Before I evoke the ire of a good amount of the readership, let me make an appeal to all those students and parents who think that the primary reason to attend a university is to get a well-paying job when you graduate:

Zack Denfeld

The 21st century – the biological century – will require a knowledge base and skill set very different than the 20th century. Even the most intelligently designed companies will suffer in the highly stochastic global economic environment if they take a top-down or rigid approach to organization. On the other hand, entrepreneurial, self-organizing groups with bottom-up approaches will continue to find specific niches and evolve survival strategies in the face of capital migration and policy mutation.

Students with a broad understanding of ecology, evolutionary biology, complex systems, nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory will thrive. Students with skills in evolutionary algorithms, neural networks and bio-computing will be leaders in the information economy.

Bottom line: If you want to make serious money or make serious change, understanding the tenets of evolution and their influence on the hard and soft sciences is essential.

That was the soft appeal with lots of fluffy stuff for the people who are at the University to get job training. This is the part that asks proponents of intelligent design to stop wasting space when we talk about science:

We inhabit a University community that takes academic freedom and rigorous debate seriously. In my time at the University, I have been amazed at the sincere room and respect for sharing and listening to the many ways of knowing the world. However, if the “way of knowing” dealt with in a classroom or context is science (i.e., using the scientific method), the ID marketing machine needs to stop wasting its breath and our time by propagating ID as science.

I have no particular agenda against intelligent design. From what I have read, it’s a really creative way of synthesizing what scientists have learned using the scientific method and what ecclesiastical individuals have learned using faith and religious texts. It’s a good story. It’s just not science. The majority of ID advocates rely on fallacious reasoning, and their claims cannot be tested by experiment.

The fact that ID advocates are focusing on local school boards as their primary battlegrounds is both sad and dangerous. Young students taught pseudoscience in a scientific context will have to relearn critical thinking skills that allow them to identify science that utilizes the scientific method from nonscience that uses other methods of knowing in college.

In the national media, the many ethical, political and aesthetic debates about the life sciences, biotechnology and even disease control are being superceded by ridiculous stories about presenting a “controversy” to students. However, this is not a controversy between competing scientific theories, but rather a scientific theory and an untestable claim. Keep in mind that the word “theory” has a particular definition in science that carries more weight than the popular usage of the word.

Any academic worth his salt wants to hear as many diverse viewpoints, and especially uncomfortable viewpoints that fall within the realm of the discussion. If the discussion is primarily about science, then we need to talk about how a hypothesis can be tested and how it relates to the scientific method. If it can’t fit the criteria of science, it should not be presented as such.

 

Denfeld can be reached at zcd@umich.edu.

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