17.9.08

A new kind of intolerant fundamentalism

These are strange days we live in! It seems it is OK for scientists such as Professor Hawkings to doubt the existence of the Higgs Boson - and so call into question one of the predictions of the standard model of Quantum Field Theory - one of the best proven scientific theories of all time. And yet when another scientist even suggests that alternatives to the Darwinist theory of evolution, a theory with many holes and unresolved problems, is something which could, when appropriate, be discussed in the classroom - he is forced to resign!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7028639.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7619670.stm

It shows that there is a rise of a new form of intolerant fundamentalism in this country. One that rejects and seeks to oppress all alternative views, refuses to debate, and puts forward it's belief as unquestionable dogma. I'm not talking about the creationists - it's fundamentalist atheism.

If Darwin's theory on the origin of the species cannot be questioned in the same way as every other scientific theory then it no longer has the right to call itself science. It has become the very thing it despises and seeks to destroy: fundamentalist dogma.

2 comments:

Ricky Carvel said...

Did you notice, the first BBC article you linked to basically said that creationist belief in the UK is largely due to Islam, whereas the second article made it out to be an entirely biblical/Christian belief?

I think the media spin on the story is largely what lead to the 'resignation' as his comments weren't really that divisive. What it shows is that leading scientists aren't really allowed to have beliefs, or rather opinions, outside of the remit of science.

But I am really fed up with the creationism vs evolution contest. Creationism posits an origin, evolution posits a mechanism and so they aren't in competition. Its an 'apples and oranges' comparison.

But don't give evolution such a hard time. OK, it may not be a perfect theory and it may not have much in the way of supporting evidence, but there are no rival scientific theories that anyone takes seriously and evolutionary theory has been proven to work in reality - experiments have been caried out where evolution theory has been used to predict changes in bacteria over multiple generations and experiments have confirmed the predictions. A number of new and proven effective medicines have ben developed using evolution theory. OK, macro-evolution has never been observed, but micro-evolution is certainly going on.

Chris HH said...

Hi Ricky.

Thanks for your informed comments. I largely agree with everything you say.

I believe in "micro-evolution" (although I think that's a bad name for it). The fact that people need a new flu vaccine every year, or that new superbugs like MRSA can arise is proof of genetic mutation and natural selection at work.

However as you point out, the media is not very educated on this subject - and consequently neither is the general public. To most people, evolution = Darwin's theory on the origin of the species. Scientists don't help matters either when they use "evolutionary theory" to refer to both.

Mutation can explain how a spread of genetic diversity can exist within single-celled organisms which reproduce asexually.

Natural selection can explain how genetic diversity in any species can be narrowed down to specific qualities suited for survival in a particular environment.

Both of these can help in our study and understanding of genetics.

However even in single celled organisms these mutations do not cause a new species to arise. They merely giggle about with the existing genetic material. They can change the base-pair arrangement in the DNA sequence, but they can't add anything new to the sequence itself.

Also, as any scientist worth his salt knows, natural selection causes a *reduction* in biodiversity - not an increase. So for evolutionary theory to be a valid explanation for the origin of the species - the mass of biodiversity that exists on this planet - the rate of beneficial mutational changes must be greater than the rate such changes disappear due to natural selection (i.e. to fill a bath with the plug out you need to pour the water in very fast). We all know that this is not the case: strains, breeds and whole species are lost continually due to changing habitats, yet not one single benificial mutation, let alone a new species arising from successive mutations of this kind have ever been observed.

So I do wish that scientists and the media in particular would be less pushy with this theory.

I also think you are right that the reason it is held so tightly is that there isn't another *scientific* theory on the table. But the notion that every valid explanation has to scientific is flawed... but that's a post for another day.