Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Luddite is a Luddite the Whole World 'Round

A Luddite is a Luddite the Whole World 'Round
- or -
Far Enough East Becomes West; Far Enough Right Becomes Left

© 2005 Ross Williams

Thomas More needs a refresher course in irony. The law center which bears his name is pitching a major legal hissy fit which they, by rights, ought to lose on scientific grounds and definitely must lose on logical-rhetorical grounds.

Whether they lose on legal grounds is, at this point, in dispute. Hence the legal hissy fit.

The short course on the case runs as follows. The world, and everything in it, operates in a predictable manner, following discernable laws of behavior. Those laws are described in scientific terms as "theories". Everything in existence, from atoms to stars, operates in predictable ways, and one only needs to observe something long enough in order to figure it out. To thereupon predict what that thing will do next requires the science and the math which has become passé in our nation in recent decades.

Certain Americans are unwilling to accept that existence is predictable, and prefer it, childlike, to be magic. They dislike science. They won't admit that, of course, and, childishly, strenuously object to such a characterization, but the facts speak for themselves.[1]

Thomas More enters the picture on the political right. For those acquainted with English history, Thomas More is best known as Henry VIII's Chancellor, the "man for all seasons"[2] who, rather than keep his wits about him and admit that political winds were changing, decided to lose his head over a principle. One might argue, then, that Thomas More was none too bright; he was certainly brainless at the end of his career.

One might make the same argument about his law center.

While Thomas More, the person, was renowned for great and estimable works, and the Thomas More Law Center is probably known for ditto, Thomas More, the person, is best known for tilting a windmill... and losing. Badly. The Thomas More Law Center runs the same risk.

They are arguing on behalf of a group of people from the political right of our American landscape who believes that science is too much for their frazzled little minds. They refused to believe what they were taught back in the dark ages of their own school days, and therefore want to redefine the science taught their children into something they, the school board voting parents, already accept. Others dislike science because it's so complicated and complex, and they don't have the patience to sit down and observe like the scientists. And not only do they not have the patience for it, they don't want the scientists to have the patience for it either. Because what happens when the scientists have the patience to sit down and observe the world acting in predictable ways is that the scientists write books which get taught in science classes. These science classes get confusing to some people and irksome to others. Those people then want the scientists to knock it the hell off.

The subject under legal hissy fit discussion is biology. Genetics. Evolution.

Evolution teaches that species change over time, and given enough time they change into a new species. And if there are still some of the old species around, well, then, there are now two species where there used to be one.

Ten-thousand years ago, sheep and goats used to be the same thing, until enterprising wool-gatherers on Russia's steppes learned they could get more wool from the curly-all-over goats, and controlled their breeding for a couple thousand sheep-generations. Fruit flies invent new species of themselves every few years. Tilapia have been known to do so as well. This is called "speciation". It is nothing new; it is not magical. While biologists cannot predict when it will occur, they know that it does and have observed it happening on several occasions.

Yet, when we teach this scientific knowledge to our children in school, we run up against a self-serving few who prefer to believe in magic. "It's too complicated for us to figure out..." even though some of us are doing it "...and so we prefer to believe that god did all of this on his own." In other words, biology is not science, but religion is.

Well, our country has rules which say you cannot "establish" a religion as a matter of state imperative, and a public education is such a state imperative. Not all religions accept as an article of their faith that god's will supersedes the predictability of scientific law – some believe that god's will is even defined by scientific law, that scientific law is what it is because god made it that way, and that in whatever direction the scientific facts lie that is the way to god. So the "god's will supersedes biological finding" is, therefore, a tenet of a slim subsection of the available religions, and it becomes a constitutional matter of "state religion" when a specific article of faith is imposed by a government-run institution. Like a ninth-grade biology class.[3]

This is why "creationism" is prohibited from being part of the curriculum in our public schools. Facts point away from "creationism", making it non-science; imposition of its tenets in science class is therefore contrary to the stated purpose of a science class, but[4] conveniently in line with a common religious philosophy.

So having lost all rounds pushing for "creationism" specifically, some creationist thinker[5] opined that the basic philosophy of creationism might be pawned off if all specific references to "creation" were removed. "Creationism" holds that god created life in all its complex and amazing glory just as it is now, that we should be awed and humbled by the magnificence of it. Just take out "god", and we'll have another legal avenue in which to reduce science class to pablum. ...and American educational standards in the world ditto.

Creationists then concocted a "scientific" philosophy that inveigles students to believe that scientifically-bounded theories of the biological foundations of life and living organisms cannot fully explain the observable complexities and confoundings, and must therefore have been "designed" by "an intelligence" beyond ours[6]. In other words: science cannot know, therefore it doesn't, therefore any attempt to scientifically ascertain such knowledge is a waste of time.

And this is supposed to pass as science...

It is called "intelligent design", and it is creationism in sheep's clothing. The intricacies of life are so mind-bogglingly profound that mere man cannot grasp it, they say; there are currently more questions than answers, they tell us. "Intelligent design" requires that we accept such profound, unanswered complexities as mysterious and unanswerable, and thus shut down all scientific inquiry which would demystify the mysterious and answer the unanswered. It would put in its place an acceptance of an undefined "intelligence" that took care of it all for us.

The one-time creationists are clear on this point: it does not presuppose “god” as the “intelligence”.[7]

The differences between this and "creationism" are vast, to be sure. "Creationism" avers a god done it; "intelligent design" replaces god with "a highly-placed diplomatic source".[8] "Creationism" says "you cannot discover God's secrets of life"; "intelligent design" says "it's too difficult to figure out, so don't bother".

Worlds apart, they are. And "intelligent design" is not, not, not a religious philosophy.

So says everyone associated with pushing it, teaching it, and defending it.

Which brings us back to the Thomas More Law Center. The Thomas More Law Center, in the first half of its first sentence of self-description[9] calls itself "...a not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians...".

They are the legal defense team defending "intelligent design" from its skeptics. The same "intelligent design" which is not a religious philosophy.

The legal mouthpiece that defends religious freedom is defending "intelligent design", but "intelligent design" is not a religious philosophy.

...and they say irony is dead. Logic certainly is. Thomas More, you have idiots for lawyers. If “intelligent design” weren’t religion, then you wouldn’t be defending it. Q.E.D. [10]

This issue is now in federal court in Harrisburg PA because the school board of the Dover Area School District[11] imposed an addition to their biology curriculum which prefaces the chapter on evolution with an "intelligent design" disclaimer. Science teachers in the Dover school district are essentially required to tell their students "None of what I'm about to teach you is true because it's too hard to figure out ... now, let's learn evolution."

If that isn't a recipe for failing grades, American educational irrelevance and a future of offering fries with that, I don't know what is. The world makes progress by knowing; individuals in the world make money by knowing and applying that knowledge. Nations maintain their relevance, not to mention become wealthy, by having citizens who know as much as they can, allowing them to apply that knowledge freely, and then taxing them. For the United States to condone, even in part, even for a second, the deliberate anti-knowledge of a non-science as a science-substitute, for any reason, is national suicide.
Yet that is exactly what our nation is doing.

And it’s not just our school boards, with Presidential preferment, mollifying the local fundamentalist quacks killing our future, either. It is just about every special interest group available which is as guilty as every other. We have civil libertarians who are desperate to erase our history because that history is rude and insensitive. We have once-oppressed masses desperate to cling to that history and rephrase it, hoping to guilt those who were not so oppressed into creating a museum-like existence whereby the once-oppressed might live in the utopian splendor of their pre-oppression. Yet failure to learn our history, or failure to honestly appraise it, is a guarantee that the stupidities of our past will resurface in our future, and both our civil libertarians and our once-oppressed crybabies need to wake the hell up.

We have hundreds of lefty-luddite groups running around claiming every farcical fantasy that crosses their mind[12] as a new-age armageddon. Too much technology – the application of scientific knowledge – has created conditions so horrible that the main remedy is to eliminate or reduce or penalize this technology. Too much technology has created, for example, “global warming”, and we stop this scourge by penalizing first-world technology, giving a pass to third world technology and… that’s it. We’re apparently supposed to wait for the third world to catch up to the first and then we can all warm the globe together, at our comparative leisure, as one big, happy, profligate human race.

Too much technology has caused pollution that kills us slowly with its poisons. Yet the average life expectancy before this technology[13] was 45; our life expectancy with the poisoning pollution is 75 … which is a two-thirds increase. And the luddites on the left compound their scientific ineptitude with raging innumeracy.

Taken together, our ecological bed-wetting brethren would have us revert to a pre-technological civilization, and throw away knowledge altogether.[14] Wood fires are called “sustainable” while electricity is “1000 times as expensive” – yet, ironically, economic value is, to them being socialist in nature if not in name, a contorted and artificial system, so quibbling about the price of anything should be beneath their dignity. It’s certainly beneath their ability. The pre-tech utopia they visualize us all being empowered within complains about the “planned obsolescence” of mass-market consumer items, and points us to “Third World craftspeople” and their lumpy, ravel-prone hand-knits as models of efficiency.[15] Reinventing the wheel is a marvelously cost-effective manner of… of treading water. And of drowning in the interregnum.

We are being ludditized from all quarters, and by competing philosophies.

And yet, they are the same philosophy. The religiosity that compels us to close our eyes, plug our ears and hold our nose when the subject is biology in all its oozing ickiness, in favor of a wizened old geezer-god who would apparently get righteously indignant over us mere mortals getting hold of his recipe book is not substantially different from the religiosity of those who exhort, nag and pester us to be similarly nonsensical when the subject is mechanical application of our knowledge, in favor of their wizened and delicate earth-mother – which can survive cosmic forces battering it for eons, but, apparently, is completely powerless against a capitalist technology a few centuries old.

If only the luddites from the left would join forces with the luddites from the right, they might be able to win the battle against science and technology sooner. But luckily, neither seem to have studied military tactics; they both still view their ludditism as the One True Ludditism, and they are dividing their forces needlessly in attempt to conquer the same territory exclusively for themselves. Thank god for the sin of pride, eh?

If god created man as an inquisitive being, then biology and the origins of life is a valid, theologically-neutral, target for our inquisitiveness. If god did not create man as an inquisitive being, then those who believe in such a god seriously need to emulate their Thomas More icon and hie thine naked butts to the nearest mud flat, grab a stick and dig for juicy bugs. Mmmmm-mm; good eats. The rest of us will bury them when they die, toothless, of ptomaine or tetanus at the age of twenty-two.

If earth-mother gaia evolved humankind to be rapacious and conquestive, then the earth-motherists need to stop wetting their panties every time our species acts that way. If earth-mother gaia evolved humankind to be compassionate and altruistic, then ration would dictate that rapacious and conquestive is a necessary stop along the path – seeing as that’s where 99% of humanity is currently squatting, and always has been. The earth-motherists, in order to assert their primacy over us neanderthalicly rapacious and conquering brutes, seriously needs to beat us at our own game – as evolution would dictate: the earth-motherists are advised to use their “appropriate technology” pointy sticks while we brutes get the bombs and bullets. We’ll determine the fittest for survival by the rules.

…unless the phrase “appropriate technology” is, like Thomas More, a “philosophy for all seasons”, and refuses to be nailed down to anything which approaches consistency. If that is the case, then the bandits who espouse it are guilty of a different form of religious extortion: using guilt as a means to self-serve. “Appropriate technology” becomes “whatever gets us what we want right now”, and is, in this new guise, indifferentiable from any political power-grab at any point in history. It becomes less about altruism and more about manipulation.

The corollary to this gaia-centric creed is, naturally: “if we don’t want it now, then neither does anyone else”. Thus, if you think you do, well, then, they’ll just ankle-bite you and call you names and accuse you of killing your unborn descendants until you relent and confess the sinful error of your selfish technological ways. …which differs from their selfish technological ways, …because, well, they just do. It was written in a book, so it’s true.[16]

Evolution is a subset of biology. The same biology which has prolonged our miserable lives by two-thirds in the short span of a century – using the technology that is killing us all before our time, and the planet besides. If evolution is wholly false, then the science which supports it must also be false, but the facts point, every time, against that. If evolution is generally true but not strictly accurate in its current form – and biologists are not and have not claimed it to be specifically accurate – then it will be facts determined from the scientific evaluation of reality which makes evolution accurate where it currently isn’t. This scientific inquiry does not occur under conditions of “the whole subject is just too complex, and it lies outside science anyway, so it’s not worth the effort to investigate”.

The effort is worthy, even if not all those to benefit from it are.

[1] People of all political persuasions dislike science, and vehemently so; those on the political left are usually called “greens” and those on the political right are typically “creationists”.
[2] starring Paul Scofield
[3] as opposed to the quiescent and vague mention of 'god' on our coinage and silly oaths; "god" can be anything, from allah to yahweh to zarathustra to money to self – and is often several at once, ecumenicalism and power-politics being what they are. To claim that the word 'god' "establishes" a religion, or "religion in general" is to admit to having the independent spirit of a sheep, created and molded by self-serving shamans, and heaped forever into herd mentality, unable to think or act for oneself, and willing to be fleeced by those who will use political gullibility for their own purposes. "If God hadn't meant for them to be sheared, he wouldn't have made them sheep." - Calvera, The Magnificent Seven.
[4] and I'm willing to accept it as a coincidence
[5] sic
[6] “and to which we dare not aspire” is implied.
[7] …which would seem to leave little green men.
[8] "The fact that intelligent design doesn’t identify the source of design is not political calculation but precise thinking, refusing to go beyond what the scientific evidence tells us. ... To discover the identity of its designer(s), one has to look beyond science. The term ‘intelligent design’ was used to communicate this fact." - Jonathan Witt, Ph.D. Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute, "The Origin of Intelligent Design: A brief history of the scientific theory of intelligent design." Beg pardon, Johnny, but your “fact” isn’t; it is an assumption by definition. Going "beyond science" to find what scientific evidence does not say is mysticism, also by definition, and carries no facts – yet again, by definition. It is otherwise known as religion. And rationalization to arrive at religion is a Pascal's Wager of sorts, making the rationalizer a pascallawag.
[9] http://www.thomasmore.org/about.html
[10] For what it's worth, many of the specific cases the TMLC involves itself in are largely defensible, legally and rhetorically. San Diego, indeed, the majority of state of California, was founded by Spanish Catholic missionaries, and the christian cross figures prominently in the city's history. To excise the symbol of the cross on city emblems and lands as a matter of principle, as the ACLU is attempting to do, is for the ACLU to adopt the same head-losing philosophical martyrdom as the original Thomas More did in 1535 – demonstrating once again that irony knows no politics. Past history which is currently distasteful is still past history and won't change because the item is taken off display and shoved into the attic or, worse, buried or book-burned. Ditto the various Ten Commandments tirades, and the "under god" mass-panty-wetting hysteria. Making history palatable is an exercise largely comprised of delusional disingenuity and which ultimately leads to raging dishonesty. This is then passed off as “truth”.
[11] around Dover, perhaps?
[12] Taken together, one mind might be all they have.
[13] and in those parts of the world which do not have it now
[14] http://journeytoforever.org/at.html
[15] http://www.thesustainablevillage.com/essays/apptech.html
[16] Genesis perhaps, or The Appropriate Technology Sourcebook, maybe, or even Of Pandas and People. There’s a source for mindless validation of any self-serving philosophy. One only needs to search for it.


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