Monday, February 17, 2014

Iconoclasts Against Evolution

Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, has a blog at which he regularly fulminates against creationists and advocates of intelligent design. Reading over a few months of the blog this morning, I was struck by how much anti-evolution writing these days comes from people who are not religious but just hate all established dogma. Like the guy whose self-written bio says:
Kas Thomas is a longtime cognitive dissident and menace to sacred-cow-kind. A graduate of the University of California at Irvine and Davis (with degrees in biology and microbiology) and a former University of California Regents Fellow, Thomas has taught biology, bacteriology, and laboratory physics at the college level. He was on the Inventions Committee at Novell, Inc. and is the holder of seven U.S. software patents. He has a long and varied background in technical writing (most recently serving as a Technology Evangelist for Adobe Systems) and is in love with the word heterodoxy.
Kas Thomas is the sort of very clever person who loves pitting his own cleverness against orthodoxy. Except for atomic theory, evolution is probably the most important idea in modern science, so it is a big, fat target for professional unbelievers. Exactly how evolution happens is still the subject of much debate and a huge focus of ongoing research, so there are always disagreements and gaps that skeptics can latch onto. The fundamental logic of evolution is subtle and easy to misrepresent; there is a whole class of books dedicated to exposing the so-called circular logic of saying that evolution happens because the fittest survive, then defining fitness by survival. Arguments over group vs. kin selection turn on similar logical puzzles. So there is also ready fodder for contrarians to chew over.

But really essays by Thomas and his ilk only expose their own ignorance. There are millions of things about life that biologists can't (yet) explain. So? There are also millions of things that evolutionary theory does explain, and every time some creationist has come up with a feature of life that evolution supposedly could not create, biologists have been able to show how it could. Dwelling on the obscure details is in this case a distraction from the big picture, which is that evolution makes sense of the living world. Without it, there is only a random mass of data; with it, there is a living system interacting in ways that we can, with enough effort, come to understand.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

I have a tech friend who insists that evolution is guided by Mother Earth, and humans in particular evolved intelligence because Mother Earth wants to be able to protect herself from the next asteroid.


Remember, of course, that Coyne is selecting the arguments to which he responds. As a percentage of anti-evolution beliefs, these might be very small, but the iconoclasts have the advantage of putting forth different arguments against evolution. So 99% of people who argue against evolution are putting forth the same old arguments based in religion and confusion about the laws of thermodynamics, but the iconoclasts are, at least, winging it.