Thursday, March 16, 2006


Open Letter to OCR

Dear OCR,

Subsequent to recent somewhat histrionic news coverage of your pedagogically excellent changes to the GCSE 'Gateway to Science' syllabus, which correctly informs students that one's assessment of empirical data is affected by one's background beliefs, I note from your website that OCR clearly adheres to background beliefs which mean that: "Creationism and 'intelligent design' are not regarded by OCR as scientific theories."

Since I am not a creationist, I have no particular stake in defending the scientific status of creationism. However, as a philosopher I do think that creationism should be classified as 'bad science' rather than as 'not science.' As professor of philosophy Peter van Inwagen writes of creationism: 'It's not that it's not science at all... It's that - in my view, at least - it's very bad science, consisting of contrived, ad hoc arguments and selective appeal to evidence.' (God, Knowledge & Mystery: Essays in Philosophical Theology, Cornell University Press, 1995, p. 143.) On this subject, may I recommend J.P. Moreland's work on Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation (Baker, 1989)? Professor Moreland, who concludes that creationism is science, argues that "more understanding would obtain if we read the creation/evolution debate not only as a difference regarding scientific facts, though it includes that, but also as a conflict over epistemic values." Hence Moreland's approach to understanding scientific controversy is, at least in this respect, very much in line with OCR's new standards.

As for Intelligent Design Theory (ID), I do hope that OCR is clear about the fact that ID is not 'creation science'. Nor is ID a conspiracy to re-package creationism for American schools. Unlike creationism, ID makes no theological assumptions and does not claim to provide direct evidential support for any theological conclusions. The scientific detection of 'intelligent design' falls far short of a conclusion of 'divine design', as David Hume would have pointed out (cf. Peter S. Williams, 'Design and the Humean Touchstone'). On these topics, may I refer OCR to the following papers: John G. West, 'Intelligent Design and Creationism are Just not the Same'; Jonathan Witt, 'The Origin of Intelligent Design'

As for the scientific status of Intelligent Design Theory, denied by OCR, I would like to refer you to the following sources of counter-argument:

Bradley Monton, 'Is Intelligent Design Science? Dissecting the Dover Decision'
Alvin Plantinga, 'Whether ID is science isn't semantics'
Peter S. Williams, 'If SETI is Science and UFOlogy Is Not, Which Is Intelligent Design Theory?'
John Angus Campbell & Stephen C. Meyer, (ed.’s), Darwinism, Design, And Public Education, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2003)

At the very least, I hope that OCR will further its epistemically correct approach to the philosophy of science, encouraging recognition of the fact that not only is one's assessment of empirical data, but also one's assessment of what counts as a scientific theory, is affected by background beliefs. The scientific status of various origins theories is a matter of dispute which students should surely be given the tools to think about for themselves. Not to encourage such open minded but critical engagement would seem to place OCR in an awkward position: on the one hand telling students to think about how different background beliefs affect people's assessment of empirical data, whilst, on the other hand, telling them not to think about the relative merits of those background beliefs when they impinge upon the dictat (questioned by opponents as well as supporters of both views) that neither creationism nor ID are scientific.

Yours Sincerely,

Peter S. Williams (MA, MPhil)

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