The journal Science carries an interview with Eugenie Scott, who is executive director of the National Center for Science Education. She is presented as a tireless warrior, who is to be found "on the frontlines of the contentious battle over teaching evolution in U.S. public schools." She refers to her opponents as "the enemy". They are diverse: "creation science, intelligent design [ID], and antievolution" protagonists. Those of us who follow these issues are well aware of the stance Scott takes and the arguments she brings. This blog is concerned with the way Science presents her thinking as mainstream, with no attempt to provide analysis or to suggest that Scott's thinking deserves to be critiqued.
We have reached a situation today where any criticism of Darwinism is repackaged as an assault on science. To frame the issues in this way is to close down discussion and critical analysis. It is a problem, not only for ID scientists and creation-based scientists, but also for evolutionary biologists who accept that Darwinism does not deliver the mechanisms needed to accomplish biological transformation. For more on this, go here and here. Darwinians like Scott have a blind spot: they have so equated their cherished theory with 'science', that they are unable to appreciate that some of us want a genuine scientific debate about mechanisms: what they can achieve and what their limitations are.
Research has shown that 10% of blind dogs have blurred vision but this appears to make no difference to their day-to-day duties. It is thought that the animals compensate by relying more on smell and hearing. There is a useful analogy here with science leaders. (Source here)
This blind spot spills over into education. "Besides periodic assaults on science standards as we recently saw in Texas, we are concerned about antievolution legislation in different states under the guise of academic freedom bills." Scott does not admit that the principle of academic freedom implies the right to bring criticism of Darwinism into the classroom. Consequently, "academic freedom" advocates are painted as subversive to science. There are ideological agendas behind this opposition to developing the critical minds of students (for more, go here).
A revealing Q&A concerned the relevance of evolutionary theory for practicing scientists. The answer given by Scott is actually very weak. Instead of pointing out examples of relevance, she makes a sweeping statement about seeing the "big picture":
Q: Why is it important to teach evolution? Can't doctors and most life scientists do their jobs without accepting evolution?This fails to interact with those scientists who are prepared to say that evolutionary theory is more of a surficial veneer than an underpinning framework (go here). Also, it fails to do justice to the place of design in medicine: those who consider the human body to be designed have had a good track record for helping to cure ailments, whereas reductionistic biology tends to focus on symptoms rather than causes and the emerging field of Darwinian medicine is largely untried and untested (go here and here).
E.S.: You can be a mechanic without understanding the niceties of the internal combustion engine. [But] wouldn't you rather go to a mechanic who has the big picture?
One further area where Scott needs to be challenged is in her understanding of the philosophy of science. She appears to think that science transcends philosophy. When talking about what scientists should not do, her argument envisages scientists drawing philosophical ideas from science. Some draw atheism; some draw theism. Here is the relevant part of the interview:
"What university scientists should not do is to force students to choose between religion and science. If a professor were to say that evolution proves there is no God, that's not just bad philosophy of science, it ensures that a significant number of students will stick their fingers in their ears.
When explaining biological questions, such as the evolution of the eye, there is no need to say that God had nothing to do with it. It's an irrelevant comment. I don't think a classroom is an appropriate place to try to create more atheists any more than it is an appropriate place to create more fundamentalist Christians."
A major element of the analysis contributed by ID scholars is that philosophy underpins science. This is not an exclusive emphasis by any means - for this view is common among philosophers of science. The problem is that few ask questions about the ideological underpinnings of science and whether different ideologies matter. Is it fairer to say "evolution proves there is no God" or "atheism leads to a science of origins where there is no purpose, guidance or any role for a Creator"? There is plenty of evidence for "bad philosophy of science", but it is evident at a deeper level than acknowledged by Scott. For more, go here.
What shall we say about Scott's approach to explaining "biological questions, such as the evolution of the eye". Notice that she does not refer to the functioning of the eye (which is a question for empirical science) but rather to the evolution of the eye (which is a question for historical science that presumes the eye has evolved). The philosophical issues needing consideration are affected by the questions asked. Scott says: "there is no need to say that God had nothing to do with it. It's an irrelevant comment." From a scientific perspective, the issue concerns causation. What causes are legitimate to consider within science? We are familiar with the role of natural law within science. We are also aware of chance events which need statistical description rather than physical or chemical laws. The controversial area of causation concerns intelligent agency (design). ID advocates do not think that it is irrelevant to consider the possibility of intelligent causation and have proposed various tests to distinguish law, chance and design. The unwillingness of Scott to acknowledge that design can be even considered within science is a reflection on the philosophy of science she has adopted: a metaphysical presupposition that prohibits design from being discerned. This metaphysical stance creates the blind spot. For more, go here.
The real concern is not that Scott holds these views (for we live in the free world where we protect academic freedom). It is problematical because Science did not think it appropriate to provide a forum for dialogue with scientists who have a different philosophy of science. To pretend that there is no debate over these issues is folly. For a recent contribution relating to the policy adopted by the Texas State Board of Education, go here.
Eugenie Scott Toils in Defense of Evolution
Science 324, 5 June 2009: 1250-1251 | DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1250b
1st para: As executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education, anthropologist Eugenie Scott has spent the past 2 decades on the frontlines of the contentious battle over teaching evolution in U.S. public schools. [. . .] Last week, Scott won the inaugural Stephen Jay Gould Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution, only weeks after Scientific American ranked her among the country's top 10 science and technology leaders for her self-described role as "Darwin's golden retriever." Scott spoke to Science last week about where things now stand.
Hunter, C. Pure Dogma, Darwin's God (blog), 4 June 2009.
Mcleroy, D. State curriculum ensures only science taught in science classes, The Eagle, May 31, 2009
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