Thursday, June 14, 2007

Evolution vs Dogma

A recent study concluded that being actively Christian is correlated with disbelief of the theory of evolution. This should come as a surprise to no one, but upon reading this study, many people might shake their heads in disbelief -- just like how many did after watching this clip.

But of course, things aren't always as black and white as they appear to be. After all, taking a stand against evolution might offer a stronger political position.

One of the problems with a theory like evolution is the difficulty in designing benchmarks and experiments which can validate or reject it. In this regard, physics has it easy. To be sure, there exists a large body of evidence which is most elegantly explained (as far as we know) by evolution. But whereas particles are created and destroyed in fractions of a second, most experiments one might design for evolution would necessarily take thousands or millions of generations.

I think it's important to understand this distinction, lest we allow these ideas to achieve a status akin to dogma within our minds. Don't think that's possible? Well, just look at what happened to poor Larry Summers. All he said was that there might be a genetic/physiological reason to explain the disparity in the number of men and women in high-end science and engineering positions, and that we should explore the validity of this possibility. You would think that learned individuals such as Harvard professors would be more capable of recognizing and controlling their latent biases in order to contemplate Dr. Summers's speech on a more intellectual level. In our present society, "enlightened" thinkers typically believe that women are just as capable and intelligent as men. Failure to accept this axiom is considered barbaric. I don't know about you, but that smells a little doggymatic to me.

Being a computer scientist (or computer scientist hopeful), I'd like to think that we would eventually be able to to design simulations to test various theories regarding evolution. Many biologists are still very uncomfortable with the idea, but part of me feels that it is almost inevitable.

After all, we need something to explain the more suggestive sides of nature.

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