How to Talk to Your Professors About Your Darwin Doubts
|May 16, 2012||Posted by johnnyb under academic freedom, Darwinism, Evolution, Free Speech, science education, Society|
There are two regular tragedies in the Intelligent Design movement. The first tragedy is the student who airs his or her doubts about Darwin, and a faculty member then makes it their life mission to block that student from a degree, or, if they get a degree, prevent them from getting any further. This sometimes happens via a bad letter of recommendation or a notice in their file or sometimes even calling other programs to tell them not to include the student.
The second tragedy is the student who plays it safe, presuming that some day in the future they will have the position, stature, or whatever to present their doubts about Darwin. Many people counsel this procedure – keep your head low, and don’t say anything until you have tenure. The problem with this course, however, is that we do what we practice. It takes 10 years of schooling at least to get all the way through. If you have spent ten years practicing cowering in the corner, that is exactly what you will do when the time comes for you to speak out. You will not come out as Zorro prancing from the shadows with you blade. You will instead do what you have always done – find one more thing that you have to do first.
“I have to graduate.”
“I have to finish my postdoc.”
“I have to get tenure.”
“I’m working on a grant for a big project.”
“I’ll come out when I retire.”
I don’t mean to offend – I realize just how high the stakes are – but I don’t know of any other way to say this. When you follow this path, what you’ve done is practice being a coward. So, when the epic moment comes for you to say the right thing, do the right thing, or even help out some other person who believes the same way you do, you will instead do exactly what you’ve practiced doing for ten years – run and hide. Even if you did manage a Zorro moment – what use is it? Your colleagues will feel betrayed, and rightly so. They will feel (rightly so) that you’ve been lying to them the whole time – because you have. People will criticize you because your new work, rather than building on your old work to this time, seems to have a sudden break with it – and they would be right.
So what is one to do? Well, thankfully, our friends the evolutionists have given us a way out. In their zeal to claim consensus on the “fact of evolution,” they have had to steamroll together such a large diversity of opinion into the single term “evolution”, that the word “evolution” no longer has the grand meaning it used to. The only real meaning everyone can agree on is “change in allele frequency over time” – and that is a definition that literally everyone can agree with.
In other words, even if you are a young earth creationist, if your professor asks if you believe in evolution, the legitimate answer is “yes”. Given the common definition of “evolution,” the only thing they are really asking with that question is, “do you believe in genetics?”
Therefore, here is how you can, and, I say, should frame yourself – you believe in evolution. However, there are a few parts of the theory that you disagree with. Don’t be obnoxious, but don’t be overly shy either. Just be frank. Do you believe in evolution? “Yes, but I disagree that common ancestry is universal.” Do you believe in evolution? “Yes, but I don’t think that natural selection alone as a mechanism sufficiently explains life’s diversity.” You don’t even have to put the “yes” and the objection in the same sentence. What do you think about evolution? “The study of evolution is fascinating!” How do you think multicellularity evolved? “I think that multicellularity is a fundamental property of certain organisms, and can’t be evolved piecemeal from the presumed single-celled ancestors.” But you do believe in evolution? “Yes, of course.” Do you think multi-cellular organisms evolved? “Certainly!” From what? “Other multi-cellular organisms.”
If someone challenges you on the definition of evolution, simply challenge them back. What definition of evolution are you using? “I’m using the standard population genetics definition of evolution as the change in gene frequencies over time.” That’s not what evolution is. “What is your definition of evolution?” Evolution means natural selection and common ancestry! “Well, that’s a pretty narrow view of evolution in modern biology. So, while I agree with evolution in general, I don’t agree with your specific view of it.” What’s your specific view? “I’m still learning! But I do find it interesting that….[put your favorite evolutionary or non-evolutionary feature of biology here]”
As you can see, if you are well-studied enough, you can state your mind honestly without tying your own noose. Will this work every time? Obviously not. There are in fact people whose inner, personal hostility is beyond any reason. But you will probably run into those people anyway, and better to meet them openly than have them against you behind your back.
Now, in addition to all this, you must remember that, especially when you are in school, you are there to be the student, not the teacher. It is good as a student to learn – and there is much you can learn from people even though they are Darwinists. Some of them have been doing biology for longer than you’ve been alive, and they deserve your respect and attention for that. And so do their ideas. Spend most of your time listening and learning, but don’t be afraid to speak your mind when it is appropriate. Just remember that when you do, speak it wisely. And, given the modern definition of evolution, there is no reason to paint yourself as being an “anti-evolutionist”.