Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Science in Politics, Politics in Science

Here's Will Saletan of Slate, writing about Intelligent Design (ID):

In September 1999, [John] Calvert founded the Intelligent Design Network to promote his mutant line of creationism. The next year, a political asteroid struck Kansas. Alarmed by the 1999 curriculum changes, voters went to the polls and wiped out the education board's creationist majority. With the old species out of the way, the new one took over. In January 2001, as the newly constituted board reopened the curriculum standards, IDnet proposed revisions radically different from [those of the Creation Science Association for Mid-America (CSA)].

The board's draft standards said, "The fossil record provides evidence of simple, bacteria-like life as far back as 3.8+ billion years ago." CSA would have tried to remove that sentence. IDnet embraced it and proposed to add a prepositional phrase: "almost simultaneously with the postulated habitability of our earth." This would underscore Calvert's argument that life arose faster than randomness could account for. A few lines later, the board's draft mentioned the fossil record, radioisotope dating, and plate tectonics. CSA would have fought all three references. IDnet affirmed them and asked only for a revision to limit their implications: "Certain aspects of the fossil record, the age of the earth based on radioisotope dating and plate tectonics are consistent with the Darwinian theory. However, this evidence is not inconsistent with the design hypothesis."

Two years later, in a bioethics journal, Calvert and an IDnet colleague, biochemist William Harris, summarized the differences between Biblical creationism and ID. "Creation science seeks to validate a literal interpretation of creation as contained in the book of Genesis," they explained. "An ID proponent recognizes that ID theory may be disproved by new evidence. ID is like a large tent under which many religious and nonreligious origins theories may find a home. ID proposes nothing more than that life and its diversity were the product of an intelligence with power to manipulate matter and energy."

Last year, conservatives regained a narrow majority on the Kansas board. They've reopened the curriculum, but this time, CSA isn't running the show. Calvert and Harris are. At last week's hearings, Calvert presented 23 witnesses—-- scientists, philosophers, and teachers -- —to make the case for ID. A lawyer representing evolutionists asked the witnesses how old the earth was. Most affirmed the conventional geological estimate: 4.5 billion years. Only two stuck to the young-earth theory.

Essentially, ID proponents are gambling that they can concede evolutionist earth science without conceding evolutionist life science. But they can't. They already acknowledge microevolution -- —mutation and natural selection within a species. Once you accept conventional fossil dating and four billion years of life, the sequential kinship of species loses its implausibility. You can't fall back on the Bible; you've already admitted it can't always be taken literally. All you're left with is an assortment of gaps in evolutionary theory -- —how did DNA emerge, what happened between this and that fossil— -- and the vague default assumption that an "intelligence" might fill in those gaps. Calvert and Harris call this assumption a big tent. But guess what happens to a tent without poles.

Perversely, evolutionists refuse to facilitate this collapse. They prefer to dismiss ID proponents as dead-end Neanderthals. They complain, legitimately, that Calvert and Harris are trying to expand the definition of science beyond "natural explanations." But have you read the definition Calvert and Harris propose? It would define science as a continuous process of "observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena." Abstract creationism can't qualify for such scrutiny. Substantive creationism can't survive it. Or if it can, it should.

It's too bad liberals and scientists don't welcome this test. It's too bad they go around sneering, as censors of science often have, that the new theory is too radical, offensive, or embarrassing to be taken seriously. It's too bad they think good science consists of believing the right things. In the long view -- —the evolutionary view— -- good science consists of using evidence and experiment to find out whether what we thought was right is wrong. If they do that in Kansas, by whatever name, that's all that matters.

The money quote: "It's too bad [liberals and scientists] think good science consists of believing the right things." Not all scientists think that way, but it's obvious that many of them do. Politically correct science is dangerous science, for it can be used to "prove" that we ought to do things that are against our own best interest.

Consider this:
Our planet's air has cleared up in the past decade or two, allowing more sunshine to reach the ground, say two studies in Science this week.

Reductions in industrial emissions in many countries, along with the use of particulate filters for car exhausts and smoke stacks, seem to have reduced the amount of dirt in the atmosphere and made the sky more transparent.

That sounds like very good news. But the researchers say that more solar energy arriving on the ground will also make the surface warmer, and this may add to the problems of global warming. More sunlight will also have knock-on effects on cloud cover, winds, rainfall and air temperature that are difficult to predict.
And this:
While researchers argue whether Earth is getting warmer and if humans are contributing, a heated debate over the global effect of sunlight boiled to the surface today.

And in this debate there is little data to go on.

A confusing array of new and recent studies reveals that scientists know very little about how much sunlight is absorbed by Earth versus how much the planet reflects, how all this alters temperatures, and why any of it changes from one decade to the next.

Determining Earth's reflectance is crucial to understanding climate change, scientists agree.
And this:
Global warming has finally been explained: the Earth is getting hotter because the Sun is burning more brightly than at any time during the past 1,000 years, according to new research.

A study by Swiss and German scientists suggests that increasing radiation from the sun is responsible for recent global climate changes.

Dr Sami Solanki, the director of the renowned Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, who led the research, said: "The Sun has been at its strongest over the past 60 years and may now be affecting global temperatures.

"The Sun is in a changed state. It is brighter than it was a few hundred years ago and this brightening started relatively recently - in the last 100 to 150 years."...

Dr Bill Burrows, a climatologist and a member of the Royal Meteorological Society, welcomed Dr Solanki's research. "While the established view remains that the sun cannot be responsible for all the climate changes we have seen in the past 50 years or so, this study is certainly significant," he said.

"It shows that there is enough happening on the solar front to merit further research. Perhaps we are devoting too many resources to correcting human effects on the climate without being sure that we are the major contributor."

And this:
Earth's temperature is on the rise, researchers say, and environmental watchdogs are howling, hoping it's not too late to avert negative effects that could range from melting icecaps to mass extinctions.

Some scientists, however, now think global warming is irreversible. In light of this sobering view, certain economists and scientists are searching for a silver lining. While the good news they find might not be global, some researchers believe the benefits of Earth's warming will help compensate for the harmful consequences.
But global warming may in fact be a long-term cyclical phenomenon, and it may have little or nothing to do with human activity.

In spite of vast uncertainty about the causes and consequences of global warming, many scientists have joined the Luddites of the Left in their demand that we do something about global warming, namely, curtail economic activity and impoverish ourselves. Why? Because scientists are human, too. And many scientists, beneath a pretense to objectivity, are in fact Leftists who view global warming as a moral issue -- it must be the consequence of our sinful embrace of capitalism and economic growth -- and not as a series of unsettled scientific questions:
  • What actually causes global warming?
  • Is it permanent?
  • What might we be able to do about it, if anything?
  • Are its consequences, on balance, negative or positive -- and for whom?
Why should we trust Left-wing scientists (or nonscientists) on the subject of evolution when we can't trust them on the subject of climate?