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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Legal Status of Evolution

The decision to remove Intelligent Design material in Dover was warranted in this regard: ID advocates began with a flawed strategy by trying to compete with evolution as science. Yesterday's decision in Ohio ought to show these advocates where to focus their energies. What is upholding the legal status of evolution as science? Forget the scientific justifications. Legal reasoning is different from scientific reasoning. Evolution has a legal status as science because it reflects the majority opinion of scientific experts. Lawmakers are not scientists. Now that these experts are suggesting it is dangerous to even question their theory, we ought to take a closer look at the relevance of their testimony in determining the legal status of evolution.

Neither evolution nor ID is science if at least two of the necessary conditions for a scientific theory are:

1. Empirical explanation without recourse to divine intervention or traditional authority.
2. Falsifiability.

Clearly, ID does not pass the first condition. Evolution cannot pass the second. Karl Popper, an advocate of evolution, recognized that natural selection was not falsifiable, but argued that it was an essential "metaphysical research programme". That may give Popper a reason for regarding evolution as science from his overall philosophical perspective, but the question is a legal one for a society that need not maintain Popper's philosophy. How are we to distinguish legally between a "metaphysical research programme" and, say, a religion-based natural philosophy (e.g., Thomas Aquinas)? The difference is between an impersonal metaphysic and a personal metaphysic. What legal difference does this make? How can a diverse society privilege one over the other?

Teaching "origins" in a public school biology classroom is a mistake. Either way, you're going to cross the boundary between "hard science" and "natural philosophy", which, if we're consistent with the dominant opinion, is contrary to the establishment clause of the Constitution.

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