Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bush Endorses Intelligent Design

This column appeared last Sunday, which meant that when I was in Barcelona, I could walk over to a nearby Internet café, just down the street from the Museo Picasso, and inhale the cigarette smoke, sip café amb llet (Catalan for coffee with milk, about half espresso and half milk), and read angry emails from creationists. Excuse me -- "intelligent designers." I got paired with one from the Discovery Institute; if you want to read his bit, it's available here.

Responding to ID emails didn't interfere any with enjoyment of Barcelona or Madrid, which both were fabulous. As for the column, I offer one word of advice if you bump into one of these ID types, and they pull the old "if you find a watch in the road, eliminate all the other possibilities and you can only conclude that there was a watchmaker" shtick. Say that the thought experiment shouldn't use a watch, but a clam. It's a pretty complex organism--it's mechanical (the shell opens and closes) and chemical (converts food into energy). Are you saying that only an intelligent designer could make the clam? That apparently makes the ID folks uncertain, because there are lots of fossil shellfish, and they don't want to assert that clams couldn't have evolved from earlier organism. However, you can make nice by admitting that it did take an intelligent designer to recognize that the proper thing to do with a clam is steam it, then dip it in drawn butter with lemon (and not take microscopic particles of the clam and convert them into TenderSweet clam strips, for those of you old enough to remember Howard Johnson's).

In Patrick Haab developments (the Maricopa County Attorney's legally-flawed decision to excuse from prosecution a guy who pulled a gun on 6 men who turned out to be illegal aliens), the Arizona ADL chapter finally came, however late, to the party and issued a statement "[expressing] disappointment" at the County Attorney's refusal to "reconsider" his decision not to prosecute. ADL's executive director, Bill Straus, said that ADL wanted to meet with Thomas first before taking a position, which meant that ADL missed the press conference, and that the ADL statement made the local Hispanic media, but not either daily paper or any local electronic media. I'll post the full ADL statement later today.

Teaching 'Intelligent Design'
Even Supporters Lack Any Evidence

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 7, 2005

Ah, science, we hardly knew ye!

Last week, President Bush endorsed teaching “intelligent design,” the somewhat downsized-version of creationism that’s the newest religiously-based supposed alternative to the theory of evolution. Bush said that “both sides should be properly taught,” which means he not only considers ID an actual theory, but one worthy of equal standing with evolutionary biology.

Despite the hubbub, as The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum noted, Bush supporting ID shouldn’t have surprised anybody. As governor, and while running for president in 1999, Bush supported teaching actual creationism, so ID is an improvement for him.

For those of you coming late to this party, creationism is basically the William Jennings Bryan position in Inherit the Wind, that everything happened as it says in the Bible -- 6,000 year old earth, fossils are fakes or confusion sown by a malevolent deity, dinosaurs and men walked the earth together. ID instead claims that things we can’t explain by evolution today are proof of the existence of an intelligent designer -- at least until we figure them out, then ID applies only to the remaining unsolved puzzles.

For people, like Bush, willing to swallow high-caloric creationism, ID is merely a diet soda. But, hey -- if you’re willing to ignore the broad-based scientific consensus on global warming based on “research” sponsored by companies with a financial stake in ignoring global warming, then what chance would biology have?

What’s even more amusing is that more sophisticated ID proponents, like Sen. Rick Santorum, of “Mommies shouldn’t work” fame, have switched tactics. Now they don’t call ID a scientific theory fit for the school curriculum; instead, they claim just want to make sure students learn about certain gaps in evolutionary theory.
However, this is the same Santorum who, as Chris C. Mooney noted, wrote in The Washington Times in 2002 that “intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes.” Apparently the Kansas and Dover, Pennsylvania curriculum battles haven’t worked out as well as the ID people had hoped, so they’ve retreated to the “merely-examine-problems-with-evolution” position -- but Bush apparently missed the memo.

The best evidence that ID isn’t a scientific theory -- aside from how some previous gaps in the evolutionary record, which ID supporters formerly called “irreducibly complex” evidence of an intelligent designer, have been solved with new evidence and removed from the ID stockpile of anecdotes -- is that ID supporters don’t press their case in the scientific arena, but rather the political one. You don’t see ID supporters gathering biological samples, unearthing fossils, crunching numbers, or submitting papers to scientific journals. You instead see them lobbying elected officials and writing op-eds. If that’s science, then make sure you go to one of those people whenever you need medical help or a new vaccine, and not a real scientist.

Maybe Republicans think Bush’s infatuation with ID is meaningless, or just the price of getting big tax cuts and regime change in Iraq. But the price of such "junk science" may be pretty high. There’s already a pretty substantial minority of Americans who don’t believe in evolution -- a Pew Center poll showed only 53% of Americans agreed that humans developed from earlier animal species, and a majority has no problem with “teaching the controversy,” even if the so-called “controversy” makes real scientists snort coffee out their noses.

There are lots of scientific issues less theoretical than evolution where a majority would happily have the controversy “taught,” and not just in classrooms, but in courtrooms, too?

If at least four major, statistically-robust studies say thimerosol in vaccines does not cause autism, but some anecdotal evidence or inconclusive studies say it might, then shouldn’t we let juries hear both sides?

If there’s some sort of conspiracy by scientists to push evolution and ignore ID, then why shouldn’t residents of Nevada believe a similar conspiracy is suppressing the dangers of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, no matter how many studies indicate otherwise?

Bush is very good at politics. He is very bad, and very dangerous, at science. He should stick to politics.

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