Sunday, December 25, 2005

Harmonic Convergence: Christmas, Family, Evolution...

Despite the shrillness and whining of the Bill O'Reilly types, everyone appropriates a bit of Christmas in their own way, regardless of religion. And so it is with myself and my family, attempting to negotiate our way past the past in the present. It is Christmas, and for this Buddhist this means mindfulness of the fact that there is so much to not cling to, including not clinging to not clinging.

Yesterday, I brought my wife and son to the American Museum of Natural History, retracing a similar trip that I had when I was about 5 years old. I didn't understand much of the stuff there when I was a kid and neither did my son, but it clearly sparked something in me; a fascination with physics and science that continues to this day.

I was deeply honored to have the opportunity to bring my son to such a place; probably most American kids never see it. I was deeply honored to show my son where I grew up, where I was born, my history, his history.

And yet, despite all the emotion of it all - and a greater appreciation of my parents, who were crazy enough to take 5 or 6 kids into New York in the winter to do this sort of thing- I noticed something else.

As one sees from places like the Evangelical Outpost, (see also here) the blogosphere is chock full of people who are either unintentionally or willfully ignorant of basic science. The shrillness and arrogance and intellectual and other kinds of dishonesty that permeates this type of militance against science is astonishing. But it's about 100 or so years too late.

Claude Shannon developed information theory back in the 40s; in the 50 + years since then there have literally been tens of thousands of papers written on the subject and innumerable texts. (Of course Shannon wasn't alone; he had help from folks like Neyman and Pearson and Fisher and Kullback, Kolmogorov and a host of Russians, but if I were to add in statistical inference, that puts in about 10 years on the subject). In a nut, the theory's well developed.

And so it is also for evolutionary biology. The thing that any unbiased observer sees as he traverses the halls of the American Museum of Natural history is the sheer amount of detail and the currentness of the explanations of the exhibits. The unanswered questions are out there as well, not hidden away or denied. There is an abundance of transitional forms. There are very well developed theories about the taxonomy of dinosaurs. The very layout of the building's exhibits itself is mapped into the taxonomy of the evolutionary tree.

So what I said for information theory applies even more so to evolutionary biology. Despite the rantings of the fringe, and despite the attempts of the media to keep people ignorant (by presenting "balance" in the "debate" or "controversy" between "Intelligent" "Design" and evolutionary biology), any visitor to the AMNH can see what I saw. Just because of a few fringe nuts doesn't mean evolutionary biology is going away any time soon. That cat's been out of the bag for over a hundred years now, and despite the attempts of folks like the "Discovery Institute," it ain't going back.

They are, however, doing serious damage to the children by keeping them ignorant of evolution.

But rest assured, the folks of New York will still head over to 79th and Central Park West and be awed by the scope of science.

And I'll be bringing my son back again.

I wish everyone a peaceful holiday today, and everyday.

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