18 December 2007

Reality Is Not Subject to Vote

Today, we have more evidence that creationist attacks on evolution are scientifically bankrupt, and are nothing more than a desperate appeal to the opinion of a misinformed public.

Last week, PZ Myers reported on comments by Florida Board of Education member Linda Taylor:
[Quoting Taylor:] I would support teaching evolution, but with all its warts. I think that some of the facts have been questioned by evolutionists themselves. I would want them taught as theories. That's important. They could be challenged by others and the kids could then be taught critical thinking and they can make their own choices.
Thank you, Linda Taylor. Warts: name two. Theory: define the term. Answer the following multiple choice question:
Who is best qualified to make informed choices about complex scientific theories?

A: Scientists with years of training in the subject, and qualified science teachers who understand the fundamentals of the theory.
B: Creationists who won't even commit to an estimate of the age of the earth.
C: Members of the board of education who have absolutely no training in the sciences.
D: Children who are just being introduced to the topic for the first time, haven't read any of the primary literature, and who are entirely dependent on the competence of the instructors who have given them an outline of the general story.
Today, creationist fuckwit Michael Egnor posts a response:
Because this is a democracy and Myers doesn’t actually get to dictate the choices, the question is really ‘fill in the blank,’ not multiple choice.

Here’s my suggestion for the answer to the question "Who is best qualified to make informed choices about complex scientific theories in public schools in Florida?":

The people of Florida, through their elected school boards.

Darwinists like Myers find democracy so frustrating.

Yes, because clearly the average Florida voter spends every other day simply immersed in the primary biology literature! They know so much about biology, it hurts!

Democracy doesn't get to determine science; the best it can do is decide how we (at the level of government and society) respond to science. No matter how much the creationists want everyone to get together and say evolution is wrong, you can't vote away reality.

We need government officials who recognize that distinction. Good leadership doesn't mean knowing all the answers. It means knowing where to find the answers and how to employ them. A responsible school board must defer to the scientific community, not public opinion nor their own meager understanding, for advice concerning the teaching of evolution. That's what PZ's questions are meant to demonstrate: The school board members most qualified to decide policy are those who recognize that scientists are most qualified to decide science.

The creationists, of course, don't want responsible leadership. Their only hope is that ignorance breeds ignorance, which is why they are constantly trying to sabotage our children's education.


Ben Cox said...

This is just another example of the fact that all societies construct their version of "reality" through consensus. Many people have accepted this about other cultures, but refuse to think it about their own.

On the flip side, we scientifically-minded folks also, in a sense, create our version of reality through consensus as well. That is to say, we don't have a precise idea of exactly how the world works (we'd be out of a job if we did) - but we do have volumes and volumes of incredibly accurate approximations.

But lest someone want to play devil's advocate with the above - although all human communities hold human-constructed world-views, criteria vary widely as to which pieces of evidence will warrant consensus. And the scientific method is, to my knowledge, the *only* extant hermeneutic to effectively weed out human cognitive interference.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me (vaguely) of a story from a long time back, when Chretien was Prime Minister of Canada, and national gay marriage was being debated. Really, a long time ago, maybe around when I was in grade 7 or so -- so I hope I'm telling the story correctly.

The thing is, he realized the majority of the population would still be against it, although of course there was a sizeable group who were pressing it as a human rights issue. Now, Chretien is Catholic; Canada's no better in its political leaders basically having to be religious to gain support, except they tend to be Catholic rather than Protestant, because of Quebec. So, you know that Chretien was personally opposed to gay marriage. But he had this brilliant quote which went along the lines of, if a referendum showed that most people in Canada were against gay marriage, he'd still push it through.

Most people I know in the states are horrified by that statement, and even a few in Canada are, too. A politician, leader of the country, openly saying on such a major issue that he didn't give a hoot what popular opinion was. It sounds paternal -- but sometimes, something is just *right*. And maybe gay marriage is a step away from Science, but it's still related to the religion/science thing in a way, albeit cloaked with culture.

Anyway, just a related thought.