Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Unintelligent Responses to Intelligent Design

The following news blurb has sent the blogosphere into a frenzy:

President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss intelligent design alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life. During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life. But he said students should learn both theories, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported. "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush said. "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes."
Well, he did get a D in Astronomy.

In response to Bush's statement, these are just a few of the many bloggers with their panties in a bunch:

Don Surber implies that the President should be fed to lions.

Glenn Reynolds says Bush's statement is "just pathetic" and ponders embracing the Democrats if only they weren't "so lame."

Politburo says that Bush is "trying to prove the Dems right."

Right Wing Nut House calls it "too stupid to be true."

Mossback Culture calls it "just plain wrong", and flirts with abandoning the Republicans for Hilary.

John Cole is "beyond offended by the stupidity of this statement."

Jane Galt says "words fail me."

Three things make me wonder if this is all a bit much.

First, the context. The President did not issue an edict requiring the immediate commencement of a mandatory Intelligent Design course in all schools . In fact, he didn't even say that he supports legislation requiring the teaching of Intelligent Design. Rather, in response to a question in a round-table interview, President Bush stated his own opinion about whether both Intelligent Design and evolution should be taught in schools. According to the transcript, Bush's initial response to the question was that the decision should be left to local school districts. When pressed, he said that "both sides should be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about." The horrors!

Second, the status of Intelligent Design. Here is a round-up from Natural History magazine of arguments for and against Intelligent Design, with links to countless articles arguing on both sides. The introduction states: "Most biologists have concluded that the proponents of intelligent design display either ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation of evolutionary science." Yet, while the irate bloggers clearly agree with these biologists, it is evident from the Natural History debate that Intelligent Design enjoys support from at least some scientists with pretty resumes. Personally, having attended a few lectures on this topic and read a little as well, I'm on the side of the biologists. However, the bloggers seem off-base in implying that those who support teaching both evolution and Intelligent Design are de facto morons. (IDiots is the hip term.)

Third, the views of the American people. According to this CBS news poll, 65% of the country supports teaching creationism and evolution together in schools. That total includes 56% of Kerry voters. In fact, 37% of the country supports teaching creationism instead of evolution. Thus, if the United States were to have a national referendum about Intelligent Design in schools, the position that the President expressed today might win in a landslide.

UPDATE: A brief addendum to address the thoughtful comments below. One point made in several comments below is that the poll support for teaching Intelligent Design doesn't show that it is right. Of course not. However, the fact that two thirds of the country supports Bush's position does show, if nothing else, that Bush is not out of the mainstream on this issue. Some of the bloggers I cited above stated that, in light of Bush's comment on Intelligent Design, they can no longer support Bush, and are consequently considering seeking refuge with the Democrats. The singular point of my post was that, given (1) the context and actual content of Bush's comment; (2) the fact that some (albeit few) accomplished scientists agree with him; and (3) the fact that an overwhelming majority of the country shares his view, the bloggers may be over-reacting. Even though I may disagree with Bush's support of teaching Intelligent Design in science class, I won't lose any sleep over it.
MORE: For what it's worth, it appears that Kerry and Bush have similar views on this issue. In response to questions from Science magazine, Kerry and Bush both stated that this should be left subject to local control. I presume Bush's latest statement explains which position he would support in his own local jurisdiction. The magazine asked "Should intelligent design or other scientific critiques of evolutionary theory be taught in public schools? The responses:
KERRY: I believe that ideology should not trump science in the context of educating our children. Still, public school curriculum is a matter subject to local control. Communities must decide which sound, scientific theories are appropriate for the classroom.

BUSH: The federal government has no control over local curricula, and it is not the federal government's role to tell states and local boards of education what they should teach in the classroom. Of course, scientific critiques of any theory should be a normal part of the science curriculum.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Polls also say that over 60% of Americans don't want Roe V Wade overturned either. Do you agree with that too? Its irrelevant anyhow though since the Supreme Court has ruled (correctly imo) that you can't use tax payer money to promote religious beliefs in public schools, and especially in science class! I don't care if its local or not, it violates the 1st Amendment's Sep of church/state.

And Bush understood the question; he knows what the controversy is about. He's saying he thinks ID should be taught as an alternative to evolution in science class. Trying to suggest otherwise is just covering for him and doing damage control.

The religious right is cancer on the Republican party thats going to have to be dealt with sooner or later. Reynolds is right; all the Democrats would have to do is be a little less lame (ie left-wing) and they could win in landslides.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Doran said...

Please go check out Project Steve at the http://ncseweb.org/ if you want to see lots of pretty resumes. Are those that support teaching of ID or its ugly older brother Creationism, morons? No, but they are sadly misinformed about the state of natural world. And if they do care to pontificate from that position of ignorance (as many do so) then I believe the scientific community has the right to call them brain dead morons.

If curricula were completely determined by polls, we would be learning creationism in biology class, and this country would be even further behind the rest of the first world educationally then it already is. Makes you feel warm and fuzzy don't it.

http://pandasthumb.org for a good run down of this idiocy.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Geoff said...

Everyone needs to chill out. Bush stated an opinion and also made clear that there was nothing he could do (ie, LOCAL school districts). As long as he only talks, why should anyone care?

12:06 AM  
Anonymous qetzal said...

Good point, Geoff. He's just the president of the United States. It's not like his personal opinions really matter, right?

12:29 AM  
Blogger Shahid Alam said...

anonymice said: "He's saying he thinks ID should be taught as an alternative to evolution in science class. Trying to suggest otherwise is just covering for him and doing damage control."

So, completely misrepresenting what Bush said is what exactly? He didn't say that it should be taught instead of evolution, he said he supports discussion of it along with evolution on the subject of the origin of life. Guess what? Evolution has nothing to say on origin of life.

My guess is he is speaking from a combination of ignorance and an effort to finesse the question.

1:45 AM  
Anonymous neelynz said...

Beginning with an assumption against the existence of things metaphysical - like an omnipotent God, for example - is not a sign of intelligence. It is just a sign of an assumption against the existence of things metaphysical. Perhaps that is a distinction the President thinks educated people should learn to recognize.

1:54 AM  
Blogger AlanDownunder said...

Advocating equal time for ID in biology class is like advocating equal time for astrology in astronomy class.

Simon, your (and Bush's) "equal time" notion is high sounding high idiocy.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

Alandownunder writes: "Simon, your (and Bush's) "equal time" notion is high sounding high idiocy."

MY notion of 'equal time'? I don't know how to make any clearer that I do not support Bush's position. Alandownunder has somehow intepreted my post to the contrary.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Alan Gutierrez said...

The reason I'm likely to side with the ID side, is that the more I read the comments of it's opponents, the more I see that they are so threatened by religion, the seem to see science education as a state funded counter to Sunday school. I'd rather it be about science education.

5:23 PM  
Blogger AlanDownunder said...

Point taken, Simon, but it is a big deal precisely because - not in spite of - the fact that so much of the US has problems with science. This spills over into climate science, energy policy etc where scientific incomprehension (as fostered by Bush) is truly dangereous.

To Alan Guierrez, I'd say ignore the atheism and concentrate on the science. Science declares itself by rigorous self-definition to be tentative, incomplete, necessarily susceptible to disproof and capable of usefully addressing the natural but not the supernatural. Atheism is no more scientific that ID is.

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