May 5, 2002

Krauss Goes Ballistic over ID; NSF's Biennial "Science Literacy" Survey

By Mark Hartwig

As the Wedge advances, it's getting harder for Darwinists to sustain their strategy of ducking substantive issues and keeping them off the table. Just how hard can be gauged by reading Lawrence Krauss' recent essay in the New York Times ("Odds Are Stacked When Science Tries to Debate Pseudoscience," April 30).

Krauss is Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and chairman of the department of Physics at Case Western Reserve University. In 1999 he received the AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award. Hailed as "a much-needed successor to Carl Sagan," he's the author of such books as The Physics of Star Trek and Beyond Star Trek. He was also active in efforts to "counter the creationism movement in the [Kansas'] public school system."

In this essay, Krauss targets Ohio and efforts there to let students hear the evidence against Darwin's theory of evolution and consider competing theories, such as intelligent design. Oddly, though, he doesn't even mention Darwinism and intelligent design until halfway through his essay. Instead he talks about … UFOs. Indeed, throughout his essay, he spends more time refuting the existence of alien invaders than criticisms of Darwin's theory.

Why? If Darwin's theory is so compelling and competing theories so erroneous, why waste ink on space invaders?

Because a substantive debate is precisely what he and other Darwinists want to avoid. In Krauss' own words, "Merely having a debate inevitably suggests that each side has some credibility. As a result, opponents of the scientific method like creationists try very hard to appear in debates with scientists. Merely being on the same stage represents a victory!"

So instead of an honest refutation, Krauss chooses to stigmatize dissenters by associating them with folks who believe in UFOs-the purpose being to intimidate dissenters and convince neutral listeners that there's no substance worth listening to.

That may work for the short run. As the ID movement grows, however, folks like Krauss will have to come up with real arguments. If they keep squandering their credibility with claptrap like his New York Times essay, they shouldn't be surprised if nobody listens.

Although Darwinists' tactics will ultimately prove self-defeating, ID proponents should not underestimate the power of intimidation. The results of a recent "science literacy" survey by the National Science Foundation may be instructive here.

.The "science literacy" survey is part of NSF's biennial report, Science and Engineering Indicators, which, in its own words "provides a broad base of quantitative information about U.S. science, engineering and technology."

The survey purported to measure "public understanding of science and technology." However, among its questions about such things as the speed of light and how long it takes the earth to go around the sun was a true-or-false question that read: "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." As you might guess, the correct answer was "true."

Of course, it verges on fraud to say that this item measures "understanding of science." I addressed this in an article for the Los Angeles Times several years ago, but the point I raised is still valid: "That item …measures belief, not knowledge. Most Americans understand that humans are thought to be descended from other species. But a great many of them would answer 'false' because they just don't believe it." It defies belief that the survey designers wouldn't know that.

Moreover, as any halfway competent survey designer knows, responses to the item were bound to be tainted by "social desireability"-by a impulse to tell the interviewer what he wanted to hear. Indeed, the report recognized this possibility with other items-those that asked respondents about their interest in science. But not with this item. Because that would involve admitting that the item did not measure knowledge but belief.

The report did note, however, that "for the first time, a majority (53 percent) of NSF survey respondents answered 'true' " to the question. It also suggested that "the attention received by the Kansas controversy may be responsible for a change in response to the 'evolution' question."

This is probably correct, though the lesson learned was not that Darwin's theory of evolution is true, but that people who question it will pay a price. Indeed, the Darwinists' campaign in Kansas was noteworthy for its viciousness--and Darwinists have since used the episode as a warning to anyone who would consider opening the science classroom to debate about Darwinism. (See, for example, the Darwinist response last year to congressmen considering the "Santorum amendment.")

The intimidation tactics, however, signal something important about Darwinists. That "something" was explained in an insightful little piece by one A.J. Obrdlik. Published in 1942, it was a study of "gallows humor" in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi occupation. In that article, Obrdlik made a very keen observation:

Gallows humor is a reliable index of the morale of the oppressed whereas the reaction to it on the part of the oppressors tells a long story about the actual strength of the dictators: If they can afford to ignore it, they are strong; if they react wildly with anger, striking their victims with severe reprisals and punishment, they are not sure of themselves, no matter how much they display their might on the surface.

With the growing success of the Wedge, I'm sure we're going to see a lot more of this stuff. But Darwinist tactics will become a lot less intimidating as people realize that they signify not strength but panic.

Copyright 2002 Mark Hartwig. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 5.05.02

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