Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Faith has no anti-meme

Here is an email I received yesterday: I was listening to your show today (4/23) and your discussion about vampire bat saliva as an anti-coagulant used as the basis for formulating a new drug. In disseminating this factual information, you also stated that this anti-coagulant function in the vampire bat evolved over thousands of years, which I do not believe to be a fact, but conjecture. Do you know as a scientific fact that the vampire bat was not created with that ability? I'm very leery of evolutionists and their theories. Evolution, after all, is still a theory, and not a proven scientific fact. Although the theory of evolution may be generally accepted, it is still a theory. This fellow was kind enough to let me use this email, so I won't be mean. After all, he's not the first person to confuse me with alternative medicine guru Dr. Ronald Hoffman, nor can he help having the wrong idea about evolution. He's not alone: according to the Gallup folks, one third of Americans consider evolution to be 'one of many theories', 'not supported by evidence'. (One third do think evolution is backed by evidence, and one third stated they didn't know enough about it to have an opinion. Yay, US educational system!!) As a former scientist (can I call myself that? Or should I say, 'former scientist wannabe'?), I have a reasonably thorough knowledge of the nitty gritty details of evolution; I understand both the arguments Creationists use, and the proofs debunking those specious arguments. This format is far too limited to even scratch the surface. Besides, Mark Isaak's Talk Origins Archive has a stunningly exhaustive index of Creationist arguments and their rebuttals. (Regarding the one third of Americans who don't believe there is any empirical evidence backing the theory of evolution, see this page at the Talk Origins Archive for the exhaustive response.) HOWEVER. As a writer, I'm captivated by the letter-writer's use of the word theory. You see, scientists are saddled with a word whose common meaning is very nearly the antithesis of its proper scientific meaning. To the common man, just about any half-poached idea can warrant the label of theory. I have a theory that Brittney Spears is actually Orlando Bloom, cleverly disguised. See? All it takes to hatch this sort of theory is an imagination, and not a particularly good one at that. But to a scientist, a theory is far more than a random brain fart. Wikipedia has a somewhat vague discussion of 'theory'. The best bit of this discussion: a theory is a model of reality. A good theory explains aspects of our world, solar system, universe; a good theory enables us to make testable predictions regarding features of nature we have not yet investigated. A scientific theory is therefore not a hunch, guess, or hypothesis, as these are not generalizable to other aspects of nature. (My theory of Brittney Spears' true identity does not enable me to make predictions as to Michael Jackson's species.) Nor do scientific theories have an equal footing with religion, faith, or philosophy. Apples and origins, kids. Apples and origins. Is evolution a good theory? When it comes to the natural sciences, evolution has been an unparalleled success. It's a stupendous theory. That makes it somewhat less solid than real numbers and somewhat more solid than matter. Not that this will have any power whatsoever over the Creationists, for they possess something far more adamantine than the theory of evolution: they have faith. Faith is the arch-meme, the mega mind virus that trumps all others. Reason has no clout with faith. You might as well treat colon cancer with black coffee enemas. D.

2 Comments:

Blogger Pat said...

How to fix the formatting of the blue text
a treatise by Pat

Hey Doug:

Edit this post in HTML mode, and find the <pre> tag. Remove it, and you should find that your post looks much better.

4/28/2005 10:03:00 AM  
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