Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Commanding the Army of the Night

This will come as no surprise to those following the issue, but it is still an important event. Yesterday, Bush decided to weigh in on the problem of whether "Intelligent Design" (ID) should be taught in U.S. public schools. His answer was that 'schools should teach both theories on the creation and complexity of life'. Displaying his usual mastery of doublespeak, Bush then 'declined to state his personal views on ID'. This way Bush narrowly avoided joining other world leaders, like Joseph Stalin and Pope Benedict XVI, in their rejection of evolution and natural selection.

I could point out many problems with Bush's statements, not least that ID is no scientific theory. But I prefer to illustrate just how tiring this debate is by repeating the words of another scientist, writing over 20 years ago:

To those who are trained in science, creationism seems like a bad dream, a sudden reliving of a nightmare, a renewed march of an army of the night risen to challenge free thought and enlightenment (Isaac Asimov, 1981)

Asimov was writing about a similar debate over the predecessor of ID, called "scientific creationism" by people who knew nothing about science. However, the parallels are all too clear:

The creationist leaders [...] have to borrow the clothing of science, no matter how badly it fits [...]. We cannot, however, take this sheep's clothing seriously. However, much [they] might hammer away at their "scientific" and "philosophical" points, they would be helpless and a laughing stock if that were all they had.

It is religion that recruits their squadrons. Tens of millions of Americans, who neither know nor understand the actual arguments for - or even against - evolution, march in the army of the night with their Bibles held high. And they are a strong and frightening force, impervious to, and immunized against, the feeble lance of mere reason.

It would seem that we evolutionary biologists are locked in a kind of Red Queen effect: "it takes all the running" we "can do to keep in the same place".

Update: For more critical posts on this see Pharyngula.