Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mary Graber: Another Conservative Ignoramus Against Evolution

You really have to admire the uniformity of rightwing resistence to evolution. No matter how learned a person might be on other matters, if they are a conservative these days, one can see denial of evolutionary theory coming as sure as the next sunrise, and with all the same flawed reasoning and ignorance of the facts. It will be interesting to see, as the evidence for evolution continues to pour in over time, whether conservatives like Mary Graber will stick to their ignorant positions like this:

"Pundits are now having a field day attacking Mike Huckabee’s stance on evolution. Democratic strategist Paul Begala reportedly remarked on CNN on Super Tuesday, “Nobody is more conservative than Huckabee. He doesn’t believe in evolution or gravity or photosynthesis.” Those who love to lob such oversimplified charges imply that those who do not accept the doctrinaire theories of evolution as set forth by one explorer named Charles Darwin, a century-and-a-half ago, are relics of the Dark Ages."

No Mary. It is those who think the content of modern evolutionary theory was set forth by Charles Darwin in a doctrinal manner that are relics of the Dark Ages. Darwin lived in a time where the earth was considered millions of years old, the sun was thought to burn itself out relatively soon, and things like DNA and atoms were unknown. It is because Darwin's theories, like all science, were NOT doctrinaire, that we (well some of us anyway) understand the world so much better than he did. For people like you to imply that science has simply marched in lock step with Darwin's theories as if he were a god, despite the evidence, is projection at its finest, and intellectual dishonesty at its worst.

Speaking of intellectual dishonesty, that describes most of Graber's column, which focuses on Clarence Darrow, the defense attorney in the famous Scopes trial. Creationists and their supporters are under the impression that if they can slander the promoters of a view, say by associating Darwin with Hitler, that that somehow will cause the view to fall out of scientific favor. This, along with doctrinairal adherance, may be the norm in religious circles, and indeed aptly explains that arena's intellectual stagnation. However, science simply does not work that way. Evolution is true, whether Darwin or Darrow be Sinner or Saint, and as a consequence, 90% of her article is entirely irrelevant to the issue, and I dismiss it as such, while focusing on her gross errors such as this:

"Similarly, in the play, Darwin is presented as a bold thinker, a daring scientist, whose new, daring truths frighten Bible-thumpers. But what Darrow and Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (authors of the play) and most promoters of Darwinism don’t know is that the “bold” and “new” theory of evolution was being promoted more than 2,000 years ago by the Roman philosopher Lucretius. "

Apparently Graber is among the critics of science that don't seem to understand that it is not a religious exercise, where Truth (tm) is handed down, complete and perfect, all in one swoop. Ideas get their birth, often crudely and generally as intellectual musings (Lucretius), gain some specificity and clarity to become scientific hypotheses (Darwin, Wallace), and then, upon passing a plentitude of rigorous testing (the last 150 years that she apparently missed), become solid scientific theory. I suppose she would dismiss Einstein because Newton got 99% of the naure of motion correct before Einstein came along. Science progresses, one step at a time. Darwin may not have originated the idea, but he did give it a giant step forward.

And what would a rightwing bromide be without those cowardly scare quotes:

"In short, Weaver reveals that the two sides were arguing two different things, with Darrow’s side using rhetoric to promote the “fact” of evolution. As Weaver points out, rhetoric fulfills its function of persuasion only if the two sides agree on the “facts.”"

Well Mary, do you believe it to be a fact or don't you? It is cowardly to put scare quotes around the word "fact", implying it is not true, without being honest enough to make your case for it not being so. I will not be so cowardly. Evolution is a fact, and if you claim otherwise, you are, as Richard Dawkins so eloquently put it, either ignorant, stupid, dishonest, or wicked. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and go with dishonest. She makes that clear later, where she admits that she really doesn't care about what's true, but rather what she believes the social consequences of teaching various views is:

"What was at stake for communities in Tennessee was whether it was good that schoolchildren be taught that they descended from apes, rather than being made in God’s image."

I'll not waste time with the details of Graber's stale objections to evolution. They have been debunked since long before either of us was born. I will simply say this: our prisons are not exactly overflowing with scientists and the scientifically literate laymen, even accounting for their small relative numbers. But they are overflowing with people who believe they were made in God's image. Another fact to be ignored, eh?

"And that was what the Tennessee lawmakers objected to: the promotion of Darwin’s ideas as moral guidance."

Well good Mary, because we in the reality-based community don't want that either. We want modern evolutionary theory, including the small bits Darwin contributed, taught as science, not morality. Ms. Graber is attacking a very old, very lame, very dishonest, strawman. And yet her ignorance goes even farther:

"Euthanasia and infanticide, commonly accepted practices before Biblical times, illustrate most starkly Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” In 1925, the eugenics movement was catching on, especially among the progressive intelligentsia."

Darwin never used the term "survival of the fittest". He preferred "descent with modification", and for good reason. Evolutionary theory simply says that traits that survive to be passed on to future generations effect the general makeup of the species, and can accumulate over time. There is no target, no goal, nothing that can be "more" or "less" evolution. So traits passing down through a eugenics movement are no more, nor less, evolution, than anything else, unless one decides that humans are outside the realm of "nature", in which case eugenics resembles intelligent design far more than it does evolution.

Besides, if these practices were indeed common long before Darwin, how is it that he gets the blame for them? Is this one of those time anomalies like the predictions of the Intelligent Design crew that are made AFTER the fact? But then we all know Graber isn't interested in facts or she'd not have robbed us of the time it took to read her ignorant drivel. She nails this point home on her final comment:

"But like all scientific theories, the jury is still out on this one, as many learned proponents of intelligent design affirm. But that theory is not likely to get a fair hearing, as are not the moral ramifications and implications of a strict Darwinian view of humanity."

[Yawn] "Many" Mary? Since when is 0.1% (and I'm being kind) of scientists considered many? Did you flunk basic statistics as well as basic logic? Intelligent Design got its fair hearing, and flunked badly. It has no theory, no peer-reviewed work, no research, and 10 years after Darwin's Black Box, they are still saying EXACTLY the same things. Science it ain't. As for a Darwinian morality for society, the only one discussing such a thing here is you, so perhaps you should go argue with yourself. That would make the perfect metaphor for this mental masterbation of a column.

No comments: