Why Not “Teach the Controversy”?

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The results of the Second Panda Poll, PP2, show that the readers of this blog overwhelmingly think that the case against evolution should not be taught in the public schools. In response to the question,

The arguments against evolution are unsound and should not be taught as science in the public schools,

nearly 90 % of respondents strongly agreed or agreed. Approximately 10 % disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Here are the results in more detail:

Strongly Agree457(79%)
Agree47(8%)
Neutral16(3%)
Disagree10(2%)
Strongly Disagree51(9%)
Total581(101%)

The sum, 101 %, is not 100 % due to round-off error.

PP2 is very precise: No appeals to fairness, no teaching the controversy (as if the controversy had not been manufactured by those who want it taught), no mention of so-called intelligent design. Instead, PP2 has 2 or 3 parts, depending on who’s counting:

1. The arguments against evolution are unsound.

2. They should not be taught (a) as science and (b) in the public schools.

To “strongly agree,” you have to subscribe to all 3 parts, yet approximately 80 % of our respondents did precisely that, and 8 % “agreed,” if not “strongly.” Only 3 % were neutral, and 11 % disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Our readers and our respondents are self-selected, so it is perhaps not surprising that, on the whole, they strongly agree with the statement. But why? Why not “teach the controversy”?

I can’t speak for our readers, but I remember standing up at a Skeptics’ conference many years ago and asking, roughly, “What are we afraid of? We teach inheritance of acquired characteristics as an example of a failed theory that was supplanted by natural selection. Why don’t we similarly teach about creationism in biology class and expose it as the bunk it is?”

Then I read Randy Moore’s article, “Educational Malpractice: Why Do So Many Biology Teachers Endorse Creationism?” (Skeptical Inquirer, November/December 2001, pp. 38-43). Moore is a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota and, when he wrote the article, was editor of The American Biology Teacher. The thrust of Moore’s article is to examine why evolution is poorly taught in US public schools, but along the way he notes,

1. Most Americans do not believe that humans evolved from earlier species, and approximately half believe that humans were created 10,000 years ago.

2. In 1997, after the emergence of intelligent-design neocreationism but well before its eruption onto the national stage, many Americans wanted to teach creationism alongside evolution or instead of evolution.

In addition, Moore reviews research on the beliefs and practices of high school biology teachers and administrators in a half-dozen states, only 2 of which may be considered deep south or Bible belt. It is hard to extrapolate to the country as a whole, but you might guess from Moore’s analysis that

3. Possibly 1/3 of high-school biology teachers believe in creationism or do not think evolution is central to biology.

4. Possibly 1/5 of high-school biology teachers teach creationism in their classes.

5. Many of the remaining biology teachers do not teach evolution because it is controversial and they are afraid of pressure groups.

Moore’s article was written in 2001. Since then, neocreationists have mounted a public-relations campaign that includes significant efforts to mandate teaching intelligent-design neocreationism in the public schools in several states or, failing that, to undermine the teaching of evolution. The surveys Moore cites are even older, and almost undoubtedly “creationism” means “young-earth creationism.” If the surveys were taken today, with “intelligent design” replacing “creationism,” the results might be worse.

Too many people, including biology teachers, put the cart before the horse, belief before evidence. Moore quotes one biology teacher, in particular, as saying, “I don’t use the word evolution [because I’m] a Christian … so I don’t think I evolved.” As the king says in Alice, “Sentence first–verdict afterwards.”

Why should we not teach the arguments against evolution, not teach “the controversy”? Because the arguments against evolution are bunk, but too many teachers will take them seriously, and too many people will accept them. We should not teach something that is demonstrably wrong when there is danger that someone will be taken in. That is why I was right about teaching acquired characteristics but wrong about teaching creationism.

Acknowledgement. Thanks to Glenn Branch and Gary Hurd for helpful clarifications and suggestions.

50 Comments

Matt wrote:

The arguments against evolution are unsound and should not be taught as science in the public schools,

The poll question was unanswerable because it asked two separate questions and allowed for four possible answers:

1. The arguments against evolution are unsound and should not be taught as science in the public schools.

2. The arguments against evolution are unsound and should be taught as science in the public schools.

3. The arguments against evolution are sound and should not be taught as science in public schools.

4. The areguments against evolution are sound and should be taught as science in the public schools.

Only people agreeing with (1) or (4) had a choice.

In addition, the term evolution was not defined, leaving one with a range of definitions which may or may not be what the poll writer intended.

Also, the words “as science” are not clear. There is a middle ground in which objections are not taught as scientific fact but are discussed as alternate explanations or legitimate criticisms.

Maybe, I’m wierd, but I if could back in time 20 years to college once again, I’d like to learn:

1. The best evidence and argument that supports the theory of evolution;

2. The best evidence and argument that undermines the theory of evolution;

3. The best evidence and argument that supports the theory of intelligent design;

4. The best evidence and argument that undermines the theory of intelligent design.

Seems kinda simple and straightforward to me.

Cheers, Navy Davy

Should be “go” back in time. Memo to self: Preview button works!

Charlie,

Option (2) makes no sense, and I can’t imagine anyone actually holding such a position. I think everyone, evolutionist or IDer, can agree that unsound arguments should not be taught is public schools. As for (3), I suppose this is a possible answer, but again, it is hard to imagine a circumstance in which this would be a reasonable answer. Everyone I have seen on this blog holds either position (1) or (4) to some degree, so this hardly seems to be a problem with the poll.

While yes, “evolution” was left undefined, in the context of “the arguments against evolution” being “taught as science in public schools”, I don’t think it is unclear what is meant. The poll writer clearly means the aspects of evolution questioned by the various pseudoscientific arguments of IDists such as Behe and Dembski.

There is a middle ground in which objections are not taught as scientific fact but are discussed as alternate explanations or legitimate criticisms.

Let’s be serious here. Legitimate criticisms of a scientific theory must be scientific in nature in order to be legitimate. Alternate explanations which are not scientific have no place in a science class, and alternate explanations which are religious in nature violate the establishment clause. I am unaware of any explanations for evolution or the origin of life which are not either scientific or religious. So where is the middle ground?

NavyDavy

Why wish for a time machine?

Take courses now. IINM, you’ve claimed to be a lawyer representing a number of National Institute of Medicine - level researchers. Surely they can suggest appropriate institutions, and call in a favor from a colleague to get you enrolled to audit the course, without the pre-reqs.

Of course, you will discover that there does not exist any evidence whatsoever in support of Intelligent Design Creationism. Which is the best evidence against it.

Navy Davy,

That’s because it is simple and straightforward. For (1), start with Darwin and continue to the present day. There is a tremendous body of evidence supporting evolutionary theory. To ask for “the best” is misleading, because the power of the explanation lies largely in the sheer amount of corroboration. For (2), I am unaware of any valid evidence or argument that undermines the theory of evolution. None of the arguments proposed by Behe, Dembski, or the like have held up under scrutiny. I admit to a certain degree of bias here, so IDers are welcome to propose their favorite candidate. As to (3) we’re still waiting for that, or at least the evidence part. ID is heavy on argument, light on evidence. It’s also light on the “theory” part. Unfortunately (4) will have to wait for (3). Without a theory, there’s nothing to undermine. At this point, the best argument against ID is simply Occam’s razor.

Smokey wrote:

Let’s be serious here. Legitimate criticisms of a scientific theory must be scientific in nature in order to be legitimate. Alternate explanations which are not scientific have no place in a science class, and alternate explanations which are religious in nature violate the establishment clause.

Agreed.

I am unaware of any explanations for evolution or the origin of life which are not either scientific or religious. So where is the middle ground?

There is no middle ground if you state it that way. There are, however, scientific objections to evolutionary theory that are perfectly valid and worthy of scientific consideration. Unfortunately, anyone who disputes evolutionary theory is simply branded a religious creationist and sent to bed without his supper. I for one am a scientist and agnostic who supports intelligent design. Is there no place for me at the table?

You ever notice that I make a point, and people start addressing ME, not the point?

No, Steve, I will not be returning to college like some God-awful version of Groundhog Day. Been there, done that. The primary reasons to attend college – beer and women – have been satisfied. Moreover, I like having a job to pay the mortgage on my manse!

Smokey,

To ask for “the best” is misleading, because the power of the explanation lies largely in the sheer amount of corroboration.

I always get this – the “mountain of evidence” response. How can the “best” be misleading? Should I look for the “worst”? Should I spend 8 years of misery in grad school, sucking up to a sadistic faculty adviser, trying to write a dissertation, nobody will read? Not I.

I am unaware of any valid evidence or argument that undermines the theory of evolution. .

I doubt this. But, if so, Why not use a bit of imagination and think about what evidence would constitute problems for evolution?

Your other observations ain’t bad – it’s just that they scream out for a civilized debate between the two competing sides.

But, Yes, I unnerstand that consensus here at Panda’s Bear that ID should be discussesd, debunked, ridiculed, scorned, but not engaged.

Fondly, Navy Davy

p.s. Steve, its not National Institute of Medicine, it’s National Academy of Science. Also, I don’t claim to be a lawyer – I’m a bona fide, ambulance-chasin’, widow & orphan-chiselin’, pontificatin’, bloviatin’, Gucci-loafer wearin’ interlocutor of the highest order, too, I might add!:)

Charlie,

There are, however, scientific objections to evolutionary theory that are perfectly valid and worthy of scientific consideration.

Really? Then why does your side insist on peddling so many invalid objections? But perhaps you are right. Maybe such objections do exist. And once you articulate these objections and demonstrate their validity, we would be happy to show you some consideration.

Unfortunately, anyone who disputes evolutionary theory is simply branded a religious creationist and sent to bed without his supper.

Not true. Anyone who disputes evolutionary theory without backing up said criticism scientifically is branded a non-scientist. I don’t speak to your motives, only your actions.

You’re on your own for supper. There’s a place at the table, but it’s BYOR. Bring Your Own Research.

NavyDavy said:

I doubt this. But, if so, Why not use a bit of imagination and think about what evidence would constitute problems for evolution?

Darwin did that. Have you read his stuff?

One test in particular always sticks with me. Darwin said that if we could find a species (let’s call it disproofia) that had a feature that benefits another species solely, and whose origins can’t be explained by evolution that involves a benefit to the ancestor of disproofia, then that would surely poke a big hole in our explanation for how the processes work. Behe’s “irreducible complexity” is a twist on Darwin’s test, IMHO.

So if you could find such a species, or such a structure, there would be trouble for evolution indeed. Darwin couldn’t find such an example, however, nor has anyone since.

There’s the world, NavyDavy, and we’ll concede all the moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune, too, and all the planets known and unknown in the universe: Find the example that is as Darwin described, for the benefit of a second, different species, and there would be a problem.

There is no such example known today.

I see on the ABC News website today that there is yet another species of frog newly described, bringing to almost 5,000 the number of frogs described. Not one comes close to providing the disproof Darwin said he’d accept, even those that breed their eggs in the mother’s stomach or in the father’s vocal sacs. Nor is there any other known example in nature, though before God and everyone science has been looking hard for more than 145 years.

We lawyers aren’t supposed to be good at subtle arguments, so Darwin’s hundreds of examples without contradiction may be beyond our quick understanding. In that case we have to rely on the expert witnesses.

There are no creationists in cancer research. There are no more Lysenkos in agriculture, especially at ADM and Monsanto.

At some point, the rational mind dismisses the possibility that what we see is not what is there.

Darwin was right. Why not teach that Darwin was right, teach it hard and well, and let the chips fall where they may? What are intelligent design advocates afraid of?

Truth doesn’t need legislation to shore it up. Have you ever noticed that, since Gov. Austin Peay put his signature on Tennessee’s anti-evolution law in 1925, in the hundreds of times since then that legislatures have considered legislation on evolution, it’s always legislation to stop the teaching of evolution, never the other way around?

Navy Davy and Charlie Wagner, Let’s look at another poll - this time with two questions.

1.The arguments against evolution are unsound Yes/No

2. The arguments against evolution should not be taught as science in the public schools. Yes/No

All people who follow the methods of science will say Yes to the first question. But many of the same the group would be confused about the second question, unless they know which arguments these are - these could range from the loony YEC arguments to the flirting-with-falsehood ID arguments or genuinely scientific questions that are vigorously debated by scientists all the time. By the term scientists I exclude anyone like Dembski as well as those like Scheaefer and Behe when they aren’t sticking to their respective scientific fields and come rushing into evolution about which they know little.

Our nautical friend Wrote:

Maybe, I’m wierd, but I if could back in time 20 years to college once again, I’d like to learn.… …Seems kinda simple and straightforward to me.

Point #1: IDists are pushing their “science” in public high schools, not college. Suppose a wealthy eccentric funded a movement to teach in high school civics curricula that “a growing number of legal experts have concluded there is no legal requirement to [pay taxes, not smoke dope, you name it].

Maybe more concretely, Phil Johnson - Godfather of ID - when he’s not busy “debunking” evolution, has been at the forefront of the “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS” movement. Should that get equal time in high school?

Point #2: I would suggest that part of the definition of “the best evidence” is how well it coheres with everything else we know in science. It’s what E.O.Wilson calls “consilience”.

When I hear ‘teach the controversy’ I am often not sure what is being meant. I can think of at lest three options. 1) It could mean present the case for the fact/theory of evolution and the case for Creationism/ID. 2) Or it could mean present the case for the fact/theory of evolution and Creationist/ID claims against it. 3) Or it could mean present the case for the fact/theory of evolution, claims of Creationists/ID against it, and evaluate such claims in light of evidence.

There is not enough time in any curriculum for any of these options. Option 3 is the only intellectually honest of the three. However, in many instances there is so much background information required to see the fallacies in Creationist/ID aguments that it is clearly not feasible to do option 3 in one school year, unless of course we are going to add a new subject to high school curricula titled Evolutionary Theory.

The only plausible solution is to structure biology classes, physics classes, chemistry classes, earth science classes, math/statistics classes, to incorporate material that clearly addresses common misunderstandings of science that form the core of Creationist/ID objections to evolutionary biology.

Just a thought.

Navy Davy Wrote:

I always get this — the “mountain of evidence” response. How can the “best” be misleading? Should I look for the “worst”?

We endeavor to explain all the evidence, not just the “best”. Personally I find the high degree of statistical congruence between phylogenies produced by molecular and by anatomical comparisons particularly compelling. Oh, and the near universality of the genetic code. Oh, and the fossil record. It’s all very good.

Should I spend 8 years of misery in grad school, sucking up to a sadistic faculty adviser, trying to write a dissertation, nobody will read? Not I.

8 years? That’s a little slow.

Why not use a bit of imagination and think about what evidence would constitute problems for evolution?

Every time someone analyses a chromasome of a new organsm it’s another test of evolution. That chromasome could for instance have ‘DNA’ based on something other than A’s, T’s, G’s and C’s. If it did, then that would be a problem for evolution. If you’re digging in Devonian soil and come across mammal bones, that’s more problems. That we don’t find these things means what Davy?

Your other observations ain’t bad — it’s just that they scream out for a civilized debate between the two competing sides.

Begs the question. You’re assuming here that ID is already an established scientific alternative to evolution. It is nothing of the sort. Plus, are there really only two sides? Don’t the YE Creationists have a say? I’m sure they claim to have some “best” evidence too.

Navy Davy,

I always get this — the “mountain of evidence” response. How can the “best” be misleading? Should I look for the “worst”?

I didn’t say the “best” is misleading, I said that the question was. There is no “best” evidence for evolution by natural selection. It’s like asking what the “best” evidence for gravity is. Is it that things fall when you drop them? But that could be explained by several alternate explanations, such as the “earth sucks” theory. The reason gravity is a powerful theory is that it has been consistently corroborated experimentally, and other potentially competing theories have not.

I am unaware of any valid evidence or argument that undermines the theory of evolution.

I doubt this. But, if so, Why not use a bit of imagination and think about what evidence would constitute problems for evolution?

Why would you doubt this? If I were aware of such evidence, I would start looking for an alternate explanation for evolution.

Hey, you’re a lawyer, one of your skills should be finding holes and weaknesses in the arguments of others. So use your well-honed imagination to propose some hypothetical evidence which would be unexplainable by evolutionary theory.

But, Yes, I unnerstand that consensus here at Panda’s Bear that ID should be discussesd, debunked, ridiculed, scorned, but not engaged.

Don’t be ridiculous. Half of the posts here are taken up with “engaging” ID. I’m replying to you and Charlie, am I not? BTW, how is it possible to simultaneously discuss and debunk ID, and also to fail to engage it? It seems to me the former entail the latter.

In addition, the term evolution was not defined, leaving one with a range of definitions which may or may not be what the poll writer intended.

Charlie’s observation is well worth repeating, imo. This is a point that I hope will be kept in mind in future Panda polls. The term “evolution” needs to be defined and made clear.

Some off-the-cuff examples come to mind. Your mileage may vary, of course, but these are just a few that I could envision as possible poll gigs:

“The arguments against chemical evolution as the claimed originator of life on Earth are unsound and should not be taught as science in the public schools”

“The arguments against microevolutionary claims are unsound and should not be taught as science in the public schools”

“The arguments against macroevolutionary claims are unsound and should not be taught as science in the public schools”

I know some people like to invoke “the mountain of evidence”, and thus lump every evolutionary claim into the same evidentiary level of support.

But to me, it’s quite clear that the mountain’s actual size honestly depends on the type of evolutionary claims on the table.

For micro-evolutionary claims, the mountain is tall and wide, and most creationists and intelligent design advocates acknowledge such.

For macro-evolutionary claims, the mountain is at least (to use Behe’s word), “controversial” in terms of size; depending on what’s being claimed, who’s claiming it, and what the presuppositions and limitations associated with said claims really turn out to be when examined closely and critically.

And as for chemical-evolution-as-the-originator-of-Earth-life claims, well, the “mountain of evidence” looks like little more than a well-worn speed bump.

(Sure, evolutionists are working hard to try to change that particular picture, but like Klaus Dose wrote in 1988, “More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution.”)

At any rate, for me, the phrasing and wording of a poll question does make a difference. The word “evolution” in this Panda Poll question needs to be defined better, more clearly.

FL

I am one of the small minority of neutral answers to this poll. Quite frankly, I don’t have the background to understand the few seemingly scientific objections to evolution that are floated. While I am willing to accept the argument from authority that such objections are nonsensical, this does not qualify me to judge whether this material should or should not be taught. I haven’t the background to judge the quality of the science in support of evolution either - again, I find it reasonable to accept the argument from authority.

I do have serious qualms about ‘teaching the controversy’ though. Foremost among them is that there does not seem to be much genuine scientific debate - merely a loudly argued conflict between a specific religious perspective and a body of scientific knowledge which contradicts it.

What genuine scientific debate that there is lies between ID theorists and the scientific community at large. While I do not understand the specifics of the science at issue, several things are clear:

There is little literature coming out of the professional journals which addresses ID.

The theories of ID have so far not been tested or studied at length. (I am not sure it is even clear what these theories are.)

What literature has been published on ID is widely regarded as questionable by the professional community.

This is simply not, to my mind, enough of a basis to give ID theories the legitimacy of established scientific knowledge. The science of ID is clearly in the graduate student thesis era of its life, and thus does not belong in the general science curricula.

Penny

NavyDavy, I suggest you read Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is if you don’t have time for grad school. Not an easy read, and doesn’t really cover the molecular evidence, but a good place to start.

Here’s the deal – I will read Mayr or Perakh’s book or any damn thing y’all suggest, if ONE of you steps up to the plate to debate, either Charley Wagner or FL. I will handle logistics. It will be fair, civil, informative. Each side will interrogate the other, and submit to interrogation. Real simple. Real easy – kinda like how William f. Buckley used to do it on PBS.

Never in my life, have I seen a group talk so much smack, yet avoid the boxing ring like the Bubonic Plague.

I guess it’s payback time for all you science geeks gettin’ roughed up in High School by the football players, all the while missin’ all dem nice prom queens:)

Smokey wrote:

Really? Then why does your side insist on peddling so many invalid objections? But perhaps you are right. Maybe such objections do exist. And once you articulate these objections and demonstrate their validity, we would be happy to show you some consideration.

There is no “my side”, there’s only me. And I have never peddled an invalid objection. I’ve thoroughly articulated all of my objections and they’re all valid and backed up by the latest peer-reviewed research. May I have my consideration, please?

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I will handle logistics. It will be fair, civil, informative.

Navy Davy, I don’t believe you ever answered my question about whether a non-scientist such as yourself is an appropriate moderator for a scientific debate.

Would you like to answer that question now or would you rather respond with another of your “thoughtful” and “humorous” posts?

What I don’t understand is your obsession with debates.

Obsession? Hmm. Sounds more like you are obsessed with avoiding debate

Science is not made by debate

Wasn’t there a debate between Sabin and Salk over the polio vaccination? Wasn’t there a debate between Dawkins and Gould over “punctuated equilibrium”? Isn’t there currently a debate between gene mutation and aneuploidy over the cause of cancer?

- go to the published literature and see if ID arguments hold any water.

Done it. Haven’t made up mind yet.

If you don’t understand the published literature, either trust those who do, or educate yourself. There really is no other way.

Snooty. Typical.

Science is not like the Law, where some topics can be argued over and over, and finding a new wrinkle in the argument may change the perspective.

Except you guys don’t “argue” or debate. You just condescend.

People may still find intellectually stimulating and enjoyable to debate what the heck the Founding Fathers meant by “a well-regulated militia.”,

Good analogy. Heck, even a good debate! But, it’s not just intellectually stimulating, it also has real world consequences – whether you should own a gun or not, and if so, under what regulations.

but it truly is boring to have to explain basic and certain scientific facts again and again.

Oh, Heavens, we wouldn’t want to bore you!

That said, we already have been engaging ID advocates here. Repeatedly.

Which is it – are you against debating or tired from debating too much?

However, whenever the discussion goes down to specific scientific evidence, the pattern seem to be that ID advocates either flip out and embarass themselves like JDB, or simply smile and abandon the topic, to resurface somewhere else with the same general and unsubstantiated comments.

For the record, JDB has agreed to debate on my terms (civility, fairness, interrogation) but PT crowd refuses to participate.

Go check my discussion about immunology with Charlie in the “molecular networks” thread, for an example.

Thought I did and already complimented you on it.

Wasn’t there a debate between Sabin and Salk over the polio vaccination? Wasn’t there a debate between Dawkins and Gould over “punctuated equilibrium”? Isn’t there currently a debate between gene mutation and aneuploidy over the cause of cancer?

In the sense of “debate = engage in a formal discussion or argument”, no. In the sense of “debate = consider something; deliberate”, yes.

Since you seem to be proposing a debate that is a formal discussion or argument, your comment above is irrelevant, and the various people who have pointed out that science isn’t done that way are correct.

The consideration of ID and deliberation has been done. The ID proponents are welcome to bring up something new that requires reconsideration but, until and unless they do that, ID is dead as a scientific issue.

My scientific knowledge is of the strictly basic, grade-C-understood undergraduate level, with additions by the popular literature, Talk Origins, and various seachings through the Creationist termite mounds. I’m not an expert. I did not come into this debate several years ago without the basic opinion that Creationism was bunk. I DID believe that many of those presenting Creationism were sincere and honest. After reading and communicating with creationists first-hand I now believe them to be almost entirely and openly dishonest, with nearly half of the few honest sort (those who finally plead that, whatever the obvious material truth of evolutionary theory, they simply have faith in their book anyway) sounding as if their sincerity might break if pressed too hard. Creationism, in all its forms, reads like a pack of lies. It’s a con game played with bad, even evil intentions, and exploited now by educated men (are there any prominent women in these “movements”?) who are too cynical, and often too vain, to know right from wrong, much less disinterested fact from wholesale fiction.

(It was the Queen, by the way, wasn’t it?)

NavyDavy: I’d like to believe you’re a genuinely curious bystander. Please address - as asked above - (1)why is a nonscientist a good choice to moderate a “debate” about scientific credibility? And (2) what’s wrong with the way scientists actually do “debate” - by publishing evidence and analyses in peer-reviewed journals?

In what way do you suppose your “debate” would differ from the exchange we’ve already witnessed with Jerry Don Bauer? He presented his “science”, Pim (and others) pointed out his errors (which are not particularly subtle) - backed it up with published references, and he continues to insist that no one ever addressed his “science”. I don’t get it. Perhaps the vehemence of his protests sways you, but in terms of science, I assure you his musings are without merit.

Navy Davy: Obsession? Hmm. Sounds more like you are obsessed with avoiding debate etc

Nice try, but it just doesn’t work. There was no “debate” between Salk and Sabin, nor between Gould and Dawkins. There were discussions, arguments, clinical trials, data, papers and books. Scientific issues are not decided by debate, especially not on the internet, between nobodies, moderated by lawyers. Let’s be serious.

Look, I am sorry you think references to scientific evidence sound “snooty” and “condescending” to you. It is hard for many to understand how profoundly “unfair” science is, but when you are wrong in science, you don’t have a right to a small pulpit to continue to repeat your error. You just eat crow, and go on. This happens to everyone, to small fish like me as well as Nobel Prize winners. It is the first lesson you learn as a graduate student.

In science, one reaches a point when arguments are just not worth making anymore: proteins are not the site of heredity, the Earth is billions of years old, HIV causes AIDS and known evolutionary mechanisms can account for complex features of living organisms. No debate needed.

The reason this site exists is to inform readers about arguments which scientifically are as dead as a doornail, but are still being used used for political, educational and religious goals, not to “debate” creationists.

In science, one reaches a point when arguments are just not worth making anymore… .

Einstein: “The most important thing is to never stop asking questions”

Bottaro: “Please stop asking questions”

…small fish like me as well as Nobel Prize winners.

Sounds like you’re content to remain a small fish. Myself, I like Einstein, Richard Feynman and Kary Mullis:)

However, whenever the discussion goes down to specific scientific evidence, the pattern seem to be that ID advocates either flip out and embarass themselves like JDB, or simply smile and abandon the topic, to resurface somewhere else with the same general and unsubstantiated comments.

There is another possibility, Andrea. Whenever the discussion goes down to specific scientific evidence, the ID advocate and the Panda’s Thumb evolutionist, can be asked by those in charge, to take their discussion to another board like ARN on the grounds that the discussion has become apparently too ‘narrowly’ focussed for the topic thread.

Which, again, I’m very much okay with that arrangement; this is absolutely NOT a complaint about things.

However, it would seem fair of you to include that particular possibility in your list of possible outcomes there, Andrea.

FL :-)

I have to disagree with FL here. We have noticed quite often that when asked for specific evidence we often see that the response is ‘there is none’. Note for instance Charlie Wagner’s response about natural selection and mutation or Jack Shea’s response when discussing abiogenesis. However the scientific evidence often seems to contradict the claims and assertions made. It’s the specific scientific evidence which is so harmful to ID. Or in their case the lack thereof.

Navy Davy,

I was going to observe that the debate has been going on for a while now, on this and several other threads here, and on EvC, and elsewhere, but that observation seems to have been made already. Did you miss it? And, I too congratulate you on your decision to rely on someone other than Jerry Don as your ID champion.

Cheers, Bob

Einstein: “The most important thing is to never stop asking questions”

Bottaro: “Please stop asking questions”

What silliness. First of all, I am not saying “stop asking questions”. What I am saying is ,if a question has been answered to every sane scientist’s satisfaction, it is not worth asking again unless new evidence surfaces. Or do you think Einstein meant “The most important thing is to never stop asking the same question over, and over, and over, regardless of evidence”?

Sounds like you’re content to remain a small fish. Myself, I like Einstein, Richard Feynman and Kary Mullis:)

I guess you’re USSC material yourself, ain’t you, Navy? Anyway, those three are perfect examples of how even highly successful scientists can occasionally be wrong. The trick is to understand when you are.

Frankly, it’s becoming increasingly clear what you’re trying to do here, Navy. It simply does not work.

FL: I am not sure what exactly you are talking about. However, ARN seems like a perfectly appropriate site for those who want to continue to discuss a topic that has already been argued to the ground. Do you think ID-friendly sites are not dignified enough? You should try it.

Really, this site is not really a discussion board, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.

Navy Davy wrote:

Never in my life, have I seen a group talk so much smack, yet avoid the boxing ring like the Bubonic Plague.

It’s more like a boxer who refuses to fight someone he’s beaten a dozen times in a row, all by first round knock-outs. Maybe you view it differently, but that’s how most of us see it. Really, what is there to prove?

If you really want to discuss the evidence for evolution, I, and many others here would be happy to oblige you. Why do you insist on having a debate?

I am not sure what exactly you are talking about. However, ARN seems like a perfectly appropriate site for those who want to continue to discuss a topic that has already been argued to the ground. Do you think ID-friendly sites are not dignified enough? You should try it.

If you are not sure what I am referring to, please review the now-closed thread by Jack Krebs relating to the Kansas state science board. By the time you get to the end of the thread, Andrea, you’ll hopefully understand.

Again, as I stated before on that very thread, there’s no problem with me going over to ARN to continue discussion. (In fact, visiting the Panda’s Thumb has definitely increased my appreciation and respect for ARN as a scientific and professional-quality discussion forum.)

Really, this site is not really a discussion board, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.

I seeeeee. Well, I certainly didn’t know THAT, Andrea. I wonder if Navy Davy or PennyBright knew that.

Maybe y’all should restrict access to Panda’s Thumb to card-carrying creed-signing Darwinist dogmatists only, if the possibility of discussion and debate is such a threatening prospect!

FL

FL: Maybe y’all should restrict access to Panda’s Thumb to card-carrying creed-signing Darwinist dogmatists only, if the possibility of discussion and debate is such a threatening prospect!

Nice strawman but enough websites exist that allow for a debate and if you appreciate ARN more then you are free to leave. This website is simple to “The patrons gather to discuss evolutionary theory, critique the claims of the antievolution movement, defend the integrity of science and science education in America and around the world, and share good conversation.”

I voted “Neutral” because I thought the question was slightly misleading. Of course arguments against evolution should be taught, assuming they exist in any legitimate and rigorous scientific arena. Hence ID/Creationism doesn’t qualify.

FL, I closed comments on the Kansas thread for several reasons.

First of all this is a weblog, not a discussion forum, as Andrea pointed out. At least in my case, I intend for the threads I start to stay focused on the topic and be civil. In the Kansas thread case, the discussion among you and others had strayed far enough from my original topic that I stepped in and asked that we step back and try to summarize some of the more general issues.

For what it’s worth, this is what I do when I teach - I may let a class discussion wander a bit, or narrowly focus, or get argumentative, but eventually it is my job as the discussion leader to brings things back out to the topic at hand.

After my request for more general statements, someone made a remark that was thoroughly unacceptable to me, and at that point I closed comments.

I did invite you to email me with your thoughts, or start a thread at ARN (where I participate) as a way of continuing the discussion; and I said I would start a new thread on this more specific topic of what exactly does it mean to “teach the controversy.”

The Panda’s Thumb invites comments from people with all sorts of viewpoints. But the Panda’s Thumb is not, in format or philosophy, just another place to go round-and-round in antagonistic and uncivil debate. Our goal here is to reach scientists, educators, and various laypersons interested in both the science of evolution and the political and cultural resistances to it. We are interested in discussing these matters with people who want to learn more - for the most part we are not interested in having debates with people who are dead-set against our point of view.

People with dissenting views are welcome, but they should come with the attitude of wanting to have some influence on those that here, not with the attitude of wanting to pick a fight. If debating “dogmatic Darwinists” is what you want to do, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Navy Davy Wrote:

Here’s the deal — I will read Mayr or Perakh’s book or any damn thing y’all suggest, if ONE of you steps up to the plate to debate, either Charley Wagner or FL. I will handle logistics. It will be fair, civil, informative. Each side will interrogate the other, and submit to interrogation. Real simple. Real easy — kinda like how William f. Buckley used to do it on PBS.

It’s quite safe to say that pretty much all contributors to this site have debated ID advocates on numerous occasions in a variety of forums. There are also numerous examples of moderated debates between ID advocates and critics both in written and verbal formats. What exactly makes you think that one more debate is somehow going to tip the scales, or even has the slightest relevance to our weblog? This is beginning to look like a sleazy lawyer’s tactic on your part.

By the way Davy, I neglected to mention that you should be happy to want to read Mayr, Perakh, etc. on your own initiative without the promise of anything in return on our part. That would be what any intellectually interested party would want to do; that’s what anyone who actually had an interest in the debate, which has already been so thoroughly hashed out in print, would do first and foremost before proposing a useless exchange with the trappings of a courtroom drama. Your attitude leads me to believe that you’re call for debate is insincere.

FL Wrote:

At any rate, for me, the phrasing and wording of a poll question does make a difference. The word “evolution” in this Panda Poll question needs to be defined better, more clearly.

Hey, finally, someone that gets it! FL, please forward your suggestions to the Discovery Institute ASAP; it was their idea to commission a poll with the question (paraphrased), “Do you support teaching only the evidence in favor of evolution, or teaching the evidence both for and against it?” Sometimes they say “Darwin’s theory” instead of “evolution”. Not only do they not define what they mean by “evolution” or “Darwin’s theory”; more importantly, the question itself presupposes that there exists credible evidence to the contrary. Of course, that’s really what the crux of the debate is all about, so the poll assumes as true exactly what the ID movement has yet to establish to the satisfaction of the scientific community.

Our poll here at PT was intended to draw attention to this serious deficit on the part of the DI’s recent polling efforts. It makes much more sense to ask whether or not people find the “evidence against evolution” to be credible than it does to force them to assume that it’s true, and then ask them if it should be taught. If the answer to the first is “no”, and most visitors seem to think so, then the DI’s poll is loaded and pointless.

Maybe y’all should restrict access to Panda’s Thumb to card-carrying creed-signing Darwinist dogmatists only, if the possibility of discussion and debate is such a threatening prospect!

You know, I’ve been looking for a creed to sign and a card that I could carry in my wallet for some time now. Do you know where to find one? I know that creationists organizations have such things (no, I’m not kidding – those guys get all the perks), but I have yet to find them for the Dogmatic Materialist Darwinist Naturalist Commie-Nazi Conspiracy that I’m apparently a part of.

Perhaps it might occur to you that “discussion and debate”, at least on a civil and intellectual level, is extremely unlikely to occur with people who post things such as what you posted above. Don’t be shocked if we don’t want this place to be a playground for trolls.

Pim, you quoted what I originally thought about quoting, concerning the mission statement of Panda’s Thumb: “The patrons gather to discuss evolutionary theory, critique the claims of the antievolution movement, defend the integrity of science and science education in America and around the world, and share good conversation.”

And I, for one, have no problem with that statement. But I’m honestly hoping that both you and Jack can see the potential discrepancy between that mission statement and a one-liner like “Really, this site is not really a discussion board, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.” That struck me as visibly out-of-sync with your mission statement. Still does.

I welcome your focus, Jack, on keeping threads on topic and civil. In this forum particularly, I’m grateful for that emphasis on your part. As such, I accept and continue to accept the reasons you previously expressed for the closing of the Kansas thread.

I reiterate once again that I offer no complaint in your decision to do so, and just as you may have found aspects of that discussion to be instructive to you, I found your questions and Art’s citation to be particularly instructive for me.

However, I also continue to suggest to Andrea, in direct response to what she claimed earlier, that the list of possible outcomes she cited regarding ID advocate–PT evolutionist debates is just a wee bit incomplete. I know for certain that I for one did not “flip out and embarrass myself”, nor did I “smile and abandon the topic”. So I considered it appropriate to offer Andrea a reminder of that.

I also would suggest, ever so respectfully, that some of the rhetoric I’m reading from some, (not all), Panda’s Thumb participants seem quite provocative (actually, more like “talking smack”) for folks who are so very opposed to engaging in actual debate.

Jack, I can easily understand and agree with your statement “People with dissenting views are welcome, but they should come with the attitude of wanting to have some influence on those that here, not with the attitude of wanting to pick a fight.” But I’m sincerely hoping that you will continue to observe with a measure of professional concern, some of the condescending (at best) attitudes that the people on your side of the fence are displaying in their rhetoric here.

I do not wish to pick any fight, and I do not, but neither do I wish to remain silent every time a poster talks smack.

Right now, btw, it’s not even clear to me that a participant of Navy Davy’s clearly-stated neutrality and civility is actually “welcome”, as you put it, in this forum. That’s a shame, regardless of what side you’re on.

Anyway, here I am, all the same. I understand I’m free to leave anytime, of course, but I think I’ll stay a little longer, just for fun and learning.

I continue to respect ARN, btw, as a scientific and professional-quality discussion and educational forum, and I don’t mind saying that openly. I don’t know if they and other non-evolutionist groups will ever break Darwinism’s cultural dominance, but they’re at least giving y’all a serious run for your money, and that alone is worth the price of the popcorn.

FL :-)

FL, As a passing observation, I’m not at all sure just how neutral Navy Davy is.

Bob

The great thing about siftin’ through all this rubbage, is findin’ the pearl in an oyster – my man, FL!

If y’all took a cue (perhaps myself too) from this gentleman, y’all would be better scientists.

Navy Davy

p.s. For the benefit of some, I repeat the salient portion of my initial post on this thread on what a good “discussion” would look like:

1. The best evidence and argument that supports the theory of evolution;

2. The best evidence and argument that undermines the theory of evolution;

3. The best evidence and argument that supports the theory of intelligent design;

4. The best evidence and argument that undermines the theory of intelligent design.

Navy Davy,

This has all been answered, several times over. For information’s sake, what is your level of familiarity with ID rhetoric and ID’s input to the scientific data bank?

I too had a momentary interest in Behe’s claims, but they ultimately, and quickly, were proved empty. Something that depends for its validity on the other side’s not having conclusively proved some point or other has no standing. ID, when stripped of the veneer, amounts to that, and nothjing more.

Cheers, Bob

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 3, column 286, byte 561 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Well, in that case, Andrea, my apologies to you for the omission there. Certainly never meant to leave you hanging. In fact, I will be quite happy to offer a response to your paragraphs, over at that particular thread, over the Memorial Day weekend.

(A busy weekend for me, but I am quite sure my response will be in place for your consideration before Memorial Day itself is concluded. Until then!)

FL :-)

NavyDavy’s said:

Here’s the deal — I will read Mayr or Perakh’s book or any damn thing y’all suggest, if ONE of you steps up to the plate to debate, either Charley Wagner or FL. I will handle logistics. It will be fair, civil, informative. Each side will interrogate the other, and submit to interrogation. Real simple. Real easy — kinda like how William f. Buckley used to do it on PBS.

Never in my life, have I seen a group talk so much smack, yet avoid the boxing ring like the Bubonic Plague.

I guess it’s payback time for all you science geeks gettin’ roughed up in High School by the football players, all the while missin’ all dem nice prom queens:)

1. You’ll only read the evidence once you get into court? Now I’m questioning whether you are, in fact, a lawyer. One of the first principles of trial law is “bring no frivolous case.” If you don’t know whether your case is frivolous or not, your canons require you to do more research.

That’s my complaint: Creationists/designists don’t want to adhere to ethical canons in these discussions. They don’t want standards used, because they suspect they can’t live up to the standards (they must have experience, I say).

Make your scientific case first, NavyDavy. That’s the point. That’s the rule.

2. I don’t think you’re qualified to rule on the evidence. You promise to be a fair judge, but I don’t see the judicial temperament in your posts.

How about we use a real court? Oh, yeah – that’s been done about eight times, and each time your side lost. Even with Scalia carrying your water for relativism in the classroom, your side lost at the Supreme Court. Now, like the Black Knight of Monty Python fame, creationism/ID asks for rematch, though leglessness requires the rematch be on their turf …

3. Talkin’ smack? This will likely be news to you, unfortunately. The debate is on. You’ve been asked to present evidence that complies with the evidence rules in the court of “Nature and of Nature’s God,” and your side can’t do it. Creationism keeps claiming that, if only the fight were fair, they’d be able to do some research. In the meantime, the Discovery Institute spent $2 million last year on press releases claiming that there is science to support ID claims, only to back off before official bodies (such as the Texas State Board of Education) and beg that, since they don’t yet have the science, they aren’t really asking to be in the textbooks. Why not spend the $2 million on a lab somewhere and do some research?

Bubonic plague? Tell us how ID describes plague, its origins, its changing virulence, its close association with fleas and rats, etc., etc. While you’re flapping about bubonic plague in an abstract and absurd way, evolution theory is going about stamping it out. Interesting issue you raise. ID is utterly impotent in the face of bubonic plague. Make your case for ID there, if you have one.

In short, ID advocates are afraid to debate. They won’t even pay the dues to get into the tournament. They don’t submit papers to peer-reviewed journals. They don’t attend science conferences. They don’t do research in the wild. They don’t do research in labs. They don’t debate at all with the rhetorical tools of science. NavyDavy’s taunts notwithstanding, ID is the Oakland of science, as Gertrude Stein described it: “There is no there there.” (Apologies to Jerry Brown and any friends who like Oakland.)

4. I lettered twice in high school football. In our school, however, where every male was a Boy Scout, one’s ability to produce on one’s claims was regarded as important. Our team included real men who dated prom queens and studied evolution, producing physicians, lawyers and college professors, along with welders, steel workers, farmers and engineers. From my experience in biology, many, if not a large majority of “geek” researchers would take you out on most fields of athletic competition.

The two-a-day football workouts in the heat of August got us ready for doing the hard research in the deserts the following years.

It’s not that researchers are not macho – it’s that creationists don’t do research (and therefore subscribe to the inaccurate canard that researchers are not athletes – another claim absent evidence). You’d know that if you’d checked it out. It’s the usual tactic of creationists to try to change the issue when they’re losing an argument. I suspect that’s what you’re doing here, NavyDavy.

So once again I wonder about your original claims about the law. I challenged you once to produce any creationist OR ID advocate who could qualify as an expert witness in your state. You never responded. And now you want a debate.

Debate? Sure, it’s going on right now. Your side has been asked to present evidence and experts. Asked repeatedly. Still waiting for a reply from you or any advocate of ID.

Comments-

ID is not science because it’s not in the science literature. I don’t see it as religion either, but as “metaphysics of special interest to those who interpret Genesis literally”. As metaphysics ID is legit, but this site concerns itself with science. If I wanted metaphysics I’d use the ARN site (which I occasionally do). At this site I prefer arguments with a maximum of experimental basis and a minimum of rationalizing. Unfortunately ID is all rationalizing and no experiment.

Navy Davy,

Like many here, I think your claims of objectivity are dubious at best. You continue to insist that the anti-ID people here refuse to engage in debate. Earlier in the thread, you posted your list of points for a “discussion” of the issues. I addressed your points and explained why they were inadequate and mostly inappropriate to the question. Several others have also addressed this, and tried to make you understand that science is not decided by force of rhetoric. Your response involved accusations of ducking the debate, a rather bizarre confusion about the various meanings of “to debate”, and snide comments (see your posts of May 28, 2004 1:31, 2:35, and 4:18 PM). After refusing to address our objections in a substantive manner, you then repost your list unchanged, as if we had been averting our eyes from it all this time. Who is it that won’t engage here?

Thanks to everyone who has submitted a cogent comment (yes, I do indeed mean to imply that they were not all cogent). Unfortunately, the comments have degenerated to questions of who is willing to debate whom, who presents evidence and who does not, and who does research and who does not - all old hat and mostly red herrings, I am afraid. It seems to me that nothing substantive is being added, and some of my colleagues are (not unreasonably) showing signs of exasperation, so I have decided to close the comments immediately.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on May 28, 2004 8:26 AM.

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