British scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, in a WaPo column ironically titled “On Faith”:
Attention Governor Perry: Evolution is a fact
There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.
The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.
Darwin’s idea is arguably the most powerful ever to occur to a human mind. The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining. A theory that assumes most of what it is trying to explain is a bad theory. That is why the creationist or ‘intelligent design’ theory is such a rotten theory.
What any theory of life needs to explain is functional complexity. Complexity can be measured as statistical improbability, and living things are statistically improbable in a very particular direction: the direction of functional efficiency. The body of a bird is not just a prodigiously complicated machine, with its trillions of cells – each one in itself a marvel of miniaturized complexity – all conspiring together to make muscle or bone, kidney or brain. Its interlocking parts also conspire to make it good for something – in the case of most birds, good for flying. An aero-engineer is struck dumb with admiration for the bird as flying machine: its feathered flight-surfaces and ailerons sensitively adjusted in real time by the on-board computer which is the brain; the breast muscles, which are the engines, the ligaments, tendons and lightweight bony struts all exactly suited to the task. And the whole machine is immensely improbable in the sense that, if you randomly shook up the parts over and over again, never in a million years would they fall into the right shape to fly like a swallow, soar like a vulture, or ride the oceanic up-draughts like a wandering albatross. Any theory of life has to explain how the laws of physics can give rise to a complex flying machine like a bird or a bat or a pterosaur, a complex swimming machine like a tarpon or a dolphin, a complex burrowing machine like a mole, a complex climbing machine like a monkey, or a complex thinking machine like a person.
Darwin explained all of this with one brilliantly simple idea – natural selection, driving gradual evolution over immensities of geological time. His is a good theory because of the huge ratio of what it explains (all the complexity of life) divided by what it needs to assume (simply the nonrandom survival of hereditary information through many generations). The rival theory to explain the functional complexity of life – creationism – is about as bad a theory as has ever been proposed. What it postulates (an intelligent designer) is even more complex, even more statistically improbable than what it explains. In fact it is such a bad theory it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory at all, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
Most of you are probably aware that I was raised in a fundiegelical church (Nazarene) but I don’t roll holy anymore. Although I often discuss freedom of religion and quote scriptures in support of political arguments, I rarely discuss my current religious beliefs.
I am an equal opportunity snark dealer, and I don’t consider religion to be taboo. But I am troubled by the sneering contempt I often see for people of faith coming from progressives and even some liberals.
Ignorance and lack of education are NOT positive qualifications in today’s Republican party. In fact, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to have 4-year college degrees. One factoid I ran across in college is that Newt Gingrich’s congressional district in Cobb County, Georgia has the highest average of college graduates in the nation.
Rick Perry attended Texas A&M University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Sarah Palin also has a bachelor’s degree (from the the University of Idaho) and her father, Charles R. “Chuck” Heath, is a science teacher. I’m pretty sure neither one of them is ignorant of the theory of evolution.
Dawkins points out that life is incredibly complex. Believers in “intelligent design” point out that same fact but argue that the complexity of life is proof that the universe didn’t just happen. They accept the theory of evolution but argue that it is the mechanism the creator used to make the world as it is today.
Evolution does not explain where life began. When I took biology they taught us the Law of Biogenesis – that all life comes from preexisting life. Science would have us believe that at some point “increasingly complex molecules” in a “primordial soup” spontaneously made the jump from non-life to living cells, after which evolution took over. No one has yet recreated this event, however.
As for the origin of the universe itself, believers in intelligent design argue that the “Big Bang” theory is not inconsistent with the Genesis account of creation. They also point out that science has yet to disprove the existence of God.
From a political standpoint, sneering contempt for large numbers of people, many of whom are Democrats, is not conducive to winning elections. But for all their superior intellect, some people can’t seem to grasp that concept.
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