Via Thoughts in a Haystack, here’s an article on A Smart Battle Against Intelligent Design that almost gets the right answer, but then falls into the real trap, the conventional wisdom. First, here are the parts I think it gets right.
For the last 100 years, scientists, teachers and parents have been relying mostly on lawyers to keep religion out of public school science classes in this country. So far, the lawyers have been doing a pretty good job.
But the burden is shifting to the scientists themselves, say experts involved in recent cases defending public school science curricula from anti-evolution revisions.
The lawyers and the courts are not enough, and they seductively lure us away from the real issues, and into the danger of relying on purely legal mechanisms. We’ve been going from trial to trial to trial since Scopes, and we can thank the lawyers that we’ve won them so far, but ultimately trials are little more than band-aids to keep the hemorrhage under control. The issues have to be addressed as scientific issues, not just as a litany of case law and precedent and statutes. Laws change. Rely on the law, and all it takes is a case or two that’s settled the other way, and suddenly the foundation of our strategy to oppose the creationists is pulled out from under us.
So yes, more involvement by scientists is necessary!
It is tempting for scientists to insist that creationist perspectives should not be dignified with a response, says Richard Katskee, assistant legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and one of the four principal lawyers in last year’s rout of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board mandate to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. But the stakes are too big.
There is an informal understanding that debates with creationists are a waste of time, and accomplish nothing but bestowing credibility on your opponents. I agree with that myself, and so no, I’m not going to ‘debate’ Kent Hovind, ever. The real issue, though, is not that we don’t want to educate the public, but that those ‘debates’ are shams, organized by creationists for creationists in venues stocked with creationist supporters—they are the ones taking the initiative and pushing their ideas in environments sympathetic to their cause, so of course it’s a bad PR move to let them do that.
What we need to do is get aggressive ourselves. Don’t react to creationist scheming, get out and present good evolutionary biology to the public. Leave the creationists out in the cold completely. Put together seminars for the public, offer to give talks at churches, even…as long as they don’t try to dictate that you must give equal time to some creationist fraud. Push forward! The article quotes Ken Miller on this, and I agree with this part of it:
“You are not trying to convert partisans on the other side,” Miller says. “You are trying to reach out to the great middle ground of American people who, if they fail to support science, ultimately threaten the scientific enterprise. If we in the scientific community don’t provide the information, the American people won’t have the chance to come to the right decision, and it will be our fault.”
Unfortunately, it also features the Ken Miller style of appeasement that pisses me off—the usual false caution that we must not dare to mention the godlessness of science, and must instead bow by default towards the inclusion of theism in evolution. This part is dead wrong.
Haught urges scientists to keep religion out of the science classroom. “There are prominent science thinkers and writers who have themselves unconsciously folded evolutionary science into a world view that nature is all there is, so there cannot, a priori, be any other explanations,” he said. “The irony is that this sabotages and subverts the whole mission of scientific education.”
Complete bullshit. The rejection of theistic evolution is not unconscious at all; many of us make it quite explicit and are definitely aware that we’re fighting against a cultural current. There is no a priori claim that there can be no other explanations, so Haught is just making up crap at that point. What we have is an insistence that in order to be of any utility in science, explanations ought to be logical and based on evidence. If there are other explanations, they are useless unless some effect on the physical, natural world can be documented.
He has it backwards. The irony is that allowing the supernatural into our explanations is what subverts science education, and what makes it doubly ironic is that it is that other side, the theistic evolutionists, who have allowed their indoctrination into traditional dogmas to unconsciously color their interpretations, so that they can claim their myths are legitimate scientific explanations of how the world works.
We do have to take the initiative, we have to aggressively sell our stories to the public, and this idea that we have to be tepid accommodationists on this one extremely common part of the scientific persona, and this one widely held and natural implication of scientific understanding, is a denial of the principles that were so apparent in the first part of that article. Weakness doesn’t work. That the gods didn’t poof us into existence from the blood and bones of Ymir is one of the messages we need to get across, and sidling about and saying that maybe Odin was manipulating dead frost giants by way of quantum indeterminacy is still wibbling nonsense.