January 29, 2008
I as a general rule, I don’t think that the debate format is appropriate to scientific topics. A debate necessarily has a winner, whose ascendancy is determined by their ability to make a superior argument in the eyes of some theoretically impartial adjudicator. Reality however, doesn’t really care about rhetoric or majority opinion, and neither should science. The debate format is a circus, lending equal weight to opposing views that may or may not merit such treatment and which may or may not fully encompass all of the possible views. It also presupposes that the debaters are themselves qualified to argue their points and that the adjudicating person(s) is similarly competent to impartially weigh the opposing arguments.
As a case in point, consider this debate between Christopher Hitchens and Jay Wesley Richards.
Firstly, the debate itself: Atheism vs. Theism and the Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design. ID purports to be completely agnostic of the identity of the designing intelligence, theoretically restricting itself to the assertion that such an intelligence must have existed. It could be the Christian god. It could be Zeus. It could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster, time traveling humans or aliens. Similarly, the theory of evolution is not concerned with origins, and could easily fit within a religious framework. So starting the whole thing off as atheist evolutionists versus theistic IDers is disingenuous to say the least.
Secondly, ID also claims to be a scientific theory, and yet the debate is being conducted between: Christopher Hitchens (a journalist) and Jay Wesley Richards (a Doctor of philosophy and theology), moderated by Michael Cromartie (Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “a Washington-based think tank dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to public policy issues”) and hosted by Ben Stein (a lawyer, actor and political speech writer and star of the upcoming movie Expelled). Not a single working biologist or information theorist amongst them, and not a single person qualified to argue the merits of the science of ID at more than a layman’s level*.
There already exists a forum where scientific discovery is adjudicated, through the publishing of articles and the peer review. Science is not a popularity contest, and we do it little justice when we turn it into one.