26 April 2008

The Fight of Words

In the battle against Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates, who together are part of the larger American traditional of anti-intellectualism, and the cult of ignorance that, as Isaac Asimov said, misunderstands democracy to mean "my ignorance is as good as your knowledge", we who stand with evidence and with reason must realize that we are not fighting enemies who will agree to our terms. We ask for evidence and they respond with ad hominem attacks. They create false dichotomies, and defend themselves by endlessly moving goal posts and asserting that there is no true scotsman. Their weapons are not facts--they have none--but words.

Reality is on our side. Pragmatism favors us overwhelmingly (ID does not enhance science's ability to do anything). But I for one desire a stronger, swifter victory. To quote Isaac Asimov again
Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.
To accomplish this, we must recognize the linguistic nature of this battle, and we must equip ourselves accordingly.

Some language we cannot help. The false dichotomy drawn between "Fact" and "Theory" is simply a misunderstanding (or deliberate muddling) of otherwise clearly distinguishable scientific nomenclature. Fact is not a higher order of truth than theory. Fact is simply a piece of data. A Theory is an idea, generated and supported through repeated demonstration and testing, and forever buffeted by the storm of peer review. A Law, just to clarify, also does not trump a theory. It is not any truer. Rather, a law is a simple concept (relatively speaking) that can be expressed in a formula. Newton's law of motion (F=MA), the ideal gas law (PV=nRT). Theories have a larger scope and cannot be quantified into an equation. Aside from Evolution, notable theories (which are not laws) include: the Theory of Gravity, the Theory of Planetary Motion, the Theory of Electromagnetism, and so on. These facts should be common knowledge. That they are not testifies to the present inadequacies of our education system.

In other areas of language, we can make clear gains over our opponents. We need simply wake up. For example, we must cease using the word Worldview immediately. We must forever strike that hideous construction from our thoughts and name it anathema. We will do this because we understand the way the human mind works.

Some of my friends swear by IPods. Others by Zunes. If I call them both MP3 Players, I bestow some measure of equality on them. I place them on equal footing. And in response to this, both sides of the debate would protest and declare their side superior.

To call both modern science and Pastafarianism worldviews places them on equal standing to those not familiar with their intricacies. This particular case is obviously and intentionally absurd. But it is directly analogous to what happens when well-meaning scientists talk about the scientific worldview while the Discovery Institute speaks of the Intelligent Design worldview, and postmodern thinkers start to classify everything from Christianity to Astrology to Nihilism as worldviews. Equality is created where it does not belong. Irredemably foolish notions like "In the lab, my Christian worldview is as good as your science" start to make sense.

Let the IDiots and the Fundies talk about worldview all they wish. Let the postmoderns put more and more under its arms. But for us, who call ourselves rational and who place our trust in evidence, in reality, let us take a stand against nonsense and irrationality and refuse the label.

Science is not a worldview.

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