About one year ago, Sahotra Sarkar and I debated ID and evolution in front of an overflow audience at the University of Texas-Austin. Sahotra and I had known each other since the mid-1980s, when we were graduate students sharing Bill Wimsatt as our primary advisor. As background for the UT debate, Sahotra sent me a couple of chapter drafts from his forthcoming book on “creationism” — a book now available from Blackwell.
One criticism that came up both during the debate [here’s some post-debate commentary], and in discussions at Austin bars afterwards, was the perception that ID bad guys circumvent the normal processes of scientific review by arranging debates in front of lay audiences, instead of academic peers.
Having just participated in a debate, I could hardly deny that debates happen — but the idea for the UT-Austin debate, and the work (and money) to arrange it, came from the UT-Austin student philosophy association, not the wicked old Discovery Institute. (By my rough estimate, over half of the debates I’m invited to are arranged by independent student organizations [no, NOT the IDEA Centers, bless them anyway] or academic departments. I used to say I’d never do debates, and turned down the invitations, because I don’t like the sideshow atmosphere and I’d often lose on points — Ken Miller 3, Paul Nelson 0 — but then I did several debates with Michael Ruse, his relentless teasing and criticism had a humane core, and the ratio of fun to pain slipped over slightly to favor the fun side.)
I defended myself by pointing out that I tried out new ideas at poster sessions of biology and evo-devo meetings, and got my fair share of roughing-up there, with no lay audience around.
Doesn’t matter. Turns out it is wrong (a) for ID bad guys not to interact with scientific peers [the usual criticism] and (b) it is wrong for ID bad guys to interact with scientific peers. Wrong either way.
No kidding. Just ask Ronald Jenner, who wrote the following recently:
…consider the proponents of the bogus sciences intelligent design and baraminology (study of the taxonomy of created kinds). A central goal of these versions of phylogenetics from the Dark Side is to label differences between taxa as unbridgeable gaps, which are evidence of separate acts of creation. What is extremely worrying is that proponents of these ideas have already managed to parasitize legitimate scientific outlets, from scientific journals to meetings of professional societies, including the Geological Society of America and the Society of Developmental Biology (Jenner 2005). For biologists to have a proper grasp of the metaphysics of their discipline is a necessary step toward preventing such alien intrusions.
Parasites and alien intrusions — sounds like something infesting Sigourney Weaver’s viscera, to burst out during a dream sequence with lots of blood and screaming violins on the soundtrack. But “Dark Side” alludes of course to Darth Vader and heavy breathing…in any case, it’s all Bad Bad Bad Dangerous Wicked, or, in Jenner’s words, “extremely worrying.”
Oh come on Ronald. Really now.