Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 14, 2005
By: Brad Plumer

WE HAD TO SAVE ID IN ORDER TO DESTROY IT....Let's get this out of the way: Every time I hear someone say that evolution is "just a theory" or suggest that there's plenty of evidence for intelligent design, I can't help but do the little eye-roll/snort-of-derision thing blue-staters are so famous for doing. Sad but true. And for serious exasperation, I need only recall the time I was persuaded to read William Dembski's "seminal" Intelligent Design, which, for anyone who's studied set theory, is quite appalling. (See here or here for starters.)

Still, when the Washington Post today headlines the coming battle over creationism in the classroom, I wonder if a slight retreat by the reality-based community on evolution might not in fact be the best tactic, in order to vanquish the ID silliness in the long term. Really.

Just look at the current terrain. Many high schools, it seems, don't even touch evolution in their curriculum (mine didn't), either because biology classes are too busy covering hundreds of other more basic topics, or because teachers are just too intimidated to broach the topic. (And there's little chance of ending that intimidation.) Either way, the religious kids likely just end up learning the nonsense at home anyway. In universities, meanwhile, this ID debate is essentially mootany aspiring biologist that didn't believe in evolution would be utterly useless, laughed out of the laboratory. It's the fate of Joe teenager at stake here.

So okay, the fake-science advocates want to put evolution and ID side by side. Well, what of it? One should note that ID essentially gives away the game from the start, when it says that microevolution can happen but not speciation. Um, except that speciation is just microevolution up to the point where two species can no longer interbreed. The slippery slope is very slippery indeed, and ID loses pretty quickly here. Add in the fact that 99 percent scientists believe one of these theories, while a handful of cranks believe the other (quick, how many evolutionary biologists spoke out in favor of ID in the Post's story? Right.), well, you have a perfect opportunity for teachers to discuss fun topics like "evidence" and "scientific method" and "peer-reviewed journals." We'll see who wins out. What I'm saying, essentially, is that if ID is truly as ridiculous as we all think it is, then why not shove it on the stage and force it to cluck around in public? As this guy said, "Not by wrath does one kill, but by laughter."

In the long term, too, putting ID in the classroom will force the scientific community to mobilize and start educating the public. Too many evolutionary biologists, I think, still refuse to stoop so low as to argue with ID theorists. And yet 55 percent of Americans don't believe in evolution! That quite obviously doesn't mean the theory's false, it just means that it's time for some mass educating. If the religious right wants high schools everywhere to start thinking about evolution "critically," then fine, let's start talking about how complex organs arise, or whatever other clever "critiques" ID theorists like to tout. (The scare quotes indicate heavy snickering.) The point is that classroom discussions like these would be far more enlightening than the non-education about evolution that goes on now. And with biologists finally mobilized and ready to debate, it's a discussion that Darwinists would win.

At any rate, that's the way I see it. The current battle seems to have at best reached a stalemate, and at worst enrages and mobilizes the religious right. So why not try something else?

UPDATE: Okay, wow, I had honestly never seen Panda's Thumb before. I take back my "not enough evolutionary biologists willing to debate" line...

Brad Plumer 11:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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