September 1st, 2008

Palin and Creationism

Ok, so let's talk about this, since several of you have brought it up. Apparently, her position on teaching creationism in the public schools is the same as mine:

It's ok to talk about it if it comes up, but you don't need to make it part of the curriculum.

Now why would I have a position like that, given that my personal belief is in a God who pretty much doesn't meddle, that is not too far away from some of the Deist beliefs in a God who created the universe and lets it run? It turns out to be really simple.

Sometimes, it is more important to teach the kids why than it is to teach them what.

If a child shows up in class and says "My parents say that God created the world and that evolution is wrong," the appropriate answer is not to say "That's not science, so we can't talk about it here." The appropriate thing to do is help the student understand why that statement isn't a matter of science, but rather a matter of faith.

The big difference between science and faith is that science produces testable predictions. (Except for string theory, which is starting to get a remarkably bad reputation in some circles because it doesn't produce testable predictions. But that would be another discussion altogether. :) ) Faith doesn't produce testable predictions, nor should it need to. That's sort of the essence of faith.

Science can't prove that God didn't create the world yesterday, complete with all of the internal evidence to indicate that it had been here for billions and billions of years. And science doesn't need to prove or disprove that. Science does need to assume that the universe is as it is based on the evidence that exists. And if you assume that God isn't a completely venal bastard (which is an assumption that I'd like to start from -- otherwise, should God exist, we're all in deep kimchee), then if God arranged all that evidence retroactively, it could only be because He wants us to look at it.

So no matter whether you believe God created the universe or not, science ought to go study the evidence that exists. And creationism, because it can't produce testable predictions, is the province of faith, and thus does not need to be discussed further in our science class.

Of course, you also need to fess up and admit that there are evolutionary mechanisms that still aren't well-understood -- because you're going to get the "irreducible complexity" argument thrown at you from time to time. But the fact that science doesn't yet have all of the answers is not one of its weaknesses -- it's one of science's strengths.

All of that is a complex lot of argument to give to kids. But kids aren't stupid. They're capable of understanding an amazing lot of things if you give them the chance to do so.

And if what you do is simply tell them that creationism isn't science without telling them why, then you're just arguing from authority.

You're asking them to take it on faith.