On Darwin Day, Pushing the "Anti-Science" Panic Button
For Darwin Day, which fell yesterday, the "anti-science" meme got a good workout. That, of course, is the hysterical notion that people who doubt Darwin or catastrophic human-induced global warming are little better than Holocaust-deniers, which is why we are also tagged with the (surely intentional) echo phrase "science-deniers." The good part is that with Darwin-defenders, led by our friends at the National Center for Science Education, now so loudly making the connection between Darwin- and climate-skepticism, climate-skeptics who up till now haven't made the connection are more likely to do so. The move to squelch academic freedom on one is as determined as on the other.
Katherine Stewart at the Guardian and Kenneth Miller writing in the Huffington Post, among others, commemorated Darwin Day with what they took to be stinging rebukes of the benighted "anti-science" community, including the usual invocations of Dover-as-holy-writ and anguished prophecies that evolution skepticism lies behind widespread American science illiteracy. The latter will result in our being displaced from the leading role in international science education and research, replaced by the likes of India and China.
I'm struck again by the failure to wonder why "anti-science" views focus on some scientific questions and not others. What do Darwin, climate-change, embryonic stem-cell research and a couple more have in common? In fact, as I've written before, there are two things that unite the seemingly disparate objects of our skepticism. Above all, it is that their enforcers seek to enshrine in coercive public policy a false a picture of what being human means -- basically, no more than a clever animal -- that we know from our own experience to be untrue. That, and the observation that we keep finding defenders of orthodoxy to be caught up in propaganda and lies -- like the phony conflation of Biblical-literalist creationism with every other brand of Darwin-doubting.
Trying to worry us about our country's international status and prestige, Ken Miller writes, "Convince enough young Americans that science is a close-minded system with a particular cultural and political agenda, and we will cede leadership to emerging countries that don't share our Darwin hang-ups, and see science as the wave of the future." He takes it as a given that only an unreasonable person could ever perceive such an agenda.
It's interesting then to find one honest Darwinist, Hank Campbell of Science 2.0, frankly admitting that biology really is being twisted by beliefs that have nothing to do with science:
I was surprised, after Science 2.0 became a formal project almost six years ago, that while physicists wanted to talk about physics and psychologists wanted to talk about psychology, biologists mostly wanted to talk about religion. I assumed that was because Prof. P.Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota, best known as Pharyngula on Scienceblogs.com (and also once again on his own site), was popular. Bashing Republicans and religion was the It thing in blogging in 2006 and the bulk of Scienceblogs writers started doing the same thing because that was why their audience came. It was all about who to ridicule rather than science.It's still like that. At ENV, we consistently find that our critics are entirely willing to critique the presumed religious beliefs of Darwin skeptics -- a skewed, simplistic, cartoon version of their beliefs, anyway. Look at Jerry Coyne's blog, for example, which is obsessed with religion. It's a rare thing when we can get the Darwinists who spend so much time denouncing intelligent design to actually argue with us about the science. To argue with what we actually say, rather than a comforting fictive version, is even rarer. It almost never happens.
If a lot of Americans sense that some scientists and many journalists are hustling them, dodging a real debate and distracting the public with appeals to status anxiety, it should come as little surprise.
Photo credit: TranceMist, Flickr.