Monday, May 9, 2011

Real Science and Creationism

So, this week, a 17 year old Louisiana high school student sent a letter of petition to the Louisiana State Legislature against passing the Louisiana Science Education Act. TLDR version: creationism can be taught alongside evolution in public schools. The student created a petition that has been making its rounds, and, as of my writing this, has just over 13,000 signatures.

This question was posited on one of my various forums in defense of teaching creationism as a theory right alongside evolution:

Why is creationism considered invalid by real scientists?

I like this question. No presuppositions. Just a simple 'Why all the fuss?'

'Real science' can be termed as hypotheses that have not yet been disproved through the scientific method.

It's a huge article, but the TLDR version can be found in the second sentence of the article: "To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning."

The principles of reasoning vary between fields, but can be generalized to 'repeatable results from objective experimentation and observation.' For gravity, that would dropping a ball and seeing it move towards the largest proximate mass (Earth). If the ball sometimes flew at me, or my car, or that tree, then gravity's inherent hypothesis would be flawed, and would require either revision or expulsion.

We get considerably more debate in situations like evolution vs creationism because evolution takes place over hundreds of thousands of years. It is not observable in the course of one human life, let alone the thousand generations you need to see even small changes. Fortunately, we have three classifications for scientific hypotheses in their various stages of probable truth: hypothesis, theory, and law.

A hypothesis is usually a single idea. The Earth has gravity. The sun produces heat. Species change to suit their environment.

A theory is a set of similar ideas dealing with the same common scientific principle that have stood the test of multiple repeatable experiments that have all produced reliable results. Objects that have mass produce a gravitational effect. The flow of heat is a method of energy transfer from the sun to Earth. Life evolves into more complex species over time.

A law generalizes a body of observations. Generally, laws have stood the test of millions of experiments that have yet to produce a conflicting result. The Law of Gravity. The Law of Thermodynamics. Note that there is no Law of Evolution. It is not yet proven nor disproven to the general satisfaction of our civilization to be termed a law.

Creationism, unfortunately, generally falls at the first hurdle. The tenets of biblical creationism can be disproved through existing scientific theories or laws rather easily. For instance, the Earth is not 6000 years old. Teaching that to children in school would be very misleading.

Our modern technological world operates through an understanding of scientific principles and scientifically discovered phenomena. Children must learn how to apply the scientific method to the world around them, and understand the how's and why's of our modern way of life, because THAT is how we built this wonderful civilization we all enjoy. If we make a case that God is the source of all creation without finding ways to properly test that hypothesis, and, if we teach that hypothesis as fact in schools, we must invite other religions to do the same. This is America, after all. Freedom of religion is a founding tenet in our system of government, and the government shall not respect one form of religion over another. That last part is law.

So, is it that God created the universe in six days or did Allah do it by saying 'Be'? Did Ishvara (a Hindu deity) whisper all these words in my ear as I wrote? Does Ra pull the sun across the sky in his chariot? Does Zeus power my computer? If you dismissed any of these hypotheses as foolish, then you understand the root of the complaint against teaching creationism as scientific fact. Creationism's tenets do not hold up to the scientific method any better than any of the examples here.

A much better stance for creationists to take is to teach that God is the motivator behind all knowledge and processes in the universe. He wants us to understand His creation, and He has given us a wonderful, glorious means to do so in the scientific method. But, out of respect for all the other religions our country hosts, that and all other deific teachings should remain in their various houses of worship, and not in public schools.