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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Weekend reading on the intelligent design controversy: Columns and articles of note

First, check out Why Intelligent design is going to win by Douglas Kern, in Tech Central Station, who says,

"Ewww…intelligent design people! They're just buck-toothed Bible-pushing nincompoops with community-college degrees who're trying to sell a gussied-up creationism to a cretinous public! No need to address their concerns or respond to their arguments. They are Not Science. They are poopy-heads."

There. I just saved you the trouble of reading 90% of the responses to the ID position. Vitriol, condescension, and endless accusations of bad faith all characterize far too much of the standard pro-Darwinian response to criticism. A reasonable observer might note that many ID advocates appear exceptionally well-educated, reasonable, and articulate; they might also note that ID advocates have pointed out many problems with the Darwinist catechism that even pro-Darwin scientists have been known to concede, when they think the Jesus-kissing crowd isn't listening. And yet, even in the face of a sober, thoughtful ID position, the pro-Darwin crowd insists on the same phooey-to-the-boobgeois shtick that was tiresome in Mencken's day. This is how losers act just before they lose: arrogant, self-satisfied, too important to be bothered with substantive refutation, and disdainful of their own faults. Pride goeth before a fall.

This guy is fun.

Meet some of your favourite action figures in this
high level science row about God, sponsored by the Templeton Foundation:

Take the exchange between biologists Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge and Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford. Morris contended that intelligence is not a freak occurrence but a recurring theme in evolution, appearing in dolphins, parrots and crows as well as in primates. He speculated that any of these species might be capable of discovering God, but we had help--from Christ, whom God sent to Earth for our benefit. Dawkins, by far the most antireligious lecturer, praised Morris's evolutionary views but called his Christianity "gratuitous." Morris retorted that he found Dawkins's atheism "archaic" and asserted that the resurrection and other miracles attributed to Christ were "historically verifiable." After more give-and-take, Morris, crossing his arms tightly across his chest, grumbled, "I'm not sure this conversation can go any further."

Dawkins also challenged the faith of physicist John Barrow, an Anglican. Like several other speakers, Barrow emphasized how extraordinarily "fine-tuned" the universe is for our existence. Why not just accept that fine-tuning as a fact of nature? Dawkins asked. Why do you want to explain it with God? "For the same reason you don't want to," Barrow responded drily. Everyone laughed except Dawkins, who protested, "That's not an answer!"

Here’s Albert Mohler, the no-nonsense Southern Baptist seminary chief’s take on arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins, one of the action figures in the story above:

At the New York Symposium, Dawkins went on the attack, criticizing Brown University professor Ken Miller for claiming to believe in evolutionary theory and in God. The exchange was so heated that the gathered scientists--more accustomed to low-key debate, found themselves aghast. As Hall observed, "The other thing that struck me was the tone of the debate--Dawkins, and his undeniably civil manner, was so aggressive, so relentless, and so pitiless towards his intellectual adversaries that it almost detracted from the quality of his argument."

Hall's concern is not that Dawkins might be wrong--he seems to agree that Dawkins is fundamentally correct. Instead, Hall reflects a growing discomfort among scientists that Dawkins and his aggressive approach are making the case for evolution harder to defend in the marketplace of ideas. "You can be the world's greatest apostle of scientific rationalism," Hall warns, "but if you come across as a Rottweiler, Darwin's or anybody else's, when you enter that marketplace, it's very hard to make the sale."
(Note: Dawkins also suggested that if Bush got reelected in 2004, Americans travelling abroad should fake a Canadian accent. That means sounding like me when they talk - an uncertain Ontario quack, which sounds like a voice muffled by a huge fall of snow. Or at best it is a honk, like geese passing far overhead, as the dead leaves fall into the icy water ... Bush did get reelected, so I guess I don’t need to give lessons after all ... )

In American Enterprise, Joe Manzari tries to explain why there IS an intelligent design controversy (the same thing I try to explain in By Design or by Chance?):

In the 1925 Scopes Trial, a young science teacher by the name of John T. Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school—an act prohibited by a Tennessee statute. Although the trial court ruled against Scopes, the judgment was less important than its wider impact on culture. The historian George Marsden points out that “it was clear that the twentieth century, the cities, and universities had won a resounding victory, and the country, the South, and the fundamentalists were guilty as charged.”

Eighty years later, the tables have turned.

The thing is, eighty years later, the Darwinists have had to resort to undermining academic freedom to protect their theory.

Strange that John Scopes himself commented on this (and Manzari quotes him),

John Scopes once said, "If you limit a teacher to only one side of anything, the whole country will eventually have only one thought.... I believe in teaching every aspect of every problem or theory."

The guy who says he coined the phrase “Teach the controversy” weighs in, expressing his disdain for ID. This is really fascinating, because he unthinkingly assumes that the Darwinists have all the answers, and all that is needed is to teach the controversy so that everyone will realize that. Obviously, Darwinists don’t agree. About that, he notes,

Behind such fear — and behind the liberal secularist objections to teaching the debate — one senses the shellshock and impotence of the Blue-state Left in the wake of the 2004 election, and the worry that the Left will only lose again if it allows itself to be suckered into debating "values" with the religious Right on its own terms. This worry is deepened by the feeling that American public debate is not a level playing field, but an arena in which conservative money and Fox News control the agenda.

Though I share these fears, there seems to me a certain failure of nerve here on the part of the Left. After all, if evolution and intelligent design were debated in academic courses, the religious Right would have the same risk of losing as the liberal secularists — maybe greater risk, if Hitchens is correct. In any case, it’s not clear that one wins a battle of beliefs by hunkering down, circling the wagons, and refusing to engage the other side. And if the Right has more money and media clout with which to shape such a debate, that may be all the more reason to enter the debate: if you don’t have money and media clout, arguments are your best bet.

Well, it strikes me that if Graff really believes that conservative money and Fox News control the agenda (Hurricane Katrina? Hurricane Harriet? Hurricane Deficit?), he and his friends need to open a window. The reason people doubt the Darwinist spin is that they got off the carrousel, m’kay? It’s still legal to do that.

An oldie but goodie: Three proponents of ID and three opponents present their views in Natural History Magazine (2002).

Hey, over-designed couch potato, if you have really read all those articles, how about you get out there and get some exercise!

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