The Indiana Senate has proposed a bill to require the teaching of creationism in public schools. It has passed two readings and is on the schedule for the third. If the Senate approves it, as seems likely, it will go to the House. Monday the wording was amended from “require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science” to “offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology.”
There are numerous problems with this, perhaps most important is that it is clearly unconstitutional. But I’m going to write about a different aspect. There is no such thing as “creation science.” There is no other theory of the origin of life other than evolution. Our politicians need a basic science class because apparently they were all absent on the day when the scientific method was discussed.
The scientific method is the most basic, elementary foundation of science. If you don’t understand it, you don’t understand what science is. It’s like studying English without knowing the alphabet. And the cool thing is, it’s really simple.
First you come up with a hypothesis, usually based on observations. A hypothesis is an educated guess, or more formally, “a tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.”
Note that part about “tested by further investigation”? Yeah, hard to do that when you’re dealing with religion. Religion doesn’t deal in facts, it deals in faith. If you have evidence, you don’t need faith. In the words of Tim Minchin, “Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.”
So after you have your hypothesis, you test it through experiments or observations. You gather data, you get other people to try to replicate your results, and you come up with conclusions. I’ve tried to find out how creationists propose to test their “theory” and have not come up with any answers that make sense (though I did get a headache reading their sites.) They seem to think the Bible provides their proof, thereby demonstrating an essential lack of understanding of the scientific method.
Now we come to the part that really has me feeling annoyed with the legislature. In common use, theory means speculation. To a scientist, the definition of theory is quite different. This is something that people should have learned in middle school. A theory is an explanation that can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena that has been so widely tested and accepted that it is held with great confidence. In other words, based on all the evidence we have, we believe this hypothesis to be true–voila, we have a theory.
Although a theory is as close as science comes to something being proven, it is impossible to absolutely prove a theory to be true. A theory can always be disproven with new evidence. It is one of the most important tenets of science. Unless creationists agree that their “theory” of a divine origin of life can be disproven, then by definition it can not be a theory.
A Republican member of the Indiana General Assembly has proposed drug tests for the legislators. I would suggest that instead of drug tests, a basic science test would be more useful.