Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance, in an excellent post, argues that much of the opposition to evolution stems from opposition to (mis)perceived liberal elites (bold original; italics mine):
What scientists tend to underestimate is the extent to which many people react viscerally against science just because it is science. Or, more generally, because it is seen as part of an effort on the part of elites to force their worldview on folks who are getting along just fine without all these fancy ideas, thank you very much.
In the old-time (1980’s) controversies about teaching creationism in schools, pre-Intelligent-Design, one of the most common arguments was that school boards should have “local control” over the curriculum. Defenders of evolution replied that this was clearly a ruse to disguise a religious anti-science agenda. Which may have been true for some of the national organizations behind the movement; but for many school boards and communities, it really was about local control. They didn’t want to be told what to teach their kids by some group of coastal elitists with Ph.D.s, and creationism was a way to fight back.
This is why I’ve argued (and will argue on March 24) that evolution needs to defended, in part, as an integral part of biomedical research–that is, from a perspective of utility. This will upset some people because the discovery of how life came to be should be viewed as an intrinsic good–and it is an intrinsic good. But here’s what you should remember:
if you think this, then you don’t need convincing, do you?
I am not trying to develop arguments that self-validate those who support evolution, but, instead, arguments that reach those who are undecided or unaware*. The problem with defending evolution without drawing on the utility argument is that it leads to what Carroll writes next (bold mine):
But nevertheless — despite the fact that he is smart and educated enough to understand that evolution is “right” in the old-fashioned sense of right and wrong — he will state explicitly (and quote himself later in case you missed it) that
I couldn’t care less whether my president believes in the theory of evolution. In fact, reflecting on some recent experiences, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t prefer a president who didn’t. [Emphasis in original.]
And why is that?…The reason why is that scientific understanding is too often the bailiwick of elite leftist snobs.
Possibly as a result of having grown up in the lower classes of provincial England, I detest snobbery. I mean, I really, viscerally, loathe it. This is one reason I hate the Left so much…
Invited to choose between having my kids educated, my car fixed, or my elderly relatives cared for by (a) people of character, spirit, and dedication who believe in pseudoscience, or (b) unionized, time-serving drudges who believe in real science, which would I choose? Invited to choose between a president who is (a) a patriotic family man of character and ability who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) an amoral hedonist and philanderer who “loathes the military” but who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose? Are you kidding?
The real point is not who you would choose in such a situation–it’s that Derbyshire sincerely believes that these are the kinds of choices one typically needs to make. One the one hand: character, spirit, dedication, and pseudoscience. On the other: amoral, hedonistic drudges (sic) who believe in real science.
Carroll is absolutely right: this is a false dichotomy. Genomic medicine simply can not be done without evolutionary biology–the methods, principles, and tools of evolutionary biology are integral to the field. Many of my colleagues (and I work at a 1200 person institute) have turned down far more lucrative job offers in the for-profit private sector–it’s not like there aren’t other options in biotech or computer science in Cambridge–because they think what they do could improve the human condition and reduce disease. Sure, there are other considerations, but that’s a big draw.
Yet, because we don’t argue from a standpoint of utility nearly enough, we wind up where, as Carroll put it, “it [evolution] is seen as part of an effort on the part of elites to force their worldview on folks who are getting along just fine without all these fancy ideas”, when, in fact, these “fancy ideas” just might make their lives better.
If nothing else, the utility argument puts creationists on the defensive (and rightfully so, since they’re fucking morons) by forcing them to justify why they want to harm our ability to cure disease.
Just something to consider.
*Since, for many of the ‘firm’ creationists, creationism is part of a larger worldview, nothing I say will change their minds (with a reasonable success rate anyway). Typically, it takes a major challenge to that worldview (e.g., a personal trauma) to shake it.