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Feb. 7: The ACLU discusses “Intelligent Design in Science Class?”

The ACLU’s first “First Tuesday” program at the Indiana Repertory Theatre takes on the controversy over teaching evolution vs. Intelligent Design (ID) in public schools

When: Tuesday February 7, noon to 1:00 PM

Where: Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W Washington St. Indianapolis (parking here)

“The ‘First Tuesdays’ program is designed to respond to the demand for respectful and intelligent discussion about issues that are important to our community,” says Fran Quigley, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana. This discussion continues a very interesting conversation begun last fall. Following an IRT performance of the play “Inherit the Wind,” most of the audience stayed for a panel discussion with Alex Oren, director of “The Mighty Cannon,” the local group that is threatening to sue the Hamilton County School District to force it to teach ID; David L. Stocum, Dean Emeritus of the School of Science and Professor of Biology at IUPUI; and Rabbi Sandy Sasso, who has written that evolution (science) and creation (religion) don’t have to conflict. So thoroughly did the audience become engrossed the discussion that when IRT announced that it was time to go home there arose a spontaneous “boo” of protest.

The discussion February 7 returns David Stocum, matching him with William H. Ball, Jr., Director of the Center for Scientific Creation.

What a wave of nostalgia washes over me when I visit the Center for Scientific Creation’s website! These guys are not “intelligent design” proponents, ID probably strays too far from the literal truth of the Bible for the Center for Scientific Creation. In other words, they approach science the same way my Evangelical high school science and history class did. Since Genesis, conclusively proves the world was created in 4004 BC, anything that indicates anything different -- archaeology or history or astronomy or biology -- is misunderstood or an illusion. Who are you going to believe, the Bible or your lying eyes? It’s a view that has interesting implications for the sociology of knowledge, but that’s about as interesting as it gets. At least ID proponents pretend to be scientists, or at least pretend to act the way they think scientists act. The Center for Scientific Creation appears to be pretending to be as scientific as ID scientists … and at that point my head hurts too much to go much further. Some might say that sending David Stocum to debate the Center for Scientific Creation is like using a 6,000 pound smart bomb to swat a fly. I think it's an example of two worlds speaking two very different languages intersecting with one another for an hour.

Well, if you are downtown at noon on the 7th you might want to stop by IRT. You might find the debate entertaining … I fear it will be frustrating. There really are reasons to take ID seriously, although NOT because it is a scientific equal or rival to evolution. I'll quote Bruce Hanson's concise summary of what precludes ID from serious consideration as contributing to science:
  1. ID is not a "theory," at least in the sense scientists use that word. Because of the ambiguity around that word "theory" it makes a comvienent point of attack.
  2. ID isn't falsifiable. That's a large part of what scientists do, attempting to falsify hypotheses and theories.
  3. ID proponents say there must be a designer. So whats the mechanism? Dembski argues that the designer is unembodied .. how does an unembodied designer effect change to a physical universe?

I say we need to take ID seriously because a large and politically influential minority of Americans want it to be taught in public schools. Understanding the fears and anxieties that are driving well-meaning citizens to sabotage education in this way ... that's important. Of course, some politicians are looking for that next wedge issue that will mobilize conservative voters ("ID ... the next 'abortion'?"). And some ID proponents are disingenuous or outright decietful when they they aren't trying to introduce religion into public schools under the guise of "science" .. see this quote by preeminent ID "theorist" William Dembski:

ID is part of God's general revelation. Consequently, it can be understood apart from the Bible. That's why, for instance, the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies invited me to lecture on intelligent design and warmly embraced my message (this happened in October 2003). Just about anyone who is not wedded to a pure materialism agrees that some sort of design or purpose underlies nature. Intelligent design not only gives a voice to these people, but also gives them the tools to dismantle materialism.

Dismantling materialism is a good thing. Not only does intelligent design rid us of this ideology, which suffocates the human spirit, but, in my personal experience, I've found that it opens the path for people to come to Christ. Indeed, once materialism is no longer an option, Christianity again becomes an option. True, there are then also other options. But Christianity is more than able to hold its own once it is seen as a live option. The problem with materialism is that it rules out Christianity so completely that it is not even a live option. Thus, in its relation to Christianity, intelligent design should be viewed as a ground-clearing operation that gets rid of the intellectual rubbish that for generations has kept Christianity from receiving serious
The “Scientific Creationism” as will be on display in the first “First Tuesday” is at the far fringes of movement to bash science and non-sectarian public education. If people come away from the ACLU-IN debate thinking Young Earth Scientific Creation is the opponent that should be fought, they will be lulled into a false state of complacency.

In addition to the IRT debate, check out some other events this spring that will more seriously probe the intersection of science and culture, of faith and reason.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talk on February 8, should be a good one. Despite being named by President Bush to several panels and commissions, Tyson disagrees with the President’s view of teaching ID: “Science is a philosophy of discovery. Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem.”

Check out cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker on April 12. Or check out David Stocum and some other serious thinkers at the IUPUI seminar March 4 on “The Realms of Science and Faith.”

Looking for some background reading? The Discovery Institute in Seattle is the seedbed of the ID movement. Michael Ruse's "The Evolution-Creation Struggle" has been well-reviewed as an effort to seperate the metaphysics of "evolutionism" from evolutionary theory, although I suspect that won't be enough to defuse the ID movement. An earlier IndyBuzz posting had a long list of recommended readings, check them out.

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Anonymous said...

Or you could check out the Darwin Day Conference:


Anonymous said...

Wow! I went to the talk this afternoon, came away confused and thus found your page. I've seen some ID "scientists" on TV, like on a Nightline show several months ago, and they sure didn't resemble Mr. Ball. I appreciate the way you've explained his position in the debate. He sure didn't have a problem with cozying up to the bible, which is something I haven't seen from IDers.

Seems like the ICLU has done us a disservice. Why was he included in the debate, I wonder, if he doesn't really represent the ID movement? Are there no good local debaterss for it? I came away feeling very smug, as you point out, with a false sense of complacency.

Interesting times, eh?


john clark said...

I have heard that the ACLU-IN event was very well attended, 100+ ... which is great, a demonstration that a lot of people working downtown are eager for intellectual stimulation. Way to go, ACLU-Indiana for taking the lead.

This is a controversy that is hard to "debate" because in some ways simply establishing a format of debate between equal sides gets it wrong from the very start. There is no scientific debate because ID makes only a flimsy effort to pretend to be a science ... so a "debate" lends ID a credibility it doesn't deserve, and thus hands ID proponents an unearned "win." Likewise, those advocating ID in any "debate" will demand answers to "why?" questions that science can't pretend to answer -- why is there anything? why are there intelligent creatures on earth who can ask "why?"? On these questions science is and must be (nearly) silent, handing the ID proponents another apparent "win."

Although I admired the courage of Alex Oren, the defender of ID, to enter the lions' den last year after "Inherit the Wind," he was clearly out of his depth. ACLU-Indiana tried to find someone different, hoping to land one of the state legislators who has advocated teaching ID in public schools. But any candidate from the General Assembly had to realize that it's one thing to score cheap points with one's constituents to say, "it's only fair to teach bothsides," or "bring God back to the schools." It's entirely different to appear with a real scientist such as David Stocum ... that's a recipe for appearing to be a moron. So ACLU-In went with the only one they could find who would appear, a board member of one of the most anti-scientific creationism organizations who had written a letter about creation to the Star.

Again, it is a demonstration of the absence of a genuine "debate" between evolution and ID that no credible ID proponent can be located to discuss the science. I would go so far as to say that if you believe in ID, you aren't a scientist, you have tossed the scientific method out the window even if you get to keep your academic degrees. It's like a football ref who believes a touchdown is worth 4 points: you may still have a striped shirt and a whistle, but you aren't a football referee any more.

I don't think the ACLU-In did a disservice with the debate. They are responding to a strongly expressed desire from people to learn about a crucial issue. But except for reminding us about the constitutional strictures against teaching religion in public school science classes, the ACLU is not the best organization for educating the public about what is at stake, and why this controversy has erupted today ... this is a job for political and natural scientists. So treat the event on the 7th as just another step toward figuring out how to defuse the genuine anxieties about the 21st century felt by so many people without sacrificing science or the Constitution.

The next "First Tuesday" debate on the Patriot Act (March 7) will be a real debate, and should be worth bringing your friends.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean that the debate, or an attempt at, was a disservice. I enjoyed and am looking forward to the whole series. I'm glad to hear a little background on the event and the people involved. I thought Mr. Ball did a disservice to the concepts of ID but as you've pointed out, he's certainly not wed to that stream of thought, being a biblical creationist. That much was obvious through listening to him if I'd had the labels.

im_weird&u_should_deal said...

Wow, this really helped me on my report on "intelligent design in schools and the laws against it".

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