This entry is a recap and review of Kevin Padian’s Freethought Festival 2012 presentation as observed by me as an audience member. Shitty writing or misinterpretation of the presenter’s material is completely my fault. If you think I got something wrong, please let me know in the comments or feel free to email me at bio_dork(at)hotmail(dot)com.
The keynote speaker on Friday night was Dr. Kevin Padian. He was one of the most laid-back and charismatic speakers of the entire weekend, and that’s saying quite a bit considering the speaker lineup that FTF1 put together! His talk was Evolution, Education, and “Intelligent Design” – Lessons from the Dover Trial.
Dr. Padian is an evolutionary biologist and he served as an expert witness in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. He is currently the President of the National Coalition for Science Education (NCSE).
Dr. Padian started out his talk with some definitions. He went over the Victorian etymology of “evolution” and “transmutation”. He laid out how scientists use the word “random” (the probability of something happening that we already know can happen) versus how an evolution-denying creationist might use the word (ZOMG are you trying to tell me that leeches could turn into elephants and we could grow ears on our butts?!). Then he chastised those of us who would dismiss “intelligent design” as having anything at all to do with optimality or who would conflate it with theistic evolution. After all, theistic evolution provides falsifiable claims while intelligent design is, as he describes it, “a science stopper”. ID proponents do not attempt to define the designer that they espouse. We cannot examine miracles.
Dr. Padian went through some of the arguments that underlie intelligent design: Paley’s watchmaker analogy, Behe’s irreducible complexity. He shows that ID proponents readily accept microevolution (evolution within a species – think breeds of dogs) but refuse to accept macroevolution (you know, the one that has us coming from “monkeys”), which he tells us suggests that we are spending too much time teaching fruit flies, and not enough time teaching dinosaurs.
Then he thoroughly ripped Of Pandas and People a new one. In many creative ways. He ouched it a lot.
He went over why ID doesn’t make good pedagogical sense, why it doesn’t make good science, and why it doesn’t make good theology. I know why ID doesn’t make good science, but the theology arguments were new considerations for me. Dr. Padian pointed out that ID would require frequent tinkering by a creator. Why didn’t the (omnipotent) creator get it right the first time? ID requires divine intervention, which makes us wonder why this creator doesn’t intervene more often and perhaps alleviate some suffering. And by pretending that ID is scientific, it implies that science can test religious ideas. Do religious people really want to invite scientists to test their ideas?
Dover effectively killed the phrase “intelligent design”. Creationists needed a new phrase so now we’re seeing “teach the controversy”, “teach critical thinking” and “allowing academic freedom”. To wrap up his talk Dr. Padian pointed out the lies inherent in each of these phrases.
He really was a charismatic speaker, and I would happily attend more talks by Dr. Kevin Padian if given the opportunity.