Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rant Alert

Sorry, but it's "That" time again. Time when the level of stupid reaches the flood gates of tolerance and it spills over all over my shoes...

I've been reading multiple blogs on the spate of anti science legislation that is popping up a couple of states. Both The Bad Astronomer and P.Z.'s Pharyngula blogs have the details but the basic gist of these bills is this; Evolution as described by Darwin is a theory and not fact. Because it's a theory, alternative "theories" should also be taught.

Sounds reasonable enough on the surface except that the people who are backing these are religious fundamentalists who want creationism taught as a science. It comes down to a misunderstanding of what science is. To a fundamentalist, science seems to mean a philosophy akin to their religion. To everybody else, science is a tool or method for of exploring and defining the natural world . The supernatural has no place in science as, by definition, it is beyond the natural world. In science, a theory is a collection of observations, evidence and ideas that model something in nature. Because it's a model, it can be held up and tested to see if it holds true. A good example of this is Einstein's Theory of Relativity. It's been tested and retested over and over again and still holds to be an accurate model of the universe while Aristotle's theory that the Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun, Planets and stars all revolved around in perfect spheres failed to accurately model what later scientist (particularly one, Galileo) where observing.

This brings up another quality of a theory, it can make logical predictions. Einstein's theory predicted that time would slow (in respect to an outside observer) the closer one approached the speed of light. This prediction was proved correct several times since the 1950s and CERN runs an ongoing Time Dilation experiment currently. Poor Aristotle's theory fell apart because it couldn't explain or predict the retrograde motion observed in the motion of several planets.

So, what does this have to do with original rant? Darwin's Theory of Evolution is a good scientific theory as it cites observations and make predictions that can be tested. The creationist's intelligent design theory makes no testable or observable predictions. Nor does it doesn't cite observations but only hearsay and rumor. It's data source is, in their own words, supernatural and that alone removes it from realm of science.

Beyond the "Teach the controversy" stupidity, these people are trying to stifle the teaching of basic scientific methodology and that can have devastating effects on society. Our society is one based upon science and rational thought. Imagine this, the computer you are using to read this suddenly stops working. Unless you are one of the small percentage of the population that repairs computers, you're out of luck and your machine is going to stay broken. Sure, you could wave a stick over it and maybe say a few words in the hope that it will sudden fix itself but really, you need somebody trained to solve your problem. Now take that example to an extreme and say, oh a nuclear power station suddenly starts to see where this can go.

Not knowing how to fix a computer is not something to be ashamed of (hell I open the hood on my car and immediately curl up into a fetal position) and socially its ok. The problem is that so many fundimetalists don't understand (or worse refuse to try to understand) scientific concepts like evolution and then decide that because they can't understand it, it's beyond understanding. They call scientists snobs or elitist because they use a vocabulary that is not in the everyday lexicon of the general public. They fail to understand that every profession has it's own linguistic shorthand and not everybody is trained enough in that area to understand it. It comes down to a very old saying, "If it was easy then anybody could do it".

Anyway, I'd like to close with a request....Fundamentalist, please stop relishing the ignorance and stop trying to send us back to the Dark Ages....they were called that for a reason folks.