Science Writer Advocates Debate with Creationists
The Darwinist monopoly on science has backfired, suggested Michael Balter in the Los Angeles Times in a Sunday commentary. A human evolution writer for Science magazine (e.g., 09/09/2005, 03/04/2005, 11/12/2004, 02/27/2004, 02/15/2002), Balter advocated engagement with the opposition. “A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms would better serve our children, and adults too.”
Balter is confident that “science” (evolution) would win such a contest, but cited several reasons why a national debate is necessary. “Most scientists don’t want any debate,” he wrote. To them, evolution has already won, and deserves a monopoly in science classrooms. The success of the Discovery Institute in finding hundreds of scientists unconvinced of Darwinian evolution, added to the consistent findings of polls that the majority of Americans do not accept evolution, Balter argues, “suggests that scientists have won few converts during at least the last two decades – despite a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the teaching of creationism in the classroom.”
The failure of evolutionists to win “converts” is only partly a reflection of the continuing influence of religion, he said. “Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life’s complexity.” Part of their lack of persuasiveness has been their very reluctance to engage their opponents. It’s time for a change, Balter argues:
Pro-evolution scientists have little to lose and everything to gain from a nationwide debate. Let’s put the leading proponents of intelligent design and our sharpest evolutionary biologists on a national television panel and let them take their best shots. If biblical literalists want to join in, let them. Let’s encourage teachers to stage debates in their classrooms or in assemblies. Students can be assigned to one or the other side, and guest speakers can be invited. Among other things, students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
To those who worry about injecting religion in science class, Balter said it’s too late. “Religious faith and thinking are already in the classroom, as the opinion polls strongly suggest,” he wrote. “And the courts should stay out of it because educators would not be required nor allowed to advocate a religious point of view.”
Balter spoke of a long history of “bitter debates between religion and science,” and claimed that after Darwin seemed to have refuted the arguments of William Paley, “Darwin’s theories were rigorously tested and criticized before they won over the majority of scientists.”
For these reasons, today’s evolutionists should not break tradition, but engage the critics. “The best way to teach the theory of evolution is to teach this contentious history. The most effective way to convince students that the theory is correct is to confront, not avoid, continuing challenges to it.”
Balter’s surprising declaration of support for “teaching the controversy,” a policy the intelligent design movement has long advocated, goes against the grain of positions taken by scientific institutions like Nature (see 04/27/2004). He argues, though, that evolutionists should engage the debate with gusto: “Bring it on.”
Anyone watching the controversy over evolution should see this as a major shift in strategy by someone pretty high up in the Science establishment. It’s good that Balter wants this to be a debate in the open marketplace of ideas rather than the courts, and if the Darwinists are really willing to put their best arguments toe-to-toe with those of intelligent design, that would be a refreshing change.
Watch out for stealth tactics, though. Incumbent presidents, for instance, have been known to rig debate rules to give themselves the media advantage. We don’t want to see twelve Nobel Laureates go against Kent Hovind on national TV with a Darwinist moderator, and subject the results to biased editing the way the last episode of PBS Evolution rigged the contest, and have the Darwin Party announce afterwards, “So there. There was your debate, and you guys lost.” But the fact that Balter encourages this kind of debate in school classrooms and assemblies should preclude that, if his advice takes hold.
His history is flawed; Darwinism did not take hold because it was rigorously tested. It won a huge propaganda blitz intentionally conducted by Charlie’s Four Musketeers (01/06/2004), Asa Gray, Thomas Huxley, Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, with help from Darwinist radical Ernst Haeckel on the continent. It won also because leading Darwinists obtained power over publishing and gained leadership of prestigious universities and museums, where they controlled the curriculum and content. Darwin’s own theory of natural selection went through a long period of eclipse after his book, until it was resurrected as neo-Darwinism more by consensus than by rigorous testing. Creationism and design science has always been a strong influence bucking this current of usurpation by the philosophical materialists.
Balter is confident that “students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view.” That would be a great lesson. Currently, students are learning that “evolution is a fact because all scientists agree it is a fact.” Balter believes that engagement will remove the claim that Darwinian theory is shielded from “challenges that, when properly refuted, might win over adherents to evolutionary views.” When the views are compared, however, each Darwin convert is likely to be outnumbered by converts to the other side, based on the history of creation-evolution debates. And if the Darwinists are finally forced to “reach conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument,” it will be their downfall. Balter may have unintentionally heralded the end of the Darwin Party Storytelling Welfare State. Bring it on.