Feb 23, 2009, 11:40AM

Creationism, smacked around

While a little preechy, Gotelli's take down of a debate request from a proponent of intelligent design is an instant classic.

Just breath it in:

Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics need to have a basis in reality. I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a Holocaust revisionist. These ideas have no scientific support, and that is why they have all been discarded by credible scholars. Creationism is in the same category.

Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren't members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish. Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.

  • This is far from an instant classic; it provides educated, sensible people with a little thrill of rudeness and tells us what we already know and enjoy hearing, but it's a terrible solution to a political (not epistemological) problem. The academic refusal to engage creationists has never, ever worked. During the past eight years creationists have had no problem gaining a foothold in government and primary education, and for academics to bury their heads in the sand and refuse to engage what they (rightly) perceive as balderdash has simply allowed the ridiculous faith-based arguments to occupy public debate and made the academics look like scared, snotty, clueless moles. Basically, saying "I won't debate you because I know I would win because you're so dumb" is an argument with a very poor track record and does not sway the public's opinion in the least. And public opinion is really what's at stake here, creationism has no penetration in higher education but many adherents elsewhere (including, chillingly, public schools). Indulging the academic ego if fine but not when something this important is in the balance.

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