What people should know

By Sean Carroll | August 4, 2005 11:36 am

The immediate purpose of this post is tell search engines where to point when they’re asked about intelligent design. Steve Smith of the National Center for Science Education (a great organization, devoted to defending the teaching of evolution in schools) has sent around an email mentioning a surge of interest in the subject, seen for example in the list of top searches on Technorati (right now it’s the most popular search). So he suggests that people with a web page point to this article on Intelligent Design at the NCSE website; we physicists here at CV are happy to help out, as we know that we’re next once the forces of pseudo-science finish off our friends in the squishy sciences.

It’s an embarassment that something as empty as intelligent design gets taken at all seriously by so many people. Here’s an important feature of real scientists: they don’t try to win acceptance for their ideas by forcing people to teach them in high schools. They publish papers, give seminars, argue with other scientists at conferences. IDers don’t do this, because they have nothing scientific to offer. They don’t explain anything, they don’t make predictions, they don’t advance our understanding of the workings of nature. It’s religio-political dogma, so of course they pick battles with school boards instead of scientists.

In the discussion about the post on doctors below, some commenters pointed out that doctors aren’t really scientists at all. But the point was never that doctors are scientists; it was simply that they were people who went to college, where presumably they even took some biology courses. How is it possible for people to go through college and come out not appreciating enough about how science works that they can’t appreciate the metaphysical distinction between science and propaganda?

But much of this is our fault, where by “us” I refer to college science professors. We do an awful job at teaching science to non-scientists. I presume (and would love to hear otherwise if I’m wrong) that most U.S. colleges ask their students to take about one year’s worth of natural science (either physics, biology, astronomy, or chemistry) in order to graduate. But more often than not these courses don’t teach what they should. For some reason or another, we most often create intro courses for non-scientists by taking our intro courses for science majors and removing the hard parts. This is completely the wrong paradigm. What we should be doing is taking an entire professional scientific education (undergrad and grad school, including research) and squeeze the most important parts into courses for non-scientists. If someone only takes one physics course in college, they should certainly hear at least something about relativity and quantum mechanics. If someone takes only one biology course, they should certainly hear at least something about evolution and genetics. Instead we (often, anyway) bore them to death with inclined planes and memorizing anatomical parts. (Truth in advertising compels me to mention that, as an astronomy major, I made it through college without taking any courses in either biology or chemistry.)

And, most importantly of all: they should absolutely learn something about the practice of science. They should have some introduction to how theories are really proposed, experiments are performed, and choices are made between competing models. They should be told something about the criteria by which scientists choose one idea over another. It should be impressed upon them that science is a perpetually unfinished subject, where the real fun is at the edges of our ignorance where we don’t know all the answers — but that there are also well-established results that we have established beyond reasonable doubt, at least within their well-understood domains of validity.

Wouldn’t you like to take a science course like that? I don’t know, maybe my experiences have been atypical and there are a lot of people teaching courses in just that way. If so, let me know.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Science
  • LM

    “They don’t explain anything, they don’t make predictions, they don’t advance our understanding of the workings of nature. It’s religio-political dogma,”

    For a second you were sounding like Peter Woit.

  • mchammer

    Perhaps one of the science requirements could (should) be filled with a scientific method/philosophy course. A first year student probably learns some things from his physics course, but a sound understanding of how scientific models are built probably isn’t one of them.

    I also think that it’s wise for scientists to take a philosophy of science course early in their careers. I consider the one I took as an undergrad to be very important in my own professional development.

  • http://impropaganda.blogspot.com Suzanne

    Well written, Sean. I do think that even with well-designed science courses and certain basic requirements, movements like creationism will still hold popular appeal. (I’m sick of calling it “Intelligent Design” because it’s actually no different.) I think it’s because people can hold onto very contradictory beliefs if they want to.

  • Emile

    Well, you’ve hit one of my hot buttons. I’ve responded to your postings only once & that one was critical, but here I will lend some support. I took just such a course as a freshman who was undecided about his major. This was in the 60s & the course was very unusual for that era. It was a two semester physics course for liberal arts majors taught by a terrific teacher named Dan Posin (now deceased). Interestingly, he also had a TV program on an educational station here in Chicago (today known as WTTW), which at the time was broadcast from a glass enclosed studio at the Museum of Science and Industry. The program was very similar to his physics course. At any rate, the course contained all sorts of fascinating topics such as how nuclear power reactors work & missions to Mars and so forth. Prof Posin did such an impressive job that I declared physics as my major and the fascination remains to this day (40 years later)!

    The main point here, though, is not that an undecided freshman became a physicist, but rather that hundreds of liberal arts majors learned about the scientific method in a way that was so interesting that it captured their attention and was also meaningful and topical.

    Sadly, I learned later that some of Prof Posin’s colleagues on the physics faculty were critical of his devotion to this type of teaching. They didn’t think it was worthy of a real physicist. He left the university (which I am purposely not identifying) and the course disappeared as well.

    Championing this cause might be an interesting and socially beneficial mission for you and your blogging colleagues. I wish to suggest that you give it some thought. Sounds like the prelude to Mission Impossible, doesn’t it?

  • Richard

    Also, see this very strong document opposing ID and the tactics used by proponents:

    http://www.kcfs.org/standards05/idcritiques/princehouse.html

    (The author helped me locate and import a wonderful dog from France.)

    Richard

  • Johnny

    Thank you for this post. I have been on this horse for a very long time. When I first took high school biology (where most americans first encounter a scientiific expanation of evolution) it was a horrible joke. It was presented as flat and dogmatically, without any proofs or demonstrations, as any sermon against evolution I had ever heard. Just recently I posted on a liberal blog that knowledge of science brings responsibility, that too many have ignored. One reply that I recieved when I suggested that education has failed to bring a practical application to schools, I was told, “hey, it’s schools”. But I have always found young people to eat up science like candy, if it is taught correctly.

    Almost all science education I received prior to my 18th birthday was essentialy of the nature of “we say it is true, therefore it is true” which never, ever served the cause of enlightenment.

    Thank you again!

  • agm

    But the point was never that doctors are scientists; it was simply that they were people who went to college, where presumably they even took some biology courses. How is it possible for people to go through college and come out not appreciating enough about how science works that they can’t appreciate the metaphysical distinction between science and propaganda?

    Sean, what you are railing against isn’t a failure to provide a good exposure to the scientific enterprise (though in many schools that would be an accurate description of what happens). You are really upset with the fact that a college education in the last two or three decades has become an accreditation process. It’s no longer about taking intelligent people and teaching them a way of thinking; it hasn’t been for a long time.

    You’re assuming that all educated people will give a damn about a metaphysical distinction, when they haven’t been taught how to see one, or when they quite obviously don’t give a damn about it.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Where’s the metaphysics here? I thought this was about science versus nonsense.

  • jfaber

    I’ve wondered for a while whether it is possible to teach introductory physics students something about the way we tend to think, rather than just the equations we typically solve, but have yet to get a chance to inflict this on some freshpeople guinea pigs. Is it possible in an intro course to teach things like orders of magnitude, dimensional analysis, conservation laws, and the other ways in which real physicists understand their field, rather than physics being more like an applied algebra problem? It would make some sense, since students really, REALLY forget equations after courses are over, but who won’t remember that energy is conserved, or something like that? In some sense, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to teach toward what will be remembered in the longer term, at least as a component of a course.

    Also, why don’t intro physics courses actually visit the grad students upstairs or in the basement. Heck, I know it’s rarely all that interesting, but it would go a long way toward breaking down the ridiculous notions people get from tv. Why not invite them to 10 minutes of a colloquium to get a flavor of how it works?

  • Johnny

    Mark, one of the quickest ways to lose a public debate is to start by calling your opponents views “nonsense”, even when it’s true. The quickest way to win a public debate is to demonstrate that it is nonsense in a manner that those viewing the debate can understand. (well, unless you want to emulate FOX news, which I don’t)
    ——–
    Sean, there was an article in USA today, by Patrick Welsh, a high school English teacher, that I thought you might find interesting…

    Here is a great quote:
    “A similar problem exists with math and science books.

    A study of textbooks by the American Association for the Advancement of Science concluded: “Today’s textbooks cover too many topics without developing any of them well. Central concepts are not covered in enough depth to give students a chance to truly understand them.”
    —–
    How can we really expect students to be educated, if we don’t treat them as educable?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Thanks Johnny, I was looking for your advice!

    Actually, I spend large portions of my life dealing with public science education and work very hard to make people understand the issues in terms that they can understand.

    However, we should not pussyfoot around here. ID is not really a “view” at all, and science is not about debates. ID is a political movement designed to get around established rulings about religion (creationism in particular) in schools. It is clearly nonsense and we should be prepared to say so, and then explain why. I didn’t bother explaining why in this comment because I was just trying to get the previous person to clarify a point and because this entire post is devoted to pointing people to where those arguments can be found.

  • citrine

    I continue to be appalled by the lack of critical thinking abilities of a large percentage of undergrads. Let alone teasing out subtle logical or methodological flaws, they are unable to use such simple constructs as “because” and “therefore” to construct and present a compelling argument of any kind.

  • Johnny

    Well Mark, It is painfully obvious that you do indeed work in modern science education.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    I don’t even know what that means Johnny. I think it’s meant to be an insult, which would be in keeping with the condescending tone of your last comment. I would suggest you try not to write this way, and instead enter into actual discussion here.

    If you think saying out loud that ID is patent nonsense makes me a poor science educator, I guess we’ll just have to disagree. But perhaps we could do so in a more civil way.

  • http://jenniferhead.cfa.harvard.edu Jennifer

    I think the issue is that Mark is using the word nonsense instead of propaganda. If you want to be precise, the push for teaching ID in high school is propaganda. I also think it is nonsense, but that’s a different matter.

    Seems to me there is no reason to bring metaphysics into it – Sean calls it a metaphysical distinction, the difference between science and propaganda, but it is simpler to say “how can you get a college education and not be able to tell the difference between science and propaganda?” It is not about the fine art of metaphysical distinctions, it is about knowing the definitions of 2 words that one should have run into in their education. More than once I would hope.

  • Gavin Polhemus

    Although the IDers are wrong about evolution, their argument is built on the claim that science can reveal something about the existence of God. This is actually the same claim made by Sean in a blog entry back at preposterous universe. Of course, the similarity ends there. Sean argued that God’s non-existence is far more compatible with the data, while the IDers actually have no interest in data and are just wrapping a pseudo-science costume around a religious position.

    None the less, we may be seeing the end of the uneasy truce between science and religion that has existed in this country since the early 1900s. The terms of the truce were that scientists would except certain things as beyond the scope of science (like the afterlife and the existence of God), while the religious would avoid trashing science out-right. Many individual scientists and religious followers maintained their contempt for each other, but publicly the truce has held.

    I think that the Discovery Institute could be making a big mistake by breaking this truce, especially since they say that they want to play by science’s rules. If they succeed in convincing schools to teach students about this supposed evidence for a designer, then they are going to have a hard time arguing that teachers can’t talk about evidence that God does not exist. If they want us to “teach the controversy” in biology class, then maybe we should just dive right in and offer a whole science course called “Does God exist?”. That would certainly capture the students’ interest and would be a great way to teach about evidence based science.

    If the Discovery Institute comes to my town’s school board, I’m going to gather up every atheist I know to carry “Teach the Controversy” placards and hand out copies of Sean’s “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists.”

    Gavin

  • Benjamin

    Speaking of potential pseudoscience and its impact on public policy, I wonder how most physicists come down on global warming and spending trillions to ‘prevent’ it. I know what Lubos Motl thinks, and he’s no dummy. Oh well, I’m probably too late in the comments to get much of an answer.

  • Jack

    MCHAMMER SAID:

    Perhaps one of the science requirements could (should) be filled with a scientific method/philosophy course.

    No, no, a thousand times NO!! It sounds good, but you know what will happen in reality: you will get some amateur philosopher droning on endlessly about Popper and Kuhn, and those few students who don’t sleep throughout will come out of class saying: “Hey dawg, that wuz kinda kewl. But what has it got to do with black holes and alien abductions?”

    The way to get an understanding of scientific method is to get a *real* scientist to talk about how he or other real scientists actually do what they do.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/~quantoken Quantoken

    Sean:

    The ideal model of education in your mind is a modern manufacturing production line where the CORRECT set of human knowledge are carefully SANITIZED, and nicely packed, and the student should unconditionally absorb every little drop of it like a sponge. And when the final product leaves campus you expect them to be educated exactly to the product specification you require. And if future technology allow it, you would prefer every kid has a memory chip implanted and you spend a few hours downloading a couple terabytes into their brain, and you are done with it, right?

    I call that brain wash. It doesn’t matter whether the contents are correct one or incorrect one. If you try to sanitize the mind of your student in any way, correct or incorrect it’s brain wash.

    The purpose of education is really not to teach them what’s right and what’s wrong. But rather, teach them the skill of critical thinking so they have the ability to always look at both sides of things, and be able to think independently and draw their own conclusion.
    You bet that when presented reasonable evidences, most people can think for themselves and draw the correct conclusion.

    So, what’s wrong with allowing students some exposured to some ideas ID, alongside the teaching of evolution theory, and together with plenty of evidences, and allow them discussions and allow they to decide for themselves what they think is reasonable, and what is not.

    You bet when all the censorship and satinizations are removed, in a fair debate the real science will always win. If it doesn’t win an uncensored debate, and have to resort to censorship of mind to win, then that is NOT real science.

    Now, I am definitely an evolutionist, not a IDer. But I guess academic freedom and freedom from censorsjip is more important than any thing else.

    Quantoken

  • Aaron Bergman

    Speaking of potential pseudoscience and its impact on public policy, I wonder how most physicists come down on global warming and spending trillions to ‘prevent’ it. I know what Lubos Motl thinks, and he’s no dummy. Oh well, I’m probably too late in the comments to get much of an answer.

    Lubos is completely wrong on this issue, at least in the opinion of this physicist. You can check out RealClimate for good information on this subject.

  • http://world.std.com/~mmcirvin/ Matt McIrvin

    Gavin, we in the US need the truce between religion and science. If it ends, at least in America, I am certain that religion will win and science will die or be driven underground. I’m pretty sure that the courts would interpret the free expression clause in the First Amendment as banning the active promotion of atheism in public schools. If public-school science classes for some reason had to become atheistic, they’d simply end.

    Religion is simply much, much more powerful than science in this country, in terms of politics and in terms of mindshare. We can’t afford to take it on directly.

  • Nathan L

    Lubos is completely wrong on this issue, at least in the opinion of this physicist.

    You aren’t the only physicist puzzled by his rants on global warming. It’s kind of bizarre, actually.

  • S. McHugh

    Jack says: No, no, a thousand times NO!!

    Well, at least one time “yes.” I happened to have had a very good experience listening to a philosopher drone on about Popper and Kuhn. I ultimately came away from my philosophy of science class firmly on the side of science, but the experience sharpened my understanding of just what is science. And I like to think that this makes me a better practitioner by being more conservative with the realism I attribute to physical models. Yes, one could learn this from a “real” scientist, but as we know, the background required to appreciate the exciting roughness of forefront research makes it impractical for a non-specialist to glean the scientific method real time.

    As it stands, most students take away from intro physics courses not much more than a handfull of formulae and little understanding of how they were discovered.

  • Gavin Polhemus

    Matt, I’m not quite as pessimistic as you, but I am pretty pessimistic. I take some comfort in the fact the the ID movement recognizes the credibility of science enough that they pretend to be a science. Contrast this with a purely religious attack on science.

    What is needed is an unashamed, unapologetic acceptance of the teaching of the Bible, whether or not it can be made to “make sense” to scientific minds or meet the demands of personal whims or needs. Without a response to the apologetic of materialist-science that begins with a ringing, “Thus saith the Lord,” our counterattack will lack the prophetic authority of an inspired message, boldly proclaimed and consistently lived.

    This blatantly anti-science attitude just doesn’t play well in much of America anymore, though it does still work in some places (one of my neighbors is in this camp). An end to this truce would be very divisive. I don’t think science would be wiped out, but I do think that in vast areas of the country science teaching would totally degenerate into some sort of Creation Institute inspired anti-science. However, other parts of the country would probably fair quite well. I’d like to keep the truce.

    Note that I did not say that we should promote atheism in the public schools, only “teach the controversy.” I have difficulty seeing how we can allow evidence of God’s existence in science class without allowing evidence of his non-existence, but there is probably some way to argue that promoting God is acceptable but promoting atheism is too sectarian. What I do worry about is that 99% of science teachers won’t be able to navigate this mess and science will look like a he-said-she-said debate. At that point “thus saith the Lord” will become pretty compelling again.

    Gavin

  • http://www.livingreview.com/~quantoken Quantoken

    No actually Lubos is completely right on global warming theory. It’s the biggest pseudo science and crackpot of our time.

    You need to look at both sides to be able to make a judgement. Not only you need to read Real Climate, you also need to read Climate Audit. Compare both, think use your own brain, and draw conclusion.

    Now, the green house effect is REAL. Nobody question that. A clear evidence being that cloudy nights seem to be warmer, since water vapor is a green house gas.

    The problem with Global Warming Theory is Quantity. Water vapor is by far the most dorminant green house gas, all other GH gases attribute only an insignificant percentage. If the total green house effect warmed up the surface of earth by 20 degree than otherwise, then probably no more than 1 or 2 degrees is attributable to CO2, which is less than 400 ppm in the atmosphere. Out of those 400 ppm, only a very small percentage could be attributed to human activity, if ever at all. Further, they totally ignored the fact that CO2 attributable to natural carbon cycle, like metabolism of biotics, are several orders of magnitude higher than human contribution, and it’s a very dynamic system far from being equilibrium. They also ignored the fact that there has always been dramatic climate changed throughout billions of years of evolution of the earth, long before humen occured.

    This total disregard of order of magnitude is so absurd it’s even funny. I once read, maybe on Science Magazine. That they are discussing the global warming effects due to extra methane emitted from the farts of cows in New Zealand. That’s indeed a very huge FART, but on the part of the so called experts, not on cows.

    I assume most readers here are educated enough to do this simple calculation: Assuming that every adults in developed countries, which is about 300 million people, drives 50 miles to work every day, and consumes 2 gallons of gasoline every day. How many ppm of CO2 does it add to the earth atmosphere, if you keep driving your cars for one thousand years. Is it 1 ppm? 10ppm, 100 ppm, 1000ppm? The result will surprise you!!!

    The total CO2 in the atmosphere, if distributed amoung populations, averages to 400 tons per person, young or old, rich or poor. Burning a couple gallons really does not add that much CO2. And not to meantion all those gasolines are FOSSIL FUELS, and was once the CO2 in the atmosphere before they were absorbed by ancient plantations which turned into petroleum!!!!

    Quantoken

  • Aaron Bergman

    I rest my case.

  • http://www.livingreview.com/~quantoken Quantoken

    I did not make up the “cow’s fart” story. It’s true. Just do a google search using these key words combined: “cow”, “Global warming”, “methane”, and you see quite a few.

    When experts are telling you that farts from cows are contributing “significantly” to global warming, do you need any further discussion. Do you still retain any respect for such scientists?

    And yes there is a “consensus” on craps like this in the orthodox research community.

    Quantoken

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    “Cow farts” ?

    What’s most amusing, here, is that you don’t even know which end of the cow the methane comes from.

    Whatever …

    (Why am I breaking one of the cardinal rules of blogdom?)

  • http://www.livingreview.com/~quantoken Quantoken

    Jaques:

    I am not quite sure I figured out which end of the cows fart. But I am definite sure I got it wrong about you when I used common sense. My advice is you should probably fart less and save the world from global warming!

    Come on respect your own intelligence a little bit please! Don’t let me ridicule you like that! It’s so silly that it is not even funny any more.

    The CNN link is here:
    http://archives.cnn.com/2000/NATURE/07/21/cow.methane.enn/

    Quantoken

  • NL

    Aaron: tres’ Usenet, but funny nonetheless.

  • http://world.std.com/~mmcirvin/ Matt McIrvin

    Gavin, I am actually not that pessimistic because I also think it’s extremely unlikely that the scientific community (as opposed to specific scientists) will start attacking religion in general. It’s just not going to happen; they may be a minority, but too many good scientists are themselves religious, and most nonreligious scientists (even outside of the US) don’t perceive trying to destroy religion as something they do while wearing their scientist hats.

    I’m not a huge fan of Gould’s “nonoverlapping magisteria” notion, partly because I’m nonreligious myself and partly because in practice religions don’t keep very well to their supposed magisterium. But the metaphysical component of most major religions is not something that is really scientifically attackable, since it can always retreat to making non-empirical claims. A scientist who continued to go after it into that terrain attempting to continue to use scientific arguments would be bound to fail. The best the scientist can say as a scientist is that it’s not science. This isn’t just a political compromise, it’s prudent methodology.

  • LM

    Lubos has a weakness for crackpot causes. See for example his defense of the Bogdanovs. I was actually rather surprised to find him on the right side of the ID debate (assuming he still is).

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  • Andreas

    Quantoken:

    Your expose about the greenhouse effect is probably too naive.

    Water vapor in the troposphere, unlike the better-known greenhouse gases such as CO2, is essentially passive in terms of climate: the residence time for water vapor in the atmosphere is short (about a week) so perturbations to water vapor rapidly re-equilibriate. In contrast, the lifetimes of CO2, methane, etc, are long (hundreds of years) and hence perturbations remain. Thus, in response to a temperature perturbation caused by enhanced CO2, water vapor would increase, resulting in a (limited) positive feedback and higher temperatures. In response to a perturbation from enhanced water vapor, the atmosphere would re-equilibriate due to clouds causing reflective cooling and water-removing rain. The contrails of high-flying aircraft sometimes form high clouds which seem to slightly alter the local weather. [From wikipedia on “The Greenhouse Effect”]

  • Andreas

    The emergence of “Intelligent Design (ID)” is maybe another Jungian “Schatten” (shadow) which rised up from the unconscious, and which dialectically mirrors the limitations and the “dark” effects of the present scientific dogmas.

    The crisis is all too obvious.

    In mathematics, most propositions are true but cannot be proved in any sufficiently complex logical system, although many mathematicians firmly believe that “truly relevant theorems” always have an accessible proof. Strikingly, the foundations of modern mathemtics remain undecided (What is the continuum hypothesis? What is the Riemann hypothesis? What are L-functions? What is “set”?)

    In computer science, the majority of algorithms compute non-recursive functions non-effectively, although only effective algorithms are practically computable thus far.

    In physics, 95% of the energy and mass in the Universe remain unknown, although many physicists continue to believe that dark matter and dark energy are concepts of 19th and 20th century physics.

    In biology, and five decades after the formulation of the “central dogma”, the latter has in fact become a central enigma (while being a dilemma concurrently): e.g., up to 97% of the mammalian genome is without sense to us (in a quick act of dispair, some scientists have called it “junk DNA”), protein translation and folding is a big problem as it ever was, and epi-genetics is about to change the laws of reproduction, heredity and evolution as we know it. And the theory of evolution itself, although often successful locally, fails to explain the origins and the purpose of life.

    There are more Jungian shadows in other disciplines(neuroscience vs consciousness, for instance), and together with the often deadly and bizarre outgrowths of modern scientific endevour (60 years after Trinity, Hiroshima and Nagasaki), scientists should be humble enough to realize that the last 2000 years of scientific exploration have not been the path to human glory. It is then difficult to embrace for some conservative characters, but well understandable otherwise, that a societal and inescapable counterculture to mainstream science must emerge in direct consequence, as in fact does ID.

    Facing the immediate challenges for the human race, science must recreate itself again–as it did more than 2000 years ago–if both want to survive. Hopefully, then, unscientific countercultures will catalyze the unfolding of a truly philanthropic science before it is too late.

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  • A Nony Mouse

    While I would agree with you that it is silly to force the creationist ideal to be taught in public school systems and to spend so much time arguing about it, and I also disagree that Darwin’s idiocy should be the ONLY thing that they are taught.

    I don’t have a problem with other people beleiving in evolution. I don’t have a problem with learning about it. Nor am I one to force my beliefs on others. I do, however, resent it when evolution is taught as the only intellegent option, and that everyone who beleives in an intellegent creator is being stupid.

    You say might say that creationist have no solid evidence that we can present to support our theory. I would like to point out that evolutionists don’t either. Random chance is not any more acceptable as a theory on paper than the words “then somehow a miracle happened” would be in the middle of a mathematical proof on my final exam. There is a reason for everything.

    The entire universe IS a miracle, whether attributed to a God or to dice. The functionality of a single bacteria, let alone innumerable superior beings, still perplexes the most exalted scientists of our time. To attribute, not only the perfect environment to flourish, but to have such beauty and perfect ratios of life-sustaining nessesities and convenient bodily functions to nothing but the luckiest of chance is, in my mind, a riduciously flawed thought process.

    Yes, if an infinite amount of monkeys pounded on an infinite number of keyboards for an indefinite amount of time, eventually one of them would happen to type out the entire book of Genesis, or if that analogy offends you, next week’s issue of the New York Times. HOWEVER, while the universe is very very big, it is not infinitely massive, and the celestial laws that govern our universe don’t pound on keyboards to create planets and their occupants.

    No, I do not beleive we are the offspring of fish and monkeys. To suggest such seems to me a blatant betrayal of the incredable gift to logical reasoning that we have been given.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ PZ Myers

    I do, however, resent it when evolution is taught as the only intellegent option, and that everyone who beleives in an intellegent creator is being stupid.

    Not everyone who believes in an intelligent creator is stupid — it’s a belief without evidence, though, and they have to hold it on this rather optimistic idea called “faith”. It isn’t a sound foundation for rational thought, but heck, there are some smart people around who can cope despite the handicap.

    However, people who whine that there is no evidence for evolution, that it is a theory based on chance, that they don’t like the idea that they are the offspring of fish and monkeys, clearly do not understand the theory they are criticizing. When they go on and on about it, compounding their ignorance with a damnably willful, arrogant refusal to learn…well, those people are stupid.

    And the ones who rant about how they really are intelligent while consistently and repeatedly spelling it “intellegent”…they’re pathetically funny, too.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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