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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Darwinism vs. ID: Why the Social Sciences Council refused to fund the controversy in Canada

Back in April, I reported on the fact that Brian Alters, director of of McGill University’s Evolution Education Research Centre, was refused $40 000 in Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funds for the purpose of - essentially - stirring up trouble in Canada by pushing Darwinism down everyone's throats.
The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularizing of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students, teachers, parents and policymakers. Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct. It was not convinced, therefore, that research based on these assumptions would yield objective results. In addition, the committee found that the research plans were insufficiently elaborated to allow for an informed evaluation of their merit. In view of its reservations the committee recommended that no award be made.
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In that post, I provided a detailed list of reasons why Canadian culture is, on the whole, a less likely venue for an acrimonious controversy between Darwinism and ID than American culture.

Anyway, Yves Gingras, a former member of the Council, has pointed out in a letter in Nature,
... , an excerpt from the rejection letter, lifted from its context, has been used to suggest that the committee felt there was inadequate "justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent-design theory, was correct". But this excerpt can be interpreted in a less dramatic manner: the committee simply thought the study was not impartial enough in its approach. After all, social-science research should study phenomena and not promote a particular view; many scholars legitimately demand a symmetric approach.

Yes, well, exactly. Alters had made very, very clear that his was entirely a partisan endeavor, aimed at cementing Darwinism beyond the reach of criticism such as that of agnostic philosopher David Stove, never mind that of ID advocates like Michael Behe - making Darwinism a publicly funded religion of science in the school system.

I remember Alters's jeering presentation on creationist museums in the United States, at a reception at the 4th World Science Journalists Conference in Montreal (October 2005). I think creationist museums are ridiculous too, but I also thought that, in the context, Alters's presentation was off topic. If there are any creationist museums in Canada, they are not an important feature of our cultural landscape. If Alters thinks that the attitude he demonstrated that evening should convince anyone of his suitability for social science research funds, he is just plain wrong.

It is an axiom of social sciences that research and advocacy are separate quests. A genuine social scientist asks, regarding a creationist museum, "What needs does it address? For whom? What social factors underlie this need?" There are few certainties in life, but here's one: We will not get this approach from Alters.

But, as a Darwinist, Alters would not recognize his advocacy as a problem for his research. Darwinism is a monistic system that attempts to explain all of human nature on Darwinist and materialist principles. And Darwinists know that Darwinism is true. So no distance from one's subject is needed after all! Thus, any refusal to grant money on the grounds of a lack of separation between research and advocacy is unscientific and explains why Darwinism needs to take over the social sciences.

Darwinism needs to take over the social sciences? Uh, yes. Darwinists have nothing but contempt for the "standard social sciences model" espoused by the Council - a model that they propose to replace with the bogus discipline of evolutionary psychology - so I won't be at all surprised if the social workers are bullied into giving Alters the money anyway. They'd be wise to resist.

Personally, I think a young social or political scientist should consider an MA or PhD thesis on the differences between Canadian and American culture (including political and social structure) that result in less uproar over ID in Canada - apart from any hell raised by Alters or perhaps by visiting teams of American six-day/young earth creationists. But the latter are much less of a problem, because they speak in privately funded church basements, not in publicly funded school systems.

One point to keep in mind: A much larger proportion of the Canadian than the American population (about a half vs. about a third) is of Catholic cultural background. The Catholic Church accepts evolution, but rejects Darwinism, the brand Alters is apparently promoting.

Alters received a whack of cash from Lucent Technologies in 1999 to found at centre at McGill University, to advocate his view in Canada.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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