Sunday, February 8, 2009

Booker Nods

Christopher Booker has made a fool of himself today, and I find it rather sad. There are those who would say he has been a fool for years but I cannot agree with them- his denunciations of bureaucratic tyranny both in Britain and Brussels, and of the hidden aims of the European Union have, on the whole, been well researched and well argued. His obsession with sheep-dip and more recently with wind farms may or may not be misguided, but he has told many stories of how the officials' desire to follow the letter of the law has had terrible consequences which those who make the law did not consider in advance and do not care about when they are pointed out. This is an important task, and one in which he has always had my full support (for what it's worth), but today he has blundered badly, by talking in a strongly opinionated fashion about something of which he is clearly ignorant.

Today he has tried to make a point about supporters of the EU and believers in global warming, by comparing them with those who consider that the theory of evolution is a pretty good way of describing the history of life on Earth. He demonstrates an ignorance of science so complete that I am astounded to discover this about a man whose articles I have been reading for years.

It is true that there are people who use an expressed belief in evolution to identify themselves as atheists and distance themselves from the religious; it is true that many of those who claim to believe in 'Darwinism' do not, in fact, understand the first thing about genetics or biology; it is true that the theory of evoltion is incomplete and is not proven to be correct in all of its details; it is true that there is much that is not understood; but: the 'half an eye' and 'mouse to bat' examples he brings up are perfectly explicable- well known red herrings; he doesn't even define what he means by 'Darwinism'; he seems to be criticising people who cannot explain the theory, rather than those who can; he thinks that the use of the word theory, in connection with a certain idea in science, means that it is untested, unfounded and intuitive, and thus no better than anything else that anyone might produce of the top of his head; he doesn't realise that scientists are the first people to question their own conclusions, and are quite happy to adjust the theory to new information, or to abandon it completely; in the words of someone whose name I forget, scientists accumulate data, construct a theory from it, and then throw the theory against the wall until it breaks, at which point they fix it or make another one; this is not a weakness of science, it is precisely how it arrives at something approaching truth. Truth in this sense is well defined and understood. There is much that is wrong, but there is no falsehood.

It is worth reading the article, as an example of how these things are so easily misunderstood and misrepresented. I don't recommend the comments, unless you enjoy arguing about Bigfoot.

For some, 'Darwinism', 'Relativity,' 'Incompleteness', 'Chaos theory', 'Uncertainty' and a number of other terms derived from science are ususal tools of misinterpretation that can form the basis of a system of belief that gives them a sense of peace and justification. This says nothing whatever about the theories themselves.

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