Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


"The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects."

I find that whenever those who make the laws which govern the schools declare that certain scientific subjects cause controversy, we will almost inevitably find that they have thereby caused a controversy surrounding those very subjects. Moreover, I find that the scientifically useful data on abiogenesis, anthropogenic global warming, and human cloning are really quite scant compared to the overwhelming evidence from disparate fields supporting the biological evolution of species over time by descent with modification.

There are interesting legal and ethical debates to be had on the matter of cloning, a fascinating series of hypotheses to be batted about regarding the formation of the most primitive complex molecules, and a wonderful debate to be had (within my peculiar field of statistical modeling and simulation) on the predictive power of climate models. These are all debates which I enjoyed greatly during and after majoring in (hard) sciences in college and (harder) maths in grad school, and I wish all high-school kids would engage in these debates vigorously and with an eye to discovering new truths.

That said, the evolution versus creation debate stands apart from those abovementioned, in that it is in no sense a scientific controversy but rather a clash of worldviews, between those who see the world solely through the eyes of faith, and those who see it with their own eyes. Ancient Hebrew/Arabic/Sanskrit cosmogonies are pitted against modern scientific theories, in the hopes that citizens will frame this particular controversy as a stark choice between religious faith and scientific knowledge. It doesn't have to be this way, but surely this is precisely how folks like Kern and Brogdon see it.

All this bluster about helping "students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories" is so much smokescreen, designed to obscure an intelligently designed wedge which starts with "scientific weaknesses" and ultimately widens out to the first verses of someone's favorite holy book. If you doubt this, just go back and look at the campaign propaganda of the legislators sponsoring and vocally supporting this bill.


Terry Mirll said...

Dude, whenever anyone starts talking about the "overwhelming evidence" of evolution, I can't help from rolling my eyes. I've seen the evidence for evolution, and it's far from overwhelming. What I've seen is evidence that seems to support evolutionary theory, provided we assume it supports evolution and nothing else, and which seems to support other theories, provided we don't first assume that it's evidence for evolution. In other words, it's evidence for whatever we say it's evidence for. That does NOT suit my definition for "overwhelming."

To say that the debate is between evolution and creation is to oversimplify the matter entirely. If our choices are only 1) evolution and 2) creation, where is there room for anything like theistic evolution (to which I am an adherent), creation science, or intelligent design? Instead of framing the discussion purely in either/or terms of evolution and creation, it is far more reasonable to frame the matter in terms of intelligent versus unintelligent causation. Then, the discussion concerning evolution becomes: is evolution the result of blind, purposeless forces, or can it be understood in terms of an intelligence driving it in particular directions? This is far more interesting than the old Evolution/Shmevolution rigarmarol.

Besides, if we claim (as you seem to) that religion is purely a matter of faith, we undermine scientific inquiry itself, for this, too, is often requires a faith commitment.

One example, among many, is multiverse theory. This requires a greater faith commitment than most religions. Ockham's razor becomes impossible to follow. Tell me which idea is unnecessarily overcomplicated: that there are millions, billion, or even an infinite number of universes out there (for which we have not only zero evidence, but cannot prove by any devisable means), and our universe just so happens to be the one conducive to the random formation of living matter; or that the one universe we see around us appears designed, perhaps because it IS designed.

You claim that "All this bluster about helping 'students understand, analyze, critique,
and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and
scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories' is so much
smokescreen." This is only an opinion, not a fact, (and, in MY opinion, incorrect, as demonstrated by your failure to back up the statement with any kind of evidential support, other than the simple ad hominem that we need only look at the Bible-thumping schlubs sponsoring the legislation to know what is "really" going on here).

I could just as easily submit that the real smokescreen here is from the evolutionists, who are so wary of the lack of substance within their own theory that the only way they know of keeping it intact is to insulate it from all criticism and to prevent it from being reasonably questioned. So, which one of us is right?

Well, ME, of course! ;-)

agnostiChicagOkie said...

Do you not think that there are no useful conclusions to be drawn from the fact that the "Bible-thumping schlubs sponsoring the legislation" are avowed YEC's who deny the possibility of descent with modification on theological grounds? This seems like an important and revealing fact to me.