by Joe Meert
There were two days of talks given at the recent GSA meeting. Abstracts can be found at: http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2005AM/finalprogram/session_16049.htm and http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2005AM/finalprogram/session_16171.htm.
I’ll report as best I can on these two days beginning with day 2. I’ll try not to interject comments although it is hard to avoid.
Point #1: A lot of time was spent talking about how not to offend the majority while still teaching evolution. These talks focused on topics related to earth science that could, for example, show deep time to folks on tours in National Parks (Miller) or help students understand that the use of relative time (Wagner) (looking at different age trees in a forest could help students understand that even if they believe the earth is 6000 years old, it still might look old to scientists). Thomas started off this same way discussing some anecdotes about hate mail and bad reviews he has received from fundamentalists. He was the one who most closely teetered on the divide between the “get along with them” group and the “confront them” group. I would say that these people would agree with the statement “teach the controversy”.
Point #2: Eugenie Scott spoke (rapidly because she though she was allotted twice the time she had) about “multiple levels” of creationism and made the point that ID was “creationism light”. She also mentioned several of the ongoing court cases and battles and brought up that evolution was often blamed for a whole host of ills in society. Now, for those who know Eugenie and the NCSE, there was nothing really new in this talk, but I heard several gasps of amazement from the audience indicating that many in the room were not aware of how big of a problem this was. I was surprised she did not mention the “Academic Freedom” bills that were being introduced (but that meant I would have the chance to talk about it).
Point #3: Don Wise stood up and the first slide was a photo of cow dung on the white-line of the road that had been run over by a car. He pointed out it’s relevance for being able to decipher the relative sequence of events and also his attitude about Intelligent Design. The punch line is that we need to clean up the dung and make the white line pristine again. He then made usual points about incompetent design (using the back, the eye etc). What made it special was that he used a song “Incompetent Design” to make his point. He also noted that we should take our cues from politics. We live in an age of sound bites and using words like “incompetent design” can be more effective than trying to explain in scientific detail why it’s bad science. Wise encourages geologists to take lessons from politics; (1) don’t be defensive (2) keep your points simple and easy to remember (3) use humor to make your points (4) aim your points at the voters.
Point #4: Lee Allison gave an excellent summary of how Kansas evolutionists boycotted the hearings but still got their message out. I thought this was important because some (myself included) were not pleased that scientists avoided the hearings even though they were rigged. He went through each of the “judges” career history to show just how rigged the hearings were. He then described the set-up by scientists outside the hearing room complete with press releases and “talking points” for each of the days hearings. I, for one, have changed my tune on this and feel that they did the right thing (oops an opinion slipped in). He then described the tactics that they will take in the next election cycle where 5 creationists on the board will be up. Allison also noted that Kansas is considered ground zero for the ID attack and the reason they have abandoned Dover is because the group there did not follow the political rules for getting ID into the schools.
Point #5: The talks on both days were well attended and not just by educators, but also some of the world’s top researchers and the point was driven home (hopefully) by Scott, Wise, Allison, Thomas, and myself that this is not just a small minority quietly operating behind the scenes at the local level. Collectively, we encouraged scientists to get out of their labs once in a while and talk to the public. In fact, I think that in addition to Eugenie’s call for action, the session ended with myself, Wise, and Allison all making the same point that while educating young people on evolution is a good thing and will help scientific literacy, the battle is being waged by voters who are either out of school or never went to school. That is the battleground and the ID movement and creationism have accepted a somewhat “unholy alliance” to get their social reforms accepted by society and we’re in trouble if we think it will just go away.
Point #7: Kurt Wise. He appeared very nervous and probably this had to do with the fact that the previous speaker introduced him as a typical creationist who would believe the bible above any evidence. Basically he was not an effective speaker and gave a very poor talk. He spent much of his time talking about how many creationist books have been published in the last few years and the number of creationists with advanced degrees and Ph.D.’s. He said that we are not going to convince YEC students to adopt evolution so don’t even try. Just teach the subject and try not to offend anyone. I thought he was capable of much more and was disappointed in his talk. I saw no point in doing a regression analysis on the number of creationist books published in the last 100+ years.
Point #8: What to do? (1) Consider this a political campaign and use the same rough and tumble tactics that politicians use. (2) Get involved in the campaign by working up sound bites that are accurate, witty and easy to remember. (3) Don’t slack off, Kansas is a proving ground for ID both legally and strategically. (4) Offer to do radio programs on ID and evolution. (5) Offer to give talks at local churches especially when you happen to see evolution bashing listed as the Sunday sermon topic. (6) Don’t debate the science of ID (there isn’t any), but do debate the problems with ID. (7) I realize this is somewhat contradictory to #6, but if ID wants to be called a science then point out that it is bad science. Point out bad design in nature and ask them to explain it. It may lead them back to a discussion of religion and then they lose. (8) Summary: Get out there with the public that matters right now, the voters. Or as Allison says “It’s the politics, stupid”.
I’ll post the powerpoint slides from my talk online in a day or so.
Joe Meert is an Assistant Professor of Geology at the University of Florida.