Watching The Genius of Charles Darwin

Fire's picture
Posts: 116
Joined: 2007-05-10
User is offlineOffline
Watching The Genius of Charles Darwin

I've been watching this three part special and as strongly as I feel about Evolution being the obvious truth I think there is an important detail that Dawkins is missing when it comes to evolution and public discourse and politics, such as teaching evolution in the schools. The creationists he interacts with are profoundly stupid and his justified frustration is evident, as is mine, at the fact that these people are so stone deaf to reason.

But, I have a background in math, political science, and sociology and I have to say, when it comes to politics, facts and truth verge on being the least important things. Take a look at other issues that are political heresies. The War On Drugs is a clear and obvious failure to anybody who looks at the evidence. While there certainly is more room for debate than something like evolution, you cannot be a prominent politician, call yourself mainstream, and support legalizing marijuana. And the reason for this is that there is a wall of ignorance that people have built for themselves. The supposed harmfulness of the drug has been the official truth for so long that people are unwilling to change their minds and the policy makers believe their own bullshit. Look at people who still support Bush after all that has happened, who still repeat the same lies and spin that have been shown time and time again to not be true. Look at people who despite having read retraction after retraction about Obama being a Muslim, still repeat the urban legend as though it were true. Look at how politicians can be criticized for being "too intellectual" and lauded for being someone you can sit down and have a beer with.

It just so happens that this is a natural social phenomenon. People ignore information that is inconsistent with their current beliefs. This is a documented phenomenon. How many times have you stumped a creationist on some argument, either on evolution or the silliness of their holy book, only to see them recycle the same stupid argument about gaps in the fossil record or irreducible complexity 10 minutes later. Dawkins talked to a spokeswoman from Concerned Women for America who asked to see the evidence that proved evolution. It's not just that they are being cynically manipulative, the information simply does not stick.

So when Dawkins asks science teachers why they fear to teach evolution to a class full of kids, just because it is true, people and their politics don't work that way. Here in the US it is even worse. I am trying to become a teacher myself and politics permeates the field. Lets say you are a biology teacher, well qualified to teach, and you do go whole hog in a community that is hostile to evolution, which you are completely justified in doing. The problem is, the parents, being tax payers who are legally obligated both to send their children to school and to support the school with their tax dollars, are going to come in like angry customers. Parents more than likely may be of humble means and know nothing of evolution themselves and only have exposure to it through what they were told about evolution on talk radio and in church. Do you think that you, a smug,  college educated city boy, who they are already biased to believe are not one of them by virtue of the fact that your teaching queer ideas, are going to persuade them just because the facts, which go over their head and they are conditioned to ignore, are on your side? The hate mail that Dawkins chuckles at is nothing compared to what a science teacher without tenure gets at a small town school board meeting.

The relativistic rhetoric of teaching the controversy, as bonkers as that is to those of us who know that there is no controversy amongst informed people is an appealing compromise to elected officials, especially considering our public exposure to politics is through cable news whose idea of fair and balanced discussion is having a talking head on one side of an issue and a talking head on the other with a so called journalist saying "I guess the truth is somewhere in between." But, this is a fallacy because one side sometimes is completely full of shit. There is no inherent virtue in taking the middle position. But fallacy or not, that is what passes for debate and compromise, and that is the attitude our policy makers have going into a school board meeting and what voters have going into a voting booth and what parents have when they hear about their kids being taught these queer ideas.

In short, it doesn't matter how right you are when you are dealing with people who have been indoctrinated into creationism. People ignore information that challenges their core values and beliefs.