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Brains on Vacation

SETI Logo A monthly segment on the SETI Institute's "Are We Alone" radio show, dealing with synaptic lapses in scientific thinking.

Brains on Vacation Archive

Current Episode: September 4, 2005

Intelligent Hoodlum

You can dress creationism up, but you can't take it anywhere.

At least, not to Utah. In a surprising but extremely wise move, the Utah Board of Education has decided that the so-called "Intelligent Design" idea -- that life is too complex to have occurred naturally, and is the product of a designer, aka God-- is not scientific, and should not be taught in Utah public schools. This, despite heavy pressure from one of their state senators, Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan), who has been railing against evolution for quite some time now.

The Utah BoE is exactly right for not allowing this to be taught in school, and for the right reason. It ain't science. It's not even a theory, it's just an idea, and it's based on bad thinking. IDers claim that evolution cannot possibly produce such complex biological mechanisms such as the eye, or the flagellum of a bacterium. But, oops! These claims are demonstrably wrong! In fact, it's not hard at all to show that evolution could have -- indeed, did -- produce very complex structures, like the eye or (in some cases, but evidently not all) the brain.

A scientific theory makes predictions and can be supported by evidence. This right away means ID isn't science-- the evidence isn't there. All they really do is attack science, saying that, since science doesn't know everything, God must have made whatever we don't understand. Well, of course science doesn't know everything... yet. But that's a pretty thin premise to base your ideas on! As we learn more, we understand more, and as we understand more the claims of creationists and IDers get more and more narrow, wedging themselves into increasingly narrow gaps of knowledge. Eventually, the gaps are closed. Then what do they have?

Well, nothing, which is what they started out with. And the Utah BoE saw that, and called them on it. If that could happen in Utah, an incredibly religious and conservative state, it can certainly happen in other states too. Maybe this is a sign that a lot of people's brains are finally coming home from vacation.

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©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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