Thursday, November 15, 2007

Judgment Day

For those of you who've missed it, the nice people at PBS have put transcripts and video of the Nova program Judgment Day up online. It's all about the town of Dover, PA and its attention-getting ploy to insert "intelligent design" theory into actual science classes.

I've actually only watched half of the two hour program so far.

The thing that strikes me most forcefully as I watch this program is how much I've personally discounted the culture war we've got brewing here in the US of A. After watching this show, I think I have a better understanding of where "the other side" are coming from. I don't like it, but I think I get it.

In Dover, the people who were pushing the ID agenda were almost painfully "just folks." Nice people (by and large) who like to keep things simple and are earnest about being "good." The gentleman reviewing textbooks and declaring them "laced with Darwinism" is probably a really fun grandpa.

And there is something to be said for wanting life to be simple and uncomplicated. It's clearly a theme that crosses a lot of cultural boundaries. I've seen it among urban folk musicians, back-to-the-earth types, the deeply religious, the deeply "spiritual." There is always someplace to which we can retreat where life is more pure, more distilled, more fascinatingly meaningful. And the good news is that you don't have to go that far back to get there! I can't believe we so foolishly abandoned the good old days, and why isn't everyone else trying to reclaim them with me?!

But this wishful thinking comes at such a cost. Unfortunately, as a society we've developed a real aversion to differentiating between wishful thinking and reality. Don't step on my delusion! How dare you! And I can see how people would want to defend their comfort zones tooth and nail. But we've got to get some more reality-based comfort in our lives. Honestly. It would be a lot simpler than the mental gymnastics required to hold on to some flaky half-baked notions. And I'm not just talking about belief in various deities. People are willing to believe any number of strange things based on the fact that said belief seems to simplify some troubling aspect of their lives. Don't think too hard about what it does to the rest of their lives (and the lives of others) or it will make your head hurt.

For awhile now, I've been realizing that my own education in biology isn't that great. My last formal study was in 9th grade with a teacher who touted gaps in the fossil record ad nauseum and told us how if Lamarck was wrong Darwin could have been too. All of this a mere two years after the Supreme Court said he should have known better. Unfortunately, they didn't teach civics until three years later, and the football coach in charge of that class never got around to mentioning the Establishment Clause. And by then Mr. Bradley was off trampling on the constitutional rights of other unsuspecting students. As far as I know he taught the other stuff of the course pretty decently, but I may have a few gaps in my understanding of the fossil record after my stint in his class.

I've had the book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald Prothero and Carl Buell recommended to me, and I'm gonna read it. My local library doesn't have it on hand, so I'm hitting the bookstore in the near future. If anyone else out there wants to join me in a little book discussion group here on the blog, please lemmie know and we'll do this together! I can't fault simple people with opinions I don't like for being ignorant if I'm ignorant myself.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it sad how very nice people can get into ranting in favor of very bad ideas. It isn't just that wrong ideas are wrong it is that they have consequences.
If, for example, everyone believed evolution doesn't happen more or less as Darwin and Mendel postulated, how could we ever implement selective breeding programs to inprove crops and domestic animals?

Anonymous said...

Ok, one more comment.

All too often people with unsupportable ideas feel personally attacked when the holes in their ideas are pointed out. They react by drawing an angry defensive perimiter around themselves. Sadly this frequently leads otherwise genile, good people to say and do ugly and angry things.