Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"The Evolution Wars" (TIME, August 15, 2005) #2

Here is part #2 of my multi-part critique of the articles in TIME of August 15, under the cover story, "The Evolution Wars".

[Continued from part #1]



When Bush joined the fray last week, the question grew hotter: Is "intelligent design" a real science? And should it be taught in schools?
Once again, President Bush did not "join... the fray"! He merely responded to a reporter's question, as this excerpt from the transcript shows:
Q I wanted to ask you about the -- what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus intelligent design. What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools?

THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I said, harking back to my days as ... governor [of Texas] ... Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.

Q Both sides should be properly taught?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, ... so people can understand what the debate is about.

Q So the answer accepts the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and ... you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.
As conservative commentator George Neumayr observed of The Washington Post's front-page headline, Bush Remarks On 'Intelligent Design' Theory Fuel Debate, "Acting like a person who hits a car and then strolls up to the accident scene in the guise of an innocent bystander, the Post reports all of this as a controversy about which it has no opinion -- and had no role in stoking. An honest headline on the story would read: "Press Baits Bush on Intelligent Design, Then Fuels Debate over his Response"!
By CLAUDIA WALLIS Sometime in the late fall, unless a federal court intervenes, ninth-graders at the public high school in rural Dover, Pa., will witness an unusual scene in biology class. The superintendent of schools, Richard Nilsen, will enter the classroom to read a three-paragraph statement mandated by the local school board as a cautionary preamble to the study of evolution. It reads, in part:
Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence ... Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book Of Pandas and People is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view ... As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.
After that one-minute reading, the superintendent will probably depart without any discussion, and a lesson in evolutionary biology will begin.
I doubt that "ninth-graders" at high school would have "a lesson in evolutionary biology"! According to the Dover Area School District 9th grade Biology curriculum, during their course students will be taught "Darwin's observations of the living world", "evidences used to support Darwin's theory of the Origins of Species" and also "gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to Intelligent Design." Presumably at the start of these series of classes, the superintendent would read his statement, so that students will be made officially aware (of what they would already be unofficially well aware), that: 1) there are problems with the standard Darwinian theory of evolution; and 2) there is at least one alternative, "Intelligent Design."
That kind of scene, brief and benign though it might seem, strikes horror into the hearts of scientists and science teachers across the U.S., not to mention plenty of civil libertarians.
It is amazing that a 1-minute statement in a rural school district alerting 9th grade high school students to what most (if not all) would already know from reading the newspapers and the Internet, would strike... horror into the hearts of scientists, science teachers and civil libertarians"! Quite clearly what is horrifying them is the symbolic value of this event which signifies the loss of their power to teach only their `creation story' in schools to each new generation.
Darwin's venerable theory is widely regarded as one of the best-supported ideas in science, the only explanation for the diversity of life on Earth, grounded in decades of study and objective evidence.
If this were so, then why worry? As Johnson observed, the `body language' of the evolutionists indicates "that they are afraid":
"It is the way the Darwinists argue their case that makes it apparent that they are afraid to encounter the best arguments against their theory. A real science does not employ propaganda and legal barriers to prevent relevant questions from being asked, nor does it rely on enforcing rules of reasoning that allow no alternative to the official story. If the Darwinists had a good case to make, they would welcome the critics to an academic forum for open debate, and they would want to confront the best critical arguments rather than to caricature them as straw men. Instead they have chosen to rely on the dishonorable methods of power politics." (Johnson, P.E., "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism," Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2000, p.141. My emphasis)
It certainly is not the `body language' of those who really believe that they have "one of the best-supported ideas in science, the only explanation for the diversity of life on Earth, grounded in decades of study and objective evidence"! When political, bureaucratic and corporate elites use every trick in the book to avoid scrutiny and questioning, the public draws the obvious conclusion that they are not confident of the rightness of their position and have something to hide. There is no reason why the public will not draw the same conclusion for the scientific elite in this matter, if they continue to rely on such dishonorable methods.
But Dover's disclaimer on Darwin would appear to get a passing grade from the man who considers himself America's education President. In a question-and-answer session with Texas newspaper reporters at the White House last week, George W. Bush weighed in on the issue. He expressed support for the idea of combining lessons in evolution with a discussion of "intelligent design"--the proposition that some aspects of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause or agent, as opposed to natural selection.
This gives the misleading impression that what President Bush said was something new, when in fact it was (as he said) his position when he was governor of Texas (1995-2000). That this is so, is evident from this quote, which I had previously posted, where Johnson was talking about the then Governor Bush's first Presidential campaign:
"The media and the scientific commentators cooperated in making the Kansas action a national issue that found its way into the presidential campaign, and the candidates were all asked to take a stand. Of course the Republicans said, Local control good; national regulation bad. George W. Bush, for example, said that it's fine if local authorities want to teach both creation and evolution; that would be better for education, in his opinion." (Johnson P.E.*, "Evolution and the Curriculum: A Conversation with Phillip Johnson and Gregg Easterbrook," , September 1999, Ethics and Public Policy Center: Washington DC, February 2000, No. 4)).
As I said in part #1, it is difficult to believe that the top-flight journalists and editors that TIME employs would not already know this (apart from the fact that in the transcript President Bush said), so it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Ms Wallis and her editors are deliberately trying to mislead their readers. Again, this is not the `body language' expected of those who really feel they have the truth on their side.
It is a subtler way of finding God's fingerprints in nature than traditional creationism.
This too is misleading, and it can only be deliberate, since a science journalist of Ms Wallis' calibre would know that ID makes no claim to be trying to "find... God's fingerprints in nature." All ID is seeking scientific evidence of design in nature. If it is scientific for Richard Dawkins to subtitle his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, "Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design," then it must also be scientific to present evidence and arguments that that the evidence of nature reveals a Universe with design. It is an example of the special pleading (double standard) fallacy for evolutionists to claim that the "no" answer to the question, "is there empirically detectable evidence of design in nature?" is "science", but the "yes" answer to the same question is "religion":
"Clearly if you have a question, the answer yes and the answer no to the question are still in the same subject area. So if the affirmation `Yes, natural selection can create as much as is needed,' is science, then the no answer -- `No, the evidence does not support that' -- is science, too. I vigorously assert that this is not two subjects but one subject: what does the evidence show and not show about natural processes? ... It can't be that the yes answer is science and the no answer is religion.'" (Johnson P.E., "Evolution and the Curriculum: A Conversation with Phillip Johnson and Gregg Easterbrook," , September 1999, Ethics and Public Policy Center: Washington DC, February 2000, No. 4).
[Continued in part #3]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"

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