"Then it is dark; a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains." - John Cheever

Friday, March 30, 2007

From the New Scientist

"If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene, you don't say, 'I read a science fiction novel that says it's not a problem'" - so said Al Gore when testifying to congress, as quoted in New Scientist this week (with Michael Crichton in mind I'm sure).

In a similar vein, they've also got an interview with Darwin's great great grandson Matthew Chapman, who attended the court hearing in Dover Pennsylvania last year when they were trying to teach intelligent design in the local school. He makes some good points, relevant to our earlier discussion about how people can convince themselves about particular theories contrary to the apparent evidence. He talks about how the intelligent design advocates 'would intellectually and morally contort temselves to cling to ideas one felt even they did not quite believe', and about how there must be 'some part of the fundamentalist mind that recognises the facts that contradict a literal biblical interpretation, yet they insist that another truth in conflict with this exists.'

His rather elegant suggestion is to teach intelligent design in classrooms, and then use the scientific method to challenge it - thereby teaching kids how the whole process of scientific enquiry works.


john said...

That "using scientific method to challenge intelligent design in the classroom" is pretty elegant!

One thing that occurs to me is that there is "congnitive dissonance" in the science vs intelligent design debate. The scientific outlook is a pretty sophisticated one which makes quite subtle claims about nature (subject to falsifiability and all that), while the intelligent design crowd are basically involved in trying to fit a supernatural God into any gaps in scientific understanding.

Another thing - why do the intelligent design people keep hammering away at evolution so much? Surely the whole "we live in a universe where the values of physics appear fine tuned to allow the evolution of intelligent life" is a more persuasive angle for them (and less amenable to scientific falsification than particular grey areas of evolutionary theory)?

I've got some further thoughts on this but am being evicted from the PC by Jennifer who wants to go to the Cbeebies website.

Tom said...

I know what that's like - Asa has also started to explore the web. He's a big fan, if rather incompetent user, of Youtube.

I think evolution is such a sore point because of the whole apes/humans thing. I think some christian fundamentalists are comfortable with the idea that every species is the product of evolution other than humans. Once you acknowledge that we are the product of the same process and physically/chemically the same in essence, then that doesn't leave much room for the soul. (Unless you're a pantheist buddhist and say that everything has a soul.)

john said...

I'm completely convinced by evolution but I'm still totally baffled by consciousness, the mind-body problem, qualia etc.

Pantheistic buddhism is very appealing...