3.24.2009

Is Ignorance Winning?

The hydra that is Intelligent Design Creationism has sprouted almost too many new heads to count in the recent spate of 'Academic Freedom' legislations that have sprung up throughout the land guided by hands at the Discovery institute. It seems that most of what they discover are new ways to set back objective thought in an effort to prop up bronze age mysticism, but marketing and logos aren't required to be factual. If they were, we would have stormed the gates the first time a bottle left the factory labeled Coke Classic. If these guys applied the same vigor to something useful they might make a difference in the world other than to dim the lights. But they won’t. I find it very depressing that so much of the 21st century seems to be devoted to gleefully promulgating ignorance.

I'm not going to take mine or anyone else's time trying to debate the merits of Descent with Modification. To be honest, I’m hoping to never do that again. If, at some time in the future, a well articulated and scientifically plausible theory disputing the facts of evolution should appear, then I will be interested but until that dubious day arrives, I'm done. Intelligent Design ain’t it. Put all the lipstick you want on that pig. It is nothing more than crap marketing and it’s high time we just started dismissing this pseudoscience for what it is. Philip Johnson, science isn’t the law. It isn’t an arena where theatrics means more than evidence. Dembski, making up an equation and filling it with hand picked variables is not mathematics. Behe, irreducible complexity is just your word for not being clever or honest enough to find the real mechanisms - which were out there when you republished your book of rubbish. The scientific results are in, have been for some time, and are more than compelling. Debate is not what magical thinkers want anyway. From now on, I plan to refer scientific dissenters to a reading list of selections that I have found useful on topics not directly associated with my primary expertise. I hope to add a favorite reading list on selected topics to my blog soon. If they aren't willing to read the material they are a lost cause anyway. Evolutionary theory is an amazing and elegant discovery that explains a lot about why we are what we are. More compelling and far more beautiful to me than any magic. My kids will be brought up understanding and appreciating it for what it is without having to dumb it down or sugar coat some aspects of it to avoid offending somebody’s beliefs. A knowledge of science and mathematics should put them in great demand in the future idiocracy this nation seems determined to become.

As for academic freedom that does not nor should it ever be an excuse to replace intellectual rigor with lazy ignorance. Every view point is not equal in science. Yes, you are free to write whatever answers you want to any test question presented; and your instructors are free to fail you for being ignorant. That is academic freedom.

Why, the vehemence? For two reasons mostly that I am working to correct. I've fallen victim to a weakness in my character and to the siren's call of the Internet. Neither is helping my blood pressure. This coming year is going to be a wild ride so I need some zen in my life.

I’ve been thinking about this particular character flaw (I should say, one of many...). It’s a fear of being unfair. I guess the real question has been whether I'm concerned with being fair or being perceived as fair. As it turns out, it makes a huge difference. Having an open mind vs worrying about if anyone else agrees with that assessment. I think it's an important distinction because if you really only care about fairness, as opposed to perception, then things like the Discovery wedge strategy can't work - i.e., they can't force us to engage in senseless defense of that which needs none. They keep the perception of controversy alive in large part because we rise constantly to the bait. As Bertrand Russell so eloquently phrased, "we need to be open minded but not so open minded that your brain falls out." We respond to everyone of their idiot claims as if it warrants an answer other than to stop wasting my time or our kids time. Our champions (for the most part other than the most rabid) try to be polite and respectful of their opponents in the mistaken belief that polite discourse is convincing to the undecided but it may just be confusing to those who are simply ignorant of the facts. Instead let's concentrate on questions without answers instead of rehashing the known. My response from now on is going to be 'stop your bitching until you can come up with a valid solution that doesn't require magic'. I think that will work for a whole lot of topics in politics as well. I hate to be polarizing but enough is enough and the purposefully ignorant won't be carried by facts anyway. They just retreat further into the gaps until the next set of discoveries roots them out. The simply ignorant need to be made aware that there is no controversy at all, or at least it is one of degrees or relative contributions rather than deep substance.

A epiphany of sorts came a few weeks ago when I was talking to a colleague of mine who, prior to that day, I'd greatly respected. How we ended up arguing evolutionary theory escapes me, but we did. I was blown away by his complete ignorance of any of the science. And this guy is a graduate level professional in a scientifically based field. He sounded like he'd been programmed by the Discovery Institute and kept referring to fairness and controversy. Except he couldn’t come up with any actual controversies. Listening to him talk, I came to the conclusion that what wasn't fair, was that I had to be bothered by his clueless parroting. I ended the debate with a question to him; "Are you interested in facts or is this just stuff you picked up in church?" He said he was open to learning so we sat down at Amazon and I pointed him to a list of excellent references on modern evolutionary theory and the wedge strategy which I had found very useful and enlightening. We'll see.

Some might push back and say that to not debate on these topics will allow things like the wedge strategy to work, but I'm not sure that ignorance can be defeated in a nation that seems to have an inexhaustible capacity to create new nonsense in which to believe and on which to spend money (Scientology, anyone?). How can we hope to overcome established belief structures when we can't even keep new ones from arising right under our noses? I wonder sometimes if my little rants don't contribute to the problem in a small way - at least the ones outside of my area of expertise. Unfortunately, The Internet didn't make me smarter just allowed me to add to the static surrounding objective truth. And I worry if it isn’t true that all these voices don’t end up adding to the confusion. Hard to know. That’s one of the problems with having an open mind; we always calibrate it against outside perspectives. But on the Web there’s a hell of a lot of chaff for every grain of truth. I enjoy a lot of the insights I get from those of you I encounter frequently but I find that the overwhelming amount of flarge on the Web is depressing as hell. At some point you just have to decide that you have an open mind, in the sense of being open to rational arguments, and leave it at that.

So, if I continue with this little indulgence, it will mostly be on topics in which I have some true expertise, or just to share an occasional lark that amuses me at least. And maybe some more recipes...

14 comments:

Stacy said...

You're not alone Pliny. I'm guilty too, but I know my reason for being timid when talking with the brainwashed - protection for my son.

Not physical protection ... he's a 5'11",190lb,13 yr old jock. But I'm in the bible belt and I feel if I make too much noise - it may (e?)affect a summer job or his personal life, etc...

I did stand in front of the school board and the BoE and the legislature last year when the academic freedumb bill was being pushed here, and I've written letters this year because it's come up again recently. But that's about it. That's not too dangerous because most people are oblivious to what's happening with state education standards, they are too busy at the pool or beach. I would be more frightened to make noise at a PTA meeting. Pathetic, I know.

I lost several good friends but that's OK because I WATCHED them Lie for Jesus to the state legislature and I lost all respect for them. But he's too young to have to deal with having a mommy that's a "troublemaker".

Just waiting for the day he goes to college so I can tell everyone where to stick it. Cowardly, I know, but it's like 'Stepford" here. (sigh)

Michael Lockridge said...

Stacy indirectly presents the reason for the opposition to the exclusive teaching of evolution by those who hold to a creation model. Protection of a system of belief.

Stacy wishes to protect her son from a belief system that is undesirable. The activist creationist are doing the same.

As to "objective truth" guiding things such as educational systems, that is a wonderful ideal. Unfortunately, educational standards are as subject to political pressure as anything else.

Some practitioners of magic might take issue with your perspective that the scientific system of belief is exclusively true. They would argue that your mind is not truly open and that you would reject their evidence because it does not fit within your belief system, even though it is viable under their own system.

Politics can also be a factor in defining scientific "truth." Not just the politics of general society, but the politics of academia and of the funding process.

The whole thing is massively complex, and not everyone will follow the many lines of argument to the same conclusions. Add to that the many personal and special interests involved, and TRUTH gets lost.

I look forward to your bibliography. It seems that you have some real information behind your beliefs, and I do love information.

Mike

Stacy said...

@Mike - When I stand up against these academic freedumb bills - it is not because I find them "undesireable" (which I do) but because they are illegal. And because they are permissive to letting pseudoscience into the science classroom.

I'm not trying to protect my son from a belief system (I don't know how you read THAT into my comment) he knows a lot about Christianity and other religions - and he rejects the absurd. ---- I'm trying to protect him from becoming an outcast. That's all.

Stacy said...

P.S. Just one more comment.

"Politics can also be a factor in defining scientific "truth."

Ummm NOOoooooo!! Politics CANNOT help define scientific truth!!

(I just couldn't let that go)

If you throw a rock into the air, it will come back down.

That's gravity, that's science, period.

Random mutation + natural selection= evolution.
That's science, period.

Facts don't change just because someone doesn't like them.

Michael Lockridge said...

The term "truth" in quotes implies I was not referring to actual truth but the "truth" that comes about in consequence of the various interactions that comprise the process of defining "truth."

As to rocks returning to earth, that is the earth spirit sending forth its essence and drawing back the wayward bit of itself. You should know that!

The legality of something is a matter of definition, the consequence of a process. It is not determined by any absolute, at least in our system. Ultimately, a process of resolving conflicts between beliefs.

Facts are simply facts. They do not define beliefs, but are called into service to support beliefs. Some will be hidden, discounted or impeached, others will be accounted as great in value, depending on how they serve to support the belief in question.

Belief systems are not just religious. Science is a belief system, a mode of thinking based on certain presuppositions. That you prefer that system over others is a choice you make, based on everything that makes up who you are.

Other people make other choices.

Stacy said...

Science is a belief system?? You've got to be kidding me.

For a corrections officer - this comment puzzles me...
"The legality of something is a matter of definition, the consequence of a process. It is not determined by any absolute, at least in our system."

Are the people you guard in the state pen in there because we BELIEVE they did something ilegal?? Or did they do something illegal??

The law can be changed - that's true. The Establishment Clause could possibly be stricken from the Constitution one day - but TODAY it is in place.

I took an oath years ago to protect and defend the Constitution the way it is written.

Michael Lockridge said...

The laws I enforce in the jail where I work are established by a legal process and define illegal behavior. They are absolute in authority but are not absolute in origin. They have been created out of a belief system.

I enforce the laws that exist. I do not personally believe in many of those laws. However, the culture in which I live seems to function well enough under these laws, and they are not particularly hard to follow. If I may babysit (for pay) a bunch of people who cannot manage to follow such laws, I will take the money.

The job came at an opportune time, and has met my needs for nineteen years. I retire next year, since the job takes a lot out of a person and it is time to move on.

Are people in jail (I don't work the pen) because we believe they did something wrong? Yes, since the laws were fashioned out of a belief system.

The Constitution is a document of definition, also constructed by a melding of beliefs. It serves us because we believe in it.

I, too, swore to defend the Constitution. I stand by that oath, and continue to do so at least in my voting. The day may come when some who swore that oath will have to defend the Constitution from those who govern us. That, however, is another thread.

No, I do not kid you when I define science as a system of belief. It is a defined way of thinking, and I contend that to apply it you must believe in that way of thinking. You must shape your mind to that system. You must believe.

pboyfloyd said...

I think that you are full of shit Michael.

You are very eloquently full of shit, but you are nevertheless full of shit.

Everyone knows that the purpose of education is to give children the latest model of reality, to impart knowledge.

The 'thing' about science is that it is a never-ending quest for a better model of reality and 'bringing in' an old model, the notion that 'goddidit' is simply being lazy.

No matter how eloquently one can philosophize that we can't really know anything, that notion is circular.

How can we really know that we can't really know anything?

If you can answer that, then how can we really know that your answer is correct?

We CAN really know a model of reality and we can learn other people's models of reality and compare them against each other.

"Really knowing" is an ongoing process and we human beings are trying, we really are.

You religious slackers aren't helping by 'Praising the Lord' all the time either.

You are just a bunch of mental cases and you are just an example of a very eloquent mental case.

mac said...

pboyfloyd is right Micheal.
Stacey is right.

You are not.

Harvey said...

How any honest person cannot recognize that insistance upon including a religious belief about the origin of this world (not the alledged afterlife)and the living things in it does not belong in a publicly tax supported curriculum in this country and under our current Constitution is beyond me!
Whatever else may be true about "Creationist" doctrine, it is blatantly the Christian viewpoint. There is no issue of fairness. If there were, these stealth supporters of "creationism" would have to also support inclusion of every other "origin" belief (and there are literally hundreds!) that exists or has ever existed and demand that they be given equal weight with the Christian viewpoint. Obviously, all of these differ from the scientifically supported theories of evolution (which, incidentally have nothing to say about how life began, but only how it has evolved and developed since its beginning)in just that aspect; they have no scientific support. Needless to say, this does not fit their "fairness" doctrine, not to mention that it would effectively make it impossible to teach anything at all.(It has just occurred to me that this may actually be a "fallback" position for the right wingers!).
It should be reiterated that nothing about not including religious based "creationism" in a biological science curriculum either prevents its being taught "as Gospel" in any non-tax supported curriculum or other religious organization wherein anyone who does not share that belief can freely avoid exposure to it, or requires that learners accept it as "gospel", only that they know and understand the scientific understanding of life so they can answer questions about it. One could even support including "creationism" in an appropriate philosophy course or a comparative religion course, as long as it was an elective.
Pliny, although I can readily understand your frustration and agree that the best way to repond to these "beliefs" is to ignore them, if we do not continue to oppose them on rational and Constitutional grounds, you can be certain that they will succeed in getting the "camel's nose into the tent" , which will be the beginnig of "converting" us into a "Christian" nation for real.

Michael Lockridge said...

Well, this has been fun, but gone on long enough.

You are correct, I am full of shit. Not particularly regarding such arguments as I have presented. It is simply true that I am full of shit.

It has been my pleasure to be the voice of opposition, as meager as my arguments have been. After all, preaching to the choir is wearying in the long run.

Do stand firm on your beliefs. I recognize that many in the Christian camp would be your tyrants. I do not support them, any more than any other form of tyranny.

Stand firm, but be honest and honorable in the battle.

Mike

GearHedEd said...

A couple of things:

I read a book when I was in college a couple of years ago called Science as a Way of Knowing. It's a very informative and easily understood book written for people who don't have a degree in biology.

Second, check out the reasons for the invention of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Also, Project Steve is elegant commentary on the veracity of the evidence of evolution.

mac said...

"Our champions (for the most part other than the most rabid) try to be polite and respectful of their opponents in the mistaken belief that polite discourse is convincing to the undecided but it may just be confusing to those who are simply ignorant"

I think being nice and respectful allows guys like Dinesh D'Souza to come from a debate in which he was thouroughly trounced and proclaim himself the "winner".

There are some of us less scientificly inclined who enjoy your style of writing . Keep going, if ya can.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

I go away for a couple of days t sulk and what happens? Interesting dialogue.

A couple of comments if I msy.

Stacy - looking out for your kids and putting their needs ahead of our own is about the bravest thing many of us ever pull off. There's a lot out there to protect them from, and a truthful education is a critical part of that protection.

Micheal, Interesting perspective that has gotten me thinking. A respectful and thoughtful response to the issues you raise warrants a new post in a few days please bear with me.

Harvey, I don't disagree with continuing the fight I just was wondering if we needed to be more blatant. Probably not ;)
I have for some time shared your fear that neocons want public education rendered impotent but I don't think it's a fall back position - I think it's the primary motivator and evolution just one of the wedge positions.

Mac, Thanks and I'll try to avoid any more whinning ;)

more later