David Berlinski, that Prince of Pomposity and Lackey of the Discovery Institute, is trying to get a letter published in Science, complaining about the study that showed America’s poor showing in understanding evolution. It’s more of an opaque, cranky whine, something Berlinski specializes in, so I rather doubt it will ever get in—the editors there are going to be as respectful of creationist nonsense as I am. Of course, one thing I can do that the editors wouldn’t is rip into his letter and tear it to pieces in public…
“Human beings, as we know them,” Miller, Scott and Okamoto write, “developed from earlier species of animals.” Those who reject this statement are for this reason denied creedal access to the concept of evolution itself. But how could anyone regard this claim without the most serious reservations? We know hardly anything about human beings. The major aspects of the human mind and the culture to which it gives rise are an enigma, and so, too, the origins of the anatomical structures required to express them. If the phrase “developed from earlier species of animals” implies that human beings had ancestors, there is no reason to think it interesting; if it implies that human beings became human by means of random variation and natural selection, there is no reason to think it true.
Translation: Berlinski wants to claim a special creation status for human beings. However, note that he has no evidence for this, and his arguments are entirely negative: because we don’t know everything about the human mind, he wants to believe that the support for our natural origins is therefore weak, and that just maybe some rebuttal to that notion lurks in some unknown corner of organic complexity.
It’s God of the Gaps, in other words.
As for the last bit, all of the available evidence does imply that human origins are a consequence of natural mechanisms, and that random variation and natural selection were a significant part of it. If he has some other mechanism to propose, he should stop skirting around it, say what it is, and give us enough detail that we can test predictions of his hypothesis.
Don’t hold your breath.
Statistical investigations into the origins of belief are in any case pointless. What would it avail us to know that there is a strong statistical correlation between membership in the NCSE and an eagerness to promote Charles Darwin to beatific status and for this reason carefully to cultivate his relics?
No one wants to beatify Darwin—we’re all godless atheists, remember? We do want to encourage proper respect for an important historical and scientific figure. Berlinski would also find that these same acolytes of Darwin would also be be encouraging the preservation of artifacts and notes and ideas from Agassiz and Owen and yes, even Wilberforce. It’s not religion. It’s history.
In commenting on the study to which he contributed, Jon Miller of Michigan State University, observed that “American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalists.” Considering the fact that American Protestants are not notably interested in waging jihad, this is a little like arguing that oranges are more flat than anything else, except perhaps for paper.
I thought this was the most amusing part of his letter. What denial! We don’t call it “jihad,” of course, but who is waging a war in the Middle East right now? Who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq? Who is rattling the sabers at Iran? Which religious group in America believes that war and destruction in Israel are necessary prerequisites to the rapturous end of the world?
American Protestants (not all, of course, but many of the radical right wing sects) are most definitely interested in battling Islam.
Miller’s additional idea that the United States and Turkey are closely allied in virtue of their fundamentalist commitments is richly conceived.
It has apparently escaped Professor Miller’s notice that Turkey is a secular state and has been since 1922, and that by following his reasoning, one could conclude that the diplomatic services of the United States would look favorably on a revival of the Taliban in Afghanistan or the triumph of radical Islam in Iraq.
You know, it’s shouldn’t be surprising to see a proponent of creationism demonstrate such an ability to understand what he’s read or such a willingness to distort meaning, but it still makes me shake my head in wonder, every time. The article does not claim that the US and Turkey are allied because of shared fundamentalism, nor does it suggest that the Turkish government is not secular, any more than it suggests that the US government is not nominally secular. Both share a problem with similar causes. We both have growing popular movements based on a rigid, science-denying religious fundamentalism. This is undermining science education in both countries. It does not say or imply that American Christians are cheering on the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. (Although it is easy to find examples of, for instance, Kent Hovind and Harun Yahya citing each other favorably. They seem willing to set aside deep differences in doctrine to oppose the common enemy of “Darwinism.”)
Such an excess of stupidity is rarely to be found in nature.
But frequently found in the press releases of the Discovery Institute.