I was educated as a biologist and evolutionary theory remains an intellectual interest of mine. I spent many hours in my youth arguing with “scientific” creationists. These hours were largely spent educating the creationists on the actual theory they were criticizing, or debating the finer philosophical points of scientific methodology. I eventually gave up due to pure frustration because in the end creationists believe what they believe as a matter of faith. You can’t argue somebody out of his faith.
So this post over at Powerline pointing to a biology professor who is denouncing the Powerline guys for being idiots because one of them doesn’t believe in evolution grabbed my attention .
Creationists are exasperating because they never study evolutionary theory in any detail. Since they start with the unshakable presumption that the theory is wrong, they can never actually honestly analyze the theory and therefore can never understand it in any depth. They just skim over the theory looking for points that confuse them and then pronounce the misunderstood points as fatal flaws within the theory itself.
Frankly, most creationists’ knowledge of evolutionary theory boils down to, “them scientist fellas what says we alls comes from monkeys!”
Of course, this is a much different view of evolutionary theory than that held by the majority of secular leftists. Their superior educations and their generally more open-minded and inquisitive natures have given them a view of evolutionary theory that might be summed up as, “them scientist fellas what says we alls comes from monkeys!”
I’m not kidding.
Your average leftist is every bit as clueless about evolutionary theory as any stereotypical bible-thumping hick with an 8th-grade education. Worse, leftists hypocritically extol evolutionary theory when it advances their political agenda, but then turn on it viciously when it does not.
Superficially, leftists appear to embrace evolutionary theory to such an extent that most creationists believe that evolutionary theory is itself just a pseudoscientific construction of the Left — used to advance their political power, social authority and intellectual dominance. It is easy to see where they get that impression. For the last 150 years, the Left has used evolution to undercut the authority of religion and tradition. By attacking the fundamental cosmology of religion they have sought to drive religious authority from the public and intellectual spheres. Once religion and tradition are discredited, the only source of answers for life dilemmas is — surprise, surprise — the secular intellectual.
However, the Left’s embrace of evolutionary theory begins and ends with its utility as a materialistic explanation for the origins of humanity. In every other aspect they violently reject evolutionary theory as having any explanatory power. One need to look no further than the savaging of Harvard president Larry Summers to see this hypocrisy in action.
Leftists pilloried Summers because he transgressed against the a central tenet of the leftist faith, the blank-slate model of the origins of human behavior. The blank-slate model holds that human intellect and behavior are strictly the products of learning that occurs after birth. It is a very old idea that shows up in many different eras and cultures . Throughout history, most thinkers have viewed human behavior as resulting from some undetermined ratio of genetics to learning (nature vs. nurture). In the West we have seen a spectrum that has run from someone like Hitler, who viewed human behavior as 90% genetic and 10% learned, to the leftists who hold that human behavior is 100% learned and 0% genetic, with everybody else guessing somewhere between those extremes.
The political implications of the blank-slate model have a long and, in the 20th century, bloody history. The full implications are too large for this post, but it is important to understand that the 100% blank-slate model is not some wacko fringe idea but is instead a central tenet of mainstream leftist ideology. Leftists base their claim to be able to solve most of the problems of humanity, on the presumption that with the construction of the proper environment they can create any behavior needed to make the world a better place.
In reaction to fascism in the wake of WWII, the intellectual dominance of the blank-slate was total. Anyone who posited the most minimum influence of genetics on human behavior was denounced as a literal fascist. Even conditions like schizophrenia and autism were blamed on environmental factors like cold and distant mothers. Only in the last 20 years has the facade begun to crack, but as the Summers incident shows it is still alive and well within the mainstream Left.
The blank-slate model holds that genes (baring obvious genetic illness like Down Syndrome) have no effect on human intellect or behavior. Each healthy human is at birth mentally interchangeable with every other human. Genes may control every other facet of our physiology but not our brains. The differences we see between individuals as they grow arise solely from their psychological environment.
However, in regards to evolutionary theory, the blank-slate does present one rather major problem:
It is completely impossible to reach the state of genetic equality posited by the blank-slate via the process of natural selection.
The driving engine of natural selection is variation between individuals. This was Darwin’s critical insight. Natural selection selects between variations. No variation means no evolution. This central principle of evolutionary theory means that if human brains were as functionally identical on the genetic level as posited by the blank-slate model, then our brains could have never evolved in the first place!
If a person claims to believe that the human mind is the result of the materialistic functioning of the brain, and that the brain arose via a process of natural selection as advanced by contemporary evolutionary theory, but he also holds that individuals’ innate genetic intellectual and behavioral capacities do not vary significantly from individual to individual, then that person is either profoundly ignorant or a hypocrite. (Or perhaps both, a ignocrite?)
Most leftists have no clue about the many implications of evolutionary theory for their ideology. They only know, but in a very vague sense, that leftist authority figures have declared that smart people believe in evolution. The authority figures tell them that anybody trying to apply evolutionary theory to real world human behavior is automatically a fascist. The average leftist, secure in his educated ignorance, just trots along behind authority figures bleating about the superiority of their own particular flock of intellectual sheep.
This is just one of the many areas in which the behavior of the secular Left is indistinguishable from that of religious zealots. The only difference between scientific creationists, and the leftists who had an attack of the vapors while listening to Summers, is which intellectual authority figures they blindly follow. In terms of scientific ignorance, they are engaged in a race to the bottom.
I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out who I think is winning.
(update: Many commenters have expressed disbelief that the 100% blank-slate view of human cognition actually exist. Some have suggested I have erected a strawman or otherwise engage in hyperbole. I have not. I realize that the intellectual history of views on human cognition is not a subject most people are well versed in (why should they be?) but I assure you the extreme position outlined above is quite real, it is quite old and guite widespread. Here is an excerpt from Steven Pinkers The Blank-Slate that gives one a taste of the extent by which this idea has spread in Western thought)