One Side Can Be Wrong

It’s tempting to quote huge swathes of Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne’s article from today’s Guardian as it does such a great job of debunking the idea that “intelligent design” should be taught in science classes. But I’ll resist and just give you a couple of the best paragraphs. Here’s one good one

Intelligent design […] is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for “both theories” would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened?

And here’s another

If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it’s no solution to raise the theologian’s plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. To do so would be to shoot yourself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis. Or it does not, in which case get it out of the science classroom and send it back into the church, where it belongs.

Oh look, I can’t do it justice by giving you extracts. Just go and read the whole thing yourself.

Oh, and it’s good to see the Flying Spaghetti Monster in Pass Notes.


  1. Whilst I personally do not believe in creationism or intelligent design, this first paragraph that you quote just does not make logical sense. (How ironic, for a text on logical fallacies!)Alchemy has been proven to be false. Phlogiston is also proven to be false. The stork theory is of course false. And the evidence for the holocaust is overwhelming. BUT there is no proof that intelligent design or creationism is false in this way. There is of course plenty of evidence to show that evolution is correct. But why couldn’t evolution be a process begun by an intelligent designer? That way evolution may just be a piece in a bigger picture, and not the whole picture.I’ve been working with physics professors at Oxford for the last couple of months, and I am surprised by how many of them have religious beliefs. On the face of it this clearly makes no sense. Whilst I haven’t discussed this with them, I presume that the problem is that they can’t get right back to the big bang. So they can’t say what started it. In which case, nothing can really be proven either way.

  2. There are still people who deny the Holocaust. And there are still people who “study” alchemy. There may still be people who believe in Phlogiston. But none of those people are taken seriously by the academic community. And followers of “intelligent design” should be treated in the same way.Of course, it’s possible that the “first cause” may have been some kind of “intelligent designer”. But in order for that theory to be debated sensibly it needs to be open to investigation by the scientific method. This is a point that Dawkins makes in a section of the article that I didn’t quote. No proponent of “intelligent design” has ever published an academic paper about it in a peer-reviewed journal.

    I’ve been working with physics professors at Oxford for the last couple of months, and I am surprised by how many of them have religious beliefs. On the face of it this clearly makes no sense

    Makes sense to me. Science doesn’t have all of the answers.But note that having religious beliefs does not make you a creationist. By far the vast majority of theists are not creationists. Creationism (or “intelligent design”) is just a lunatic fringe on the edge of the religious community.

  3. See my links on the subject – a bunch of great rants. This might be another to add to the list…

    But in order for that theory to be debated sensibly it needs to be open to investigation by the scientific method.

    Objection. There is no possible way to falsify any theory having to do with the “cause” of the big bang, because there is no possible way we can trace time back to T=0, because that would be a singularity. We can only hypothetise about what could have been before the beginning under the assumption that things like quantum mechanics and relativity were already valid (c.f. “parallel universes”).

    But these questions are as scientifically interesting as asking what happens inside a black hole: that is, not at all. There is no way we can make a falsifiable theory about any of these questions, and thus there is no way that science will ever answer these questions, because they are wholly outside the scope of the scientific method.

    Trying to answer “why did the universe happen? did someone make it happen? who?” by examining the universe itself is like trying to answer “why did this pot of pasta get cooked? did someone cook it? who?” by examining the pasta, or like trying to answer “why did this house get built? did someone build it? who?” by examining the architecture, structure and materials of the building. It just doesn’t work. Science quite blankly will never give these answers; does, in fact, not even concern itself with giving these answers.

    All I say here is not said to support religion – I’m probably the least religious person on Earth. The point I’m making is that the scientific method has a precise, well-defined scope, and it’s an error to try to apply it where it does not, where it is undefined, in the mathematical sense. Too many people misunderstand this. The terms “science” and “theory” are common knowledge, but their meaning is not, at all.

    Too many people instead perceive science as a sort of substitute religion. Epistimophiles aren’t the only ones guilty of this – the I.D. nutcases are egregiously at fault as well. I bet you 20 quid that not one of them has a precise understanding of what science is. In their perception, I.D. and science are on the same conceptual plane, and thus should be given equal time.


  4. Dave, are you sure when you say:”But note that having religious beliefs does not make you a creationist. By far the vast majority of theists are not creationists.”Genesis Chapter 1, verse 1 (ie the very first line of the book) reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” If it’s at the start it must be important (sort of like an executive summary!) So that’s Judaism and Christianity covered for starters.I suppose it depends whether you define creationism as implicitly rejecting evolution; Wikipedia (the new bible) does just this. Although I would consider the view that “God created the Earth and then evolution took over” to be logically consistent (although probably inaccurate).

  5. Ian,As you say, it’s a matter of definition :)By “creationism” I mean the believe that the Earth was created in 4004BC following the exact process described in Genesis and that the dinosaurs were all drowned in the flood. This is, of course, clearly nonsense.Most religious scientists would (I hope) tend towards the believe that god created the universe but then stepped aside so that natural processes (including evolution) could take over.

  6. Which is why I view schools as government sponsored indoctrination camps.You want to teach your kids creationism or evolution or “Stork Theory” then you are free to do so at home or an educational establishment of your choice.It ammazes me that people will bitch about what their kids are being taught by schools. This is a society that has delegated parenthood.Shame on them.

  7. Yes, that stuff about dinosaurs dying in a flood can be objectively proved to be incorrect, and so anyone who believes that clearly is definitely wrong. Is that actually what these people propose to teach, as opposed to the “stepping aside for evolution” argument. If so, then they’re clearly just delusional.Perhaps a more interesting question than whether these people are full-blown idiots or merely cretins, is to determine exactly what it is that these people are gaining by believing these demonstrable falsehoods?

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