Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin Day!

Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin Of Species -- Darwin's seminal work that set this evolution/creation craziness into play. To celebrate, I recommend reading Richard Dawkins' article in The Times. (See also this rather adorable piece in Mother Jones by Josh Harkinson about Darwin Day celebrations in San Francisco.) Though much if it is a favorable review of Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne, he also presents a firm argument about the anti-intellectual nature of arguments against evolution:

But now a certain kind of anthropologist can be relied on to jump up and say something like the following: Who are you to elevate scientific “truth” so? The tribal beliefs are true in the sense that they hang together in a meshwork of consistency with the rest of the tribe’s world view. Scientific “truth” is only one kind (“Western” truth, the anthropologist may call it, or even “patriarchal”). Like tribal truths, yours merely hang together with the world view that you happen to hold, which you call scientific. An extreme version of this viewpoint (I have actually encountered this) goes so far as to say that logic and evidence themselves are nothing more than instruments of masculine oppression over the “intuitive mind”.

Listen, anthropologist. Just as you entrust your travel to a Boeing 747 rather than a magic carpet or a broomstick; just as you take your tumour to the best surgeon available, rather than a shaman or a mundu mugu, so you will find that the scientific version of truth works. You can use it to navigate through the real world.
It's so true. It's baffling to me why creationists will trust science to heal them with antibiotics or to get them safely somewhere in a car, but when it comes to the changes in biology over time, there's no such need for science. You can't pick and choose with science. It is more than a set of theories, it is a way of thinking critically about the world. Once that critical thinking goes out the window, it's hard to know where thoughtful analysis won't be attacked.

He also talks of how parents to an all-too-excellent job of pressuring their children into not believing evolution:
In October 2008, a group of about sixty American science teachers met to compare notes, at the Center for Science Education at Emory University in Atlanta, and they had some revealing experiences to relate. One teacher reported that students “burst into tears” when told they would be studying evolution. Another teacher described how students repeatedly screamed, “No!” when he began talking about evolution in class.
Why would 10th grade biology students (at least, that's the age at which I learned evolutionary biology) protest learning about science so much? It's most likely that they've been indoctrinated by parents, other teachers, pastors, and other grownups to reject the scientific teachings in this regard and this regard only. How frustrating that they reject one component of science but then turn the page to talk about how cool lasers are.

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