Thursday, March 04, 2010

Increasing the Connection Between Global Warming and Evolution

Despite the fact that no such link exists and never has, ID supporters and creationists are lumping global warming dissent with dissent from evolution. The story comes from the New York Times but I am linking to it under cover of The author, Leslie Kaufman, writes this:
The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.

Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.

In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”

The measure made no mention of evolution, but opponents of efforts to dilute the teaching of evolution noted that the language was similar to that of bills in other states that had included both. The vote split almost entirely along partisan lines in both houses, with Republican voting for it and Democrats voting against.
A critical element of the argument is being missed here. Evolution is an established science and has been for over seventy years. Global warming is not. It is still in its infancy and broad theoretical constructs are still being worked out. This doesn't mean that AGW is not happening. It simply means that we might not yet have the means by which we can tell for sure. Such is not true of evolutionary theory, where we do have the means to show that evolution is happening and has happened.

This is becoming a familiar tactic among conservative members of state legislatures and school boards. Barbara Forrest wrote about this strategy:
In an effort to arouse skepticism regarding evolution as the natural process that has shaped Earth’s life forms, ID proponents falsely claim that there is a controversy within mainstream science regarding the status of evolutionary theory, which they claim is “in crisis,” a “dying theory” (Miller, 2001). Ostensibly intended to stimulate critical thinking by informing students of a raging disagreement among mainstream scientists, this ID slogan violates the most basic requirement of critical thinking: truthfulness. Productive debate about evolution would require, first, that there be a genuine controversy, and second, that all parties to the debate approach the discussion in good faith. ID proponents fail on both counts: (1) There is no controversy in the mainstream scientific community about either the fact of evolution or the major aspects of evolutionary theory. ID is simply perpetuating the cultural controversy surrounding evolution that dates back to the early 20th century. (2) ID proponents enter the debate with a religious agenda that they deny to mainstream audiences but discuss freely with their friendly religious audiences, knowing that their supporters—unlike unknowing potential opponents—will understand their code terms. This agenda and the religious essence of ID can quickly be discovered through even cursory research; critiques of ID have been widely published and discussed in the scholarly community and are readily available to interested, scientifically literate laypersons (see note 2). However, ID proponents know that most people are unfamiliar with this research, have little understanding of science, and can easily be convinced (Center for Inquiry, May 2007 21(Amended July 2007)) that a controversy exists. Too many Americans, even those who are reasonably well educated, are susceptible to the appeal to basic fairness, i.e., to “present both sides” of the issue. But this issue cannot be divided into two, equally viable scientific viewpoints (Isaak, 2005). On one side is the well-established science of evolution, and on the other is the religious and cultural agenda of the Discovery Institute.
It seems that my greatest fears are being realized. The modern conservative movement is not only getting on the anti-evolution bandwagon, they are dragging more science along for the ride. How global warming science pans out is almost beside the point to these people. This viewpoint could end up shaping the conservative movement for decades to come.

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1 comment:

  1. Great comments. This has also been one of my concerns. The whole Climate Change discussion has moved (on both sides) beyond discussion of Science into a more 'religious' type of discussion.

    Unfortunately, when we move into political discussions reason is quickly lost in agendas and scare tactics.