely because it’s a theory.


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Shane said...

I think that students should have to learn about religion, since it is such a shaping force in our world, and could be something very enriching for them on a personal level. I don't, however, think they should try to force science around creation, since science is best presented as it is. It shouldn't be forced around any particular way of thinking, actually. As far as evolution goes, that's great for trying to figure out how some birds have particular beaks for particular purposes, but it still doesn't solve how we got here in the first place. I happen to believe that evolution does solve the question of creatures evolving according to their environment, but not initial creation.

The problem with the big bang is...what banged? What was there? How did it get there? That is where I find creation to be far more sensible than a meaningless explosion of material, which is not really a source, but merely the explosion chapter of a story with the preceding chapters missing.

Also, the insects you speak of are cicadas, and they do not munch on crops.

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-Murphy said...

You're right about the cicadas, Shane. I'm not sure why the term locust got into my mind, then. Thanks for the clarification, though. This is why I'm a chemist, rather than being a biologist. Because I'm quite inept about stuff like that. It's been fixed.

I agree completely with whatyou've said there, basically. As far as the actual question of creation, it is, as I've said in the post proper, quite a matter of theology. Which is, perhaps, why the Catholic church is alright with the idea of the big bang, as it is simply a creation event. As far as what it was and how it got there...we don't know. Perhaps we shall never know. Perhaps it was sparked by the collapse of a previous universe, but then where did that come from. As far as evolution as a source of the origin of life, it's mostly based on continual evolution from a very primitive life form, so it's not so much a question of "according to environment" versus "from scratch" as extrapolating it back. But then, I'm not looking to get into a creationism/evolutionism debate so much as point out that what should be taught in science classes should be science.

If you'd like to debate, though, go to and search for "evolution" on the forums. I think anything I'd say in a creationism debate I've already said there.

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