The pharyngula website is associated with The Panda's Thumb, which seems to be one of the central locations for the pro-evolution side of the evolution vs. "intelligent design" debate. The name is a reference to one of Stephen Jay Gould's books on evolution. I'm a fan of Gould. His writing about evolution is clear without being dumbed down, and his insights into evolutionary debate give non-biologists a real understanding of the issues. The linked article discusses some of the controversial aspects of his writing.
But that's not my main point. My main point is that I'm glad that Pharyngula and The Panda's Thumb exist. Because standing up for evolutionary theory over pseudo-scientific "intelligent design" is something I a) don't know enough about and b) don't have the patience for. The whole argument about what to teach in a science classroom is almost too emotionally charged for me to take part.
Before I go on my little rant to get it out of my system, let me assure you that I fully understand that there are millions of devout, practicing Christians who believe that species evolved over millions of years according to principles generally accepted by evolutionary science. They see no contradiction in reading the Bible metaphorically when it contradicts scientific understanding, and they see God's hand in the beauty of a system that He created and that allows for the development of the incredible range of biological diversity on our planet. I know that ranting about the Religious Right can make me seem anti-religious, and I assure you that I'm not.
But having said that (and knowing that I'm coming to the depressing part later), I just have to say that the "intelligent design" (ID) proponents are just totally full of shit. There...I did it. My first real swearword on my blog. Whew.
The ID "theory" (which it isn't, because it's not testable or falsifiable) is that some biological systems are too complex to have arisen incrementally over millions of years, and that this must mean that some intelligent force was behind their creation--randomness and selection being given too much credit for their power to create those structures. Of course, all of the proponents of this "theory" are Christian, and their vision of the nature of this intelligence is always the Christian God.
So first of all, this runs into the common problem of all omnipotent god theories. If God is so powerful, isn't it just remotely possible that He created the mechanism of evolution to be so efficient that it indeed could cause the diversity and complexity we see in the planet's biology? I mean, the obvious way to reconcile a belief in God with a belief in evolution is right there, ready for the plucking. But no, apparently God in His omnipotence can't do that. He has to just go and create species or structures of species out of nowhere.
They're very clever, those ID "theorists". They try to couch this in neutral language that doesn't seem on the face of it to be inflamatory. "Teach the controversy" they say. "Don't just teach kids about evolution because there's dissent about that--teach both sides." Of course there isn't really any dissent about the basics of evolution in the scientific community, but the ID proponents suggest that maybe science is a little too smug about their methods, and they should be more flexible and admit the possibility that ID is correct. There's just no way out of their argument.
So instead of trying to argue it, some people have suggested that we take their arguments further in logical ways. Why only teach the Christian creation myth? How about the Hindu view? Or the Navaho view? Or the Giant Spaghetti Monster view? (Do NOT leave this page without checking out that link if you don't know what it is already!!!) At this point in the discussion, the evolutionist point of view is just too clearly right, so I can't even get myself to listen to the counter-arguments to this reasoning. I honestly don't know what those counter-arguments are. I recognize that this is a character flaw on my part (impatience with idiocy), but I just get too riled up.
But that brings me to the depressing part. Despite all this antipathy towards teaching ID (don't even get me started on separation of church and state issues), I can understand how they feel. They really believe creationism/psuedoscience in the same way I really believe that the scientific method is the right way to understand the world and that it tell us unambiguously that evolution was at work to create all modern species (even if some of the details are still incomplete). And if they really believe that the world is that way, why shouldn't they argue tooth and nail to have it mentioned in schools where people are supposed to learn the way the world is? I honestly can't blame them. They want the same thing I do: students should learn what's correct, not what's incorrect.
There's no way for me to convince them with scientific evidence, because they don't accept the scientific method. There's no way for them to convince me with Biblical evidence, because I don't accept the Bible as a document about the way the physical world works. The problem is at the very root of what it means to be a "fact" or to be "correct". Is all "fact" really just a belief? I know that's part of the post-modern, deconstructionist thought process, but I can't get my brain around the idea that the whole idea of "evidence" only goes to prove a belief, not a fact. Maybe it's my theorem-proving math brain. Or my livelihood as a teacher. But it seems to me we all need some facts.
As Charlie Brown would say, "AAAARRRGGGHHHHH".