Saturday, October 10, 2009

Now ABC News makes me cranky

The ABC News website has an article on Ardipithecus, the newly publicized (not really newly discovered) fossil that provides a glimpse into the world of Hominins (bipedal apes, like humans) that existed some four and a half million years ago. She (yes, she's a she, nicknamed "Ardi") is an early biped, but there are some interesting differences between her and the Australopithecines, such as the famous "Lucy," who came a bit later. For example, her feet seem to be more chimp-like with an opposable big toe, and her pelvis, while clearly allowing for bipedality, is not quite like that of Lucy, who was fully bipedal. She lived in a forest ecology, which reinforces the hypothesis that human ancestors were bipedally oriented before, rather than after, they came down out of the trees and entered the open savanna environments of eastern Africa.

So far, so good. The part that makes me cranky is that this article is on ABC News's Technology and Science website, and the article headline reads:
Creationists Say Science and Bible Disprove 'Ardi' Fossil is Evidence of Evolution
The writer, Russell Goldman, sets the tone of the discussion with this:
In the case of "Ardi," the ape-like fossil recently discovered in Ethiopia and already being celebrated as the oldest found relative of modern human beings, the final determination depends on who is doing the talking.

In one camp are evolutionary scientists who last week published and hailed the discovery of an upright walking ape named Ardipithecus ramidus, or "Ardi" for short, who made Ethiopia her home nearly 5 million years ago.

But despite the excitement from the paleontology community, another group of researchers, many of them with advanced degrees in science, are unimpressed by Ardi, who they believe is just another ape -- an ape of indeterminate age, they add, and an ape who cannot be an ancestor of modern man for a range of reasons, including one of singular importance: God created man in one day, and evolution is a fallacy.

Say what? Scientists who have examined these remains for years, meticulously describing everything they can about them, are paired off against people who believe that every word in a set of myths and stories made up by nomadic pastoralists several thousand years ago is literally true? And the "final determination" of the fossil's significance simply depends on which of these groups has the floor? I don't think so.

See, this is what's wrong with America. Every opinion, no matter how loony, is equal in weight to every other opinion, no matter how well supported by, you know, facts and things. I usually refer to this as the Crossfire Model of Argumentation (CMA), after the old CNN talk-news show. A "liberal" and a "conservative" each gave their take on things, nobody was ever challenged to provide evidence, and in the end nothing was ever resolved; it was just entertainment.

CMA is an outcome of hyper-independence training, a component of the enculturation of people in the US. We see it in our classes, where students feel that simply having an opinion is just as good as doing the hard work sometimess necessary to have an informed opinion. On a wider scale, we see it among supporters of the "Birther" movement, who just "know" that President Obama was not born in the US, evidence be damned. We see it in the "Death Panel" movements, whose adherents are just absolutely certain that the health care reform legislation moving oooh sooo slooowly through the process contains provisions that will allow the gummint to kill their grammas.

Goldman's article ends, sadly, not with a debunking of the witless yahoos who think the Earth is 6,000 years old, but with this quote from David Menton, an "acclaimed anatomist and creationist" and a "researcher in residence at Answers in Genesis" (in other words, a total fraud):
"Evolution is supposedly based on science, but the science does not prove what they want it to. Creationism is not based on scientific observation but on God's word. God created everything in six days, and that's it."
When will we, as a nation, grow up?

1 comment:

  1. Ron, I don't know when we as a nation will "grow up". There are people who have an idea of "theistic evolution", that is, they are believers in a deity(whether or not one agrees with this belief), but also agree that the evidence for evolution, human and otherswise, is overwhelming. The scientist Ken Miller is one such example. Furtheremore, most "mainstream" religious traditions do not understand the Genesis story of creation, absolutely literally. In fact, the whole story(especially the part about Adam and Eve), is as much "about" the gap between human desires and human abilities, so to speak, as it is about anything else. Understtod this way, there is plenty of room for evolution, and that's fine as far as I'm concerned, for people who have that belief. What I can't understand is how a scientist can get up and say the answers are in the Bible, not on th eobservations since the time of Darwin onward, that overwhelmingly point to what Darwin called "descent with modification". Same with Ardi, whoever or whatever she represents.
    Anne G


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