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.