Friday, March 12, 2010

Anti-Evolution/Global Warming: Jay Richards Doesn't Help the Cause

Jay Richards of the Enterprise Institute has written a column implying that the connection between those espousing anti-evolutionary views and those that are skeptical of anthropogenic global warming has been manufactured out of whole cloth by the New York Times. He writes:
Now when I read anything on the environment in the New York Times, I try to keep a couple of deconstructionist qualifiers running in the back of my head: “This is what the New York Times wants me to believe about the issue” and “What are they trying to accomplish with this piece?” I know it’s cynical, but when it comes to environmental stories, I just don’t trust New York Times reporters to keep it straight. Some things they want to accomplish with this piece: (1) Divide and conquer skeptics of global warming orthodoxy and Darwinism, by painting the latter as ignorant religious zealots, in hopes of starting a fight among conservatives. No doubt they’re hoping that, say, Richard Lindzen will have to explain why he agrees with those nefarious creationists on the global warming issue, and that he’ll have to spend his time issuing statements of agreement with evolution. (2) Make it harder for official bodies to encourage critical thinking on global warming, since attempts to do the same with regard to evolution have, in recent years, met with fierce resistance and only modest success.
Now here's the bad thing. I agree with him whole-heartedly about the New York Times. In fact, I don't read the rag, such is the level of my disgust with it. Having said that, Mr. Richards goes on to say to some questionable things about the link between the two anti-science movements. He writes:

*Both issues suffer from “semantic creep,” which tends to prevent rational discussion.

So a vague word like “evolution” can range in meaning from the trivial and tautological—change over time and survival of the fittest—to the uncontroversial—certain organisms share common ancestors and natural selection explains some things—to the questionable and ideological—everything is the result of a purely impersonal process, we don’t exist for a purpose, we’re just carriers for selfish genes, natural selection and random genetic mutations explain everything interesting, and so forth. If you doubt the latter, you get lumped in with doubting the former.

Biologists don't have any trouble defining evolution. This semantic problem is only a problem for the media and organizations that support the teaching of intelligent design or creationism in the schools but don't seem to know much about evolution. There are numerous of these. He continues:

*If you doubt either idea, you’re accused, not of doubting that one idea, but of doubting science itself.

*With both issues, we hear a lot about consensus.

*Both have a way of surviving at the theoretical level even when individual pieces of evidence bite the dust.

*They’re both deeply embedded in the worldview of what David Brooks, perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, has called the “educated class.”

You hear a lot about a consensus in evolution because that is what there is. The number of biologists that don't accept evolution is vanishingly small (although I would love to see the Discovery Institute come up with a list of them). He writes about individual pieces of evidence biting the dust when no supportable evidence has been shown to do that. He suggests that they are supported by the "educated class." It is not clear that this is an insult. The focus and goal of education is to do just that: educate.

It is no mystery that the more people learn about and understand evolutionary theory, the more they accept it. This is the sum take-away message from just about every poll done on the subject. It just so happens that folks who are less educated about evolution also tend to support climate change skepticism. The Times is drawing a parallel by suggesting by way of correlation, that the two are linked in some way to an anti-science movement among conservatives. It is not manufactured out of whole cloth in any way. It is a persistent connection that begs investigation.

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