Not An (explicit) Argument for Evolution

Darwin was never actually put on trial for his beliefs the way Gallileo was. Or, I should say, Darwin was never put on trial for publishing his beliefs as Gallileo was. At least, not in a literal sense. In many ways, Darwin is the most vilified scientist in all of history and his ideas are continually being put on trial today.

All over the world, science is having a very difficult time convincing people of anything. Hell, there are those that believe that relativity is not supported by evidence. Rela-fucking-tivity! Follow that link at your own risk. It is literally mind-blowlingly insane. As if Special and General Relativity weren’t the backbones of modern macro-physics.

I had an argument recently with a young-earth creationist. The problem I was having was explaining that there is literally a mountain of evidence that supports the theory of evolution. Indeed, all of modern biology depends on it. Every legitimate article about biology incorporates some aspect of evolution into its discussion. Here, here, and here are a few from just this week. Granted, all of the links are to sciencedaily.com, but all of the studies being reported on are from San Diego, Oxford, and Heidelberg. The point I was trying to make was this: if the theory of evolution is so specious, then why do nearly all biologists (people heavily trained, well-read, and highly intelligent) act as though there isn’t even a question about evolution’s validity?

The thing that gets me, and perhaps this is the crux of the issue, is that conservative creationists literally do not care what the evidence says. They will not listen to reason in this matter. And I can’t fathom it. The bizarre mistrust toward science on the part of conservatives is truly one of the greatest mysteries facing our species. They say things as though they are facts and offer up little in the way of actual argumentation. And the other conservatives around them say things like, “Well said.” and “I’m so proud of you for sticking up for your beliefs.” This whole thing is bizarrely reinforced by a combination of mass psychosis and a “preaching to the choir” mentality. They silence or ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with them and that is that. There is no reasoning with this kind of attitude.

I have been asked why this bothers me and this is a difficult question to answer. It does bother me. That much is certain. One reason might have something to do with my education. I am trained in philosophy and rhetoric and bad logic sounds like a metal rake being dragged across a chalkboard. I literally cannot ignore it without a strong cognitive dissonance. I feel a deep need to correct people when they are committing a logical fallacy. Perhaps there is some psychological label that could be applied. I’d love to hear it. Regardless, I have a new job and I have been having to censor myself a lot lately, and it’s actually been causing me a non-negligible amount of stress.

Another reason the whole thing bothers me might be the fact that these wingnuts are trying to introduce legislation to heap this garbage into the minds of our nation’s children. Sometimes it is successful. And even when it isn’t, they are completely undeterred. They often get defeated in the courts. But that doesn’t stop them. There is a very strong movement in this country that is trying to shift our paradigm in the direction of a theocracy. They won’t be successful, but they sure as shit will obfuscate the issue as much as they can, which has its own set of problems.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that as of 2010, only 16% of Americans believe in evolution with absolutely no intervention on the part of a deity. A surprising 38% believe in a theistic evolution. It’s a compromise that I would certainly be willing to work around. I do not hate this idea nearly as much as I do the 40% or so that are hard-lined creationists.

Another reason the whole thing bothers me might have something to do with the fact that creationists often think they are being novel or clever or have found a new proof or some new reasoning that solidifies it. What they don’t realize is that scientists, philosophers, and atheists have been studying these arguments a lot harder and a lot more rigorously than they have. Atheists are far better versed in religious “logic” than they will ever be. We know, for instance, that there are only three (3) actual arguments for the existence of a supreme being. All other arguments are variations on the basic three (cosmological, teleological, ontological). We also know every argument against evolution by heart. They can’t convince us that it doesn’t happen because we know what they’re going to say before they say it. We have heard it all before, considered it, and destroyed it with our logic smashers. They just refuse to listen.

I have no illusions about this blog post converting anyone. Indeed, the dozen or so people that might actually read it through will be all, “fucking right!” and “Damned straight!” and no creationist will ever actually reach this sentence. This is mostly due to the fact that my pool of readers is very small (I’m working on it). But it is also because creationists do not read stuff like this. And perhaps that is the last reason this controversy bothers me. Aside from bad logic, brainwashing children, and the self-delusion of cleverness, it’s that they will not listen to anyone who disagrees with them. They initiate arguments, and then when you disagree with them, they just say, “Well, we all have a right to our opinion.” A creationist will never consider your argument carefully, logically, or systematically. They will never say, “You have a point.” And they will never, ever, ever say, “Wow, I think you might be right!”

es schenkt sich immer

Evolution Revolution

evolution1

I used to work at a small town science museum. It was mostly for kids. We had exhibits, activities, and demonstrations ostensibly for educational purposes, but for the most part, it was entertainment. There’s only so much science talk you can get in before kids stop listening and just want to touch the lightning ball. Perhaps our biggest draw was the plethora of live animal exhibits that we had. We had everything from tarantulas to a chinchilla to a tortoise (twenty pounds of reptile, that). All of it was designed to be interactive. If a kid wanted to hold a tarantula, we were more than happy to facilitate and supervise such an experience.

Which brings me to a particular incident involving one of our boa constrictors, a young, bright boy and a woman who was presumably his grandmother. I don’t know if you know this about boa constrictors, but they have little claws near their back ends. I pointed out the largely residual organs. The young boy, who had the constrictor draped around his shoulders, said, more or less, “That’s from when they used to be lizards, right?”

Utterly delighted, I was about to say, “That’s exactly right,” and maybe drop some sort of mini lecture about it. Unfortunately, just as I opened my mouth, the grandmother opened hers. She said, “Oh, that’s preposterous.” And then she went off on a tirade about how evolution didn’t happen. She even appealed to me, saying something to the effect that it was “ridiculous to think that people in Africa were black because it was sunny.”

I wanted to say, “Well why else are they black? Are you suggesting some other reason, you old racist?”

But I didn’t. I had absolutely no idea how to respond to the remarks by this woman. Going into the intricacies of sexual selection theories, vitamin D theory, ultraviolet radiation theory, etc. would be complex and I would never be able to explain it adequately without getting angry or distracted. There wasn’t enough time. I let it go. To this day, I’m pretty sure it was one of the most cowardly things I’ve ever done.

Later, I approached my boss, an elderly retired parasitologist, a remarkable and intelligent woman. I retold the story and asked her what I should have done. She said an appropriate response would be, “A majority of biologists agree that evolution by means of natural selection is most likely to be the primary mechanism for the origin of species.” More or less.

But isn’t this cop-out? With new evidence of humanity’s origins surfacing all the time, do we have to be so overly diplomatic? Where ought the line be drawn? It’s a fascinating question because proponents of evolution are the only people who are concerned with being diplomatic about the issue. Perhaps my availability heuristic is flawed, but the majority of anti-evolution folks that I’ve spoken with are vehemently opposed to the idea, not even open to the debate. They don’t care if they’re diplomatic about it at all. And perhaps I’m not open to the idea of a religious interpretation of creationism if it seems to contradict the evidence that I can see with my own eyes.

Why exactly do we feel the need to be diplomatic about our stance on evolution? Obviously, we aren’t all the time, but when it comes down to it, diplomacy is disarming. It’s the only way we have to get through. Being militant is not effective. Until we can find clinching proof, the smoking gun that I talked about yesterday, calm, reasoned argument is all we have. If we start calling people idiots, no matter how idiotic they are being, we’re simply not going to be convincing anyone. Psychological defenses go up and they shut down just like a kid who doesn’t want to hear a long-winded explanation of some scientific principle.

One last thing: Check it out, hobbits are a different species. Gary Gygax is vindicated.

Discuss.