Further dialog amongst me, my brother Jeff, and my cousin Andy concerning intelligent design vs. the theory of evolution:
Andy: No, it’s not science, just deductive speculation (like some of contemporary cosmology). But I think evolution can be legitimately critiqued from a scientific perspective. David Berlinski, Jewish and I assume agnostic, has published (in Commentary) fierce assaults on the more dubious pretensions of evolutionary psychology. The intellectual acrobatics are somewhat beyond my pay grade, and Berlinski obviously loves the role of agent provocateur, but it strikes me as a fairly effective demolition job.
About 15 years ago I read a book by the eminent scientist John Updike, Roger’s Version, a modern reworking of The Scarlet Letter. The adulterous Dimmesdale character is a Christian fundamentalist scientist who argues that the fossil record not only has gaps but contains evidence of instances that make certain evolutionary explanations downright impossible. I don’t know if Updike knows what he’s talking about, but I assume he did some homework.
Whatever. I don’t really know what makes sense for the schools, but particularly in view of the controversy I’m inclined to think the intelligent design argument might be included in science courses, if only to be rebutted. But I suppose a fair and balanced presentation (We report, you decide) is beyond the capacity of most high school teachers.
Nick: Of course there are gaps and disagreements about the theory of evolution, as there are in all scientific theories, all of which are forever works in progress. Nobody knows what gravity waves are. Does that mean that things don’t really fall, that falling is just an illusion foisted on us by the devil to confuse us? Is there any doubt that the fossil record provides overwhelming evidence that species change over time by genetic adaptation to the environment? The ID crowd denies evolution in toto. It is as if they were to deny that there is such a thing as falling. In order to replace evolution with intelligent design, one must throw out the fossil record completely as an elaborate illusion. One is free to believe this if so desired, but it has no place in a science class. ID may pose as a contribution to science, but it is really an attack on science itself. Science is a set of preliminary conclusions about reality arrived at by the scientific method, no more, no less. ID bypasses the scientific method entirely, and rejects it as a valid mode of investigation. Should churches be required to include scientific rebuttals in their catechisms?
Jeff: I think you have something there, Nick. I like the idea of required scientific rebuttals in all catechisms, prayer books, and hymnals. I think you are somewhat wrong about ID, though, although right overall. As I understand it, ID accepts that the earth is billions of years old, accepts the fossil record, accepts the reality that evolution has occurred. It just claims that certain forms of complex organs, behaviors, symbioses, etc., cannot be explained by random mutation and natural selection. They accept that random mutations and natural selection occur; they just insist that some phenomena require the hypothesis of intelligent design to explain them. However, you are right to say that they offer no scientific evidence to attempt to prove intelligent design nor is their hypothesis even potentially open to empirical testing via scientific methods. It is, therefore, clearly metaphysical speculation that is completely outside the scientific paradigm and therefore does not belong in high school science classes (although I would have no problem with it showing up in high school social studies curriculum or a high school comparative religion class).
Nick: That’s interesting. I didn’t realize that the IDers had compromised their principles to such an extent. So that means that some stuff is caused by evolution, but the really cool stuff is figured out up in God’s work shop and just dropped in where needed? That makes a lot more sense.
But just to get us back into the disagreement zone, I still think that the rampant injection of multi-culti, pc nonsense into the curricula is far more pervasive and dangerous to public education than anything the fundies have been able to accomplish. Such things as renaming Thomas Jefferson middle school in Berkeley because the teachers were offended by having to teach at a school named after a slave owner, or judging literature by whether or not the author is a white European male, or turning U.S. history into a catalog of America’s sins, or removing Huck Finn from the library cuz it has the word nigger in it, or teaching ebonics, etc., etc. Not to mention new math and the purging of phonics.
Andy: Odd, in a way, Nick, that it took a card-carrying lefty like Jeff to provide a born-again Neanderthal like you with a somewhat fairer and more accurate perspective on the design enthusiasts, some of whom seem to be rather bright and reasonable people, not stalking horses for Genesis or Archbishop Ussher. You may have seen the two-part takeout on the controversy that ran in the Times Monday and Tuesday. I thought it was pretty fair, on balance, especially for the Times.
I believe, by the way, that a lot of purely scientific speculation is not open to empirical testing either. String theory etc. Maybe a lot of cosmology, although of course there are constant attempts to reconcile the various postulates mathematically–I’m not really at all conversant with the science. I also seem to recall that some of our rationalist pioneers have fooled around with amino acids and stuff in an attempt to produce self-replicating life, but so far as I know such endeavors so far remain uncrowned by success.
I think you’re right that all the p.c. stuff is more pernicious than anything the fundies have been able to accomplish, but I’d like to think it’s not having a terribly strong effect because so much of it defies common sense and the young are not entirely incapable of independent thought. I also have the impression that phonics is making a comeback. But maybe I’m too sanguine…
Nick: “born-again Neanderthal” What a perfect amalgam of intelligent design and evolutionary theory! Of course as we now know, the Neanderthals were a gentle, peaceful race ruthlessly destroyed by the vicious, genocidal homo sapiens who now dominate American foreign policy.
Christopher Hitchens has now taken up my call for requiring churches to include scientific rebuttals in their catechisms. Looks like I may have started a movement.
Andy: But of course. I hesitate to join in the rampant anti-Sapienism that seems to pervade the left these days, but I do think high school history courses should deal frankly and honestly with that especially disgraceful episode in our generally deplorable past. I believe, however, that there is some evidence of possible interbreeding despite the over-all genocide. If DNA testing could establish a predominant or even substantial presence of Homo Neanderthalis genes in some present-day Europeans or Americans, might not reparations be in order?