Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I tried not to discuss "intelligent design" again, but...

I hadn't intended on mentioning the "intelligent design" (ID)/evolution "debate" again for a few days (I try not to harp on any one topic for too many days in a row), but something came up and it's still topical as long as the Kansas evolution "trial" is still fresh news. You may recall that I congratulated Skeptico on his nice dismantling of an article by Brian McNicoll that appeared on Townhall.com last week. In the article, Mr. McNicoll trotted out every creationist/"intelligent design" (ID) canard and straw man in the book, while demanding a "little humility" from scientists. I e-mailed a brief rebuttal to him, along with a link to Skeptico's piece adding that Skeptico rebutted him better and in more detail than I had time to do. Mr. McNicoll's reaction? He sent me a brief e-mail speculating that Skeptico's piece was a "schoolhouse prank"! Given his grave invocation of Galileo and other scientists that have been proven to be wrong over the centuries, I couldn't resist a response.

My response to Mr. McNicoll, edited to clean it up and make it better:
Funny, but I almost thought that it was the Townhall.com article that wasn't serious. Almost. It's just too chock full of bad science and creationist canards that have been thoroughly debunked so many times that some of us who've dealt with them don't always have the patience to debunk them yet again. However, I will point out that your appeal to Galileo in the article conveniently neglected to mention that it was the Church, not scientists, who persecuted Galileo for his "heresy." In fact, the appeal to Galileo (or to past examples of experts or scientists being wrong) is so frequently used by defenders of pseudoscience such as "intelligent design" creationism that we even have a name for it, the Galileo gambit.

Now that I think of it, your use of the example of Galileo may be more apt than you thought, just not in the way you intended, Galileo's correct science was actually assailed by dogmatic religious people who could not accept Galileo's scientific conclusions because they did not agree with what their religious beliefs told them, not by scientists. So it is with evolution and intelligent design creationists. The difference is that (so far) religion hasn't trumped science as far as evolution goes--but sadly it's not for lack of trying by ID adherents. Oddly enough, in all this, one of the most conservative religions in the world, the Catholic Church, is not the religious force demanding that ID be taught in schools, as it was the force that persecuted Galileo; Pope John Paul II reconciled the Church with evolution nine years ago, reinforcing Pope Pius XII's statement that evolution was not incompatible with Catholicism, made 50 years ago. Apparently the Catholic Church has learned. Why can't the fundamentalists who push ID creationism?

No, "Skeptico" was serious and effective in dismantling the "arguments" (such as they were) in the article. I'm surprised he had the patience to slog through all the straw men, particularly the one where you claim that scientists are boycotting the Kansas proceedings because such forums are "beneath them" because they believe that "all issues regarding the origin of life are settled." I didn't have the patience, which is why I referenced Skeptico's article.
Sincerely,

Orac

I'll let everyone know if I get a reply.

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