The Second Version

22/05/09

The Hard Slog of Knowledge

The recent oublication of the discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved fossil, which could be a transitional species between lemurs and monkeys (speaking in non-rigorous terms) and thus an early ancestor of humans, has ignited a new round of controversy.

Radical Darwinists (if there can be such a thing) like Charles Johnson and his clique are nearly ecstatic; Allahpundit instead is between skeptic and dismissive while many christian fundamentalist commenters crap all over the place (but comment threads there are sewer pits pretty much like those on YouTube, only with better grammar and ortography).

In the middle, the scientist who studied the fossil apparently want to capitalize as much as they can on the discovery with a slick public relations & marketing campaign. And they toss around the nonsensical idea of "missing link" like any bible-thumper, jeez.

A lot of the debate seems to be misinformed if not dishonest, and the creationist side is the worst offender in this regard.

But instead of going on to debunking specific claims or exposing some particular aspect of evolution, I will talk about the big picture.

Evolution is a vast and complex theory - it should come as no surprise, considering how widespread and diverse life is. A very large amount of literature has been written on it since Darwin's work, probably more than to last for a lifetime of fast reading. I could say that quite a few books are necessary only to take a brief look at the various aspects of evolution.

Evolution is also multidisciplinary: it takes notions and concepts from biology, ethology, ecology, anatomy, phisiology, and archeology, geography, geology, physics, chemistry, climatology... and probably some other discipline.

It is a hard and long slog to learn even just enough of those. It takes years of study on ponderous and often dull tomes and arid journals. Not much going out to party, not much of blogging or twittering. And no, there's no shortcuts; no condensed versions, no explanatory VHS or Youtube videos (except for some divulgative ones, but divulgation is not study).

You have to walk all the hard way to the destination, and this is something not everyone is willing or able to do.

Evolution as it's taught in high schools is in many cases an extremely condensed and simplified version - simplified to meet the requirements of pupils too often barely literate above the instant message level - so much that it bears only a passing resemblance to the real thing.

Another point is that evidence has to be evaluated fairly and with as little prejudices as possible. But if someone starts from a position of strong belief in a God that created the world more or less as we see it today, it will become inpossible to accept evidence to the contrary. Some creationists would rather believe that God tricked man placing the correct fossils in the correct strata, than to consider that the biblical account of creation may be wrong, or just an allegory.

However, different ideas of God - like God as the one that merely set the universe in motion - are not in conflict with evolution.

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