Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Evolution, Baby

Surprisingly, there really isn't a whole lot to write about this week. The only big story is Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, and the eviction of a bunch of people who are willing to fight to the death for the right to live in a useless patch of desert. Honestly, Israel has useless patches of desert to spare (I'm thinking of the entire southern half of the country here). If you really want to live in the desert, there's room for you. Personally, I'm not sure I understand the problems with the settlements in the first place - or the return of the refugees who inexplicably left during the 1948 wars. (Inexplicably, because thanks to their departure Arab say in Israel's government is all but nil. Ten seats in the Knesset ain't worth crap.) Why not just let people live where they want to live?

And with regards to the security barrier that's mucking up peace talks, I don't have much to say. Robert Frost might, though:

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Thanks, Bob.

On to other things: evolution. Seems the creationists want to get their two cents worth in high school biology classrooms. An article in Time describes their new tactic: creating problems with Darwin's theory, then proposing a new one called "intelligent design" (or creationism lite). They aren't the exclusionists they used to be - they don't want Darwin out of the classroom anymore - but they still want their "theory" given equal time. Never mind that unless you spend a lot of time on evolution, biology doesn't make much sense.

(Time's article is as heavily biased against the creationists as this opinion column. Be forewarned.)

I would like to say a couple of things. First, the next person to say that evolution is "just a theory" is going to be a severe challenge to my pacifism. Sure, evolution is a theory that can't be observed directly. So are gravity, relativity, electricity, magnetic fields, atoms, subatomic particles, wave-particle duality... I could go on. Science IS theory. Making inferences based on observations is what we do. Some theories are weaker than others, but evolution is one of the strongest theories out there. It has withstood, explained, and even predicted some 150 years of new data from paleontology, zoology, and the biological sciences. No observation has posed a significant challenge to evolution yet. We'll never see macroevolution occur (we've seen microevolution), but thanks to Heisenberg uncertainty, we'll never see an electron either. Why don't these "just a theory" people take on particle physicists for a while?

Second, let's not kid ourselves. Intelligent design is creationism and therefore religious in nature. It's constructed cleverly enough to avoid establishment clause critiques. But as one of the leading intelligent design proponents said, if it walks, acts, and quacks like a duck, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Sure, intelligent designers could be referring to an alien race who came to Earth and tinkered with DNA for a while until they had finished having their fun (see Parke Godwin's hilarious novel "Waiting for the Galactic Bus"). But who honestly thinks that such things are what intelligent design advocates are referring to?

Intelligent design is not a scientific theory and therefore has no place in our biology classes. It is based on the perceived holes in the accepted theory. Most of all, it is not disprovable. It is the official handwaving operator, the "then a miracle happened" between one part of the math equation and the other. It is not subject to scientific scrutiny because it requires a leap of faith beyond that which is normally required of scientists. It asks scientists, essentially, to give up.

History classes and special seminars can be used to "teach the controversy," if indeed there is one (within the scientific community, there really isn't). But don't ask students to give up on science. It's the last thing we need.


Mike said...

Evolution is just a theory (*ducks Jeff's fist*). Seriously, it is, but it's a theory many of us accept as fact. Just as many creationists accept the theory of creationism as fact. Personally, I don't recall my own religious beliefs being damaged in the slightest by learning about Darwin in school, nor by reading "The Ascent of Man" (though the latter did hurt my sanity a little bit).

Honestly, what is creationists' problem here? Are these kids coming home from school and saying, "Mommy, (or Daddy, or Legal Guardianny) today they taught us all about Darwin, so I've suddenly decided to completely change my belief structure"? Parents who want their children to believe in creationism get about a 12 year head start. Give education, give science, a chance.

Mike said...

Semi-relevant, utterly hilarious link.

Jeff said...

Yeah, if evolution or any scientific theory shakes the foundation of your faith in God, you probably didn't actually have faith in God in the first place. And that link is hilarious, not only because I can imagine everything in that article happening...

Ben said...

Far as the Gaza thing goes, the Israeli settlers basically moved in and stole land that is not and was never part of the modern state of Israel. Their eviction, heartbreaking though it may be, is long overdue.