"Darwin was the first to use data from nature to convince people that evolution is true, and his idea of natural selection was truly novel. It testifies to his genius that the concept of natural theology, accepted by most educated Westerners before 1859, was vanquished within only a few years by a single five-hundred-page book. On the Origin of Species turned the mysteries of life's diversity from mythology into genuine science." -- Jerry Coyne
Thursday, January 26, 2017
About 6 years ago something about science deniers was written by a brilliant Australian. This is fantastic. Here it is:
A curious thing about creationists. I try to study the minds of these strange people, who still, 150 years after Alfred Wallace, retain the primitive mindset of the eighteenth century when people thought that animal species, including the naked ape, had been created, each in its own place, by a finger-pointing white-bearded figure in the sky. It is as if we still had, living among us, people who believed in phlogiston, or humors, or the heart as the seat of emotions; a glimpse back into a distant past of primitive ideas about the world around us.
So I study them, much as a time traveler visiting the Dark Ages might, or a traveler to the deepest Amazon finding a previously uncontacted tribe.
And in the case of creationists, these strange throwbacks living still among us, I try to see the world through their eyes, wonder what strange shadows that imperfect organ is throwing on to the retina of these good simple people as they struggle to come to grips with the realities of several hundred years of scientific advances.
Here is one for you. What do creationists see when they look in the evolutionary mirror? What do they see when they look at Chimpanzee or Gorilla? Do they see both as just another mammal, like Cat or Dog, Kangaroo or Opossum, Platypus or Echidna? Do they not see the close resemblances to us in the face, the expressions, the hands and feet, the body, the behavior, the movement, the social groups, the young? Do they not say, well, my cousin is a hairy man, but he is still my cousin? Do they not say there but for the grace of Darwin go we? That these close cousins just traveled a different path from an obviously identical starting point?
And looking at the faces of their cousins, are they not inspired to investigate further, find that the resemblance is not just skin deep but extends through brain and skeleton and into the most fundamental unit of evolution the DNA?
I mean it is one thing to believe that the old silverback in the sky created beasts of burden and sheep and cattle, obviously different to, and, from an anthropocentric view, inferior to, humans, as part of his reward of dominion over all as long as you didn’t eat of the “tree of evolutionary knowledge” scheme. But the bronze age sheepherders typing out the Old Testament on a piece of goatskin didn’t know about the great apes, or even the monkeys, which did not live around what the desert nomads thought of as the centre of the universe but which we now call the Middle East, a kind of evolutionary backwater with barely enough species known to fill a boat.
If there had been a band of gorillas living by the Dead Sea, or a band of chimpanzees living on the Mount of Olives, do you think one of the sheepherders might have modified the relevant bit of his creation mythology to read, “And then Yahweh created the great apes, and he took a rib from a chimpanzee and it became the first human”?
With that kind of mythology, one of Darwin’s early ancestors, say living in Ancient Athens, might well have been inspired to discover the reality of evolution long before Alfred Wallace. And in that case, would the primitive members of the Texas School Board still be demanding that creationism be taught? How long does it take for the blindingly obvious to be accepted?