Monday, August 29, 2005

Dennett to ID: Get in Line

If you haven't read this opinion piece by Daniel Dennet in the New York Times (via The Fly Bottle), then I highly suggest you do so now. It may be the best opinion piece on Intelligent Design that I've seen yet, not because he says anything new, but because he distills the issue down to its essence and leaves it at that. When he does so, Intelligent Design is shown in its true light, which is to say, a light shining on a scientifically empty idea. After I read it, I tried really to choose the passage I wanted to quote here, but each paragraph is really good, so it's damn near impossible to decide. So I'll just pick a passage semi-randomly:

Instead [of doing real science], the proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a "controversy" to teach.

Note that the trick is content-free. You can use it on any topic. "Smith's work in geology supports my argument that the earth is flat," you say, misrepresenting Smith's work. When Smith responds with a denunciation of your misuse of her work, you respond, saying something like: "See what a controversy we have here? Professor Smith and I are locked in a titanic scientific debate. We should teach the controversy in the classrooms." And here is the delicious part: you can often exploit the very technicality of the issues to your own advantage, counting on most of us to miss the point in all the difficult details.

William Dembski, one of the most vocal supporters of intelligent design, notes that he provoked Thomas Schneider, a biologist, into a response that Dr. Dembski characterizes as "some hair-splitting that could only look ridiculous to outsider observers." What looks to scientists - and is - a knockout objection by Dr. Schneider is portrayed to most everyone else as ridiculous hair-splitting.

Now go read the rest.

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