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The evolution of Palin: Is the battle over evolution a struggle against science, or a proxy war with the state?

September 8th, 2008 4 comments

In the context of a review of the focus on “creationism” that Alaska governor Sarah Palin has injected in the presidential election, Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, has attempted to explain (in The Financial Times, oddly enough) to his readers in the UK the strange American politics of “intelligent design”.  While insightful, Caldwell has missed an important part of the bigger picture (which few Americans seem to have grasped).

Caldwell’s key points are below; I follow with my own views.

“The point of intelligent design is to take science down a peg. To warn enthusiasts that they risk “discrediting science itself” is a bit dense. For them, evolution is a potent symbol of the way “scientific materialism” leaves people feeling demeaned, disenfranchised, stripped of prerogatives and less free. This feeling is not groundless. Dostoyevsky and Marx said similar things. The scientific world-view poses challenges to religion only in the course of posing challenges to a whole lot besides. To take one obvious example: fewer offices permit smoking today, but it is a stretch to call this a choice. In the US, at least, there was little democratic participation in the decision. There was scientific research and then there were mandates from health boards and courts. Maybe these mandates were “all to the good”. That does not make them democratic.

“The anti-evolution activists in America’s small towns are wrong on the science – but wrong in a way that is of absolutely no consequence to them unless they choose a career in horse-breeding or molecular biochemistry. Their feelings of disenfranchisement, on the other hand, are real and consequential. Experts control an ever larger share of decisions about where roads can be built, what people can ingest, what can be taught and whether the decisions of democratic bodies pass constitutional muster. Like so much else in US public life, the battle over evolution is a class conflict disguised as a religious or moral conflict. It is comforting to look at the fight over evolution as one that pits the educated against the ignorant. It is that. But it is also a fight that pits technocrats against democrats.”

Roger Pielke Jr., a science policy analyst (who comments frequently on climate change matters) posted the above paragraphs without comment other than to praise Caldwell’s “incisive analysis”; I cross-post below verbatim my own comments to Roger:

Roger, I’d say that Caldwell has a thoughtful analysis, but it misses at least as much as it sees.

Some of what Caldwell misses is captured by Francois’ fears about a “scientist caste” that depends on public funding and is seen as part of a rigid, “dictatorship-like” social order who presume to have “ultimate authority”.

Caldwell is closest when he notes the feelings of disenfranchisement by “the anti-evolution activists in America’s small towns”, but this is NOT a “class conflict disguised as a religious or moral conflict”. Rather, it is a struggle between local parental choice over what their children are taught and state and federal governments and courts, on a battle ground created by the continued legacy role of governments in providing public education.

One simply does not see the creationist debate in private schools, and if state governments ever got out of the business of being educators (as opposed to providing support to parents to have their children educated in schools of their choice), the whole issue would disappear. As a legal matter, the legal battle is about the separation of church and state – if the state isn’t the educator, then the issue dries up. If we left school choice and education up to parents, most parents would prefer the best education. So the problem is chiefly one of parents being upset that organs of governments over which local parent have little influence – courts, legislatures and distant bureaucracies (Caldwell’s “technocrats”) – trump parental rights. This in turn is played into a larger power struggle between the rights of local government and more distant state and federal ones.

While the teaching profession itself leans Democrat, the NEA doesn’t run the courthouses or state houses, so this is hardly a “class” struggle. That does seem to be somewhat of a meme from the Right, however – that the evolution debate is about Godless communist lefties trying to dictate to small-town America. The irony, of course, is that while Republicans like to foster that resentment (as well as other resentments and fears – of ragheads, enviros, gays and French-speakers) for political gain, Republicans have consistently exacerbated the real concerns of small-town America by further federalizing education, increasing the power of federal government and doing nothing to put political power back in the hands of local citizens.

Climate science: a Fundamentalist/creation science approach (update)

October 29th, 2007 1 comment

For convenience of reference, I`ve excerpted from the long “Malthus and Mein Kampf” thread (http://blog.mises.org/archives/007152.asp) those portions of the exchange of posts I and others had with Fundamentalist that relate to creation science. [This is a re-post – as the first wouldn’t format correctly. Some formatting has been lost.]

 

Philemon: “You know they throw out the high outliers on the ice core data.” Good point. Did you see the documentary on PBS about the guys who rescued the WWII P-38’s from Greenland? Or maybe it was Iceland. Anyway, the planes are about 200 ft below the surface of the ice, which would make them about a thousand years old using the standard dating methods used with ice cores.
Posted by: Fundamentalist at October 4, 2007 8:43 PM

 

Roger, with your mention of the P-38s I now see why you’ve changed your handle to Fundamentalist! A little Googling shows that most mentions of the P-38s are connected to Creationists’ refusal to accept the idea that the Earth is older than 7000 years – can you please tell me that you are not in this group? Can you point me to any scientist who seriously doubts the ice core aging or our basic data captures from them? And do intend to seriously argue that the conditions of the active glaciers in Greenland’s southern coasts where the P-38s landed, which experience heavy snowfalls, bear any resemblance to the high, stable and much drier ice caps on Greenland or Antarctic wheere the ice cores are taken from? http://www.groupsrv.com/science/about36638.html http://www.evcforum.net/cgi-bin/dm.cgi?action=msg&f=8&t=67&m=62

That you can even throw this into the discussion makes me seriously question your “fundamental” seriousness. TT
Posted by: TokyoTom at October 4, 2007 10:30 PM

 

Fundamentalist, By the way, you neglected to share your thoughts on how old the ice cores (and the Earth) actually are – 7000 years tops? Regards, TT
Posted by: TokyoTom at October 5, 2007 10:22 PM

 

TT: “By the way, you neglected to share your thoughts on how old the ice cores (and the Earth) actually are – 7000 years tops?” 100,000 years tops, based on the research of the Institute for Creation Research. In case anyone is interested, the scientiests at the ICR call GW a hoax. They have a good article at www.icr.org/article/3233.
Posted by: Fundamentalist at October 6, 2007 7:39 PM

 

Fundamentalist/Roger: Thanks for the cite to mis-named “The Institute for Creation Research” in response to my question to you about the age of the ice cores. I appreciate your courage in confirming (albeit indirectly) that you are approaching the issue of climate change from the perspective of a Creationist.

I’ve taken a stroll through the ICR site and, in the interst of clarifying what the ICR is about and their views on AGW, attach below some excerpts of their views their “work” on the age of the Earth, climate science and man’s duties as steward of Creation. My view is that the ICR’s work is seriously skewed by the view that the Bible is an accurate historical record that tells us that the Earth is less than 7000 years old. Their persistence is admirable, but their approach cannot be fairly said to be either open-minded, clear thinking or scientific – nor does it confirm, Roger, that “the scientists at the ICR call GW a hoax”.

Nevertheless, I certainly agree that the Bible can provide valuable moral guidance about mankind’s role in the world and our obligations to the rest of God’s creation as His appointed stewards. My question to you, Roger, is whether, in trashing many parts of the Garden of Eden through a race – uncontrolled by clear ownership by individuals of large portions of it – to use, take, liquidate or dump our wastes in it without regard to others (much less to the rest of Creation), can we fairly regard ourselves as being good “stewards” of it? If you owned a large and rare property, Roger, let it out to tenants for a span of years and came back and found that they had trashed large parts of it and were still at work at it (except where some had started to fence parts off) – would YOU be happy? (Or would praise them and say that they had done absolutely the right thing, since the property really meant nothing to you and you had intended its destruction, and had come back to bring your friends with you to a better place?) Given your Creationist approach, I am see definite limits to the possibility of fruitful engagement with you on issues of climate science, but am more than willing to continue to explore further with you the moral aspects of man’s impact on Creation and our obligations to each other and with respect to that Creation. Respectfully, Tom

PS: Here are the excerpts from The Institute for Creation Research and its scholars:

God’s written, historical revelation of truth — the inspired text of Scripture — provides a framework for numerous intellectual pursuits and a philosophy for understanding man’s role as steward over creation. http://www.icr.org/article/3337/

The Bible, by contrast, paints a radically different picture of our planet’s history. In particular, it describes a time when God catastrophically destroyed the earth and essentially all its life. The only consistent way to interpret the geological record in light of this event is to understand that fossil-bearing rocks are the result of a massive global Flood that occurred only a few thousand years ago and lasted but a year. … The bottom line of this research is that the case is now extremely compelling that the fossil record was produced just a few thousand years ago by the global Flood cataclysm. The evidence reveals that macroevolution as an explanation for the origin of life on earth can therefore no longer be rationally defended. http://www.icr.org/article/117/10/

ICR has become a major numerical research center in paleoclimatology. http://www.icr.org/research/index/researchp_misc_climate_modeling/

However, some creationist models predict significant quantities of snow immediately after the Flood (Oard, 1990). Perhaps as much as 95% of the ice near the poles could have accumulated in the first 500 years or so after the Flood. From a creationist perspective, it would be extremely valuable to thoroughly explore these ice-core data. … We would expect considerably higher precipitation rates immediately following the Flood. … Nothing in the ice-core data from either Greenland or Antarctica requires the earth to be of great age. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that the ice cores are revealing important information about conditions following the Flood of Genesis and the recent formation of thick ice sheets. Reports of ice-core data containing records of climatic changes as far back as 160,000 years in the past are dependent upon interpretations of these data which could be seriously wrong, if the Genesis Flood occurred as described in the Bible. http://www.icr.org/index.php?module=articles&action=view&ID=355

Based on these limited observations, it appears likely that global warming seems to be occurring over at least the past 30-50 years…. These data do not address the question about man’s part in causing the warming trend. It is true that increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere would be expected to increase the greenhouse effect and possibly cause warming. In fact, the current warming trend may be returning our global climate closer to that prevalent in the Garden of Eden. … Earth has a stable environmental system with many built-in feedback systems to maintain a uniform climate. It was designed by God and has only been dramatically upset by catastrophic events like the Genesis Flood. Catastrophic climate change will occur again in the future, but only by God’s intervention in a sudden, violent conflagration of planet Earth in the end times (II Peter 3:1-12). http://www.icr.org/article/3233/

The Creator designed the earth well, with built-in feedback mechanisms to handle any crises. There is coming a time, however, when excessive heat will be a problem (see Revelation 16:8-9), and these fluctuations may be a foreshadowing, but that too is in God’s hands. http://www.icrmedia.org/article/3336/

In biblical terms, the disease is sin, curable only by regeneration through the work of the Holy Spirit, which is made possible by the love of God the Father expressed in the substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. In human terms, the disease is a naturalistic worldview, curable only by embracing a genuinely theistic worldview that acknowledges the Creator. http://www.icr.org/article/3474/

The whole of creation is now running down and wearing out. “The earth shall wax old like a garment” (Isaiah 51:6), and man’s sinful nature has disrupted man’s relationship to the environment. The sin of Adam, which we all inherit, was one of rebellion against God’s rules, and man, ever since, has made his own rules. This results in selfishness (and therefore exploitation), the refusal of man to practice love to his fellow man and other creatures, as well as poor stewardship of His creation, and man’s desire to serve his own personal ends. … But man is not a perfect steward anymore. Even though the resources which God created are there for our use, man now often exploits these resources at the expense of his fellowman, and causes needless loss and destruction of other parts of God’s creation. Surely this is wrong! [TT: Amen to that!] http://www.icr.org/article/678/
Posted by: TokyoTom at October 6, 2007 9:12 PM

 

TT: “I appreciate your courage in confirming (albeit indirectly) that you are approaching the issue of climate change from the perspective of a Creationist.” Actually, I didn’t know the ICR had done research on GW until this week. I have been studying it since the late 1980’s. And it doesn’t take much courage to stand up for the truth. The scientists at the ICR are very good scientists. Some are from MIT and other top universities. One worked as a physicist for the Sandia Labs for many years. They’re rejected by the mainstream of the scientific community, not because their bad scientists, but because they refuse to drink the coolaid of evolution.

Being in the minority doesn’t bother me as it does some. The majority is often wrong. Jesus said the path to the truth is narrow and few people find it. If I wanted to be with the majority on religion I’d have to be a Muslim. I studied mainstream econ, even gained a masters degree in it, then discovered it was wrong on most things. That’s why I became an Austrian, another group that’s shunned by the mainstream. I believe that if Austrians would study the science of Creationism with an open mind and with the analytical skills they have learned as Austrians, they would become creationists, too.

TT: “the Bible is an accurate historical record that tells us that the Earth is less than 7000 years old.” That’s not true. A 29th century theologian calculated that the earth was 6,000 years old based on his understanding of the chronologies of the Bible. The Bible never states how old the earth is. Similar scholars have calculated 10,000 years for the age of the earth. I don’t know how old the earth is, but the scientific research at the ICR indicates it’s not more than 100,000 years old.

TT: “If you owned a large and rare property, Roger, let it out to tenants for a span of years and came back and found that they had trashed large parts of it…” Of course I would be unhappy. When that happens to the earth, let me know.
Posted by: Fundamentalist at October 6, 2007 11:23 PM

 

Roger: A few points:

1. “The scientists at the ICR are very good scientists.” “the scientiests at the ICR call GW a hoax. They have a good article at www.icr.org/article/3233.” “I don’t know how old the earth is, but the scientific research at the ICR indicates it’s not more than 100,000 years old.”

Hmm. Since the ICR is a Creationist organization dedicated to the propositions that the Bible is “God’s written, historical revelation of truth”, that God actively intervenes in history through events such as the Flood and to demonstrating that evolution is the “Koolaid” that unthinking scientists and other ignorant the world over have swallowed (except for a brave minority of religiously devout free thinkers in the US, and all of the Muslims) – why do I have such a hard time finding that either the ICR or you is at all “scientific”, as opposed to devoted to clinging to hold together a religiously derived worldview? Perhaps you can tell me which of these follwoing statements by the ICR upthread you agree with?

“The Bible, by contrast, paints a radically different picture of our planet’s history. In particular, it describes a time when God catastrophically destroyed the earth and essentially all its life. The only consistent way to interpret the geological record in light of this event is to understand that fossil-bearing rocks are the result of a massive global Flood that occurred only a few thousand years ago and lasted but a year. … The bottom line of this research is that the case is now extremely compelling that the fossil record was produced just a few thousand years ago by the global Flood cataclysm. The evidence reveals that macroevolution as an explanation for the origin of life on earth can therefore no longer be rationally defended. http://www.icr.org/article/117/10/

“However, some creationist models predict significant quantities of snow immediately after the Flood (Oard, 1990). Perhaps as much as 95% of the ice near the poles could have accumulated in the first 500 years or so after the Flood. From a creationist perspective, it would be extremely valuable to thoroughly explore these ice-core data. … We would expect considerably higher precipitation rates immediately following the Flood. … Nothing in the ice-core data from either Greenland or Antarctica requires the earth to be of great age. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that the ice cores are revealing important information about conditions following the Flood of Genesis and the recent formation of thick ice sheets. Reports of ice-core data containing records of climatic changes as far back as 160,000 years in the past are dependent upon interpretations of these data which could be seriously wrong, if the Genesis Flood occurred as described in the Bible. http://www.icr.org/index.php?module=articles&action=view&ID=355

2. “You can’t protect the environment without respect for property and respect for property is almost non-existent in the world, even in the so-called capitalist US. … So to protect the environment in the rest of the world, you have to start to convince them of the benefits of property rights and free markets.”

These are overstatements. Indigenous peoples and despots have all protected valuable environmental resource by the simple method of defending them against others – others who may not have been happy, but backed down in the face of superior power.

3. “Politicians are good at token gestures, like the Kyoto treaty, that accomplish nothing. But the danger of such token gestures is that they lull people into a false sense that something has been accomplished when it hasn’t.”

Kyoto failed because the largest AGW emitters refused to join because they saw greater short-term profit in continuing to treat the atmosphere as an open-access commons, so EU politicians and firms were not brave enough to incur sugnificant pain unilaterally (and thus overallocated permits). The real danger is that hard-boiled economic thinkers will jump to the wrong conclusion, and fail to consider that decisions to finally close commons are multiplayer prisoners dilemmas that often fail.

4. ” quit trying to scare people to death with nightmare scenarios”

Hmm, where have I done that? Or are you referring to Pew, USCAP, Bush and Paulsson, other industry groups, scientists worldwide, the intelligence community and various religious group?

5. “You and TT haven’t convinced anyone posting on this thread that GW is a serious problem, let alone that humans are the major cause. So why would any of us support a carbon tax that would not reduce GW?”

Where did I try to convince anyone on this thread that GW is a serious problem, let alone that humans are the major cause? You have not established that a carbon tax would have no effect, but of course the reason why the rest of the economics profession and much of industry – including Exxon – is that they believe it would improved our net marginal position.

6. “GW hysteria refuses to admit that the benefits of GW will at least equal the liabilities. Besides, Robert does not know that “…large parts of our best agricultural lands will become desert…” That’s a prediction based on highly flawed computer models that have never been tested for accuracy. Talk about irrational faith.”

For you, “GW hysteria” just seems to mean anyone who disagrees with you. Have you noticed, BTW, that your conclusion that “the benefits of GW will at least equal the liabilities” not only is based on “highly flawed computer models that have never been tested for accuracy”, but there is that pesky little point the the purported “benefits” will be localized in the temperate and Arctic (where Western economies are located), with little benefits accruing to poorer countries that are expected to face the greatest challenges? Regards, TT

“[M]an’s sinful nature has disrupted man’s relationship to the environment. The sin of Adam, which we all inherit, was one of rebellion against God’s rules, and man, ever since, has made his own rules. This results in selfishness (and therefore exploitation), the refusal of man to practice love to his fellow man and other creatures, as well as poor stewardship of His creation, and man’s desire to serve his own personal ends. … But man is not a perfect steward anymore. Even though the resources which God created are there for our use, man now often exploits these resources at the expense of his fellowman, and causes needless loss and destruction of other parts of God’s creation. Surely this is wrong!” http://www.icr.org/article/678/

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 10, 2007 5:33 AM

 

TT: “Perhaps you can tell me which of these follwoing statements by the ICR upthread you agree with?” I agree with all of them.

But the quotes you posted from the ICR web site are not the science, but the conclusions based on the science. Just as atheists like Richard Dawkins conclude from the theory of evolution that God does not exist, and wax eloquent about it, so creationists conclude from their research that God does exist.

Whether or not creationists are good scientists depends upon your definition of science. Since you are impressed with the consensus view on GW, I would guess that you define science as whatever the consensus view is. If so, you might want to read the articles on epistemology posted this week on this site. If science is nothing more than the consensus opinion, then Austrian econ is not science, because it represents the viewpoint of a small minority.

I, along with Austrians, still believe that science is the application of scientific principles to the study of nature. According to that definition, creationism is far better science than evolution. Creationism has two sides to it: 1) the study of the scientific phenomena and 2) drawing conclusions from the results of the study. Just as Austrian econ demonstrates that the real world does not and cannot work according to the principles of socialism, or Keynesian econ, so creationists use science to prove that evolution could not possibly take place as described by the theory. The scientific part of creationism is limited to answering the two questions: “Does the natural world work in the way described by the theory of evolution?” and “If not, how does it work?” The scientific answer to the first question is no, it’s impossible. The scientific answer to the second is to demonstrate the mechanisms by which the earth and life on the planet might have come about.

After answering the scientific part, the creationist takes off his science helmet and puts on his philosophical one, just as Dawkins does when he promotes atheism. The creationist then concludes that the science he has studied matches reasonably well with the Biblical account creation. To dismiss the science because of the theological conclusions would be similar to dismissing evolution because atheists take comfort in it. Atheism is a theological conclusion based on the science of evolution, just as respect for the Bible is a theological conclusion based on the science of creationism.

Anthony: “I’ve heard quite a few fundies allude to this before. I had wondered whence it came.” Why do creationists place so much emphasis on the Biblical flood? There is quite a bit of evidence that the stratified layers of rock did not accumulate over millions