IDiots want to “teach the controversy,” but there isn’t any.

The argument put forth by creationists advocates of the so-called Intelligent Design theory is that there is supposedly a huge disagreement among scientists over whether I.D. or the Theory of Evolution is the best explanation for the development of life on Earth and thus their favorite rallying cry is that schools should “teach the controversy” and include lessons on Intelligent Design in science classes. This mantra—teach the controversy—is repeated so much that many otherwise intelligent folks who don’t have much science background might be excused if they start to believe that there actually is a big controversy about the issue among scientists. So Robert Camp decided to find out once and for all if such a controversy actually existed by polling the heads of prominent research university biology departments and asking a simple yes or no question: “Regarding the issue of “Intelligent Design theory” vs. current biological consensus on the mechanisms of evolution – is there a difference of professional opinion within your department that you feel could be accurately described as a scientific controversy?”

Of the 158 initial query emails sent over two days I received 73 responses, 45 of which included comments (Table 1). Both of these numbers far exceeded my expectations. Although I’d planned to send a second email thanking the respondents for their time and asking (what I expected to be) the few who sent comments for their permission to quote, I had not expected such an extended second round of emails. Of the 45 responses with comments, 27 allowed me their use, only two of those asking that I withhold their name. Considering the vicissitudes of email, the extra bother to very busy people, and the natural desire not to cause any potential distraction for an employer, I found the overall response to be instructive.

Over 97% of the responding Bio dept. heads answered in the negative – affirming that there is no scientific controversy at their institution (Table 1). Just one individual (1.4%) hedged by allowing that there was one faculty member who publicly supports ID (see Comments), but this observation was followed by the assertion that the “vast majority” do not consider ID scientific and thus see no scientific controversy. And one individual (1.4%) responded with a positive recognition of a scientific controversy. It must be noted that this lone “Yes” response came from a theological medical university.

Professors from Washington to Florida and from southern California to New England responded to the question, all but two with an unqualified “No” (some even added an exclamation point). And those two divergent responses serve to point up the open and thoughtful nature of the answers. One, a “No, but…” observed that there was virtually no professional controversy within their department but acknowledged that one colleague had spoken favorably of the concept publicly (see Comments). And the only assent to controversy came from an institution dedicated to an ideological view of the world, including the world of biology. This may serve as evidence of a “controversy” in that particular university. But in the larger context, its effect is only to put the overwhelming consensus into sharper focus.

There is no party line, there are no knee-jerk responses in the comments received (though there is a good bit of candor). These results are born of the understanding, among those with authoritative opinions, of where the proper lines between scientific and religious epistemologies must be drawn. Some even teach classes that include discussion of “Intelligent Design” but they understand that it is not science, and that there is no relevant controversy.

Of course you’ll note that when IDiots are claiming that a “growing number of scientists dispute the Theory of Evolution” they don’t include the word “biology” anywhere in the sentence. This is because there is a bit more support for I.D. among scientists that aren’t part of the biology field such as mathematicians or engineers, but even expanding the realm of consideration beyond biology to other scientific fields adds only a minor amount of support for I.D. and hardly adds up to the claimed huge controversy. The point remains that when you’re designing a curriculum on engineering you don’t include any controversy among biologists about, say, the theory of bridge building so why should the reverse be any different? Among those who should know best there is no controversy to speak of.

21 thoughts on “IDiots want to “teach the controversy,” but there isn’t any.

  1. On the other hand, plenty of professors, PhDs, and working biologists simply refuse to write letters of recommendation if a student supports I.D. or Creationism.  Obviously you’ll never be the head of a major biology department if people won’t give you a letter of recommendation to get into a PhD program.

    So here’s what this survey tells us:

    “Ok, everyone who isn’t 100% sure about evolution, please leave the room.”

    (some people shuffle out)

    “Now that those guys are gone, do you people think there’s any controversy surrounding the theory of evolution?  No?  Sounds good, then.”

    If this guy has an interest in scientific inquiry, I suggest sending out a few follow-up survey questions:

    “Would you write a letter of recommendation for a bright student who thought that evolution was a flawed theory, and that the universe was created by an intelligent entity?”

    “Would you admit someone like that to your program as a PhD candidate?”

    “Would you hire someone like that to a tenure-track professorship at your school?  Would you vote to give them tenure?”

  2. Daryl, I would agree that refusing a person merit based on their personal religious beliefs would be improper. I also despise the attitude put forward in the quote (skepticism is good). However, any student who doubts biology will still have to fess up with evidence. That’s fine – lots of scientists had their pet theories (most of which, I’m guessing, were incorrect, and the evidence and research probably showed that).

    However, if a person not only refuses the evidence at hand but refuses to assert, research, and demonstrate alternatives, then there can be no good reason to promote them within academia for that conduct – they refuse science. You can believe whatever you want, however irrational it may be, but when it comes to your conduct, you have standards to live up to. This would hold true regardless of your religion or lack thereof, although religions like Christianity necessarily involve some suspension of rational faculties.

    To that end, your questions ask yes or no answers when, in fact, much more elaborate explanations are required. There is no answer c)not applicable, so it’s a stacked deck. When it comes to making decisions like, say, PhD candidacy, whether or not they believe in an intelligent entity is irrelevant, since it’s their conduct that counts. On one side, if the answer were to be “no” in this stacked deck, then academia is discriminating against the religious. If it’s “yes”, then the scientific community must be begrudgingly admitting that religion has some merit.

  3. Yeah, and you’ll find there’s almost no support for alchemy in the chemistry departments, for the same cruel reason:  no one will write a letter of recommendation for a chemistry student who insists on believing that lead can be turned into gold.

    Strange, that.

  4. This post is more than welcome. I’m getting so tired of people insisting students should be allowed to “form their own opinion in such a controversal matter”. This study nullifies such a claim.

  5. GeekMom: you’ll find there’s almost no support for alchemy in the chemistry departments, for the same cruel reason:  no one will write a letter of recommendation for a chemistry student who insists on believing that lead can be turned into gold.

    Unlike the origin of species, a claim that one can turn lead into gold can be tested: “Here’s some lead.  Show us.”

    In any case, my point is valid.  Robert Camp polled a population which was actively selected to exclude anyone who has doubts about evolution.  He then found—surprise, surprise—that those he polled had no doubts about evolution.  Big deal.

    Here, watch me do the exact same experiment.  I will buy a big bag of M&Ms, and put all the green ones in a bowl.  Now I sample the bowl to see whether M&Ms are green.  The results: An overwhelming majority are green!  Another groovy mystery solved.

    And just to be pedantic, the alchemists were in fact correct: Glenn Seaborg, the 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, succeeded in transmuting lead into gold.  He used a rather powerful particle accelerator to do it.  It’s probably easier to turn mercury into gold, but I’m not aware if anyone has ever tried.  Most particle accelerators use more electricity than a small town, so there isn’t any money in it.

    Karst: I’m getting so tired of people insisting students should be allowed to “form their own opinion in such a controversal matter

  6. Daryl…!

    Do you really think alchemists would’ve created gold if only they had been given a bit more research funding?! Do you really think “they were correct”? (Just to be pedantic of course….)

    Alchemy is scientifically vacuous. ID is also scientifically vacuous. If ID were not scientifically vacuous, it would not need to go to the courts for verification. It would go to the laboratory where it could be tested using the scientific method.

    You seem to feel that what consitutes science is subject to personal or popular opinion. You present several strawman arguments attempting to show this. You have a strange way of thinking…

  7. Daryl, your argument has a pretty big flaw in it.  Most of the faculty surveyed have been there since before “Intelligent Design” was floated as a concept.  So it’s unlikely that all of the ones who believed in it were denied positions or letters of recommendation on the basis of believing something that hadn’t been talked about yet.

    Also, it’s completely possible for scientists in existing positions to change their minds once they’d heard of ID.  “Yeah, okay, it sounds like a valid idea to me.  Let’s explore it some more.”  And in fact, this HAS happened … not to scientists in biology, of course, but to scientists who are, say, in engineering and aren’t equipped with the knowledge to analyze ID critically, using facts.  But I digress.

    So it’s entirely possible, theoretically, that the survey could have found plenty of tenured faculty who had heard of ID and thought it was a new, controversial idea. 

    But if you’d rather blame ID’s lack of acceptance on conspiracy theories, go right ahead.  I have a feeling that’s where you’re more comfortable anyway.

  8. My browser ate the longer version of my reply, so I’ll make this one brief.

    In any case, my point is valid.  Robert Camp polled a population which was actively selected to exclude anyone who has doubts about evolution.  He then found—surprise, surprise—that those he polled had no doubts about evolution.  Big deal.

    No, your point is not valid.  Proponents of ID claim that there is controversy in academia about the validity of ID, and this e-mail survey shows quite clearly that there is none. 

    If you want to see what a controversy in academia looks like, turn to the current debate over String Theory in physics.  There are academic meetings dedicated to this topic, which has (to date) not produced a single unique prediction beyond what we already know of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity.  Some scientists think that it will someday, while others don’t. 

    The only proponents of ID are religious fundamentalists, a few lawyers working for them, and a handful of Ph.D., most not in biology, who make quite a killing selling their ideas in book form to the ID crowd.  The ID Ph.D’s have not come up with a single testable theory that holds water.  In fact, many of their “Irreduciably Complex” examples have been found to be reducible.

    Even if there was an ID controversy in academia (and there isn’t), how exactly would high-school students be able to help the scientists with this problem?  When Einstein first published this theory of Special Relativity 101 years ago, high-school teachers didn’t run out and ‘teach the controversy’, but instead the high-school curriculum waited until the issue was resolved by the physicists trained to deal with these issues. 

    Yes, now that a group of authority figures has told us what the “right

  9. Everytime an ID’er/Creationist etc posts they get loads to replys pointing out the error of their ways.  May I suggest we don’t bother any more.  Instead the 1st person to read posts the following

    Dear ….  ID/Creationism has been discussed many times on this site.  No Creationist has ever adequatly formed a proper scientific Theory to rebut the arguments against.  If you have a hypothesis that can be tested please post here.  Please note such a hypothesis must conform to the normal strict methodologies for testing ANY scientific thesis.  It must predict the result for any input done by any suitably qualified person, not just your data.


    Is the Captcha thing people sometimes mention the little security word below?- if so mine is quite appropriately ‘eye’

  10. Hussar, the words in your quote are absolutely true, but the main problem that I would have with employing your strategy is the fact that doing so would reduce us to the level of the IDiots—we would essentially be basing our answers on a single script and putting no thought into our replies.

    So professors in the biology departments are refusing to write references for students who stick to creationist viewpoints? Good, I say! This is not an issue of being entitled to one’s opinions; it is an issue of whether or not the student in question has what it takes to excel in the biological sciences, and an insistence on believing something that is patently untrue reveals that the creationist student is not qualified to become a biologist.

  11. On teaching the controversy:

    What other controversial viewpoints do we teach in the ‘hard’ sciences? And why on earth would we? As far as I know what we teach is scientific fact as we currently know it, what science does is push the boundaries to test the theories, amending them if they need it or supplanting them if they are flat out wrong. What we do NOT do is teach EVERY competing theory by every group with an ideological axe to grind. Students are in school to learn what is current fact. If the facts change THEN the curriculum changes. Letting the students decide what is and is not good science is letting the inmates run the asylum.

    And as far as the poor promising I.D. proponent not getting tenure – tough shit. Much like the pharmacists who can’t do their job because it conflicts with their faith they should NEVER have gone into a field that THEY were incompatible with.

  12. I agree with your academia comments, S. Sadie.

    However, as a junior copy writer, I’d like to tweak your comments a bit. For the practise.

    “This is true. I know it to be so. If Our Heavenly Father wills it, 1 + 1 = 5. He made the rules of numbers, He can alter them if He so wishes.”

    “Get the fuck out of the Math Department, kid. You’ll never calculate in this town again.”

  13. What I never understand is creationists absolute aversion to admitting that an omnipotent creator could, you know, design the rules without breaking the rules. Why any diety would purposely design something with curiosity, free will, & intelligence and then willfully support people adverse to using those things to any significant purpose because they somehow work “counter to His Will” is silly.

    “Oh, you can understand THAT, just not this other stuff that you’re too stupid and pathetic to understand. I made THIS stuff just so you’d know what a badass I am, and IT is too complex for your tiny minds except by accepting my vague human-written allegories and myths as the utter truth. Not that this would explain the mechanisms, for you sure art dumb, but it will make you feel better about yourself in your dumbness.”

    ID, who needs an education when you’ve got Jesus? Sheesh.

  14. Looks like we scared Daryl away. That’s a shame.LOL

    What we do NOT do is teach EVERY competing theory by every group with an ideological axe to grind

    Exactly. How would any of us feel if professionals in the medical sciences were to give equal time to potential physicians who still base their understanding of medicine on the four humors theory?

  15. Mister mook sounds like a retard to me, so many people making rational beliefs about nothing but theories designed to enslave people and their minds, thought controll, the monoply of all monopolies. When one group of nazis tells a group people what they can and cannot do based upon their belief system its time that this system of things will come crashing down on their heads due to their inbred decision making habits-the hippocracy of it is too overwhelming and it seems that the bling do truly lead the blind. Some of these so-called scientific thinkers are the most narrow minded people on earth with their dogmas well ingrained to the point to where they want to force them on others, forget tolerance as it seems there is none for truly rational thinkers of this age as many cannot tolerate those who think and dare to look outside the box-no wonder people fall into belief systems like facism, communism, and terrorism. The ancient world is full of mystery and much of it is being rediscovered as fact-how beit that we think we have all things figured out. mOst scientists minds are tainted with this belief that all things came from some inanimate chemical goop and were all supposed to believe that masterfully constructed interwebs of life in their perfection are a result of aeons of mutations upward through the complexity of the dna molecule-why dont I just explode some dynamite in a junkyard and see if I can come up with a battleship…that really the gist of it folks. It is not a conspiracy to me that people believe this stuff, rather its a testament to the fact that man who walks upright is allways trying to mimic creatures of a lesser developed spiritual nature. As criminal behavior go against all rational and logical thought, so does such a line of thinking go against the order of the universe-what is perverse often seems rational to the depraved mind and what is rational often seems perverse to the depraved mind.

  16. Wow, use paragraphs and punctuation much? Why don’t you try that again so the people who are actually literate can read it. Right now it’s just this blur of an idiot ranting that doesn’t make any sense.

    I’m not suggesting that you’ll make more sense with line breaks, just that it will be easier to read what you’re saying to point out to everyone what an idiot you are if you actually wrote your message in English.

  17. Jay; Mister mook sounds like a retard to me,

    The post then quickly deteriorates from there.

    Jay; What the fuck?  It took you 9 months to craft that post?  Would proper punctuation have taken an additional two months?

  18. We live in a world of time and we cannot stop it or rewind it, there is no such thing as the “universal remote.” Did anyone of you thought that, what would happen if my time stopped?
    It would be kind of sad if my time stopped, because I kind of had plans and other stuff I wanted to do… So is that it? All that life experience totally went down the drain, is that fair? Maybe I do not want my time to stop, maybe I want to live right until the next big disaster like the nuclear war or something, but until then the life is good.
    For me personally I know that I am well created and the universe is the same way. And there is nobody out there in the world that would convince me that I came about by chance and that life ends when you stop breathing.
    I know that the most intelligent living thing on earth which has thought, sympathy, happiness, sadness, rationality, consciences, which has life*… will not just go to waste.
    Life*- what is life? By the way the dictionary does not seem to give a rational answer. Well it is something I and the rest of people cannot explain. We as people have a choice to do something or not, and we are totally in control and we decide to do it or not, we sometimes have second thoughts weather to do it or not, why? The dog just does stuff to get a bone, we do it because we maybe care about each other, why? For example I actually care whether you are in need of something or not, why? You probably care about something else, or why do trees grow? Let me stop being mysterious and just go straight to the answer which matters.
    There is something above us and it is not the ceiling or the satellite, it is ___! You got it exactly; it is a three letter word, how did you get that so correct? If you did not get the answer correct then please correct it, because everybody knows it. We do not live in the BC we live in the AD you know what is means? this is just the first thing that pooped up when I searched in Google. Funny how they trying to change it to CE-BCE, pretty clever actually. You do not have to look far to see what BC-AD really stands for, or why are we here or what should we do while here and the answer is in the Holy Bible. And if you did not read It carefully then please do not say nothing of what it teaches, if you want I can explain, but that is another story.

    I tried to be brief, sorry. And thank you if you actually read this truth.

  19. LMAO wow man, um, yeah.. The earth is round, so how can god be above it? If god is above china then it would be below us, right?
    That god. He sure is a tricky fellow.

    BTW this post is 4 years old you sad little zombie.

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