16 August 2006

In Toto

To open on a lighter note—especially if, like me, you despise people who can count billions for defense, but not for the age of the planet—here's a truly disturbing realization of the main cathedral of the Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster. Parents, don't let your kids see the last page of the cathedral tour without close supervision! It's even more disturbing than this short movie (QuickTime, 4mb) about an already-declared candidate for President in 2008.

The real problem with the Inscrutable Design movement is that ultimately it is not about science at all; it is about social control. More specifically, it is about importing a particularly obnoxious variety of bigotry into the science curriculum. Let's stop and think for a moment about this in something other than a biology classroom for a moment. Imagine for a moment that the Paracelsus Institute insists on teaching the controversy about alchemy in basic chemistry. Under pressure, the Kansas School Board agrees to alter its standards to require students to simultaneously question the Dalton-Boyle-Bohr model that forms the core of basic high school chemistry and accept Trismegistus's view of matter. After all, we can't describe the fine structure of subatomic particles in infinite, provable detail; therefore, we must be open to alternative views, and more importantly we must teach our students to accept be open to those views. And alchemy is a particularly apt replacement for chemistry, because we can't actually observe (at least, not yet) the interactions that create "protons." Thus, the existence of protons is only a theory. (Insert your own <sarcasm> tags where you think them appropriate.)

The obvious problem with this analogy is that chemistry is a descriptive science in which any event that can/does happen at t=0 happens identically at t=4,000,000,000. On the other hand, biology—at least as it has come to be understood—has a historical component to it; a biological imperative at t=0 is substantially different from that same imperative at t=4,000,000,000. That's what "evolution" really is: an acknowledgement of historical change in biological function and structure. And what that says about the DI's understanding of history is more than faintly disturbing.