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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Should Intelligent Design Be Taught in School?

Posted by jlwile on January 3, 2010

I wasn’t going to blog on this subject until later, but a college instructor (Dr. Christopher O’Brien) posted a rather uninformed review of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. The review referenced the first part of my review of that same book. I thought I would use Dr. O’Brien’s post for a “teachable moment.”

The blog starts out like most blogs that are uninterested in finding out what science really says about origins. Dr. O’Brien claims that in this blog, I repeat “the same worn out creationist canards throughout his site but obscures them within a cloak of scientific-sounding vocabulary.” This, of course, is nonsense. It is an attempt to sidestep the science and hope that no one notices. It is a common rhetorical technique, typically employed by those who do not have the courage to face opinions that contradict their own.

In any event, I want to mention Dr. O’Brien’s post because it is a classic example of how incorrect assumptions lead to incorrect conclusions. After once again trying to smear creationists rather than honestly address their arguments, the author of the post says:

Wile apparently believes this is sufficient for an instructor like me to start teaching ID in the classroom as a reasonable alternative to evolutionary theory.

This, of course, is also nonsense, and it shows that the author should stop making assumptions and actually start reading what he claims to have read.

You see, I didn’t even address the question of whether or not intelligent design should be taught in school. Indeed, even Dr. Monton’s book sees that as a side issue. He spends the vast majority of the book dealing with the more important question of whether or not intelligent design is science. He says that whether or not intelligent design should be taught in schools raises different issues than the CORE issues that he addresses in the book, but he feels he must “weigh in” in the issue, simply because that’s where others focus the debate.

So…since neither the first part of my review of Dr. Monton’s book nor any earlier post on this blog addresses whether or not intelligent design should be taught in school, how in the world would Dr. O’Brien know what I think on this issue? He simply assumed I thought it should be taught in schools. Well, like most uninformed assumptions, Dr. O’Brien’s assumption is incorrect.

I do not think that intelligent design necessarily should be taught in the classroom. After all, intelligent design is definitely not the scientific dogma of the day, and the average classroom should probably stay focused on the scientific dogma of the day. While I was a university professor, I constantly experienced how poorly most schools educate their charges when it comes to science. Indeed, that’s why I became an advocate of homeschooling – the homeschool graduates in my university courses were significantly superior to the students who came from public and private schools. Since the public and private schools can’t even keep up with untrained parents, it is clear they need to limit their focus to the bare essentials.

Even in introductory-level university courses, it is difficult to “squeeze in” all that is necessary to prepare students for the next stage of their education. Thus, even those courses should have a fairly narrow focus when it comes to what should be taught.

So I don’t want to distract most classrooms with the issue of intelligent design. Also, I understand the burden that most teachers have. The last thing I want is for them to be forced to learn a whole new area just so they can meet some mandate to teach intelligent design.

Now at the same time, I am steadfastly against outlawing the teaching of intelligent design, or creationism for that matter. Obviously both intelligent design and creationism are science. They both make serious predictions about nature, and many of those predictions have been born out by the data. If someone claims that intelligent design or creationism isn’t science, it is that person’s understanding of science that is at fault – not the paradigms of intelligent design or creationism. Thus, if a science teacher wants to teach what is clearly a science-related topic (either to promote it or oppose it), that teacher should be able to do so.

So in my mind, the only sufficient reason for a teacher to teach intelligent design, creationism, or any other topic related to his or her classroom is the teacher’s desire. Teachers should be free to teach whatever their experience and training indicate will make their students better-informed on the subject matter covered in class. After all, that’s what academic freedom is all about.

Of course, many of those who want to forbid the teaching of intelligent design or creationism in schools aren’t interested in academic freedom. They aren’t even interested in strengthening education. They are simply interested in trying to defend an outdated, scientifically inaccurate view by censoring all other ideas. This stand, of course, is both anti-education and anti-science, and it is unfortunate that many who call themselves “science educators” take it. It is yet another reflection of how desperate some people are to believe what they want to believe instead of what the data say.

I have no idea whether or not Dr. O’Brien is one of those people. I can tell you this about him, however: He obviously made assumptions about my position on this issue, and rather than learning by seriously reading the review he claims to have read, he just went with his assumption. Thus, I would not be surprised if his entire view of creationism (or intelligent design for that matter) is based on his own assumptions rather than careful investigation.

Comments

4 Responses to “Should Intelligent Design Be Taught in School?”
  1. mynym says:

    Dr. O’Brien claims that in this blog, I repeat “the same worn out creationist canards throughout his site but obscures them within a cloak of scientific-sounding vocabulary.”

    That’s just the Darwinian template. Although they often claim to be pursuing explanations which seem natural/gradual instead of what is real Darwinists often go on to confuse their mythologies of Progress with all of reality. They seem to forget that they already made their minds up. It seems that one shouldn’t be surprised that they stand at the pinnacle of knowledge/scientia in their own creation myths. If you decided to imagine creation myths based on gradualism and so on wouldn’t you do the same?

    You see, I didn’t even address the question of whether or not intelligent design should be taught in school.

    Many supporters of Darwinian creation myths are more interested in their professional identities than the truth. Given their own terms it may be that the biological state of the brains which cause them to take the position they do is shaped by natural selection operating on an ancient group of ape-like creatures, so why not be more interested in power and resources? It may be that being more interested in your social status than the truth has always been the nature of the established creation myth. Or perhaps established knowledge/scientia is appealing to imbeciles because they need not think about the truth of things for themselves.

    He goes on to say:
    …ID, if given fair consideration, is useless for explaining the genetic, geological, anatomical, paleontological and other evidences presented in a good class on human origins. This has been my problem all along with ID – how the hell do you use it in a classroom? How does ID help me to explain the anatomical differences between Homo habilis and Australopithecines? … How does ID help me discuss the rise of bipedalism among hominids?

    It may not, perhaps ID would only destroy an illusion of knowledge generally promoted by charlatans to safeguard their professional identity, power, etc. Perhaps ID is only helpful to those interested in pursuing actual knowledge given that the greatest barrier to progress in knowledge is not ignorance but an overwhelming illusion of knowledge.

    It’s not clear who evolutionary creation myths* are helping other than those who need to wallow around in unfalsifiable hypothetical goo for whatever reason.

    *E.g.

    What might a non-locomotor benefit [for bipedality] look like? A stimulating suggestion is the sexual selection theory of Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, of the University of Oregon. She thinks we rose on our hind legs as a means of showing off our penises. Those of us that have penises, that is. Females, in her view, were doing it for the opposite reason: concealing their genitals which, in primates, are more prominently displayed on all fours. This is an appealing idea but I don’t carry a torch for it. I mention it only as an example of the kind of thing I mean by a non-locomotor theory.
    (The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
    by Richard Dawkins :91)

  2. jlwile says:

    Thanks for the comment, mynym. Your point is well taken, but probably not by O’Brien. Where intelligent design would help in his teaching is to determine which of the things he is teaching are actually consistent with reality. I am not sure he really wants that, however.

  3. mynym says:

    Your point is well taken, but probably not by O’Brien.

    Of course not, he immediately shifted away from the pursuit of the truth to begin writing about his professional identity as a teacher and so on. Apparently he believes that it is scientific to imagine anthropological fables and creation myths based on gradualism or naturalism in order to explain reality.

    This was especially humorous: How does ID figure in to the role of scavenging and the rise of hunting among early hominids? How does ID help me discuss the rise of bipedalism among hominids? None of this is clear with ID – it offers me nothing of any explanatory value that is not already well met with evolutionary theory.

    As I said, perhaps it is not helpful. Perhaps focusing on ID only helps to do away with the illusion of knowledge promulgated by charlatans who tend to cite their own imaginations as the equivalent of empirical evidence. What evidence is there that we rose on our hind legs as a means of showing off our penises? None. If imagining things about the past seems like overwhelming evidence to some then that would only prove that imbeciles are easily overwhelmed.

    Simple scripts that could have been written by a student: To date, I have yet to find a solid, understandable argument from any kind of creationism that 1) isn’t years out of date;

    This one invokes a mythology of Progress. And whatever he says today will probably be proven wrong tomorrow if he’s right.

    3) doesn’t use out of context quotes or data to suggest that evolutionary scientists disagree with evolutionary theory;

    This is simple consensus mongering. There is no theory of evolution to agree or disagree with.

    4) doesn’t rely on scientists who don’t study the subject professionally for its support;

    This is merely shifting back to professional identities again, as if an ignorant school boy can’t tell the difference between imagining things about the past and empirical evidence.

    5) doesn’t rely on linking Darwin’s view with Hitler, Stalin or any other despot whose name can be drawn in crayon on a Tea Bagger protest sign.

    This is an attempt to avoid historical facts, probably because his own knowledge of Nazism is itself comical.

    Historians critical of Nazism find themselves critical of the hypothetical goo that Darwin created, naturally:

    …the anthropological fable is a work of imagination, a historical scenario, yet offered as an explanation of one or another social phenomenon of either that time or our own. It is a kind of reverse science fiction, situated in the past rather than in the future. …

    What claim can this kind of historical fiction make to be scientific? It simply cannot, even in the loosest sense of science. It is just that the anthropological fable appeals to ideas of competition, struggle, selection, etc., ideas of Darwinian biology–or rather, socio-economic ideas that Darwinism borrowed and naturalized, thus giving them scientific backing. Returned to the sociology from whence they came, they are endowed with a kind of scientific aura, and their use in anthropological fables confers on the latter a dignity to which they have no right.
    The problem is that Darwinism, properly speaking, resorts to just this kind of historical scenario in its explanation of the origin of species. The simplest of these scenarios, in its modern form, sees a certain characteristic as appearing by chance mutation and, once shown to be favourable to its individual bearer, being preserved by natural selection. This basic model can be given added sophistication, mathematical for example, but the fact remains that the Darwinian explanation still consists in imagining a historical scenario… To criticize the explanatory principle that the anthropological model provides in social Darwinism is equally to criticize the Darwinian principle that explains the evolution of species by reconstructing historical scenarios. It thus amounts to an attack on science (since Darwinism is deemed scientific, at least among biologists)…
    (The Pure Society: from Darwin to Hitler by Andre Pichot :47-49)

    Another example:

    The scholars whom we shall quote in such impressive numbers, [consensus mongering] like those others who were instrumental in any other part of the German pre-war and war efforts, were to a large extent people of long and high standing, university professors and academy members, some of them world famous, authors with familiar names and guest lecturers abroad… [professional identity]
    If the products of their research work, even apart from their rude tone, strike us as unconvincing and hollow, this weakness is due not to inferior training but to the mendacity inherent in any scholarship that overlooks or openly repudiates all moral and spiritual values and, by standing order, knows exactly its ultimate conclusions well in advance. [no pursuit of the truth]
    (Hitler’s Professors: The Part of Scholarship in
    Germany’s Crimes Against the Jewish People
    by Max Weinreich
    (New York:The Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1946) :7)

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