Monday, November 5, 2012

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Recently a computer specialist challenged NASA in court claiming that his firing was due to his belief in and vocal defense of Intelligent Design (ID), the belief that life and the universe are too complex to have evolved.  ID backers contend that God created the universe in its current form in literally seven days and that this happened thousands, not billions of years ago.  Some organizations work to integrate science and faith to demonstrate how science affirms faith in God.  I have also heard claims that Darwin didn’t even believe in evolution.

When I hear statements about people not “believing” in evolution, I am confused.  I never thought evolution was something to be or not to be believed in.  Evolution, or more correctly the Theory of Natural Selection, is science, not religion.  Science is not about believing, science is for using.

Because they have theories to follow, scientists have been able to develop better and abundant food for our tables.  Because they have theories to follow, medical researchers have been able to develop better drugs to prevent or fight diseases.  Because they have theories to follow, we have air travel, a space station, microwaves, cell phones, refrigeration, and in-door plumbing.  Meanwhile other scientists continue to test these theories to discover flaws in their ability to predict or explain the world around us.  These flaws lead to better theories, as has happened many times in the past.  (The ancient Greeks thought there were four elements, but today we recognize 118.)  Doubting theories while using them, instead of “believing in” them, enables scientists to adapt to and not foolishly resist new discoveries.

Meanwhile ID proponents oppose the teaching of evolution in schools as a sacrilege or demand equal time in science class.  In doing so, they confuse faith with tools.  Even for scientists there is nothing wrong with asking God for help.  You can pray that you have a safe trip, but you still need to drive with care and watch out for other drivers.  You can pray that the murderer gets caught and convicted, but if the police or the jury don’t accept the validity of DNA evidence, it might not happen.  You can pray to make good decisions, but you must still use critical thinking and the tools you have available, whether they be computers, statistical evidence or scientific theories.

Faith and science are distinctly different in that they serve distinct purposes in society.  They even inform our behavior in distinct ways; one giving us a moral foundation based on our beliefs to lead good, ethical lives; the other a pragmatic foundation to use our tools toward progress.  The two must work together for us to act wisely, but the supposed conflict between them is the product of those who cannot or refuse to accept this distinction.  To continue to argue about it seems to me not only a waste of time, but a disservice to American school children who continue to lag many other countries in scientific achievement.

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