Saturday, August 20, 2005

Plumeting Into the Black Hole of Ignorance

It almost appears that the San Francisco Chronicle's Jon Carroll had the New York Times's Jodi Wilgoren in mind when he wrote on Friday, August 19, about people who have learned to take advantage of the habit among American journalists of writing pieces that lay out "both sides" of an argument or issue--even if there are multiple sides or, more to Carroll's point, even if the "other side" is invented. Carroll uses "intelligent design" as an example, and it's a good one. As virtually every marginally sentient being who has looked at this "controversy" knows, "intelligent design" is not a theory; it's not even a particularly intelligent critique of evolutionary theory---and to say that is not to deny the right of people to believe anything they want about the origin of feces, but it is to say that they can't teach bogosity in schools, as if it were in any way credible. (Well, let's say they shouldn't be able to and avoid getting into the pathetic state of American schools.)

As if to prove Carroll's point, Wilgoren has a massive article in the Sunday Times, titled "Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive" and subtitled "A Debate Over Darwin." Wilgoren's piece has some interesting material on the Discovery Institute and other purveyors of "unintelligent design," but the basic premise is wrong. Wilgoren gives a nod to the fact that there is no scientific debate, and then skates right on by to discuss the "controversy," the two-sided argument. Wilgoren writes: [Advocates of intelligent design] have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive."

Wilgoren's own incomprehension surfaces in passages like this: "As much philosophical worldview as scientific hypothesis, intelligent design challenges Darwin's theory of natural selection by arguing that some organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone, pointing to the possibility of supernatural influences. While mutual acceptance of evolution and the existence of God appeals instinctively to a faithful public, intelligent design is shunned as heresy in mainstream universities and science societies as untestable in laboratories." Evolutionary theory is difficult to test in laboratories, too, which is one reason the proponents of unintelligence attack it.

Wilgoren needs to read the literature, starting with the article by H. Allen Orr in the May 30, 2005 New Yorker, which I mentioned a few blogs ago. There is nothing to test. "Unintelligent design" is an assault on the values of the Enlightenment, specifically, in this case, rational inquiry into the nature of the universe--and make no mistake, the "big bang" is next--and life. Darwin and evolutionary theory will survive, even if the schools of America adopt the fundamentalist Christian version of the Taliban's fundamentalist Islam, but a lot of people will suffer, beginning with the school children, whose intellectual growth is already stunted by Antediluvian curricula. But John Scopes and Clarence Darrow are surely rolling in their graves. Wilgoren's piece represents another setback for quality journalism and intelligence.

The Times apparently is using Wilgoren's piece as the introduction to a whole series on "unintelligent design," a topic to which it has already paid too much attention.

We are plummeting into the black hole of ignorance.

1 comment:

riverheart said...

At least the Times printed an "editorial observer" piece today (23 Aug)that brought the "debate" back to the scientific reality. What exactly the difference is between an editorial, a guest editorial, and an editorial observer is not clear to me.