I am myself an agnostic and a rabid evolutionist. I believe that Darwinism operates not only in the genes of living organisms but anywhere there is information. Darwinism controls the immune system, the growth of neurons, and cognition itself. I believe that human cultures evolve just like living organisms. I am a free-market advocate and a Chicagoboy because I believe the free market is a Darwinian process that reaches better solutions quicker and less selfishly than political systems. In short, an evolutionary viewpoint forms the foundation of my entire world view.
Having said that, I could absolutely strangle many public proponents of evolution.
Michael Shermer (via Eugene Volokh via Ginny’s post) who has done great work in his role as the publisher of Skeptic magazine just totally crams his foot in it in this post by saying:
“The primary reason we are experiencing this peculiarly American phenomenon of evolution denial (the doppelganger of Holocaust denial), is that a small but vocal minority of religious fundamentalists misread the theory of evolution as a challenge to their deeply held religious convictions”
That’s right, the refusal to believe in a complex scientific theory which itself has evolved (no puns intended) significantly over the last 200 years and which requires a specialist education to truly understand, is the same as denying a massive event that occurred in living memory and which had literally millions of witnesses and left huge amounts of physical evidence. (Never mind the odorous moral comparisons.)
The unremitting snotty arrogance of this pronouncement is absolutely breathtaking. It is really no wonder that so many religious people are so deeply suspicious of the intentions and the integrity of evolution proponents.
The poll that sent Shermer on his rant isn’t even a poll about people’s assessment of the scientific evidence for evolution, but rather about people’s beliefs about the origins of humanity.
Shermer summarizes the findings as:
In March of 2001 the Gallup News Service reported the results of their survey that found 45 percent of Americans agree with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so,” while 37 percent preferred a blended belief that “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,” and a paltry 12 percent accepted the standard scientific theory that “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.”
It is perfectly reasonable for somebody to believe as a matter of religious faith that the world is less than 10,000 years old. That is much different than claiming that contemporary scientific evidence supports that view. The opposite minority-view that “God had no part in this process” is just as much a leap a faith as the religious view is. It would be just as wrong to claim that contemporary scientific evidence says God wasn’t involved in the existence of humanity. Science is agnostic.
Shermer falls into the common fallacy of believing that if science can offer a naturalistic explanation for a particular phenomenon, that proves God wasn’t involved/doesn’t exist. (Creationists fall for the photonegative fallacy of believing that the inability of science to offer a naturalistic explanation proves God was involved/does exist.) He believes that the existence of a naturalistic explanation requires the atheistic leap of faith. It doesn’t. It is easy to imagine many scenarios wherein the divine intervenes in the material universe but does so in ways invisible to science. Once you postulate a being who defines the very laws of nature itself, you have postulated a being about which science can say nothing.
A big part of the cultural and political problem associated with evolution is that people like Shermer keep trying to use science’s considerable explanatory power to shove atheism down people’s throats and to enshrine it as the de facto state religion. Shermer holds out the atheist as the beleaguered rationalist surrounded by a mob of holocaust denying religious fanatics. What crap. He neglects that atheism requires just as much a leap of faith as does any theism. At best what we have here are dueling fanatics.
I think that evolution is one of the most powerful and important ideas of the modern world. It has practical applications in everything from disease management to robots. I weep with rage when I see this kind of behavior that undermines the public’s willingness to accept evolutionary theory.