Tuesday, November 01, 2005

checking ID

Courtesy of Barista, I’ve read the full letter to Oz newspapers sent out on behalf of ‘more than 70,000 scientists and science teachers’ recently on the subject of intelligent design teaching in schools, and I’ve also read Barista’s valiant attempt to improve on that relatively brief epistle. He’s been more combative, and there’s nothing he writes that I don’t agree with, but I wonder if in outing the fundamentalists behind the intelligent design fiasco he isn’t entering territory into which some of those thousands would be reluctant to follow him. I won’t say he’s politicising the debate, because it’s already politicised, though of course the ID proponents are trying to depoliticise it (or dereligify it), to make it seem like simply a plausible scientific position, as if it were born out of sheer scepticism about the claims of evolutionists.

The point is, Barista is trying to widen the issue, whereas the actual published letter wants simply, or largely, to focus on ID as bogus science, regardless of the ideology behind it. You could say that the weakness of the scientists’ approach is that, by keeping the terms narrow, they’ve followed the lead of the ID merchants, thereby allowing them to dictate the terms of the debate. Or so it would seem.

I like Barista’s ambition, but the letter suffers from a blurring of focus, which leads to him getting caught up in some too-tricky side issues. Also, there are specific claims made, both about the goodies (‘almost all believe that their religion is compatible with evolution’) and the baddies (‘they believe that God created the earth and everything on it in the relatively recent past. Most of them believe in the literal story of Genesis, Adam and Eve’) which may or may not be true, but which might well be vigorously denied by combatants, which would just add to the smoke. For example, I myself am quite firmly convinced that Judeo-Christianity, to say nothing of other religions, is incompatible with evolution, and so, were I a scientist, I’d feel a little uncomfortable signing a letter which seems to endorse their compatibility (though of course it doesn’t). On the other hand, I’d have no problems signing the scientists’ letter.

I’m quite impressed with this paragraph though:

Those who want us to teach ID in science classes are not suggesting we should raise the topic in order to perform a scientific analysis of the beliefs. After all, we will have to say that ID has no evidence to support it, and is not believed by reasonable people. Instead, we will be forced to say that ID has some validity, and covers weaknesses in the theory of evolution. We will be compelled to say things which we know to be logically and scientifically untrue.

This is a vital point that needs to be hammered through the thick skulls of some politicians. The very integrity of scientists and science teachers is at stake, and that’s a horrible position to put them in.


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