Monday, January 22, 2007

Hecklers for Darwin

Through the Evo News blog, I came across this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by a termite expert. Go read the whole thing. It begins:

I'd never had a heckler before. Usually, when I'm asked to give a talk, I discuss my research on termites and the remarkable structures they build. Usually, I'm glad just to have an audience. x But what I'd learned from termites had got me thinking about broader issues, among them the question of design in biology: Why are living things built so well for the functions they perform? So I wrote a book called The Tinkerer's Accomplice, which was my topic that day.

The trouble started almost as soon as I stepped up to the podium: intrusive "questions" and demands for "clarifications," really intended not to illuminate but to disrupt and distract. In exasperation, I finally had to ask the heckler to give me a chance to make my argument and my audience a chance to hear it, after which he could ask all the questions he wished.

He was not interested in that approach, of course, and left as soon as question time began. I found out later that he'd complained at his next faculty meeting that the departmental speaker's program should never be used as a forum for advancing — what precisely? That was never quite clear, either to me or to my embarrassed host.

What makes me chuckle also makes him chuckle:

If just one freighted word like "design" can evoke The Pause, combining two — as in the phrase "intelligent design" — seems to make otherwise sane people slip their moorings. If you enjoy irony, as I do, the spectacle can provide hours of entertainment. I wonder, for example, what demon had gripped a past president of Cornell University when he singled out intelligent design as a unique threat to academic and civil discourse. Aren't universities supposed to be a place for dangerous ideas?

Also amusing is the spectacle of independent-minded scientists' running to college administrators or the courts for help in defining what is science and what is permissible discourse in their classrooms. And I find it hard to suppress a chuckle at the sheer brass of books like Richard Dawkins's recent The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), which seem untroubled by traditional boundaries between religion and science as long as the intrusion is going their way.

My previous posts on the president of Cornell are here and here.

And now on to the questions that I find interesting, and that Darwinian Fundamentalists want to suppress:

But what if evolution really is purposeful in some way? In fact Darwin dethroned only one type of purposefulness, the Platonic idealism that had previously underscored the concept of the species. There's more to purpose than Plato, however, and it remains an open question how other forms of purposefulness might inform our thinking about evolution. What might purposeful evolution look like? Is design its signature? Can it be reconciled with Darwinism? If so, how? If not, why not?

It's hard to see a threat in asking such questions. Indeed, it's hard to see how asking them could do anything but enrich our understanding about evolution and how we teach it.

. . . .

In our readiness to proscribe intelligent design, we Darwinists are telling the world not only that we are unwilling to ask such questions ourselves, but that we don't want others to ask them either. No wonder the war on Darwin won't go away.

That is a pretty concise statement of what this blog is all about. More and more people are realizing that there are some very interesting questions that are worth asking and pondering and exploring.


At January 28, 2007 5:18 AM, Blogger Marcel said...

The link to the article is not working; it appears to be a temporary link that expired.


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