Saturday, August 06, 2011

On the science of, like, science

Okay, so sometimes I feel like I spend a lot of time poking at religion--particularly Christianity--on this blog, which initially doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I don't hate Christianity. I don't hate Christians. I actually enjoy my faith and my faith community and take a lot of comfort in it. But honestly, some Christians--some Christians--if I'm honest, way too many Christians--throw a spark in it because they make me look bad. They take the name of a perfectly good theology and do stupid things with it. If I'm having a discussion with a non-Christian wherein my beliefs come up, and it's revealed that I am, in fact, feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and pro-evolution, someone always ends up saying, "Well, then, you aren't exactly a Christian, now, are you?" and then I say, "Shuh up!" and then there's a discussion of a Biblical defense for homophobia and the epistles of Paul and it ends in blood or cupcakes.

That said: A conversation I had over the weekend with a dear friend--and an otherwise very smart, reasonable friend--made me feel that this kind of post might be necessary. And "necessary" might be the wrong word for it, since in my experience, my reader(s) tend to be the kind of smart, reasonable people who get this kind of thing already. But sometimes (e.g., this weekend), people surprise you. Thus, with a sincere effort at not even bringing religious justification into it:

Why You Can't Teach Creationism In Science Class

Because it isn't science.

This has been Why You Can't Te--What? … Nuh-uh. … It is, too, valid.

Evolution is science because it's science-y. There's a certain science-ness to it. I find it hard to really define it, because to me, it self-defines. In terms of other definitions, Merriam-Webster have a pretty good and thorough one, and I have a bit of one myself: Science is the satisfaction of curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge using systematic methods and relying on testable evidence.

The theory of evolution is those things. (Sidebar: In science, a theory is a model for explaining phenomena based on--among other things--empirical evidence, consistency, and zebra/horse simplicity. It's not a theory like our standard "I have a theory as to why Bella was such a pathetic little whiner"; that's more in the direction of a hypothesis, which is something you test in order to formulate a theory. Now back to our show.)

We (meaning human scientists way smarter and more determined than I) have followed evidence through the fossil record, watching one critter make tiny changes over the course of billions of years until it turns into a different critter entirely. We've both observed in nature and experimented with microevolution. We've observed unexpected biological similarities between seemingly unrelated species. We've fallen off the jungle gym and wondered why we have tailbones, since we obviously don't have tails.

And sure, there are holes here and there, but there always will be, and scientists are working to fill them in--that's how science works. New knowledge brings new questions, and as more information comes along that contradicts current theory, science changes to incorporate the new knowledge into our understanding of the world around us. With extensive study, evolution remains the simplest model that takes into account all of the current evidence without leaving anything behind, and that makes the minimum baseless assumptions.

Creation… isn't that. It's not science. At the very center of it is the existence of a higher power, for which there exists no empirical evidence. It's not testable--you can't experiment with divine creation or try to reproduce micro-creation in a lab. You can't apply the scientific method to it. It depends largely on discarding significant chunks of current evidence and claiming that God put it there. It relies on faith, belief without evidence (or in the face of contradictory evidence). And it doesn't have the minimum assumptions--it has the biggest imaginable assumption, which is that there is a god.

I'm not even going to try to tell you whether divine creation, as written in the Bible or elsewhere, exists. I have my own feelings on the subject, but my feelings--and anyone else's feelings--on the subject don't matter in this context. What matters is what you teach in science class, and that's science. It's not religion, it's not controversy, it's science. And when someone finds a science-y approach to addressing the subject of divine creation, you can jump on in, and I can't wait to hear what you have to say. Until then, you can find room for creation in humanities and literature and even world history, if you have the time. But science class is for teaching science, and divine creation isn't that. Not even a little bit.


paul said...

though maybe not your blog (still thinking about it) but I follow you, both on the subject of creationism not being science and the issue of christian religion being a reasonable and acceptable theology, but with way to many people morphing it into some weird and unreasonable do's and above all don'ts as long as those fit their own imagination. I guess the same applies to more then just the christian religion though. Being a non-native English speaker/writer I appreciate you expressed these ideas which I could never have wirtten down as polished and clear as you did, without being offensive. Thx !

Anonymous said...

I can understand your point of view. Yet from my point of view, the totality of evolution has not shown us "testable evidence" on the grand scale needed to truely make it science. I agree with you that it is more "science like", but that in and of itself does not make it fact. There can be common ground in the particualrs, but NOBODY has observed
testable evidence of the actuality of it.