My partner forwarded on a copy of a you-tube video that pokes fun at the current crop of Miss USA contestants by providing supposed responses to the question “Should math be taught in schools?” I wanted to confirm whether it was a piss-take, so jumped on You Tube and did some searching about. Sure enough, I found it pretty quickly, and was able to establish that it was indeed a satirical piss-take, but satire needs source material, so I broadened my search. Fairly quickly I came across a you-tube clip containing footage of actual Miss USA contestants responding to the question “Should evolution be taught in schools?” The thing that horrified me most was the general ignorance about the subject of the question. The contestants were aware that it was a contentious issue, and many of them hedged their responses accordingly, but not one of them really put forth any kind of critical discourse on the topic. Now – to be fair, this is a collection of the 15 worst answers to the question, but for state representatives to get that far through the competition with that level of ignorance behind them is a saddening reflection of the kind of “instant fix” our society now craves.
The “news-byte” syndrome that focuses on the controversy, not the meat of the matter is not what really gets my gander up, though. What makes me cross, sad and generally disappointed is the lack of critical thinking and informed debate. I have no problem with someone claiming that God created the world in 6 days, took the Sabbath day off, and seeded the universe with phenomenae and relics such as dinosaur fossils and star-light that appears to have set out from its point of origin well before the 7,500 year point at which the act of creation is supposed to have occurred. I won’t choose to socialize with that person, but I respect their right to their (admittedly ignorant and self-delusional) opinion. However, if that person can’t stay WHY they believe that – can’t provide some demonstration of at least an attempt at gathering knowledge and facts in support of their opinion, they shouldn’t be making any kind of assertion to that effect in a public forum.
The cute thing with science, is that it based on evidence. That evidence is analysed from several perspectives, and scientists are generally fairly careful to ensure that their experiments and observations are not subject to confirmation bias. It is genuinely difficult to assault scientific evidence with well-founded arguments because science is BASED on well-founded arguments. A debate between a scientist and someone who is quoting “divinely imparted” scriptural mythology or popular opinion as the basis for their position will inevitably result in the scientist looking like a well-prepared know-it-all and their opponent looking like an ignorant schmuck, simply because their opponent – no matter how well-read in scripture, or how connected they are to popular opinion – cannot refute the scientist’s argument with anything that has defensible substance.
Scientist: Gravity is a documented and well understood phenomenon. We’ve performed experiments, taken measurements and confirmed our theories about how gravity operates through field observations.
Scripture Zealot: But gravity is only a theory.
Scientist: Sure – it’s only a theory… but it’s a pretty comprehensively tested theory that seems to match up to observed facts. What are you suggesting as the alternative to our theory?
Scripture Zealot: Is it not possible that the phenomenon of people staying rooted on the face of the earth is evidence of God’s love for them? Without such love, they would surely drift off into space!
Scientist: Umm… okay. So what about atheists and people from faiths other than your own?
Scripture Zealot: Oh… that’s an easy one. God loves all of his creations!
Scientist: A convenient and relatively trite argument. Okay… so let’s say you’re right. How do you prove that?
Scripture Zealot: Ah… we do not need proof – we have faith in the holy words in the holy book, and they are clear about God’s love!
Scientist: So we have clearly stated, tested and – to the greatest extent possible with current technology – proven theories, and you have a motherhood statement written two thousand years ago in a book…
Scripture Zealot: Yes – but it’s a very popular book. People have been reading it for 2000 years!
Scientist: Well… people have had parts of it read selectively to them for 2000 years. Only a very small percentage of the population has actually read the whole thing.
Scripture Zealot: But that doesn’t matter. The book says the book is right, so the book is right!
Scientist: Okay… so if I wrote down an assertion that you’re a blithering idiot, and then followed that with a statement that my previous assertion is undeniably correct, then you’d accept that?
Scripture Zealot: Of course not! You have no divine mandate to write such a thing, and it’s clear that because I know my scripture so well I’m no idiot, blithering or otherwise.
Scientist: Hmm… the jury’s still out on that. Nor should we get into an epistemological debate on the respective values of thought vs memory. So… who actually wrote your book?
Scripture Zealot: Oh… lots of people. It’s a historical record, and there’s no way that the miracles performed in our book could have happened without divine agency! Our book was written by prophets of the Lord our God!
Scientist: Oh… okay. So… a prophet is someone who – under the inspiration of a higher being – writes down radical ideas and presents them as facts. How’re we doing so far?
Scripture Zealot: Uh… not too bad.
Scientist: Well… modern medicine has a term for the kind of people you call prophets. Have you heard of Schizophrenia?
Scripture Zealot: Err… yes. But you can’t go calling prophets schizophrenics?
Scientist: Too late – I just did.
Scripture Zealot: But they weren’t. The fundamental goodness of our scripture cannot possibly have been the result of insane people.
Scientist: Ummm… says who?
Scripture Zealot: Says… err… the book. Umm… can we change the topic?
Scientist: Okay… sure. We’ll chalk that one up as a win to me. You also said that the number of believers was proof of the correctness of your book.
Scripture Zealot: Yes! Yes, I did! How can so many believers be wrong?
Scientist: You realize that the cultures that have had any affiliation with your book currently make up only a fifth of the world’s population?
Scripture Zealot: Oh… sure… but most of the others are ignorant savages!
Scientist: Ignorant savages who had stone-buildings and documented history a thousand years before your lot even wandered away from the pyramid projects?
Scripture Zealot: Umm… you’ve got me there. Who are you talking about?
Scientist: Hmm… the Chinese? Babylonians? Sumerians?
Scripture Zealot: Oh… them. Okay… so they had technology, but they had the souls of barbarians.
Scientist: Really? So because they weren’t inspired by the so-called divine truth in your book, they don’t count in your popularity contest?
Scripture Zealot: Umm… yes. I’m sure I can find a passage in the book that confirms that!
Scientist: I’m sure you can. That doesn’t make it correct.
Scripture Zealot: But the book is truth! It says so!
Scientist: Here’s your blithering idiot note back.
Scripture Zealot: No need to be nasty…
Scientist: I’m not… I’m simply stating that the only documents that validate the assertions in your book, are histories written by the same races that wrote your book, and they only really validate the historical content, not the mystical mumbo-jumbo.
Scripture Zealot: It’s not mumbo-jumbo – it’s divine revelation!
Scientist: Says who?
Scripture Zealot: The book!
Scientist: So… have you posed any experiments to confirm the contents of your book?
Scripture Zealot: Of course not. That would be an act of heresy!
Scientist: Ah… so the reason you haven’t confirmed the assertions your book makes is that the book tells you not to?
Scripture Zealot: I see where you’re heading with that. No… that’s not my point. My point is that God rewards the faithful and punishes the unbeliever. To question God’s word is to cast oneself into perdition!
Scientist: Let me guess – the book says that?
Scripture Zealot: No – I say that!
Scientist: So now you’re taking personal responsibility for the fact that your faith is based on the wild ravings of the mentally ill, and shouldn’t be questioned lest you get sent to hell yourself?
Scripture Zealot: Stop putting words in my mouth! That’s not what I’m saying!
Scientist: So what are you saying?
Scripture Zealot: I… umm… I have no idea what I’m saying, other than as an unbeliever, you’re going to hell, and I’m not. So NYER!!! In your face science man!
Scientist: Very mature. Thanks for the entertaining 15 minutes. Let me know when you have something other than the wild ravings of crazy people to support your arguments. Oh… and while we’re at it, you could do worse than check yourself in for a mental health check-up… that infantile display in the midst of a rational debate was a tad disturbing.
And with science having the last word, the uncritical thinking of the zealot carted off by men in white coats, and my hands starting to cramp up from the typing, I now bid you adieu until next time.