Tuesday, August 30, 2005

More on Darwinism V. Intelligent Design

John Derbyshire explains why the president is wrong on Intelligent Design.

Money quote:
What, then, should we teach our kids in high-school science classes? The answer seems to me very obvious. We should teach them consensus science, and we should teach it conservatively. Consensus science is the science that most scientists believe ought to be taught. "Conservatively" means eschewing theories that are speculative, unproven, require higher math, or even just are new, in favor of what is well settled in the consensus. It means teaching science unskeptically, as settled fact.

Consider physics, for example. It became known, in the early years of the last century, that Newton's physics breaks down at very large or very tiny scales of distance, time, and speed. New theories were cooked up to explain the discrepancies: the special and general theories of relativity, quantum theory and its offspring. By the 1930s these new theories were widely accepted, though some of the fine details remained (and some still remain!) to be worked out.

Then, in the late 1950s, along came your humble correspondent, to study physics to advanced level at a good English secondary school. What did they teach us? Newtonian mechanics! I didn't take a class in relativity theory until my third year at university, age 21. I never have formally studied quantum mechanics, though I flatter myself I understand it well enough.

My schoolmasters did the right thing. Newton's mechanics is the foundation of all physics. "But it's wrong!" you may protest. Well, so it is; but it is right enough to form that essential foundation; right enough that you cannot understand the nature of its wrongness until you have mastered it. (Along with some college-level math.) Furthermore, it is consensus science. By that I mean, if you were to poll 10,000 productive working physicists and ask them what ought to be taught in our high schools, I imagine that upwards of 9,900 of them would say: "Well, you have to get Newtonian mechanics into their heads..."


Blogger airforcewife said...

Seriously, I can't figure out what the problem is here. I taught junior high science at a Catholic school. I approached evolution in this way: this is what the preponerance of evidence supports (evolution). We don't know what kicked it off - it could have been lightning making amino acids combine into some amoebic Frankinstein monster, it could have been the hand of God.

But it happened. And this is what you need to know.

So - I think that squares with what can be taught in a public school, too, and I also think that it should satisfy most people (although people are never satisfied).

But maybe I'm too optimistic.

7:10 AM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

I agree AFW. In fact, I wrote a post about the debate a few weeks ago. I think I called it "Idiocy from the right."

I don't think there is much of conflict between Darwinism and ID. Darwinism shows how evolution works. ID suggests something "programmed" nature to evolve, and all Darwin did was duly note what he saw.

The problem is with Creationism, which is not scientific at all and has been proven completely wrong, because we know the earth is billions of years old, etc., whereas Creationism is basically a literal account of Genesis from the Bible. Creationism has no place in public education because it is a religious-faith teaching, and because from a scientific point of view it's akin to arguing that the earth is flat and that the sun rotates around the earth.

7:52 AM  

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