Pharyngula

State senatory Raymond Finney of Tennessee (a retired physician—hey, we’ve been making Orac squirm uncomfortably a lot lately) has just filed a resolution that asks a few questions. Actually, he’s demanding that the Tennessee Department of Education answer these questions within a year or … well, I don’t know what. He might stamp his foot and have a snit.

(1) Is the Universe and all that is within it, including human beings, created through purposeful, intelligent design by a Supreme Being, that is a Creator?

Understand that this question does not ask that the Creator be given a name. To name the Creator is a matter of faith. The question simply asks whether the Universe has been created or has merely happened by random, unplanned, and purposeless occurrences. Further understand that this question asks that the latest advances in multiple scientific disciplines —such as physics, astronomy, molecular biology, DNA studies, physiology, paleontology, mathematics, and statistics — be considered, rather than relying solely on descriptive and hypothetical suppositions.

If the answer to Question 1 is “Yes,” please answer Question 2:

(2) Since the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught in Tennessee public schools?

If the answer to Question 1 is “This question cannot be proved or disproved,” please answer Question 3:

(3) Since it cannot be determined whether the Universe, including human beings, is created by a Supreme Being (a Creator), why is creationism not taught as an alternative concept, explanation, or theory, along with the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools?

If the answer to Question 1 is “No” please accept the General Assembly’s admiration for being able to decide conclusively a question that has long perplexed and occupied the attention of scientists, philosophers, theologians, educators, and others.

Someone clearly thinks he’s being a Clever Dick, and you know what we do to his kind around here—something to do with cudgels, or maybe it’s custard pies. Anyway, it’s clear from a purely bureaucratic standpoint that the only conceivable answer the Department of Education should give to Question 1 is “NO“, because that means you don’t have to answer any of the other questions, don’t have to explain to a dogmatic dullard that teaching a religious myth in the science classroom is unconstitutional, and you’ll get the plaudits of the General Assembly. It’s a win-win.

From a scientific point of view, the answer is the same, “NO,” or more accurately, “There is absolutely no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose in the universe, and until you’ve got some, that’s the only tenable answer” which should still leave us with the love and admiration of the Tennessee Senate.

The answer is definitely not “Yes”. Only a dogmatic dullard would think science backs that one up.

You might be able to make a case that “This question cannot be proved or disproved” should get partial credit as an answer, but I’m inclined to reject it altogether because a) science does not deal in proofs anyway, and b) the dogmatic dullard asking the question hasn’t defined “creator” or “supreme being” in any way that can be scientifically evaluated. Basically, that means throwing out his entire set of questions as poorly formed and not worth the effort of patching up.

If, somehow, you ignored his conditionals and ended up trying to answer questions 2 or 3, the answer is the same for both: we don’t teach creationism in science classes either instead of or alongside evolution because creationism has no scientific evidence in its support. It really is that simple. Teach the evidence in science; if there is no evidence, there’s nothing to teach.

If the Tennessee Department of Education would like to use my answers to address the pompous demands of Senator Finney, they are welcome, and I will waive my usual exorbitant Question-Answering Fee, this time. I think that with Finney in office, I might have many opportunities for repeat business.

Comments

  1. #1 Sastra
    February 27, 2007

    Senator Finney’s series of questions presupposes a positive answer to a prior question:
    1.a.) Is the existence of God a scientific hypothesis?

    Many atheists (including Richard Dawkins) answer “yes” — treat the idea that intelligence and personhood are top-down, disembodied processes the same way any similar claim is treated — examine it within the framework of discoveries in biology, neurology, chemistry, and physics. Treat “the existence of God” with the serious respect which was once given to the idea that life is a vital spark of energy which comes into or leaves flesh in order to animate it. Take it apart, explore its implications, make predictions, test those predictions, consider other possibilities, and analyse it for the truth of its content, instead of its psychological or social benefits.

    The theists who don’t realize that “God” is going to be shredded to pieces under those standards are people like Senator Finney, who is apparently ignorant of science and therefore happy to answer hidden question #1a with a confident “yes.” The theists who do realize where science leads will protect the hypothesis by refusing to join the game. Whether God exists is not a “hypothesis” — it’s a metaphor or a feeling or a faith or a taste or a way of living or a choice or anything else which is can’t be scrutinized as right or wrong. “Science has nothing to say about God one way or another! All Finney’s questions are illegitimate — especially that first one.”

    Yeah, right.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    or more accurately, “There is absolutely no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose in the universe, and until you’ve got some, that’s the only tenable answer”

    Wait, wait, wait. There is indeed no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose — but there is evidence to the contrary.

    So:

    1) Stupid design. ID is blasphemy, assuming there is someone to blaspheme.
    2) Comment 24 (never mind the Constitution).
    3) Raamen, brother!

    ———————

    Here‘s a very good explanation of what all those terms like “fact” and “theory” mean.

    ———————

    Great White Wonder, what discipline is it whose literature you are reading? Over here in paleontology, people actively and consciously avoid the word “proof” for Popperian reasons ( = you can only prove beyond reasonable doubt, and defining “reasonable” is not always easy; disproof is possible, but only within methodological naturalism). When we want to say “from our data it’s dead fucking obvious that”, we write “our data strongly suggest that” and similar deliberately weak-sounding phrases.

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    or more accurately, “There is absolutely no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose in the universe, and until you’ve got some, that’s the only tenable answer”

    Wait, wait, wait. There is indeed no evidence of planning, intent, or purpose — but there is evidence to the contrary.

    So:

    1) Stupid design. ID is blasphemy, assuming there is someone to blaspheme.
    2) Comment 24 (never mind the Constitution).
    3) Raamen, brother!

    ———————

    Here‘s a very good explanation of what all those terms like “fact” and “theory” mean.

    ———————

    Great White Wonder, what discipline is it whose literature you are reading? Over here in paleontology, people actively and consciously avoid the word “proof” for Popperian reasons ( = you can only prove beyond reasonable doubt, and defining “reasonable” is not always easy; disproof is possible, but only within methodological naturalism). When we want to say “from our data it’s dead fucking obvious that”, we write “our data strongly suggest that” and similar deliberately weak-sounding phrases.

  4. #4 Ichthyic
    March 1, 2007

    The brain is dead; long live the body.

    Idiocracy.

    http://imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?
    March 1, 2007

    Let me know the names of ten of the best journals in that field and I will search them.

    I don’t know impact factors or anything by heart, so I’ll just mention the first few that come to my mind…

    Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
    Journal of Paleontology
    Palaeontology (British spelling for that one)
    Special Papers in Palaeontology (ditto)
    Paleobiology
    Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (ae again)
    Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie — Monatshefte
    Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie — Abhandlungen
    Comptes Rendus Palevol
    Palaeontographica
    Zitteliana
    Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (only some papers on paleontology, but those are big, important monographs)
    American Museum Novitates

    Maybe search Systematic Biology, too — it doesn’t publish much paleontology, but it has an impact factor of 10.

    it’s a fine word to talk about facts that are, in fact, established and non-tentative. Such facts even exist in the field of paleontology (Example: bones can be fossilized).

    That’s a fact, and it doesn’t need to be proven. It can simply be observed. Proving is what you can do with ideas (…in math… hopefully); ideas and facts are not the same.

    Creationists love to hear scientists say that they can’t prove anything because that means scientists and creationists are on equal footing. “It’s all relative, you say tomato, I say tomahto, let’s teach both in science class and let the kids decide.” That’s the argument.

    I know, but it doesn’t change the fact (!) that they’re wrong. That is because they never ask themselves the one important question: “If I were wrong, how would I know?”

  6. #6 David Marjanovi?
    March 1, 2007

    Let me know the names of ten of the best journals in that field and I will search them.

    I don’t know impact factors or anything by heart, so I’ll just mention the first few that come to my mind…

    Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
    Journal of Paleontology
    Palaeontology (British spelling for that one)
    Special Papers in Palaeontology (ditto)
    Paleobiology
    Journal of Systematic Palaeontology (ae again)
    Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie — Monatshefte
    Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie — Abhandlungen
    Comptes Rendus Palevol
    Palaeontographica
    Zitteliana
    Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (only some papers on paleontology, but those are big, important monographs)
    American Museum Novitates

    Maybe search Systematic Biology, too — it doesn’t publish much paleontology, but it has an impact factor of 10.

    it’s a fine word to talk about facts that are, in fact, established and non-tentative. Such facts even exist in the field of paleontology (Example: bones can be fossilized).

    That’s a fact, and it doesn’t need to be proven. It can simply be observed. Proving is what you can do with ideas (…in math… hopefully); ideas and facts are not the same.

    Creationists love to hear scientists say that they can’t prove anything because that means scientists and creationists are on equal footing. “It’s all relative, you say tomato, I say tomahto, let’s teach both in science class and let the kids decide.” That’s the argument.

    I know, but it doesn’t change the fact (!) that they’re wrong. That is because they never ask themselves the one important question: “If I were wrong, how would I know?”

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?
    March 1, 2007

    Oops — the comment to the AMNH Bulletin also applies to the AMN, though the monographs there tend to be less huge.

    Also…

    Paläontologische Zeitschrift
    Vertebrata PalAsiatica
    Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences (over half geology)

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?
    March 1, 2007

    Oops — the comment to the AMNH Bulletin also applies to the AMN, though the monographs there tend to be less huge.

    Also…

    Paläontologische Zeitschrift
    Vertebrata PalAsiatica
    Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences (over half geology)

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