Personal beliefs not part of science
July 26, 2002
I had to offer a reply to Mr. Hostetter's letter regarding evolution and intelligent design. It is difficult to imagine how a member of the GSA could pen such a letter. Geology, Palaeontology and evolutionary biology all contain elements of historical reconstruction that are quite legitimate. For Mr. Hostetter to fail to see the faults in his comments strikes me as being willfully obtuse.
Charles Lyell, and before him, James Hutton, showed that the key to understanding the geological past lay in observing processes occurring in the present. Charles Darwin did exactly the same thing for biological evolution. He did not rely on the fossil record to do so, although it has spectacularly borne out his conclusions. For Mr. Hostetter to suggest that there is no evidence supporting evolution of one form into another is not only factually incorrect, it is exactly the sort of howler commonly put forward by creationists and intelligent design advocates alike. He compounds his error with the common misconception that evolution equals increasing complexity of form. It doesn't and he reveals a deep ignorance of the subject in making that statement.
Belief in an intelligent designer (i.e., God) is something that one either brings or does not bring to one's perspective on science. It does not arise from the data. Science can neither confirm nor disprove the existence of God. The Intelligent Design Movement asserts otherwise but offers nothing to support that claim other than the exact same attacks on evolution made by Biblical Literalists. It makes no positive claims of its own. ID advocates speak darkly of the war against "materialist philosophy" and the supposed faults of methodological naturalism, but they offer no suggestions as to how one can conduct scientific investigation via non naturalistic methods. Of course, that is because they can't, not because there is anything to be "discovered" in that regard. ID advocates are lumped with creationists because they use the same tactics and discredited arguments.
Scientists of all faiths and of no faith conduct their work on precisely the same basis of natural causation. What they personally believe about the ultimate cause and meaning of existence has nothing to do with science and plays no part in their work. Because such beliefs are not part of science, they should not be part of science education. Period.