Why I Post Comments on Creationist and ID Blogs
A fellow blogger asked me recently "Why waste your time posting [at creationist and ID blogs] at all? You do not seem to have a receptive audience." Other people ask me why I generally treat creationists and ID supporters with respect, rather than taking every opportunity to heap scorn and ridicule upon them. Here's what I hope is an adequate explanation to both of these questions.
I post comments at creationist and ID blogs (when I have the time, which is definitely not all the time) because I expect that there are a lot of people who read these comments without participating directly in such debates. This is why I try to keep as civil a tone as possible, especially when my opponents use ad hominem arguments, character assassination, insults, and ridicule. The contrast between their tactics and mine undermines their credibility (and, by extension, that of their soi dissant “science”). Indeed, some commentator’s comments are so insulting that I refuse to respond to them, and I believe that this does not pass unnoticed by readers who are not yet irrationally committed to one side or the other.
Also, as a teacher (currently in my 35th year of teaching at Cornell University), I feel a professional responsibility to correct some of the more egregious misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the science of evolutionary biology which are promulgated at creationist and ID blogs. Some of these misrepresentations clearly stem from ignorance, and in a gratifying number of cases some the commentators whom I have corrected have thanked me for the information and references I have provided.
However, other misrepresentations are apparently part of a deliberate and ongoing effort to distort the public record and deliberately misrepresent the relevant scientific information for political and religious purposes. I strongly believe that this kind of mendacity should be exposed for what it is, and for what it isn’t (i.e. it isn’t science).
Furthermore, I have always tried to emulate the long-standing Quaker tradition of “speaking truth to power”, which is the opposite of “preaching to the choir”. It means confronting directly what I perceive to be misunderstanding (and what I perceive to be deliberate mendacity), rather than limiting my interactions to people with whom I already agree. I agree with Charles Darwin, who said that he paid much more attention to the criticisms of people who disagreed with him than the praise of people who agreed with him. Like Darwin, I find that debating with people with whom I disagree helps me greatly to clarify my own position on the relevant issues, and to help my opponents clarify theirs. I believe that it would be a terribly boring (and non-progressive) world in which everyone agreed upon every subject, and so I am grateful to some of the commentators here for helping me improve my understanding of the relevant issues and my ability to argue persuasively for what I perceive to be the best supported position.
Like Hegel, I believe that genuine synthesis usually arises out of the clash between thesis and antithesis, and that progress in human understanding is almost always gained at the price of diligence, honesty, and honor. As my fencing master often says, “a gentleman is always gracious and dignified in defeat, humble and gentle in victory”. I have to the best of my ability tried to account myself according to this standard of conduct, and believe that the world would be a better place if everyone tried to do so.
Finally, to the best of my ability, I try to “fight the good fight” in defense of what I understand to be an accurate description of reality. I expect my opponents to do the same. When they do, I tell them so. Indeed, if they do a good job, I congratulate them, especially if they persuade me to change my mind, as the result of sufficiently convincing arguments. However, when my opponents depart from honorable and honest argumentation and stoop to ad hominem attacks, character assassination, insults, and ridicule, I call them on it and I inform them in no uncertain terms that I will no longer respond to them.
The same principles apply to this blog, and can be read here.
As always, comments, criticisms, and suggestions are warmly welcomed!