Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Museums Fight Back Against Organized Creationism

Today's New York Times has this article about the steps natural history museums are taking to deal with aggressive creationists:

Lenore Durkee, a retired biology professor, was volunteering as a docent at the Museum of the Earth here when she was confronted by a group of seven or eight people, creationists eager to challenge the museum exhibitions on evolution.

They peppered Dr. Durkee with questions about everything from techniques for dating fossils to the second law of thermodynamics, their queries coming so thick and fast that she found it hard to reply.

After about 45 minutes, “I told them I needed to take a break,” she recalled. “My mouth was dry.”

That encounter and others like it provided the impetus for a training session here in August. Dr. Durkee and scores of other volunteers and staff members from the museum and elsewhere crowded into a meeting room to hear advice from the museum director, Warren D. Allmon, on ways to deal with visitors who reject settled precepts of science on religious grounds.

I love that last line. The article's author is Cornelia Dean, who is one of the best reporters on evolutionary issues in the business.

The description of Dr. Durkee having to deal with questions coming thick and fast on a wide variety of topics matches my own experiences dealing with young-Earthers. Most YEC's don't actually care about the subtleties of thermdynamics or paleontology. For them, these subjects exist to provide talking points in these sorts of encounters. They probably didn't hear a word Dr. Durkee said.

From the other side, scientists often find it hard to deal with creationists precisely because they are naturally reticent to discuss scientific disciplines outside their area of expertise. A biologist is naturally going to be reluctant to talk about thermodynamics, for example. Creationists, unencumbered by any desire to understand the subjects they are discussing, labor under no such difficulties.

The article is not very long. Go read it!


At 8:51 PM, Blogger Sophist said...

You're absolutely right that creationists and intelligent design advocates love talking about stuff they don't understand! Why is it that people who wouldn't even think of questioning an engineer about principles of flight, or an electrician about which wire to connect to which wire, all of a sudden feel completely qualified to tell professional biologists that they're wrong?

That's definitely a reason that I am loathe to discuss evolution with an ID advocate or a creationist. I don't feel comfortable commenting on flagella, thermodynamics, or coelanths when they're not my expertise - but my personal ignorance in a particular subsection of biology is actively sought out and then exploited by debaters who lack the compunction to stick to what they know. But... I'd be happy to discuss evolution of transcriptional regulation any day of the week!

At 1:08 AM, Anonymous Mark said...

Maybe it's time to recruit some of the pro-science church folks, and give the scientists some of the theological arguments against ID to use in these encounters.

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