Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Equal TIme for Doubt

This is why I love Christopher Hitchens: today in Slate he argues for equal time for non-belief and inviscerates the unintelligent perpetrators of "intelligent design." He also unknowingly gives a nod to an argument by Matt Yglesias, which Kevin Drum quoted today:
When George W. Bush and Bill Frist had their respective "teach the controversy" moments, it seemed to me that most liberal bloggers took these as moments to simply point, sneer, and mock. But it's not such a great idea to mock a guy who has 55 percent of the public on his side when you have only 12 percent on yours. The evolution-only view is less popular than gay marriage, less popular than the abolition of the death penalty, and generally speaking one of the very least popular liberal cultural causes. We need to take this seriously and actually persuade some people — or, rather, a lot of people — that we're right.
Matt's right. We do need to persuade people we're correct, and that's not a liberal issue, it's an issue for anyone concerned that we can indeed understand the physical world we inhabit by dispassionate scientific experimentation and the evidence it produces.

And this is essentially Hitch's point.

But first he explains lucidly the fundamental problem with the "theory" of ID:
We do not and we should not teach rubbish and superstition alongside science. "Intelligent design" is not even a theory. It is more like a mentality. It admits of no verification or falsity and does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as a series of hypotheses and experiments that have served us well in analyzing the fossil record, the record of molecular biology, and—through the unraveling of the DNA strings—our kinship with other species. And this is to say nothing of the possibility of medical advances that may astonish us in our own lifetimes. To put astrology on the same blackboard as the Hubble telescope would be an approximate analogy.
Or that bloodletting is a medically proven substitute for antibiotics for curing illness.

But the real gist of Hitch's argument is to relate why he became to believe in evolution over the Genesis version and other silly precusors to ID. As a child he learned in conjuction with biology the history of how Darwin and his successors did intellectual battle with Biblical literalists and won. While he has a British example, he makes mention of the later American collorary: The Scopes Trial.

As Hitch explains, if schoolchildren were to study the history of the argument, along side of biological experimentation and evidence such as the fossil record of course, "[i]t would show them how to weigh and balance evidence, and it would remind them of the scarcely believable idiocy of the ancestors of 'intelligent design.'"

This should be part of any self-respecting history curriculum, but let me voice my skepticism that this would help at all considering how illiterate most U.S. students are in U.S. history.

Nevertheless, Hitch has another idea that those within the reality based community should take up.
If we take the president up on his deceptively fair-minded idea of "teaching the argument," I think we could advance the ball a little further in other directions also. Houses of worship that do not provide space for leaflets and pamphlets favoring evolution (not necessarily Darwinism, which is only one of the theories of evolution and thus another proof of its scientific status) should be denied tax-exempt status and any access to public funding originating in the White House's "faith-based" initiative. Congress should restore its past practice of giving a copy of Thomas Jefferson's expurgated Bible—free of all incredible or supernatural claims—to each newly elected member. The same version of the Bible should be obligatory for study in all classes that affect to teach "divinity." No more Saudi Arabian money should be allowed to be spent in the United States on the opening of jihadist madrasas or the promulgation of a Wahhabi Quran that preaches hatred and contempt of other faiths and of atheism until the Saudi government permits the unmolested opening of Shiite and Sufi places of worship; Christian churches and Hindu temples of all denominations for its Philippine, Indian, and other helot classes; synagogues; and Thomas Paine Society libraries. No American taxpayers' money should be given to Israel unless it can be shown that it is not being used for the establishment of religion by Orthodox messianic settlements in the occupied territories and/or until the Israeli rabbinate recognizes Reform and Conservative Judaism as authentic.

Equal time. It has a nicer ring the more you say it. Bring it on.
How nice it would be to see The Origin of Species in the pew next to The Bible. Naturally it won't happen, but fantasy has been a leitmotif today.