Friday, June 23, 2006

Signs of Intelligence in England?

A story in today's Times Higher Education Supplement "reveals" (their term) the rather startling fact that there are some prominent academics in England who appear to subscribe to creationism or intelligent design (I wonder if they have folks like this guy in mind). I say "rather startling" because one of the things we've heard from such folks as Richard Dawkins is that belief in such things is principally an American phenomenon, thanks to the benighted fundamentalism that flourishes here but apparently nowhere else in the world, according to him. But according to THES:
Leeds University plans to incorporate one or two compulsory lectures on creationism and intelligent design into its second-year course for zoology and genetics undergraduates next Christmas.

At Leicester University, academics already devote part of a lecture for third-year genetics undergraduates to creationism and intelligent design.

In both cases, lecturers intend to present the controversial theories as fallacies irreconcilable with scientific evidence. But that these alternatives to evolution have been proposed for formal discussion has sparked concern among the UK science community.

David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "It would be undesirable for universities to have to spend a lot of precious resources teaching students that creationism and intelligent design are not based on scientific evidence. It is pretty basic stuff."

A Times Higher investigation has also discovered there are at least 14 academics in science departments who consider themselves creationists. They argue the world is thousands not billions of years old and believe Noah's flood explains fossil remains. Several others are proponents of intelligent design, which rejects evolution as a discredited theory.

Some are heads of departments, seven lecture in the life sciences and seven are professors. They work in universities such as Bristol, Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan and Southampton.

They include Jonathan Swingler, head of Southampton University's School of Engineering Sciences, who believes dinosaurs co-existed with humans; and George Marshall, lecturer in neurobiomedicine at Glasgow University, who claims the complexity of the eye makes him "balk at evolutionary theory".
It is not particularly good news to find that Richard Dawkins is wrong about this as well as about everything else--this is one instance in which one might have wished he had been more on target.

It is one thing to discuss these matters in, say, a course on methodology, or in philosophy of science courses, since these views are connected to the demarcation problem, which is a very real and very important problem in its own right but which ought not to be mistaken for a problem of the empirical sciences themselves. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to introduce either creationism or intelligent design into a curriculum in the empirical sciences, since neither is an empirical theory. Intelligent design, in particular, is not a theory at all but an a priori metaphysical committment.

I suspect that, in reality, rather than in the imaginations of such as Richard Dawkins, there are plenty of folks in academic positions everywhere in the world who hold views that are less than rational. The reason is not benighted fundamentalism run rampant, but the sad fact that humans are generally not very rational creatures. It is all too easy for our intellectual inferences to be swayed by passions, desires, and false beliefs grounded in faulty assumptions. So as disappointing as it is to find creationists and intelligent designers teaching science in England, it is not, in the end, all that surprising.

1 comment:

Darwin said...

I recall in my Dad's Earth Science department, one of the astronomy professors was a creationist, though not necessarily a young earth one. You'd think there would be an incompatibility there, but I think one of the factors these days is that academic disciplines are often so narrow these days that you can be a very, very good planetary astronomer and still know next to nothing about anthropology, biology, etc. other than what you pick up in the faculty lounge.