Saturday, August 19, 2006

Neither Rhyme Nor Reason

From those opinion poll results I linked to in an earlier post, people have asked me why evolution gets less acceptance amongst the general public than global warming, when evolution is by far the better established of the two (this does not imply that global warming is not well established, of course. It is, but evolution is just even more certain). I think that it is simply a matter of ideology. It is economic conservatives (i.e libertarians) that tend to have trouble accepting global warming, whereas it is social conservatives whose core ideology is challenged by evolution. In the United States, a much larger fraction of the population fit into the social conservative category than fit into the libertarian category. Q.E.D. In neither case do I think that most of the people have come to any conclusions (pro or con) after examining the available evidence; it is more likely to be the case that by accepting global warming as well established and potentially catastrophic, libertarians would have their beloved free-markets-at-all-costs quasi-religion challenged, since by accepting human-induced global warming, the implication is that intervention in the more harmful aspects of our economic activity is appropriate and justified. Of course, recently we have seen a lot of such people move into the position of accepting human-induced global warming, but claiming that the best thing we can do is to keep things going as they are, whilst hoping for a technological solution. This gives them an 'out', as they can accept global warming without acknowledging the need to take any specific action. In the case of evolution, it is the fundamentalist, born-again, protestant bible-thumpers who make up the bulk of those threatened. Libertarians have no problems with evolution, in fact many of them like to draw parallels between evolution and 'free' markets (as we have seen in an earlier post). In contrast, all the creation stories of the Bible (and elsewhere) are shown as nonsense, not just by the fact of evolution, but simply the fact of Earths' 4.5 billion year age. As we saw in my previous post, even supposedly open-minded students are quite willing to dismiss any conflicting evidence out of hand if such evidence contradicts the words in their holy books written long ago by ignorant nomadic tribesmen. So far from being a situation where people are thoroughly examining the available evidence and finding that in favour of evolution more suspect than that in favour of human-induced global warming, I think it is simply the case that evolution goes against more peoples' core beliefs than does climate change.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Candle Flickers

The Guardian has an excellent opinion piece on the latest depressing-but-unsurprising news that almost 1/3 of British university students are creationists (check out the quotes in that article. And these are university students!). The article ties this retreat from reason with the rise of fundamentalism that the globe is currently suffering the effects of, in what the author aptly describes as the 'resurgence of the fairy-tales that once served mankind's intellectual infancy'. It's a pity, then, that such lucid thought is pretty much overwhelmed on the pages of The Guardian these days with endless apology-pieces for fundamentalist religion (usually Islamic, but also some Christian and Jewish) and postmodernist relativism (with their attendant 'ways of knowing' and 'points of view'). And for an hilarious example of the latter, don't miss 'Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: truth, power and fascism', which asserts that the evidence-based medical establishment is 'fascistic' in it's 'territorialisation' of medicine with it's 'post-positivist regime of truth'. What a hoot! Those fascists have ruthlessly doubled life expectancy at birth over the last century, and still they show no signs of stopping. Quick, somebody fetch my Shaman; I need a little concoction to steady my nerves..