Friday, March 20, 2009

Unnatural selection

The endless petty controversies in Canadian politics remind me of the old joke about student politics being so bitter because absolutely nothing real is at stake. Ours is still a small country whose importance on the world stage is minimal, but you'd never know it from the degree of partisan rancour found in the House of Commons every day, and in other fever swamps such as the Comments section of the Globe and Mail.

The latest storm in a teapot concerns whether or not the Conservative Minister of Science, Gary Goodyear, believes in evolution or not. Now, making fun of Christians is like shooting fish in a barrel for the mainstream Canadian media, whose sympathies almost always lie with the opposition Liberals anyway. This particular inquiry would be justified if Goodyear's beliefs were at all relevant to his ability to do his job, but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. Goodyear is more likely being targetted for political reasons because of his preference for funding for applied rather than "pure" research.

I can't help but sympathize with creationists, for two reasons. One is that most of them are victims of poor science education in our schools. In most cases, they haven't been presented with enough information to reach an informed conclusion, so they've reverted by default to whatever they were taught at home. The other reason is that they are unfairly and selectively criticized for doing something which the vast majority of Canadians indulge in, which is holding irrational beliefs. If you were to add together all the believing Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, New Age- enthusiasts, Native spirituality adherents, Gaia devotees, and Toronto Maple Leaf fans, you'd have very few people in this country left over who could consider themselves to be perfect rationalists -- especially if those people had ever done something so foolish and ultimately unexplicable in their life as to fall in love or attach special significance to a material object such as a wedding ring or family heirloom. It is simply impossible for human beings to be logical and reasonable all the time. This doesn't mean that we ought to excuse superstition and sloppy thinking - quite the opposite; we should go after them with all of our energies, especially when they have dangerous consequences for others, but at the same time we should recognize that most beliefs don't have dangerous consequences, and we should also have the humility to remember that we ourselves are not perfect.

No comments: