Today, the hostile forces arrayed against evolution, vaccines and climate science are marginalized. They are not tolerated in the least by the scientific community and their pseudoscience does not go unchallenged in the media or science blogosphere. True, these unscientific forces still have have a hold on some segments of the public, but that’s always going to be the case. After all, 28% of American voters still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and 13% of voters think that President Obama is the anti-Christ. There’s never going to be a 100% rational-minded populace. The best we can do is keep the crazy in check and not let it infect the mainstream.
Which brings me to the insanity of the GMO debate. Why is it so unhinged? There’s a convergence of forces, of which these are representative: Read More
Republicans seem anxious to prove they are the party of scientific ignoramuses.
No, not today, that was back in 2007, during the last Presidential election, as written by Reason magazine’s Ronald Bailey. Incidentally, note the use of the term, “evolution denier,” in the headline of his post. The usage is not as common in the vernacular as climate “denier,” but it’s out there.
Hence, my argument that Texas Governor Rick Perry’s vocal positions on evolution (it’s just a theory) and global warming (it’s a big hoax) will combine in way that seriously mars the climate skeptic image in the public mind.
But hey, don’t listen to me, ’cause I’m a “climate hoax promoter.”
He now spends his days in church basements, government meeting rooms, street corners and scrubby city parks. He is involved in projects to build playgrounds, install urban gardens, reinvent schools, create neighbourhood associations and document the religious life of the city, among others.
A fascinating story of a fascinating project.
Can people who doubt the phenomena of biological evolution be persuaded by a better demonstration of the evidence? Alan Rogers, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, thinks so. He has authored a newly published book called, “The Evidence for Evolution.”
Rogers discusses what motivated him to write the book in this release by Lee Siegel, the University of Utah’s public relations officer, and a former science reporter. Siegel writes:
Rogers has been teaching courses on evolution since the 1980s, but for most of that time he didn’t talk much about the evidence that evolution actually happens. That issue was settled scientifically more than a century ago, and scientists are interested in the unknown and newly discovered. So, classes and textbooks tend to emphasize the mechanisms of evolution that are still subjects of active research.
Rogers changed his approach in 2006 after he read a poll reporting that only about half of Americans believe humans evolved. “It occurred to me after reading this poll that it didn’t make much sense to teach students about the intricacies of evolution if they don’t believe that evolution happens in the first place. So, I decided that my introductory classes henceforth were going to have a week or two on the evidence for evolution, and I started looking for a text.”
“I’m trying to convince skeptics that evolution really happened. If they’re skeptics, then as soon as I get to the point where I say, “˜trust me,’ they’re going to say “˜no. The reason I’m skeptical is because I don’t trust you.’”
Wait a second. I thought that anti-evolution attitudes sprang largely from religious belief, not from some vague skepticism. And about his change in teaching approach: I’d be curious to hear if that has resulted in Rogers swaying more students with the evidence he’s been presenting in classes.
My quibbles aside, there’s much to like about what Rogers says here:
All scientists are skeptics if they’re any good, but they’re not stubborn about it. In science, you have to be able to change your mind when confronted with evidence. It seems to me that learning that skill is important, not only for scientists, but for everybody. It makes us better citizens.
UPDATE: Alan Rogers responded via email:
I enjoyed your post. You point out that evolution skeptics are often motivated by religion, and you are skeptical that evidence is likely to help much. Maybe not, but I’m optimistic. Let me tell you why.
To begin with, I’m optimistic because the debate about evolution has changed over the years in response to evidence. For example, a century ago, people used to argue that natural selection was impossible because of blending inheritance. That argument disappeared as we learned about genetics. Other anti-evolution arguments disappeared as we learned about continental drift. So the argument is not immune to evidence, just highly resistant.
I’m also optimistic because of my experience with students. This past spring I gave a guest lecture, and afterwards two students stayed behind to ask questions. They said they were both “kind of skeptical” because they didn’t really believe the radiometric dates. “How can we really know that rates of decay are constant,” they asked? So I gave them several reasons, and at the end they both wanted to know where they could get a copy of my book.
I’m not expecting to convince anyone who is already a committed creationist, but there are many people who are merely skeptical. This is the audience I hope to reach.
What a long, strange trip it’s been, from apeman to hydrocarbon man. Is it time we humans aped Donald Trump and named a geological age after ourselves? I can see the argument laid out in this essay, but don’t we already know we’re masters of the universe? I don’t see how making it official is going to advance a greater ethos for the planet.
Rather, as human life becomes increasingly techno-gadgetized and accessorized, what I think we’ll see is a yearning for a simpler time, something along the lines of this classic, which spoke to the anxieties of a different era.
So climate skeptics of all stripes have an opportunity to demonstrate just how highly they value sound science. As the NY Times reports today, religious conservatives are hitching their anti-evolution agenda to the anti-AGW bandwagon.
Now, as the readers of Climate Depot, Planet Gore, Watts Up With That, Reason’s Hit & Run, and Tom Nelson well know, the evidence for evolution is indisputable. As the Times puts it, “there is no credible challenge” to Darwin’s theory. Yet there persists this movement among Christian conservatives to teach Intelligent Design alongside evolution in public schools. Recent court rulings have blunted those efforts, so creationists are trying a new tack by linking up with climate skeptics.
Since climate skeptics often talk about the need for sound science in the climate debate, I’m looking forward to reading in the aforementioned blogs about their distress at being co-opted by religious, anti-science ideologues.
UPDATE: Randy Olson, in a recent interview with Marc Morano, elicits this:
RO: Are you an anti-evolutionist?
MM: Haha, not at all. In fact, you know it’s not an issue. The implication of your question is that somehow the skeptics are aligned with creationists. In all my years of dealing with Senator Inhofe the subject of creationism and evolution never even came up. Someone even did an analysis of it in our scientists report, and I think they may have only found one or two creationists out of 700-some names.
Is Marc Morano a Darwinian evolutionist? If so, that would certainly put him at odds with his former employer, Senator Inhofe.
UPDATE: Kate Sheppard at the Blue Marble has a little fun with the emerging union between climate skeptics and anti-evolutionists:
Why stop at joining climate and evolution? Surely gravity and western medicine can’t be far behind in the firing line for the “teach the controversy” crowd.
This is not the Donald Duck I grew up with! Oh, lordy, Carl Zimmer peels back the curtain on freaky duck sex. And not just the evolutionary scoop. He’s got slow motion video, too. All set up by this killer lede:
There comes a time in every science writer’s career when one must write about glass duck vaginas and explosive duck penises.
Great, next time I’m in the Magic Kingdom, I’m keeping Donald and Daisy away from the kids.