Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A Matter of Policy

Life really is too short to worry about extremely unlikely hypotheses just because they are sacred to the vast majority of human beings. If you’re chatting with somebody over lunch or brokering peace in Northern Ireland or engaged in some other civilian pursuit, it is simply good manners to respect tender sensibilities. If you are determined to understand the world, however, being fair or considerate is more than a waste of time, though it certainly is that. Extending the courtesy of listening creates the presumption that the alternative notion is worth considering, indeed that it is the alternative notion instead of just an alternative notion.

Americans are suckers for this sort of thing. Once the Creationists failed in their efforts to suppress all mention of evolution in textbooks and classrooms, they began to claim that they just wanted a fair debate so that students could choose for themselves what to believe. But this tactic, though a rhetorical winner, implies that a creator god is somehow the inevitable alternative explanation of the development of living things when it is only one of an infinite number of possible explanations and a notion of David Lynchian weirdness at that. Why would anybody entertain the theory that the existence and nature of things is the result of an action? There is an obvious political explanation for why many people want the theme of the divine designer to be raised in a high school class and an obvious psychological explanation for why people find the idea commonsensical. What’s utterly lacking is a scientific or even philosophical justification for entertaining Creationism for an instant. Affording the “theory” or its proponents due respect is a methodological error.

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