Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Should Schools Teach Creationism? - Panel debate held at National Library of Scotland

Dr. Tiffany Jenkins is the first person I've ever met or even heard about who combines the title of Ph.D. with the given name of Tiffany. Is it odd that this strikes me as odd? She is both brilliant and beautiful, like my wife. Unlike my wife, she evidently knows how to control a room full of opinionated and arrogant men.

Alex McLellan ( leads off by noting (with disapproval) examples during which the evolution/creation debate has been squelched within academia. He goes on to claim that whenever science teachers teach science (particularly cosmology and biology) they are stepping on the toes of the theologians. I'm not sure that I disagree here, but it seems to me that this is not a particularly strong argument for supplmenting science textbooks with mythology or pseudoscience.

Christopher Brookmyre ( leads off with a decent number of various creation stories, none of which would ever get a hearing in public schools except the one from the Book of Genesis. He then gets highly interactive with the audience (which I admire) and makes the case that intelligent design creationism (IDC) is essentially built upon a false dichotomy between evolution and one particular religious cosmogony.

Marc Surtees ( tries to advance a scientific case for creationism, using something resembling a fusion of Kalam cosmological and fine-tuning arguments. He moves on to biological arguments against mutation as an adaquate generator of genetic diversity (new information) and particularly the amount of diversity we see in the Cambrian era. He pretty much manages to hit on all the major points of IDC in just under five minutes, and this is actually fairly impressive. It would have been quicker, though, to simply quote Stephen Colbert, "There must be a God, because I don't know how things work."

Julian Baggini ( attempts to put IDC in its place by pointing out that it doesn't make any scientifically testable claims, or advance any actual research, and this should be taken as reason enough to keep it out of science classrooms. He allows that these things should perhaps be discussed in meta-classes on philosophy of science and such like.

Dave Perks ( makes the argument that science teachers should only teach scientific theories and facts, and avoid unscientific meta-questions of meaning and purpose. I'm not sure why the science teachers would want to stand in for the high school counselors (during the week) or youth ministers (during the weekends) in their respective vocations of helping students choose their purposes for life. No matter how bright this guy actually is, he is clearly the least prepared and least articulte speaker on the panel. During the cross-ex, it becomes clear that he is the least polite as well.

Around 35 minutes in we go into a back-and-forth cross examination of the various panelists by one another. Baggini gets the first good argument in with an appeal to Hume (a great Scotsman) and his notion that we cannot extrapolate from the real world (matter moving in space over time) outward to the transcendent (beyond space and time). After that, things get a bit more chaotic and more familiar to fans of the daytime television brawls.

Overall, this debate makes it obvious why IDC is not scientific enough for the science classroom, and as such it is worth watching.

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