Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Teach the Controversy"

A.C. Grayling provides a succinct rebuttal to the populist concept of "balance" as it applies to teaching science.

I'd suggest that the concept has an even larger applicable scope.


Malcolm+ said...

One cannot argue with the substantive point - that "creationism" and "intelligent design" are not "legitimate competitors" with evolution and have no place in a science class.

However, I'm struck by the fact that the piece presents creationism / intelligent design as though these are the positions advocated generally by religious folk. That is simply false.

Indeed, the fact that a majority of religious believers do NOT want creationism or intelligent design taught in science classes would actually bolster their argument. But it would inconvenience the Dawkinists because it would admit that their usual religious straw man - that all believers are fundamentalist believers - is bunkum.

Audrey II said...

"However, I'm struck by the fact that the piece presents creationism / intelligent design as though these are the positions advocated generally by religious folk."

Firstly, I'm not sure what part of the piece that you're referring to. As Grayling presents it, I don't see his argument making any such broad-based generalizations, but I'm always interested in finding out if I've missed something.

As for "Dawkin's favorite strawman", "all believers are fundamentalist believers" seems to me to be either a direct contradiction or a simplification-to-the-point-of-inaccuracy of a goodly lot of chapters in "The God Delusion" and other lectures I've seen Dawkins give, many of which speak specifically to the differences between fundamentalists and non-fundamentalist believers. He's acknowledged many a time that not all believers are fundamentalists, and I've never read or heard him say anything akin to suggesting that creationism/intelligent design are the scientific positions held "generally by religious folk".

Dawkins' conclusions about non-fundamentalists might be something that you take issue with (and on that point, I think we'd find some agreement), but I don't think they're the conflation that you characterize them as being.

Is there something specific of either his or Grayling's that you had in mind that we both might draw on as a common frame of reference?

Malcolm+ said...

It was more an extrapolation from the fact that he attributes creationism and "intelligent design" theory to the religious without making any distinction. As I say, acknowledging that the majority of believers would agree that these pseudo-scientific ideas have no place in the science classroom would bolster his case, but would undermine what is often a subtext among some atheists ("atheist fundamentalists," if you will) that really all believers are the same.

Perhaps it wasn't there. But it does seem to me it weakens his case not to acknowledge it.

Audrey II said...

From what I know of Grayling's positions (which is, admittedly, non-comprehensive), I think the absence of the qualifier was benign, and not intended to assert or imply a homogeneity in the same sort of sense that many western conservatives intentionally fail to make a distinction between Bin Laden and "Islam". I understand that implying homogeneity (hasty generalization combined with weasel-wording) is a common rhetorical technique, but I don't see evidence of it being used here. Both Grayling and Dawkins have a significant body of written and oral history of both acknowledging and specifically addressing the distinction you mention. While I don't agrees with all of the conclusions Dawkins especially draws about non-fundamentalist believers, I still think there is a contrast between his position on the distinction and the argument you seem to be concerned about "some atheists" advancing. It actually makes me concerned that even in matters where many (most?) believers and non-believers find agreement, that things like this get in the way of a sense of unity in sharing that common ground. It seems to be an example of talking past one another instead of to one another.

""atheist fundamentalists," if you will"

I won't, but I think we've both made our positions clear on that particular phrase at least once. ;)

"But it does seem to me it weakens his case not to acknowledge it."

In what way? Grayling's case is against "teach the controversy" advocacy. I'm still unsure of how his commentary on that issue is weakened by his absence-of-commentary on a different matter.

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