Thursday, October 2, 2008

Scientists Speak

I keep finding remarkable and salient things over on Professor P Z Myers' blog, Pharyngula.

Here's a fabulous YouTube clip he featured showing a Charlie Rose interview with two of the world's most renowned living scientists: James Watson, 1962 Nobel laureate for the co-discovery of the structure of DNA, and Harvard Professor Emeritus and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning biologist Edward O. Wilson. Their topic of discussion here is Charles Darwin, whom Watson calls "the most important person who ever lived."

I was struck by Watson's observation early on concerning the public's views on evolution. He says that there's no real point in discussing the numbers of people who "believe" in evolution versus those who don't, as the two camps are not moving in the same worlds. Those who claim not to believe in evolution are virtually all uninformed about the subject. It's not that they have taken courses on biology and genetics and then determined after thorough study that the evidence isn't there to support the conclusions; no, they START with an unwillingness to allow their worldview to be realigned to the reality which biology has uncovered for us. They are rejecting evolution rather than disbelieving it; belief isn't really germane to the subject.


dbackdad said...

"They are rejecting evolution rather than disbelieving it; belief isn't really germane to the subject." - I love that quote. That is so true and so applicable to a lot of concepts that the Right rejects, including global warming. They aren't disbelieving that those things are happening - Their worldview is dependant on those things not being true and so they reject them.

Karlo said...

I often wonder if this doesn't all harken back to that basic belief, instilled in all devout church-goers, that if they squint their eyes hard and fully believe in something, it'll come true. It worked for me until one night, while running through a pitch dark forest, I ran smack into a barbed-wired fence (which I didn't believe was there). I can vouch for the fact that things we don't believe in can indeed exist--and they have this funny way of causing much blood, pain, and suffering.

wunelle said...

I think this is religion's greatest deficit: it not only promotes an irrational explanation of natural phenomena, it requires anti-rationality to keep the house of cards up; this kind of thinking would have us extinct very rapidly if we let it spread into other realms.

This head-in-the-sand refusal to smell the coffee vis-a-vis global warming is a key example of how religious thinking poisons the larger world (along with homophobia and xenophobia and others).

Malaise Inc said...

I have another aspect to my online life that I keep separate from my blogging but revolves around the whole evolution vs creationism controversy. I am not a huge fan of PZ Myers. He does a great job skewering the anti-evolutionists, but tends to take a scorched earth approach to any person with religious beliefs that turns me off.

I tend to prefer the approach taken by Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture War. Ed, like me, is a deist and looks to find a peaceful medium between religion and science. We also share a fascination with American political history (although Ed is a bit purer of a libertarian than I am). Not surprisingly, Ed and PZ don't like each other much.

wunelle said...

I remember reading a few years ago about the animosity between Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould for their fractional differences in perception about how evolution works. It seemed awfully arcane to argue fervently about whether evolution is gradual or works in punctuated steps, but there they were.

Gould also believed that science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria, and Dawkins disagrees quite vehemently. I find myself always on Dawkins' side.

It's not his intractability per se that draws me to either Myers or Dawkins. But while secular policy changes will have to accommodate believers (while atheists have been blithely disregarded since day one), I'm heartened that someone is working from a perspective of philosophical purity. From an atheist's standpoint, the world is suffused thru and thru with religions, and few of them agree about anything; accommodation becomes an exercise in time-wasting futility, philosophically speaking. If one rejects the supernatural--or simply finds it utterly unsupported--then there is no ground for finding a "middle way," at least until one must hammer out policy.

I'll look up Ed Brayton.

shrimplate said...

There is no middle way. There is only the way. Call it the Tao of Evolution.