Monday, October 02, 2006

Critical Thinking As a Threat to Science

Macht at Telic Thoughts has an effective and amusing reply to the hysterical piece in the Washington Post arguing that science and medicine will be "decimated" if students are encouraged to apply critical thinking skills to the theory of evolution. The Post piece is the usual collection of misrepresentations and straw man arguments.

The Post piece makes me worried about science in America because the writer seems to suggest that students should be taught to blindly accept the theory of evolution and not think for themselves. It also worries me that a person who is apparently a scientist cannot seem to be logically consistent. He closes with this:
Nations that value open inquiry and use scientific criteria in education, research and industry will outperform those that do not.

So which is it: Open inquiry or blind acceptance? I vote for open inquiry in all areas, even on the "holy ground" of evolutionary theory.

Then there is this blogger who thinks patriotism demands that kids be taught to blindly accept evolution and not evaluate it critically:
Those who wear their patriotism on their sleeves must support teaching only science in science classes or admit how empty are those flags they wrap themselves in.

Hmmm. That's a new twist on the old "flag-wrapping" metaphors. Based on his approval and lengthy quotes of the Post piece, we can only conclude that "teaching only science in science class" really means banning any science that does not comport with the majoritarian view of what is science, and/or banning any scientific evidence that tends to undermine Darwinian theory. The patriotism angle is at least a new argument, even if it is ridiculous.

By the way, you should check out Telic Thoughts. Yeah, it's this great blog about bunny rabbits, but sometimes they go off topic to discuss teleology.


At October 02, 2006 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please read my whole post before you reply.
As a scientist (ok, engineer, but in this case it's about the same), what offends me the most about "Intelligent Design" is not that it claims to disprove evolution, but this:
The idea that, if we can't explain something with what is known to science at this very moment in time, then science can't explain it ever and there's a supernatual cause (for example, we don't know how things like the eye could have evolved, so it must have been God/Aliens/The Great Pumpkin, or some other supernatual being.

I've read a lot about ID, and thats exactly what it seems to be saying.

Now, lets take that and apply it to something outside of biology. Say, for example, I'm working on a flight control system for an airliner. If I start seeing some random intermittent failures, do you want me to say "of course there's a rational explination for it" and continue trying to find the problem, or take the ID-style approach and say "well, God hates me. Nothing I can do, it's good enough. Ship it!"

Which one would you rather fly on?

At October 02, 2006 9:58 PM, Anonymous John said...

You could use the intelligent design argument by realizing the flight control system was designed by one or more intelligent beings, reverse-engineer the device, and fix the problem, or you could use the (neo-)Darwinian evolution argument by putting your airplane in the hangar and let it sit for several thousand years until the problem fixes itself.

Which one would get the plane fixed first?

At October 02, 2006 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the Scientific approach (which includes Evolution) would be to look at the data from all of the tests, and identify what factors were different, starting with the big things, and working down. Next I'd look at things that may have been different but which wern't specificly recorded (say, if someone standing near the test bench had their cell phone on one day).
I'm not sure where the "let it sit for several thousand years" comes from.

And, (assuming current and complete design documentation) why would I need to reverse-engineer my own design?

And, I think I wasn't clear on this last time, but lets say that the design works 99.99% of the time.
(This implies that either it's a really weird design bug with multiple conditions that have to be met at the same time for it to happen, or that it's due to some external cause, like EMI/RFI or neutron strikes).

At October 02, 2006 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your analogy is pretty stupid. If you have the documentation then you know it was designed and that has nothing to with evolution.
The burden of proof should be on the technician who claims a 747 is an accident and the Boeing company doesn't exist and the technical manuals are just old myths and legends with no basis in fact.

At October 02, 2006 11:44 PM, Anonymous John said...

I'm not sure where the "let it sit for several thousand years" comes from.

That's how Darwinian evolution supposedly works. Random mutation and natural selection plus time equals brand-spanking new devices.

Perhaps my analogy is not accurate. Maybe a better one would be to keep it in the hangar for a thousand years, and every day during that time you hurl nuts, bolts, sheet metal, and electronic components at it.

I bet you could evolve a Cessna into a 747 that way. Or at least into a Learjet.

And, (assuming current and complete design documentation) why would I need to reverse-engineer my own design?

Well, if it was your design, then you would be the Intelligent Designer in your (strawman) ID theory analogy, right? That makes your job pretty easy then.

If your analogy was more realistic, then you would do the designing and leave some poor Joe Schmoe mechanics to look at your flight control system without any specs or docs.

They would have to reverse-engineer it and all that other stuff. Or they could sit on their tushes and say "Well, Anonymous hates us, nothing we can do, it's good enough, fly it!"

Are you really an aircraft part designer? If so, I hope your design work is better than your analogies, because otherwise I'd have a couple of new reasons not to fly anywhere.

At October 03, 2006 1:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're pretty much ignoring all of my arguements in favor of attacking evolution.

I'm stating that ID undermines the scientific method as a whole if it's principles are applied to anything in science, including but not limited to evolution.

ID just seems like the lazy way out, we can't explain why something happened, so instead of trying to figure it out, we wave our hands and say something smarter then us made it.

At October 03, 2006 6:55 AM, Anonymous Lawrence said...


I had a hard time getting through your first post, because you showed so many misunderstandings in the first paragraph. Here is the reality:

1. ID does not claim to "disprove" evolution- at least not all aspects. Most ID proponents accept many aspects of evo. theory.

2. ID does not say that we will not be able to find a Darwinian pathway ever- only that ID is the best explanation now for certain features of the natural world.

3. ID does not say that there is a supernatural cause.

4. Aliens are not supernatural. Do you think that any life on other planets is supernatural?

5. ID is a scientific explanation; it is just not the detailed story that Darwinism purports to be. Big Bang theory doesn't explain what caused the big bang, which is the really interesting question. Do we reject it for that reason?

What troubles me are people like you and the Post writer who claim to know about ID, but clearly do not, and only know enough to construct straw man arguments and spread misinformation. Straw man arguments are bad logic, and bad science, and the apparent love of such arguments in the scientific community is another reason to worry about the state of science in our country.

Next time try critiquing Mr. Behe and not Mr. Straw Man.

At October 03, 2006 9:38 AM, Anonymous John said...

You're pretty much ignoring all of my arguements in favor of attacking evolution.

No, I'm using your own analogy to show you how flawed your thinking is.

You pulled a straw man out of some website or news article, you knocked it down, I tried to show you it was made of straw, and in response you put your fingers in your ears and went "lalalala YOU'RE made of straw lalalala".

None of the aircraft parts you've supposedly designed are in commercial planes flying in and out of Las Vegas, are they? I hope not, because I really don't want to drive all that way.

At October 03, 2006 2:52 PM, Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

I agree that biologists sometimes -- but not always -- need to know something about evolution theory. For example, cladistic taxonomy, unlike the earlier Linnaean taxonomy, uses concepts from evolution theory. However, it never hurts to teach the weaknesses of evolution theory because biologists can always use the concepts and tools of evolution theory even while believing that all or part of the theory is untrue, in the same way that engineers use complex-number math in aerodynamics and AC circuit analysis even while being aware that the math has no connection to reality -- for example, in the Joukowski transformation of conformal mapping, the aerodynamics of rotating cylinders is used to find solutions for the aerodynamics of wing airfoils. Also, students should learn about evolution theory just because it is a prevailing theory among scientists. Anyway, even if future biologists do not get a good evolution education in high school, they can always learn about evolution in college. And if anything is going to undermine student interest in careers in biology and science in general, it is scientists' lack of candor about the weaknesses of evolution theory.


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