On Edge, Jerry Coyne has a response to Sam Brownback’s dissent from evolution. These are excellent questions, and I’d like to see them answered!
Senator Brownback, along with his two dissenting colleagues, really should be forced to answer a rather more embarrassing question: who is responsible for their being so misinformed? Where did they learn the so-called “problems” with evolution: at their mothers’ knees, or in Sunday school? Or perhaps from reading books; and, if so, what books, and who recommended them? Doesn’t a public servant have a responsibility to stay informed across a wide spectrum of topics and issues?
That’s number one in my collection of good science teaching aphorisms: “How do you know that?” is always a smart question. Brownback is a conservative Republican politician with a poor reputation for intelligence—I don’t quite see him reading Valentine’s Origin of Phyla in his spare time. Where did he get these peculiar and erroneous ideas about evolution? It can probably be traced back to his ministers or parents…were they evolutionary biologists? As I mentioned yesterday, Kent Hovind’s background reveals no familiarity with even elementary science, yet he brags about being a science teacher, and many people cite him as the source of their “facts” about evolution.
Given how Brownback plays fast and loose with the facts, or ignores them altogether, it’s fair to ask why the New York Times went along with publishing misleading statements about evolution. Doesn’t somebody at the Times keep an eye out for gross errors of fact on the editorial pages? Brownback is surely entitled to say that science can’t tell us we should behave, but is he also entitled to misrepresent the central principle of biology? An opinion is an opinion, but it’s not a very good one when based on “facts” that just aren’t so.
The media is another problem—they’ve become increasingly unquestioning and uncritical. I know there’s an ethical problem with just shutting out weird, opposing views, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s an op-ed from a senator or from a random crazy old coot complaining about fluoridation — if the piece has substantial and obvious errors of fact the paper should make a note of it. A piece from Brownback is going to get published, worthy or not, but they could at least fly an op-ed that makes assertions about biology by a biologist (like Jerry Coyne!) and either include a prominent disclaimer or get a complementary op-ed that rebuts the gross errors.
Science simply doesn’t deal with hypotheses about a guiding intelligence, or supernatural phenomena like miracles, because science is the search for rational explanations of natural phenomena. We don’t reject the supernatural merely because we have an overweening philosophical commitment to materialism; we reject it because entertaining the supernatural has never helped us understand the natural world. Alchemy, faith healing, astrology, creationism–none of these perspectives has advanced our understanding of nature by one iota. So Brownback’s proposal to bring faith to the table of science is misguided: “As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well.” What part? Where are faith’s testable predictions or falsifiable hypotheses about human origins?
Ah, we’ve got some examples of predictions, such as that humans were created from dust or a rib 6000 or 5 million years ago, or that we kinda sorta evolved with a little manual assistance of an unspecified nature from a being who is invisible and all-powerful but doesn’t do anything, or that we did evolve, yeah, but said invisible man gave us an invisible impalpable magic soul-essence that makes us special at some point. The vapidity of the claims are notable, and are definitely untestable—they are intentionally formulated to avoid scrutiny. And if someone does cast a critical eye on them, well, they have an escape clause all ready for you.
No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.
Let’s just give it up. Faith teaches us nothing, helps no one, and leads nowhere but to ignorance.