Monday, February 19, 2007

Two Versions of Evolution In America

Via PZ this morning, I read a superb article by Edward Humes, author of Monkey Girl, on the two theories of evolution currently being taught in America. The article's thesis is quite simple:

There are really two theories of evolution. There is the genuine scientific theory, and there is the talk-radio pretend version, designed not to enlighten but to deceive and enrage.

We all know what the difference is:

The talk-radio version had a packed town hall up in arms at the “Why Evolution Is Stupid” lecture. In this version of the theory, scientists supposedly believe that all life is accidental, a random crash of molecules that magically produced flowers, horses and humans — a scenario as unlikely as a tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747. Humans come from monkeys in this theory, just popping into existence one day. The evidence against Darwin is overwhelming, the purveyors of talk-radio evolution rail, yet scientists embrace his ideas because they want to promote atheism.

These are just a few highlights of the awful and pervasive straw-man image of evolution that pundits harp about in books and editorials and, yes, on talk radio, and this cartoon version really is stupid. No wonder most Americans reject evolution in poll after poll.

It is sometimes difficult to battle against the twin juggernauts of American culture these days: a well funded media that spews massive volumes of mind-numbing tripe daily from radio talk shows and newspapers; combined with the American intellectual penchant for uncritically accepting anything tied to personal economic gain, patriotism, weight loss, or religion...and uncritically rejecting everything else. Struggling against this tide of willingly accepted misinformation is the "real" theory of evolution:

But then there is the real theory of evolution...for which there is overwhelming evidence in labs, fossils, computer simulations and DNA studies. Most Americans have not heard of it. Teachers give it short shrift in schools because the subject upsets too many parents who only know the talk-radio version. But real evolution isn’t random; it doesn’t say man came from monkeys. Those claims are made up by critics to get people riled up — paving the way for pleasing alternatives such as intelligent design.

Real evolutionary theory explains how life forms change across generations by passing on helpful traits to their offspring, a process that, after millions of years, gradually transforms one species into another. This does not happen randomly but through nature’s tendency to reward the most successful organisms and kill the rest. This is why germs grow resistant to antibiotics and why some turtles are sea animals and others survive quite nicely in the desert, and why dinosaurs — and more than 99 percent of all other species that have ever lived on Earth — are extinct.

The environment changes. The recipe for survival changes with it. And life changes to keep up — or it dies. Darwin’s signature insight is both brilliant and elegantly, brutally simple.

The real theory of evolution does not try to explain how life originated — that remains a mystery. The truth is that many scientists accept evolution and believe in God — and in a natural world so complete that it strives toward perfection all on its own, without need of a supernatural designer to keep it going.

As PZ notes, this is why we evolutionists get so angry (sorry, "passionate") and dismiss creationism as the joke it is. Creationist proponents are dismally ignorant of the data for evolution, fraudulent in their presentation of "alternative" ideas and yet these "prophets of talk-radio evolution" Humes notes, have the loudest media megaphone.

1 comment:

DavidD said...

Liking math as I do, the most concrete evidence of this for me over the years has been those astronomical odds one can hear quoted against the human genome or something like it forming "by chance". I've never had occasion to corner anyone who could understand that the model matters in a calculation like that or that the right words are "by nature". I've read other responses to that that would work just as well if anyone read them with an open mind.

Of course, this is not just about evolution. There are straw men all over the political spectrum and religious spectrum. In fact I know how frustrated I get when someone makes a straw man out of my argument by saying it's a straw man argument when it's not. I'm glad science is more than words.