Debate of the Living Dead

February 24, 2009

I think it’s safe to say that if a geologist decided it would not be worth his  time to engage in a staged discussion with a hollow-earth cultist, you would not hear people of average education accusing him of being pissy or trying to stifle scientific debate. That’s because people of average education and intellect understand that the interior of the earth is not a vast cavern with its own sun, and that the Pellucidar novels are pulp fantasy, not scientific speculation. They also understand that for a scientist, getting into a “debate” with a scientifically illiterate crank has no upside — it is simply a time-suck that will keep him away from career-advancing research, while giving the crank a spurious air of authority.

So why is it that somebody who is demonstrably well-educated in many areas fails to grasp that evolutionary biologist Nick Gotelli has better things to do with his time than engage in yet another “debate” about creationism and evolutionary theory with somebody from the Discovery Institute, that wellspring of bad-faith argument and impenetrable ignorance? And that Gotelli’s elegantly phrased and utterly scathing rejection of the offer of debate is not “posturing” or pissiness, but simply streetwwise recognition of the fact that the Discovery Institute is interested only in grubbing for publicity.

“Debate” implies an exchange of arguments that leads to a conclusion and an adjustment of opinions in the face of the stronger argument. Gotelli knows that he can spend hours demolishing creationist arguments, like other scientists before him, without changing a single mind on the other side. When a creationist’s points are refuted, he simply reshuffles and restates them. If George Romero makes another zombie movie, I humbly suggest he clothe the undead in t-shirts with terms like “Irreducible Complexity” and “Intelligent Design” across the chests. No matter how many times you shoot them down, they get back up and keep coming.

There is plenty of debate taking place every day about the nature of evolution. Creationism — or intelligent design or whatever new bottle is fashioned to hold the old whine — is not a part of that debate. The staffers at the Discovery Institute are either half-smart religious cranks, or fully sleazy operators who know better but keep pushing discredited nonsense because they want to keep cashing their wingnut welfare checks.

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3 Responses to “Debate of the Living Dead”

  1. Bill Says:

    Here’s the key pharse — the “nut graf,” as we journalists like to call it — of that Discovery Institute letter:

    “A good scientific backdrop to the discussion might be Dr. Meyer’s book that comes out in June from HarperCollins, ‘Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.'”

    They had no interest in a debate. All they were looking for was some free publicity and a platform upon which to peddle their swill. Kudos to the Dr. for turning them down.

  2. rogerhollander Says:

    The difference: hollow-earth cultists do not number in the millions, backed by powerful institutions (Roman Catholic and evangelical Christian churches) and with controlling interest in a major and neo-Fascist U.S. political party that owned the White House for the past eight years. Furthermore,there is not a concentrated and well-funded movement to insinuate hollow-earth theory into school curricula in the name of science.

  3. mark Says:

    How can you say that Pellucidar is fantasy? TARZAN went there!


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