Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hitchens on Teaching the Controversy

Over at Slate, Christopher Hitchens has posted this essay facetiously supporting a “Teach the Controversy” approach to evolution and ID:

We do not and we should not teach rubbish and superstition alongside science. "Intelligent design" is not even a theory. It is more like a mentality. It admits of no verification or falsity and does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as a series of hypotheses and experiments that have served us well in analyzing the fossil record, the record of molecular biology, and—through the unraveling of the DNA strings—our kinship with other species. And this is to say nothing of the possibility of medical advances that may astonish us in our own lifetimes. To put astrology on the same blackboard as the Hubble telescope would be an approximate analogy. I was sent, this week, an article on “Intelligent Falling,” wherein certain advocates of “intelligent design” said that gravity was not a natural law because it did not explain matters such as angel flight or the fall of Satan from heaven, the latter of which was mandated rather than gravitational. As is so often the case with pieces that appear in the Onion, I honestly could not decide whether this was a clever hoax or not—the arguments were almost exactly as stupid as the real thing.

See the original for links.

Well said! Later he writes:

To my point, then. Why not make schoolchildren study the history of the argument? It would show them how to weigh and balance evidence, and it would remind them of the scarcely believable idiocy of the ancestors of “intelligent design.” The tale is both amusing and instructive, and it is a vital part of the history of the 19th and 20th centuries. How could intelligent scientific secularism lose if this were part of the curriculum? (Emphasis in Original).

Of course, if “Teaching the Controversy” meant presenting various discredited design arguments for the purpose of showing how science continually progresses towards better explanations for natural phenomena, then I would be all for it. What I oppose is any presenatation of ID as if it were a scientfic theory with any merit at all, much less a legitimate rival for modern evolutionary biology. Hitchens, obviously, opposes that as well.

He concludes with this:

If we take the president up on his deceptively fair-minded idea of “teaching the argument,” I think we could advance the ball a little further in other directions also. Houses of worship that do not provide space for leaflets and pamphlets favoring evolution (not necessarily Darwinism, which is only one of the theories of evolution and thus another proof of its scientific status) should be denied tax-exempt status and any access to public funding originating in the White House's “faith-based” initiative. Congress should restore its past practice of giving a copy of Thomas Jefferson's expurgated Bible—free of all incredible or supernatural claims—to each newly elected member. The same version of the Bible should be obligatory for study in all classes that affect to teach “divinity.”

Hitchens' writing has been very uneven over the last few years, to put it mildly. But on these sorts of issues he is always spot on.


At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent! Thank you for posting.
There actually might be something to this approach... It certainly seems "fair and balanced" to me!

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow everyone should stop right now and read that "onion" article referred to in the essay. It's howlingly funny!

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Hitch, despite his unreadable pro-war columns of late.


At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I e-mailed the Onion atricle to a co-worker who is an ID believer and the irony went right over his head. Which really didn't surprise me.

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