I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins’ book The Ancestor’s Tale lately, and it’s fun stuff. I encourage you to track down a copy. In the meantime, here’s an essay Dawkins recently wrote for the Sunday Times of London: Creationism: God’s gift to the ignorant.
The whole creationism/evolution debate provides an interesting test-case of the objectivity I’m striving for in the post-manifesto lies.com. It helps clarify something that I think people (including some in the mainstream media) sometimes forget: Balance isn’t objectivity, and objectivity isn’t balance.
Back during the 2004 presidential campaign, there was a brief flurry of weblogger comment, both for and against, regarding a memo from ABC News director Mark Halperin, who wrote:
We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn’t mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides “equally” accountable when the facts don’t warrant that.
This led to Kevin Drum’s doing an actual comparison of the two candidates’ lies, on the basis of which he ended up concluding that “deception seems to be central to George Bush’s campaign while it’s basically peripheral to John Kerry’s.”
It’s a similar story with the evolution/creationism “debate.” The people who seriously examined this question 150 years ago fairly quickly reached a consensus that evolutionary explanations were superior to creationist ones. And evolution didn’t win because of some a priori bias; it was fiercely resisted, and only won because compelling evidence from scientific research in many different fields converged to corroborate it.
I recently took Michael Williams’ Master of None weblog out of my blogroll. More than anything else, it was Williams’ periodic postings attacking evolutionary theory and touting Intelligent Design proponents like Stephen Meyer that caused me to yank him. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be troubled to do the research required to identify such nonsense as nonsense, you don’t deserve a seat at the table.
There are many real mysteries in the world, and evolutionary explanations of human origins do not provide all the answers. Also, everyone’s judgement is clouded by bias, by the desire to pick out the confirming bits in the matrix of evidence and ignore the disconfirming bits as representing mere noise in the data. But that does not mean all explanations are equal. They’re not. And a respect for the diversity of human backgrounds and viewpoints doesn’t mean I need to give all opinions equal weight.
Creationist explanations of human origins represent a precious legacy from our ancestors. They embody unique insights preserved and passed on through thousands of years of written and oral tradition. They should not be ignored; they should be reflected on, cherished, and revered. They have important things to teach us.
But they’re not science. And just because some people choose to pretend that they are doesn’t mean I have to go along.