January 7, 2010

Not This Again

News from California this week is that the state-owned California Science Center (CSC) in Los Angeles will begin the new year defending itself against a lawsuit brought by an organization called the American Freedom Alliance (AFA). The AFA's suit alleges that the Science Center bowed to pressure from the Smithsonian, and quashed the showing of a film called "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record", thereby infringing on the AFA's First Amendment rights to free speech.  "Darwin's Dilemma," which supports "Intelligent Design" (ID), was originally going to be shown alongside "We Are Born of Stars," another film that discusses the Theory of Evolution.  Neither film was shown, and the CSC's stated reason for the cancellation is that the AFA violated its rental agreement.

The American Freedom Alliance describes itself as a "non-political, non-partisan movement which promotes, defends and upholds Western values and ideals," but a look at its website quickly reveals that it is an organization with a strong religious bent.  Senior Fellow Avi Davis' claim that the AFA doesn't have a position on "Intelligent Design" is hard to credit in light of this, and his group's close ties to the Discovery Institute -  perhaps the single biggest promoter of ID - makes taking his statements at face value even harder.

In any case, to be blunt, the amount of public time and money wasted on the farce that is "Intelligent Design" needs to stop.  The idea that there is a "debate" over the Theory of Evolution is, flatly, unequivocally false.  What there is, is a refusal on the part of some in the religious community to accept the fact that the Theory of Evolution is one of the most well-supported bodies of thought in all of science.  That's not a debate; that's just special interests ignoring an ocean of evidence.  There is precisely as much scientific controversy over evolution as there is about whether the sun revolves around the earth, the viability of perpetual motion, the possibility of turning lead into gold, or the idea that balancing the four humors is the secret to health.

In other words, zero.

Likewise, the rejoinder that "evolution is just a theory," is little more than an easy way to identify the ignorant by their choice of utterance.  To be clear: the term "theory", as used in science, does not describe something that is simply abstract thought or speculation, but rather "a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena."  The Theory of Gravity is "just a theory" in the same way that the Theory of Evolution is, but strangely, we hear little call to "teach the controversy" over gravitational attraction.

But what of the American Freedom Alliance's contention that their rights to free speech were curtailed?  Fortunately, it is highly unlikely that the AFA's lawsuit will gain much traction.  The 2005 decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District found that Intelligent Design is, at its heart, a religious argument.  As such, forcing its presentation in public facilities - like the California Science Center - violates the Establishment Clause, and is therefore unconstitutional.

And really, don't we have enough to deal with without spending time, energy and scarce resources on something as demonstrably pathetic as the contention that "Intelligent Design" is science? 

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