Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A blast from the past: my high school paper on intelligent design

Oral Roberts died, etc. It's already been covered by other blogs (My favorite title being "Oral Roberts has finally been killed by God for not raising enough money."), and no matter how many horrible things I think a person did while they were alive, I just don't feel right talking bad about someone when they're dead. So I'll leave it at that.

Why mention it, then? Well, it reminded me of a girl I went to high school with who now attends Oral Roberts University. We were sort of friends - the kind that talk a lot in class, but don't really do anything outside of school. She was super nice and a brilliant student, and always outshone everyone in our honors english, history, and math classes. So when I found out she was going to Oral Roberts, it felt like a step down. This is the kind of person who could go anywhere on scholarship, and she was going there?

But it didn't really surprise me, because I found out how religious she was that semester. We were in AP Composition together the spring of our senior year (one of the most hellish, ridiculous classes I had to take at my high school - that's a rant of its own) and our next assignment was a debate paper. One person had to be pro, the other con on a topic of our choice. We were partnered together by the sheer luck of sitting near each other, and started brainstorming topic ideas.

I had been reading a lot about evolution lately, so I suggested "How about whether or not Intelligent Design should be taught in school?"

"Oh, that's a great idea!" she said. I smiled. "My father has his PhD in theology, so he'll be able to help me a lot." And smile gone.

I shouldn't say my smile was gone - rather it was likely replaced by the smug grin of an 18 year old who knew she had this debate in her pocket. After devouring information about evolution and the ID debates for the last four years, this paper was going to be easy to write. The hardest part was shoving it all into a 4 page limit in the constraints of the formal thesis-3 supporting paragraphs-conclusion format. And fulfilling all of the random requirements our teacher created, like interviewing people, using a certain number of magazine articles versus books, yadda yadda.

I found that paper now (pdf here). I have to say, it's fairly good for an 18 year old who self-taught herself evolution - still more intelligent than most of the creationist bull crap you hear today. I'm actually more impressed by my writing style, which has apparently totally deteriorated after being subjected to nothing but science classes at Purdue (which pretty much never write anything, least of all essays).

But that's not the fun paper.

The fun paper is my rebuttal. We got to read each other's papers* and write a 1000 word rebuttal, which would factor into our overall grade. She didn't seem too unnerved by my initial paper. But I still remember that day when we were sitting in the library and swapped our rebuttals.

I made her cry.

Oh, those big bad evolutionary biologists. Keep in mind I was a extraordinarily passive agnostic who was just coming out of deism at this point. Making her cry was not my goal - winning this debate, sure, but not tears. Thinking about this experience now, I can't imagine what I said that could have upset her that much. That is, until I went back and read my rebuttal (pdf here).

Oh my god. Hilarious.

Not only did I call her paper a "futile attempt" with "claims [that] hardly contain even a modicum of truth," but I invoked Hitler at the end. Yes, I failed Godwin's law, but at least I did it spectacularly (in my unbiased opinion).
Even Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box inclusion as “one of the most important books of the twentieth century” speaks little: Mein Kampf is considered one of the most influential books ever, but that hardly makes its message true (Sobilo).
I wasn't trying to be mean. I think I just really, really wanted to win that debate - especially since, if I remember correctly, our teacher had some inane grading system where the better paper of the two got an automatic 100%. Niceties were not getting in the way of a grade boost I desperately wanted.

Needless to say, I got the 100%. Oh, she's a far superior writer than I am - it's just hard winning a debate when you have zero logical points to make (don't worry, she still got an A for the writing). I remember I even showed all of the papers to my AP Biology teacher at the time. He just blinked slowly and said "You destroyed her."

Of course, did I do anything to help the cause of evolution? Probably not. I guess this illustrates the fine line we have to walk between opening up dialog, or letting our frustrations win and calling people names. Do the big names of ID who are spreading lies deserve ridicule? I'm in the camp that says "sure." Do 18 year olds who don't really understand the topic? Probably not.

Ah, young Jen fail. Though on an interesting note, I had just started reading Pharyngula while writing that paper. Coincidence, or contagious crankiness - I'll let you decide.

*I don't have a copy of her paper or rebuttal. Well, a hard copy is probably buried somewhere back home, but I still wouldn't want to post it since it's her intellectual property. You can pretty much imagine what she said by reading any creationist argument on the internet, since they just parrot each other anyway.


  1. Aaaaah, unjustified text in a PDF! What possible reason could you have for that? I hope you've grown out of the habit.

  2. I was naive then. I wanted to preserve the papers in their unedited glory.

    Just be happy I wasn't using text speak and emoticons like other 18 year olds.

  3. "Just be happy I wasn't using text speak and emoticons like other 18 year olds."

    In assignments? That's appalling, if I'm reading it right.

    As for the rebuttal? A thing of great beauty. Although it does seem to be written in paroxysms of glee: there are a couple places where words have been omitted, I'd guess where you were tripping over yourself to write down all the gold. XD

  4. No wonder this Sobilo girl ended up in tears. You didn’t beat her or even crush her; you annihilated her arguments. Bravo!

    I just have one comment, though, with regards to Professor “Richard Hardison”, you say? ;-)

    Elegantly written and with plenty of concrete evidence and research to back your stuff up. I bet your teacher(s) wish more students presented them with works like yours.

  5. Excellent! Nothing is so sweet as naive tears!

    Robert B

  6. "Oral Roberts has finally been killed by God for not raising enough money."

    Nah, the best title I've seen is "Jesus prepares to receive Oral." (Fark)

  7. @Urban Wild Cat

    I've seen things you wouldn't believe. Text speak sprinkled liberally in a college paper. I watched emoticons in glitter pen rise in the shadow of inadequate punctuation. What I wouldn't give for all of those moments to be lost in flame, like kindling in a campfire.

    Time to cry. ;_;

  8. I can't download your rebuttal, I just get an Error 403 from Imageshack.

  9. "I've seen things you wouldn't believe. Text speak sprinkled liberally in a college paper. I watched emoticons in glitter pen rise in the shadow of inadequate punctuation. What I wouldn't give for all of those moments to be lost in flame, like kindling in a campfire."

    The earth is doomed...

  10. I read both your paper and rebuttal. They are fun to read.

    I can't believe your AP classmate cried after reading your rebuttal. haha. sigh. Some people are sour losers.

    My guess right now is that she is still living in denial. When a person holds a belief so dearly to her heart, they often do everything they can to defend it even when they are shown to be wrong. Denial is the most common ego defense mechanism according to my observations.

  11. I read the rebuttal, and I have to say, that was entertaining, although I can definitely imagine your classmate's reaction. I'm simply shocked that a paper that short was sufficient to constitute such an effective destruction of her arguments, whatever they were.

    I remember some of my old high-school papers... I have to track down my First Amendment speech at some point. I'll never forget the reactions that got me...

  12. Egoist Paul is sore and sweet!

  13. Nice. I really enjoyed reading the rebuttal. There's nothing more satisfying than an epic science/reality win.

  14. I did a similar assignment in my own high school years, though it was formatted in a magazine format to teach us the layout software as well. Though the topic was abortion. The editor of the text took the liberty of inserting diagrams of the process of a third trimester abortion into my pro-choice article.

  15. I didn't think high school seniors wrote so well. Congrats, and I especially liked the Mein Kampf reference. I read the book for a paper in European History as a college freshman (and got a C+, IIRC--I was not a history major, so failed to impress the prof). But enough about me. Well said! (You were pretty harsh, but you spoke truth.)

  16. Well, Jen, I'm happy to speak ill of the dead. Oral Roberts was heinous, deluded and evil. His death is second only to that of the bastard Jerry Fallwell. And their late ages make me think God just didn't want them back.