The DI is at it again

13 02 2007

If you thought the video for Hoax of Dodos was painful, take a gander at the John West + Jonathan Wells fun-fest the Discovery Institute put up for Darwin Day, entitled “Darwin Day and the deification of Charles Darwin.” The presentation doesn’t really breach any new ground or make any point outside of “Darwin-loving atheists are out to destroy America! Watch out!” but what is most perplexing and maddening is the self-aggrandizement of Jonathan Wells as a scientist. In the clip, he is referred to as a molecular biologist, embryologist, biologist, and scientist by himself and others. If all these titles were true, you would expect him to have a long list of peer-reviewed publications and knowledge of science, but in reality Wells is far too busy writing anti-evolution polemics and denying HIV causes AIDS to do any actual work, the only recent paper by him being a vapid piece entitled “Do centrioles generate polar ejection force?“. The prestigiousness of getting a pro-ID paper in a journal, however, is downplayed by the fact that Rivista Di Biologia (the journal in question) is known for its sentimentality to anti-evolution folk of various description, a much better summary than I could acheive on the subject being found at Stranger Fruit.

As for the video, West and Wells attempt to make the case that if you celebrate Darwin Day you must either be an atheist, by lying to yourself if you’re religious, you love Darwin more than Honest Abe, and you’re ignorant to “truth” (a more appropriate definition would be “the truthiness the DI wants you to believe”). Looking over the list of groups participating in the past 2 days evolutionary festivities on the Darwin Day website, there seems to be a smattering of churches, humanist societies, atheist societies, scientific groups, and others getting in on the act; it’s not just an event for and by atheists as West would have us all believe. I think that so many humanist/atheist groups are involved as one of the ways in which people come to question their beliefs and know about the world around them is through science, and when groups like the DI or AiG come along and start spewing out misrepresentations and lies to enhance the “moral good” of society, it can’t be anything less than acutely irritating. In a way, ID has drawn out groups that otherwise would have not been involved, demonstrating a need for scientists to communicate more effectively. For me at least, Darwin Day isn’t just about reflecting upon the man whose ideas are still changing the way we think about ourselves and our place in the universe, but I think it’s part of a greater effort to communicate science effectively to the public. There are lots of people who agree with evolution because it seems to make sense and it was what they were taught (I used to be one of them), but how many people really take a closer look at it or want to understand it? The public still uses the phrase “survival of the fittest,” talks about “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” are confused about human origins, etc. Even if corrections have been made in textbooks and things like Haeckel’s embryos and Spencer’s famous phrase are no longer used by scientists or taught in classrooms, they have stuck in the public consciousness, the need for accurate and effective teaching about evolution being more urgent than ever.

There’s plenty more in the video that is erroneous and infuriating, but what I hated most of all was Wells’ mischaracterization of evolution as useless when it comes to science and medicine. Historically, many (if not most) sciences are older than evolution as empirical/observational fields, but this does not mean that evolution somehow missed the boat or doesn’t count when it comes to current studies. In fact, evolution is such a powerful idea that it has pervaded all of biological science, and while it may be possible to do work without thinking about it much it is impossible to make sense of any work in the grander scheme of life without evolution.

I also find the notion that all evolutionary scientists have an atheist agenda to put forward absolutely bogus. Speaking for myself, I find evolution so enthralling because I want to know about nature and its workings, and such the case with the vast majority of science. Belief or lack of belief in God comes from observation and interpretation of the whole of an individual’s experience, but good scientists are not like creationists in that they want to know what certain things are and how those things (organisms, phenomena, reactions, etc.) behave rather than believe they have absolute truth and need to shoehorn the data into a preconceived notion of a personal deity. Everyone knows about the Wedge Document as well, and if I had to choose between trusting an atheist scientist who has a thirst for knowledge about the natural world and a DI fellow who believes that scientific findings should not contribute to or promote “materialism”, I would most certainly go with the atheist. To clarify even further, it is important not only to know what someone is saying, but why they are saying it. In some cases science is used to promote atheism and such attempts should be viewed with as much critical thought as creationism, but as far as actual science goes I find no fault with scientists of whatever faith (or lack thereof) simply wanting to understand more about nature, reporting their findings as they arise without having to go through a faith-filter.


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