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Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Evolution Stump Speech
A friend phoned yesterday to discuss some family issues. The big problem: she's an urbane, successful, progressive-thinking, college-educated young woman. The rest of her family (viz. father, mother, sister) are more-or-less Christian fundies. And lately her dad's been badgering her about going to hell. Really, they believe she's going to hell.

Anyway, dad gave her some bullshit book about being a good modern-day Christian warrior that purports to refute all the falsehoods of the modern secular world. In accordance with my own dog-whisperer value-system, I told her it was time for her to set some "rules, boundaries, and limitations." One way to do that -- don't argue about topics like evolution or global warming. Just make it clear to dad or sister or whoever that the matter is settled among people who know and you are not going to debate whether or not you "believe" in these things. It's their responsibility to lift themselves out of their willful ignorance. Don't manage the problem. End it.

So here's my evolution stump speech. I've used it a couple times. But I've only ever got as far as the first couple points before my collocuter has either changed the subject -- or started screaming so insufferably that I had to leave.

Darwin's theory of evolution does not explain the origins of life, but it explains the evolution of life over 4 billions years and it explains the origins of species, including the human species.

Popular belief in some form of creationism in America ranges in the 60-80% range. Acceptance of the theory of evolution is lower, though, unaccountably, there is some overlap between groups. Even a number of people who accept the theory and recognize the facts underpinning evolutionary biology misunderstand them. Most people would fail a basic college exam testing their knowledge of the concepts of evolution.

Among the vast majority of experts in the biological sciences and the sciences generally, evolution is accepted as the cornerstone of biology. There is considerable debate among experts regarding many of the finer details of evolution. There is no debate among experts regarding the basic concepts of biological evolution and the theory of natural selection outlined by Darwin is accepted as fact, even when applied to human beings. There are a handful of cranks and ideologues with specialized training related to biology that challenge it. There is no meaningful debate, however, about its validity and there is no evidence that falsifies Darwin's basic theory.

Evolution is supported by evidence in all the sciences, including astronomy, the fossil record, carbon-dating, and genetics. It requires no paradox or disingenuousness to reconcile whatever religious document you choose as a historical artefact with the theory of biological evolution. On the other hand, the theory of evolution is wholly incompatible with a literal interpretation of any Christian bible. Biblical literalism requires the rejection of empirical evidence and proven hypotheses in all these fields.

Evolution is also accepted by both the state and, where it matters, the business community.

President Bush himself, though he caters to the religious right in this country as much as any national politician in return for their political support, will not make a public statement unequivocally denying human evolution because he would be rightly chastised by most educated people around the world and it would embarrass him even further in the eyes of history. His position: it's a matter of choice open to debate, let's promote a dialogue.2 This is an evasion.

The president's advisor on science, John H. Marburger, stated:

"Evolution is a cornerstone of modern biology... Much of the work supported by the National Institutes of Health depends heavily on the concepts of evolution. President Bush has supported the largest increases in the NIH budget in history."1

If you support President Bush, in full or in part, because you believe that he supports your belief in the literal truth of the Bible, you should be insulted by the weasally words he uses to evade the issue. If you appreciate the established scientific validity of evolutionary theory, you should be equally insulted.

A wager: I will bet all comers $50 that President Bush will not make a public statement in the next 12 months in which he unequivocally rejects human evolution. He may express doubt. He may give wishy-washy support to the teaching of Intelligent Design. But he will not reject it outright and he will try to avoid the issue in public and on the record as much as possible.

These points, as they relate to the validity of human evolution, are debatable only if you adopt a position of willful ignorance or dishonesty.

I am not a biologist or scientist, but I do hold a college degree and read widely. If you are a biblical literalist, I will not argue stupidly on the subject with you. Before I will discuss it any further, I ask you to explore the following topics:

human blood types
hox genes
carbon dating
The Documentary Hypothesis
The Pima Paradox
John Rock's Error

Read up on and comprehend the implications of these topics. After that, if you wish to discuss the matter, I will be happy to talk about it with you.

1 The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 5, 2004)
2 "George W. Bush, The Last Relativist", Slate (October 31, 2000)

Feel free to comment or makes suggestions for revisions below. Stupid or ill-informed comments may be deleted as a matter of taste.
Blogger clever_lazy comments:
Poor friend. I know exactly how she feels.
Blogger Tomohiro Idokoro comments:
More talking points against critics of evolution can be found here:

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsence (Scientific American)

And a good point about Behe's Darwin's Black Box is offered in this slashdot comment:

A bit of context, for the record