Creationism

There has been an awful lot of fuss recently about people believing in, or not being sufficiently sceptical of, creationism.  Sarah Palin has drawn huge amounts of criticism for saying she believed in creationism, and the director of education at the Royal Society has been forced to resign for stating that creationism should be discussed rather than excluded from school science lessons.

My question is: why all the fuss about creationism?

Now let me first state, I think the whole notion of creationism is barking mad and goes against a whole raft of scientific evidence not to mention basic common sense.  And I don’t think it’s a subject which should be taught in science lessons, although I think the outrage expressed at the mere suggestion that the subject should be discussed says more about creationism’s critics than its proponents.

But of all the stupid, ignorant, and unscientific ideas that are out there, creationism doesn’t strike me as being any less stupid, ignorant, or unscientific than a lot of ideas that pass for conventional wisdom.  Socialism being a viable form of economic management over market capitalism, for instance.  How many instances of teachers believing in and teaching the virtues of socialism over capitalism occur in our schools?  It’s not like there hasn’t been full-scale experimentation carried out on the subject, when we consider the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and North Korea.  I remember being taught by a Glaswegian geography teacher that agricultural communes in China – the type which ensured Chinese never grew enough to eat – was a viable alternative to the type of farming practiced in the west.  Is this any more stupid, in the face of all the evidence, than creationism?

Sarah Palin believes in creationism, and she might one day be president.  Yet the incumbent president, and our own glorious leaders, believe in trade tariffs.  Putting all the evidence together on a table, which belief is more irrational?  And which belief causes more harm?

Sarah Palin chooses to defy scientific findings, close her ears, and believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago.  Most of the world’s leaders choose to defy an awful lot of scientific findings, close their ears, and believe the earth is heating up uncontrollably, and we the public must stump up billions in taxes to do something about it.  Which is the more irrational?  And which is most likely to cause me, you, and everyone else serious harm?

Yes, Sarah Palin is ignorant of scientific methods and findings.  As are most people.  The average Brit’s understanding of science is bordering on non-existent.  Last time I looked at a GSCE science paper, it required students to look at a picture of a thermometer and write down the temperature it read.  I believe that a requirement to balance a chemical equation disappeared from the chemistry syllabus years ago, and I have little confidence that a majority of the public would know the chemical formula of water.  Ask people how long ago they think dinosaurs lived, and calculate the variance of the answers.  Who do you know who can explain why the sky is blue?  Or leaves are green?  And what’s the difference between wavelength and frequency?

Just for fun, I’ll throw in this anecdote.  When I was staying in Owens Park hall of residence in Manchester the TV reception in my room was awful, but was okay if I dangled my small internal aerial out of the window.  One of the tutors collared me and told me to bring it inside.  Because it was dangerous.  Apparently, if it rained, sparks could come off the wire and cause a fire.  I fear that in general people’s understanding of science and engineering isn’t much more advanced than this.

So I find it a bit ironic that people who inhabit a country where scientific ignorance is rife amongst the general population and its politicians (who endorse expensive regulations to eliminate substances in quantities proven for centuries not to harm us) should castigate a vice-presidential candidate for believing in something unscientific.

But I find it baffling that it is creationism which, out of all the stupid beliefs which are out there, gets held up as the one which demonstrates unsuitability for public office.  Whereas economic idiocy is no barrier to entry.

Like I said, I’m baffled.

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8 Responses to Creationism

  1. c2 says:

    Amen. What is the big deal? All of our candidates believe that a virgin gave birth, water was turned to wine, the dead can be resurrected, etc.,etc., etc. Why is the subject of creationism from the Bible so laughed upon when believed to be true, while the belief of all of these other stories, which are also scientifically impossible, a prerequisite to higher office? If you believe in an all-powerful God in Heaven, and you believe he can perform magical, counter-scientific acts on Earth, than all bets on science are off – anything can be true.

  2. Alisa says:

    C’mon, you are not really baffled, are you:-)

    BTW, I have not actually seen Palin say that she believes in creationism (although there is probably a good chance she does), only that she thinks that it can be discussed in schools.

  3. Kolya says:

    “Why is the subject of creationism from the Bible so laughed upon when believed to be true, while the belief of all of these other stories, which are also scientifically impossible, a prerequisite to higher office?”

    But those religious beliefs are not being taught in US public schools. The problem, as I see it, is that some want to teach in biology classes both creationism and evolution as competing theories. As far as I know no curriculum in US public schools teaches Marxism as a viable alternative to capitalism.

  4. c2 says:

    I agree that teaching creationism in school is a problem, but this article is about whether Palin “believing” in it should be an issue. My point is that that belief is no more outrageous than the other “accepted” stories in Christianity.

  5. Sergei says:

    Tim, another marvelous post. Thanks! One point on socialism. I tend to agree that “Socialism being a viable form of economic management over market capitalism” is an idea that failed the test. However, I do think there are (rarely!) societies that practice socialism and are competitive. My best example is – Hutterites. These guys are 100% communists in terms of private property (or rather its absence) – and so successful economically that laws were passed to limit their economic expansion. Kibbutzim could be another example although I do not know enough to have an opinion. Puritans in New England; Mormons? probably some other obscure communal creeds?
    These very rare occurrences, I think, prove the notion that socialism CAN be successful — but only when the society is driven by non-economical interests. Essentially, when people work for god, not because of greed (one can argue that they still think they will be reimbursed – in another life). Greed as a motivator of hard work is suppressed. It is rare. Probably temporary. But it happens.
    Just proves the general point that socialism does not work, because it tries to ignore the universal motivator.

  6. Squander Two says:

    Hey, Tim.

    You remind me of this piece, which I always thought summed it all up pretty well. I’ll spoil it for you by quoting the ending:

    Invited to choose between a president who is (a) a patriotic family man of character and ability who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) an amoral hedonist and philanderer who loathes the military but who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose? Are you kidding?

    Something I notice is that those who deride the Creationists very rarely understand evolution to any degree greater than “We evolved from chimps.” Ask them to explain why giraffes have long necks, and their attempts at an explanation tend to be dire. And none of them have a clue what sexual selection is. And they usually believe that evolution is a random process. They just haven’t a clue. In my experience, Creationists tend to understand evolution quite a bit better than your average member of the public; they just disagree with it. I’m not sure I can figure out which is worse.

  7. Alisa says:

    Sergei, socialism (or any other system) can work as long as it is: a. 100% voluntary, and b. the state is 100% uninvolved. As far as I am aware, this is indeed the case with Hutterites. As far as kibbutzim are concerned, no one was ever forced to live there, but they were heavily subsidized by the state until as late as 20 years ago or maybe less. And I do know more than enough to tell you that they became a complete and total failure, once the subsidies have stopped. Consequently they had to reform, and these days there are almost no traces of socialism left there, except in some out-of-habit rhetoric.

  8. bhuiyan says:

    I guess it’s an American cultural thing. We’re ok with believing in creationism (usually, although we’ll snicker at politicians who claim they do), but teaching it in schools is a wedge issue (i.e intelligent design) and brings out our nasty side. Separation of Church and State is a bid deal for us

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