Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Evolution: Threat or Menace?

That might as well be the headline in the National Post today. The actual lead in on page one is "Relgious right's theory of 'intelligent design' has Harvard interested. A3" and in large block type, "Darwin Who?"

While I appreciate the quotes around ID, it's highly misleading, making it sound like Harvard is doing a serious investigation of creationist nonsense. The truth is the exact opposite, as the A3 headline on Steven Edwards column reveals: "Harvard aims to prove Darwin right." The university is launching a study on the origins of life - a subject that is not exactly the same as evolution, although obviously closely linked to it.

Edwards hasn't really written much of an opinion piece here, it's really just the same back and forth he-said she-said nonsense that most writers toss out when writing about ID versus reality. But at the end he takes a groundless shot at Harvard researchers.

Harvard, meanwhile, is confident of the results of its study even before it begins.

"We start with a mutual acknowledgement of the profound complexity of living systems," David R. Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at the university, told The Boston Globe.

"My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention."

But statements like that can only open the door to further criticism from the Religious Right, which will surely argue that declaring the result in advance is hardly scientific.

Edwards, you are a goddamn moron.

Scientists do not perform experiments with no expectation. Roughly, the system goes like this: "X is a well-known fact, repeatedly proved. Based on that, I theorize that Y is also true, and will test it with an experiment." In other words, expectations (not "delcaring the result in advance," which is not what Liu said) are perfectly normal in science. The difference between scientists and others is that when the results are unexpected, they accept that their first ideas were wrong, and change their views.

Creationists and proponents of ID, on the other hand, attempt to fit facts to their preconceptions.

It's also noteworthy that if Harvard really were doing basic research into evolution - as the headlines imply - it would be the biological equivalent of going back to check if gravity really exists, and works the way thousands of physicists have already checked and documented. Yet this kind of work is now made necessary by the loud squealing of creationists and their pet politicians.

Other possible future headlines for the Post:

"Is Earth Round? Princeton profs meet with Flat-Earthers."

"The Four Humours Reconsidered. Oxford doctors taking medieval medicine seriously; leech stocks soar."

"Phrenology the new Kabbalah! Madonna endorsement convinces science that bumps = personality!"

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