Monday, January 07, 2008
Costa Mesa (California) Councilwoman and former Newport-Mesa school board member Wendy Leece was apparently (and inexplicably) asked for her reaction to the National Academy of Sciences booklet, Science, Evolution, and Creationism (available for free download at the NAS site or here). Ms. Leece, despite the report by the most prestigious scientific organization in the U.S. (not to mention Judge Jones' careful and comprehensive decision after 6 weeks of testimony), still insists that discussing intelligent design as an alternative to evolution does not mix religion with science.
"Faith is already in the classroom. It's a faith in scientists. It's in the book. Evolution is a belief system," Leece said. "You have to have a leap of faith when you go to your biology class, and you read your biology book that says this is true."I'm willing to bet that, if you pressed Ms. Leece as to whether there were any answers to those things she thinks science is missing and where they would be found, it would be in her religion.
Creationism and intelligent design are not the same, Leece said. Intelligent design is simply accepting that science does not have all the answers, she said.
But her position makes sense ... if reality is subjected to some serious torsion. If you don't believe in empiricism and the notion that there is a law-like regularity to how the universe works, mere facts must be taken on faith.
Of course we all take things on faith, even scientists. Science is now such a vast enterprise that a developmental biologist, for example, will have to take on faith what a physicist tells him about the more esoteric reaches of quantum. There is no way now that any one individual, no matter how brilliant, can have a deep understanding of all fields of research.
At a more mundane level, we take it on faith that the newspaper reports of Wendy Leece and what she said are telling us something like the truth, that such a person really exists and is not a figment of the imagination of some reporter desperate to fill a few column-inches.
There is a crucial difference, however, between the faith I have in what a P Z Myers or Richard Dawkins or Paul Davies tell me about the world and the Anglican faith in which I was raised but which I have long since abandoned.
That difference is that my faith in science is not based on the words of any one expert or group of experts but, ultimately, on the methods they use to gather the data and construct explanations to account for that data. It is justified, or at least justifiable, belief because it is based on investigation not revelation and because it works.
The computers, radios, TVs, radar, MRI scanners that we all familiar with now didn't come about because we had faith that if we waited long enough they would magically appear, nor were the prayed into existence by the devout. They exist because a small number of very clever people were curious about electricity and magnetism. They studied them to see how they worked, saw how they might be related and developed theories and mathematical models of the relationship which led to all the wonderful technology we now take for granted.
There is a very simple test, though, for which faith is the stronger in the likes of Wendy Leece: if she falls ill, does she go to her doctor or her priest/minister/pastor to be cured? I'm willing to bet I know which.
Unless, of course, she is a Christian Scientist.
Still, a very nice discussion.