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February 20, 2004

The evidence against evolution

Readers might find this "Guest Opinion" from a Montana publication that states Evidence against evolution overwhelming interesting. A close examination of the piece will reveal that the author knows the buzz-words and is acquainted with Intelligent Design literature and the standard talking points. The scientifically literate will find the piece amusing & peculiar. It displays a scientific "look & feel," without genuine substance.

In many ways it reminds me of science fiction author Ray Bradbury, whose literary, but scientifically naive, short stories and novels aimed for a style of science, rather than the reality of science. Science fiction critic Damon Knight took Bradbury and his fellow travellers to task for demoting the "science" element of science fiction to a poor step-child, the background for novels of plot, character and imagination. In contrast, the science fiction of authors that clustered around John W. Cambpell took science seriously, and many were trained scientists who made the methods of their disciplines integral parts of their short stories. But in the end, it is the more space opera & literary science fiction authors whose work and style has broken out of the ghetto and into the public imagination[1]. Much of the "sci-fi" that you see in film & television has little relation to the hard science fiction of the scientist authors, but bears more than a passing resemblance to the more explicitly fictional works of Bradbury & co. (Look at how many Philip k. Dick novels have made the media jump).

What relationship does this have to evolution? The public doesn't really understand the substance and method of science. It is easily swayed by the "look & feel," the illusion becomes the reality. Most people who think of science fiction outside the ghetto think of space opera and might even think that hacks like L. Ron Hubbard were prominent authors within the field when they are jokes.

Proponents of Intelligent Design are often very good at bluffing the public into think they know what they are talking about. A few years ago I was watching Politically Incorrect, and SI swimsuit model & evangelical Christian Kathy Ireland, broke out into an exposition of how the impossibility of abiogenesis proves the validity of the Bible. Two years ago a local radio show host in my home town simply allowed a fundamentalist Christian to ramble at him about how the "Second Law of Thermodynamics proves that evolution can't happen."

How do people react to such assertions? Quite often, they are dumb-founded, and try to keep an open mind. On Politically Incorrect the other guests and Bill Maher appeared in shock, and had no response to what Kathy Ireland had stated. I doubt many of them knew what abiogenesis was before she defined it for them. The host of the local radio show was an environmentalist Jewish liberal-I doubt he had Creationist sympathies, but he quite obviously had no idea what the Second Law of Thermodynamics was, and so he allowed the Christian to speak since the latter seemed more knowledgeable than he on that topic.

In a rage, I called in to the aforementioned program and gave a point-by-point refutation of the points that the Creationist had made. The host responded that it was all "very interesting," and something to "think about." He ended with a mild lecture to me to be more "open minded" and agree that we all ultimately "share the same values." I really didn't know what to say to this since it didn't have relevance to what I had just told him.

When telling this story to a friend of mine who was a lawyer, he agreed that he would not know how to respond to assertions by Creationists about various "disproofs" of evolution. He hadn't encountered the Second Law of Thermodynamics since high school. He didn't know about moon dust, microevolution vs. macroevolution, etc. etc.

If one isn't scientifically literate, I think the one thing that you can do to get Creationists to back off is demand they elaborate on what they are saying. Quite often they are parroting what they have read in a pamphlet by rote, and couldn't really tell you the details of thermodynamics, or back-of-the-envelope-calcuations of the accumulation of moon dust. Since I know their general tricks, I know all the responses, and I generally find that most of those who repeat what their preacher has taught them react with embarrassment when demands are made for clarification or refutation of a counter-point. This suggests to me that they go through much of their everyday life triumphant over the ignorant and uninformed, proud of their secret knowledge.

[1] For instance, the Star Wars saga owes a large debt to E. E. Smiths space opera "Lensmen" series.

Posted by razib at 06:09 PM