How to deal with Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents? It’s a bit of a Catch-22: one the one hand, unless we consistently, frequently and forcefully confront their nonsense, we might give them free rein to convince the general public that there’s some validity to what they say; on the other hand, if we give them a forum, or engage them in open debate, others might infer that there’s a real controversy within the biological sciences (there isn’t). At what point do we write off certain people as hopeless wackaloons not worthy of notice? How do we know when it’s beneficial to engage in dialogue and (polite) confrontation?
A lot of rationalists think the whole Creationism ID movement is already at the write-off stage. I’m not so sure. As loony as they are, they still hold the attention of the public, and it’s for the sake of the public that they need to be put in their place. But even that’s a tall order, since to do so means walking a tightrope in which the legitimate scientist much speak to a general audience without falling into jargon or drifting into a dry, boring, overly technical face-off with his Creationist opponent.
Anyway, as I reported a couple of days ago, lots of people in the science side of the fence have been in an uproar because bloggingheads.tv has hosted not one, but two “diavlogs” featuring Intelligent Design cheerleaders. The second diavlog featured Michael Behe in conversation with linguist Robert McWhorter.
Well. To say that some were upset would be a gross understatement. Among the disgruntled are two bloggers at DiscoverMagazine.com: Carl Zimmer (science journalist and blogger at The Loom) and Sean Carroll (theoretical physicist and blogger at Cosmic Variance).
Zimmer, in a blog post titled “Bloggingheads and the Old Challenges of New Tools,” Zimmer lays out his case for withdrawing in some detail, but here’s the crux of it:
My standard for taking part in any forum about science is pretty simple. All the participants must rely on peer-reviewed science that has direct bearing on the subject at hand, not specious arguments that may sound fancy but are scientifically empty. I believe standards like this one are crucial if we are to have productive discussions about the state of science and its effects on our lives.
This is not Blogginghead’s standard, at least as I understand it now. And so here we must part ways.
Carroll is, perhaps, a little sharper in his criticism. Here’s an excerpt from his post “Bye to Bloggingheads“:
What I objected to about the creationists was that they were not worthy opponents with whom I disagree; they’re just crackpots. Go to a biology conference, read a biology journal, spend time in a biology department; nobody is arguing about the possibility that an ill-specified supernatural “designer” is interfering at whim with the course of evolution. It’s not a serious idea… But if you present a discussion about the scientific merits of ID, with someone who actually believes that such merits exist — then you are wasting my time and giving up on the goal of having a worthwhile intellectual discussion.
And so, no more Carl Zimmer or Sean Carroll at bhTV, which is a shame.