Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Geoscientists and educators take on antievolutionists
Here's one way to win a debate: Start an argument with folks who aren't particularly talented debaters. Then keep them on the defensive with complicated, highly philosophical spurious attacks and baffling red herring arguments. Finally, before they have finished responding, pull the rug out from under them with a well-planned political end-run that trumps the whole debate.
That basically sums up the strategy being employed by the Intelligent Design (ID) movement as it continues to attack public science education across the U.S., say scientists and science educators. How to counter these attacks in the classroom, at school board meetings and on the national level, is the focus of two expansive sessions with 24 wide-ranging presentations on Sunday and Monday, 16 and 17 October, at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City.
Among the first mistakes scientists and educators make is actually arguing with ID proponents in politically-staged events, says Lee Allison, Senior Geologist for the Kansas Geological Survey. Not only does that allow the ID promoters to control the debate, but it pits scientists and educators against highly trained professional ID debaters, and implicitly lends credibility to their anti-evolution manifesto.
"Even the best science teachers are not prepared," Allison said. Allison has been involved in defending science education standards in Kansas, where the ID movement has concentrated its efforts at the state level. In his GSA presentation titled, "Evolution in Kansas: It's the Politics, Stupid!", Allison outlines the case ID proponents recently made to the already anti-science-leaning Kansas State School Board. He rebuts their arguments, which are:
- Evolutionary Theory is facing a crisis. (It isn't.)
- Science, as is, is inherently Godless (It isn't) and therefore a religion.
- Science errs in not including supernatural power to explain things. (It wouldn't be science if it did.)
If this is the case, why are school boards scattered throughout the country accepting the ID arguments? One reason is that for years many scientists thought they could stay out of the unpleasant fray, says paleontologist Carol Tang of the California Academy of Sciences.
"If we liked debate, we would have been lawyers," said Tang, who helped organize one of the GSA sessions. In her own GSA presentation, she points out how the ID debate is no longer just something biologists have to contend with, and that scientists in an ever widening range of fields rely on the principles of evolutionary theory. Geoscientists, for instance, have long used fossils to measure the age of rocks – a vital tool in oil exploration. The new fields of geobiology and astrobiology depend on the principles of evolution observed on Earth to search for and define life elsewhere in the universe. "Geologists think this is something we don't have to deal with," said Tang. But that is increasingly not so, she said.
So how does a scientist or teacher defend evolution against trained attackers? "Don't," suggests geoscientist Donald Wise from the University of Massachusetts. Instead, go after the deep flaws in ID. Take the human body, for instance, he says in his GSA presentation. It's a great argument against ID. Anyone who has ever had back pain or clogged sinuses can testify to this. Our evolutionarily recent upright posture explains our terrible back problems better than ID, and our squished, very poorly "designed" sinuses don't function at all well and are easily explained by the evolutionarily rapid enlargement of our brains.
Wise's advice to scientists and educators is to: 1) get off the defensive; 2) focus on the ample weak points of Intelligent Design; 3) keep it simple; 4) accentuate it with humor; and 5) stick to irrefutable facts close to evolution and relevant to voters.
Convincing voters is vital because the ID movement is not, as many people think, a local grassroots movement. It's a well-funded national movement that uses a full range of local, state, and national strategies to supplant science and have nonexistent "evidence against evolution" taught in the classroom, says Eugenie Scott, Director of the National Center for Science Education. Scott focuses on the three strategic levels that science is being attacked in her GSA presentation "Multiple Levels of Antievolutionism."You can read abstracts from the talks given at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting yesterday by clicking on the links below:
- Evolution in Kansas: It's the Politics, Stupid! byLee Allison. View abstract
- Multiple Levels of Antievolutionism by Eugenie Scott.