Sunday, January 23, 2005

An Apt Response

A woman in my church recently sent a letter to the Boulder Camera in response to a guest opinion on science and faith. For those who don't subscribe her letter follows. The original piece appears at the bottom.


Both systems rely on belief

In his essay, "Faith is outside realm of science," Joel Selbin (Guest Opinion, Jan. 8) says, "Science seeks answers without creating or tolerating myths or calling upon faith ... since it [faith] is by definition not based upon any evidence, it is outside the realm of science. This is the primary reason intelligent design should not appear in a science class."

However, Professor Selbin needs to find another argument against teaching intelligent design, because faith is already in the science classroom via teachers and textbook writers who base their understanding of science on philosophical naturalism, the unproved belief that nature is a closed system of cause and effect (nature is all that exists and all that has ever existed).

Over 60 years ago historian Jacques Barzun wrote, "The so-called warfare between science and religion [should really] be seen as the warfare between two philosophies and perhaps two faiths." The battle over evolution is merely one incident "in the dispute between the believers in consciousness and the believers in mechanical action; the believers in purpose and the believers in pure chance." (Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner: "Critique of a Heritage.")

More recently, in a notorious speech at the 1993 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, avowed evolutionist Michael Ruse candidly stated, "I think that philosophically one should be sensitive to what I think history shows, namely, that ... evolution, akin to religion, involves making certain a priori or metaphysical assumptions, which at some level cannot be proven empirically." Ruse also thoughtfully advises his colleagues not to admit this in a court of law. (A transcript of Ruse's speech is online at



Selbin: Faith is outside realm of science

By Joel Selbin
January 8, 2005

School boards around the country are considering whether to put faith-based Intelligent Design alongside science-based evolution in science classes.

In fact, in October, the Dover, Penn. school board, by a 6-3 vote, ordered biology teachers at Dover Area High School to include in the curriculum the "theory of intelligent design." This represents the first such mandate in the United States. Similar proposals questioning the teaching of evolution and proposing the teaching of ID are being dealt with in about 40 states.

The recent re-election of an administration that advocates "creation science" and often makes political decisions on faith-based philosophies rather than on hard, cold reality, only reinvigorates the nationwide efforts to inject religion into science classes. Religion has a clear place in the home, in comparative religion courses and in churches, synagogues, mosques, etc., but it has no place in science courses.

After the Supreme Court in 1987 banned the teaching of creationism in public schools on grounds of separation of church and state, creationists have changed their call for teaching "creationism" to the teaching of "intelligent design." Only the words are different. The so-called "theory" is not.

The claim by creationists that evolution is merely a theory, is quite simply, and outrageously, false. Evolution has been observed and very extensively established by thousands of scientists, many thousands of times over about 140 years and at sites around the world. The results have been published in thousands of independent articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Evolution, under attack by certain fundamentalist Christians, is very well established by scientific observations.

Scientific theories are not like the average person's casually saying "I have a theory about this or that." Scientific theories are constructs of an educated human based upon study and observations of nature. But a theory, an idea generated within the mind of one scientist, is very different from the continuing observations and experimental facts obtained by many, usually independent, scientists. These facts may or may not conform to or support the theory. Thus, theories and experimental results/facts (which often turn into laws of science) are very different things.

There is not just one theory of evolution, but several competing ones. Like any other scientific theories, a single theory of evolution can never be proven beyond all doubt. However, scientific evidence (factual information) may favor or support one theory while that evidence may end up causing a competing theory to be revised or discarded. A specific example would be Newton's theory of gravity to explain a well known observed phenomenon we call gravity. His theory has been replaced by Einstein's theory of gravity, but of course the observed effects of gravity have not changed one bit.

A theory must be able to do two powerful things. It must be able to satisfactorily explain what we already know, and it must be successful in predicting things we do not yet know. When scientists do not understand something, they set up observations and experiments and seek independent and reproducible results. When the proponents of ID (the creationists) do not understand or cannot explain something, they simply attribute the unknown to an even more, albeit magnificent and glorious, unknown, an "intelligent designer." . Science seeks answers without creating or tolerating myths or calling upon faith. There is nothing wrong or unsatisfying with faith. However, since it is by definition not based upon any evidence, it is outside the realm of science. This is the primary reason intelligent design should not appear in a science class.

Finally, the ID folks insist that all things, including life and the incredible universe around us, require a creator. I and no one I know yet fully understand how the universe and life came into being. But these are part of the great challenges to the human intellect that make science so fascinating. And considering how utterly complex and magnificant both life and the universe are, how much more complex, magnificant and incredible must be an "intelligent creator."

But since the ID people require that all things must have a creator, I would ask them to explain to us: Who or what created the intelligent designer? Was it an even more complex and incomprehensible intelligent designer? And who or what designed that and....

Joel Selbin is a retired professor of chemistry who lives in Boulder.

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