Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Alternate Realities

Via PZ, a survey of public school biology teachers that bodes ill for the future of the U.S. cerebral cortex. Yup, they're either creationists, or they're too afraid of wingnut parents to teach evolution. And they probably don't understand it anyway.

I grew up in a bizarre community in which the people believed in the discoveries of science and we all assumed that the believers in biblical creation consisted of a few old codgers in the hills of Kentucky. You just never heard any of this nonsense. It wasn't part of anything I recognized as respectable society and you certainly didn't see it paid any deference in mass media or by politicians. Actually there wasn't much opportunity to pay it any deference because it barely seemed to exist.

Evidently that was a false impression. It was out there all the time but was just unassertive. I don't know what happened to change the situation but it's spilled over well beyond evolution to create a political culture in which the majority party in Congress is committed to defining the scientific endeavor -- biology, physics, earth science, cosmology -- as tools of a massive conspiracy to impose rule by a secret anti-priesthood that hates God and human freedom. Or something.

It's to be expected in a republic that we will have political disputes over values and competing interests. But we have fundamental disputes over the very nature of reality. What is most disturbing is that half of the disputants are completely impervious to facts or reason. They begin with their conclusions and acknowledge evidence only if it can be stacked into a structure that confirms what they already "know." Arguing is like biting granite.

Since the future of civilization and the lives of billions hang in the balance -- not to mention most of what we treasure about the natural world -- this is a most unfortunate state of affairs. What should we be doing about it?

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