Friday, May 8, 2009

Another Republican Dances around Evolution

Watch Chris Matthews skewer GOP Representative Mike Pence by simply asking him whether or not he believes in evolution. Pence dances madly trying to change the subject to God, stem cells, global warming, or anything else that would allow him to weasel out of ticking off his fundamentalist base.

It will be interesting to see how quickly politicians who know better stop prostrating themselves to that base once they come to understand that they can't win with it while alienating everyone else.


ronaldo said...

Wouldn't you say that Pence was in between a rock and a hard place?
If he answered "yes," then not only would he "tick off his fundamentalist base," but he would also be telling a half-truth, which would really get him in a pickle. If he answered "no," then he knew he'd be the butt of jokes, and he would most likely witness the complete rejection of his political ideas based on that one answer alone.

He could have said, like Huckabee thought of well after he was once asked this question in a debate, "If I'd had time, I would have asked whether he meant macro or micro evolution?" Not that I would've recommended it, but I'm curious how that would've gone over.

If Pence was smart, he should've answered like McCain did: "I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also." An unsatisfactory answer for most people, but Matthews probably would've been satisfied.

Yes or no doesn't quite cover the complex issues implicit in any mention of evolution these days. I wonder if Chris Matthews understands that.

ScienceAvenger said...

You're damned right Pence is between a rock and a hard place, as long as he chooses to deny science for the sake of the political support of ignorant people. That's the whole point here. Why would answering "yes" be a half truth? You suppose he really doesn't believe it?

Answers like Huckabee's and McCain's might have mollified Matthews, who showed in this interview with Tom Tancredo that he is only slightly less ignorant than they are. But scientfically, they are all crapola. The macro/micro comment is a standard creationist canard, as is the assignment to evolution of subjects it doesn't speak on (geology and astronomy).

Chris Matthews understanding is certainly limited, but so is yours if you think there are complex scientific issues implicit in evolution. "Yes" is a perfectly fine scientific answer to "Do you believe in evolution". It's only when politics enters the fray that it gets complicated, which is why Matthews asked the question in the first place.

ronaldo said...

> "Why would answering "yes" be a half truth? You suppose he really doesn't believe it?"

Simple. Because he most likely believes in micro but not macro -- regardless of your rebuttal of this very position. In /his/ mind, he'd consider that answer a half-truth (and consider the question a loaded one.)

This thing about micro/macro distinction being a Creationist canard. Maybe sometimes. But still, anyone can relay quotes from a few eminent evolutionists, ever so kindly brought to our attention by fundies (LOL), to show that this is not an "all evolutionists hold the same way" kind of position. For example, the following: "Micro-evolution involves mainly changes within potentially continuous populations, and there is little doubt that its materials are those revealed by genetic experimentation. Macro-evolution involves the rise and divergence of discontinuous groups, and it is still debatable whether it differs in kind or only in degree from microevolution. If the two proved to be basically different, the innumerable studies of micro-evolution would become relatively unimportant and would have minor value in the study of evolution as a whole."
Simpson G.G. (1949)
Tempo and Mode in Evolution, p97

Let me know if I'm misquoting, and if Simpson's words have somehow been made moot in the past 60 years. (There's also the infamous Roger Lewin quote to contend with, too. And even Gould's.)

> "Chris Matthews understanding is certainly limited, but so is yours if you think there are complex scientific issues implicit in evolution."

Mine surely is limited, but I was referring ONLY to the political fallout involved in answering this hot question. However, I must say I'm puzzled to hear there no complex scientific issues implicit in evolution, since all it takes is one issue that baffles /everyone/, such as the beginning of consciousness. Um, perhaps I'm interpreting your statement different from what you intended.

ScienceAvenger said...

Quotemining doesn't refute anything, especially when they are 60 years old (a hard dig was it?), and don't really address the issue at hand. Sure, there may be something discovered one day that truly distinguishes macroevolution from microevolution in type rather than in degree. That changes nothing about the fact that we don't hav any such thing established now, and that when creationists say they believe in microevolution, but not macroevolution, they are basing that on religion, primarily the concept of "kinds" (never defined beyond a 4th grader's understanding of biology). The scientific evidence for both is overwhelming, and the mechanisms are the same. Pence or anyone else who would consider the question loaded merely reveal their ignorance, not the best science on the subject.

And yeah, you're misinterpreting my statement about the complexities about evolution, which were clearly meant to refer to the "do you believe in evolution question?", and not to particular complex and interesting aspects of evolutionary science.

It stands as one of the more interesting aspects of the creation/evolution debate to me that those raised in religious backgrounds who emphasize Bible studies and the importance of interpreting comments in context, completely disregard context consistently when intepreting scientists' comments on evolution. It's blatant special pleading, and the motivation is obvious.

ronaldo said...

I believe the old quote I found does address the topic at hand, is not out of context, and that it's still relevant. (Thus I'd call it quoting, not quotemining.)

"That changes nothing about the fact that we don't have any such thing established now

[[[ I don't think that matters, as long as it's a debate within the field. I should reiterate that, because I don't think I made this point strong enough.]]]

and that when creationists say they believe in microevolution, but not macroevolution, they are basing that on religion, primarily the concept of "kinds"..."

For the purposes of answering generic questions such as "do you believe in evolution?", it just doesn't matter what is the motivation behind the creationists' distinction between macro and micro. The bottom line is, they make the distinction, they can point to a few evolutionists who are quite open to it (Lewin's and Gould's statements are much more recent than 60 years ago), and they shouldn't be mocked by pointing that out.
Mock them for other things. They deserve it.

ScienceAvenger said...

The quote is only relevant and not "quote-mining" if it represents the opinion of the scientist in question accurately, which is almost never the case when creationists start whipping out quotes. It's another reason why they are so fond of doing so with very old quotes - the scientist isn't around to make clear his views. The list of scientists that supposedly support creationist positions is routinely wildly exagerated.

There isn't major debate in the field. There are only some sparse outliers who approach (but still are nowhere near) the creationist position.

Motivation is not the issue, justification and method are. And when your justification and method are religious in nature, as the creationists' are, you cannot claim to be doing science and you cannot expect your arguments to be taken seriously by those that do and/or respect science.

The bottom line is that creationists make distinctions with no scientific basis, make false, often cowardly claims about what some scientists supposedly think, and that is what they get mocked for, and deservedly so.