Thursday, September 01, 2005


Snave's Note: Thanks to friend Joe for the cartoon above and the article below. I tend to agree with just about all of the article.

by Evan Cornog
Newark Star-Ledger

Science is unruly. Rather than respecting the wishes of despots or popular majorities, it stubbornly adheres to a "scientific method" and widely agreed-upon standards of truth. Independent intellectual inquiry has always been a risky business, as Socrates and Galileo and so many others have learned the hard way.

This summer marks the 80th anniversary of the "Monkey Trial," in which a Tennessee schoolteacher named John T. Scopes was prosecuted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in violation of state law. The trial is perhaps best known through the 1960 movie "Inherit the Wind," which presented a thinly fictionalized account of the courtroom confrontation between Clarence Darrow, the crusading Chicago lawyer who took Scopes' side, and William Jennings Bryan, the veteran tribune of Midwestern discontent who used his rhetorical skills to support the state of Tennessee.

In the 1920s, the national press portrayed Tennessee officials as ignorant hicks (some of the reporters at the trial actually applauded remarks by lawyers for Scopes, and H. L. Mencken took particular delight in going after Bryan, whom he described as a kind of "fundamentalist Pope").

Today, four score years after Scopes' conviction (which was later overturned on a legal technicality), creationism has taken a new, more sophisticated form as "intelligent design" (or ID) theory, and it has been getting much kinder treatment in the press.

Advocates of ID are careful to avoid the mistakes of earlier creationists -- they keep mentions of God to a minimum, and no longer try to advocate (as Bryan did at the Monkey Trial) a literal reading of the Book of Genesis as the explanation for the presence and diversity of life on earth. The emphasis is on "gaps" in the theory of evolution, and ID advocates urge schools to "teach the controversy" rather than demanding, as Tennessee tried to do, that schools avoid teaching evolution entirely.

This position has recently won support from President Bush (the "education president"), who declared to a group of reporters from Texas, "Both sides ought to be properly taught" in order that "people can understand what the debate is about."

The president's position is, then, that of the advocates of ID. And in a nation where more than half the people, according to a recent Gallup poll, think creationism/intelligent design ought to be taught in the schools, it would seem a politically savvy move.

But the real savvy belongs to the leaders of the ID movement, who have managed to create the appearance of a "debate" where, at least as far as science is concerned, there is none.
They have done this in a way that takes advantage of both ordinary people's sense of fair play (after all, where's the harm in hearing both sides?) and the conventions of American journalism, where the desire to represent "both sides" has of late frequently deteriorated into a reflexive balancing act in which reporters and editors, fearful of controversy, avoid anything that looks like editorializing.

As a result, Holocaust deniers are given equal time with legitimate historians, the allegations of the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" are "balanced" against a far more extensive and long-standing record of Sen. John Kerry's heroism in Vietnam, and ID advocates are given a prominent place (such as the op-ed page of last Monday's USA Today) to present their views in opposition to the opinion of pretty much the entire global scientific establishment.

So when Time magazine does a cover story on the controversy, as it did earlier this month, it feels compelled to include a "face-off" between Darwinians and anti-Darwinians on the origin of the eyeball.

After Bush's surprising victory in last November's election, many New York media types decided they had to take the religious views of red-state Americans more seriously, and in many cases that is a good thing. But it is also important to call ignorance ignorance, and to distinguish between things that ought to be taught in science classes (such as evolutionary theory, which is one of the pillars of modern science, and has been supported by more than a century of testing) and those things that ought to be considered in social studies classes (such as creationism and ID).

In an essay for the British magazine New Scientist, Lawrence Krauss, director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University, lamented: "Science only functions with the presumption of honesty. It flounders when confronted by those who knowingly and willingly distort the truth." Krauss goes on to point out the avowedly religious goals of various ID advocates, and says that science courses routinely "teach the controversy" in areas where genuine scientific debate exists.

Journalists, though, function in a more political realm, and sometimes are slow to report as reality points of view on which scientific opinion is reasonably settled (such as global warming, which is overwhelmingly seen as a fact by environmental scientists, whatever the cavils of the Bush administration and others).

But by surrendering its own faculties of critical judgment, journalism can do a grave disservice to the country. Science education is struggling as it is, and long gone are the bold days when the nation responded to the Soviet Union's launch of the first Sputnik spacecraft in 1957 with a renewed commitment to teaching science in our schools.

The United States is not alone in its newfound infatuation with creationist ideas. Evolution has come under attack abroad, in such nations as Serbia and Pakistan. Are those the nations we want to accept as our peers in the pursuit of knowledge? Our nation is alert, as never before, to the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism; but we seem to be growing less alert to the dangers posed by our own, indigenous fundamentalism.

Our journalists need to recover a bit of that self-confident tone that allowed their predecessors in 1925 to ridicule the ignorant lawmakers of Tennessee. Ignorance is ignorance, and intelligent design is creationism dressed up for the talk-show circuit.


Blogger 1138 said...

I'll say it again.
Put the designer on the dais and I'll grant the point.
Fail to produce the designer and there's a hole the size of the universe in their pseudo-scientific rhetoric.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Sheryl said...

I think I may do like Matt and invent my own religion. Mine will be the Church of Wishful Thinking and will be modelled closely after the Teleevangelists because they clearly know what they are doing.

I'll reverse a few theories though. For starters, God did not create man in His image. God created himself in Man's image because humans are the most clever and virtuous of all possible beings.

But of course some people are clearly better than others, so the second premise in the Church of Wishful Thinking is that the person that you see in the mirror is the greatest person you will ever meet (except perhaps for Sheryl, the Chosen One.)

10:47 PM  
Blogger GTX said...

God didn't have school.
Teachers are not school gods.
Executives that decide over teaching matters should be ateĆ­sts to not create tendencial religious directives of any kind, so young people, and old, why not?, decide their own religion.
Why return back (when the pasts show us the way?).
Unfortunately there are time cycles that bring us people that vote in the wrong candidate instead the right one in order to advance to our next civilizational step.
Like science, religion explanations about everything have been updated trough the times and to religion it's one big effort to avoid loosing believers but to science is a joy to assemble instructed people. The difference is that science helps religion to get those updates. Well, if god really exists he's been playing dices all along, for sure, otherwise science wouldn't exist.
My statement is that religion can't be take seriously. To believe in some kind of religion is completely foolish and selfish because that exists to many people believing in so many other religions, so how can a believer not thinking on this true? And this is redundant.
Although, I respect very much the good premises of religion, unfortunately they merely preached, not taken in real day-by-day. And as the importance of national issue grows the more becomes religion a conscious problem. ("Do not kill" say s the christian and many other religion commandments, but the armies still have their priests.)

5:59 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

I think you are right, GTX, when you suggest that people who practice religion ought to "walk the talk", or practice what is preached. I don't think there is enough of that in the USA today.

1138, I'm also a "show-me" guy. If they can produce some actual evidence... I will believe what they are saying.

Sheryl, The Church of Wishful Thinking? Now there is a hopeful thought! I like that one.

2:08 PM  
Blogger GTX said...

Neither europe...
It reminds me - Music:Practice what you're preach Band:TESTAMENT

5:52 AM  

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