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Pull up a barstool

September 30, 2013

Pull up a bar stool. Let's chat my friend. Pull up a barstool. Let’s chat, my friend.

David Roberts describes his blogging philosophy:

When I write, I imagine that I am with a good friend in a bar. This is an intelligent friend, a generally knowledgeable and well-read friend, but a friend who doesn’t know much about the thing I’m talking about. I am trying to explain to my friend why she should care about this thing. What I want, really, is to make it interesting to my friend, to explain the context and considerations involved, so that she understands why the argument exists at all, the animating principles behind each side. I want her to see that it matters, that it’s lurking behind a lot of other stuff she already cares about. I wouldn’t pretend I don’t have an opinion, but I’m not looking for disciples, for soldiers in some army. Mainly what I want is to create someone else who cares so I have someone to talk to!

Like Roberts, I won’t pretend I don’t have an opinion. But also like Roberts, I am not trying to persuade you. I simply want you to care and understand the animating principles. To recognize that science alone cannot dictate how society treats evolution and creationism because other principles are involved: Who gets to decide what 300 million people learn and believe in a diverse, pluralistic democracy? How should it be decided? What role do scientists play? What does it mean to be scientifically literate? Why is it so important? Again, who decides and what are scientists’ roles?  Why, exactly, do scientists get so upset when creationism is taught in science class?

If you’re reading this, you probably already care about these themes on some level. I want to put them in a different light. If at some point you realize there are many ways of looking at evolution/creationism, not just the typical science versus anti-science narrative, then I’ll be happy. To echo Atlantic journalist James Fallows, the framing of this site is: here’s something important I think most of you don’t know. Here’s why it’s important and why you should think about it. Moreover, here are some frameworks for thinking about the tradeoffs involved. I hope this blog helps us reflect on these tradeoffs more deeply.

Through it all, I ask us to remember to be scientists. This topic is very difficult and I know from experience that emotions can run very high. Logic, evidence and reason thus become even more important. Deployed respectfully, they are powerful tools indeed.

Finally, I also ask us all to think deeply about two questions I wrote on the board at the start of every class:

  • What are your values?
  • How much should your opinion count?

I look forward to the journey!

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