Tuesday, October 9, 2012

You Say You Want Some Evolution?

Let's get something straight : Evolution is a fact. You can make it happen in the laboratory; you can see the evidence in fossils; medicine deals with it every year when a new flu vaccine is necessary. What is theoretical and the subject of academic research is how evolution occurs, whether on a macro (e.g. species) or a micro (e.g. genetic) level. What is not the province of science is why evolution occurs. The question of why physics works the way it does isn't, either. These and similar "first cause" questions are the province of faith, or on a more academic level, theology.

One would think, then, that those having no faith, who worship no Supreme Being(s), would leave the issue of "belief" in evolution alone. Other than quite properly opposing the required teaching of "intelligent design" as science (because it isn't), they should simply take no interest in the topic, as a physicist takes no interest in others' belief in, say, gravity. They might, if pressed, politely decline to discuss it.

But no. The faction of "militant atheists" takes it on themselves to actively oppose religious faith, seeking to replace it with one--or none--of their own. They like to flatter themselves that theirs is the more "scientific" philosophy, despite the fact that atheism is no more defensible as a scientific position than the most rock-ribbed, Bible-thumping, hellfire and damnation Christian fundamentalism (or, for that matter, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, ancestor worship, animism, ....) Science depends on data; that is, the generation and testing of falsifiable empirical hypotheses. No form of faith or non-faith can do that. Faith is not about data, it's about belief. Faith is about certainty. Science is always skeptical.

Militant atheists don't believe in nothing, of course. In place of religion they have politics, today enrobed in the vestments of "progressivism."  They have their symbols, like the little "Darwin Fish" car ornaments and the "We have fossils--We win!" bumper stickers. These serve to proclaim their beliefs to the world just as the "Jesus Fish" ornaments and "Jesus Saves" bumper mottoes do.

The odd (from a logical perspective) thing is that these self-proclaimed scientific progressives display a marked reluctance to apply evolutionary reasoning to their own policies. In the writings of Dawkins (The God Delusion), Hitchens (God Is Not Great) and other prophets of non-belief there is scathing contempt for anyone who advocates for the intelligent design of physical and biological systems. And yet, the same people believe absolutely in the intelligent design of social and economic systems. That is, so long as they and their friends are the designers.* Both social behavior and the design, production, and delivery of goods and services are to be governed by a "higher power." Whether that power is royalty, the Politburo, the Department of Commerce or the EEOC, it's all the same. Call it divine right, fascism, socialism, communism, environmentalism or whatever, it all comes down to the control of society by a central authority. It is socioeconomic Lysenkoism,** an orthodoxy forcing itself on the rest of us, justified by pseudoscience. 

If one really took the principles of evolution seriously, what policies would make sense? In biology, random variation and selective retention is the principle explaining the adaptation of organic life to environments, including the appearance of entirely new kinds of organisms.  By analogy, any socioeconomic system seeking to optimize adaptation and growth must maximize the diversity of goods, services, ideas, and so forth so that those useful and satisfying to people would be chosen and those less so would not. In consumer products, education, housing, transportation, and so on, society should foster innovation---that is, variation--on which selective retention would work. The same goes for modes of life, philosophies, arts, entertainment and the like.

Darwin would recognize this idea. So would Adam Smith. Or Thomas Jefferson. Economically, it's called "free market capitalism." Socially, it's simply called "freedom," as in the Bill of Rights. Intellectually, it's called the "marketplace of ideas," what universities were supposed to be and so seldom are.*** 

The next time you're harangued by a militant atheist or some other progressive type you might ask them why they deny the validity of evolution by natural selection. Then you can explain, as above. You won't convert them, because ideologies are emotional, not reasoned.
But it's fun to watch them sputter and fume, and at the very least they'll quit annoying you.


The essay above was intended to be a poke at the militant atheists, not because I have anything in particular against atheism itself, but because the militants tend to be pompous jerks as well as leftist ideologues. I don't like either pompous jerks or ideologues, and when those two are conjoined that dislike is increased exponentially. As luck would have it, though, on Saturday we all heard that Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) delivered the opinion that both evolution and the Big Bang theory were "...lies from the pit of Hell..." I'm not sure if he dismissed the heliocentric view of the Solar System as well, but wouldn't be surprised.

I have no argument with people of faith, whatever faith that might be, and ask only that they show the same respect for others and their rights that they expect for themselves. However, 
there is a limit. When religious doctrine (or any other ideology) is presented as fact, and the ideas of science deformed to fit that doctrine, that limit is shattered. Broun also presents himself as a scientist, which he most emphatically is not. He's an MD. They tend to be smart people, and certainly do critical work, but the work of an MD is most similar to that of an engineer or a technician. They use the results of science, certainly, but they don't do science.
Yes, MDs do research, sometimes even well, but so do engineers and automotive tuners. As important as that all is, it's not science.

Broun, in fact, denies by his statement the scientific basis for every advance in medicine since Louis Pasteur. One wonders, for instance, where he thinks his vaccines come from, if he in fact uses them. Perhaps he's given up medicine, since it relies on devilish theories, and has taken up faith healing instead.  It's no wonder the militant atheists target people like Broun; they're easy. Calling attention to the atheist's similar failings and inconsistencies when Broun and his friends insist on being silly in public is a little like fighting a war while allied with France. 

* Academics are particularly prone to this fallacy.
** If you don't know about this, you really, really should. Start here:
*** See "The New Plantation," if you haven't already.


  1. Hello all,
    I am Jack's younger son, and I am an MD. I just wanted to clarify that some MD's are scientists, some (like myself) are not. The MD training itself does not train one to be a scientist, but this training is sometimes undertaken in parallel with medical training or is done beforehand or afterward. Some complete all the requirements for a PhD, but others do not; the PhD is not necessary to "do science." Having and MD does not mean one is a scientist, but it also does not mean that one is not a scientist.

    There are a lot of MD's out there, so it is almost inevitable that some are going to be idiots.

    As for Paul Broun, I find it embarrassing that he is an MD and fairly disturbing that he has been elected to national public office. Yes, militant atheists can be annoying as well, but they'd have a fair amount of trouble getting elected to any office outside of cities like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, or Boulder.

    Zach Feldman, M.D.

  2. Faith is the belief in something that can't be proven by the senses. If we can't see, hear, feel, taste or smell it but still believe in it then we are doing so by faith.

    Take electricity for example. We all have faith in electricity. We can't see it, we can't smell it, we can't feel it, we can't smell it and we surely can't hear it but we have faith that when we turn on the light switch it will be there to make the filament glow.

    Before you type out the rebuttal you're probably already framing let me clarify a few things.

    Seeing electricity. Lightning is the ionization of the atmosphere, plasma if you will. The lights you use at work, in your house etc. are either a filament that has heated up to until it glows (incandescent), a gas that is heated up until it glows (flourescent, neon, Sodium Vapor, Metal Halide, Cold Cathode) or lately a diode that is heated up until it glows (LED).

    That distinctive smell of burning electrical? That's components folks, not electricity it'self.

    Oh! But I can feel electricity! My cousin got shocked and he/she described a tingling/burning feeling. The tingling is from alternating current, it's a pulse. The burning is from direct current and is where you tried to cook yourself. What your cousin felt was the passage of electricity from pole to pole or pole to ground. You can't touch it like water or your neighbor's cat.

    Taste? That coppery taste is your blood reacting to the passage of electricity through your body.

    But what about that humming sound? Once again it's the reaction of other things when electricity passes through it. In this case a transformer or motor.

    It's still electrical theory for a reason. We don't have the science figured out. We have built a science around what little bit we understand. There is in fact a difference.


I welcome your comments.