Earlier this month, Sam Brownback (a Republican presidential wannabe senator from Kansas) raised his hand when a reporter asked the potential Republican candidates if any of them “didn’t believe in” evolution. Now he is back, with a New York Times op-ed, trying to clarify his point. Funnily, his attempt at damage control sounds even more ridiculous, mealy-mouthed, and irrationally pathetic than his original response. This is the intellectual level allowed for a potential candidate for themost powerful office in the world? Mind-boggling.

Let’s take some of his statements:

Brownback: “The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two.”

This, of course, is a statement of faith and does not have a single shred of reason—in intent or execution. And the Bible is an inerrant word of God, then? What about Biblical claims about the age of the earth; its cosmological claims; its ridiculous biological claims (rabbits chewing cud (Leviticus 11:6) springs to mind, funnily)–that completely contradict the whole body of scientific evidence?

Brownback: “Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose.”

Of course, this statement can only satisfy the most hardcore believer completely ignorant of advances in modern science (such as evolutionary psychology) and non-theistic ethical systems (there are many more of those than there are of “goddy” ones).

Brownback: “If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.”

Well, that is plain bullshit. The statement about microevolution highlights the standard Creationist false dichotomy: there is no qualitative difference between micro- and macro-evolution; the latter involves quantitatively more significant changes than the former, but the process working on both is the same; really, the two terms are so confusing and misused by now that we should probably stop using them altogether (together with the whole concept of species for non-taxonomic purposes? hmm…that’s an idea). In any case, the second sentence does not even talk about “evolution” per se, but rather an extremely cartoonish view of standard philosophical materialism. So Brownback apparently does not know what the word evolution, as used by science, means.

Brownback: “There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today.”

What monumental ignorance! Punk-eek and standard adaptationism are not two different theories. The underlying mechanism–natural selection–is the same in both of them. The arguments are about contingency, rate and tempo, not about the basics. But I suppose the point is too subtle for Brownback to understand.

Brownback: “Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table.”

Oh? And what is it? New religion-based dating methods? Hot-air theories unfounded on any empirical evidence? And he dares claim that evolutionary biologists go “beyond empirical evidence”?

I am skipping over much of what he has to say; he is diggin his own pit, and I do not have time to address the logical fallacies and misinterpretations of reality that wave their Cthulhoid tentacles from each sentence. However, here is the last paragraph:

Brownback: “While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.”

Okay, then. 1.If “no stone should be left unturned” in our research, how can we know anything with certainty? This idiotic sentence demonstrates three things: that Brownback has no clue about the way science works, that he does not let simple logic interfere with his sentence construction and that he has a dangerous certainty—known to some as self-righteousness—about certain aspects of reality that is a far cry from both the humility of the majority of scientists and the supposed humility of religionists.

2.The very last two sentences are truly frightening. He is saying that religion should trump science in certain questions decided a priori and that scientific process itself should be subject to religious censorship. This is not only scary, as all theocracies are scary, it is unconstitutional as well, as—also—all theocracies are.

Luckily this fundamentalist moron is not likely to even get the Republican nomination; however, just the fact that somebody of such dubious intelligence, education missing in action and ridiculous beliefs can even be considered for the office of the President of the USA bodes ill for the future of this country.

As usual, Jon Swift has the best POV on the attorney firing scandal. As usual, conservative blogs have the most ridiculous twaddle (i.e. Clinton/Reno fired all attorneys in 1993, Bush fired 7 now, what’s the big deal? A: well, the big deal is, of course, that usually the incoming administration reappoints a whole bunch of civil servants, including, yes, federal prosecutors. That’s part of the job. However, midterm firings that are motivated solely by political pursuits, allowed by a little-known provision of the most egregious document ever to be pushed through legislature (y’know, the Patriot Act–do read it, it’ll make you better than almost any member of the Senate or the Congress, and, likely, more informed than Mr Bush himself, who obviously doesn’t read that much: he once said that he couldn’t remember what his favourite book was as a child, because, y’know, he just “wasn’t that much into books”), and, basically, contingent upon the said attorneys’ failure to pass the loyalty test to the administration, are a different beast entirely, neither donkey nor elephant, but more of an ebola virus. As (almost) everything this administration does, the whole things stinks of corruption, cronyism and incompetence. Amazing, really).

on arrogant ignorance

15 February 2007

I’ve had an opportunity–some may call it a misfortune–to listen to a bit of some conservative talk-show today. The guy was spouting some amazing gibberish about global warming, but that is not quite what I want to talk about (at least, not directly). But he did say an interesting thing, something like that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives thought that their opponents had bad opinions, while liberals thought that their opponents were bad people. My brain clicked a few times: of course, he was wrong, but…

There are some conservatives for whom I have quite a lot of (possibly grudging) respect. I can debate with them, but our debates revolve around philosophy (primarily that of political variety), but never religion or scientific facts. They share my distaste of the former and appreciation for the latter; they do not reject basic concepts, and we have that, at least, in common: enough ground to stand on and structure the rest of our disagreements around.

But then there are others who…well, not exactly bad, but one wonders: either ignorant and stupid, or, well, ill-meaning, or something. Here is an example.

The aforementioned host, amongst his attacks on the science of global warming mentioned the fact that anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere was only a minute fraction of the naturally occurring one, as if it constituted some kind of defense for his claims. Now anyone who has ever had to deal with systems in equilibrium in the first instance, or to solve an ordinary differential equation in the second can tell you that an extremely minute change in the initial conditions can have enormous effects on the final results. That is the butterfly effect, of course. The size of a disturbance relative to the system is far less relevant than it may appear at first glance. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in mathematics or atmospheric sciences to know that. So…the conclusion is inescapable: either the person who makes that claim is an arrogant idiot without a clue or he has some other agenda that he hopes will be promoted by his extravagant abuse of facts. Are there other options? I don’t think so.
The same person also mentioned that CO2 is only a small contributor to greenhouse warming, again exposing his ignorance. Of course, carbon dioxide is, by volume, far less efficient at trapping heat than methane, for example, but its absolute amounts are so much higher that the total contribution from it becomes quite significant. Duh!

Another example: it is often claimed that capitalism has built-in mechanisms to contain damage to the environment, and that those mechanisms are much better than those that would be imposed from the outside of the market, by the government. But only a brief look into standard economical theory–which is what capitalism runs on–would show that the gurus of the market like Friedman and Simon have themselves admitted that given a high enough discount rate for the future, present-day resources can (and will) be exploited beyond any hope of replenishment. Setting a discount rate has to be done by an extra-market force. (Adam Smith himself had some quite unkind things to say about the “invisible hand”, statements that are never entioned when conservative marketeers quote him).

So, with egregious incomprehensions, omissions, demonstrations of ignorance like that, how the fuck do they expect to be taken seriously? Yes, sir, the opinions of conservatives are bad, but what is more, they are often idiotic and they persist in holding them in the face of all evidence. And that reflects on the person holding those opinions. Sorry, you are a stupid asshole.