Turning back the tide at Dover
I’ve got a Google News Alert set for “dover evolution”, following the acceptance of creationism (known in America by some people as Intelligent Design) onto the curriculum of a school in Pennsylvania. The plan is/was to write up a short piece on event for TUP, along with the cartoon below from a site which offers hours of juvenile fun. The article hasn’t been written yet because it is a controversial subject and I thought it a good idea to read a little around it on both sides of the subject. I still haven’t written it a few months on because there’s a lot to read. It seems the big issue most people concentrate on is whether an alternative to Darwinism should be taught at high school. In fact it could be much more serious.
It’s going to be a difficult subject to tackle. I can see three ways of approaching it. One is to tackle the obvious Irredeemable Stupidity in the argument for Creationism. It does sound a simple task There’s not one shred of evidence Creationism. So Creationists try and muddy the waters with a grab bag of non-sequiturs. The idea is that if they cast enough doubt on Natural Selection the Creationism becomes reasonable.
Imagine meeting a Creationist on a blind date:
Hi, is your name Mary?
Umm… no sorry.
In that case you must be Sue Weston of Manchester, because my miniscule imagination cannot consider there could be another alternative.
Actually no, I’m someone else. I think you’ve made a mistake.
I don’t think so, you did say you weren’t Mary didn’t you?
Then logically you must be Sue Weston of Manchester. By the way that’s a bible in my pocket, but I am pleased to see you.
Frankly the Creationists could prove that Darwin got it wrong, but no amount of evidence against Darwin will prove Creationism right. There’s another side issue that Creationists haven’t got any evidence against Darwin. The best they can do is try and void evidence for evolution like the entire fossil record as a conspiracy. It is a problem, but this angle has been done to death (or rather I wish it had died a death) and done a lot better by other people. Also I wonder really how important science is to creationism.
It’ll probably be this second tack I take. The creationists clearly have no interest in science. I’ve recently been told that the creation of subatomic particles in super-colliders proves Creation. Clearly fact-based reasoning has left the building. I think that analysing the methods and reasoning of the Creationists could be useful. Why do they reject Natural Selection, and also why do they feel the need for Creationism to be acknowledged as a Science? There’s a lot to read and it will take time. I’ve got Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design by Barbara Carroll Forrest and Paul Gross to read. From the bit I have read it’s fascinating. It argues there is a concerted political effort called the ‘Wedge’ to introduce creationism into the classroom, using Intelligent Design to smuggle Christianity into science. I stuggle with the sanity of this.
William Dembski argues that Intelligent Design is not creationism, but a serious scientific challenge to Darwinism.
the nature of [the] cause–whether it is one or many, whether it is a part of or separate from the world, and even whether it is good or evil–simply do not fall within intelligent design’s purview.
He’s wrong. By his own logic he’s wrong. If life is irreducibly complex then let’s say design is natural. What of the designer? If she was designed, then what of her designer and so on. Turtles all the way down is not an explanation. If she was not designed by simply sprung into being then she exists as a supernatural force. Intelligent Design therefore cannot be scientific either offering the explanation “That’s just the way it goes”, or else “The Magic Pixie did it.” Explanations invoking Pixies are rarely considered scientific. So scientifically Intelligent Design poses no problem. But theologically it’s a poison.
Intelligent Design, done properly, becomes a theological discussion of how little evidence there is for the Christian god. There is, based on the evidence, not more reason to believe in the Christian god than a singing Rainbow Snake in the Australian outback as the ultimate creator. It is not a tool for putting spirituality into science, but for extracting Jesus from Christianity. Christians are not universally stupid people. If Intelligent Design is getting support from the Christian fundamentalists then it must be based on Christian theology. Which brings us back to the ‘Wedge’.
Introducing Christianity into schools is, from an American perspective, a Bad Thing as it flouts the constitution regarding the separation between church and state. There’s not a major puzzle about why religious fundamentalists want to overturn the constitution. Religious fundamentalists of any stripe are eager to establish theocracies.
Another issue which is perhaps less frequently raised is why intelligent people in government are happy to tacitly support this. This applies to the UK too where Tony Blair is happy with Emanuel College, Gateshead teaching Creationism. Why?
Politicians want to get re-elected. The more options they have to pursue to do this the better. Science is potentially is a barrier to this. If you take it seriously it can stop politicians from doing whatever they choose. How do you deflect that? You reduce science from a question of fact to opinion, belief and feeling. Politically in the short-term curbing science is an excellent strategy. There are immediate gains in doing what you want and the charge is foisted onto the next political generation. In the longer term there will be a price to pay. Nature doesn’t care what fundamentalists think. Creationists are rather like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. Are a bunch of Canutes the best people to set a science syllabus?
I don’t have a solution, but I should note that I did go to a school that taught an alternative to Darwinian Evolution and there was never any tension between science and nonsense. The alternative I was taught was Lamarckian Evolution. The lesson as I recall went something like “Lamarck thought giraffes evolved by stretching their necks and passing the longer neck to their offspring. Can anyone explain why this is rubbish without referring to Three Blind Mice?” Can we teach Creationism as a science and demonstrate why as a science it is an utter failure. The problem and it’s a biggie with this is that it opens Christianity to ridicule, which requires brave teachers in a land where fundamentalists are either armed or worse, lawyers. On the plus side it would lead to fundamentalists campaigning to have Creationism removed from school syllabi.