Friday, May 06, 2005

BlogClip: Mr. Darwin, I presume?

Kansas and Missouri are both doing battle with creationists over the teaching of evolution versus intelligent design in government schools. Here's Ron Davis's take on it, including a report from someone who attended a committee hearing on HB 35, which would mandate "theory parity" in Missouri. Hat tip to John Stone.

Some thoughts:

I oppose taxpayer subsidies of religious teachings, including "intelligent design." I'm not personally opposed to the notion that "intelligent design" may have merit, but it isn't science and shouldn't advertise itself, or be treated as, science. Any supportable "intelligent design" theory would have to accomodate evolutionary theory which, contra its skeptics, is irrefutably, scientifically proven fact in most respects. In my experience, "intelligent design" advocates spend a lot of time attempting -- unsuccessfully -- to debunk evolution, as if disproving evolution would prove their theory (it wouldn't), and relying on philosophical argument rather than scientific evidence to prove the validity of their own ideas (it doesn't).

On the other hand, I have a bone to pick with the report: Both Davis and his source on the hearing (Bob Boldt) seem to take great umbrage with the testimony of Anna Eimes, an opponent of teaching evolution, who held, according to Bold, that "[the philosophical fallout of evolutionary theory] has manifested itself most dramatically in the events at Columbine High School where the students who created such death and destruction were acting out the very principles taught by the theory of evolution."

While I would hold that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had a very poor understanding of evolutionary theory, the simple and undeniable fact is that both of them -- in speeches on videotape, and by wearing t-shirts with the logo "Natural Selection" -- were, in fact, acting in large part upon what they thought evolutionary theory implies. They regarded themselves as members of a new, emergent, superior species, and their victims as part of a prior, now obsolete species which they felt obliged to do their share in eradicating.

Were Harris and Klebold insane? Clearly. Did they misunderstand and misapply evolutionary theory? Certainly. But to hold that the teaching of evolutionary theory had nothing whatsoever to do with their killing spree is simply unsupportable. They were clearly inspired by evolutionary theory. So was Hitler, with his "Final Solution." So was Margaret Sanger in her quest to abort and sterilize America's (and the world's) "undesirables" out of existence.

That doesn't make the case for "intelligent design" -- or against evolution. It's very important that evolutionary theory be taught correctly, so that the Harrises, Klebolds, Hitlers and Sangers either don't come up with their idiotic ideas, or else find no support for those ideas when they do come up with them. That means there's no time in school for fruitless forays into the swamp of "intelligent design" (which has also inspired a number of nutcases who've killed people, started wars, etc. -- anyone ever heard of al Qaeda?).

Columbine, the Third Reich and the Eugenics Movement don't invalidate evolution. They invalidate poor teaching and understanding of evolution -- and this, I think, is the same case that "intelligent design" advocates would make if the Crusades, the Thirty Years War or the Islamist movement were hung like albatrosses around their necks. The difference is that evolution is already validated by science, and that "intelligent design" thus far relies on faith and speculation for such validation as it may claim. Thus, the former deserves to be taught in government schools (if anything does, but that's another issue on which I believe my views are clear), and the latter doesn't.

All the foregoing, of course, makes good prologue to a link. Here's L. Neil Smith's New Approach to Social Darwinism.

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