Monday, April 21, 2008

The Shameful Sophistry of the Intelligent Design/Evolution Debate

As I have indicated in my previous post, Ben Stein's movie Expelled is a crude piece of propaganda for "intelligent design theory" that insults the intelligence of the audience. But the response of the defenders of evolutionary theory is just as crude. Over at the "Panda's Thumb" blog, they're gloating that the box office receipts for the movie haven't made as much money in its first week-end as was expected. It's clear that neither side in this debate cares about the intellectual content of the issues. What they care about is victory over their adversaries.

This is the tradition of the Greek sophists--those who claimed to be philosophers thinking about the deepest issues of human existence, but who really only cared about winning the glory of victory over their opponents.

Does the Discovery Institute want to promote intellectual inquiry into the origins of life and the profound implications of this for human existence? Or does it want to promote the political agenda of intelligent design creationism against its adversaries? Similarly, do people like Richard Dawkins and bloggers like those at "Panda's Thumb" really want to think through these issues and exchange ideas in ways that deepen our understanding? Or do they want to defeat their opponents?

Isn't the answer obvious? There is no interest in carrying on a serious intellectual inquiry into these great human questions. The interest is in winning victory for one's side and defeating the opponents.

There is no evidence in Ben Stein's movie that he wants to think through these questions for himself or help others to think through them. But at the same time, there is no evidence that his opponents--like those at "Panda's Thumb"--want to promote serious thinking about these questions. All these people really care about is claiming some victory for themselves against those opponents.

Am I being naive in thinking that some human beings care more for understanding the deepest human questions than for victory over their intellectual opponents? Is there something in human nature--the desire for dominance over others--that makes the love of victory stronger in most human beings than the love of wisdom?


RBH said...

Similarly, do people like Richard Dawkins and bloggers like those at "Panda's Thumb" really want to think through these issues and exchange ideas in ways that deepen our understanding? Or do they want to defeat their opponents?

Having just had a recrudescence of the teaching of Jonathan Wells' crap by a fundamentalist Christian public school science teacher in my local school district, I don't have time at the moment to debate the deep issues. He's intellectually crippling his middle school students, and that takes precedence. Sorry.

John Wilkins said...

There is a sense in which there are interesting and deep issues regarding ID. But they aren't the sort of thing that wins public debates. And they should be (and probably are) taught in course on the history of western ideas, not in high school biology classes.

Sure, the advocates for evolution play to win rhetorical games - that's what one does in rhetorical games. But the payoff is control over what gets taught as science - either science as the scientists and textbook writers specify it, or science as a politically motivated and religiously funded lobby group wants to specify it. So it doesn't do to dismiss them as caring more for victory than for the love of wisdom, Larry.

I usually appreciate your informed commentary from the right. This is not one of those times.

Alex Dalton said...

Larry - amen to this post of your's. It is about time someone said it. I'm disgusted with both sides of this whole debate!

John Pieret said...

I have to agree with John. Scientists were, for the most part, content to to answer ID's claims of being science soberly and intellectually for the first decade of attacks by ID advocates, all equally reprehensible as those in Expelled. And they were more than willing to defer those "profound implications" you speak of to the diciplines suited to adressing them, philosophy and theology. It was the ID advocates who turned this into a political battle. For a by no means isolated example, they've made no secret of the fact that one of the main motives of the movie is to support their attempts to pass so-called "academic freedom" laws (already pending in Florida, Missouri and Louisiana, with more to come) to water down science education and accomplish the exact opposite of "a serious intellectual inquiry."

When you've seen something as important as science education turned into a political football, it's hard not to cheer when the people who did it score on their own goal.

Edward T. Babinski said...

LARRY A.: Is there something in human nature that makes the love of victory stronger than the love of wisdom?

ED: To quote Erasmus, "The type of person who devotes himself to the pursuit of wisdom is most unlucky in everything, but above all in begetting children--as if Nature had taken pains, I suspect, to keep the disease of wisdom from spreading too widely among mortals." [Erasmus, In Praise of Folly]

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