|Wesley R. Elsberry
Joined: May 2002
The third way to approach committed antievolution supporters
Lee Silver wrote:
The best way to combat them is to pull the religious veils off their faces and expose them for who they are. If you’ve got a better tactic, I’d like to hear it.
Of course I have better tactics. That’s what I was saying in my first response.
The topic of debate that Dr. Silver reported was “Is ID science?” One approach is to show that the claims of ID fail as science. That’s how I approached the task I had in 2001, and that’s the approach of Why Intelligent Design Fails from Rutgers University Press. The other approach is to show that religion underlies “intelligent design”. In 2002, I gave a talk on evolution and “intelligent design” at the CSICOP Fourth World Skeptics Conference. In that one, I did show how the “intelligent design” movement was run by religious people for religious purposes. And that’s the approach of Creationism’s Trojan Horse from Oxford University Press.
But in neither case was my goal to tell the followers of ID that their own views of religion were wrong. And it is that part of Dr. Silver’s first report that strikes me as not just poor tactics, but as Lenny Flank notes, directly counter to the cause of promoting good science education. It sure wasn’t something that would separate ID advocates from their followers. It isn’t even exposing the ID movement as inherently religious, which I have used as a tactic myself (CSICOP 2002). If you want to drive a wedge between an audience of evangelical Christians and the professionals in the ID movement, you need a third approach: show that the ID advocate on stage with you has been lying to his followers. Show misquote after misquote; demonstrate error after checkable error, and make the audience understand that if the ID advocate claims that the sky is blue, their next step had better be to look out the window to see for themselves. Evangelicals do want to take Christ’s message to the world, but they also have a deep loathing of liars. Of the three approaches, the last one requires the most preparation and care in delivery.
Dr. Silver’s approach, on the other hand, requires very little in the way of preparation. One does not need to acquaint oneself with the arguments of the opposition, with the history of the opposition, or even the failings of the opposition. Irrelevancy does have some benefits after all. But the downside is that simply doing forty minutes of religious nay-saying does not convince people that “intelligent design” is not science; it does not convince people that “intelligent design” is another religious form of antievolution; and it does not convince people that “intelligent design” advocates are unreliable sources of information. It does help to convince those people that the “intelligent design” advocates are right when they cast the issues in terms of atheists attempting to indoctrinate kids.
So, in summary I’d say: Please leave debating ID advocates to the professionals. Or if you are determined to do so anyway, ask for assistance before the debate.
I've seen a criticism of what I wrote above that runs like this: An error made by an IDC advocate need not be a "lie" or mark the IDC advocate in question as a liar. I thought it was clear from the above that the task, though, is not to bring *one* such item to the table, but to show a series of such manglings of the truth so that even the audience, whose initial allegiance is to the IDC advocate, cannot help but recognize that such a series of falsehoods of necessity implies that either the antievolutionist in question is lying to them about their ability to speak to the topic, or is lying when presenting those falsehoods as if true. So far as I can see, there is no escape from being hoist on one or the other horn of that particular dilemma.
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker