Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Creationism's UK tour - should opponents engage or ignore?

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

A month ago, we predicted that the new "Centre for Intelligent Design", which opened in September in Glasgow, would be worth keeping an eye on. And so it has come to pass. I received a press release from the Centre this morning promoting a UK lecture tour by Michael Behe, the American biochemist and prominent Intelligent Design advocate who they're calling a "world renowned scientist":
All of us are interested in the question of origins. Ever since Darwin’s landmark book On the Origin of Species, the question of design has been controversial. Didn’t Darwin’s theory settle the design question once and for all? Isn’t design in the natural world merely apparent rather than real?

Not all scientists agree with this view. Professor Mike Behe is one of the most prominent among those who have questioned whether random mutation and natural selection really do have the fabulous creative power usually attributed to them. His carefully-argued work inDarwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution has proved controversial, but it has by no means been refuted as is often claimed.

So where does the truth lie in this important matter? Is it Darwin or Design? Rather than rely on second-hand opinions about this fascinating field, we invite you to come along to one of Professor Behe’s lectures - and find out for yourself.
Those of you who are familiar with the ID movement in the US will know that Behe is one of its leading figureheads. He was a witness for the defence in the 2004 Kitzmiller v Dover federal court case in Pennsylvania, in which Judge John E Jones III, in the process of ruling that Intelligent Design could not be taught as science in US public schools, dismissed Behe's trademark "irreducible complexity" argument for Intelligent Design, saying "We therefore find that Professor Behe's claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large."

Of course, the last few words there, "rejected by the scientific community at large", are key, but this doesn't seem to prevent the continued march of creationism and ID, which thanks to the Centre for Intelligent Design will now gain increased publicity in the UK. And herein lies the problem for opponents of psuedoscience like ID. Behe's lecture tour runs from  20-27 November, taking in venues in Cambridge, London, Glasgow, Leamington Spa (in, sigh, a school, albeit in the evening) and Belfast, concluding with a day conference on the 27th at Oxford Brookes University – should opponents of ID be booking places at these events to ensure the scientific case is represented, or should we ignore them, on the grounds that it's better not to give credibility to these pseudoscientific views by engaging with them? (If it's the latter, I have, of course, already undermined that by writing this post.)

I'm really not sure what I think. Should I go along to a London event, for instance? Should I be encouraging readers to join me? Let's have a debate - share your views in the comments and vote in the poll below.

Update: there's a campaign against the Centre for Intelligent Design called Fake ID - full details here.


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