The school board for the state in which I currently live (Kansas) will soon be holding hearings about the teaching of Evolution in public schools. Frankly, this surprises me. Some years ago, the Kansas State School Board voted to drop evolution from curriculum requirements, and in the next election, those school board members who voted for this measure where removed from the school board. And yet, here we are, again, with the school board apparently back in fundamentalist hands, holding more hearings on this subject. Some of you may not be familiar with the debates between legitimate scientists and fundie crackpots about evolution, and you may be tempted to believe that there is significant scientific controversy about whether or not there is any truth to evolutionary theory. In fact, it is one of the most successful theories in science. The reason it appears to the public that there is any controversy about the theory as a whole is quite simple: The fundamentalists are cheating.
You see, proper science is a process that requires a far longer attention span than can be sustained by the average adult. It requires patience, carefully controlled collection and classification of data, careful thought, peer review, and countless other qualities that vary depending on the kind of science being done. In science, these days, researchers spend a great deal of time and effort just understanding what has gone on before in their areas of research, and then they can begin to try to find ways to push science a little bit further. They must keep in mind that, whatever they might think they've proven when they finish their research, other scientists will view their work with critical eyes, and that they must be prepared to mount defenses against criticism of their research.
Non-scientists often get frustrated at how quickly a scientist may brush aside their ideas and arguments. Most people simply don't understand the concept methodology and how easily one can be lead astray by careless assumptions about what one's observations actually mean. This is not to say that there are not scientists who are arrogant or needlessly impatient. But for every such arrogant or impatient scientist, I think there must be dozens of non-scientists pumped up on delusions of personal wisdom and convinced that the thousands or more hours of study and hard work the scientist has invested leave the scientist with no particular advantage over the layman's gut feelings.
In contrast to the hard work and study required for real science, making up utter nonsense that sounds like science takes almost no work, at all. And make no mistake, those people who originate these claims that "Creation Science" and "Intelligent Design" are science are liars. They are trying to play all of us for fools. They are putting on a show of arguing with scientists about their theories, but in truth, they know they aren't committed enough to science to be doing real science. They know that most of their audience is made up of people who just aren't interested enough in science to check out the claims they are making. And they know that the average person will see strength in their unjustified certainty and weakness in cautious opinions expressed in real science. Those people pushing the Intelligent design are hoping that we'll be too shallow to see through their deceptions.
Imagine for a moment that you are a scientist, and you are debating a fundamentalist about evolution. If you're honest, you know that the points you make must be worded carefully, so that you won't claim anything you aren't entitled to claim. You know that you should say you don't know, if you don't know. If you don't know about something which is important to the issue at hand, you understand that researching the issue is important before you can make claims about the issue.
If your opponent in the debate is not so honest, you are at a tremendous disadvantage. You opponent can utter a series of unsubstantiated claims, and it doesn't matter if you have a Ph.D. and have spent years of your life studying the field in question. If it takes more than a few sentences to refute just one of the series of claims, your audience of non-scientists is already starting to tune you out. They won't hear most of your first refutation, and chances are the remainder of the unsubstantiated claims will go unchallenged, no matter how wrong they are, because you opponent will break in and spew forth a whole new serious of false claims.
All of you who are concerned about this debate and who don't know much about biology or evolutionary theory should understand that you have only two reasonable options. You can learn enough science to properly understand the question and the evidence, or you can admit that you are ignorant on the subject. Any other choice you make on this subject is dishonest. We all make our own choices about where to invest our time. There's nothing immoral about deciding not to invest time in understanding science. But if you want to have informed opinions about science, you must make this investment. Those people who are claiming that the theory of Intelligent Design is a science are liars. They are either lying implicitly about having enough of a science background to have authoritative opinions, or they are frauds who know their claims are untrue and have simply chosen to make them, anyway.
Some of you may be a little uncomfortable at such a statement. To those people, I invite you all not to take my word for it. Learn more about science in general and about evolutionary theory in particular. The TalkOrigins.org website is an excellent resource. You don't have to browse that web site, if you don't want to do so, but if you're not willing to go to the trouble of researching the subject, do you really have any business telling me I'm wrong about the Theory of Intelligent Design being a pack of lies? How will you tell the difference between honest, truthful claims an a con artists attempts to manipulate your beliefs? None of us wants to see himself as ignorant, but the only antidote for ignorance is learning. How much have you learned about biology and evolutionary theory? How will you protect yourself from a con artist masquerading as a scientist? You can choose to be ignorant or you can study your ignorance away. If you choose not to do so, then you should expect your opinion on the subject to be less valuable than the opinions of someone who has. And you should expect to be as easy victim of the con artist who wants to manipulate you through your beliefs. That just how things are.
Think for a moment about the claim that is behind the theory of Intelligent Design. Fundamentally, the proponents of that theory say, "I can't imagine how evolution can cook up something like an eye, so the eye must be a product of intelligent design." But doesn't that statement really say more about the person's imagination than it does about science? What kind of science is that, and what kind of person could ever claim that such a statement is the basis of a scientific theory?
Some of you may have noticed that nothing in this journal entry proves the theory of evolution, and you are correct. But do you really expect to find convincing evidence of evolution in a LiveJournal entry? There are many, many thick volumes written about evolutionary theory, and there are mounds and mounds of evidence in support of it. Repeating it all here would be an absurd waste of time and resources. And besides, I'm an amateur at this. Read the works of Steven Gould and Richard Dawkins. Browse the TalkOrigins.org archives. Do your homework; Or admit your ignorance. Don't get mad if you wallow in ignorance, claiming that evolution is wrong, and get dismissed by people who have studied the science. You don't have to cure your ignorance, if you don't want to, but claiming evolution is wrong when one knows little about it is just plain silly. And asserting that scientists shouldn't be so dismissive of the Theory of Intelligent Design when one knows little of the theory of evolution or the process of science is only slightly less silly.