Creationism: My Speech

A slightly modified but not necessarily better version. Crippled by all the f**king shivering. I did NOT know I had that much stage fright! I don’t! I don’t balk from going on stage, like the majority of people I know. In fact, I even particularly relish the idea of speaking out for something I already believe in, like I did last night. I was perfectly fine when i went on stage- aside from tripping on the judge’s suitcase but then come on, he kept it on the steps!!- but once I start to speak…my fingers were trembling and I just couldn’t force a smile. The speech wasn’t necessarily all that fabulous, but I can’t help thinking that if I delivered it a little better, we could easily have got something decent. Anyway, here’s the speech.

The distinguished philosopher Philip Kitcher once said that creationism was not so much a dead science or a pseudo science as it is a zombie science…even though it has effectively been disproved several decades ago, it continues to rear up its ugly head and drool blood over the scientific cornerstone of evolution. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Nikhil Punnoose, and if my gory metaphors weren’t clear enough, I will be speaking against the motion*.

There are several parts to this topic that make it rather easy to refute. The foremost is that it refers to creationism, a term that is now reserved for the more outrageous theories with explicit-as opposed to thinly veiled-theistic motivations. Creationism can mean anything from God creating the earth in six days to the entire universe being sneezed out by the Great Green Arkleseisure. I will not take a swipe at the straw man that has been so conveniently set up for me, but instead look at it’s more “scientific”** cousin, intelligent design. Alas, here also we run into the obvious difficulty:

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has stated that “creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science.” In other words, “If ideas are based upon purported forces outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods.” The only leap of faith that needs to be made from this before we decide that creationism should not be given any sort of space in a class room is a rather obvious one: science classrooms should teach science, not the whims and fancies of men that happened to have been transmitted down the centuries through our respective scriptures.

This is not to say that what has not been proved yet can never be true. There are several examples that spring to mind, likeNewtonian vs. Einsteinian physics, or the then-obvious idea that the atom is indivisible. However, we can agree that any reasonable decision making procedure requires us to accept, however temporarily, that something that has an overwhelmingly high probability of being true IS true, unless fresh objections can be made for it.  When the consensus shifts to creationism as a reasonable theory of origin, we can discuss it in classrooms. What will plan to teach is NOT ground breaking research, but the introduction of the already largely-discredited theory.
PAUSE

A friend of mine argued, “but why not simply take a few hours to teach it in a classroom? What’s the harm?” What’s the harm? The harm is, we are NOT talking about a couple of hours here. We are talking about clarity of concept, of making sure that the students get the right view of reality, not a distorted one, not one that weighs improbable theories at higher probabilities than they would be given in any real scientific institution.

I speak to you as a man who is truly afraid of the prevailing trends and climate of opinion in countries like the United States. Given the scientific consensus on evolution, the only reason we have to even consider introducing creationism in schools is based on superstition, not reason. I see this motion not simply as a clash of two scientific viewpoints, or some intellectual concern over the contents of high school textbooks. I see it as one of the last frontiers of the oldest battle ever fought, between the enlightening power of science and rationality and the false, if comforting, darkness of myth and superstition, and sincerely hope that we don’t let darkness carry the day. Thank you.

Ok, so the last paragraph is admittedly a bit over the top. I had all these plans for saying it,too: drop the paper, look up at everyone, pause, lower my voice(and bring the mike closer) and then slowly say it. I even practised! But when it got to the real thing, despite not being all THAT short of time, I ended up not pausing and not slowing down, just going full steam ahead, which clearly robs it of its impact. If that weren’t enough, I ended up fumbling: comforting, if false as opposed to false, if comforting, which totally screws up the meaning. Anyway, we placed 8th, which IS a position i.e. my hostel gets points in the larger inter-hostel tournament, so it wasn;t a total loss. Dammit, I’m going for Saarang, and I am NOT going to screw it up!

*Where the motion is: “The House believes that Creationism is a worldview that is steadfastly held by many to be true, and hence deserves to be taught in classrooms on an equal footing as Evolution, which is part of a different, scientific worldview.”

**I did/planned to do air quotes here 🙂

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Creationism: My Speech

  1. “A friend of mine argued, “but why not simply take a few hours to teach it in a classroom? What’s the harm?” What’s the harm? The harm is, we are NOT talking about a couple of hours here. We are talking about clarity of concept, of making sure that the students get the right view of reality, not a distorted one, not one that weighs improbable theories at higher probabilities than they would be given in any real scientific institution.”

    I hope you won’t be offended when I say this, but you sound like a bigot there. Shouldn’t education be about presenting two sides of an argument and then giving students the right to choose between them?
    Just as a hardcore rationalist would be offended by the fact that his/her child’s perception is being clouded by dogmas, someone who believes in those very dogmas would feel offended by the fact that his/her child is being misled by someone else’s heretic beliefs. It’s a matter of perspective. And hence, teaching the child just one version would be wrong.
    Shouldn’t the student be given the right to choose what he/she wants to believe after he/she is informed about all the beliefs that do prevail instead of being forced to see things from one perspective? For if we force our opinions – no matter how ‘scientific’ and rational they are – down others’ throats just because we are convinced it’s true, we’ll just end up in a new kind of Dark Ages.

  2. @ presti: thanks.

    @Felicity:
    “Shouldn’t education be about presenting two sides of an argument and then giving students the right to choose between them?”
    Well, of course. But there IS no other side to this argument. There is nothing to contend against. We don’t go about explaining the “other side” of the second law of thermodynamics,do we? The other side here is a LIE. There is no figment of truth, or reasonable doubt(a term very different from doubt per se, which is easy enough to create, but see my probability argument for why it doesn’t matter) to creationism as a scientific theory.

  3. @Felicity

    Alright, first you can’t have an argument between science and religion because well, they’re NOT 2 sides of the same coin. They’re completely different. One uses empirical evidence and explanations of reality based on observation while the other is based on hearsay passed down the ages from face it, unreliable and unconfirmed and most times, purely imaginary sources.

    Second, while we’re teaching “Creation Science” in school, why not teach the Norse myth of Odin and the birth of the Universe from Lord Vishnu’s navel? Shouldn’t students know ALL possible sides of the ‘argument’?

    Nobody forces Science down anybody’s throat. It’s there for all to see. It’s amazing how people use Science every single day of their lives from using polyester to traveling in planes and yet think being rational is some sort of a failing.

  4. @ Felicity(contd):
    The second part to your argument, however, I find completely inexplicable: “someone who believes in those very dogmas would feel offended by the fact that his/her child is being misled by someone else’s heretic beliefs.”Belief is not a question of choice, of determining which belief is likely to be more advantageous to you and then following it. This is the fallacy at the heart of Pascal’s Wager, and if the statement isn’t immediately obvious to you, there are numerous explanations that you can find online. Dogma, by definition, isn’t something that should be encouraged. One of the greatest virtues of the scientific age has been the eradication of dogma in favour of a culture of skepticism.

    I am, of course, not denying anyone the right to tell their children whatever they want. However, in a public school-something likely to be government subsidized- there should be no question of teaching myth in lieu of science. If you want to tell your children fairy tales, send them to bible class.

  5. When I said – “Shouldn’t education be about presenting two sides of an argument and then giving students the right to choose between them?”, I meant that students should be told in school that there are people who believe that the world was created by a supernatural power or a collusion of supernatural powers. I am not saying that any particular religion’s ideologies should be enforced on them.

    Since questions about the Creation of the world and about our own origins aren’t merely scientific – since they have religious and metaphysical aspects to them – it would be folly to present children with just one aspect of the argument.

  6. @Felicity:
    Really? I ask because, that didn’t sound like what you were saying at all. What you’re saying now is something along the lines of telling students: “Ok, so there are these people who think some supernatural being created the universe, and we call them creationists. Science tells us that life came about to be in its present stage through the concept of evolution…[full-length lecture].”

    What you seemed to be saying earlier was that “student[s should] be given the right to choose what he/she wants to believe after he/she is informed about all the beliefs that prevail.” This seems to be much more like what the topic calls for, which is “equal footing”, which would unavoidably involve LYING(or compromising academic integrity, as others call it), since there is no other way to provide any basis for the theory.

    (Here, I mention for the record that I am not, in fact, “riled” 😛 )

  7. I would say that one needs to tell students about all perspectives that are there … and in a scientific world it would be evolution that would emerge.. why this fear and discomfort in introducing the idea of creationism? put forth the various perspectives that are there on a particular topic and if students are scientifically grounded then they know what to choose…. its inappropriate to say that since one cant as of now prove a theory its wrong .. there is no harm in being open to diverse views and opinions.. education is a success when people are enabled to make informed choices.. so present various possiblities and let people decide for themselves..

  8. I guess I worded my argument a trifle carelessly. When I said “all the beliefs that prevail”, I didn’t mean that the teacher should spend hours on end droning about “the Norse myth of Odin and the birth of the Universe from Lord Vishnu’s navel”. I just meant that teachers shouldn’t pretend that the idea of Creationism doesn’t even exist (which is what your post suggests) and that we should acknowledge the fact that children aren’t morons who’ll get completely befuddled if they are presented with two sides of an argument.

  9. @Bakerbaaz:
    This “fear and discomfort” results from some very real facts. The human brain has evolved in such a way as to believe in “simpler”, superstitious explanations like “God created man in his image” as opposed to apparently more complicated explanations such as evolution. Of course, in the mathematical sense of complexity(see Kolmogorov complexity) the idea of evolution is some orders of magnitude(expressed in bits)more complex than the idea of creationism, but unfortunately, children-while not morons- don’t think like computers. They are prone to believe one over the other, because they are just wired that way, just as they are wired to be susceptible to hindsight bias and anchoring and fake explanations and fake causality and positive bias and motivated cognition.

    I agree with you that one can fight most of these if one is “scientifically grounded”. In your opinion, how many of the 47% of Americans who believe in creationism are “scientifically grounded”? Informed choices help only when the information provided is accurate. By even treating creationism as a scientific theory to be taught in classrooms, you are implicitly conveying false information. See that whole bit in the speech about “weighing improbable theories at higher probabilities than they would be given in any real scientific institution.”

  10. @Felicity:
    Hmm,I guess I worded my argument a trifle carelessly. I hardly think that we should pretend that creationism doesn’t exist. I have no objections whatsoever to teachers mentioning it in class as long as they make it clear that it is not, in fact, a scientific theory. This should ideally result in them being driven by principle NOT to spend their time talking about it to any great extent. Which is all I’m suggesting. Including it in the syllabus as an alternate explanation to be seriously considered is what I have a problem with.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s