July 11, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

AAAS President Rails Against ID

Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of Science, wrote an editorial asking “Why are scientists so upset about the growing movement to bring ‘intelligent design’ (ID) into science classrooms and public education venues such as science museums, zoos, and theme parks?”  He took the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Scopes trial to arouse readers of the journal to oppose the movement.1

The problem is that ID advocates attempt to dress up religious beliefs to make them look like science.  By redefining what is and isn’t science, they also put the public—particularly young people—at risk of being inadequately prepared to live in modern society.  Twenty-first-century citizens are regularly required to make decisions about issues that have heavy science- and technology-related content, such as medical care, personal security, shopping choices, and what their children should be taught in school.  To make those choices wisely, they will need to distinguish science-based evidence from pseudoscientific claims.
    There is an important distinction between a belief and a theory.  ID is cast by its proponents as a scientific theory, an alternative to evolution, but it fails the criteria for achieving that status.  In our business, a theory is not an educated guess nor, emphatically, is it a belief.  Scientific theories attempt to explain what can be observed, and it is essential that they be testable by repeatable observations and experimentation.  In fact, “belief” is a word you almost never hear in science.  We do not believe theories.  We accept or reject them based on their ability to explain natural phenomena, and they must be testable with scientific methodologies. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

He repeats several talking points of the anti-ID position: (1) evolution is just as much a theory as gravity, (2) evolutionary does not attempt to answer the religious questions of whether God was behind evolution, “because it is a matter of belief that is outside our realm,” and (3) ID can rightfully be taught in humanities or philosophy courses but not in the science class; “Redefining science to get a particular belief into the classroom simply isn’t educationally sound,” he says.

Just as the scientific community has broad responsibilities to monitor the integrity with which its members conduct their work, it also must take some responsibility for the uses of science and for how it is portrayed to the public.  That requires us to be clear about what science is and to distinguish clearly between scientific and belief systems, in schools and in various public venues devoted to science.  Otherwise, we will fail in our obligation to our fellow citizens and to the successor generations of students who will depend on science for their future.


1Alan Leshner, “Redefining Science,” Science, Vol 309, Issue 5732, 221, 8 July 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1116621].

So he is a naive positivist.  Sad.  That the president of the AAAS would have so little understanding of history and philosophy of science is pathetic.  He doesn’t even realize that he just disqualified Darwinism by his own criteria of science.  Clearly evolutionary theory involves heavy doses of belief, while ID entails sound scientific practices similar to those used in cryptography and archaeology.  Evolution is neither testable nor repeatable, yet is maintained with such tenacity that any observation, no matter how contrary, becomes retroactively forced into the belief system.  And who is Leshner to teach about wisdom, responsibility and integrity?  Did those moral qualities evolve, too?  If so, they are without foundation; if not, he has conceded the existence of moral absolutes, and by extension, a moral Lawgiver.
    All his propaganda tactics and fallacies are explained in the Baloney Detector (see especially either-or fallacy, association, equivocation and bluffing).  Leshner should become a political speechwriter where his skills would be more appropriate.

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