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?

Ake:Absolutely. By definition, that is just not possible, or at that point you start running parapsychology labs, trying to bend spoons and such . . . My question is, when we finally come down to the battle of creation sciences, will it be the Muslim creation [story] that wins? The Christian creation that wins? The Navaho? The aboriginal? Whose creation wins in creation science? And will we teach them all if we teach them in school? Will we teach turtles all the way down? Will we teach the earth mother and the sky father? That we're made out of blood, and not mud? Will we teach that we are the children that came from the great serpent?

Humber: From the one who conquered death.

Ake:Doesn't help. That's not a scientific thing.

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.

Ake:Fine. But no.

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 |

"As this whole volume is one long argument, it may be convenient to the reader to have the leading facts and inferences briefly recapitulated . . ."
Charles Darwin, "On The Origin of Species"

The debate: FAQs and facts
Science and creationism (NAS)

National Center for Science Education
Defending the teaching of evolution in public schools: with evolution/creationism news updates and many resources.
Understanding Evolution
Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science
Evolution - Education and Teaching

Grandeur in this view of life . . .
Tree of Life web project
Evolutionn Entrance (UCMP)
Evolution (PBS)
BBC Education: Evolution
Macroevolution (UTexas)

TalkOrigin's Index of Creationist Claims.
Find them all here!

The law
Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)
McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1981)
More to come

Pending legislation
Ongoing attempts to mandate the teaching of neocreationism in science classes
New York State Bill 8036 (died in committee)
Pennsylvania House Bill 1007

In the schools
Dover, PA
Dover biology: Ongoing reporting from the York Daily Record
Dover C.A.R.E.S. Intelligent Design FAQ

Science/evolution-ish blogs
Transitions: The Evolution of Life
The Panda's Thumb
The Loom
Evolution Blog
Evolving Thoughts
Philosophy of Biology
Thoughts From Kansas
Red State Rabble
The Questionable Authority
Unscrewing the Inscrutable
The Biology Refugia
Deinonychus antirrhopus
Law, Evolution Science, and Junk Science

The Evolution Project: Documenting evolutionary biology being used!

Intelligent Design

The infamous Wedge Document. Read it!
Uncommon Descent
More to come!

The library (shelving in progress)
On The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity, by Jennifer Ackerman
Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism, by Robert T. Pennock
Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, by Robert T. Pennock (Ed.)
Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, by Kenneth R. Miller
Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, by Barbara Carroll Forrest and Paul R. Gross
At the Water's Edge : Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea, by Carl Zimmer

Master Planned: Why intelligent Design Isn't, by H. Allen Orr, The New Yorker
Wedging Creationism into the Academy, by Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch, Academe
The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name, by Jerry Coyne, The New Republic


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