Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bush Hates Science

Not that I'm surprised by this, but George W. Bush announced earlier this week that he supports the teaching of intelligent design in schools. Public schools that is, not private ones.

Let me make this clear up front: I support the absolute human right of people to fill their own heads, or the heads of their young, impressionable children, with whatever Dark Ages crap they wish. I will, in fact, rush to defend the right to believe in/worship flying saucers, crystals, Odin, pyramids or a giant teapot. Deep personal stupidity is a right. As long as you are not harming children, physically or through psychological torment, the state has absolutely no right to stop you.

But if you're starting the class in teapot worship, which holds that all life was poured out of the great primordial pot by the Great Tea Maker, that is in some conflict with science. You cannot demand equal time for teapot worship at the local elementary school, because you don't believe in the scientifically arrived at theories on how the universe began.

Bush appears to disagree, as in this story, which I have copied from the excellent and outraged Panda's Thumb:

BY RON HUTCHESON
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - President Bush waded into the debate over evolution and “intelligent design” Monday, saying schools should teach both theories on the creation and complexity of life.

[…]

Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over “creationism,” a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As governor of Texas, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.

On Monday the president said he favors the same approach for intelligent design “so people can understand what the debate is about.”


It's nice that Bush has cleared up some of the confusion right up front by mentioning creationism. Intelligent design is not scientific. It is not, and never has been, a science. It's partisans typically attack the existing body of biological knowledge, looking for gaps, then assert that whatever has not yet been explained is inexplicable. This feature, they assert, could not have arisen by mere chance! It must have been designed! It is irreducibly complex!

Intelligent design hasn't even been around that long, but many of the irreducibly complex structures it first attacked have, in fact, been explained by science, either in whole or in part. There is much that has not been explained, but we won't find out anything by throwing up our hands and saying, "Well, don't know how that little flagellum got there, must have been The Teapot."

Let us also be clear that ID is a religiously inspired viewpoint. It is inseparable from the broader creationist movement which feels that the Christian God actually made the Earth, and human beings specifically. There is no way to whitewash over the fact that intelligent design is not possible without a designer. Considering the movement's ties to Christianity, there is no doubt about which designer most of ID's adherents favour.

Even if you cut away all of that, and accept that ID's proponents really have no specific designer in mind, this idea still conflicts with some religious views, which do not assert that the world was created or is maintained by a higher power.

Bush has therefore advocated a violation of the US Constitution, which mandates that the government shall endorse no one religion. He has given his open approval to Judeo-Christian beliefs, above and over any others (say, teapot worship).

I don't know what this will mean, in the long term, for the culture war which still rages in the United States, but I'm very glad right now to be a Canadian. Here, the culture war is essentially over, the left won, and the mopping up stages are now in progress. In our last election, the Conservative Party's Stephen Harper had to assert, repeatedly, that he would not reopen the abortion debate. And he still lost.

But we are overshadowed by our neighbour to the south. They have been staggering to the right for some years now, and if the radical Republican grip on power continues, it could have serious repercussions, not just for Americans, but for the world. We don't want another Dark Age, but that's no guarantee that we won't get one.

If the west abandons science - and this is, and always has been a possibility, ever since the early days of the Royal Society - we are doomed. Our descendents could find themselves shivering in the dark, supplicating the unseen for warmth. We are far from this yet, and science still has powerful defenders. I've just been listening to Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World on tape, a fabulous defense of science and the power of experimentation to explain the world. But reason will always have to struggle with the demons of our credulity, of our need to believe in unreason. We must inoculate ourselves against this tendency every day of our lives.

Now, the most powerful individual in the world has said that no such inoculation is necessary. Unreason and reason are equal and should both be considered as explanations for how the world works. Both should receive the support of governments. The innoculation metaphor is apt. If Bush told people that innoculations against disease deserved equal time with prayer to prevent sickness, the rates of illness and death would skyrocket. Rates of ignorance may see a corresponding rise.

The west, the world, may turn away from science, and we may be watching the first days of that era. Do not let this happen.

Learn. Doubt. Rejoice in the things that you do not know, but that you can know, through reason and experimentation.

To take the language of the other side, choose the light, and turn away from the darkness.

3 comments:

Andrew Claxton said...

Matthew,

Good article and all that, but I can't help noticing two problems. The first is that I believe his name is "Carl Sagan," not Saigon. He wasn't a scientist on Batttlestar Galactica. And second you wrote that the US constitution commanded the government to support or favour "no one religion." I think a better phrasing of this would be "no single religion.

Quibbles aside do you really think that it is likely that the West, or the rest ofthe world for that matter, is likely to turn away from science just because some hick nation has decided to elect a mentally retarded chimp to run its affairs. Yes, the US is big and powerful and all that shit, but compared to the weight of Europe, Canada, Japan, a modernizing Latin America, and the growing power of the rest of southeast Asia, all of whom have embraced science, it really doesn't have that much cultural power.

In fact, the people that Mr. George "the retarded chimp" Bush most resembles in his out look on science are the people that he is currently waging an unsucessful war against, the midieval Islamists. Here's a thought: why don't we just get out of their way and let them kill each other, then the world can bask in a warm and fuzzy age of peace and enlightenment? Oh, wait, I remember now, it's because there are thousands of poor, fairly innocent, sods caught in the crossfire. Still, it is a nice thought though.

Andrew

Adalmin said...

This is why I hate really, REALLY religious people in general.

Faith is a few notches short of complete stubborn insanity.

Anonymous said...

Adalmin,

I disagree with your stance on religious folks. Even the devout. Some of the greatest people in history have been exceptionally religious. Gandhi for example, or the Archbishop Desomond Tutu. Here in Canada J.S. Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas, and Stanley Knowles (a Methodist minister, a Baptist preacher, and a United Church minister respectively) were all at the forefront of progressive politics. they literally changed the social and economic make-up of the Canadian landscape. And all of them were devoutly religious.

What I think you are trying to say is that for some people faith is a guiding light that leads them and us to a better future. While for others it just leads them around by the nose. Some people are passengers and others are drivers. We need drivers and all we've got right now are passengers.

For the record, I'm an athiest.

Andrew