John Wilkins has drawn my attention to the fact that P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula has been wondering what happened when I “debated” Paul Nelson last Thursday—his entry has generated a fair amount of heat (mainly the usual suspects) but no more light than you expect when you discuss creationism. I am not sure that the "debate" in question deserves much attention.
In any case, Nelson has responded somethwat forcefully to a few remarks I made in an unrelated entry. I only wish he was that focused and insistent last Thursday. He makes the point that he had long conceded the inappropriateness of teaching ID in high schools. Fair enough, but I had attributed a lot more to him:
“It wasn’t much of a debate, with Nelson conceding that intelligent design was far from being a scientific theory, that it had no legitimacy as part of a high school curriculum, and that it had to develop a laboratory research record before it can be taken seriously.”
And he had agreed to all of this; it goes well beyond the high school issue—it says that ID, at present, should not be taken seriously. Dan Bolnick, one of our younger brilliant evolutionary biologists, picked up on this issue during questioning and Nelson’s only response was that he was trying to fight censorship. Now, when was the last time any of you heard that anyone had suggested that creationism should be censored (and not merely that it shouldn’t be presented as accepted science)? The debate was recorded in its entirety and so Nelson can’t weasel out of what he admitted last Thursday—our students from the Undergraduate Philosophical Association did a magnificent organizational job. With opponents like this, who needs friends?
Nelson had two “arguments.” The first was that we naturally detect design in artefacts and, therefore, should extend these intuitions to living objects. Let’s concede this line of reasoning and see where it leads. Thanks to our ears (and other organs) we naturally detect motion when we are in moving objects and we equally naturally detect rest. Now, when we sit in our homes (assuming that these are not mobile homes) we use the same ability. We now detect that the Earth is at rest. (This is wonderful—finally a real scientific discovery from the so-called Discovery Institute.)
The second was a hackneyed version of the old God-of-the-gaps argument. Nelson claimed that there were many biological cases he found difficult to explain using evolutionary theory. I agree but this only suggests that he needs to learn more evolutionary theory. That would, for instance, let him understand that orphan genes pose no looming problem over evolution. (Later in the night, when Bolnick and I began constructing several plausible scenarios for the evolutionary emergence of such genes, all Nelson had to say is that he would think about it.) But none of us should claim that there is no unresolved issue in evolutionary biology—if that were so, there wouldn’t be ongoing research in evolution. The conclusion to draw is that we should encourage young scientists to pursue evolutionary biology. But, for Nelson, it followed that ID was the answer (in spite of the admissions noted earlier). It was a strange exercise in “logic.”
I repeat: I prefer my creationists to have more teeth.