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Why Darwinism and Incivility Seem to Go Together

Stephen A. Batzer

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Recently, David Klinghoffer posted a thoughtful article on his Internet discussions with Darwinists, in which he challenged them to identify what the actual controversy, Darwin v. Design, is all about (“On Facebook and Elsewhere, How to Talk with Darwinists“). I too have been reflecting lately, wondering why Darwinists you come across on the Internet are, let me be charitable, so uncivil?
There are several answers.

  1. They’re human. That says a lot that’s negative about them and of course about us, too.
  2. They’re typing, probably anonymously, on the Internet. I’m sure you have noticed the level of discourse on the Internet. The Lincoln-Douglas debates it isn’t. On any topic.
  3. You are challenging their religious beliefs, which they know, just know, to be true.
  4. Thought leaders in the Darwinian movement, such as Dawkins, Prothero, Shermer and so on, inculcate and advocate incivility by their own example. Look at the way biologist James Shapiro and philosopher Jerry Fodor have been treated. It’s ugly.
  5. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” That Darwinism is a FACT has been proclaimed since before all of us were born. Saying that the Darwinian mechanism of speciation is not a fact strikes many folks as if you’re intimating that there is no Japan. It’s just a made up country. When I try to measure the level of personal knowledge that Internet advocates have of evolutionary theory, it is almost universally superficial. This includes biologists.
  6. They have not taken the time to understand what the issues are or what evidence is convincing to those who disagree with them. They are ignorant in a nearly comprehensive way about why thoughtful, educated people find the “generate and filter” paradigm causally insufficient.

One thing that draws me to the ID movement is that it has the polite and understated ethic that science is supposed to have — but does not have when the subject is evolution.
Most fundamentally, perhaps, as many have said before me, the Internet is a destroyer of civility. The best argument there is the one that you avoid. Have you ever noticed anybody changing his mind as a result of a “flame war”? Me neither.
Photo credit: arneheijenga/Flickr.