Saturday, January 26, 2013

Paradigm Wars

Back in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, I took it upon myself to engage several strongholds of evolution. Having been a science instructor in our public schools, I wrote to some of my former colleagues. I also submitted letters to local and national newspapers with my concerns. Many of those letters of concern were published. I recently reviewed some of these letters to individuals and public media. The issues are still relevant. Here is an close adaptation of one letter I’ll share with readers. It was sent around the time of the infamous decision by Judge John E. Jones III. This decision was hailed as definitive in excluding mention of intelligent design in public classrooms on the basis that it is constitutionally forbidden because ID is tantamount to a religious viewpoint:

One of the most wrenching issues of the day, destined to become even more so, is the teaching of evolution in our public schools. The teaching is pitted against the desire of advocates of intelligent design (ID) to have mentioned, at least, the possibility of an intelligent designer as an alternative way to account for the origin of life and its processes. The same advocates desire to have significant weaknesses in the theory of evolution mentioned in our public school classrooms along with the view that evolution, contrary to the constant drumbeat from most science professionals, has not risen to the status of “fact.”

A firestorm has erupted replete with courtroom challenges. Professional science organizations staunchly claim the mention of possible supernatural action anywhere and anytime in the natural world within our science curriculum would be tantamount to state advocacy of a religious belief. Many people are unaware of the historic backdrop for the fierce opposition from professional science organizations in the area of public education. Neither are they aware of a little-known philosophical debate which preceded the firestorm.

In 1962, science historian Thomas Kuhn produced a landmark volume entitled “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” His thesis was that science does not gradually evolve toward truth via slow accumulation of new discoveries. Rather, science undergoes periodic revolutions Kuhn termed “paradigm shifts.” Kuhn popularized the term “paradigm” and originated the expression “paradigm shift.” A paradigm, in Kuhn’s view, is a collection of beliefs shared by scientists about how reality is to be understood. He also coined the terms “normal science” to describe the routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within the paradigm, and “scientific revolution,” an episode in which an older paradigm is replaced by a new one.

After Darwin the mainstream science establishment embraced the evolutionary paradigm as an organizing principle for science. Science text publishers, particularly since the mid-20th century, have rigidly adhered to it. Kuhn brilliantly characterized those who adhere to a paradigm as seeing reality with tunnel vision through the mist of ideas and assumptions that constitute their paradigm. They often resist and suppress new ideas because those ideas subvert the basic paradigm to which they subscribe. When a new candidate for paradigm surfaces a battle over its acceptance emerges and we experience a “paradigm war.”

Country-wide court battles signal the early stages of a paradigm war. The stakes are very high. The paradigm of naturalistic evolution has gripped our science education establishment and that establishment is not yielding one inch of territory. The often-applied separation of church and state principle is only one of many devices by lawyers to strengthen their case before judicial authorities. Another device is the stated principle that science deals only with natural phenomena while the supernatural is exclusively the domain of religion. The science establishment, perhaps to shield itself securely within its evolutionary paradigm, decries any attempt even to mention possible alternative explanations for counter data or legitimate challenges to the “evolution is a fact” mantra repeated widely within public science classrooms.

Most ID proponents would be content with this mention. Most ID supporters do not wish to have their specific theological doctrines taught in public schools, contrary to the fear that such would be the case. In view of this understanding of the potent force of paradigms in science, we may understand more fully what is going on in our culture. We may be on the edge of a “scientific revolution.” Historically, there have been many paradigm wars resulting in scientific revolutions within the field of science.