Suffering the Idiots
You know, when Michael Behe, the star witness for Intelligent Design at the Pennsylvania evolution trial, admits on the stand that the only way that ID can be considered a scientific theory is to change the definition of "theory" to such a lax standard that even astrology would qualify as a scientific theory, isn’t it time to stop the trial, find for teaching actual science in biology classes, and then send a bill for the whole ridiculous affair to the idiots that changed the school policy to shoehorn ID into the classroom? Does this farce really need to go on any further?
The only value to this whole thing so far is that it got Behe to admit that in order to get ID to work, you have to cheat — you have to make words mean different things than what they mean. You know, the science community already has a word for the new, more lax definition of "theory" Behe wishes to promote: it’s called a hypothesis. Should Behe manage to get his way and change the definition of "theory," what becomes of the word "hypothesis"? Is it demoted? Discarded? Given a nice gold watch for its years of service to the scientific community and then taken behind the barn to be plugged with a shotgun? And if is merely demoted, then what will become of the phrase "drunken paranoid ramblings?" That phrase has nowhere else to go.
Behe also compared ID to the Big Bang theory, suggesting that, like the Big Bang theory, all ID needed to do was wait until the intractable old scientists died off, leaving a new generation of scientists who welcomed ID with open arms — giving the illusion that acceptance of ID is inevitable. What Behe of course neglects to mention (and which someone cross-examining him ought to bring up), is that the reason the Big Bang theory gained acceptance was that the theory explained the observational data we collected about the universe better than any other theory. ID, on the other hand, fits absolutely none of the observational data, except to a very lax "I can’t explain this personally, therefore it must intelligently designed" negative standard, which, oddly enough, doesn’t actually raise to the level of science. Behe likes to wave off scientific hostility to ID as "politically motivated," but there’s nothing political about noting that a hypothesis doesn’t fit the observational data. That’s what scientists are supposed to do.
The reason ID isn’t like the Big Bang theory is that ID starts off broken and goes downhill from there. Indeed, the hypothesis for Intelligent Design is the best possible refutation of the concept, because it’s so entirely lacking in either quality described in the phrase. The only way it will achieve the sort of scientific acceptance the Big Bang has is if we lower the quality of scientists we produce. Mind you, if ID is allowed to be passed off as "science," this will be precisely what will happen. Instead of scientists who will honestly explore the physical world and hold their work to a rigorous intellectual standard, you’ll get more "scientists" like Behe, whose solution to promulgating an untenable "theory" is not to discard the idea but simply to change the definition of words to get them to mean what he wants them to.
It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing for Behe, who claims to be a scientist. It’s embarrassing for Behe’s employers (who have been forced to acknowledge the embarrassment Behe causes them on a regular basis by posting a disclaimer on their web site), and it’s embarrassing for anyone who likes to imagine that science should actually be about science, and not about comforting people twitchy about the fact they share a common ancestor with whatever animal it is they like the least. It’s not embarrassing for those people, of course, but the fact it’s not makes me embarrassed for them. I think it would be ashamed to go through life so afraid of ideas that I’d be willing to force ignorance on others to make myself feel happy and safe. Seems a little selfish, and a lot sad.