Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rick Perry: Another Step Backwards

I am sometimes reluctant to quote Richard Dawkins too much. I shouldn’t be. He is, after all, a brilliant mind who possesses an enviable skill of succinctly and understandably presenting a rational point of view. Yet, sadly, one of the more hateful and ignorant comments against atheism by the fundamentalist crowd is that Prof. Dawkins is held as the deity of the atheists. That atheism is nothing more than a religion itself.

So, by quoting Dawkins, I sometimes feel like it may appear that I am illustrating the claim of these fundamentalists that Dawkins is the worshipped deity of atheism. But, those who retain any level of open-mindedness at all will appreciate that is nonsense. I think Dawkins is a brilliant man, but he’s certainly not my god. I question everything he says and writes. Sometimes I disagree with what he says, but often I agree and realize that he has very carefully thought out his views before sharing them.

In any case, recently Dawkins had what I would call a characteristically succinct and rational response to Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas and aspiring candidate for President of the United States. Mr. Perry is, of course, in favour of the teaching of intelligent design, that thinly veiled version of creationism that has crept into some science classes in the U.S. Perry was recently asked about evolution and he responded:

"It's a theory that's out there," Perry told the child. "It's got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both Creationism and evolution."

This quote, short though it is, stunningly exposes Perry’s ignorance. No one, who has the least grasp of science and reality, could ever state that evolution is “a theory that’s out there.” Who, in their right mind, would say something similar about gravity or heliocentricity?

Dawkins’ response, which follows below, is a very good example of how a ridiculous and dangerously ignorant point of view like Perry’s can be blown away with a bit of rational thought:

“There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today's Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP' nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand') is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today's Republican Party ‘in spite of' is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

...The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.

...a politician's attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.”

That last sentence is worth repeating: “You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.” So true. This short statement so adequately explains why the issue of denial of evolution in politics is so important. Gary Goodyear, the Minister of State for Science and Technology in Canada is, as I’ve written before, a creationist. Many of my fellow citizens probably feel that is irrelevant to his ability to do his job. But, as Dawkins puts it, the fact that people like Perry and Goodyear reject a basic part of the reality of the world we live in shows that they are woefully ignorant and uneducated. In Goodyear’s case it is a double whammy. Not only is he an inadequate citizen of today who shouldn’t even be in politics to begin with, he is the Minister responsible for science in Canada. What a tragedy.

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