Glenn Beck on Science

The following audio from a Glenn Beck show is illustrative of many things. Although he demonstrates incredible ignonance of evolution in this clip, he makes some good points…they just aren’t the points he thinks he’s making.

http://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/flash/player.swf

His main points are the following:

  1. “I don’t know why it is unreasonable to say this…I’m not God, so I don’t know how God creates…I don’t think we came from monkeys…I think that’s ridiculous…I haven’t seen a half-monkey-half-person yet…did evolution just stop?”
  2. “They have to force [the idea of evolution] down your throat…when anybody has to force it, it’s a problem…you didn’t have to force that the world is round…[…]…you don’t have to force the truth..you just keep adding evidence and evidence until it becomes self-evident.”

Now, point (1) demonstrates a profound ignorance, willful or otherwise, of the claims of evolution.  First, no biologist says we came from monkeys…monkeys and people are just as “evolved” as each other, and that they share a common ancestor which would have both features of monkey and human.  We have many of these transitional fossils (for a very nice summary see the Transitional Fossil FAQ).  It’s really such an elementary error, that he should be thrown off the air just for spreading such ignorance.

However, I would like to focus on point (2) which perhaps seems reasonable: that truth should be self evident, and not have to be forced.  In a way, one might think that science works this way because everything should be repeatable, and we don’t take arguments from authority.  However, there is a problem.  Although it is true that the fact that the world is round did not have to be forced (in contrast to the bogus propaganda story about Columbus demonstrating it), one does need to actually look at the facts in order to be able to judge…truth can be self evident but it requires one to actually look at the evidence.  Take evolution, for example.  If you look at the genetic data showing the differences in base-pair counts between animals, this single number mapped out for all animals demonstrates a tree structure (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_descent and http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section1.html).  Now recall that Darwin did not know anything about genetics, so this is a prediction made 50+ years before the measurements.  When you actually look at the evidence for evolution it is absolutely self evident.  The problem is several-fold:

  1. people refuse to even look at the evidence, choosing instead to willfully remain ignorant thinking they understand it.
  2. There is a certain amount of technical information necessary to understand any science, and that takes work.  If you don’t want to do that work then you’ll remain ignorant of it.  As an extreme example, quantum mechanics is definitely true, but it neither self evident nor intuitive (and I don’t see conservative talking heads railing against it)

What’s the solution?  I’m not sure, but challenging people to learn is a start.

 

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About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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