13 December 2007

Lower molars

MolarsIn a recent post, I quoted one Mark Ramsey, who wants "weaknesses" in evolution taught in K-12 public schools, who asked, "What are the Darwinists afraid of?"

I said those were fighting words. It's a taunt. And it's an effective taunt, too, judging how bloody irritated I got upon reading it.

The implication is that biologists don't want a "fair hearing" because it will reveal that evolution is somehow lacking. In fact, it has much more to do with the futility of engaging in intellectual debate with people who will never, ever change their minds.

Normally, I would try to express my frustration over the pattern of discussion, but someone beat me to it, albeit in a totally different context. The following are excerpts from a post made by Joe Straczynski, writer of many things including Babylon 5, to the usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated back in 19 May 1998. It perfectly expresses the tremendous frustration that arises when dealing with a small number of unreasonable people.
Let’s play a game for a moment. Let’s say there are 30 people out there who don’t like you. For whatever reason. They don’t like your work, your face, whatever. 30 people out of a much larger universe of people.

Now, those 30 people go online, where you hang out, and they leave dozens -- literally dozens -- of messages attacking you, every day. They put out absolute and downright lies, total fabrications... they cite contracts that don’t exist, they put out the word that you’ve had a heart attack just so the switchboards at your office get flooded and people get upset, they send you trojan horses and viruses, and impugn your ability, your credibility, your honesty, your relationships with your co-workers.

And they do this day after day, week after week, month after month... for six years. Unflaggingly, untiringly, just one nonstop series of attacks. Yeah, it’s 30 people out of a much larger universe, but over time, even a whole human being can be eaten by ants. They have an impact substantially greater than their numbers or real influence would warrant.

And you cannot hit them, you cannot strike back (it’s okay for THEM to say whatever they want about you, but if you do it back somehow that’s wrong), so your hands are tied unless you want to spend several hundred thousand dollars suing them (which mind you, you’re not entirely ruling out), all you can do is take it, and take it, and take it.

And then one of these jokers will come up with “Well, if you can’t stand the heat...” and you vow you will make them eat their lower molars. It’s not heat, it’s pathology.


If you were standing in the street, and someone walked up to you discheveled, with madness in his eyes, clearly deranged, and began shouting at you two inches from your face, would you stand there and say, “No, it’s okay, it’s his free speech.” No, you would walk away, or help someone who was being assaulted verbally by this person. (And before somebody says “it’s just words,” the Supreme Court and every court in the land has found that words have power to hurt, to defame, to abuse, and to incite.)


Sure, I could keep on going toe-to-toe with them for the *next* five years, day in and day out... but to what end? For what purpose? To explain myself to them? They have no interest in explanations. If you counterattack, you just feed them; if you ignore them, they take it as permission to continue doing so, and others take it as implicit endorsement of what they said.
Joe became a much less public figure after completing Babylon 5.
Ultimately, those people who didn't like Joe's work on Babylon 5 and elsewhere didn't really have much in the way in the ability to impact his ability to write.

Biologists don't have that luxury of withdrawing. A small, dedicated group of people can have huge impacts on science education.

So biologists keep working.

We do research. We keep trying to increase our knowledge of the natural world. We teach classes to students to try to give them the best possible education. We write articles for our peers, we write books and blogs for the public. We say again that yes, there are transitional fossils. We provide detailed answers to claims against evolution that go on for pages and pages. And for all that effort, we are usually rewarded with the same one-line dismissals ("Only a theory!" "Gaps in the fossil record!" "Nobody was there!") over and over and over again.

And then one of these jokers will come up with “What are the Darwinists afraid of?” and you almost wish you could vow you will make them eat their lower molars.

Almost. But that's not the scientific way. So you don't.

No comments: