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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Excellent! The historians have our backs!

Most of you have long since grown familiar with my distaste for Intelligent Design creationism. What you may not know, however, is that the concerted opposition to ID among biologists, geneticists, physicists, chemists, and so on now has a new ally: historians! An essay appeared in the October edition of the Newsletter of the History of Science Society advocating the engagement of historians with the creationist crowd more or less to help stop them from raping history:

Given the rigorous peer review process required for publication in leading academic journals and presses, it is unsurprising that ID proponents make little attempt to engage with the community of professional historians. Their claims are made in books published largely by conservative (e.g. Regnery, Intercollegiate Studies Institute), religious (e.g. InterVarsity, an outgrowth of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship campus ministry) or vanity (e.g. Erasmus Press, owned by William Dembski) presses. Unsurprisingly papers are neither presented at conferences nor published in relevant journals and little attempt is made to undergo review by practicing historians with expertise in Darwin, his ideas, and their socio-cultural effects. In short, anti-evolutionist historical scholarship accurately mirrors creationist scientific work in being directed at the true believers rather than the academic community. The temptation may thus be for professional historians to ignore their claims – a temptation that I feel must be rejected. As historians, we have a social duty to correct error and over-simplification where it is foisted on the public by politically and religiously motivated individuals, and this responsibility goes beyond what sociologist and ID sympathizer Steve Fuller has dismissively seen as “catching the errors” of the creationists. There is something far more fundamental at stake. At a time where historians have eschewed Whig or “Great Man” histories, anti-evolutionists are presenting their “Not-So-Great Man” view of Darwin. They misrepresent the very nature of historical enquiry; they manipulate history until it risks becoming a mere shadow of the rich and intricate tapestry that it is.

Our collective research as historians can obviously help disprove claims made by anti-evolutionists regarding both the social effects of scientific ideas and how the scientific community functions. Many of us study scientific change, community formation over time, and the treatment of heretical ideas and controversy. In so doing, we have developed a realistic view of science and its social effects – both positive and negative – along with a clear conceptualization of how evolutionary biology has matured as a field over the past two hundred years. Our research directly opposes the erroneous and simplistic views of the anti-evolutionists, yet it remains largely unknown to the public. While I am not calling for historians to engage in popularization of their work, although that too may have benefits, I do believe that increased public engagement for those of us who have something relevant to say debunking the claims of anti-evolutionists is nothing less than a shared social responsibility. Such engagement is, thankfully, beginning. (For example, Mark Borrello has publicly engaged with John West on the claim that there is a link between Darwin and dehumanization. )

Anyway, the essay is pretty interesting and I, for one, am glad to have the help!

Hat tip to Jason Rosenhouse for this one.

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Blogger scripto said...

You can add to the sum total of human knowlege, even by being wrong, if you make an honest attempt to play by the rules. These ID guys don't even try. They're apologists without a coherent theology. They offer nothing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jason kielbasa said...

Historians do have your back on this. I have my MA in American History and I try my best to correct the "errors" that pop up such as this. I have since changed course and am studying to be a librarian but that is besides the point.

Whenever I hear these claims I ask for who are they are citing and how they came that point. That usually shuts them down or incites them to yell.

Trust me, many historians I know of have your back on this point.

Thursday, November 12, 2009 3:50:00 PM  

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