Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Terence Jeffrey Exhibits Why Understanding Evolution is Important

When discussing the evolution/creation debate with laymen, I often get asked why such a seemingly arcane scientific issue should concern the average person just trying to get by in life being a decent person and a decent citizen. Why does Joe Six Pack need to know so much detail about his biology? Terence Jeffrey was kind enough to provide me with Exhibit A, a column so ignorant it borders on self-parody.

Jeffrey is up in arms over the fact that the British Parliament is trying to regulate what embryos are suitable for experimentation and which are not. In an attempt to create embryos that pass muster with the all-zygotes-are-people-unless-they-are-miscarried crowd, and to make up for a shortage of human embryos, the scientists are creating hybrids of human genetic material and material from other animal embryos. The problem comes in demarcating which embryos qualify as human and which are animal when applying the appropriate regulatory standards. It is a problem with antiquated laws made when the distinction between "animal" and "human" was thought to be an absolute of kind rather than a matter of degree. After all, we are 95+% chimp.

To be good citizens in judging the behavior of our elected representatives and how they deal with such issues, we need at least a basic understanding of the biology so we understand the choices our representatives make. If we don't, we are likely to blather on in useless ignorance, which brings me to Jeffrey.

He doesn't seem to have even the most basic understanding of biology, our history as a species, or our place in the world. He speaks as though human beings are aliens from another planet, easily distinguishable from the "other" animals. I use the scare quotes because Jeffrey talks as if we weren't animals:

"Now sooner had the committee begun debating just how many percentage points of humanity an embryo must possess before it ought to be considered human...

Then, there was a not-so-subtle hint that it might matter which 50 percent is animal and which is human."

It goes on and on like that, one ignorant comment after another. One wonders what Jeffrey means by "humanity". He scoffs at the efforts of the parliamentarians to draw a necessary political line in the biological sand, but offers no guidance of his own. Tell us Mr. Jeffrey, are the genes that give us a backbone, four limbs, two eyes, etc., part of "humanity", or are they merely "animal"? Which part of the 95+% of chimpanzee DNA that is identical to human beings should count as animal, which as human, and why?

Jeffrey is far too ignorant to offer even the slightest assistance with answering these real-world problems, as his final paragraph makes clear:

"Those who worship science as a god have long been trying to prove that man evolved accidentally from a brute beast. Having thus far failed to produce definitive evidence of this, they are now hoping to prove they can reverse the process."

Great, another critic of science that likes the MSU method (Making Shit Up). No one worships science Mr. Jeffrey. And the science behind the evolution of humans from other animals is as solid as a rock and only getting more solid as more information comes in. The problem is people who let the gods and books they worship cloud their analysis of the material world, thereby clinging to outdated and falsified images of the natural world, such as the one that has humans seperate and unique from the other animals.

Go read some science Mr. Jeffrey, so the next time you attempt analysis of a science issue you won't come across as one of our Neanderthal cousins you are so determined to pretend didn't exist. Doing any less, and continuing to ignorantly pontificiate in the political arena on matters scientific, is an abdication of your civic duty. There is a reason Jefferson believed so strongly in an informed citizenry. Our Democracy falls when we lose the ability to make informed decisions.

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