Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On Returning

Alright. Since Kansas is busy redoing Scopes and we clearly worship at the alter of Mencken it is time to let old Hank out of the box. It is also time for a little pontification. As I wrote yesterday, I do not understand how the good people of Kansas hope to benefit by teaching bad science in their science classes. The old Monkey Trial was all about ideology too; but the dispute made sense.

Both HL Mencken and WJ Bryant misunderstood the consequences of evolution. What's more, they both misunderstood in exactly the same way. In evolution they saw the potential for a scientific justification for social divisions. Bryan - Populist and populist to a fault - thought that a little ignorance was better than the possibility of scientific justifications for oppression. Mencken the meritocrat welcomed any scientific validition of his superiority to everyone else.

Both of them, in so many ways, got it totally wrong. Evolution is strictly an example of how good science is done. It's also a great example of how the application of the scientific method can lead to results which contradict one's worldview. That's the point of scientific inquiry: you don't get to decide on the results - something both Bryan and Mencken were trying to do. They got something else wrong too. Results in one field don't extend to another just because, by analogy, it seems they should. "Survival of the fittest" doesn't extend to economics - at least there isn't much data one way or the other to draw that conclusion. This leads to the crucial point that both of them missed. Educating the populace in the discipline of science - and critical thinking - doesn't lead to oppression. It enables every day people to make sense of their world and improve their lot in life. It's one of the great - if not the best - social equalizers around. Much the same way that the Protestant revolution removed the power of "the word" from the priesthood and placed it in the hands of the common people, good science education gives everyone the tools to call BS on their leaders (and anyone else) when those leaders try to pull BS.

This is why, when I read about what's happening in Kansas and elsewhere, I envision a group of people screaming at the top of their lungs "We demand you cut off our hands!" The goals of this new "revolution" are clear. It's to destroy everything that gives everyday people power. It's giving Mencken, the godfather of elitist liberals, every thing he wants. All in the name of WJ Bryan.
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