Debating Darwin: Should evolution be taught as the only truth? at the 2007 Battle of Ideas conference hosted by the Institute of Ideas.
The debate over creationism has sprung up as the latest flashpoint in the battle between secularism and religion. While the US has seen extended conflict over the theory of evolution - from the 1925 'Scopes Monkey Trial' to the recent Dover, PA court case "new challenges to Darwinism under the guise of intelligent design (ID) have arisen in the UK. Concerns centre on school science education, from Sir Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation to the controversial teaching packs distributed by the anti-evolution group Truth in Science. The rise of 'Islamic creationism', modeling itself on ID, adds to concerns that Islam poses a special threat to secularism in Britain. Although the Royal Society and much of the scientific establishment have denounced the teaching of creationism, a recent MORI poll revealed that over 40% of the public believe that creationism or ID should be taught alongside evolution in school science classes.
While few seriously endorse the literal biblical story of creation, ID on the other hand claims to highlight Darwinism's shortcomings on scientific grounds. Evolution is 'just a theory' after all. Surely in the spirit of encouraging critical thinking we should 'teach the controversy'? Science is about questioning received truths rather than establishing certainties for all time. Does this not permit a more flexible approach to science education, where debate is encouraged? Further, the sheer complexity of evolutionary theory leads ID advocates to claim it is best to cultivate a critical eye in pupils, rather than have them take as truth a misunderstood Darwinian theory.
Is science, or 'scientism', just as fundamentalist as religion, arrogantly claiming to know everything, or are doubts such as these a reflection of scientists' failure to make the case properly for what science does have to offer? Is this merely another case of the 'balance fallacy' the mistaken belief that even falsehoods should be given air time?- IoI
Simon Conway Morris
Simon Conway Morris is Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge. He has worked as a Research Fellow at St John's College, and has lectured at the Open University. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990, and has received medals from the National Academy of Sciences and the Geological Society of London. He worked for the Natural Environment Research Council between 1998 and 2002. Simon is renowned for his insights into early evolution and his studies of palaeobiology.
Steve Fuller holds the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, UK.
He is acknowledged with founding social epistemology and has published over 17
books including Kuhn vs Popper and The Intellectual. His latest book is Humanity
2.0: What it Means to be Human Past, Present and Future (Palgrave
Alex Hochuli is a masters student in European studies at King's College London and editor of the Battle of Ideas and Institute of Ideas websites.
He assists in the development of the IoI's communications and new media, and with the Debating Matters Competition. Alex is a Battle of Ideas committee member and is on the editorial team of the 2007 Battles in Print.
He occasionally writes articles for spiked and reviews for Culture Wars. Alex co-edits the Manifesto Club freedom blog, Speaking Our Mind, and is a regular guest on news discussion programme Up Front on internet talk TV channel 18 Doughty Street.
Alex is a recent graduate in International Relations and History from the London School of Economics (LSE) with a special interest in religion and secularism, co-producing the IoI and Bishopsgate Institute series of debates on secularism in early 2008. He also has a keen interest in issues relating to the media and the internet, particularly with regard to censorship and free speech.
David Perks has taught in state schools for over 20 years and is a passionate defender of academic science education. His critique of the new school science curriculum published in What is science education for? provoked the front page headline in The Times - Science elite rejects new GCSE as 'fit for the pub'. David writes more broadly on education and the relationship between science and society. His interests range from environmentalism to intelligent design. David originated the Institute of Ideas and Pfizer Debating Matters sixth form debating competition
(born Feb. 12, 1809, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Eng.died April 19, 1882, Downe, Kent) British naturalist. The grandson of Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and biology at Cambridge. He was recommended as a naturalist on HMS Beagle, which was bound on a long scientific survey expedition to South America and the South Seas (183136). His zoological and geological discoveries on the voyage resulted in numerous important publications and formed the basis of his theories of evolution. Seeing competition between individuals of a single species, he recognized that within a local population the individual bird, for example, with the sharper beak might have a better chance to survive and reproduce and that if such traits were passed on to new generations, they would be predominant in future populations. He saw this natural selection as the mechanism by which advantageous variations were passed on to later generations and less advantageous traits gradually disappeared. He worked on his theory for more than 20 years before publishing it in his famous On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859). The book was immediately in great demand, and Darwin's intensely controversial theory was accepted quickly in most scientific circles; most opposition came from religious leaders. Though Darwin's ideas were modified by later developments in genetics and molecular biology, his work remains central to modern evolutionary theory. His many other important works included Variation in Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868) and The Descent of Man (1871). He was buried in Westminster Abbey. See alsoDarwinism.
A theory can be defined in science as you describe it.
But also you will find every day in scientific literature people saying the words "new theory" for such and such.
If a theory only fell under the definition you use in science.. then the words "new theory" would never be uttered by a scientist unless that new theory had already gone through rigorous testing.
A theory is a theory. Some have more backing than others. Even the best, most substantiated theory cannot be 100% - which is why in science we use the word "theory", because nothing is ever proven.. it is instead further substantiated with subsequent tests and verification.
Listen to the introduction, they said the teaching of Intelligent Design could have Consequences for their Democracy & that the teaching of creationism could be a treat to human rights. We must remember that, Europe saw the Inquisition, Fascism, and other forms of extremism on their streets. America on the other hand seems content to let any form of extremism, as long as its in the name of God, while pointing the finger at extremists who follow another God or Gods. Yet, many Americans will denounce followers of Islam for their treatment of woman, for killing Christians, and even for hanging gays, all the while they will call for the killing of Non-Christians, will call for the killing of gays, and will say women should be subservient to men, call for laws that deny women the right to their own bodies, and even deny the access and use of contraceptives that would prevent countless unwanted births and therefore countless abortions. Furthermore, many of these people support the Pope and religious conservatives in Africa's view that, contraceptives are a sin, and they should not be used even to prevent diseases like HIV/Aids, even though millions of people are currently dying from this disease. Even when science has shown structural differences in the brains of gays and straits, the conservatives insist on demonizing and hating gays, on denying science, and this is why religion can not be taught in science classes, because it ignores scientific method in favor of what one wants to believe. Mr Fuller says Evolution is vague, its not vague, it vary specific, this is why science is able to utilize evolution, to create vaccines, medicines, to even create clones. Look at the world around you, virtually everything you see around you has been touched by science, from the buildings you live in, to the cell phone in your pocket. What has religion given you, a belief that when you die, you will live forever or go on to be reincarnated, or some other fanciful belief. Science has heals millions every day, is enabling the weak to walk again (remember polio anyone), enabling the deaf to hear, healing the injured, and soon the blind to see. Religion offers so called isolated incidences of healing, supposedly Pope John Paul healed one woman, and that makes him a Saint. What about the countless doctors that save millions of lives, hundreds of people per doctor every year? Those are the Saints, the men and women who have doubled the human lifespan in the last 80 years or so. The goal of Intelligent design is to make the kids cynical, because if they are cynical of science because they can't determine what constitutes good science from bad, maybe they will embrace religion. In regard to Mr Fuller comment about mention evolution in biology, how often do you mention automotive engineering or other concepts when working on or even designing cars, but don't such concepts still apply? Same thing with any underlying concepts for any given field, how often do I have to refer to the basic fundamental concepts of electricity when building electrical circuits, fixing a computer, etc. Mr Fuller like to make it seem like a complex thing has a single simple answer, when in fact science is a lot sometimes simple facts such as gravity, that work in complicated way such as quantum physics. Evolution are small changes over a long period of time, to deal with a changing environment, or as a life form moves a changing geography. However, evolution is also a rapid adaptation to deal with an extreme change of conditions or geography. If we had a global disaster, say an asteroid impact that effect global clement, those who survive would pass on their genes to their off spring. Whatever attributes the survivors possessed, be it fatter bodies, more muscle mass, greater lung capacity, etc, would be passed on to their off spring. This trait would now become a dominant trait, when its no longer needed, this trait would eventually become a recessive trait, as some other traits become more dominant. Mr Fuller's comments show he knows nothing of science.
Steve shows why Intelligent Design fails, its a bunch of hogwash. You can do research for yourself on the web and discover that in fact, Creationism and Intelligent Design are in fact the same religion. The passages the describe what Creationism is have be slightly altered and put into the books they use for Intelligent Design. These religious zealots ignore hard science, they claim the earth is 7,000 years old, and that man and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time. This ignores the fact, many civilizations such as the Chinese, those that lead to the Greeks, the Romans and others predate the 7,000 year old time line. So these people are neither creative nor intelligent, when establishing their religion. They use the Term Intelligent Design, because these words are associated with science, in much the same way Christian Scientists use the word Science to gain some respect amongst intellectuals. It tries to treat science as a fact, in the way scientific facts are provable and valid. The Audience member's critique of Mr Fuller is spot on, those involved in the soft sciences, that is the Social sciences are far more likely to be people of faith, because their area of study is far less cognitive, far less hard science, and much more emotive. I mean, how many sociologists study primate behavior, in order to understand human behavior? How many do true studies on behavior modification, I mean why is it so hard to help people with mental and psychological challenges? How come sociologists don't have a better clue as to who will go on a rampage, like the young man in Arizona. Why were they surprised to find out after the bombing at the Olympics in 1996, that humans can stampede like animals, we are animals after all. I mean, people have been trampled during fires, at other disasters, Of course, so many religious folks deny there are apes in their family tree, lol. This is why, so many people in the hard sciences, and people who are grounded in logic and reason, have less respect for the soft sciences. Because Scientists like Mr Fuller come from left field, encouraging the teaching of religion as science, no only will you have youth who are disinterested, they will be like too many students here in America, that is ignorant of science. The conservatives (religious)over here are not only trying to force religion into public schools, they are editing history, in places like Texas, where they have removed people like Jefferson from history textbooks, in public schools. Because many states can't afford to set their own standards, they follow Texas' standards, so however Texas goes, so does much of America. America's educational system is falling apart, and the conservatives are making the problem worse by dumbing down our kids. Do not let this happen on your side of the pond.
Originally Posted by DLuckyE
Haven't read all that much about Intelligent Design, but how does intelligent design explain the designer itself?
Even if our whole universe was designed by another kind of intelligence, that intelligence itself should have evolved from something or be created by something.
Seems to make the answer a lot harder than it should be.
The Catholic Church has a nifty way to sidestep that knotty question in their doctrine of Asaetas [sp?] which stipulates that God the Creator is the First Cause of All and this is possible only if God, Himself, requires no cause. Whew! This is obscure too---I couldn't find any reference to it in Wiki or Google!
PS: I myself am just a good old countryboy atheist.
"I am uncomfortable with scientists pronouncing what is or is not science, even on something as obvious as evolution."
If you want to have your walls painted, you call an experienced painter. If you want to build a reliable plane, you call an experienced aerospace engineer. And if you want to do/define science, you call an experienced scientist. Science is no more and no less than any other skill. You only know how to do it right if you have both theoretical knowledge and practical experience. There is no magic to this. There is, however, a lot of (self-)deception to claiming that one can ignore this trivial insight in case of something as complex as science.
"In the end even those who who believe in a perfectly mechanistic universe which is discoverable purely through empirical testing cannot EMPIRICALLY prove their point of view."
The method of "empirical proof" relies on the absence of observations that invalidate a particular hypothesis, not on the positive proof as required by mathematics (which is the only discipline that has any formal definition of "proof"). As of today, nobody has made any observation that the universe works in any other than a physical fashion, which is the most basic hypothesis of science. Please note that "physical" does not mean "mechanistic". It is acknowledged that it takes a non-trivial amount of reflection to understand the difference between "mechanistic" and "physical", though. Modern science assumes that the world works based on discoverable physical laws, but it does not assume that the dynamics of those laws leads to a mechanistic universe. Quite to the contrary, ever piece of evidence we have from the microscopic as well as the mesoscopic world indicates that the universe does whatever it can to be completely non-mechanistic.
"Teach them to question the scientists, everything else is neither here nor there."
The only way one can question science is by actually understanding it. So if you are asking for the teaching of more, not less science, one can not, but completely agree with you.
"As a scientist the their will always be a tension between that which can be and that which cannot be explained"
I am a scientist and I have never felt that tension. I can tell you outright that science can tackle all "How...?" questions and will not waste even a single thought on "Why...?" questions. If you have a "Why... ?" question, please go to the philosophy and theology departments, they may be able to help you, although I doubt even that.
But there was no debate of Darwin. An attempt was made to frame the discipline of science using the discipline of theology.
'And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
'I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'
I am uncomfortable with scientists pronouncing what is or is not science, even on something as obvious as evolution.
In the end even those who who believe in a perfectly mechanistic universe which is discoverable purely through empirical testing cannot EMPIRICALLY prove their point of view.
Science is testing and falsification, it is also the communication of that testing through rigorous argument and vigorous debate. "Scientists agree" can never be real science and is a larger danger than some kids being taught I.D. in school.
Teach them to question the scientists, everything else is neither here nor there.
As a scientist the their will always be a tension between that which can be and that which cannot be explained, I.D. vs. Darwin is a great way of understanding that tension. Teach it I say, because it explains what science is better than the Darwinists here can hope to. They defend science without understanding it.