Live by this sword…

This is another archival repost from the old blog, this time from jan 2009.

Catching up on the week’s feeds, and the CiF piece from Edinburgh climate scientist Thomas Crowley caught my eye. Perhaps it’s the headline editor’s fault, but really — “Science can’t explain the big bang – there is still scope for a creator”?

Crowley is responding to a poll, and associated commentary, showing that a worryingly large number of British science teachers think that creationism is an appropriate topic for the classroom. He thinks that the science teachers’ position might be acceptable, because they might be thinking of “soft creationism” — simply the idea that the almighty had a hand in creation — and not the “hard” creationism of the 6,000 year old earth.

Leaving aside the fact that nobody uses the term “creationism” in this way (and it has been around long enough to be pretty well defined and understood), lets consider the circumstances in which it would be acceptable to discuss such “soft creationism” in a science class. Well, the headline writer has given us a clue: the “cause” of the big bang.

It’s an obvious place to start: a gap in our knowledge. God has always occupied the gaps. Crowley thinks it’s unacceptable to discuss creation in the context of the origin and age of the earth, because the evidence in that case is overwhelming. That particular gap has been filled in, already. So his god sits in the next available gap. He says as much himself!

“This yawning logical [sic] gap leaves open the possibility that something else may be going on.”

So, Crowley has proposed that his god hypothesis be discussed in this gap. (I almost had difficulty using the ‘g’ word myself, since Crowley so cleverly avoids it in his piece.) But hypotheses of any kind are rarely discussed even at undergraduate level courses, let alone in high schools. Still, perhaps it would be worth doing for a question like that of the origin of the universe. It could be a good lesson in how we go about doing science. How would such a lesson plan out?

Well, what I know about the origin of the universe hypotheses could be written on the back of a blog post, but I guess that the various hypotheses of the cosmologists would have to be discussed. The variations on multiverses, and spontaneous fluctuations of matter and energy. Though I couldn’t even begin to explain them myself, I know that the physicists have good reasons for proposing such hypotheses, and the class could discuss these. They would look at the ways in which the ideas are consistent (or inconsistent) with how the world appears. One could also discuss the predictions those hypotheses make, and the ways in which we might test those predictions.

And then the lesson would get to Crowley’s intelligent designer hypothesis. There probably won’t be enough time to discuss Crowley’s god specifically, but it would be included in the category of supernatural beings. Like with the natural hypotheses, the class could discuss why the supernatural hypothesis is being proposed — i.e. because it is a gap, and people have always put gods in gaps. Indeed, the class could discuss other gaps, such as the origin and evolution of life, for which the same god hypothesis has failed. The class would go on to discuss the ways in which the supernatural hypotheses are consistent, or inconsistent, with how the world appears. They could also get practical, describing how they would expect the world to look were the hypotheses true, and coming up with potential ways to test whether the world really does look that way. They might even be able to perform some of the tests themselves.

And then the teacher can sum up, and ask the class which hypothesis they think has stamina.

Oh, wait. Was this not what you were hoping for?

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