Thursday, April 7, 2016

Another Discovery Institute Poll, how did we ever live without them!

Recently the Discovery Institute (DI) has been playing with a new way to make their pronouncements to the world, polling. We discussed this in "A New 'Poll' conducted by the DI says what the DI says, what a surprise!" and "Another poll from the Discovery Institute, oh boy, oh boy!"  If you recall the bottom line of polling like this is to ask questions in a 'certain' way and then slant your various announcements to try and justify your positions based on these polls.

Well, they are doing it again only this time things look even fuzzier.  "New Poll Reveals Evolution's Corrosive Impact on Beliefs about Human Uniqueness"  They don't release the actual poll data, just their own spin on the poll.  Now since I, and anyone with a functioning brain, do not trust anything the DI says, that does make it a little hard to respond.   Apparently only three questions were asked:
  • "Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other."
  • "Evolution shows that human beings are not fundamentally different from other animals."
  • "Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places."
I'm not terribly concerned with the results, since the DI would only release things that, they contend, support their ideas.  But take a look at the statements.  Talk about misleading!

First a brief discussion on 'human uniqueness', or as it is also known Anthropocentrism, homocentricism, human exceptionalism, or human supremacism.  We like to think ourselves to be special, in some fashion.  This is usually a cultural 'ism' rather than factual.  In many ways humans are unique, but when you examine any other species on this planet you can find things unique about them as well.  I've said before humans like to think we are somehow the pinnacle of development, but put one of us in the room with a hungry tiger and somehow telling the tiger that we are special isn't going to be much help.

So, as a cultural thing, it's nothing more than a belief that we like to see ourselves as somehow above the rest of the organisms on this planet.  Is that true?  Maybe!  In many ways we have certainly had more of an impact on Earth than any other single species.  We harness and use other organisms in ways few others can emulate.  But when it all boils down, we are talking a philosophy rather than a scientific viewpoint.  We even create religions to help us justify our perceived superiority.  Science can tell us what makes us different from other species, but does that automatically mean superior? Here is a conclusion about it that makes the most sense to me (I added the underlining)
"The 2012 documentary The Superior Human? systematically analyzes anthropocentrism and concludes that value is fundamentally an opinion, and since life forms naturally value their own traits, most humans are misled to believe that they are actually more valuable than other species. This natural bias, according to the film, combined with a received sense of comfort and an excuse for exploitation of non-humans cause anthropocentrism to remain in society."(Wikipedia: Anthropocentrism)
So, now back to the polls statements.  The first one: "Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other."  Before taking exception, look at the wording: "Evolution shows . . .".  If you understand evolutionary theory you know that this is not quite a true statement.  There is nothing in evolutionary theory that supports human uniqueness. . . because evolutionary theory doesn't address the issue!  Evolution doesn't show anything concerning importance.  It matters not where humans, or any organism, reside on some sort of metaphysical hierarchy, evolution still happens whether you think you are at the top or bottom.  Organisms still continue to evolve. Evolutionary theory doesn't address many things, but Creationists constantly blame many things on Evolution that are not addressed in the theory, such as Abiogenesis and Racism.

How about the second statement "Evolution shows that human beings are not fundamentally different from other animals."  This one is slightly truer!  But it's not Evolution that shows us this, but a host of sciences that show the similarities of humans to other organisms.  Evolution explains why we are so similar, but it's things like comparative anatomy and genetics that demonstrate the differences and similarities.  Whether you want to admit it or not, we are not very different from other animals.  We all have hearts, lungs, nervous systems, circulatory systems, brains . . . the list of similarities is tremendous.  However the DI wants this to be a negative for some reason as you can see from a partial quote from their press release about the 'survey':
" . . . leading scientists and other thinkers have insisted that human beings are just another animal . . ."
Note how they insert the word 'just'.  Is this true?  No!  Leading scientists have said that humans beings are animals, mammals to be more specific.  Does the DI refute this?  No because they know they cannot.  They don't like it, so they use the term 'just'.  I've said this is nothing more than taking a piece of information and turning it into a pejorative.

Think about the phrase 'Catherine is a woman'.  Nice simple and factual.  What you can gain from this sentence is that Catherine . . . a name I picked out of thin air . . . is female and one past the age where you might typically refer to her as a 'girl'.  Now, let's add in the word 'just', as in 'Catherine is just a woman'.  Do you get a very different meaning now?  Of course you do!  Now it's being said to present a woman in a negative light, usually revealing the speaker's prejudices.  That's what the DI did here.  In the survey they say one thing, but in the comments, they twist it to cast it negatively. Humans are animals in every sense of the word, scientists do not say 'just' animals -- that's just (pun intended) the DI's spin.

Now for the third comment: "Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places."  Like the others, this is a mix of truth and lies.  Have moral beliefs evolved?  Most certainly!    If you care to, read the Christian Bible and compare the morality of that time to modern times.  Morality has evolved, changed, and not just over time, but have also changed from one place to another.  Look at the moral beliefs in Saudi Arabia as compared to Japan or the United States.  Morality has changed, certainly.  But the real question is why did morals change?  Is it survival or something else?  We could spend decades debating this question, but look what the DI does to it.  They try and tie it to survival of the fittest . . . which is not even how biologists describe evolution.  Here is the partial quote:
" . . .morality evolves based on survival of the fittest . . ."
'Survival of the Fittest' is an archaic way of describing Evolution and one long disused by biologists because it doesn't fit Natural Selection well.  Evolution is not about individual survival but differentiating reproductive success rates.  Here, let me explain it a little better.  Suppose a trait offered an organism a reproductive or survival advantage.  All that means in evolution is that in subsequent generations that trait will become more prevalent in the population.  It doesn't mean organisms without that trait will die off, just that those organisms without that trait will become less numerous within the population.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia about how Creationists . . . and yes the DI are Creationists . . . like to use the phrase 'survival of the fittest':
"Critics of theories of evolution have argued that "survival of the fittest" provides a justification for behavior that undermines moral standards by letting the strong set standards of justice to the detriment of the weak.  However, any use of evolutionary descriptions to set moral standards would be a naturalistic fallacy (or more specifically the is–ought problem), as prescriptive moral statements cannot be derived from purely descriptive premises. " (Wikipedia: Survival of the Fittest)
 As you can see this whole poll is nothing more than the Discovery Institute trying to use some measure of opinion to support their religious ideas.  But then when you can't support it with science, you need something to convince your backers to keep funding you.

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