Teaching Evolution

TEACHING EVOLUTION….Reacting to poll numbers showing that the public overwhelmingly approves of teaching both evolution and Intelligent Design in public schools, Matt Yglesias writes a warning to the blogosphere:

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.

This is good advice no matter what the issue, but at the same time, if you can’t mock cretins in the blogosphere, where can you mock them?

More seriously, the problem here is how do you fight a view that’s fundamentally a matter of faith, not rational argument? It’s a tough question. The New York Times has been running a series of articles on ID (here, here, and here), for example, and they’re genuinely problematical. It’s true that part of the problem is that these pieces don’t give the roots of the controversy the attention it deserves, but set that aside. The more basic problem is that reporters aren’t supposed to be advocates and there’s a limit to what they can do. Even if they had done a better job with these stories, the end result still would have been to validate evolution/ID as a genuine scientific controversy. The very existence of the stories does that.

In the end, I suspect that the best strategy is to continue fighting evolution fights normally at the local level, but to stop arguing about evolution per se at the national level and instead make the broader argument we ought to be making anyway: that scientists should decide what gets taught in science classes. Fundamentally, we should argue that anyone who wants to introduce dissenting views into any science curriculum should have to demonstrate that some bare minimum of the relevant scientific community ? let’s say 5% for the sake of argument ? agrees that the dissenting views represent genuine scientific uncertainty. That’s not a high bar. It doesn’t even have to be 5% who support the dissenting view, only 5% who believe that it’s a legitimate point of disagreement.

Or something along those lines. This, I suspect, would get a lot more public support than naive questions about ID vs. creationism. One way or another, the more we can take that particular issue off the table, the better off we’ll be.