The Way Science Works
By Wendee Holtcamp

Originally published in the National Center for Science Education Newsletter, Sep-Dec 2003 issue.

Though science is distinguished by hypothesis testing, in reality, science proceeds through three mechanisms. I believe that if our nation's people understood the differences between the "three branches" of science, it would be easier to convince people of why Intelligent Design and Creationism are not science and should not be taught as science.

The three mechanisms of science include:

1. Discovery -- seeing things for the first time -- not necessarily (at this stage) tested. Discoveries in science include the discovery of cells and other organelles by ever-better microscopes, "accidental" discovery of the antibiotic nature of penicillin, and observing and recording -- but not interpreting -- an animal's behavior.

2. Developing Ideas and Drawing Implications -- Scientists are creative. They think up ideas that they can test out. They also take already existing knowledge and ponder its meaning. They draw conclusions they think are reasonable from their findings. Scientists do this both in the scientific literature and in the popular media (via books, magazine articles, and other forums). The significance of the contributions of scientists like Stephen Jay Gould, Jared Diamond, Robert MacArthur, and other well-known scientists is largely due to their involvement in DEBATE, generating NEW ideas, discussing the implications of other people's ideas, and summarizing the progress of science. I believe this is actually an extremely powerful way that science progresses and is sometimes underemphasized.

3. Hypothesis Testing -- Despite the fact that #2 significantly moves science forward, hypothesis testing is where science differs from all other fields of study. All, or many, other fields (history, math, philosophy, cultural studies, etc.) use #1 & #2 and so does science -- but science is distinguished by the testing of ideas and rejecting of incorrect notions. Hypothesis rejection isn't always "automatic" as other possibilities (poor experimental design, a new twist on an old theory, discovery of a new aspect of an old theory) must be considered.

A major problem with pseudoscientific ideas, such as Intelligent Design, is that they rely on #2 (Drawing Implications) without #3 (Hypothesis Testing). Intelligent Design proponents have an "idea" that they have philosophically and logically justified to their own group. Several intelligent, thoughtful Christians that I know think that the ID arguments "are air-tight." However, great logic is not science. Complex logical arguments can be flawed if their underlying assumptions are proven false. This is what happened with many of Aristotle's brilliant -- but ultimately wrong -- ideas.

Creation scientists and ID proponents promote their ideas and draw major implications with mega-bucks and polished prose and a lawyer's sharp tongue (Phillip Johnson) but without ever putting their hypotheses to the test!

Before any ideas -- no matter how logical-sounding -- should be introduced into our education system as a scientific idea it MUST at least begin to go through the scientific (#3) process not just the idea-generating phase. Our nation's people would not allow the unproven ideas of alchemy or cold-fusion introduced in science textbooks, except as examples of "bad science"! While cold fusion MAY happen one day in the future, we would not think to introduce it as a proven idea before it is even discovered (#1) and then tested by multiple independent scientific teams.

And if anyone of the ID proponents claims they are only trying to introduce new "ideas" about science, they are (inadvertently or purposefully) lying because at least one -- and probably many -- Christian homeschool/private school educational curriculum (Abeka) already teaches ID as proven fact. A 2nd grade Abeka science book begins with the text, "God designed the animals." Design is not even the Biblical word which was "God *created* the animals." This means that Christian educators have not only bypassed the scientific system, but also undermined the integrity of the actual Biblical text.

Copyright © 2005 Wendee Holtcamp