Friday, December 08, 2006

The Panel Discussion

Something kind of interesting happened on my way over to Hall Center to listen to the panel discussion. I was leaving Murphy Hall after the Behe lecture, and I was trying to figure out how to get to Hall Center when low and behold Sue Gamble (Kansas Board of Education) and Steve Case (Science Standards Writing Committee) and two others with them walked past me. I figured I’d just follow them over because I knew Sue was going to be on the panel, and obviously she’d be going in the right direction. So, I joined their group, and as we were walking they asked me what I thought of the lecture.


I knew my opinion was not going to popular with them, but I dove in anyway. I told them I thought it was quite good actually, and we proceeded to discuss what science is and isn’t. Case didn’t believe ID was a valid theory because he didn't believe it was testable. The other guy with them thought that the ID community has not been clear enough about where design starts and natural causes end. I told them that if they aren’t comfortable with calling it a “theory”, there is absolutely no doubt that it is a valid scientific inference, and it certainly isn’t religion or philosophy. I can’t imagine philosophers discussing all the scientific issues that Behe touched on today!

The most interesting thing about this debate is how people can hear the exact same information and come away with completely different opinions. Gamble and Case told me emphatically that ID is not science, and of course I completely disagreed. Behe talked “science” the entire lecture. I didn’t hear any religion and very little philosophy.

The panel discussion itself was pretty one sided, though interesting. Behe was not on the panel as was originally indicated by Krishtalka in the email he sent me. Perhaps Behe had to catch an early flight back or something.

The panel discussed how faith and reason can work together. The Methodist Bishop felt that there needs to be more education in the churches stressing the fact that science and faith are not in conflict and that evolution is not a problem for religion. Good luck with that.

Then there was of course the “fringe groups” discussion, and how we need to work to bring a more moderate voice to this debate. They were all in agreement that this “problem” of “fringe groups” with their “tampering, “annoying” and “distracting” trends that take us away from more important issues are not going away any time soon. Personally, I think there are many ID advocates who are moderates, but you wouldn’t convince this panel of that.

The Bishop on the panel stated that for years there was no problem with religion being taught in schools as most people held the same faith beliefs within their communities. But, as our nation has become more and more secular it has become increasingly difficult to find common ground between various religions and their ultimate affect on science education as well. The problem we find ourselves in is that there are so many different faith beliefs or disbeliefs that secularism has become the only option in the schools.

This, in my mind, is part of the problem. We have become so secular that we are almost leading our students into an agnostic society. It appears to me that many people who believe they hold a certain religious belief are actually agnostics themselves. They call themselves Catholics, Methodist, Muslim, or whatever, but they also feel that all religions are similar and you choose what works for you. That seems agnostic to me because you don’t believe in anything with conviction, you merely believe there is an ultimate divine first cause of the universe.

The question was asked as to how we can build bridges between these groups and allow for faith and reason to live together peacefully. Edward Wiley, Professor and Senior Curator in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Sue Gamble felt that part of the answer is to put religion in the schools!!!!! These are the same people who believe that Intelligent Design is religion, and because of that it shouldn’t be in the schools. But, Sue informs us that the difference is that she is condoning “religion(s)”, not “religion”. The two of them felt that if students were more aware of the various religions then they would be more accepting of those beliefs and that might help in further “bridge building”.

At this point, I was about out of my seat.

Here’s what happens when you teach comparative religion in the public school system. First of all, nobody wants bias on a subject like this - so what is the best solution? Well, you teach all religions as being on an equal playing field, and you throw in ancient mythical beliefs as well. You would also want a teacher who is not biased - so what’s the best option? An agnostic teacher leading the discussions. They certainly won’t show bias because they are “agnostic” on the subject of religion. The problem is that agnosticism is a form of faith belief, and atheism is as well.

Do people not realize this?

My other objection is that ID doesn’t say anything about religion - nor does it in any way favor a particular religious belief system. But, if it is religion, as Gamble seems to think, why would it not be included in this agnostic comparable religion environment? Sheesh... what a convoluted mess.

My opinion is that religion should only be taught in history classes when appropriate. Otherwise, we’re shoving our students into the realm of agnosticism, and we’ve seen this to be a fact over the years. More and more students are losing their faith at the universities, and my personal opinion is that it is due to comparative religion, philosophy of religion, and the fact that we teach our kids that they are the product of chance which arose from a murky pond. There is not time in one semester to do anything other than touch on the main beliefs of the faith systems being discussed, and this can lead to a horrendously misleading environment to study a topic as important as religion.

The other solution the panel believed would solve this problem of religion and science continually butting heads, would be further education. I agree, although not in the sense that they are promoting. I feel strongly that the general public has had the wool pulled over their eyes in regard to what the Intelligent Design movement is all about, and the more they are educated about the true nature of ID, the more it will be accepted as a scientific inference that belongs in a science class - not a religion class. I do not believe that the scientific community is doing this purposely, because I think they truly believe what they attest to in regard to ID. But, the problem here is a worldview issue. You can have two people listen to the same information regarding these issues and you will have them walk away with entirely different reactions. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen....truly. It’s not that both sides are lying or deceiving each other, it’s that they truly perceive the issues completely differently and cannot comprehend how the other side cannot understand their position. It’s incredibly interesting to observe and think about.

Case in point.....

After the lecture, I approached Sue again to ask a few more questions. She was talking with another woman, and she brought me into the conversation, so I gladly shared my views as well. Let me say upfront that after talking with Sue personally, I have changed my opinion about her just a bit. She has always appeared to me to be someone who has completely rejected all reasonable, objective discussions on the subject of Intelligent Design, and I still believe that to be true. But, I can tell that she is passionately concerned about Kansas students and wants them to have the highest possible degree of education. I could feel that passion when I spoke with her, and I’m glad I had the chance to meet and talk with her personally.

But, as the three of us were discussing the issues, the other women in the conversation (I’ll call her Ann) was reiterating my same feelings to Sue -- that Behe’s lecture certainly seemed to be a discussion of science - not religion or “creationism”. Sue told “Ann” that ID is creationism, and I told her emphatically that it is NOT creationism. There is no correlation whatsoever except that both creationists and advocates of ID believe there is an ultimate designer of the universe. Sue and I went back and forth about this a bit, and I finally told “Ann” to ask a creationist whether ID is creation. There is not a creationist on earth who would say that ID is creation science. Well, Sue had to agree with that claim. End of story.

"Ann" was quite interested in learning more about ID and told me afterward that it’s very hard to find information about it. She also wondered why everyone keeps saying that ID is religion or “Creationism“. Well, there is only one answer for that -- it’s due to the information being relayed to us by the “scientific community” via Eugenie Scott, et. al.

That is what is going to be the winning point for ID in the end. The public has been fed so much information by the “scientific community” that is just not accurate. When people dive into these issues thoroughly for themselves, they are going realize that there is much more to this topic than the sound bites we are given by the media.

We’re seeing this slowly happening throughout the country and worldwide as well. Sue Gamble mentioned that in 2000, other countries were wondering why the US has this "problem" with ID and evolution, but in 2005 she noticed that this "problem" has spread throughout the world.

People are opening their eyes, and delving into these issues more thoroughly and realizing that ID is a valid scientific inference, and that there are indeed many areas of Darwinian evolution that are highly questionable. The UK is up in arms over this topic right now, and other nations are involved in the debate as well. Of course, it’s spread all over the US, and Kansas is no longer the only state in the hot seat.

Things will slowly change, but education is needed. I asked a gal sitting next to me what she thought about the Behe lecture, and she said that it was obvious that Behe had a wide breadth of knowledge in the various areas of science, but she believed he was probably the exception in the Intelligent Design community. I almost accidentally laughed, but I caught myself before I did something rude like that. This is the problem we are faced with. We are told by the media that anyone who contemplates the arguments for ID is an uneducated hick, and everyone pictures the leaders in the ID movement as a little group of rather anti-intellectual fellows raising a ruckus for their religious beliefs. That opinion will not last much longer, because for those who are literate and have even a small interest in the subject, they can find an overwhelming amount of impressive literature put out by the Discovery Institute fellows along with many other scientists throughout the nation that will answer every question they have about ID, Darwinism, and the rest of the bogus claims being made about the movement.

All in all, it was quite an interesting day. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Behe personally because I was hoping to meet him after the panel discussion. But, unfortunately he wasn’t included. I did meet The Angry Astronomer, but he didn’t look so angry. LOL. I didn’t notice any of the other Kansas bloggers that I’m familiar with, so perhaps they won’t have much to say about the lecture.

Long day - I'm off to bed...