Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Unexpected Follow-Up to the Inevitable Sequel to the Inevitable Entry About Evolution

I just can't let this one go.

See, here's the thing: 42% of Americans believe in creationism (In the study I've linked, the statment is actually, "believe that living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time"). That's compared to 26% of them that believe in natural selection, 18% who believe in Intelligent Design, and 14% who don't know. And that's to say nothing of the 64% of people who are at minimum open to having both creationism and evolution taught together in school.

Calvino: Well, sure. But can't you imagine a somewhat useful lesson in reason and argument steming from a comparison of the arguments of creationism versus evolution?

The Stoat: Um...no? The entire argument of creationism and/or intelligent design is "It's because of God." Any counter argument you might try and make is dismissed as your own lack of faith, or that you're speaking with the tongue of the devil in an attempt to test the faith of the true believer.

Calvino: Well, yes, but this wouldn't be that situation. This would be a school lesson. It's not a useful science class, but if you grant the initial supposition that an intelligent demiurge is responsible for everything you see here, you can then create a rhetorical lesson in which you explore the basic assumptions of the creationist argument. For instance, why would an intelligent guiding creator include vestigial organs like the appendix, or the remnants of a tail, in the finished product? What about organs like the spleen or the gall bladder: functional, but not essential? Why do we share nearly all our genetic material with simians--did God create humans and then get lazy and just recycle most of his work? Most importantly, what about the most egregious design flaw of all: why is it that when you bite your tongue, the part you bit swells up so that you just bite it again?

The Stoat: Yeah, but can you imagine how many school districts in America would actually present creationism this way, given a mandate to teach it?

Calvino: Hmm...probably an embarrassingly small minority.

The Stoat: Probably.

At the end of all of this, you've got 60% of the people in this nation who believe something that is contradicted not only by current scientific thinking but, as I've said in a previous post, rudimentary observation of onesself and ones surroundings. At least more people believe in evolution than in Intelligent Design, but still. Evolution is apparently really hard to accept for reasons that I think have as much to do with a need for narrative as devotion to religious zealotry.

L. has created quite a cogent model of the universe based on the idea of narrative (if indeed she ever starts blogging, her URL will probably be "itsbecauseofnarrative.blogspot.com"). It basically states that you can determine the rightness or validity of a particular viewpoint by whether or not it works as narrative. You can, e.g., tell that conservatism, as it's practiced in this country, is wrong because it makes crappy narrative. You cannot name one good story that has ever been written by anyone in history that you'd ever want to read, she would say, where what you learn is that supply side economics is the moral of the story and because of it everyone lives happily ever after.

Calvino: What about Atlas Shrugged?

The Stoat: You actually want to read Atlas Shrugged?

Calvino: Good point.

I myself subscribe to what you might call The Weak Narrative Principle. I'm a pretty poor judge of what makes for good narrative anyway. I think (and I'm quoting myself here) that we're all always already creating narrative for ourselves. It's not because we're bad or egocentric, it's just how we make sense of the universe and our place in it. When faced with information that contradicts the narrative one has created for ones self, one can a) ignore it (e.g. creationism vis a vis the fossil record), b) attempt to fit the new information into the existing narrative ("The fossil record has been placed there by God/The Devil in order to test my faith"), or c) toss the narrative and create a new one (I can't think of a catchy quote for this one. "Um...whoa dude. Like, I just totally bagged my heretofore unshakeable model of the universe." See, it's difficult to sound-bite The Truth). The reason, I think, that only a quarter of the population of this country accepts evolution as the explanation for life on earth is that it's absolutely narrative shattering. There's pretty much no way to both construct a linear narrative that begins out of nothingness and winds up at you at the same time that you accept the swirling chaos that is the evolutionary model. At least, as we say here at The Odds Are One, not without living with a fair amount of cognative dissonance on the subject.

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