The discussion was civil, and though there was some eye rolling, sighing, and muttering in the audience, no one shouted; no one gesticulated wildly; no one hurled insults.
Right up until the Hitler reference, everyone was playing relatively nicely.
This was a debate between two men, and the question was "Should Intelligent Design Be Taught in the Schools?" The two men were Dr. Jerry Bergman and Dr. P.Z. Myers.
I came in wondering if I could tell who the creationists were just by looking at them, and I looked at the relatively empty room (I was early), wondering which side I should sit on. I observed the tables at the front, and observed that one had a computer, water bottle, and papers on it while the other had nothing but a microphone. I chose to sit on the side of the room in front of the empty table because I knew from previous observation that Dr. Myers had not arrived yet. I was just thinking "Is this like a wedding, where there's a bride's side and a groom's side?" when the woman sitting near me asked "Is this like a wedding?"
I had brought my knitting, so I had something to do. I have to use all the baby-free minutes I have.
My initial thoughts were that this whole debate does not really seem like a debate to me because a debate is supposed to present two sides of an issue, and creationism/ID does not equal evolution. The question "Should ID be taught alongside evolution" answers itself:
No. Can we have beer now?
Dr. Bergman, on the "Yes" side of the debate, spent the first half of his twenty minutes talking about himself and all the atheists he knows. In fact, he was an atheist! Many of his friends were atheists! But he found the atheist movement to be deficient, scholarly. He defined evolution as "from the goo to you by way of the zoo." There's nothing like a catchy, rhyming phrase laden with panting sarcasm to make me warm to your argument. He said that "you cannot judge a religion by those who don't follow it," and that sentence still does not make sense to me. He talked about debunking Darwinism step by step, stating that doing scientific research was what led him to theism and creationism.
I was wondering what this had to do with teaching ID in schools.
He conducted a survey with three thousand Ph.D. scientists, which showed that they overwhelmingly rejected "orthodox Darwinism," flashing some questions up on the screen that were clearly intelligently designed to produce ambiguous answers that could be interpreted to support his hypothesis.
He told me that "everyone is a creationist," that it's "not a good idea to teach religion in a science class," and that "you don't teach astronomy in a math class."
At this point, I noticed that my chest was really tight.
"The problem is," he said, "we don't teach enough about evolution." Science equals religion, he went on. Apparently if you say it's a fact, and it's true, then it's a religion. I think there's supposed to be something about evidence in there, but he thinks that the only answer you ever get from scientists is "evolution did it," or "it evolved that way." He's very concerned that we "cannot teach the problems with evolution" and that "atheism is taught in the schools, legally, indoctrinating students in a world view." Yup. That's how I came to my atheism: in my 10th grade biology class with Mr. Rosendahl, when that red-faced round white man preached to a rapt, entranced audience about frogs from his entitled throne of High School Biology Teacher.
It's the same crap. Atheists are winning, indeed, we have already won, and the poor Christians are persecuted. Ah! To be part of the persecuted, overwhelming majority group, dictating policy and whining in the corner about how nobody likes you.
Then he went into irreducible complexity, and I heard groaning all around me. Did you know that Carbon 12 is irreducibly complex? Neither did I. Someone else can better go into the weirdness that ensued during this section, as I stopped taking notes.
Then it was Dr. Myers' turn. So far, I had not heard a cohesive position in support of teaching ID/creationism alongside evolution in schools. Dr. Myers answered the question: "No, emphatically no. It's not science, so there's nothing to teach."
Science, he went on, needs a mechanism or theory and evidence or data showing that the observed mechanism works. You need real world observations to plug into the theory. ID has neither a mechanism nor data. There is no theory, which has been admitted to by proponents of ID. So what are we supposed to teach? How do we focus our research without a theory? How do we get data to support these positive claims distinguished from evolution; something that shows specifically that a designer did it?
I found him to be clear, concise, soft spoken, organized, and polite.
Dr. Myers pointed out that complaining about evolution is not part of a positive idea of science. You need theory and data if you want to teach intelligent design. If these cannot be provided, it cannot be taught. "Teaching is not a playground for teachers to spout off whatever they want." They are ethically and legally bound by states and districts. "They are responsible to students to give them accurate information to make informed decisions. Teaching creationism is a violation of professional responsibility."
Dr. Bergman? Rebuttal?
I teach Darwin's finches, too.
There's no theory, yes.
There are thousands of published papers, though, by ID people who are "in the closet." One individual has over 600 papers in major journals.
The appendix serves several functions, there are no vestigial organs.
(But why should it be taught? I am still wondering.)
There are quite a few studies that creationist students are 1-2 grades ahead of public school students.
(Citation and study design, please.)
Irreducible complexity, Aristotle, we need a heart, brain stem, kidney...
(I am just transcribing my notes, now. I mean, this is done, right?)
The periodic table of the elements is irreducibly complex, and a teacher was fired for teaching it.
Everything is irreducibly complex.
Show me the radio that works on a single lepton.
(What do radios have to do with evolution? Aside from the fact that humans evolved to the point where we could make one.)
Evolution is in the way of our knowledge of the biological world.
He equated god and evolution, you know the old game. There was nothing really new here. There's the God of the Gaps, and scientists have Evolution of the Gaps. But he "strongly supports the scientific method."
Dr. Myers? Rebuttal?
If the papers are not about ID, then they are not ID papers.
Dr. Bergman's definition of vestigial organs is peculiar; it's not the same as the biological definition. "No use" is not the same as "reduced function."
"That's the strangest definition of irreducible complexity I have ever heard," he said. Irreducible complexity is about biochemical pathways, specifically, and applying it to a carbon molecule makes no sense. Irreducible complexity has been refuted, and does not disprove evolution. When it comes to carbon molecules, it's not "little angels knitting them together"
People do teach the periodic table.
Yes, teachers have lost their jobs for not doing their jobs.
There is no positive case for ID, it's just complaining about evolution.
Schools have the right to set their curricula.
Question from Dr. Bergman to Dr. Myers: Do you know of any out of the closet ID'ers who have gotten tenure?
Dr. Myers: No. The problem there is?
Question from Dr. Myers to Dr. Bergman: How can you say that the Carbon 12 atom is irreducibly complex?
Dr. Bergman: restated the same thing.
Dr. Myers: That's not a useful argument for ID.
Dr. Begman: Yes it is.
Dr. Myers: open-mouthed silence.
During the questions from the audience section, Dr. Bergman quoted from Dr. Dawkin's book "The Greatest Show on Earth," (I think he said page 451, but I am tired, and the baby is crying), and he used to quote to conclude that genes are not the boss, there is a boss above the genes. Dr. Myers replied "Richard Dawkins would be mad at me if I let it slide that you quoted his book, supporting intelligent design. Natural processes are quite capable of producing increasingly complex information."
Question: "You admitted that ID has no theory in your rebuttal. For me that was 'game over.' Do you want to take that back?"
It was soon after this that he brought up Hitler. Hitler had enormous support from the scientists, he said, holding up a book called "Hitler's Ethic: The Nazi Support of Evolutionary Progress." Oh, man. Really? Did you have to? See, right up until then, I was just feeling sorry for his rambling and inferior performance, and then... he brought up Hitler. No scientists, he said, openly opposed Hitler. Really? You want to say that again? You want some time to think about it, first?
It's the same old thing. Arguments from authority. Disparage science and scientists, but talk about all the support you have from science and scientists. Mislead with weird things like the irreducible complexity of a radio.
It was a good evening out, though. I figured out some things on the knitting pattern I am working on, and I got to thank Dr. Myers for his admirable job of sticking to the question.
My comment on the evaluation was: I think that the conversations and questions were remarkably civil, given the subject matter, but as an intellectual discussion, I do not feel that the "yes" side of the argument presented a rational case, based on evidence, for the teaching of ID/creationism in the public school science classroom.
And I'd just like to point out that, some of my best friends are Christian.