Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Have you hugged your ancestors today?

We now have a matched set of transitional fossils: the fishapod, which is old-ass news by now, and a snake with legs. To the left you can see a very touching painting of Darwin expressing his gratitude to the fishapod for beginning to heal the much-maligned fossil record. If we had an equally cuddly image of the snakeapod, I'm sure he'd be just as demonstrative.

When I was in undergrad, a teacher sought to punish me for expressing a hatred of group work by making me play Huxley in a debate about Darwinism. I was up against four anti-evolutionists, and I wiped the floor with 'em just like the Bulldog would have. I believe I made some breezy and undoubtedly urbane comment about the inevitable incompleteness of the fossil record, then pointed out to the ersatz Richard Owen that he had actually recently acquired an archaeopteryx fossil and how did he explain that? "Owen," not having done her research, was utterly flummoxed. It is totally awesome and not nerdy to destroy people with factoids.

I would love to think that this would do the same to today's anti-evolutionists, but check out the astute comments on the Pharyngula post. The basic gist, and it's a sobering but true one, is that you can't fight pseudoscience with evidence. That's basically definitional of pseudoscience. This post makes the application of this principle to creationism painfully obvious: "God created a wide variety of animals, many of whom share various characteristics, and even DNA, with each other. That doesn't prove that these animals evolved from each other." In other words, God created all creatures plus all evidence for evolution (though perhaps not all evolutionists). It's self-healing, utterly impregnable to outside logic or evidence.

Perhaps the worst thing about it is that the creationists have convinced themselves, and probably their children, that this is what science is. Not the testing of falsifiable theories, not a collaborative collecting and interpretation of empirical evidence, not even problem-hypothesis-materials-method-conclusion. Just a set of subjects and terminology, without any of the dedication to genuine inquiry that has always made science great. Science appears to be distinguished from faith because it's an unassailable, non-falsifiable belief about the natural world, rather than an unassailable, non-falsifiable belief about divinity. And this is a recipe for ignorance and stagnation.

Which is of course what the religion meme needs to perpetuate itself, so why am I surprised? I wish someone would make a nice plush version of the fishapod. I think I need a hug.

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