During one of the many framing-related flare ups (kinda like zits, aren’t they?), I argued that biologists have done the following things well while confronting creationism:
- Calling creationists fucking morons (because they are).
- Arguing that a better understanding of how life evolved is good in and of itself, and can imbue us with a certain sense of wonder.
- Refuting specific creationist claims.
But this is what I thought was missing:
What we rarely do is make an affirmative, positive argument for evolution (as opposed to against creationism). I proposed one particular argument: we can’t do applied medical genomics at all without using evolutionary theory and tools. There are many other examples that can be made (I merely chose this one because I know it rather well).
In light of that, I bring you a virologist’s response to an anti-evolution billboard that he has to drive by on his way to work (italics mine):
I first have to express my thoughts on evolution. To me, it is a tool. I use evolution as a carpenter uses a hammer or a hunter uses a gun. To take evolution away from me limits the scope of my work tremendously. I can’t describe to you the many times I have performed genetic alignments on evolutionary divergent viruses in order to hone in on DNA sequence similarities which reveal regions of functional importance. The idea is that the more evolutionary conserved a region is, the more important it is. It is amazing how often this is true in molecular biology and how often it discovers novel truths about, not only viral, but human biology.
My first inclination after realizing that my livelihood was being threatened was to contact the advertising company that allowed such inflammatory garbage to be posted in public view.
As a thought experiment (hopefully, it remains that), if we were to ban the use of evolutionary biology, so much of what you read about here at ScienceBlogs simply would not happen. One example is genomics. Without evolutionary biology, we can’t make sense of any of the data we produce.
I also liked his discussion of how these ridiculous billboards came to be:
The irony is that a nurse started up Billboard Ministries. She undoubtedly has helped saved lives using technologies that were developeed in laboratories which used evolution as a tool. Was her biological training not sufficient enough? If a nurse is uneducated about evolution, what about the rest of the country? According to their site, billboards have been placed in 13 states. I’m sure other fundamentalist groups are doing the same — spreading their anti-evolutionary message around the country. I realize it is quite possible, and possibly more likely that she had learned about evolution in college yet her fundamentalist beliefs trump her science education. If that is the case, is the answer to this conundrum to simply educate the public about evolution? It may help, but I think more is necessary. Perhaps we need to find out how to make fundamentalism less fundamental in our society.
I think a more productive approach would to blame scientists for their poor communications skills.
If nothing else, it would be far more civil.