Thursday, February 14, 2008

Discussion: Darwin Day

I had an interesting if unintended conversation night before last with two gentlemen from the Discovery Institute.

For those who aren't aware, the DI is a Seattle-based conservative "think tank" (I really hate that term) primarily dedicated to sponsoring "research" by "scientists" which they think might be friendly to creationism. (I won't call it "intelligent design" until they start saying "evolutionary biology" or "the modern synthesis" instead of "Darwinism." Call me petty, but I think it's only fair.) They tend to utilize more or less the same arguments every other creationist group in history has used, namely: 1) Some aspects of life are too complicated to have evolved, so they must have been created by some intelligence which may or may not be God but which is, purely coincidentally, almost certainly quite God-shaped; 2) "Macroevolution," an essentially arbitrary distinction from "microevolution" based on the amount of change, hasn't been directly observed - which they're quite sure has nothing to do with the millions-of-years time frame involved; 3) Darwin was a bad, bad man.

I showed up at the Blue Star Pub on Tuesday night - Darwin Day, as it happened - for my first Seattle Skeptics Meetup, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Blue Star was a pretty decent little place that had given us a back room, and that there were a fair number of people there - and some of them were even in my age range! I arrived before Courtney, so I had the opportunity to meet a few folks before she did.

I was surprised to learn about the guests from the DI, however. I was expecting a fairly quiet, fun night of getting to know some Seattle skeptics, not a vigorous argument; I'm not at my arguing peak at the moment. As it wound up working out, I was, out of perhaps 25 or 30 people, seated directly across from the creationists. When I learned this, I immediately ordered an imperial pint of Arrogant Bastard Ale; it seemed both fitting and necessary. When the waitress returned with my beer, she remarked, "You had the Arrogant Bastard, right? Yeah, I thought so. You kinda seemed like one." I considered this a good omen.

I won't waste your time, readers, with details of the ensuing debate; it was exactly what you would expect. I am an evolutionary biologist; they are... well, they are people who abuse science and promote bad scientists for a living. It wasn't pretty, although it was, to everyone's credit, always polite and in good humor. I feel like I carried at least a third of the non-creationist side of the argument, no small feat given that there were at least twenty people participating and only two of them were DIers; Courtney, for her part, jumped in now and then with biting remarks from the perspective of a religious studies major, and spent the rest of the time biting back less polite remarks.

For the most part, we talked in circles; I asked what mechanism they proposed this hypothetical intelligence used to create life, and Casey, the talkative one, replied, "Intelligence." I looked at him like he was an idiot, and attempted to explain what exactly a mechanism is, and he avoided the question entirely. I asked why the fact that intelligences create information today implied for any reason that all information was created by intelligence, and he replied, "Because today we see intelligence creating information." When I attempted to point out that this was roughly analogous to saying that since some round stones were smoothed in the gizzards of dinosaurs, there must be dinosaurs around to account for all round stones - though not, I regret, with that elegant analogy, which I hadn't thought of yet - he... well, he dodged the question entirely. Repeat ad nauseam.

All in all, though, it wasn't a bad night at all. We met some cool folks, and while I don't like to enjoy beating up on the deluded in debate, I did, in spite of myself, enjoy it. I had some good beer and a very tasty buffalo burger (which I regrettably really didn't really notice myself eating, since I was quite busy arguing). For anyone of an even slightly skeptical bent, I would recommend these meetups. There's a wide range of ages and professions, pretty cool people, and a good venue.

1 comment:

George said...

Arrogant Bastard IPA? Yep, that's about what I would have guessed. Have you noticed that IPAs are really jumping in price due to the hops shortage? I noticed that most are up $1 to $3 per pack.

Beer Advocate had an interesting article on Alaskan beers that mentioned Alaskan Brewing Co.'s Winter Seasonal - it's brewed with spruce tips instead of hops (following an old recipe of Captain James Cook). I'm thinking about trying that for my next batch of beer - know any good sources for spruce tips?