Monday, May 01, 2006

Caffeine, or righteous indignance

Copyright Shannon Wheeler, please don't sue me, I love youAs Schacter and Singer first showed in 1967, it's very hard to differentiate between actually experiencing an emotion and experiencing only its physical component. If you're experiencing physical arousal, you're likely to attribute an emotional response to whatever stimulus is in your vicinity, even if its causes are wholly physical. So I had a hard time, this morning, distinguishing whether my heart was racing from my morning coffee, or from rage. But I've got a guess.

I'm a few days behind on this, admittedly, but I just read all the comments on Nick Matzke's post about Tony Snow. Here we see a Bush-supporting but apparently otherwise intelligent conservative economist (how a conservative economist could support this money-hemorrhaging administration I'll never know) arguing that because not all Republicans are fundies, then the fundies are not in charge of the government, QED. Of course this is comforting but terrifically naive, not least because Bush has apparently decided that Congress is no longer significant to his decisions. He is The Decider, after all -- who needs to listen to liberals or science-lovin' conservatives?

I am glad -- thrilled -- that there are non-fundamentalist conservatives, because hopefully they'll eventually notice and get disgusted with the fact that "their" government is run by a cadre of zealots engaging in a holy war on all fronts. (The numbers would suggest that this realization has already happened, but see the link.) But for non-fundamentalist conservatives to support this administration and to vote for Republicans now really does negate any rationality or love of science they profess. It's becoming increasingly clear that you must make a choice: Bush or science. If you accept one, you throw the other away.

And I can't quite understand the rationale, either. A prospective Nader voter once told me that he believed Bush was evil, and believed that Bush would probably win if progressives voted anything but Democratic, but he was going to vote for Nader anyway. I'm equally flummoxed by the logic of these putative science-supporting Republicans. So you know that Bush is a fundamentalist zealot who doesn't support science either financially or conceptually, but you still support this administration because... what? Liberals don't have big enough muscles or good enough hair? You don't like Michael Moore? A liberal stole your lunch money? You hate the poor?

From Matzke's post, I went to Snow's column on why rational debate about evolution is impossible. This runs to some 762 words, when of course a handful would have sufficed -- "because support of ID is not a rational position." But pundits bloviating about how intelligent design is about evidence, rather than faith and ignorance, is nothing new. The really choice part was this:
A century ago, physicists boasted of having solved all the major problems involved in studying the universe. The following year, their smugness collapsed when a patent clerk named Einstein published his paper on general relativity.
In other words, the theory of general relativity is not "just a theory," despite being almost definitionally unobservable by direct means -- the IDers playground-level "were you there? Did you see it?" comeback works particularly well on Einstein. And, of course, general relativity has certainly never been proven; rather, it's been rigorously tested and significantly not disproven, because that is how science works. But because you have to understand relativity quite well before you find that it conflicts with fundamentalist Christianity, Snow feels comfortable throwing it around as an example of scientific ego deflated. What a tool.

Luckily, the intelligent and eloquent guys are still on our side. Pharyngula's defense of secularism should be posted in every school, church, and courtroom; we should papier-mache the Capitol with it. Bora at Science and Politics just posted a pithy and perfect explanation of why he'll be teaching evolution -- because regardless of political and religious affiliations, "teaching biology without evolution is like teaching English without verbs." And of course there's Stephen Colbert, bless him (in a secular way, of course). Plus, I still haven't removed the coffee variable, so maybe I'm madder than I need to be (there's also the confounding factor of having gotten involved in an argument with someone who says that women should be treated like "prey" because they have a whole different chromosome and therefore are illogical and bad at math). But you know, I suspect that the state of the country, and all it implies for education and science and democracy, has something to do with it. Intelligent eloquent guys, talk louder!

Too Much Coffee Man is copyright Shannon Wheeler, please don't sue me, I buy tons of your books

4 Comments:

Sylvia said...

You don't have an e-mail address posted so this is just to let you know I added you to the Post-Normal Times blogroll. are or were you at UMD too? I was - now just a Ronin Geographer...

5/02/2006 12:27 PM  
jess said...

You know, I really hadn't thought about the fact that I should put an email address up. I need to make one @beepolicy.com, that would be snazzy.

I am at UMD until the end of the semester, and actually I grew up in Takoma Park, which I saw you mentioned in one of your posts (are you living there?).

5/03/2006 1:06 PM  
Julie Kinyoun said...

I agree with you about the Bush administration. What a shame that efforts to perform stem cell research are stifled in the name of ethics.
As far as ID goes- I come from a very very religious family but I really can't support a group of people who provide "evidence" in a circular fashion. I was at a "debate" (hardly even that) at Biola University that was the ID fold from Discovery Institute vs. some isolated scientists/journalists who agreed to come face-off (if you even want to admit they have a case) these idiots. Their arguments are not evidence. Their "arguments" are circular philosophical jargon to manipulate the minds of people who are not properly educated on the subject. James Hoffman from Fullerton put it really nicely when he said something like- As faulty as the Darwinian system of evolution is, it provides a genetic point of breakge between the chimp family and the human lineage(even though this species is yet undiscovered). They have actually been able to pinpoint places on the genetic code that support this break in the two species. What kind of "evidence" do you have to support the notion that this is untrue? The ID people were stumped and really did not provide a reasonable rebuttal.

6/03/2006 1:14 PM  
jess said...

The Darwinian system of evolution is faulty, but the Darwinian system of evolution is from the 19th century! Like the human race, our understanding of the mechanisms of natural selection has evolved to better accomodate our evidence. It's not even necessarily true that we haven't discovered the species at the breaking point of chimps and humans -- in fact, we may have too many of them. It is true that if you're looking for the transitional species between any two species, there will always be one missing -- it's a little like trying to completely fill in a number line. If you have 1 and 2, and you find 1.5, then you're responsible for finding 1.25 and 1.75, ad infinitum. For once, Zeno is right and it won't work. But only ID proponents insist on finding every transitional fossil (which is basically tantamount to finding the fossils of every organism that ever lived).

Your characterization of ID is precisely spot on. And in fact, one of its major faults is that when people who were raised religious don't like ID, they feel compelled to say "I come from a religious family, but." Despite constantly claiming to be a non-religious, scientific theory, IDers have made it so that people with religious faith feel they have to apologize for themselves if they come down on the side of science. I don't have a faith myself, but I believe in religious freedom for others -- and that means no IDiots telling them that if they want to accept God, they have to reject all scientific evidence. What an offensively limiting way to view religious belief -- that it actually requires you to be medievally ignorant.

Hell, even the Vatican doesn't like that move.

6/04/2006 12:33 PM  

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