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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Evolution for Dummies

Evolution for Dummies

From the New York Times:

In surveys conducted in 2005, people in the United States and 32 European countries were asked whether to respond “true,” “false” or “not sure” to this statement: “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.” The same question was posed to Japanese adults in 2001.

The United States had the second-highest percentage of adults who said the statement was false and the second-lowest percentage who said the statement was true

The United States was only beaten out by Muslim Turkey as the dumbest country among those 32 polled. If you were to poll far-right Christians in America's deep south, I would guess that the number of people rejecting the tenets of evolution rise to about 100%.

How much longer can America ignore what is probably the most important idea in biology and still remain any sort of force in the world? I would have to say, “Not very much longer.” We are about to drown ourselves in our willful ignorance and religious-induced stupidity.

British scientist Richard Dawkins has recently come out with a program which questions this lack of acceptance of Darwin's teachings. Even on the mostly-liberal forum where I watched the program there was quite a bit of opposition to the way in which Dawkins challenged the religious fanatics. I don't use the word “fanatic” lightly, but if you reject a major advancement in science simply because of some misguided concept in your religion, then this makes you a fanatic. Many people said that Dawkins should not try to “kill” religion to make his point about evolution.

Dawkins puts it best in the program:"Evolution is also a demonstrated fact. The truth really is out there. It's not a matter of opinion...Evolution is the plain truth." All of you offended by Dawkins and his methods are missing his point entirely. It is religion which is trying to kill evolution. Religious hicks would love nothing more than for scientists to halt all work regarding evolution (and concentrate on making more effective boner pills, I suppose). Evolution doesn't need to kill religion; religion doesn't enter into its realm. It is only religion's hostility to evolution that offends Dawkins.

As far as convincing religious zealots, that's also not his point. The facts are out there and these people are too lazy, intellectually, to seek the truth themselves. They already have the answers, as far as they are concerned. There is no convincing or converting to be done. Instead, Dawkins solidifies the thinking of those who have already accepted science and truth (which to me means rejecting the superstition and ignorance of religious doctrine). Unfortunately, those who have accepted science and the truth are in the decided minority in the United States.

Many American children are not even taught the basics of evolution. I can't remember ever having the subject taught to me in grade school. Only this year has Florida decided to include evolution in its public school curriculum, and it's 2008! I'm sure other deep south backwaters still refuse to have evolution taught. The only thing most of these people can tell you about modern biology is, "I didn't come from no ape."

This means that in a country with a constitutionally mandated separation of church and state we are allowing fringe religious organizations to dictate what classes are given in our publicly-funded schools. From the way a lot of these religious hillbillies talk you would think that they also oppose the teaching of English grammar.

I have never heard anyone who opposes evolution who seems to have the slightest grasp of the subject. At one point in the program Dawkins is speaking with a woman who says there is no “proof” of evolution (that would be news to just about every scientist in the fields of biology and natural sciences). She seems unimaginably unenlightened—almost criminally so—to me, but she and her followers seem to take great comfort in their ignorance. I have never believed in god or religion so this is very strange to me. It is one thing to believe in the fairy tales told to us in the Bible when we are children, but to continue believing in these silly myths while denying scientific evidence to the contrary seems...pagan.

So the science of evolution isn't going to go away. In fact, the advances in the field during my lifetime have been dramatic, shattering and breath-taking. There are also people who deny the existence of global warming (the same folks as the evolution deniers, I would imagine) even though the facts have been piling up at an alarming rate. These people have been forced to constantly redraw the lines in their arguments against global warming as the scientific facts become irrefutable. The folks who once denied global warming now claim that its causes are not man-made. This argument is also bullshit but it gives them a bit more time (at least in their own pathetic world view). It's the same thing with evolution. If your religious faith relies on the fact that evolution is false, then it's time to find a new religion. You still have religion's moronic views on the “afterlife” which scientists find too ridiculous to argue.

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