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Monday, January 14, 2008

Continuing the War on Science

There are some things we take as an article of faith. I'm not speaking of my own atheist self; but of the majority of people in the world. I suppose there's no real harm in believing something there's no evidence for, but I'd argue that there's a real problem with believing in something despite all evidence to the contrary. The former is faith, while the latter is delusion. Which brings us the popular delusion of creationism and its alter-ego, intelligent design.

I've had people ask why "both theories" shouldn't be taught in schools. I always have the same answer -- there aren't two theories. Creationism is just a hypothesis -- there's absolutely no evidence in its favor. In fact, the evidence we have points away from creationism, not toward it.

At this point, I'm usually pointed to a bunch of crap that "proves" evolution isn't true. The problem here is that even if they were able to completely disprove evolution, they really haven't done anything to prove creationism -- logic doesn't work that way. If one person argues that 2+2 equals 3 and another thinks it's 5, proving that 2+2 is not equal to 3 doesn't automatically prove it's 5. And that's all that the evidence "for" creationism consists of -- arguments against evolution. The entire foundation of "creation science" is based on a logical fallacy.

Creationism requires that you "unlearn" logic. It means you cast critical thinking aside and embrace that delusion I spoke of earlier. It's not hard to see how this banishment of reason from someone's mind would handicap their thinking in other areas. Not surprisingly, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee doesn't get that.

CBS News:

Mike Huckabee was asked today about his view on teaching creationism in schools but he dismissed the question saying, "We've answered that so many times, I don't even want to talk about it."

"Clearly a president would have leverage..." the reporter continued.

"No it wouldn't," retorted Huckabee.


Huckabee went on to argue that education is a matter for the states, completely ignoring the existence of the Department of Education -- a cabinet agency and, therefore, an arm of the White House. But, for many, it's not his stance on education that's the problem. The problem is that his belief in creationism shows a lack of critical thinking on his part. If Mike believes this crazy-assed idea -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- what other crazy-assed ideas are lounging around in his head, waiting to pop up in his thinking?

Agence France-Presse tells us of American scientists who have just that concern.

"The logic that convinces us that evolution is a fact is the same logic we use to say smoking is hazardous to your health or we have serious energy policy issues because of global warming," University of Michigan professor Gilbert Omenn told reporters at the launch of a book on evolution by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

"I would worry that a president who didn't believe in the evolution arguments wouldn't believe in those other arguments either. This is a way of leading our country to ruin," added Omenn, who was part of a panel of experts at the launch of "Science, Evolution and Creationism."


Science, Evolution, and Creationism is a report by the National Academies of Sciences that takes on creationism and intelligent design. AFP quotes Omenn as saying, "Scientific inquiry is not about accepting on faith a statement or scriptural passage. It's about exploring nature, so there really is not any place in the science classroom for creationism or intelligent design creationism... Science class should not contain religious attitudes."

Candidates like Huckabee engage in magical thinking and, as much as he wants us to disregard it, that fact exists. The ramifications go far beyond education. Does Huckabee believe in prophecy? If so, will that color his perceptions of the middle east? Does he think he has some idea of who the antichrist is? Does he believe the end is nigh?

These aren't just minor quibbles, as much as Mike might want to spin it that way. Huckabee's creationism reveals a radically unrealistic view of the world and a frightening level of just plain crappy thinking. We've seen where this sort of magical thinking can lead and it's not pretty. President Bush offers us an example:

George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web designer working for the agency to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Deutsch that another NASA employee forwarded to The [New York] Times.

[...]

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."


Two problems here -- 1) the words "theory" and "opinion" are not interchangeable and 2) if it's "not NASA's place" to talk about accepted science -- the very science they use to get this stuff into space -- then who's place is it?

President Bush is so dismissive of accepted science that he put creationist, non-scientist dopes like Deutsch in charge of scientists. Is that an "education issue?" In fact, the Bush administration has been marked as much by an anti-science attitude as it has by an amazingly awful foreign policy. "Across a broad range of issues -- from childhood lead poisoning and mercury emissions to climate change, reproductive health, and nuclear weapons -- political appointees have distorted and censored scientific findings that contradict established policies," the Union of Concerned Scientists tells us. "In some cases, they have manipulated the underlying science to align results with predetermined political decisions."

When you hold the position that science is just a matter of opinion, your commitment to sound science suffers. And this directly affects public policy. Further, when you believe in the miraculous, you can get any line of lousy reasoning to work. Stick "and then a miracle happened" into any equation and you can wind up with whatever answer suits you. When you accept that magic plays into the equation, all things become equally possible. In a world where science and public policy are often one and the same, this sort of thinking can have disastrous consequences.

There are other areas where this sort of magical thinking can lead to disaster. Take Pastor John Hagee, who believes we have to go to war with Iran because biblical prophecy demands it. Take any number of right wing Christians who believe that gays are evil. These are "education issues" how?

Perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of sound science is the fact that whenever science and religion bump heads, science inevitably wins out. Go back through history and show me one instance where religion was right and science was wrong. There's a reason why oil companies don't hire creationist geologists, why agricultural companies don't hire creationist botanists, and why pharmaceutical companies don't hire creationist researchers -- it doesn't work. Evolution isn't just science, it's an applied science. It's the underpinning of everything from the biotech industry to medicine. While scientists who accept evolution are producing things, creationists produce nothing. There are no creationist discoveries and no creationist products. It doesn't actually manage to do anything. The entire creationism industry produces nothing but criticism of evolution and, as we've already established, criticizing evolution does nothing to prove their case.

If Huckabee wants to keep his religious views out of education, then good for him. But he's running on his faith -- his argument isn't that he'll keep his religious views out of public policy.

And that's the real worry. If he believes in creationism -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- what other crazy stuff does he believe? And how good can his reasoning possibly be?

As Bush has shown us, an anti-science president is a lousy president. We can't afford two in a row.

--Wisco

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5 comments:

harriman said...

You've written a bunch of rubbish. Macro Evolution is a false death-related theory... It's unrepeatable, unverified, unproven. It should be classified as a state-run religion. It's all about consensus and belief-about what happened, never what's observed. Follow the grant money... wake up... Forcing people to look at one side of an argument is not education.

Wisco said...

See what I mean folks?

Not a word in defense of creationism or intelligent design, just a poorly informed attack on evolution. Even creationisms most rabid followers can't defend it. All they can do is attack the science.

Creationism is obviously indefensible.

harriman said...

Micro evolution, yes. Macro evolution, no. What is the Scientific proof of "Macro Evolution"? Macro Evolution is indefensible.

Wisco said...

Harriman seems intent on proving this point in my post:

At this point, I'm usually pointed to a bunch of crap that "proves" evolution isn't true. The problem here is that even if they were able to completely disprove evolution, they really haven't done anything to prove creationism -- logic doesn't work that way. If one person argues that 2+2 equals 3 and another thinks it's 5, proving that 2+2 is not equal to 3 doesn't automatically prove it's 5. And that's all that the evidence "for" creationism consists of -- arguments against evolution. The entire foundation of "creation science" is based on a logical fallacy.

Notice how, given two opportunities to make an argument in favor of creationism, our little friend fails both times, offering only a weak and untrue argument against evolution.

As I say, creationism requires that you abandon logic. Harriman fails to see that if he were to disprove evolution, he wouldn't prove creationism. He makes absolutely no case for his own argument, but merely attacks the arguments of others.

At this point, he's clearly left logic behind.

scripto said...

Macro Evolution is indefensible.


It's also apparently undefined, unless Harriman rigorously defines it as evolution he doesn't personally believe in.