Thursday, November 09, 2006

What do you do with Creationists?   posted by Razib @ 11/09/2006 07:42:00 PM

Dean Esmay graciously linked to our recent discussion of Neandertal introgression, and there was this comment:
I'm of the opinion that "Neanderthal," as we know it, is the scientific equivalent of smoke and mirrors designed for the expressed purpose of supporting evolution. They've allowed the cart to pull the horse. Evolution must be right therefore there must be evolutionary stages. Since the former cannot ever be questioned anything coming from it is simply fruit from the poisonous tree.

Unsurprisingly I take a Biblical approach. We see in the Bible that man lived for hundreds of years....

Now, my own initial response was that this was a satirical comment, but subsequent comments and clarifications from regulars on Dean's blog confirmed that this individual was a Creationist. Their argument is rational, assuming Creationist priors. Seeing as how a really cool evolutionary story just broke I really wasn't going to waste my time arguing Creation vs. Evolution. When Creationists post on the weblogs I run or manage I simply delete their comments, I see no point in even insulting them or caling them out. There just isn't a plausible way to bridge the discussion, and I'm interesting in understanding evolution, not debating whether gravity exists or not.

My question is for readers, and it is two fold:

1) What do you do or say when confronted with Creationists? When I was younger I would debate and engage my peers who were Creationists (many of my friends), and at this point I've felt like I put in my dues. When someone expresses Creationist sentiments now I simply write them off and perform a silent intellectual shiv'ah.

2) Nevertheless, I do feel it is important that some individuals do speak up on this topic. I applaud Ken Miller for taking the battle to the Creationists, someone has to do it. What's the optimal strategy so that real science can continue without interruption?

TangoMan adds: This New Scientist article addresses the rise of a whole separate creationist educational system - here's a scary quote:

Home-school parents are able to teach their children this way thanks mainly to a group called the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a non-profit organisation based in Purcellville - like Patrick Henry College (PHC), which the HSLDA founded. . . . .

Now evangelical home-schoolers can also opt for a college like PHC. The school was founded in 2000 to "prepare leaders who will fight for the principles of liberty and our home-school freedoms through careers of public service and cultural influence".

It worked. By 2004, PHC students held seven out of 100 internships in the White House, a number even more striking when one considers that only 240 students were enrolled in the entire college. Last year, two PHC graduates worked in the White House, six worked for members of Congress and eight for federal agencies, including two for the FBI. "Patrick Henry is something to worry about because these kids end up in the administration," says Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which campaigns against the teaching of creationism as science.

Home-schoolers are drawn to PHC partly because of its political connections and partly because, unlike most Christian colleges, it boasts high academic standards. Besides the focus on creationism, much of the curriculum is dedicated to rhetoric and debate, preparing students to fight political and legal battles on issues such as abortion, stem cell research and evolution. The technique is effective. For the past two years, the college has won the moot court national championship, in which students prepare legal briefs and deliver oral arguments to a hypothetical court, and has twice defeated the UK's University of Oxford in debating competitions.