Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Teaching the Controversy"

Okay, there are a few different things I've been wanting to make posts about; I've just been very busy. One of them...I'll try to get to tonight or tomorrow. But there's something I've been wondering that will make for a very brief post, so I may as well squeeze that one in now.

I was reminded of this idea by a post on Austin Atheist Anonymous, but it's something I'd actually wondered for a long time. I'm sure someone else has brought this up somewhere, but if so I haven't seen it--I'd be surprised if it hasn't come up at some point, because it seems like a pretty obvious concern to me. The thing is, there are all those creationist folk insisting that we ought to "teach the controversy", yammering that "Intelligent Design" deserves equal time in teaching with evolution.

My question is, what is there to teach?

Seriously. Leaving aside the matters that the scientific evidence is solidly in favor of evolution, and that "Intelligent Design" is nothing more than an untestable assertion to begin with--if schools did teach "Intelligent Design", what would they teach? Evolution has a whole lot of meat to it. There are all sorts of fascinating processes to discuss and details to explore. It's easily possible to teach a class entirely on evolution and only scratch the surface of all its implications, all the ways it's been manifest, and all we've learned from it.

But for Intelligent Design, it doesn't seem there's much more to it than "Maybe everything was made by an intelligent being." Once you've said that...what more is there to teach, really? Where are all the implications, the processes, the wonderful details that evolution provides so plentifully? What else is there to say?

I'm guessing an ID-ist might answer that one would teach all the evidence for Intelligent Design, and all the evidence that weighs in against evolution. Setting aside, again, the fact that all this "evidence" is either completely spurious or can easily be shown to have been misinterpreted, that still doesn't measure up to evolution. A class about evolution wouldn't even have to touch on the evidence at all. It could, and probably should, so the students understand why they're being taught what they're being taught...but there's lots and lots more to say about evolution. Evolution is a fantastically rich subject. If all you've got to say about Intelligent Design is why you believe it, then...well, it seems like a bit of an intellectual dead end, doesn't it?

Oh, but there is more to say about Intelligent Design, isn't there? I mean, look, we have the whole account in Genesis. We have all these details about how the Earth was created, in what order, and--oops. Wait. No we don't. Because, uh, Intelligent Design isn't about God, right? We can't specify the Designer. So teaching the Genesis account of creation should be right out. At least, that's what the ID-ists claim, that Intelligent Design is purely a scientific theory, that religion has nothing to do with it. We may doubt their sincerity on this issue. But if we take them at their word, this means we can't teach religious accounts of creation. And so, without any particular account of creation to teach...what's left? (Of course, it's pretty clear the ID-ists aren't sincere, and that if they did succeed in getting a vague sort of "Intelligent Design" into the classroom their next step would be to turn it to more specifically Christian concepts. But that's a point beyond the scope of the present discussion.)

Okay, I guess maybe there's a little more one could say about Intelligent Design. We could talk about the specific ways in which different things have been specifically designed for human use. But, well, isn't that just speculation as to the mind of the Designer? In fact, don't we have to make some assumptions about the Designer in the first place to talk about this? Like, for example, the idea that he would be designing things for humanity in particular in the first place? Hey, J.B.S. Haldane famously said that his studies had shown him that the Creator, if He exists, has "an inordinate fondness for beetles"--maybe we'd be better off looking at ways in which everything has been specifically designed for the convenience of beetles, rather than of man. If we're assuming the Designer is interested in the well-being of humanity, doesn't that get into specifying the attributes of the Designer? And isn't that something we're not supposed to be doing? Even setting that aside, though, after all, it seems that this sort of discussion would ultimately boil down to just a list of things in nature that are handy for humanity--that doesn't seem likely to have much potential for real scientific depth and value.

So. Even if Intelligent Design did have as much evidence behind it as evolution (which, to put it mildly, it doesn't), it's hard to see how any attempt to give it equal time in teaching would work out. The fact is, there's just nothing there to teach. Once you've stated the premise of Intelligent Design...there's nothing left to discuss.

Unless, of course, you want to start leaving aside the pretense that it's not about religion, and explicitly bring the Christian God into it. But that would make it a little hard (well, harder than it already is) to pretend it's really a scientific theory, wouldn't it?

6 Comments:

At 10/23/2006 10:20 AM, Blogger austinatheist said...

Thanks for the link love! Excellent post. You're right, "teaching the controversy" sets up a false dilemma with a whole lot to talk about on the one hand (evolution) and nothin' doin' on the other (ID). Anyway, I'll be sure to stop by on occassion in the future, and maybe through some love back your way.

 
At 10/23/2006 10:21 AM, Blogger austinatheist said...

Oops! I meant "throw." Typos make me angry >:(

 
At 10/23/2006 5:59 PM, Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Well, of course, that makes it easy: half an hour - oh, give 'em a whole period - for ID, and the rest of the year for evolutionary biology.

 
At 10/26/2006 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anuminous said...

It is even worse than there not being much more to teach than "Maybe everything was made by an intelligent being." It goes more like "The Designer did it." Full stop. As in, not only are there no more avenues for research, there can be no more avenues for research. It is antiscientific, antieducational twaddle. Twaddle I say!

On a related note, when IDists blather on about "specified complexity", I keep asking them how they asses complexity, or even in what units complexity is measured. I have yet to receive any answer at all. Alas.

 
At 10/26/2006 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anuminous said...

Hm, I wonder if I left the last 's' off of 'assess' for some subconsciously important reason...

 
At 11/02/2006 4:18 PM, Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Also, unless you can blog every day, may I suggest you don't say "I'll try to get to that tomorrow"? Not because it annoys your readers (we just wait, knowing what life is like) but because it can make you less likely to blog when you do get the chance. "Geeze, I'm four days late ... how do I explain that?" and you put it off (believe me, I know whereof I speak - not with blogging, but with writing.

Stick with "I'll get to it when I have some time."

And GET SOME TIME!!!! (just kidding)

 

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