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December 30, 2007

Darwin, Science, Creation, and Drug Policy (Logical Historical)

During his brief five week visit to the Galapagos in 1831,  the islands’ remarkable biodiversity provided the young Charles Darwin with the basic insights that would gradually result in a theory of Evolution. Darwin had been born into comfortable financial circumstances and an almost ideal intellectual environment in which his ideas could be developed; but it was not  a leisurely process and he was well aware of the controversies that were swirling around such heretical ideas, as well as the problems of publishing prematurely. Darwin did not “go public” until his friend and mentor, Charles Lyell, impressed by the parallel observations and similar conclusions of Alfred Russel Wallace, persuaded both men to publish papers on their work to be read together before the Linnean Society in 1858. Surprisingly, that effort excited little notice;  however, when Darwin published The Origin of Species a year later, it became an overnight sensation and he was subsequently forced to defend his ideas against all manner of attacks in multiple republications. The term “Evolution” did not appear until 1871.

While the controversy he ignited was swirling around him, Darwin had no way of knowing that the seas around the Galapagos hid a marine and avian biodiversity equal to what he’d observed on the Islands themselves, or that just a short distance inland in Ecuador, an Andean region known as the Paramo, was the site of an even more unusual ecosystem in which surviving plants and animals had obviously been forced to adapt to combinations of altitude and weather found nowhere else on Earth.

Thanks to modern technology, it has now become possible to explore both the Upper and Lower Paramo in sufficient detail to understand that their fauna and flora represent an almost ideal confirmation of Darwin’s theory;  even as it is under renewed attack from religious fundamentalists who insist that creationist doctrine be given equal emphasis in public schools. That dichotomy illustrates another important concept still hiding in plain sight: most humans will only believe what they are capable of accepting, for whatever reason, as “truth.” Contrary evidence, no matter how convincing, tends to be either ignored or disputed for reasons that make little sense.

Central to the dispute over Evolution and “Creationism” are fundamental differences in opinion over the role of cognition in formulating the rules by which societies are governed: should they be historically older religious beliefs based on a set of unproven ideas that can’t be tested (falsified), or should they be based on the empirical approach of science in which any assumption can be challenged by credible new evidence?

Certainly, if one looks at results, Science has proven the more reliable method. Religious thinking, on the other hand, has been the source of endless conflict in which, ironically,  both our modern weapons of mass destruction and the masses of people they are able to destroy were both enabled by Science.

Once one understands that the drug war is an essentially religious doctrine using pseudo science in its (unsuccessful) attempts to impose an unproven theory of addiction on the whole world, the real questions become why is the policy so widely accepted, and why are both its political proponents and opponents so unwilling to consider pertinent evidence?

Could it be that our cognitive processes are flawed in some basic way?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 30, 2007 05:32 PM