Before I start, I want to say a big "hello" to Britain - all sixty million of you. And, yes, you're welcome! You don't have to thank me - call it a bonus from the Anglo-American special relationship.
Every now and again, I have to admit to myself that I can see the potential advantage of being an unthinking ideologue.
You know what I mean by "ideologue", right? The dictionary on my desk (which is the Penguin English Dictionary, but don't judge) defines an "ideologue" as "1. a strong advocate or adherent of a particular ideology 2. a theorist, esp one who shows little concern for practicalities". And what I mean, in this case, is more the latter.
What the ideologues have quickly latched onto is the short attention span culture which we have created, with its profusion of idiotic television programmes filling every conceivable niche of banality. Suddenly, the logical concept of authority, that is to say, an unimpeachable source, no longer matters, because thanks to television and the web, there's an authority for everyone, no matter how mentally ungifted.
Somewhere along the way, probably back in the 1990s when the first personal websites were springing up like mushrooms after a rain, it seems that many people lost the ability to discern the difference between a credible source and some lunatic typing away like mad on the computer in the public library. And the ideologues came forth, and they were many, and raving noisily.
And technology, which as I recall was supposed to "democratise" information, and make it easier for everyone to have access to good information, has in fact done the opposite. This isn't the technology's fault. There were always little nut-job presses out there, like the Institute for Creation Research, with their oddly-printed books that bespoke "no budget for typography". There was always a subculture of speakers, slinking from church to church, slouching toward Pennsylvania, rallying a roomful of similarly-minded yokels with the clarion call of "god didn't make no man from no ape". And that, I have to say, was fine, as far as it went. The western world still maintains the view that you can believe whatever you like, as long as you don't inflict it on others.
Unfortunately, inflicting it on others is what these people most want to do. They want not only to have their insular point of view taught in schools, they want it to be given equal footing with real science. They don't just want it for their children, they want it for yours and mine, too. And that, I have to say, is a problem.
It would be so much easier, though, wouldn't it, not to have to support your claims with anything resembling evidence? If you can just say anything, unencumbered by fact, reason, logic, or sense... well hell, that's easy, because then I can just sit around in my pants watching cartoons and claiming that this bundle of mud and twigs that I just dug up in the back garden is really a dinosaur. Who are you to tell me that it isn't, right? And the same applies to creationists and ID-o-bots: they're the ones in their pants watching cartoons, pretending that what they think matters.
The Intelligent Design crowd would like you to believe that there's a debate in science, members of the public, members of the press. And you, dutifully, say that there's a debate, because someone told you that there were "two sides" to this question... and we're programmed to think, when someone tells us that there are two sides, that both sides must have merit. So let's look at the two sides for a moment. One is populated by hard-working scientists, researchers, teachers, assistants and support staff, gathering empirical data, researching, thinking, educating, and writing. The other is populated by people who, on the surface, look largely the same, apart from the funky 1960s-era photographs and the fact that their books seems to talk a whole lot less about what they actually did in the laboratory, and a whole lot more about things written down about a semi-literate nomad culture twenty-five hundred years dead. The debate, members of the public, members of the press, within science is compelling - it seeks to answer some of the most fundamental questions about life itself. The external debate - that which occurs between science and the ideologues - seeks to shut science down. It seeks to shut down all of our culture, and our freedom, and our moral compass, unencumbered by anything other than the baggages of "faith".
Here's a quick list of things that any creationist or group of creationists often say or do in response to various situations (and still expect to be taken seriously):
- Confronted by evidence? - The data were contaminated, misinterpreted due to experimental or sample bias, or were produced by biased scientists who hate our freedoms.
- Experiencing frustration or envy that no one will publish your work because it doesn't pass any of the tests for good science? - Create your own journals, and smear the journals who wouldn't publish you.
- Museum staff won't bend over backwards to accomodate your own particular delusions? - Build your own museum, make your own signs, and tout yourself once again as the emissary of truth.
- Independent scientists make a discovery that you don't like or can't understand? - Launch a campaign to make out that you have a case to be given all of the data, write angry letters about why no one will give you the data (because you're unqualified and possibly certifiable), and publicly pout in the hopes that someone will notice and care.
- Up against the fact that there is no debate over the veracity of evolutionary theory, only over the underlying mechanisms and processes? - Say that there is anyway, and recruit people with outdated or irrelevant credentials to say the same thing.
- Faced with an insurmountable loss in a public debate? - Lie about the debate, lie about the loss, then get back on the radio without your opponent and crow about how they "refuse to debate you".
- Called on the lies that you've told? Rinse and repeat - lie some more.
- Intent on terrifying an atheist or agnostic? - Grab a banana (honest, I'm not making this up - as if I could!).
Yes, the last one was completely gratuitous. But I'm being completely honest when I say that I don't know what to do about these people. It seems that, in the end, it can only be through constantly reiterating their errors, to say how wrong they are at every turn... these are the tactics that have been deployed against reason and knowledge themselves. Perhaps it's time to turn those tactics back on their source. To be an unthinking ideologue is to be immune to anything resembling reason, up to and including legal process (although a high number of the ID-o-bot crowd are lawyers). The difference between lawyers and scientists, though, is pretty basic: lawyers can argue either side of a question, based on who is paying them. Science can only argue from one side: the side on which the things that they observe make sense.
Oh, and about evolution? About science at all? There is no debate. Stop saying that there is a debate.