Re: Fwd: Alvin Plantinga's paper

Moorad Alexanian (
Tue, 19 Jan 1999 10:39:48 -0500 (EST)

At 03:27 PM 1/16/99 -0500, Ed Brayton wrote:
>Moorad Alexanian wrote:
>> The teaching of evolution in public schools gives rise to questions about
>> the way it is taught, the philosophical assumptions being made, etc. I will
>> use the teaching of the Big Bang theory in physics classes to illustrate my
>> point. It would be totally absurd to say that when teaching physics to all
>> who need it, it is essential that we teach the Big Bang theory of the origin
>> of the physical universe for otherwise none of the physics would make sense.
>> I believe the same can be said when teaching biology, zoology, etc. I ask
>> you, how essential is it for the true understanding of such disciplines that
>> evolution be taught at all? What would happen if the theory of evolution
>> would be totally barred from our school systems? I believe that nothing
>> would happen, science would continue to proposer, technology would be
>> unhindered, medicine would flourish, etc.
>I am at a loss to understand what connection this has to the message to
which it is
>intended to reply. I did not address the question of whether evolution
should be
>taught in public schools or not, I only addressed the position taken by Dr.
>Plantinga that sets up a basic right not to have ideas presented in public
>that conflict with their own beliefs. It is this position that seems to me
to be
>poorly thought out and impossible to apply in a consistent manner.
>As to your position here, I think I would disagree with it as well. It is, of
>course, possible to teach physics without teaching about the big bang, and
>to teach biology without teaching evolution. A biology class could simply be a
>series of memorization exercises whereby students are taught how to
categorize data
>into phyla, class, order, and so on. But is this a complete education? Do we do
>justice to the field of biology if we do not mention that the unifying
theory of the
>field is the theory of evolution? Would we do justice in physics to not mention
>relativity or quantum mechanics? Sure, we could teach the very basics of every
>discipline without dealing with the ideas that explain all of that data,
but are we
>then really educating them about science? Science is not merely the
collecting and
>filing away of little bits of data. A scientist isn't merely a librarian
trying to
>organize discrete units into an organized system of classification. The goal of
>science is explanation, and explanation means theorization. To teach any
field of
>science without teaching about the theories that unify the field and
explain the
>evidence is to divorce science education from the primary end of science as a
>How would you go about teaching biology without teaching evolution? Would
you not
>mention it at all, or mention it only in passing?

Dear Ed,

I do not believe so, but what may be analogous to evolutionary theory in
physics would be the unification of all the forces in nature and not the Big
Bang. There the search for a theory of everything (TOE) would show the
existing four forces as a manifestation of one underlying theory or force.
The best candidate is the theory of strings. However, the analogy of the
unification in physics with that of evolutionary theory in biology fails in
one main respect. The unification of all forces in physics has nothing to do
with how the universe came into being. Such a TOE would be descriptive of
nature and not prescriptive. On the other hand, evolutionary theory is
ultimately by its nature a theory of origins. Therein the whole discussion
of teaching a theory of origins as science comes in in our public school
system. After all, the question of origins may not be a scientific question.
Therefore, the final answer may lie outside the purview of science.
Accordingly, theologians may have just as much to say about the question of
origins as scientists do.

Relativity and quantum mechanics are essential for the description of much
of what surrounds us. The issue of their relevance to the study of the
description of the early universe does not enhance their importance.

Evolutionary theory is not a science like physics but it is very much like
forensic science. One can know all the science one needs to know to
understand all the physical aspects in a crime scene without being concerned
on who committed the crime. In fact, the criminologists do the science and
the prosecution seeks to find the criminal who committed the crime.
Therefore, the prosecutor is the evolutionary scientist; however, the good
science is done by the criminologists and not the prosecutors.

The relevance of evolutionary theory to the teaching of biology can be
attested as follows: Suppose we took any biology textbook and would delete
any reference to evolutionary theory or evolution from it, I can assure you
that the text would make just as much sense if not even more.

Take care,