Monday, July 21, 2008

On the road to nowhere

The question put forth on Sunday was "Why the 'need' for creationism?" but that really leaves out the bigger question, which is why people don't see the discrepancies between their attitudes towards creationism versus their attitudes towards every other science in which fiction seems more normal than facts.

There are hundreds of things we don't understand about our bodies, the world, the universe. We don't fully understand the delay between taking antidepressants and getting better. We haven't found proof of dark matter, but we're willing to spend millions building underground laboratories on a lark to see if it's there. And some people go their entire adult lives never understanding the basics of budgeting. Yet there's not much protest against antidepressants (protests tend to focus more on the correct administration rather than the concepts of depression), underground laboratories--if it doesn't involve anything cute and furry, it's not worthy of protesting--or rewriting the basic tenants of economic theory.

And yet, "There are gaps in the fossil record so that doesn't prove evolution happened at all!"

I don't want to call non-evolutionists intellectually lazy, but at the same time, their arguments for creationism speak of minds which are tired of answering the neverending "why". Can't fathom a few molecules coming together to make a protein? It wasn't so long ago that doctors couldn't fathom the idea of germs, either.

Or perhaps it's not so much laziness as it is an appreciation for the number of coincidences that had to have happened for us humans to be here today. After all, the meteor could have missed, the dinosaurs could still be around, and maybe we'd be eating ornithopter rather than chicken for dinner. There are a hell of a lot of things that had to go right for us to be here now, with all this technology, and that's not counting all of the decisions that could just as easily have gone the other way--decisions that led to wars, recessions, inventions, and discoveries. The miraculous in everyday living, indeed.

But I digress: what "need" does teaching creationism as a science fill? I've racked my brains for two days trying to come up with an explanation as to why people insist that adding a conclusion you'd come up with anyway if you studied any science and evolution long enough--that we don't know everything, that the universe is full of weird stuff we can't explain, that the possibility of a higher power starts looking better and better with every weird oddity you discover--would somehow make a difference in what natural selection means: lots of creatures dying unpleasant deaths, all fighting tooth and claw to pass their genes on to the next generation.

I think the main reason why evolutionary theory has been singled out for scapegoating is because it's not complicated enough. You don't see evangelicals of any religion standing outside CERN protesting their findings, but God help you (literally) if you so much as mention "evolution" in the wrong classroom. The problem with evolution is that it's so simple--and yet here we are, incredibly complex beings, able to divine gods and generals from thin air. Surely there must be something more to it. "Well, there's something called sex--"


Other fields, such as quantum mechanics, physics, and chemistry, remain relatively abstract in our everyday lives. When we encounter them, it's usually as a fun exercise--playing snooker--or as a convenience--using a spray cleaner. We see their development through mad-scientist caricatures and take it for granted that mixing dangerous chemicals is something normal people aren't "supposed" to think about--chemistry and molecular biology are complicated, too complicated to properly understand.

But we all understand sex. Whether it's an immoral act, a source of shame, or pride--we are all reminded of this basic biological need at some point. Grunting like some fell beast in the middle hardly becoming of an enlightened man--after all, we wear clothes and expound upon philosophy and existence. How could we possibly have gotten to where we are today by such a simple, and gross, thing?

Is life too complicated to explain by mere coincidence and sex? We'd like to think, our lives are. For an animal such as moose, sex is something that happens by mere coincidence of being within the known territory of a member of the opposite sex--these things are life. We, on the other hand, like a bit more control, beyond sex and coincidence, but if those are enough, why go further? Elaborate the complexity of life more than it is, and you're going on a road to nowhere, in terms of understanding life.

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