June 01, 2005

Debating the Controversy of Teaching the Controversy

Luke over at "Correct My Spelling!" got himself into a debate with a journalist colleague about the Intelligent Design, uh, issue.

I only read Luke's side of it but I trust that at some point he will break down and actually type in his colleague's work so we can all read it on his blog too. (Actually, Luke, why don't you have him email his piece????)

Anyway, I responded to Luke's post, and he responded to my response, and well, now everyone is tired. I'll recap the posts/responses here, and then - would you expect anything less of me? - I still have more to say:


Evolutionists have refused to take part in the intelligent design hearings in Kansas. It's beneath them, they say. ID is just creationism in a more inclusive blanket. Current Intelligent Design proponents, though, say it's unfair to lump them in with the quaint ideas of creation science.... They've come to shake things up. Except Intelligent Design isn't new, and their underlying goals probably aren't even science.

Read Luke's entire post HERE. It's very good.

My first response was, reasonably enough, to Luke's first assertion, that evolution scientists boycotted the Kansas Kangaroo Court last month because they felt it "beneath them."

But that's not my take.

Here's my response:
I would suggest actually that rather than being based on intellectual arrogance, the science boycott is just a practical refusal to play "show trial" with the IDers. Scientists' testimony would have meant nothing to the end result, since the actions to be taken by the school board this summer are a done deal. The hearings are nothing but an ID PR Carnival, and scientists rightly stayed home, rather than suggest that a real scientific "controversy" exists where it clearly does not.

So I have this great vision:

ID is a boxer, in the ring bobbing and weaving, jabbing, running, float like a butterfly sting like a bee (all according to "kind" of course).

Big left hook (bacterial flagella!), jab (carbon 14), jab(Cambrian exoskeleton).

His supporters are screaming for him to connect ["show 'em the design!!"].

Another left hook (molecular clock!), a right hook (irreducible complexity!).

The crowd is on its feet ["Do the math! Not enough time for diversity! Noah's flood!"]

The fighter is spinning. Checking his corner. [are we accepting Microevolution? or sticking with Genesis!? 3 Billion years acceptable? Or 8000? Three trainers, one nodding, one shaking his head, one shrugging] No matter. Another left hook (transitional fossils!), and a right (Directed Descent!) a flurry of body shots (Eyeball!, Mousetrap!, Clotting Cascade!, ATHEISM!!)

But notice... the opponent is not in the ring.

ID is shadowboxing. ID refuses to admit he's shadowboxing, of course, he claims there is a legitimate fight going on, right before your eyes, and that the opponent is just too afraid to show. And the opponent is going down. And the opponent is at once hiding and conspiring with the boxing commission to revoke ID's license, and also laying there on the mat taking an eight count, right there on the floor, look! Wait, don't look! Check out my uppercut!

And then Luke:
I like that Don, but I have to draw the opposite conclusion.

There will be no proper trial of ID, they've framed the theory in such a way that it will never reach real court on constitutional grounds [also in such a way that utterly neuters whatever shred of explanatory power other design arguments have], so all there is are these kangaroo courts set up.

As showy as it all seems, let's not forget how science gets done: with money. Much of the money is donated R&D in the private sector, drug companies, defense and what not. But most of the bleeding edge science--the stuff that seems anecdotal and mystical now but which will one day shape our understanding of the universe, and lead the practical technologies of the next century--is funded by the government.

Government funding, as it were, is all about show trials, because show trials offer the illusion of public opinion. Show trials, in this sense, are analogous to lobbying groups. It's not only about throwing around money, it's about demonstrating the perception of influence.

Public opinion directs tax dollars because public opinion creates the law makers who direct the tax dollars. Their careers depend on public opinion.

If the gentleman from Pennsylvania or the lady from Ohio perceives the thrust of lay science shifting [which is what this equal time nonsense will do I believe], then I guarantee they will begin to fight to preserve their delegates perceived interest.

I wouldn't have such a big problem with ID if it were given the time it deserves, a paragraph in chapter one of our science books alongside other quaint creation theories [Pan-Gu and his egg for example], but equal time suggests equal weight, and equal weight is something ID definitely doesn't carry. If nothing else they should have gone to bat with the full weight of the scientific community behind them. It wouldn't have mattered in Pennsylvania, but the cameras on those procedings beamed out a fair ways past Scranton.
Incidentally I read my colleague's piece and it was well written and researched, but I pretty much called everything he was going to say. I appeared first on the page, so by the time he brought up William Dembsky and the Discovery Institute, I'd already handled the former and exposed the motives of the latter.

Reading it almost felt like I'd done some witchcraft, but, like the spurious design argument, it was a statistics game. There are only a handfull of ways ID can be argued. 2500 years of working through logical permutations and we have 5 essential arguments for the belief in God [6 if you count Kant's half-joking contribution]. Of those five, only two are valid to this conversation in the current scientific paradigm. Two ways to demonstrate the possibility of God versus X(n) [where n is the number of species of organic life that live and have lived on the planet] ways to demonstrate evolution.

And now back to me:

Well, Luke, I wouldn't say yours is an "opposite conclusion" from mine, per se.

Unless, I guess, we're talking about a constitutional test. Actually, I think Kansas is a good example, I believe it will come to a constitutional test. The ID argument is strangely self contradictory there. ID says it is a legitimate science, nothing more, no religion, etc., but its argument for inclusion in the school curriculum is that evolutionary science is, via it's naturalistic "dogma", religious! So, in a roundabout way, despite claiming to NOT be religious, ID is requesting equal time in order to counter the "religion" of science. This ridiculously stilted dichotomy is going to get them in trouble.

You and I both see the ID game as a public/political battle for hearts and minds (and funding), as opposed to valid science. We agree there.

But I have to say, how "science is done" is not really the issue; how "science is taught" is the issue. The important point here is that ID is not science. Period.

ID is a social, cultural, and political construct. It can not speak to the natural sciences. I don't see any reason to keep it from History, Comparative Religion, Social Studies and Civics, all the subjects which explore those issues. Putting it in Science classes, though, would be tantamount to inserting it into the Weather segment on the 11 o'clock news.

"I wouldn't have such a big problem with ID if it were given the time it deserves, a paragraph in chapter one of our science books alongside other quaint creation theories [Pan-Gu and his egg for example]..."

This is probably where we disagree. First, unless I missed something recently, I don't think that any quaint supernatural beliefs are currently included in the first chapters of any science books as it is, right? Not Pan-Gu, not Greek mythology, not the Yanomamo tree ancestors. Why start now?

Maybe things have changed, and these Phun Phacts are included in sidebars and highlight boxes in science texts to sex them up a little. But I think this would look more like a mockery of the misinformed. Which leads me to my next point.

ID wants to be taken seriously, like you said, with "equal time". It doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as an unverifiable mystical explanation that modern science has now explained. In fact, it wants to challenge science, break the perceived conspiracy of silence, and blow down the house of cards that they intuitively find naturalistic sciences to truly be.

And yes, I see where you said you "wouldn't have a problem with ID if...", but that "if" is unacceptable to both sides. Rightly so, I think.

I personally see no conflict whatsoever with a person believing that there is or could be a deity, a force, and entity, prime mover, God, gods, what have you, while seeking and understanding the sciences for what they are, a process of discovery and experimentation and model-building that explains our natural physical existence, including evolution. This person is at once living in faith and still understanding that it is a realm untouchable by physical sciences. And vice versa.

It appears to me that MOST people of science, and MOST people of faith, fall into this category of people!

I think the ID crowd on one side, and the militant atheist crowd on the other, are minority cells existing under the very low ceilings of the bell-curve's extreme ends.

However, the ID strategies, which are it's ultimate undoing, are schizophrenically attempting to appeal not only to their "base" - the small fringe of young-earth creationist fundamentalists - but to the middlings too.

The middlings range from those who accept an older earth while still maintaining that man was created in somewhat of a "poof" manner, to those who believe in the impossibly unabservable idea that everything happened exactly as science sees it, BUT that it was divinely directed and the proof of this lives in the "gaps" of our working models.

This bobbing and weaving ID is self-contradictory. It's a jumble of strategems and gambits, many working against each other. It really is shadowboxing. ID actually can't be defined, can't develop a model or a "science", can't really even agree on a direction of exploration. It can only design political "strategies", The Wedge Strategy, Dembski's new Vice Strategy, etc. None of these are science. They are just PR.

So, maybe next is the School Voucher Private Education Strategy? (again)?

We'll see.


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