Sunday, August 07, 2005

Obscurantist Quote of the Week

The August 3 article in The New York Times about President Bush's remarks supporting teaching different schools of thought on evolution contained this passage and quote:
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the president's comments irresponsible, and said that "when it comes to evolution, there is only one school of scientific thought, and that is evolution occurred and is still occurring." Mr. Lynn added that "when it comes to matters of religion and philosophy, they can be discussed objectively in public schools, but not in biology class."
To begin with, saying that there is only "one school of scientific thought" about anything is ridiculous and laughable at the most basic level. It is certainly not true about evolutionary theory. Looks like Mr. Lynn may have recited Cornelia's Creed one too many times.

From that inauspicious start, he proceeds to make the Homer Simpson worthy observation that "evolution occurred and is still occurring." Well, thank you for stating what is obvious, undisputed and completely irrelevant. No one in the current debates denies that microevolution (small, gradual changes within species) occurs. The issue is whether observed microevolutionary processes can adequately prove macroevolutionary theory, that is, that all species evolved from a common ancestor through purely natural mechanisms. Such statements imply that his opponents argue that evolution never occurs, which is simply false.

Lynn's suggestion that philosophy cannot be discussed in biology class ignores the fact that a study of biology inevitably begins with a philosophy of science. It is impossible to "do science" without a framework for doing so, and many of the starting assumptions are a priori constructs that have not been proven from any empirical evidence. To ignore this or deny it is obscurantism of the highest order.

Finally, his quote suggests that intelligent design is only about philosophy or religion, and not about scientific evidence. This is also false or misleading, but many, many writers make that mistake, so he is in good company there. We are not told what else he said to the reporter, but I am frankly impressed that Lynn could pack so much obscurantism in such a short statement.


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