One Long Argument:
One small primate helping to defend science education against the advance of neocreationism.
Monday, May 30, 2005
Evolutionary Biologist KOs Creationist!
Welcome to One Long Argument! (Don't you feel tired already?)
This Sunday the Philadelphia Inquirer printed part of a debate between Stacey Ake (Drexel philosophy prof, PhD in biology, Mennonite), and Paul G. Humber (Baptist minister, math teacher, and young earth creationist (YEC)). In my opinion, Ake just relentlessly pounded Humber (forgive me, I just saw Cinderella Man last night, and my inner eight year old wants to bounce around pretending to be a boxer). It didn't help that Humber revealed he was non-dogmatic enough to consider a slightly older than 10,000 year-old world. He also suggested that the coelacanth was evidence of a young earth and "may have been lost somehow in the flood of Noah. somehow with the sediment and the churning up of the water."
But enough of Humber. Ake was truly in fine form. Just marvel over the following exchange:
Inquirer(to Ake): Is science closed to the supernatural?
And Ake lands a hard right to his jaw!
Later on Humber complains that if you're a creation scientist, "You would not be able to have a Ph.D. or tenure if you were a creation scientist. The elite evolutionary establishment won't allow it." Ake responds:
"Who are these people? . . . There is no grand program, there is no coven of scientists sitting together saying, "How can we get the teenagers of America to disbelieve?" Nothing like that."
Beautiful. And very important. Throughout the entire debate, Ake hammered away at the one point that matters - evolution is science, and creationism (whatever kind) isn't: "Biology ends when theology begins." Pharyngula has an excellent post today about explaining the complicated real world in order to combat the simplistic metaphors and appeals to ignorance of the ID crowd. Unfortunately, when it comes to the world of soundbites and slogans and public opinion, this sort of approach often just gets us sucked into the nonsense. No matter how well PZ writes, or what truly useful metaphors he uses (proteins as popbeads! That's great!) he's still trying to explain molecular biology.
Of course, there are people who have genuine concerns about this or that aspect of evolutionary theory, and they deserve the best arguments we can give them (after all, we're certainly wrong about something). We can't forget, however, that we're engaged in a PR battle. In these circumstances, the scientists' boycott of the Kansas hearings made a great deal of sense. That's not to say that bringing in science is never a good idea - not at all! - but that the most important point is a very simple one: not science.
Humber does a good job of explaining this, ironically: "We are playing a game of understanding the universe without God. To say this is the only game that you can do in science [and] if you do bring in God, we're going to flunk you." He doesn't quite get it, though. You can't win in checkers by having your pieces act like chess queens. In science, you are playing a game of understanding the universe without reference to God, whatever scientists themselves might think, and without imagining that this implies atheism. After all, as Ake points out, "Science can say nothing about God qua science. That's why science cannot say that there isn't a God, either." In engineering you are playing a game of building bridges without God. Medicine is a game of trying to make people better without God - and most people can deal with going to a doctor and praying. It's the good ol' concept - one that most people understand implicitly in less loaded fields - of non-overlapping magisteria.
Stressing this point is especially important with the neocreationist attack on "methodological naturalism" (read: science) and their aim of replacing it with theistic science (see The Wedge). Even Humber gets into the act - he insists that "Darwinism" is a religion, talks about creation scientists (religion as science) , and implicitly claims that science should be more religious. It's all very confusing, but Ake punches through the obscurantist fog with a beautiful jab:
Humber:You don't need anything about evolution to understand science. There are a lot of good scientists who don't believe in evolution who do good science. So the statement of faith that science doesn't make sense without evolution is both wrong and false.
Pow? In a respectable scientific debate? But of course, this isn't, and (in these kind of venues) we can't forget it.
Note: Red State Rabble comments on another aspect of the debate, one that proves Ake's bold claim that "it's the idolatry of Christians and the idolatry of religious people that requires science, which they worship, to verify their beliefs. Which actually says they believe more in science than they believe in their God... ."
posted by Dan S. on 6:00 PM |