Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dear Intelligent Designers: You have two doors. Pick one.

If there's one thing that's grated on me for years throughout the creation science and Intelligent Design controversy, it's the proposal that students should be presented with "both sides," and that there should be a "balanced treatment" of the competing world views, all for the sake of "academic fairness." Let me explain why that attitude is unspeakably dishonest rubbish.

If we use ID as the example here, then you first have to accept that ID and biological evolution are competitors. Do you understand what that means? It means that they both can't be true at the same time. ID is not being presented as an extension or refinement of naturalistic evolution; it's being presented as a bold, new, earth-shaking paradigm that would replace biological evolution. What this means (and make sure you follow me here) is that, if you consider ID on one hand and biological evolution on the other, at least one of those must be wrong.

Are you with me so far? Is there anything inherently shocking about that claim? If you have two mutually incompatible proposals, at least one of them must be wrong. (It is, of course, possible that both of them are wrong, but that's just a subset of the first case. Let's just leave that alone for now, shall we?) Now what does this mean?

Well, if you're proposing that "both sides" should be presented to students, you are clearly suggesting that part of what the students are going to be hearing is rubbish, plain and simple. It doesn't matter which of those two viewpoints you agree with -- it's indisputable that, if you're advocating for balanced treatment or "equal time," you're simultaneously advocating that students should be taught scientific crap at least part of that time. There's no way to escape that conclusion. So how do the two camps approach this conundrum?

On one side, the scientific community is being perfectly consistent. It accepts biological evolution and rejects ID; therefore, its position is that evolution should be taught, and ID shouldn't. Regardless of whether or not you agree with this position, you can't possibly deny that this is an internally consistent position.

The advocates of ID, on the other hand, are sleazy, dishonest hacks. While they propose that the evidence supports ID, they take the curious position that they'd still be happy with "equal time"; with sharing the classroom time with biological evolution. But why?

If those folks really don't accept evolution, they should have the spine and the integrity to say so, and to propose that ID replace biological evolution in the classroom. If they honestly believe that ID is a better explanation, they should say so and be prepared to fight for it. But they don't. How odd. And why is that? Actually, it's fairly simple.

If the IDers actually tried to replace evolution with ID, there would be a shitstorm in the scientific community the likes of which you can't begin to imagine. More importantly for those advocates, ID would simply get crushed. Stacked up against all the arguments in favour of evolution, the best the IDers would be able to do would be to point at, say, the bacterial flagellum and say, "Gee, that looks pretty complicated, maybe even designed." Yes, they would get annihilated.

Which is why they're mysteriously content to just share the classroom time with evolution. They don't have a hope of replacing it, so they propose the "equal time" canard, hoping to sound ever so gracious and accommodating. And most of the general public -- being the scientific morons that they are -- just nod and say, "Yeah, I guess that sounds reasonable, what's wrong with hearing both sides? Sure sounds fair to me."

But it's not fair or reasonable, it's hideously dishonest. If the IDers really believe they have a better explanation, they should present it that way and take their lumps. They shouldn't be allowed to take this wishy-washy, "equal time" position, and I would like to see them getting called on this from now on.

The next time someone starts yapping on about "both sides" or "equal time," just slap them down and demand that they pick which point of view they want presented in the classroom. Perhaps a better way of phrasing it would be, "If you had to select just one 'theory' of biological development based solely on the scientific evidence, which one would it be? No waffling. No dodging, weaving, or tap-dancing. Pick one."

It's way past time to put the boots to this "balanced treatment" crap. If folks want ID in the classroom, they should be forced to defend its scientific superiority to biological evolution and explain why it should be the only point of view presented to science students. And if they're not prepared to do that, they should just shut the fuck up.

: I've written about this before, but I might as well flog it one more time. One of the most irritating questions I hear from the wingnut faction is why can't the scientific community "compromise"? That is, why can't all those dogmatic, closed-minded scientists find it in their hearts to meet the ID folks halfway? After all, that sounds fair, doesn't it? It's not, and here's why.

As an analogy, you get a one-day job doing some manual labour, while I decide to spend the day sitting on my ass by the pool, knocking back margaritas. At the end of the day, you come back hot, sweaty and tired, but with a hundred bucks to show for your efforts.

"Cool," I say, "hand it over. I can really use that cash."

"Screw you," you reply justifiably. "I earned it, it's mine."

"OK," I say, "calm down. In that case, let's compromise. Just give me half. That's fair, isn't it?"

That's a compromise? I don't think so, but it's exactly what the ID community is proposing. They haven't done squat in terms of scientific research or generating results, but they still want half the classroom time. That's their idea of a "compromise."

Tell them to take a hike until they have something to show for their efforts.


M@ said...

Extremely well said. Although I will be happy if the IDers shut the fuck up for any reason at all.

Bazz said...

Good article! It's always nice to see intellectual dishonesty slapped upsides the head!

Anonymous said...

I dunno, CC. If there were a legitimate controversy, this particular ID position would seem to be a reasonable one. Suppose that public schools were teaching that the dinosaurs were wiped out due to the impact from a giant asteroid. If a group of people objected and argued that they should be giving equal time to the hypothesis that it was a gradual climate change due to Milankovic cycles, I think they would have a point. Neither case (to my knowledge) has been proven or disproven.

Not that I think ID should be given equal time, as the ID hypothesis has no scientific merit. But if it did, I don't think this particular position would be worthy of ridicule.

CC said...


I don't think your analogy holds all that well. First, the proposals that the dinosaurs were wiped out by either an asteroid impact or by gradual climatic change aren't necessarily direct competitors.

It's quite possible that both contributed, so that there's supporting evidence for both views. Perhaps the climatic change was already making life difficult, and the impact just finished the job.

More importantly, both of those proposals are still part of "science." Unlike ID, neither requires a complete redefinition of science to start including non-natural or supernatural explanations. That's the biggie.

In any event, scientists are welcome to keep poring over the evidence without demanding that their pet theory be crammed into high school science curriculum, as the IDers are doing.