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Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Paying the piper.

Recently my esteemed co-blogger Tom wrote a post dealing with some happenings over on Wild Bill Dembski's blog Uncommon Descent. Tom was commenting on an effort to explain the supposed virgin birth of Jesus Christ through purely natural means. As Tom pointed out, this is a ridiculous effort from both a scientific and a religious perspective. For the scientifically inclined there's no plausible way to do it. For the religiously inclined, the very attempt minimizes the role of god. And for the religiously scientific*... well, those folks largely hang out on Dembski's blog anyway.

Bizarre as I think this discussion is, however, it is at least a discussion largely taking place between adults. Sure, Dembski's henchmen routinely delete dissenting opinions and ban commenters. Sure, the blog consistently disregards anything resembling journalistic integrity. It's still a group of free adults exercising their right to free speech. If you simply have to rebut Dembski's writings you're free to start up your own blog and do so. And, of course, this is why I have both Uncommon Descent and The Panda's Thumb in my blogroll. I see no reason not to keep an eye on each and, at the very least, expose myself to both sides of the debate- even if one of them is clearly in error. This kind of relative openness is even practiced on the Panda's Thumb which has links to numerous pro-ID blogs and websites, even if they do label them pseudoscience. Sadly, Dembski doesn't reciprocate, although he does have a very nice, if totally irrelevant, flashgame about the Panda's thumb. Seriously. Check it out. Hey, if they can't win on logical or scientific grounds, at least they can win in terms of sheer entertainment value.

And that seems to be the idea behind a recent Intelligent Design initiative. A new website, called "Overwhelming Evidence" is interesting in that it isn't directed at adults who are having a discussion about human origins. It is, instead, an effort to sway children to a pro-Intelligent Design position. Granted, by "children" I largely mean "teenagers" but the point remains essentially the same: if you aren't winning among your peers, you may as well go after a vulnerable population.

So far this effort looks pretty interesting if you go by the front splash page. My favorite is their comment on Judge Jones of the Dover ruling. Specifically, they say: "He's a wacky, zany activist. He's a rogue. And he loves that old time Darwinian religion!" This is, of course, fascinating given that Judge Jones is Lutheran, as well as Jones' own comment on his alleged activism at the time he wrote his decision:

"Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court."

It's not that Jones is necessarily telling the truth, but that he was appointed by President George W. Bush and has publicly stated that his decision was based on a strict adherence to established law and the U.S. Constitution- which is exactly what it means to not be activist on the bench. Or, at least, what it means to those of us who aren't cultural conservatives- for them being activist means ruling in someone else's favor. But I digress...

On entering "Overwhelming Evidence" you will find the usual Intelligent Design schtick. Life is too complex... evolution sucks... mysterious intelligent designer... we've heard all of this before. Only now it's directed at propagandizing the younguns.

So am I angry about all this? Nah, not really. This isn't any different than what kids get in their churches, which are effectively unregulated anyway. I don't particularly like the whole thing, but hey, what do you expect? No, I'm not angry, but I am interested. It's interesting to me how cultural conservatives view knowledge. As the Plain(s)Feminist pointed out in her recent guest post, there's all kinds of opposition to equipping teachers with any real knowledge about sexual practices. As if denying information to teachers, and thereby denying it to kids, will somehow protect them. Bad news, folks: kids are curious and they will find out. They can do it through a nice safe sex education class, or through internet forums. If you need more than four seconds to figure out which of those is better, you're brain damaged. Then there's the new vaccine for HPV that conservatives are resisting on their usual psycho grounds: in short, that protecting young girls from HPV will make them more likely to have pre-marital sex. To me, this is like arguing that putting a cherry on top of a hot fudge sunday makes a ten year-old more likely to eat it, but that's not the point.

And here we are, once again, with cultural conservatives trying to work the children. Is evolution as important as an HPV vaccine or sex education? On a personal level, no: knowing how to use a condom is way more important. On a societal level, however, the answer is yes. An understanding of how the natural world works is key to having an electorate that is sufficiently informed to be able to deal with issues like bird flu, global warming, and environmental pollutants. But, unfortunately, when we get past the "teach the controversy" rhetoric we find that none of the ID movement is about being informed. It is, instead, about preserving particular mindsets no matter how high the cost.

And I, for one, don't want to have to pay that bill.

* Please note that I don't mean "religious scientists." There's no necessary reason why someone who is a scientist cannot be religious and vice versa. However, the sort of logic that operates in religion and the kind of logic at work in science are sufficiently different as to make it unwise to mix them. So, while you may have faith that god loves us, using that faith as your sole justification for accepting or rejecting scientific hypotheses is probably unwise.


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