If you’ve ever traveled overseas, you’ll know that Canadians are easy to spot; many of us carry some sort of small Canadian flag on our luggage. The purpose of this, as near as I can tell, isn’t so much pride in being Canadian as it is avoiding being mistaken for an American. After all, Canadians dont suffer from the same ass-backward thinking as many (but certainly not all) of our neighbours to the south, right?
Perhaps we spoke too soon.
It appears, according to a recent poll, that more than 4 out of every 10 Canadians (41%) do not believe in the scientific fact of evolution or are “not sure”. Even more alarming, in my home province of Ontario, the techological and financial hub of the country, only 51% of people recognize that human beings have evolved from simpler organisms, over millions of years, through the non-random process of natural selection. This is alarming because the percentage of rational, intelligent Ontarians (apparently no greater than about 51% of the population) is lower than the percentage of similar Americans (53%).
This is scary, people.
Evolution by natural selection is a fact. There is no controversy. Like any scientific theory, there are open, honest debates about the precise mechanisms through which evolution occurs. But the core principles of common descent, detailed here , are extraordinarily well-supported by evidence. For evolution to be falsified would take a complete upheaval of virtually all of the biological sciences, including comparative and developmental biology, cell biology, and molecular biology. Geology, paleontology, those are out too. As has been said before, nothing in modern biology makes sense without the unifying theory of evolution by natural selection.
I wonder what would happen if we conducted a poll about belief in special relativity. What percentage of the population believes in time dilation? Or the constancy of the speed of light?
My guess is that most people would “believe” in special relativity not because it is so well supported by evidence (which it is, incidentally) but because it does not conflict with any particular core belief about the superiority of human beings. “If time slows down with increasing velocity (relative to a stationary observer, of course), so be it. But I refuse to believe that human beings are just apes in blue jeans!“, a creationist might say. Naturally, the objections to evolution come from those who have presupposed the nature of life, a nature with which evolution, however well-supported (and it is SERIOUSLY well-supported) is not compatible. This is dogma, pure and simple.
As Richard Dawkins has postulated in his concept of “Middle World”, evolution is difficult for many people to grasp because of the enormity of the time scale; belief that the Earth is 6000 years old is equivalent to the belief that the distance from New York to San Francisco is 28 feet; “not a trivial error” indeed!
But I don’t think this is a sufficient rationale for the disbelief in a scientific fact for which there is an overwhelming amount of evidence, all of which converges on a single conclusion. It may be difficult for most people to conceptualize one million years (let alone several hundred million years), but it is also difficult for people to conceptualize the fact that an electron displays properties that are both wave-like and particle-like; still, “belief” in quantum physics is rampant. One only has to look at the “New Age” section of any large bookstore to see all the woo-woo books about “Quantum Feminism” or “Quantum Beekeeping” or some other such nonsense. And yet, only 51% of Ontarians profess a “belief” in evolution.
No, it takes genuine stupidity and dogmatic thought to avoid believing in evolution. It may be hard to conceptualize, and it may be repugnant to those who claim (without evidence, I might add) some kind of superiority for the human race, but evolution has occurred and will continue to occur so long as random mutations occur and so long as population is subject to non-random selection pressures. ALL of the evidence supports this claim. It takes real idiocy to fail to “believe” in what so demonstrably true.
I’ve talked at length about the lunacy of the claim that the apparent coincidence of our existence suggests that life was “designed” by god (to put a name to the designer); this argument is intellectually bankrupt and easily refuted by anyone with even a passing understanding of the Anthropic Principle. In fact, most people make the argument every day without knowing it. But when it comes to their own existence, which is too special to be left to coincidence, all reason and intelligence is abandoned in favour of dogma and Iron Age wisdom.
And so-called “theistic evolution”, the idea that god has used evolution as a tool over millions of years, is a vacuous cop-out, made by those who are able, in an act of sublime acrobatics, to compartmentalize their brain into the logical, rational, evidence-based side that knows that the evidence for evolution is so vast and so powerful that there is no way to avoid the logical conclusion and the dogmatic, woo-woo side that still has to cling to the existence of one or more (but usually one) sky fairies. “Theistic evolution” is an easy target for Occam’s Razor, and moreover, acceptance of this asinine “theory” eliminates the possibility that human life is, in any real way, any more “chosen” than any other form. If god wanted to create man in his own image, there are a lot better ways than waiting hundreds of millions of years for the off chance that human life would evolve based on random mutation and selection pressures that may or may not have allowed for human development. “Theistic evolution” is a ridiculous concept which still presupposes that human beings are the apple of god’s eye, and is thus religious woo-wooism cloaked in a scientific facade; that one of its chief proponents is the head of the Human Genome Project is absolutely bone-chilling.
We, the intelligent, rational, evidence-based thinkers, are losing this battle. Now is not the time to “play nice”; now is the time to educate and inform wherever possible; now is the time to stop providing intellectual cover to Iron Age ideas about science and morality; now is the time to stand up and say “there is no controversy!” It is no longer acceptable for intelligent folk to simply sit by while religion continues to dictate our national discourse and to pollute minds with dogma-based “fact”; ideas about the physical nature of the universe must stand up to the evidentiary standards to which we hold all else.
For shame, Canada. I thought you were better than this.
EDIT: I was just kidding about the “Quantum Beekeeping” thing, but look what I found…