Monday, January 10, 2005

The anti-science (anti-Darwin) forces will win News | The new Monkey Trial (Michelle Goldberg)
...It's not hard for creationists to convince the public that the evidence for evolution is weak. Scientists accept evolution as something very close to fact, but Americans never have. In a November 2004 CBS News/New York Times poll, about evolution, 55 percent of the respondents said that God created humans in their present form. Twenty-seven percent believed in the evolution of man guided by God, and 13 percent believed in evolution without God.

So it should come as no surprise that the majority of Americans -- 65 percent, according to the poll cited above -- favor teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. Creationism is the perfect culture-war issue because it inevitably pits majorities in local communities against interloping lawyers and scientists. In a country gripped by right-wing populism, it's not hard to stoke resentment against scientists who have the gall to think that they know more than everybody else.

This is a long article, but overall not a bad overview. The author unfortunately omits mention of the most important anti-science figure in America. George Bush has made it clear, even back when he was first running against Gore, that he supports the anti-evolutionary forces.

I don't think Goldberg was clear enough on the misuse of the concept of "intelligent design". Intelligent design, in the broad sense, does not conflict with the idea of evolution. After all, God could have designed the universe and much else besides, and yet all of our biology might be a result of natural selection. Of course the "intelligent design" persons are not interested in this idea. They believe that God created them explicitly, in this case the "design" refers not to the design of creation, but to the "design" of humanity. I suspect, some of the ID folk would be willing to ascribe everything but humanity to be operations of natural selection. It's all about the primacy of humanity's role in the universe, and the belief that we were built in God's image.

Goldberg also fails to mention the most interesting and persistent fallacy in the thinking of the ID cult -- the fallacy of purpose. Their mathematical arguments against evolution are generally designed to show that if we were to rerun earth's history, the probability of developing anything like us is very low.

Think about it. That's only a quandry if one assumes, as they do, that we're the purpose or point of universal history. It's like someone who flips a coin a trillion times, then declares there must be a God because there's no way someone could flip another coin a trillion times and get exactly the same sequence of heads and tails.

Goldberg does mention that this is fundamentally not merely a crusade against Darwin, the positions taken by the creationist forces are fundamentally assaults on the foundations of science, attacks against reason, deduction and empiricism.

Alas, all of these arguments matter not at all.

The key paragraph, which I've excerpted above, is towards the end. 65% is a strong majority. Emphasis on strong -- among those group there are many for whom this is a "hell or heaven" issue. Weighting for this influence, it seems an overwhelming majority.

At various times in our nation's history we've shifted between a "rationalist" and a "romantic" perspective. Now the latter group is ascendant. The romantics feel that science is, like politics or the arts, a matter of opinion. This romantic group, oddly enough, includes both social conservatives and left wing intellectual deconstructionist heathens. Irrationality makes strange bedfellows.

There's not that much to be done. China may have to carry the torch of Rationalism for the 21st century. I can only hope they take good care of it. The rest of us will have to hunt around for scattered refuges of Reason in the US and resign ourselves to private schools (vouchers anyone?).

There is one final irony. The more layperson's cosmology I read, the more inclined I am to consider that some entity may have designed our universe [1]. So I think there's an interesting discussion about Intelligent Design in the cosmology/physics department. The Creationists are just barking up the wrong tree. They should be hounding physicists, not biologists.

[1] There are interesting distinctions between a created physical universe and the "our reality is a simulation" (created virtual universe), but the two have more in common than not.

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