Documentary educational television would have us believe that the single greatest scientific achievement of the past millennium was Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many religious fundamentalists have serious issues with this assertion. Many legitimate scientists with both secular and religious perspectives do as well. Darwin himself recognized serious shortcomings with evolution. A new sort of “scientist,” the evolutionary biologist, has come on the scene. These folks are specifically dedicated to supporting and proving a theory. Previously science did not work that way. Scientists used to look for evidence of disproof, only accepting theories that prove unassailable.
On the other side we have unscientific religious fundamentalists. These folks are willing to describe their search for proof of their scriptures as basic science. They study scripture and seek evidence to support what it says.
Both sides’ methods are troublingly reminiscent of case law: by carefully selecting your precedents or evidence one can prove anything. Mathematicians and philosophers long ago concluded that “proving” a general hypotheses about the real world is a logical impossibility. That is, no one can find every possible exception to any assertion about the real world.
Science uses some generally accepted shortcuts, such as goodness of fit and predictive power, to practically address this impossibility. The more specific and predictive a hypothesis proves to be, the closer it comes to being a scientific law. Newton’s Laws are great examples. Nevertheless, Einstein found exceptions to them. If concepts are a bit weaker, they’re called theories–but “theory” is still a very strong term in science. Scientists have always called vague or more general ideas “hypotheses,” “paradigms,” “ideas,” or even “notions,” and “fantasies.”
Creationism and evolution are both effectively un-provable. Neither side can frame a hypothesis that is specific or predictive. Instead, they answer things after a new piece of evidence is discovered. Science should proceed from general principles to specific, testable predictions. While there is a place for observational science, it is generally at the post-doctoral level for good reasons. Thousands of hours spent making observations is tedious and often uninformative or ambiguous. Students are disserved when science at and below the undergraduate level becomes a treasure hunt or a courtroom drama. Both the creationist and the evolutionary paradigm have no place in a pre-collegiate classroom.
Moving to the graduate level and beyond, there are very troubling aspects about life that evolutionary mathematics hasn’t been able to answer. This rightly leaves many mathematicians and physical scientists very uncomfortable. Some biological systems appear to be engineered. If you take a single cog out of a clock, the clock ceases to function. The same holds true of cells and their organelles as we now understand them (albeit poorly). The only interlinked systems we fully understand are man-made: mechanical, computational, chemical, mathematical and perhaps linguistic and musical. All of these require information—and none do anything useful (or even interesting) without that data. The most complex non-information-driven systems so far discovered are chemical crystallizations. Even there, the most complex inorganic ones are far less intricate than even the simplest biological ones.
As far as science truly understands things, stable, complex, sequenced, interdependent systems only arise from design. Furthermore, from a purely mathematical or engineering standpoint design always (necessarily) implies intelligence. Whether that intelligence is artificial, alien, from a higher dimension or deity is semantic. There is no clear mechanism or even any general ideas by which creative intelligence (or life as a whole) initially comes into being. Thus, the ultimate origin of intelligence—and therefore the information underlying life—is something of a problematic chicken-and-egg scenario.
All this in no way means I want to teach origins theories to a bunch of impressionable, snot-nosed kids in high school, middle school, grade school, Kindergarten or even Sunday school. If students in my AP Biology or AP Chemistry classes bring it up and want to discuss it I let them; however, I strictly limit my facilitator role to asking questions, refereeing, and making them find answers to their own questions.
On the one hand, the scientific establishment (basically university presidents and other powerful members of academia) ignore dissent against evolution on democratic or demographic grounds, stating that a large percentage of the scientific community supports evolutionary theory. Then they turn around and perversely answer the lack of popular support for evolution in society as irrelevant (basically because we are just the ignorant masses). They really can’t have it both ways. As with the issue of courts protecting rights, we’re either operating democratically (as a republic), or else the voice of the majority is irrelevant. Personally I have to favor the latter response: in matters of factuality, majorities are irrelevant.
Nevertheless, lest anyone imagine this debate represents the scientific fringe, here is a huge list of scientists who in some way disagree with Darwin’s ideas.
Quotes and sites from scientists: