Friday, June 30, 2006
Carrying a Torch
He has been speaking to such diverse organizations as such as Rotary clubs, groups of high-school and college students involved in science and journalism, school-based community events, League of Women Voters chapters, a Unitarian church, and a microscopy club about the intersection of science and religion, specifically the ongoing national debate about the teaching of evolution.
As he explains his goals:
I am not trying to convert the convinced anti-evolutionist. I am trying to inform people about the issues and their importance. That goal is important for scientists because the integrity of science teaching in our public schools is under serious attack. So far, the courts have mostly come to the rescue, but in the end public opinion will carry the day. Reasonable people need to know what science is about, especially what an established scientific theory is and how scientists know when it's right.
The current prosperity in the US derives in large part from 20th-century advances in physics, such as the transistor. In the 21st century, the driving force may well be biology. The anticipated advances in medicine and other practical applications of biology will happen, but not necessarily in this country. We can't afford to degrade biology in our schools.
I always discuss the words "It's only a theory" by saying that for practical purposes that's the same as saying "It's only science," and the price we can pay for such contempt for science is high. Belief in Newton's mechanics within its domain of validity is not optional, at least not if you design airplanes or bridges. The sad history of Trofim Lysenko and the calamities he caused illustrates why belief in the right theory, evolution in that case, is also not optional. Agricultural practices based on Lysenko's theories, which contradicted Darwin's evolution, contributed to disastrous crop failures in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and in China in the 1950s.
None of what I am saying threatens religion. No observational evidence can disprove some subtle supernatural intervention in cosmological or biological evolution that would leave us with the evidence we see. That possibility is important to some scientists. It does not interest me, but I cannot argue against it within the logic of science.
I'm not exactly clear on this. Was Lysenko against evolution?
The "right theory" for Lysenko would have been the new genetic theory of neo-Darwinism, not "Darwin's evolution."