The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Monday, August 29, 2005


(First of all, I've been gone a while. In the middle of a recording project which, along with other post-college errands, is taking up a lot of my time. I'm not finished with my compositions right now, but if you want a silly taste, as a goof I recorded a cover version of Avril Lavigne's "My Happy Ending", an mp3 of which you can find on my old webpage.)

The evolution vs intelligent design debate is the latest of the arguments stirred by conservatives on the basis of ignorance. To wit:

--Iraq and WMD. As recently as late in the 2004 campaign, polls showed that a large chunk of the American people still believed Iraq had WMD, and even more amusing, that we had found it. Similar chunks of Americans believed that either Saddam's regime had a hand in organizing the attacks of 9/11, or that there were Iraqis among the 19 hijackers. Whatever the hawkish elements of the blogosphere think, it was these perceptions that kept support for the war afloat. The administration knew what the truth was on each of these fronts. Instead of selling Iraq on the merits, it chose to cultivate ignorance. This strategy is failing, and that failure is personified by Cindy Sheehan and her supporters camped out in Crawford.

--Gay marriage. Social conservatives love their polls that show opposition to gay marriage, as much as they love their state initiatives banning it. But legalizing same-sex marriage has very little to do with whatever it is your particular church will and wont do; it pertains to what is and isn't recognized as valid by city hall. If more Americans understood that legalizing it does not mean that the government is imposing its will on churches, the poll numbers would be different. Again, these conservatives base their argument on obscuring this truth, choosing instead, just as with Iraq, to cultivate ignorance among Americans.

Which brings us to...

--Evolution and Intelligent Design. The tactical employment of ignorance by the conservatives and creationists has been twofold...

1. The selective definition of the word "theory" as it applies to the theory of evolution. Look at the American Heritage Dictionary's definitions of the word "theory". The creationists seek to replace definition #1 (the relevant one) with #6 (relevant to, say, a discussion at happy hour).

But more importantly,

2. Intelligent Design's artificial threshold of understanding. ID proposes that the universe, and some things within it, are so complex that they could have only come into being as the result of the actions of an intelligent entity, be it God, gods or the commissioner of Major League Baseball. But really, they mean God. ID proponents often cite the eye as an example of something so complex it could not come to be by accident.

But what if we had the evolution/ID debate 1000, 500, 300 or even 150 years ago? Consider the things, relative to scientific capabilities of the given periods, that would have been seen as too complicated for science to explain. Diseases were attributed to imbalances in the "humors" or even to evil spirits. At any of those times it would have been absolutely preposterous to identify some things in nautre, throw one's hands up and say "we can't learn anything more about how this came about, it must be a divine hand at work". And there is no reason -- hell, less reason -- to apply that sentiment to scientific understanding today.

My Experience:

If you're a young-earth creationist who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, then obviously you have good reason to take issue with evolution. But if you think about it, there is a lot of generally accepted science, even universally accepted science that flies in the face of Biblical literalism. Off the top of my head...

-Einstein's theory of relativity tells us that the light from the stars above us has been travelling through space for billions of years...

-Supercontinent theory shows us how the Earth's landmasses drifted over time, and were never, uh, covered by a global flood.

-Our improved understanding of the double helix and of human genetics casts serious doubt on the human race starting from a gene pool of... two.

-Other ad hoc theories, such as "Bushes can't talk". (Well, at least one of them can't. Heyo!) Also, the well-known "Whales don't have breathable cavities" theory.

I could go on. Yet of all the science out there, it's evolution that really gets their overused antibiotics in a bunch. Why is that?

Here's my hypothesis, based on anecdotal evidence, i.e. conversations with Christian friends of mine...

The creation story in Genesis has psychological advantages over evolution because it provides a link between the creation of matter and that of a moral order for humanity. Regardless of what one believes, it includes some of the more eloquent, beautiful, and evocative language in the Bible. A practicing Christian, while growing up and attending services and Sunday school and so on, will have eventually discussed nearly every word in Genesis. (My brief flirtation with evangelical Christianity five years ago included a lot of parsing.) Thus, the creation story, when presented in a thorough manner, must be very hard to let go.

It's more than just a "If it's not true then I might as well throw out the rest of the book" thing, or even a "If it's not true than Jesus lied a whole bunch in the New Testament, and I just can't handle that" thing. It is a deep, emotional, comfortable bond with the story. Which goes well with Intelligent Design, because ID sacrifices genuine scientific curiosity and scrutiny in favor of a comfortable theological explanation.

And a note to those who assert that the pro-ID crowd is somehow separate from the pro-creationism crowd: There wouldn't even be a debate between evolution and ID if it weren't for some people reading a book of morality tales as a literal history.


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