Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Science and Education

The Ohio Board of Education has rejected language that would have required science teachers to consider evidence that is not consistent with evolutionary theory when teaching biology.

Now, I'm already on record, in a number of posts from late last year, as opposing the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in biology classes. My view is, in a nutshell: creationism is not science, science is not religion, and intelligent design is an a priori metaphysical hypothesis that is not necessarily related to either science or religion.

Having said that, though, surely it is the case that any working scientist ought to know that one must always consider evidence that is not consistent with one's working hypothesis or with the presently dominant scientific theory. That is what it means for a theory to be a scientific one: it is testable in the sense that we can imagine conditions that would falsify it. Indeed, this is precisely why creationism is not science: it is not falsifiable. There is no empirical evidence that could possibly show that God did not create the kosmos in a special act of creation at some particular point of time in the past.

This is not to say that intelligent design is any more testable. It is not a testable hypothesis either, and so it cannot count as a scientific hypothesis. But it doesn't claim to be. It is a metaphysical hypothesis about structure and order as a first principle and an explanatory cause.

But if there were any empirical evidence that was inconsistent with evolutionary theory, of course it ought to be mentioned in any science class deserving the name. That is precisely what science is: the testing of hypotheses in the face of empirical evidence.

And the history of science shows quite clearly that the shelf-life of any given scientific hypothesis is finite.

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