Thursday, October 20, 2005

Science, right and left

An anonymous commenter on my post about left-wing bias in academia offers this explanation for the preponderance of liberals in science departments:

[I]n some fields, like biology, you can watch evolution happen in a lab. You can manipulate and measure the process. It is hard to come out of that experience and relate to social conservatives who take the bible literally.
As I said in my response, I think this is a bit of a red herring. True, according to a Harris poll taken earlier this year, only about 16 to 25% of self-identified conservatives in the population at large fully accept Darwinian evolution as the explanation for human origins, compared to 32 to 56% of self-identified liberals (the disparity in the numbers is due to oddly contradictory answers to different questions in the poll). But that leaves a large pool of political conservatives from which to draw prospective scientists.

At the same time, I do think that in recent years the increasing indentification of conservative Republicans with the anti-Darwinist backlash has made political conservatism less attractive to the scientifically literate.

Also in the comments, Jason H. Bowden, a graduate student in physics at the University of Illinois, writes:

The GOP used to be the pro-science party even as late at the 1950s, obtaining the majority of votes from scientists. Republican efforts to politicize science, either for the benefit of corporate donors or the evangelical base, have made many scientists think twice about voting Republican, even if they are conservative on a lot of issues like myself.

In fact, conservatives were also the pro-science faction in the "science wars" of the 1990s, when it was the academic left that rejected the ideals of scientific objectivity and dispassionate search for truth, regarded all scholarship as essentially political, and assailed mainstream science as guilty of sexism, racism, Western ethnocentrism and assorted other sins against political correctness. The 1994 book, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, by Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, which championed traditional science against assaults from radical feminism, radical environmentalism, Afrocentrism, postmodernism and other far-left ideologies, received positive responses from the major conservative magazines -- National Review, Commentary, First Things. In a preface to the 1998 softcover edition of the book, however, Gross and Levitt noted the reemergence of creationism as a major influence on the right and stated that if they were writing the book at that point, "the 'academic right' would have to join the academic left in its subtitle and there would have to be a chapter on 'Intelligent Design Theory'" as one of the pseudo-scientific ideologies threatening science.

Alas, these days it's not unusual to find anti-science claptrap in a respectable, intellectual conservative magazine such as The Weekly Standard. The latest issue features a review by Charmaine Yoest of the book, Does God belong in the Public Schools by Ken Greenawalt. (The link is subscriber-only.) Accusing Greenawalt of an ideological bias, Yoest writes:

He similarly dismisses creationism and intelligent design. Those opposing Darwinian evolution do so out of "distress" because it "threatens the grounds of religious belief and of morality." Although Greenawalt notes that no less a figure than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his 1987 dissent to Edwards v. Aguillard recognized a scientific basis for creationism, he himself only allocates one footnote for evidence. Breezily, he states that "whatever the possible misapprehensions of not very well informed legislators, teaching scientific creationism is teaching religion, and that is not permitted."
Oh, well -- if that noted scientific luminary, Justice Scalia, said that creationism has a scientific basis, then obviously it must be true!

This is a good way to alienate not only scientists but anyone who cares about the integrity of science.

For more on the topic, see also:

The evolution wars are here again

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Having completed a graduate degree in physics and worked in industry for 3 years, my experience with right- and left-wingers with advanced degrees is that most right-wingers do not have the discipline and intellectual rigor necessary to complete a hard science degree.

This may sound harsh, and it is a gross generalization. I work with no less than three counter-examples. But interestingly, of those three counter-examples, two of them are vocal critics of the Bush administration in general and its war on science specifically.

Dave said...

"most right-wingers do nothave the discipline and intellectual rigor necessary to complete a hard science degree."

For someone with a "hard science degree" this is a rather imprecise statement. There are plenty of non-religious right wing intellectuals (George Will, Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, Richard Posner, etc., etc., etc.) who all have the intellectual capacity to get a hard science degree, if such was desired by them.

What you are really trying to say, I think, is that right-wing religious people do not have the intellectual rigor to get a hard science degree. There may be something to this, as conservative religious belief and scientific inquiry are at odds with one another.

More thoughts on this post and the topic generally, here

Christopher said...

I've read Higher Superstition and I continue to try to get everyone I know to read it (I'm a physics phd student) and I am fully aware that scientists face hostiles on both sides, which I find very discouraging since two front wars are very hard to win. Ultimately though, while I consider post-modernism to be an intellectual disease, I can't help but think that it is a fad that will pass, while religious fundamentalism probably will not. Also I think it is important to note that the anti-science factions on the right have much broader government representation. I can't imagine even a Howard Dean seriously proposing to put a "feminist narrative of science" into school
curiculums, while siginificant numbers of representitives, senators, and even the president are in favor of teaching "intelligent design".

Russ said...

Actually, I know quite a few religious conservatives with hard science Ph.Ds (assuming you consider Biochemistry, Chemistry and Physics to be hard science), so I find it difficult to support any stereotype that such people lack the necessary intellectual rigor. Does it make a difference that the ones I know are Orthodox Jews?

Dave said...

Haven't Orthodox Jews been more accepting of science than have conservative adherents of other religions? Or is that not the case?

William R. Barker said...

"Republican efforts to politicize science...???"

"...most right-wingers do not have the discipline and intellectual rigor necessary to complete a hard science degree...???"

My, my, my... where to begin? (*SMIRK*)

Scientists are PEOPLE. Different people have different failings... different scientists have different failings.

"Right-wing" and "Left-wing" scientists of integrity will call 'em like they see 'em on the basis of the scientific method. Verifiable and recreatable experimentation and an honest acknowledgement of the results seems to me to be the key to "science."

I'm not a scientist myself, but I've been following scientific debate on issues such as the environment and social policy for over 25 years. From where I'm sitting it's the scientific "left," not "right," who tend to put ideology above science... who are more apt to politicize science.

And as for intelligence... well... it seems to me that the reason why Republicans tend to flee the establishment reservation so often is tied to the fact that we tend to pay close attention to what our "leaders" do as well as to what they say. (*SMILE*) We pay attention! THAT'S SMART!!!

Finally... I don't think it's fair or accurate to equate "religious" with "right." Yes, liberals can bang the anti-right-wing-christian-fundamentalist drum all day long when it comes to issues like abortion and creationism, but who here remembers the "grand" (*SMIRK*) old days of liberation theology?

Revenant said...

I am a firm believer in the theory of evolution. The problem I face, when discussing the theory with conservatives, is that so many high-profile scientists are complete idiots on social and political issues. It is hard to convince a social conservative that Richard Dawkins is right about evolution when the man is wrong about practically everything else he opens his mouth about. And don't even get me started about Gould.

Left-wing bias on campus isn't caused by conservative disdain for science; conservative disdain for science is caused by left-wing bias on campus. It is human nature to dislike people who view you with sneering contempt.

Cathy Young said...

Revenant: I think there is something to what you are saying, but I also think that this is a self-perpetuating cycle. Scientists look down on religious people, and conservatives in general; religious people and conservatives respond by rejecting the science-based outlook; and this in turn reinforces anti-conservative, anti-religious prejudce among scientists.

Anyway, I don't think it's entirely fair to paint all scientists as being in the Dawkins/Gould mold. There are evolutionary psychologists (such as Wayne State University Law School professor Kinsgley Browne) who are quite conservative in their social outlook. In fact, wasn't "sociobiology" (the precursor of evolutionary psychology) regarded as quite right-wing?

Anonymous said...

william barker:

"I'm not a scientist myself, but I've been following scientific debate on issues such as the environment and social policy for over 25 years. From where I'm sitting it's the scientific "left," not "right," who tend to put ideology above science... who are more apt to politicize science."

I doubt you have been following it, honestly. Not unless you make a habit of reading peer-reviewed scientific journals. I think it is more accurate to say that you've been reading the media coverage of political issues that have strong roots in science.

"close attention to what our "leaders" do as well as to what they say. (*SMILE*) We pay attention! THAT'S SMART!!! "

Except that "paying attention" requires more than reading NR, the Weekly Standard, and watching Fox News. I've met precious few Republicans who actually pay attention to issues on a deeper than sound-bite level.

Considering that most of my hardcore left-wing acquaintances can at least discuss -one- of their particular political fetishes in depth, I think that's pretty damning.

"Finally... I don't think it's fair or accurate to equate "religious" with "right.""

And why not? The GOP is choosing that label for themselves. Its not like some "vast liberal conspiracy" is trying to pin it on them...

And if the Libertarian party weren't in the midst of an ongoing meltdown, the voiceless minority in the GOP that truly believes in less government and personal freedom might have a place to go...

Anonymous said...

cathy young:

" Scientists look down on religious people."

Being both a scientist and religious, I categorically disagree with that statement.

I think you meant "anti-intellectual religious fundamentalists"

Anonymous said...

I think that this whole issue is overblown. As a scientist, I have to agree (from the other thread) that most of us are not really aware of the post-modernist threats to science from the left. Really, I looked up information about it because of this blog!

Now that I understand the post-modernist anti-science bias I find ... I still don't feel worried or threatened. Why? Because they live in an echo-chamber, and the nonsense they spew doesn't resonate with the greater voting public. Take a random sample of registered voters and ask them, for starters, 'What is the patriarchy?'. How many of those people do you really think would have an answer for you? Of those who could define the patriarchy, how many would even have a passing awareness of the main tenants of post-modernism? I think you are just as aware as I am that only a tiny fraction of voters are grappling with those issues.

Contrast that with evolution or stem cell research. Lots of people are aware of those debates, come down very strongly on one side or the other, and are willing to flex legal or political muscle to enforce their position on the issues. It is a REAL threat.

Now, I'm sure someone out there is going to say that it is a threat within academia. I dispute this for two reasons:

a) No matter how much power the post-modernists could accumulate in the university system, there is a limit to what they can do about science and math education. Those courses will always be in demand because they provide access to good paying jobs. Plus, because math and science professors (and upper class or graduate students) have real skills that are in demand in the market place, they have no trouble getting grant money.

b) The fear and loathing inspired by post-modernist thought toward math and science is absolutely nothing new. If nothing else, post-modernist thought provides an intellectual cloak over what I think is a much more primal reason for that fear and loathing. Smart people really hate to feel stupid. Most math and science course work is absolutely more difficult than English, the humanities, the social sciences, etc. You can't just pick up a book and a dictionary, read it, and understand it. It takes a tremendous amount of work and slowly building knowledge, and even then, a lot of it (especially in math) is still hard.

So there you have it, the left can bring it on! I spit on their silly little post-modernism!

The anti-intellectual Christian fundamentalists, on the other hand, they scare the stuffing out of me! You can't reason with them.

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Revenant said...

Anyway, I don't think it's entirely fair to paint all scientists as being in the Dawkins/Gould mold.

Well, Dawkins and Gould may not be typical for their field, but they were the highest-profile representatives of their field. Pat Robertson isn't a typical conservative Christian either.

I do think that scientists in the Dawkins/Gould mold are the norm for environmental science, though, which (much moreso than evolution) is the main area that conservatives have contempt for.

Cathy Young said...

To the last anonymous (and I do wish those who prefer to remain anonymous would choose nicknames or handles by which they could be addressed -- it's really awkward to address one's responses to "the third anonymous" or something along those lines):

I think that you are correct that from the vantage point of today, the threat to the integrity of science from the right is far greater than from the left. The situation was different a few years ago. At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, for instance, there was a push to enact a program, Vision 2000, intended to integrate feminist approaches into the entire curriculum (including science).

Revenant said...

I'm not sure it is fair to say that the right is a bigger threat to science today. I think a strong case could be made that left-wing hostility to animal testing and research into the genetic roots of human nature is more harmful than conservative opposition to federal funding of stem-cell research and evolutionary biology.

And of course the biggest threat to science today is probably the anti-genetic-modification movement, which is primarily funded and backed by left-wing groups. A ban on the teaching of the theory that humans evolved from earlier primates would be merely annoying; a ban on developing new and better organisms through genetic modification would be crippling.

Cathy Young said...

revenant, excellent point about the anti-biotech left.

(Also, to be fair, no one is proposing a ban on the teaching of evolution -- what the right wants is the teaching of "alternative" theories, which of course still means junk science in the classroom.)

beAzl said...

If I can play Devil's advocate (God's advocate?) a bit:

I think a better comparison of the Intelligent Design movement to previous episodes in science (or mathematics) is one of the following, depending on which side of the aisle you sit:

1) Cold Fusion
2) The proof that the square root of 2 is irrational

Both involved a lot of wishful thinking, something we are all vulnerable to as human beings.

If you are very skeptical about Intelligent Design, then the better analogy might be Cold Fusion. Most of us very much wanted to think that a new, cheap, safe energy source had been discovered. Some scientists leapt to new, believable sounding theories explaining it. Being that so many of us ***wanted*** it to be true, there was probably an added burden placed on scientists, that they treat the possibility with an extra open (but still skeptical) mind, even if it seemed extremely unlikely based on known science at the time. Some scientists' time was no doubt wasted having to debunk it, time that could have been better spent elsewhere, but that always comes with the territory of scientific research. Certainly the scientists who announced their premature results deserve criticism for jumping the gun, but science ultimately was not subverted by it.


The critics of intelligent design who say it is not scientific theory leave me (pardon the pun) cold. They say there is no testable hypothesis, that there are no predictions you can make based on it. Even if I agree with the final conclusion (that it should not be taught as part of a core science curriculum in public high schools at this time based on what we know) I think this argument is the wrong one, and undermines the scientific reputation of basic open-mindedness, which *would* seriously harm science.

Here, as I understand it, after wading through some of the poetic and political phraseology used on the Intelligent Design web site, is the intelligent design hypothesis:

It is impossible (or so extremely improbable that it is not worth considering) to start with non living material, and, subjecting it to random physical stimuli,
end up with an engineering marvel such as the human eye, or something like a mouse trap, which are “irreducibly complex”. Thus, there must be some other, as yet unexplained, factor(s), that led to human's existence. Call those unknown factors "intelligent design." (Since we were the first to theorize its existence, we can call it whatever we want, gosh darn it.)


This hypothesis is definitely falsifiable: Come up with a lab experiment, where, starting with non living material, you can subject it to rapid random stimuli, and, at least once in a while, end up with an engineering marvel (that is “irreducibly complex”) on the order of the human eye or a mouse trap. If something can happen once in a while in a lab environment, then it is not improbable enough to discount happening in the long history and variety of planets found in the universe.

The ID hypothesis even makes a useful prediction (if proven true):

Scientists trying to do just that (are there any?) are wasting their time.

This is probably not the only way to falsify the hypothesis. But it is one way.

"Impossibility" theorems have a rich history in mathematics, science, and even social science (e.g. Arrow's impossibility theorem). And they've often been met with stiff resistance. Perhaps the stiff resistance is due to the fact that scientists want to solve problems, not be told that they will never by able to solve them (or that they need to find a radically new approach to solving them).

There is a legend that Pythagoras was so angry by the person who proved that the square root of two could not be expressed as a ratio of two integers, that he had the person
killed (probably just a myth). Galois theory (used to prove that some polynomials cannot be solved by radicals) was not readily accepted or understood. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle might also be thought of as an impossibility theorem on our predictive ability, and also received a rather negative initial reaction from some scientists (Einstein, anyway).

All these proven impossibility theorems revolutionized their fields, and shook many scientist's beliefs. None of them, however, required or proved the existence of God. They just meant things weren't quite as simple as first thought.

Typically, "impossibility" theorems are very difficult to prove. Look how long it took to prove Fermat's last theorem, another "impossibility" type theorem.
I believe there were many prior false claims that it had been proven. And even once it was thought to be proven, some corrections needed to occur before it was accepted by the mathematics community.

You typically cannot prove "impossibility" theorems via experimentation. If it were only that simple. To prove an impossibility theorem by experimentation, you must consider and discount all possibilities, and typically there are an infinite number of them. You must instead rely on logical reasoning. Often the proofs rest on "proof by contradiction" - if it was possible, then such and such must occur, which we know isn't possible.

If Fermat's theorem was difficult, imagine how difficult proving the above ID hypothesis must be. It is of a very tall order.

To me, I think the Intelligent Design scientists are in for a lifetime of disappointment. But that's just me.

But if logical reasoning, used to prove the impossibility of certain scenarios, is not allowed in science, because it doesn’t lend itself to experimentation, then we are in big trouble.

There is a popular movement to teach Intelligent Design in schools, a movement driven, I'm sure, by a lot of wishful thinking. The proper response, the response the Intelligent Design scientists themselves should make if they want to maintain their credibility, is that Intelligent Design is still a conjecture at this point. As far as I can tell, they have a long way to go for it to become a rigorous proof.

But attempting to prove this conjecture is, in my opinion, a legitimate scientific pursuit.

Revenant said...

It is impossible (or so extremely improbable that it is not worth considering) to start with non living material, and, subjecting it to random physical stimuli, end up with an engineering marvel such as the human eye, or something like a mouse trap, which are “irreducibly complex”.

Here are the three biggest reasons why that's not a scientific theory:

First, the scientific approach is to pick the most-probable explanation from among those explanations we know COULD be true. There is no scientific reason for believing that a Designer could exist, let alone that one DOES exist and therefore would have been in a position to do design work. Simply put, what you are doing is claiming "Y is very small, therefore X is greater than Y" without bothering to demonstrate what the value of X is (or that X exists at all, for that matter).

Secondly, the "irreducible complexity" argument is just the argumentum ad ignorantum fallacy -- the belief that, if you can't think of how something could be true, it must be false. There is no scientific method for determining that something is "irreducibly complex". For example, the human eye is often arbitrarily declared to be "irreducibly complex" despite the obvious fact that the human eye still functions as a sense organ even if you take parts away from it -- the lens, its ability to swivel, the cone cells (or rod cells), or the fluid that fills it.

Finally, the statement "it is extremely improbable that life could arise from nonliving material subjected to random physical processes" has not been proven by ID proponents or anybody else. Indeed, the best available research suggests that it is not merely probable, but highly likely that life would evolve on an Earthlike world.

Summed up, the core of "Intelligent Design" is this: "We declare, without bothering to demonstrate the truth of our declaration, that evoltion cannot be true; we further declare, without bothering to provide any positive evidence of any kind, that there exists a Designer who did all this".

thecobrasnose said...

It would be hard to name a more dedicated atheist or more brilliant scientist than Francis Crick. Yet toward the end of his life, he came to believe that life on earth was "seeded" by extraterrestrials. Now how is this so terribly different from creationism?

Evolution is a hell of a theory. But it does have flaws and problems, and must only hold until a better theory comes along. Which it inevitably will, and sooner if Evolution ceases to be taught as unshakable doctrine.

I'm not saying ID is the answer, but the reflexive worship of Darwin is hardly ideal.

beAzl said...

revenant,

I think your most interesting point is the one about irreducible complexity.

It is possible to define a concept of "irreducibility" and then prove that some things are irreducible. Prime numbers are the perfect example.

But does it really matter? Suppose we are really generous to the ID folks, and allow them to define irreducible complexity in such a way that a whole slew of things are declared irreducibly complex - eyes, mouse traps, slingshots, etc. Haven't they just shot themselves in the foot?

The chances of such a thing showing up in the lab experiment I mentioned will increase. Thus it is now easier to falsify their hypothesis.

Likewise, proving that none of these vast array of items could possibly come about via random stimuli has only become more difficult for them.

Revenant said...

It would be hard to name a more dedicated atheist or more brilliant scientist than Francis Crick. Yet toward the end of his life, he came to believe that life on earth was "seeded" by extraterrestrials.

He speculated that life on earth came from space (a concept called "panspermia"). He did not, as creationists so frequently claim, "believe that life on earth as seeded by extraterrestrials", nor did he claim that science had determined that life came from outer space. It also doesn't matter if he was a brilliant geneticist; science is not based on the fallacy of argument from authority. Even the most brilliant scientists can make huge mistakes (e.g., Einstein's rejection of quantum mechanics and Newton's obsession with alchemy).

Now how is this so terribly different from creationism?

Well, for starters, he didn't claim to be right. The other main reason is that "life arose outside of Earth and then came here" is a falsifiable and testable hypothesis, while creationism is not.

But it does have flaws and problems, and must only hold until a better theory comes along.

That's a weird view of science. It is much more common for scientific theories to be altered to accomodate new data than it is for them to be thrown out in place of something entirely different. The latter only happens when the original theory was completely wrong -- such as, for example, when the theory of Intelligent Design was replaced by the theory of evolution in the 19th century. :)

I'm not saying ID is the answer, but the reflexive worship of Darwin is hardly ideal

Anyone who refers to "the reflexive worship of Darwin" has already demonstrated himself to be completely ignorant of the science of evolutionary biology. Science isn't like religion; "On The Origin of Species" is not the Bible. Indeed, I suspect most biologists have never even read the book. It is, after all, over a century out of date.

thecobrasnose said...

revenant--although you've already marked me as somebody "completely ignorant of the science of evolutionary biology," I'm actually quite persuaded by it. What I despise is the causal slander of conservatives--social, political, religious, et al--as mindless dolts. Witness various posts on this topic:

"right-wing religious people do not have the intellectual rigor to get a hard science degree" (dave)

"I consider post-modernism to be an intellectual disease, I can't help but think that it is a fad that will pass, while religious fundamentalism probably will not" (christopher)

"Considering that most of my hardcore left-wing acquaintances can at least discuss -one- of their particular political fetishes in depth, I think that's pretty damning" (anonymous)

To be clear, I do not support the teaching of ID in classrooms. But I do oppose the "sneering contempt" toward those who propose that the Theory of Evolution as it now exists doesn't wholey explain of the history of life on earth. And the bitterness extends to the pioneers as well as the reactionaries. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Edward O. Wilson was tarred by his ivy league peers as little better than a reactionary eugenicist.

William R. Barker said...

Anonymous said...

...unless you make a habit of reading peer-reviewed scientific journals. I think it is more accurate to say that you've been reading the media coverage of political issues that have strong roots in science..."paying attention" requires more than reading NR, the Weekly Standard, and watching Fox News. I've met precious few Republicans who actually pay attention to issues on a deeper than sound-bite level.

Considering that most of my hardcore left-wing acquaintances can at least discuss -one- of their particular political fetishes in depth, I think that's pretty damning.

The GOP is choosing that label (Religious Right) for themselves. Its not like some "vast liberal conspiracy" is trying to pin it on them...

And if the Libertarian party weren't in the midst of an ongoing meltdown, the voiceless minority in the GOP that truly believes in less government and personal freedom might have a place to go...

----------------------------------

Anonymous... with respect, you've gotta pay attention. I started out by saying I'm not a scientist. So no... I'm not in the habit of reading peer-reviewed scientific articles. Neither do most people! That was part of my point!

Like it or not, most people don't even read their daily local newspaper fully. Out of a population of what... 300 million... how many people actually read the major "national" newspapers - let alone the conservative (or liberal) journals? And as for Fox News... though I personally think it's overall the best news network out there... we're talking a lot of chaff and very little wheat. (*SMILE*)

So back to my point... my concern isn't with what "biased" or "non-biased" scientific information the average American is getting from reading peer reviewed studies and such - since they don't read them - but rather the "tone" of psuedo-scientific "certainty" that the average American gets when they are exposed to "science" in the public arena.

Take global warming. The American people are basically exposed to one side of the issue. This applies to all sorts of environmental issues.

I mean... come on... interview 1,000 people at random in the heart of NYC and ask them to comment on the "hockey stick" debate re: global temp changes. (*SMIRK*)

The American people see science not through the prism of the scientific community... but through the prism of mainly liberal news coverage.

That's my point.

P.S. - As for the "Religious Right" picking that name for themselves... if you say so. I doubt, however, that they meant for the term to be used basically as a prejurative by the media and partisan political opponents.

P.P.S. - And as for the "voiceless minority" in the GOP... we foiled the Miers nomination - didn't we? And if enough of us support the Republican Study Group hopefully that will have an effect too.

*** Oh... and as for you, Cathy... I obviously disagree that the threat to the integrity of science comes from the right. I think the threat to the integrity of science comes mainly from liberal ideologue scientists whose views and theories are amplified by the mainstream liberal media and to a less extent the politicization of science in the classroom - starting in grade school.

Remember Soylent Green??? I was 11 in 1973 and I still remember being taught (or perhaps "socialized" is a better word) the message of coming environmental disaster.

Revenant said...

although you've already marked me as somebody "completely ignorant of the science of evolutionary biology," I'm actually quite persuaded by it.

The two aren't contradictory. It is entirely possible to believe that humans evolved from earlier forms of life without actually understanding the science. This appears to be the case with you.

You made two statements -- one, that the theory of evolution has problems sufficiently large enough that it must one day be discarded, and two, that Darwin is reflexively worshipped. Neither statement bears any resemblance to the current state of evolutionary biology. The theory of evolution enjoys near-universal acceptance among scientists because it accurately describes reality and yields accurate predictions of future events. Scientists vehemently defend it for the same reason they defend the theory that the moon orbits the Earth.

One other note -- you are incorrect that the theory of evolution doesn't explain the whole history of life on Earth. It does, indeed, provide an explanation for that whole history. Now, perhaps what you meant to say is that we do not yet know the specific details of what [insert species name here] evolved from, but that's a very different thing from the theory not offering an explanation. The key point is that we haven't yet observed anything, in the history of life on Earth, that *contradicts* the theory of evolution.

Revenant said...

Sorry, a quick clarification of my last remark, about theories offering an explanation even if the specifics aren't known.

We have theories for why the land has the shape it does, based on theories of plate tectonics, erosion, and growth of vegetation. These theories offer powerful explanations for why land masses have the shapes they do.

Now imagine pointing to a sqare yard of land and demanding a detailed explanation, going back a billion years, for why that particular plot of land had the exact shape it did. Would it be a "weakness" of the theory if the scientist was unable to give specifics for some of the steps in the process? Obviously not. What matters is consistency of the theory with the data we DO have.

On that note, I've wasted enough of Cathy's blog comment space with this off-topic thread.

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