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On Facebook and Elsewhere, How to Talk with Darwinists

If you follow us at ENV, you've probably got a pretty good handle on the debate about evolution and intelligent design. But don't think the same is true of people you interact with in other contexts. In fact, we all need to dial way, way back on what we assume about how much these folks know what we're talking about when we talk about ID, even as they claim to understand the whole subject a lot better than we do.

When you're harangued by someone who bashes ID in that familiar way that mixes sneering and chortling, the first thing to do is ask him to state, in brief neutral terms, what the controversy about intelligent design is actually about. On what point do advocates of Darwinian theory and advocates of intelligent design disagree? No, it's not whether life has taken many forms in the course of billions of years of development.

The challenge assumes that the person is replying from what he knows at the moment. Try it sometime! And if you do, let me know what you find. I bet that 9 out 10 Darwinists, at least, will admit they can't answer you or will find some way to dodge the question.

I was reminded of this recently when a Facebook friend picked up an ENV article I posted at FB and, first on my FB page and continuing on his own, he published a series of uninformed and personally insinuating comments. He's someone I knew in college as a pleasant and bright guy. What he had to say was variations on the usual guff:

  • "Darwinists"?? That's what the rest of us call scientists.
  • Funny enough, this publication is called "Evolution News"... an attempt by some to lend a Jewish imprimatur to more populist religious movements and perversely framed, industry-driven "skepticism".
I love that last bit, ENV as some kind of Jewish plot. A friend of his chimed in, raising the terrifying specter of people not automatically believing just anything told to them by anyone with the title "scientist," and then seeking to infect innocents with their dread free-thinking ways via the Internet:
...it starts to get real worrisome when folks who just don't want others to believe what scientists tell them about how the world works get organized and use the internet to confuse the debate, demean those doing research and make up facts.
I'm not really active on FB, but this time I couldn't resist. I posed the question:
...between Darwinian theory and intelligent design, what do think is the question that's actually in dispute? Try in neutral terms to briefly state the major point of disagreement. Without looking it up on the Internet somewhere.
And you know what, they couldn't, of course. The other guy admitted that he couldn't even understand the question, while my friend rattled off a series of non-answers.
  • Dusting off intelligent design in 2013 is like suggesting the Earth's orbit traces a series of Copernican epicycles rather than Kepler's later model of the ellipse.
  • I don't think there is a serious dispute, at least not in the sense of two equally valid and informed sides of a debate. Intelligent design was an evolutionary phase of evolution theory about 200-250 years ago, as I recall from elementary school textbooks. I'm not a scientist like my father, but it's obvious there is no legitimate dispute.
Clearly he had no idea, zero, what ID argues. He couldn't answer the question and tried to cover this up with a lot of bluster, topped with a form of the appeal to authority that I hadn't come across before: "My father is a scientist!"

I tried to be helpful:

Very basically, [ID is] the idea that nature -- life, the cosmos -- gives positive scientific indications of purpose and design. For an introduction, if you're interested, you could do worse than starting here: www.intelligentdesign.org.
Judging from his subsequent comments, he went ahead and clicked on ID.org, which was never intended as anything more than a beginning not a conclusion to exploration, but got no further than that.

I would not, however, despair of this method. It didn't succeed with my friend, but plenty of thoughtful people in a similar situation, forced to admit that they don't know what they're talking about, would be stung to get motivated and do the homework that, until that moment, they had neglected.

Even if you accomplish nothing else, by asking the question -- "What is the Darwin debate about?" -- you will find out very quickly whether, in continuing the discussion, you're just going to be squandering scarce time that you can't afford. Although, isn't that what Facebook is all about?