Sunday, September 24, 2006

Anti-science vs. anti-evolution

I've grown to disapprove of the term "anti-evolution" to refer to the efforts of creationists to undermine education about evolution. I find it too vague a term, as it could also imply being against the actual process of evolution itself. Moreover, it masks the fact that the fundamental problem with creationism is not the fact that it is counter to a particular scientific theory (in this case evolution). Rather, the problem with the modern creationist movement is that it attempts to erode the honest, questioning, and disinterested process of investigation that gives us the best and most meaningful view of the world. There is no need for me to re-iterate the number of ways in which creationism is anti-scientific.

Because of this, I prefer to characterize this contemporary movement against evolution as that which it is: anti-science.

Creationists will frequently argue that it is not their facts that are different but merely their interpretation. Whereas the evolutionist assumes there is no god, the creationist assumes that there is and we just get a different result. This kind of thinking exemplifies the creationist misunderstanding of science. For they have no concept simply not assuming anything about god. For them, the fact that this independent and freely-thinking method of reasoning cannot discover gods and mysticism is a threat, because the world that it can discover did not discover one in agreement with their favourite scriptures.

For this reason, religious bodies have attacked science at nearly major turn in its history. Evolution is only the latest victim. But reproductive biology is already under heavy fire and it won't be long before the neurosciences and psychology are victims, too. The attack on evolution is only part of a larger pandemic of superstitious unreason. The people who attack evolutionary science fear it because it has been one of the most stark reminders that a literal reading of Genesis is incompatible with science. It is doubly unnerving for these people since it presents an altogether more convincing case, thoroughly modern in its expression, and based on the same principles of reasoning that have given us vaccines and rockets. People who oppose the teaching of evolution and who are disputing based on their egregious misunderstandings of the theory and deep-running ignorance of the facts are not simply opposed to evolution but to science in general.

However, as a minor semantic point alluded to at the beginning of this entry, the creationists aren't preventing evolution as a phenomenon (except socially). I would say they are trying to stymie that phenomenon known as science. Because of this, I think the semantic difference becomes important and the creationists are best referred to as "anti-scientists" and their activities as "anti-science". While their particular beef is with evolutionary theory, I'd say that referring to them as "anti-evolutionists" is too restrictive.

My problem is not their problem with evolution, it's with their bad methods, bad logic, bad evidence, and dishonest tactics. For that reason, I prefer not to call them anti-evolutionists but anti-scientists.


Anonymous said...

I think that's a good approach. At the Ohio State Board of Education meetings where I've spoken over the last several years I've pretty consistently used the phrase "trash science" to refer to it, but anti-science is better.


Anonymous said...

Hi. I really enjoy reading updates on your blog while I'm on my break at school. Very cool writing style and consistently interesting. Ancient life has always facinated me as well, although I haven't the guts to handle the bioscience classes available in my city.

If I can just comment, though, this spikey creationist-bashing is not the greatest thing. I would think it much better to view (or in this case 'review') other people's schools of thought with that same scientific disinterest you spoke of. If a lot of folks find aspects of evolution theory unconvincing, they're in their rights to resist it, is my opinion.

Then again this IS an internet blog where people are supposed to be able to air their thoughts informally, without worrying about stepping on anyone, so...

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