The role of theism in science: A short answer for why intelligent design is not science, and why philosophy shouldn’t be taught in high school chemistry classes

August 12, 2008

This will be a short post, and so will confuse the long-winded but short-thought intelligent design advocates, especially those who claim to be philosophers, and especially those who claim to be philosophers of science who can see a role for intelligent design.

A short visit to Telic Thoughts last week produced a revelation that they have a new philosopher who wants to argue that intelligent design “philosophically” could be science, if. I answered that argument at some length, in lay terms, here: “Intelligent Design, a pig that does not fly.”

Dr. Francis Beckwith, at Baylor, appears to have dropped his campaign to teach philosophy in science classes since he rediscovered that God visits the Pope, and since he moved on to more serious philosophical pursuits and away from his practice of confusing people about the law of separation of church and state in America (especially confusing the Texas State Board of Education).  We hope Beckwith sticks with philosophy and stays out of Texas textbooks.

So there was a vacancy in the phalanx of defenders of intelligent design, in the slot reserved for company store philosohers. Dr. Brad Monton volunteered for the job.  Monton has a blog, here. Monton philosophizes at the University of Colorado.

What should be the role of theism in science?  Exactly this:  Theism should encourage scientists to be diligent, to be honest, to ask tough questions, and be kind.  Theism should encourage scientists to be wise stewards of their lab resources and time, and to share the fruits of their work with humanity, for the benefit of all creation (no, not “creationism”).

That’s it.  Honest and thorough, not mean.  Work quickly and true.

If scientists stick to the noble purposes of their work, using these noble methods, we will see a quick death to creationism and intelligent design, which clamor and riot to be included in the science texts though they have not a lick of evidence to support them that is honest, true and nobly gained.

Philosophical debates do not belong in high school science classes, nor middle school or elementary school science classes.  The fun of science, the honest ethics of science, the value of science, and the stuff of science are appropriate topics for those science classes.  Especially school kids should not be encouraged to offer unevidenced, petulent denials of the facts as we know them.  That will only encourage them to become larcenists, disturbed individuals, and Republican state legislators.  Heaven knows we don’t need those.

Wes Elsberry agrees at his blog, The Austringer, but with more felicity:

The issue is not whether science could make progress in spite of re-adoption of 17th century theistic science, but whether theistic science could provide any benefit to the methods of science today. Monton, Plantinga, and the neo-Luddites have not convincingly made that case. Mostly, they haven’t even badly made that case. They seem to assume that science would be better off reverting to 17th century theistic science and become perplexed when scientists disagree with them. We had that debate, we call it “the 19th century”. Nobody has shown that the mostly-theistic body of scientists who decided to eschew supernatural conjectures as part of science were wrong to do so. Mostly, I think, because they were right to do so, and their reasoning still applies today.

Monton seeks a publisher.  I wish he’d seek a course in botany, another in zoology, another in genetics, and one in evolution.  He might find something worth publishing, then.

Philosophically, anything fits in science, if there is evidence to support it, and especially if there is theory that supports it and offers solid explanations that can be relied upon. But we don’t teach philosophy to kids.  We teach the kids the evidence.  Philosophically, any voodoo science could be considered science, if there were evidence to support it.  Philosophically, the FAA should regulate flying pigs that pose a threat to commercial and general aviation.  Pragmatically, however, pigs don’t fly.  In regulation of our air space, and in our science classes, we rely on theory backed by hard evidence.  I wish theists would all agree on that point, and shut up about intelligent design until some institute of discovery actually provides research results that provide evidence that ID is science, rather than philosophy.

See?  I said it would be short.

Leonidas and the 300: died August 11, 480 B.C.

August 12, 2008

300 popped up on some channel last night, and we got a time delay recording to watch it, which I did, mostly.  Interesting stylization.  Cartoonish characterizations, which one should expect from a movie intended as homage to the graphic novel that directly spawned it.

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, Molon Lave, which roughly translates to Come and get it!

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, "Molon Lave," which roughly translates to "Come and get it!"

Several sources dated the climax of the battle as August 11, 480 B.C. — 2488 years ago yesterday. (The battle is said to have occurred during the Olympics that year, too.)

World history classes dig through that period of history in the first semester.  Teachers, it’s time to think about how we’re going to facilitate this history this year.  As always, some bright student will wave a hand in the air and ask, “Mr. Darrell!  How do they know what happened if no one survived, and nobody had their Sony videocorder?”

At least one other student in the course of the day will be surprised to discover the movie wasn’t a filmed-on-the-spot documentary.  But apart from that, how do we know the events well enough to pin it down to one day?  And, since the Greeks surely didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, since it wasn’t invented until the 18th century — how do we know the date?

The short answer is “Herodotus.”  The longer answer may resonate better:  This is one dramatic battle in a year-long fight for the history of the world.  The Greeks were understandably and justifiably proud that they had turned back Xerxes’s armies and navy (The Battle of Salamis, a bit after Thermopylae).  So, these events were preserved in poetry, in the chronicles, in song, in sculpture, and in every other medium available to the Greeks.  Your AP English students will probably tell you the movie reminds them of The Iliad.  There’s an entré for discussion.

Turning points in history:  Had Xerxes succeeded in avenging his father’s, Darius’s, defeats, and subjugated the Greeks, history would be much different.  The culture the Romans built on, the trading patterns from east to west and around the Mediterranean, the technologies, the myths, and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern Olympics.)

How do we know?

How do you handle that question?  Tell us in comments, please.

Resources and commentary on Thermopylae, Leonidas, and the 300:

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