Sunday, November 11, 2007

Freeze Frame: Before You Watch Nova This Week Posted by olvlzl.

Earlier this year there was a blog row over the issue of how scientists and educators should frame the topic of evolution to better make the case for science. As always, it was the great struggle for evolution. Following it from outside, not being a scientist, it was discouraging to see some rather bright people making some pretty childish and irrational proclamations about their position.

One of the most foolish was the insistence on bringing the great war against religious faith into the matter. The problem isn’t religion, it’s scriptural fundamentalism. To insist on attacking all religious people indiscriminately, even those who are prominent biologists who not only support evolution but in cases such as Francis Collins have bolstered its case through their work, is pure idiocy. For those who have some ability to compare numbers, the large majority of Americans, indeed of humanity, believe in some form of religion. How to you expect to win politically if you insist on needlessly antagonizing the majority? It’s not only idiocy, it’s a strategy that has been given the test of time and it has failed it rather spectacularly. More people reject evolution today than before Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris began their war against faith. That rejection has helped create political conditions that have put a Supreme Court in place which has been demolishing the wall of separation between church and state. It is beyond question that the votes of biblical fundamentalists have made that possible and that their leaders aren’t the idiots they are often portrayed to be. They know how to take any statement made by the likes of Dawkins* and to use it to their political advantage. You see, in politics it’s often not necessary to have scientific evidence to win. This is a lesson too advanced for some of the most brilliant minds of anti-religion to fathom, apparently.

Another idiocy was the childish insistence on other brilliant minds that they weren’t going to use language that the ignorant masses could understand. The worst cases seemed to be insisting on their right to be arrogant. Again, these brilliant minds, and they don’t mind telling you how much more brilliant than you they are, don’t seem to understand that adults who can’t understand the language you are using won’t learn a long vocabulary list and master your entire subject to understand you. It is politically necessary for the teaching of evolution that an effective voting plurality at least not reject it. While understanding is very important, not offending that potential plurality is absolutely vital to political success. And it is political success, putting people into office who will appoint judges supportive of a secular government that is the goal in this struggle.

This isn’t difficult to understand, you would think. What is it about this problem that is so difficult for these brilliant minds to understand? No, they aren’t blinded by science. But pride makes fools of us all.

NB: Since every week brings news of the ever greater destruction of the biosphere, extinction of species, the peril that global warming holds for the survival of many if not all of us, the topic of evolution isn’t the most pressing problem for us to be dealing with at this time. The preservation of species, the actual, living, part of the world is at stake. Evolution, while extremely important, is only the abstract description of how species arise. It is important primarily in how it can be used to serve the preservation and extension of life, it isn’t as important as life itself. And politics are the primary tool through which that preservation can be accomplished. The political success of the left is certainly at least as important as the teaching of evolution without creationism in public schools** . And it is obvious now that teaching science is dependent on the left succeeding politically. If Republicans win the next presidential election you can depend on creationism being taught in the public schools WITH the Supreme Courts' blessing.

* Richard Dawkins has been thanked by some of the leaders of creationism for making their job so much easier. Somehow, I don’t think that Dawkins' response, calling William Dembski a “loser”, is an adequate response. And I’m afraid the United States Supreme Court will soon prove him wrong. Science may have won the court case in Dover PA, but it is always short sighted to depend on the courts. Courts are, in turn, dependent for their make up on the politicians who are elected and their election depends on the votes of The People. The understanding and support of The People is the only secure guarantee of political success.

** Considering the condition of America’s public schools, students will be lucky if they learn anything about biology. I wonder how many Americans who took biology in high school completely absent any pseudo-scientific creationist nonsense could tell you the primary parts of a cell, what DNA is or the difference between a genus and a species. My guess is it would be fewer than ten percent. Evolution certainly won’t be accepted by people who don’t have an even more basic understanding of biology and chemistry. Not except as an act of faith competing with other faiths.