Yet I find myself somewhat drawn in by the quixotic idea that we should "teach the argument." I am not a scientist, and all that I knew as an undergraduate about the evolution debate came from the study of two critical confrontations. The first was between Thomas Huxley (Darwin's understudy, ancestor of Aldous and coiner of the term "agnostic") and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (third son of the great Christian emancipator William) at the Oxford University Museum in 1860. The second was the "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925, which pitted the giant of Protestant fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, against Clarence Darrow and H. L. Mencken. Every educated person should know the arguments that were made in these transatlantic venues.
So by all means let's "be honest with the kids," as Dr. Don McLeroy, the chairman of the Texas education board, wants us to be. The problem is that he is urging that the argument be taught, not in a history or in a civics class, but in a biology class. And one of his supporters on the board, Ken Mercer, has said that evolution is disproved by the absence of any transitional forms between dogs and cats. If any state in the American union gave equal time in science class to such claims, it would certainly make itself unique in the world (perhaps no shame in that). But it would also set a precedent for the sharing of the astronomy period with the teaching of astrology, or indeed of equal time as between chemistry and alchemy. Less boring perhaps, but also much less scientific and less educational.
. . .
It's not just that the overwhelming majority of scientists are now convinced that evolution is inscribed in the fossil record and in the lineaments of molecular biology. It is more that evolutionists will say in advance which evidence, if found, would refute them and force them to reconsider. ("Rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian layer" was, I seem to remember, the response of Prof. J.B.S. Haldane.) Try asking an "intelligent design" advocate to stipulate upfront what would constitute refutation of his world view and you will easily see the difference between the scientific method and the pseudoscientific one.
Sunday, 3 May 2009
A View from the Pulpit - Christopher Hitchens