Monday, February 16, 2009

Teaching Darwin to Voodoo Evangelicals & Other Darwinophobes

by Omyma

If the Theory of Evolution were on sale at Wal-Mart, these would be Darwin Days. For the coincidental 200th birthday of Charles D plus the 150th birthday of the publishing of his Origin of the Species, many around the world celebrate by publishing articles, books, blogs and exhibitions on the importance of the man and his breakthrough ideas. But for some 25% of Americans, according to a CNN poll, and possibly more from the 36% undecided/don't know group, evolution is not true, not fact, not even important. Evangelicals and their conservative brethren consider it a dangerous lie.

It is not just 'evolution' but the foundations of scientific enquiry that inspires their rage. It is ironic that in this technologically-advanced nation, a large section of the population does not believe the very basis on which much of that technology, the core processes and investigations upon which much of modern civilization and advancement, is based. They are are not passive dissenters. They exert political pressure and take other actions to prevent the free dissemination of scientific ideas.

One would expect a better result in the UK, Darwin's home turf. But that's not exactly the case.
Half of British adults do not believe in evolution, with at least 22% preferring the theories of creationism or intelligent design to explain how the world came about, according to a survey.
With about 50% of Britons believing in evolution to varying degrees, this is somewhat better than the U.S., where only 39% believe in evolution (just slightly more than the undecideds), but it is far below where one would think. Even stranger is this fact:
..around 10% of people chose young Earth creationism – the belief that God created the world some time in the last 10,000 years – over evolution.
About 12% preferred intelligent design, the idea that evolution alone is not enough to explain the structures of living organisms. The remainder were unsure, often mixing evolution, intelligent design and creationism together. The survey was conducted by the polling agency ComRes on behalf of the Theos thinktank.
Why is this? Even if you take into consideration the recent hype about so-called "intelligent design", we're still left wondering what was going on in the last, say, 150 years... I was fully expecting the UK to be different, not the least because Darwin is a native son, and the whole idea should give Britons a sort of patriotic high - just in case rationality is a non-starter.

But when you consider that both the U.S. and Briton are running at roughly half for and half against, maybe we should consider something else.

Robert Haston's book The Origin of the Political Species presents the view that in fact, people are evolved to be "two tribes" or to have two political leanings - and we're talking hard-wired, in the genes. This would mean possibly roughly half of homo sapiens are liberal, and half conservative. Although it's not really that simple, the striking point here is that looking at the number of people tending to accept evolution as scientific fact vs. the number of those rejecting it outright, you get a similar rough 50-50 breakdown.

The "political species" theory goes that two opposing tendencies, genetically expressed, have evolved in our struggle for survival: the "conservative", alpha male, authoritarian, hierarchical, tradition-preserving, paternalistic, militaristic, "rule from the gut", macho, emotional (especially fear and anger), "in-group" protecting type on the one hand; and the "liberal", forward-looking, rational, empathetic, universal-thinking, peace and diplomacy-bringing, "outside-the-box" looking, artistic, egalitarian and compassionate type on the other hand.

Of course, these labels are somewhat simplistic, because everyone has a mix of each type of gene. But some people are definitely more on one side and some are definitely more on the other. Then there are the folks on the fence; the in-betweens, the people targeted in elections, the swing voters.

So what's this got to do with evangelicals and their intrusion of religion into politics? Religion, especially and particularly evangelical Christianity, which involves voodoo-like trances, speaking in tongues, and other obvious examples of irrationality, is a hotbed of conservatism. It gives their world view, their "tribe", a double-whammy: it appeals to the emotions and creates a bonded "in-group", and simultaneously numbs the sensibilities of those people to rational, progressive governance, thus paving the way for typical conservative top-down, hierarchical, paternalistic government. And so atheist Karl Rove harnessed the power of evangelical Christianity to numb millions of rural, relatively uneducated, unempowered people into rallying behind their own subjugation to the Bush regime's heavy-handed, militaristic, undemocratic, authoritarian-style government.

President Obama's rise to power is not only a direct blow to conservatism, but shows that conservatism has completely lost its bearings, having nothing but "gut-instinct" to go on and a set of irrational, but strongly felt, slogans, usually starting with the instinctive expression, "NO!" and "We gotta win!" So you have the scenario of all Republicans still standing lining up and crying "No!", with the "reasoning" being repetition of platitudes about tax-cutting that their own gurus have been shamed into admitting were all wrong. The only "yes"-sayers were women: who often have a certain ability to think progressively, when pushed to the wall. But the problem is the basic conservative mind-set is not going to change.

And if it's not going to change, does this mean that half the population will be literally fighting progress, keeping people in the dark ages, working hard to send humanity farther and farther back in time until we end up with the victory of the "earth is at rest" theory? No, because many conservatives actually already believe in the theory evolution and would support it vigorously if they really knew what it was. But it's been presented to them as a "progressive" and "anti-God" idea, and the fear factor, self-defense thing kicked in. Progressives have also focused the narrative on God vs. evolution, which is patently absurd, instead of on common ground, such as how this "theory" has helped humanity survive. And anything less than common ground is totally useless, impractical, and hence, not all that progressive.

Regardless if one believes liberal and conservative tendencies are in the genes, history does display conflict between them fairly dramatically. Or, as Mr. Haston put it:
Given that the world‘s climate has seesawed back and forth, the engine of evolution has learned to keep plenty of older genes in circulation, ready to be selected when the pendulum swings back and forth. Man‘s culture has done the same, swinging from Dark Age to Renaissance and back with far more fury and speed than the climate. So keeping a balance of traits in play is a good survival strategy. ...

Stop trying to change each other because you won‘t. Take the advice of Sun Tzu: understand yourself and your enemy and win every battle. To be as blunt as possible: Understand the view of those who don‘t agree with you and why they have it, or you are screwed. If your opponent learns to and you refuse to, then you are only screwing yourself.
To scientists, Darwin's theory and the science it generated, which has since morphed considerably (i.e., evolved), is an essential part of the scientific and technological gains which have benefited society and also hold some of the keys to solving projected future problems. In a democratic society, which is essentially a progressive or "liberal" thing, it is almost suicidal to mix religion with science, but that fact has to be presented to conservative minds in a different way that takes their basic mindset into account.

In other words, progressives have been shooting themselves in the foot on this issue by such in-your-face non-starter attitudes as Christopher Hitchens, for example, or Richard Dawkins, who are almost evangelical about atheism. It isn't Christianity per se, or Voodooism per se, that threatens science. It's the politicization of religion. So to get them to back off, we should take a 2-pronged approach, one "liberal" in style and the other "conservative".

For the "liberal" style, present the universal benefits and plusses of evolution, as contrasted to the total disaster that would occur if we were to turn back the progress of free inquiry and impose some sort of religious-based "science". We could start with antibiotics. It's a known fact that bacteria become resistant. They evolve. They become different species. It's just the time-frame is faster, hence more easily understood. Without evolutionary theory, we couldn't have modern medicine or understand why antibiotics started to fail after they were initially successful. Shall we then impose a ban on all medical research, except that which is mentioned specifically in the Bible? Few conservatives would agree to that. Then remind them of the geocentric universe. Shall we cancel those satellites and cell phones and that Devil Internet? I doubt many would follow this route.

In fact, those who would follow this route might consider attending a certain university in Peshawar, Pakistan, where they might find some folks of a similar mindset. Would those evangelicals really like their newfound cameraderie with the Taliban, for example?

For the "conservative" style, bring a religiously respected Wise Man to confer his judgement in a time-honored manner on this issue. To wit, Solomon.

What would Solomon have suggested? Voila:

If you want to impose religious dogma on science, then we must equally impose scientific knowledge and opinion on religion. No sermon, no priest, no pastor, should be allowed to operate without presenting the views of Darwin and others on Natural Selection and Evolution. And while we're at it, the Pope should have Darwin's Origin of the Species on his required reading list. Not only that, they have to give prime-time lectures on the subject - equal time for "equal" views. And, to be even more "fair", we should give equal time to the theory that "the sun revolves around the earth on the ether, or firmament", not to mention the notion that the earth is carried on the back of a giant turtle. Whenever priests read sacred texts, they should supplement those texts with "balancing" readings from scientific literature. If religion is "relevant" to science, then science is equally "relevant" to religion.

Oh, does this strike some young-earthlings as infringing on their freedom of religion? We likewise detest infringement on freedom of scientific inquiry by enforcing totally unrelated concepts, sources, and mythologies on it. If they like their earth young, their dinosaurs recent, and their biological change instantaneous, that's fine for them. But if they want to impose it on the rest of us, we demand the right to impose scientific facts on them. Otherwise, they can enjoy living as their ancestors did when the earth was indeed younger - with stone tools.

And by the way, if God wanted creation instantaneously, magician style - to our human perception, no less - then wouldn't He have created Instant Gestation? Or Instant budding, flowering, and fruition in plants? Why all the mess, the time, the stages? Would these hot-n-heavy evangelicals miss that flowering stage? Or that season for fruit? Did anybody ever read Ecclesiastes? Obviously, all "creation" occurs in stages, in gradual progression, from the birth and death of stars to the birth and death of living creatures, to the birth and death of life itself (as in, say, extinctions). Beyond that, arguing about God is totally useless scientifically.

As for the Darwinophobes, their idiocy has been laid bare. Nobody wants to give up their cell phones in order to have Flat Earth Theory resurrected, except a few crazies. Nobody wants to give up the benefits civilization has attained by scientific discoveries and applications based on Darwin's theory. Meanwhile, scientists and progressives should lay off the pro-atheism, often condescending heavy-hitting when presenting evolution. After all, it just means "gradual change". That happens in the womb before every baby is born. Nobody can argue against that.

The soft-sell worked on Dalai Lama, who looked at Darwin's Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, discovered his abolutionist and compassionate views on humankind, and was won over.
...the father of evolution theorised that emotion and compassion were universal and naturally selected features of humans...

"I am now calling myself a Darwininian," Ekman recalled the Dalai Lama saying, after Ekman read him some passages of Darwin's work.
Meanwhile, when feeling frustrated over Voodoo science and general ignorance created by ultra-conservative mindsets and policies, think about the possibility that this whole controversy may be part of an ongoing evolutionary process that even affects our politics. The best civilizations are those that take the best from both sides, and in this sense Obama stands out as a potentially great leader, balancing as he does without capitulating to a conservative brand that no longer adequately supports even its own constituent conservatives - as Bush has presided over arguably the most profligate government in U.S. history. "Profligate" is not a conservative value. Just as condescension and a confrontational, dogmatic approach to scientific argument is not a liberal one.

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