Let no one say I won’t call out liberals when they’re idiots about evolution. From the archives:
About a week about Matt Yglesias had a post about evolution where he wrote (italics mine):
Last but not least, nothing whatsoever of practical importance hinges on whether or not life on earth originated as a result of intelligent design. The theory is exceedingly silly pseudo-science, but it doesn’t actually threaten anything. There is, moreoever, no reason to think it’s especially crucial for the average citizen to have an accurate grasp of state-of-the-art biological theory. Most people don’t understand quantum mechanics, general relativity, or any number of other scientific and technical topics and life goes on just fine.
Getting snooty about this just feeds into perceptions of liberalism as fundamentally a snobbish, anti-religious, elitist view while distracting attention from the basically reality that the Republican Party is a front organization for corporate managers that puts on a cloak of social conservatism to disguise what it really does in practice. If you must worry about social conservatives, worry about women’s reproductive rights and basic equality for gays and lesbians. There’s just no there there in the evolution issue.
I was going to let this lie, as Pandagon did a fine job stating why Yglesias was being an idiot (not an IDiot mind you). But the more I think about it, the more I have to respond. Here’s why Yglesias is wrong:
- A basic understanding of evolution is important for all people, not just scientists. Here’s one example: antibiotic resistance. The evolution of antibiotic resistance is a problem we can all address, only if we understand how the use of antibiotics selects-as in natural selection-for antibiotic resistant genotypes. I don’t expect people to be able to derive the neutral theory, but this we all must understand. I’m not expecting “an accurate grasp of state-of-the-art biological theory.” But the basics matter.
- This is about education, not just politics. My experience has been that students who are exposed to evolutionary biology in high school (and are taught it well) have a much easier time grasping the harder material in college. Why does this matter? Practically, evolutionary biology is the cornerstone of the analysis of genomes and DNA sequence. To the extent that tomorrow’s medical personal have a basic understanding of what to do with all that DNA sequence generated for epidemiological purposes, the better off everyone is (most biology majors go into the medical professions, not academia).
- This is about education, not just politics, part deux. Most high school science curricula focus on knowledge acquisition. To a certain extent, this is unavoidable: you have to learn the Krebs cycle-the biological facts are part of the foundation for later study. Evolutionary biology is very different in that the basic foundation is theoretical (not the case studies and examples). Unlike math, it’s a very different way of thinking because there is a strong historical component as well as a good deal of math. For example, there are very few high school courses where one implicitly or explicitly has to compare Aristotlean typological thought with Darwin’s population based approach. That’s good for your brain.
- OK, it is partially about politics. As I noted in #1 & #2, evolution is essential in many fields of biology. There’s no doubt in my mind that many of the creationists/IDiots would gladly drag us into another Lysenkoist era. For those who think that this is unrealistic (and Yglesias does), think of all the crazy shit the right wing has done. Twenty years ago, would anyone thought things would be this crazy? (e.g., our insane War on Drugs, massive deficit spending by conservatives, the dominance of the Dominionist right, etc.). Anyone who says that the religious right won’t try to target evolution is simply demonstrating a sorry lack of imagination, particularly when some far right leaders say things like “If you believe God created that baby, it makes it a whole lot harder to get rid of that baby. If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die.” How can Yglesias be so naive?
- OK, it is partially about politics, part deux.Conservatives are criticizing other conservatives over their IDiocy. They’re gnawing on each other. How is this a bad thing?
- Yglesias is the elitist, not biologists and their supporters. The idea that a basic understanding of the world around us shouldn’t belong to the ‘little people’ is utterly arrogant. Say what you will about us eggheads, at least we think everyone potentially can understand what we’re talking about. His attitude is just more stereotypical political-insider arrogance.