With Friends Like These

If there is one thing that bugs me more than creationist folderol, it's wimpy and inept defenses of evolution from scholars who really ought to know better.

I am currently wading through the book <A HREF=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0870136755/qid=1080521814/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/002-6946252-2211201?v=glance&s=books&n=507846>Darwinism, Design, and Public Education</A> edited by John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, published by Michigan State University Press. Meyer and Campbell are defenders of ID, but the book contains a selection of essays ostensibly defending evolution.

Alas, it quickly becomes clear that evolution's defenders were carefully chosen. Consider the following statement from William Provine's contirbution. It is actually a self-quote from an earlier essay of his:

The Kansas decision is a gift to the teaching of evolutionary biology. At last we have begun to talk about including all students in high school biology classes, instead of limiting the discussion only to naturalistic evolution. Of the USA population, nearly 50 percent are YE creationists. Of those who do profess belief in evolution by descent, the vast majority believe that God guided the process and that some version of "design theory" is true. Can it really be our aim to prevent students with such views from particiapting honestly in the discussion of evolution in high school biology classes? Do we really believe that students can be convinced of evolution while prevented from speaking their concerns about it? We already have complete control of the evolution content of mainstream biology textbooks. Teachers bar most students from honest discussion of evolution in class, with the encouragement of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Science Education (our watchdog), and the American Civil Liberties Union. (P. 509)
William Provine has written two of the most important books on the history of evolutionary biology, but I fear that here he has gone completely insane. First, no one, not the NAS, not the NCSE, not the ACLU, believes that students should be barred from honest discussion of evolution. The only thing that is being objected to is having teachers present creationism to students as a scientific theory of equal merit with evolution. If a student raises an objection born of creationism, the proper response is to explain, firmly but politely, why the student is wrong.

Then there is the bit about the 1999 Kansas decision being a blow for fairness and openmindedness. But the Kansas decision had nothing to do with allowing students to engage in open debate. It simply removed certain prominent scientific theories, like evolution and the Big Bang, from the curriculum. That's hardly the way to promote scientific discussion.

Later, in commenting on an earlier (and much better) essay, by Eugene Garver, Provine writes:

In this volume, Eugene Garver gives a cogent argument for not introducing ID or creationism in the evolution class. Perhaps he has taught an evolution class and finds that suppressing most of the students from participating is a good approach.(P. 510)
Actually, Garver's argument had nothing to do with suppressing student participation. Rather, it had to do with whether students will learn evolutionary theory better by considering it alongside of creationism or ID. Garver points out, for example, that no one argues that students will understand heliocentrism better for having seen a debate between it and the geocentric view. The closest Garver comes to the view Provine attributes to him is this statement:
There is a difference between teaching a subject on which students have no prior opinions and a subject on which they have been forcefully told something contrary to what the teacher is trying to get across. But taking those initial beliefs into account is not a reason to defer to them or even respect them. It is probably, although not necessarily, a bad idea to be dismissive or even confrontational about such beliefs. (P. 493)
Quite right. When a student says something that is demonstrably false, the correct response is to demonstrate that what he said was false.

I also can't resist the following quote, again from Provine:

I am very sympathetic to those who believe in ID. The sense of loss experienced by friends and students, after concluding that ID of biological organisms is nonexistent, is deep and sometimes very difficult. When belief in ID dies away, the other associated beliefs become tenuous: life after death, and so forth. I always recommend to students taking an evolution course to guard carefully their views of ID in bioligical organisms. Give it up, and the slide to naturalism flows quickly. (P. 502)
Since Provine makes it perfectly clear, both in this essay and elsewhere, that he believes ID is wrong, why on Earth is he encouraging students to guard their views on this subject? The arrogance and condescension here is remarkable. Apparently Provine does not trust his students to have the intestinal fortitude he himself possesses. Sure, he can handle brutal reality, but better for his dimwitted students to keep the fantasy.

Provine is not the only offender. Here's one example from David Depew's essay:

I could not agree more with the claim that contemporary Darwinism lacks models that can explain the evolution of cellular pathways and the problem of the origin of life. Meyer is correct to point out, for example, as my coauthor Bruce Weber and I have also done, that natural selection cannot in principle be the cause of life's origin. Natural selection is a phenomenon that depends for its operation on the very sort of variation and heredity that exists only in organsims and so can hardly be used to explain how organisms came into existence in the first place. Nor does Meyer miss the mark whe he derides writers such as Francis Crick, Jacques Monod, and Dawkins, who appeal to sheer acident (including, in Crick's case, extraterrestrial intrusion) to explain the origin of life. That is no explanation at all. It is a confession of failure. In the face of the growing urgency of these problems, the inclinations of some Darwinian apologists to retreat to the high ground of metaphysical materialism can readily, and perhaps justly, be understood by hostile critics as an attempt, in the face of such inadequacies, to issue a philosophical guarantee that, in the absence of empirical proof, life will eventually shown to be consistent with received Darwinian thought. But this is not science. It is scientistic ideology. (P. 447-448).
This from an essay titled: Intellgient Design and Irreducible Complexity: A Rejoinder.

I fear Depew has been drinking the same Kool-Aid as Provine. First, who is it, exactly that has tried to use natural selection as an explanation for the origin of life? Natural selection requires imperfect replicators, so obviously it can't be used as an explanation when no such replicators exist. Origin of life researchers do occasionally speak of chemical selection, but that is something entirely different. Depew is knocking down a strawman here. Actually, strike that. He is knocking down the particular strawman the ID's have handed to him. Moving on, let's ignore the for the moment the fact that the origin of life is a question of no relevance whatever to Darwinian evolution. Has anyone ever offered pure chance as an explanation for life's origin? Certainly not Dawkins. It has been suggested that certain chance events might have been relevant, but they are not the explanaiton. Dawkins, in The Blind Watchmaker, offers Cairns-Smith's theory about self-replicating clay templates as an interesting speculation. That is not a theory of chance. And who are these foul Darwinists who are retreating to the metaphysical high ground? Some examples in defense of such a blanket charge would be nice. Darwinism lacks models for explaining cellular pathways? Hardly. As even William Dembski points out, there are models aplenty. The question of whether these models are correct is a different matter. Depew believes that self-organization is more important to evolution than natural selection in explaining the origins of complex structures. That is an interesting view, and one he is welcome to defend. But the fact remains that there is certainly no theoretical reason why natural selection could not explain the origins of irreducible complexity, and ample reason to believe that it does so in fact. There are more examples I could cite. Essays like this do far more to aid ID proponents, than they do to defend evolution.