Friday, November 27, 2009

Jerry Springer, Neo-Nazis, Ray Comfort, and Darwin

I don’t particularly want to spend a lot of time on this blog discussing the culture wars. There’s a fair amount of uninteresting hype in the blogosphere. My main interest is to have discussions within evolutionary theory but as I’ve a bum shoulder and am in a bit of pain, I don’t have the energy to research and write about one of the possible topics I had planned: determining the target of natural selection, epigenetics, a new LaMarkism? Stay tuned; these essays will follow soon. I will write soon also about Darwin’s Dilemma, the latest in the Discovery Institute’s lame attempt to try to legitimize intelligent design as science. I don’t really care to discuss creationist perspectives in terms of why they shouldn’t have equal time in the classroom or the hundred other reasons why they should just shut up and sit down, but if there is a way to use creationist hype to learn more about evolution, then I’m in. I also suppose that if my children’s and my grandchildren’s quality of science education didn’t hang in the balance, it wouldn’t be necessary.

I’m sure that many of you have heard about the new addition of Darwin’s Origin by Ray Comfort. And I’m also sure that if you had, you also have heard that it contains a creationist, propagandistic introduction that basically tells you not to believe any of Darwin’s ideas or that science has disproved all that the rest of the volume contains. I or any other evolutionist could take you through point by point and handily grind such drivel into the ground. But Darwin’s new bulldog, Richard Dawkins is doing a much better job than what I ever could. I’d rather like to make the point that I made to my wife after we sat through part of an episode of Jerry Springer.

Springer had on a group of Neo-Nazis, who as you might expect proceeded to rant about all things wrong about our society due to our willingness to accommodate minorities in America. Well Jerry is a sensationalist, and we all know that. But at the end of the episode he gave a very interesting justification for why he had these individuals on his show. He told us that it was important to allow these nuts to be front and center, and spout their nonsense. Yes you heard right; he was giving them the forum, but for a very interesting reason: Springer thought that we shouldn’t let these folks skulk in the background of guerilla politics. We should let them voice their opinion time to time, just so we could remember how crazy these people are.

That’s the way that I feel about Comfort and his introduction to the Origin. All the hype that his introduction produces may backfire on him. By focusing on college students, who probably accept evolution in far greater numbers than the American public at large, Comfort may be playing right into Dakin’s hands. It warms my heart to see free-thinking students rip that crap right out of their very special 150th edition of Origin. Many students who may even not understand that evolution is not a matter of belief, but acceptance of a process in nature may just be drawn to perhaps the most important book that has been published in the last 150 years. They will hear about the controversy, read the drivel, and then get to the Origin a little more sensitized to creationist nonsense. They will go to their biology professors and ask good questions. Their professors will have a wonderful context into which the teaching of evolution will be even more meaningful. Hopefully there will be plenty of our evolutionist brethren who can put evolutionary theory into context for them. And perhaps we can even thank a creationist for pointing them in the right direction rather than into the arms of anti-intellectual purveyors of nonsense.


  1. You make a good point here and I believe the same holds true for religious beliefs. When you mention scientology or jehovahs witnesses to most people they don't really have an opinion about them. When they know what they actually believe then opinions are a lot stronger. I would imagine that most students will take their free copy of origin, say thank you very much and promptly rip out the crap at the beginning.

  2. Thanks for the comment, and thanks for following. I think also that a part of the development of belief (systems) entails a certain investment that is on the psychological and social levels. It's kind of like when we go to buy a new car, we may not be so certain of our decision. But later internally we make all sorts of rationalizations why the car was a good choice, and then provide the same rationalizations to others. We cement our decision internally and socially whether or not it was a "good" one. We convince ourselves of something, then affectively identify our personal worth and social reputation with our "belief." In a sort of cavalier sense in one of my earlier blogs I stated something like belief is an antequated concept, especially when we attempt to judge the validity of a theory in science like evolution. From nature's perspective(substitute an alien visitor or a future anthropologist trying to reconstruct our provencial thought processes), it really doesn't matter what we believe. Belief may or may not line up with a certain measure of reality. As a person whom doesn't entertain any sort of particular beliefs, I don't feel as if I need to check my emotionally bound baggage at the door of something really important like understanding well developed and established concepts like evolution (the validity of which does not depend upon my goofy permission to be valid or not). Thanks again and please comment again anytime you want whether in agreement or not.