Friday, July 08, 2005

Debating Intelligent Design

On my way to work this morning, I heard a piece on NPR's morning news show regarding the public debates, or rather lack thereof, between supporters of intelligent design and evolution. The basic gist of the story was that scientist supporters of evolution are not really interested in debating supporters of intelligent design. This is for various reasons. To debate intelligent design people in public forums is to actually suggest that intelligent design is something whose claim to validity is good enough to bother debating. Furthermore, supporters of evolution say that public debates are more or less a game and that their ideas are not simplistic or easily sumarizable enough to be presented in a convincing enough way to convey and convince the onlooker that they are correct. Intelligent design on the other hand, is a false but perhaps dangerously convincing when argued for in small doses. Also, there was also the idea that supporters of creationism use wiley debate tricks that confuse the issues.

While I think there may be something to all of these arguments. However, I am also not totally sure that the best strategy is to give up on the debates all together. To begin with, they seem somewhat snobbish. More importantly, they abdicate the field. If this strategy leads to fewer and fewer people hearing the evolution side supported in a debate, they may come to the conclusion that the evolutionists are incorrect. I think people, at least open minded people, want to hear from supporters of evolution. They want to be able to hear both sides. They have a right to hear from both sides. Furthermore, they may draw some negative conclusions from evolution supporters non-interest in presenting their views in a popular format like the debate.

The only important question that should be asked when deciding whether to debate or not should be as to what effects would be caused by appearing and what effects would be caused by not appearing. If more people would be positively influenced by showing up than by not showing up, then you should, and the other way around. And I do understand the beauty of not showing up to make the point that ID is beneath debate. However, I fear that may only leave too many people asking: why?.

Postscript: When I originally heard the radio story, I had thought that there are many parallels with the objectivist issues of sanction and discussion with those dirty libertarians. Of course you can read all you want into my post on that. It is probably true. There are probably some factors that make the equities involved very different such as the esteem and importance that evolutionary supporters have in the scientific and academic world that supporters of objectivism do not. It would seem to make it all the more imperative for the objectivist to appear.


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