Saturday, February 21, 2009


Ready ... Aim ...

James McGrath has an interesting take on the New Scientist "Darwin Was Wrong" cover, which he thinks, ultimately, does more good than harm. His contention is that:

1. It shows that there is no "atheistic conspiracy" to shield Darwin from criticism;

2. The "tree of life" and the diagram in Darwin's notebook (labeled "I think") are not about something that is central to evolution and which he could not have known about anyway; and

3. Since it was about something that the IDeologists had not anticipated, it merely highlights the lack of research and adherence to the scientific method by the ID crowd.

While it is worth considering, I can't say that I agree ... though that could be due to my cynicism after following the creationism/evolution "debate" for over two decades.

First of all, it is inherent in conspiracy theorists of all sorts that all evidence, even exposés, will morph into proof of a cover-up ... "sure, they will admit things, when they can't help it, just to mislead us." Creationists regularly trot out quote mines from "atheist," "agnostic" or "Darwinist" scientists "admitting" that evolution is "wrong," without for a second taking that as evidence that those same scientists aren't still engaged in a conspiracy to hide the bankruptcy of evolutionary theory.

Nor are creationists (or casual observers whose eyes glaze over at science) likely to understand that the legitimate issues with the Tree of Life really have no relevance to common descent, which is what most people think of when they think of evolution. Certainly, biblical literalists, whose whole theology revolves the notion that the Bible has to be perfectly true or it is useless, are not likely to consider any nuances about how "wrong" Darwin was. That's no reason to hide the truth, of course, but neither is there any reason for the victim to clean and load the creationists' rifles for them, even before they assemble their intellectual firing squad.

Finally, anyone who hasn't already noticed that the IDers aren't doing science is unlikely to tumble to the fact from this fairly arcane example, especially amidst all the shouting. Like all good sleight-of-hand artists, the IDers will be waiving that cover around so vigorously that most of the audience not already attuned to the trick will be unlikely to see it even right under their noses.

It's interesting that James is simultaneously engaged with a blog, Science and Values, exhibiting the sort of creationist tactics "used by deceitful individuals determined not only to attack science without warrant, but to give Christianity a bad name in the process." It is those very tactics that will, I think, at least in part, negate any good outcome from the New Scientist cover. He's likely to get ganged up on over there, so, if you have a minute or two, stop by to introduce the inhabitants to some real science.

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