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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ignore them and hope they go away.

While at this year's ASA meetings I managed to take in a few panels. Those who regularly attend meetings know that this is no small feat as, often times, a variety of commitments will prevent one from going to these presentations. It sometimes occurs to me that the audience at panels is largely composed of those who don't have better things to do, but I digress.

One of the papers I happened to see* addressed in passing the issue of intelligent design and its ongoing conflict with actual science. Now, this was a fairly interesting paper but there were two assertions that the author made that I feel compelled to take issue with. Congratulations- you get to watch me do that. Aren't you lucky?

The first assertion is that intelligent design differs from the earlier "creation science" of the eighties in that it is not targetted at schools and school children but, instead, seeks to convince the academic community. Those of you who follow this blog with any regularity** can probably guess my issue here: the author's assertion is almost completely wrong. Oh, if you go by what the Discovery Institute claims on their website, then it's absolutely true that the intelligent design movement is trying to convince academics. Unfortunately, the DI lies like a dog. The simple reality is that the intelligent design movement is targetted entirely on the public, and students in particular, and barely at all at academics. What do I base this claim on? Well, let's start with that old classic "Of Pandas and People," an intelligent design textbook intended for high schoolers. You know- the textbook that the school board wanted to use in Dover, Pennsylvania. You remember that court case in Dover, right? The one where intelligent design got thrashed by scientists? The one where Discovery Institute folks testified or attempted to testify in favor of the anti-science requirements for public schools? Folks like "Wild Bill" Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and Michael Behe. That's clearly not evidence that intelligent design is targetting kids. How about "Exploring Evolution," the successor to "Of Pandas and People" that was written by, among others, three Discovery Institute members? Does this new and improved intelligent design drivel, intended for high school students and recently unveiled at Biola, count as something targetted at students? Surely not- it must be a book for graduate students who have a ninth grade reading level. And hell, while we're at it, how about we just read the Discovery Institute's own published intentions on the matter?

Once our research and writing have had time to mature, and the public prepared for the reception of design theory, we will move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science through challenge conferences in significant academic settings. We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula.

So, right, yes, clearly no targetting of students here.

The second point I have to take issue with is the author's claim that the correct response to intelligent design is... nothing. Science is, supposedly, so strong and so respected that intelligent design is doomed from the outset. We shouldn't resist ID or oppose teaching it in the science classroom because, in the end, science will win out. Right. We've gone from "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," to "Evil can't ever triumph over good so, you know, don't even worry about evil." Truly a great day for reasoning. In all seriousness, however, my problem is simply that the public, by and large, doesn't understand how science works. I don't blame them for that- if anything I blame us- but it's a reality that needs to be understood. The problem is, folks who try to insert intelligent design into the classroom are elected fairly regularly and are only turned out of office when people make a stink about what they're doing to education.*** Need I remind everyone of our old pal Connie Morris? To the average guy on the street intelligent design probably sounds scientific, and to many it's a helluva lot more appealing since it dovetails with what they want to believe anyway. Good science is not going to win out in the public arena unless we fight for it, and since good science is often funded by public monies, we can't afford to simply pull back into our shells and pretend nothing is going on.

I don't want to fight any battles I don't have to, but ignoring the ID'ers and hoping that they go away just isn't going to work.

* After much consideration I have decided not to identify this paper by name. Partly, this is because I think it would be unfair to do so and, partly, because much chatting about papers at the ASA meetings omits author names anyway. So, just imagine we're talking about this in the Hilton lobby and we're all good.

** Also known as masochists.

*** To be blunt, we could refer to it as "ass-ramming science."

As a side note to S.S. Stone: I accept your challenge, though it's going to take me a while to meet your conditions. Perhaps look for something next week.

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