Of all the insane religious people on the planet, the creationists, despite their extreme stupidity, seem to have managed to achieve much more than the others in terms of forcing their doctrine upon other people. The intelligent design mob have, in a way that’s almost commendable, managed to obscure their drivel so much underneath scientific language, that if we’re not careful and extremely thorough, they may yet get through.
Something in the human psyche seems to allow us to tell someone’s underlying motives in these situations. One can often identify very rapidly whether or not someone is pushing forward an idea for religious reasons. Unfortunately this isn’t enough to prevent them from getting into textbooks and schools.
In fact, the only way that we can stop them from punching through, is with an extremely precise and accurate definition of what science is. For this we may have to order in some philosophers armed with razor sharp batons of rationale.
In science, there are different means by which one can arrive at theories. The first is by a rather trial and error approach. You do some experiments, with very little idea about what happens and why, you record some data, and then you use your pattern-spotting human brain to identify trends within the data, usually seeing a few graphs along the way. When you identify a trend, that’s your theory. You can then use your theory to make a prediction. If that prediction turns out to be correct, then your theory has even more evidence. This method of thinking of theories is very dependable, because you assume nothing, and your theory does not explain more than the observations.
The second method is one popular with the physicists of today, not because it’s superior to the first, but because modern physics experiments are so complicated and delicate, that a trial and error approach will either make something explode, or have you experimenting forever without finding anything. The second method is where you imagine some simple model, dealing with the properties of some objects, and then you extend that model into a full theory. You’ve come up with a theory without having observed anything. This is to derive a theory from first principles. It generally requires experience in the field of science to gauge what principles are likely to work and which aren’t. Then you use this theory to make a prediction of something that you can observe easily. If it works, then you’re theory finally has some evidence. If it doesn’t, then you start again.
This is where our villains, the creationists, come into the scene. Creationists try to manipulate this second method. They suggest some principles, in other words, the notion that god did it. And then pick cherries of evidence from what science has already found, making out that this is the evidence that is normally garnered from prediction.
So where is the chink in this armour of eloquent nonsense? Well of the two methods described for deducing theories, the first takes precedence over the second. The great physicist Richard Feynman said “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” In this case, this quote means that a theory derived from observation takes precedence over a simple one that works on a set of principles, because the observations are proven and can be re-proven, but the principles can only have more and more evidence pointing towards them, they cannot be proven explicitly.
But this isn’t the only problem with creationism, fortunately. Science is a branch of philosophy, and it is fully aware that it is not allowed to jump to conclusions. This is what creationists do. There are many ideas that are similar to their “theory” which could equally be proposed as explanations for the apparently creator-based phenomena, but are not. Science takes the most probable theory and runs with it, because that is the sensible thing to do. There would be no point chasing theories that aren’t very likely to be true. As there are many equally unlikely ideas similar to creationism, there’s no point looking into any of them, because we really have no idea which one is likely to be correct. Science as a whole never invests in a theory unless it’s likely to be right.
On the brighter side, if creationism continues its trend of dilution, then if it ever gets into textbooks or schools, it won’t have any nonsensical substance left. They’ll have to drain so much of the religion, and cover it so thickly with science, that eventually, only the science will be left.
In the mean time, I think it would be fun if, like the flying spaghetti monster is to god, someone could invent an equally flippant counterpart to creationism, and try to get it into schools. Maybe that would toughen the defences of science and weaken the proponents of creationism.