Whoa, this one is a doozy. I dare you — I double-dog dare you — to stay awake through the whole thing.
an open letter biology professor P. Z. MyersDear Professor Paul Myers,
I remain absolutely willing to be convinced of the scientific adequacy of the theory of evolution to explain the phenomenon of speciation.
But as a non-scientist (and someone who always felt he was in a foreign land when studying science in high school) I have never considered myself competent to judge the arguments on both sides of the controversy: evolution versus intelligent design. I mean by this, that I would never consider trying to debate either yourself, or, for example, Michael Behe.
However, I do feel I have a firm grasp of the first person ontological domain of this controversy: viz. what it feels like to be a hard-core Darwinist in the act of opposing intelligent design; how it feels to be a fervent believer in intelligent design challenging the validity of Darwin’s theory.
What I mean by this, Professor Myers is, What is the significance of the psychology that comes into play in the fierceness and intensity of this debate? Because it is obvious to anyone standing on the sidelines (without a bias one way or the other) that individual scientists (and I have to say this is more pronounced on the Darwinian side) feel extremely strongly about this matter. And right there, I would like to know: Have the Darwinists (like yourself) ever wondered what is the evolutionary origin of the vehemence and passion with which you defend Darwin? Personally, were I a true believer in Darwin, I would know: this issue is a scientific one; Darwin has already been proven right; therefore any dispute about this has to be explained by some failure of perception, objectivity, or courage on the other side. Truth, after all, is unbiased.
A proponent of intelligent design (I am speaking as a Darwinist here) must lack some capacity to ‘see’ biological reality as it innocently and emphatically presents itself to the scientist through the brilliant and truthful lens of Darwinian theory. Which means, if I am going to oppose intelligent design, I am first of all going to seek some explanation for why someone (especially a scientist) could possibly believe in intelligent design when I know that a purely disinterested and impartial viewing of the facts makes Darwinian theory irresistible as the best possible explanation for how the different forms of life came into existence.
If my best friend started to believe in intelligent design—;and became critical of Darwin–I would want to know, what is it that I know about my friend personally which would make him predisposed to believe in such a theory, when it is obvious, if he were being completely objective (as I know him to be capable of being in other spheres of his intellectual life), he would see how impossible it is to, in all good scientific conscience, believe in a theory which challenges the truth of Darwin.
In other words, Professor Myers, What is it within the individual human being (with identical academic training, with identical knowledge of Darwin’s theory as the Darwinist) which makes him attempt to refute a theory which, as almost every scientist knows, is almost as respectable and uncontroversial as the Theory of Gravity?
But not only this: I would attempt to observe and detect exactly what it is within that person which begins to express itself (that is some sense is abnormal:–some version of wish-fulfillment?) when this topic of evolution versus intelligent design comes up. I want to see what gets triggered in the person who believes in intelligent design such that I can see the psychological or metaphysical moment when they begin to manifest the effect of being deceived.
Now if I don’t seek this causal antecedent, and simply plunge into the polemics of opposing intelligent design (and its supporters), thinking that if I become intellectually aggressive towards and contemptuous of these enemies of science they will be routed*, I am ironically missing the whole point. Because, Professor Myers, the very means I choose within my first person ontology (my subjective experience of how I feel and what it is like to be me, Paul Myers, when these intelligent design people start arguing against Darwin) to defend Darwin will ITSELF become apparent to the opposition. How really confident and certain can Paul Myers be about the Theory of Evolution if he ignores what it is that could be driving a person to oppose Darwin, and instead gets entirely wrapped up in the business of attacking intelligent design theorists? Since, in a fundamental sense, the truth is not in doubt. And if the physical universe could speak, it would tell us this.
Now comes my main observation. It is this: In my reading of this debate it would appear that the people who are arguing for the validity of intelligent design are so confident and trusting in the truth of their theory that they eschew the subjective (we are not talking about creationists here), and what this enables them to do is to see the desperation of the other side in terms of a first person ontological standpoint.
This is THE most serious weakness, unconscious as it must be, in the firm believers in Darwin, that they are so aroused by the threat to Darwin (sincere as they undoubtedly think they are that Darwin is right, that intelligent design is a fatal projection) that they exercise little or no control over the matter of how they appear in their passionate defense of Darwin. The intelligent design people, on the other hand, find that, in their honest contact with the scientific facts as they encounter them, there simply is no need to rev up their first person ontology; the facts speak for themselves. Indeed, I would go much further than this: the real believers in intelligent design have empirically discovered that defending intelligent design seems to be an activity which warrants the support of reality, and since reality appears to corroborate their findings and observations, there simply is no need to become determined by their first person ontology—;that is to say, in a defensive or aggressive or outraged manner. They do not feel threatened by Darwin’s theory.
As I said at the outset, Professor Myers, I would not want to unequivocally pronounce who is right and who is wrong in this debate, but I will say that, did I know nothing about the merits of the issue, and was ignorant of the arguments promulgated on both sides, I would, nevertheless, be persuaded that the theory of intelligent design must be a better explanation for speciation than the theory of evolution—;and I think you know why.
Because, I would observe that the Darwinists (for the most part) demonstrate in their behavior an almost ontological determination that intelligent design has to be wrong and Darwin right entirely independent of the objective facts of the matter. Certainly this is how most Darwinists are acting in the face of the challenge of intelligent design. And if Darwin’s theory were an unqualified truth, the theory itself would implicitly be there supporting the Darwinist in his battle with his ignorant enemies, and it would be the intelligent design advocate who would be ex hypothesi acting as the Darwinists now act.
Just to be extreme, Professor Myers, I would say that the very intolerance and hostility of the Darwinists to intelligent design is evidence of just how ultimately (and intrinsically) weak Darwin’s theory is. It is of course a beautiful and brilliant theory, but it is being made to do the work of something that has to encompass the entire physical universe and all its details, and it seems an indisputable fact to me, as an outsider looking in, that to the extent to which it cannot rise to this challenge (in other words to the extent to which it is inadequate as an explanation for the existence and multiplicity of physical life) is the very extent to which in defending such a theory, the Darwinist has to become dangerously engaged in his first person ontology. Dangerously engaged in the sense of trying to make a theory fit reality while all the while reality has a secret: Darwin cannot explain me, and therefore if you are going to employ Darwin to explain me, you are going to have to go it alone. I am not going to come to your assistance: therefore, your first person ontology will have to do what I cannot do for you. And that, at some point, is going to start hurting.
*“Our only problem is that we aren’t martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many school board members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.”(author intimately known to yourself: this is his first person ontology speaking)
Somebody is seriously overcompensating, aren’t they? That’s some piece of twisty-turny logic couched in arch and overwrought language. Just a suggestion, Mr Wood: you can’t fill a vacuum with pedantry, no matter how much you try to shovel in.
Let me help. I get this argument all the time: “you wouldn’t be so angry if the Designists/Creationists/Illuminati/Holocaust Deniers/Second Gunmen/Flat Earthers weren’t right!” It’s a very silly rationale, and no, writing it in a more longwinded style doesn’t help.
There’s a simple reason why biologists get pissed off with creationists, and it has nothing to do with a “first person ontology” — it’s that we have the hard work, the data, the experiments, the whole dang enchilada of the “objective facts of the matter,” and pretentious pissants like Mr Wood think nothing of overlooking their own self-admitted ignorance of evolution to pronounce a verdict based entirely on their half-assed psychoanalysis of the universe. We can see quite clearly (especially in this instance) what it is that drives a person to oppose Darwin (as if ol’ Chuck had anything to do with the issue at this point): it is the arrogance of incompetence, the self-satisfied smugness of preening assholes, the sanctimony of pious lackwits, the insufferable stupidity of pompous windbags who think they can rationalize their superstitions by seeking justification in a kind of gasified cold reading.
Your bubble-headed bullshit doesn’t bamboozle me, Mr Wood — I think the only person your verbose drivel might persuade is another superficial drone who mistakes diarrhea for depth.