Ken Miller: America’s Darwin Problem

The content of this post disappeared. No idea how that happened.

Anyway, I’m posting another article that I ran across as I’m still not up to posting my own words. Soon, I hope.

                   

America’s Darwin Problem (first published in the Huffington Post)
by Ken Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University

America’s got a Darwin problem — and it matters. According to a 2009 Gallup poll taken on the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, fewer than 40 percent of Americans are willing to say that they “believe in evolution.” When another study asked if humans had developed from earlier species of animals, the American public split right down the middle. Forty percent said they had, while 39 percent rejected any suggestion that our species had emerged from the process of evolution. Even more worrisome is the fact that rejection of evolution correlates closely with political views, with a majority of the members of one of our major political parties casting themselves as Darwin rejectionists. In this election year, the strength of anti-evolution sentiment has been on full display in the presidential race, as one candidate after another declared their distrust of the scientific consensus around evolution. One member of the group, however, broke ranks with the others and boldly declared, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.” How’d that turn out for him? Jon Huntsman’s early exit from the race confirmed something else he said at the time. “Call me crazy” for trusting science, he tweeted. And sadly, it looks like he was right.

Kenneth R. Miller“Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust.” Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University
Kenneth Miller, Brown University
Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

You might think that since Americans are a practical, pragmatic people, this is an issue that would turn on the weight of the evidence. It’s not. In an age of molecular genomics, it is ever more apparent that the fingerprints of evolution are pressed deeply into human DNA, just as they are into the genomes of every other organism. Biologists understand this, and so do students who study the science of life. Whether conservative or liberal, fundamentalist or agnostic, the more students learn of biology, the more they accept evolution. So, why does public acceptance matter if the students who actually go into science see the evidence for evolution so clearly?

This is the heart of our Darwin problem. Significant numbers of Americans have come to regard the scientific enterprise as a special interest group that rejects mainstream American values and is not worthy of the public trust. Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke to this view when he claimed that “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” to their own benefit. Why? Perry was clear about this. It’s personal greed. Scientists cheat “so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry is hardly alone in his effort to depict scientists as greedy outsiders, “scamming the American people right and left” in the words of one Fox News commentator.

In American today, anti-evolutionism matters because it has become the vanguard of a genuine anti-science movement. To be sure, opposition to evolution isn’t new. State laws against the teaching of evolution actually go back nearly a century, and the famous Scopes trial took place 87 years ago. However, if you thought such things were behind us, guess again. Laws designed to encourage the teaching of non-scientific “alternative” theories to evolution were introduced in 11 state legislatures last year. This year, Darwin’s 203rd birthday, on February 12th, saw an anti-evolution bill, already passed by the Indiana State House of Representatives, awaiting action in the State Senate. Its fate there is uncertain, but there are plenty of reasons to be concerned.

Our Darwin problem is really a science problem. The easier it becomes to depict the scientific enterprise as a special interest immersed in the culture wars, the easier it becomes to reject scientific findings. We see this everywhere in American culture and politics today, from the anti-vaccine movement to the repeated assertion that global warming is a deliberate “hoax” rather than a straightforward conclusion driven by reams of scientific data. Sometimes this is done for deliberate political reasons, to secure advantage for a particular industry or financial group, but just as often it is motivated by fear of the implications of what science has discovered or might discover in the future.

Charles Darwin

Our Darwin problem matters for two reasons. First, it threatens the future of American scientific leadership in an increasingly competitive world. Convince enough young Americans that science is a close-minded system with a particular cultural and political agenda, and we will cede leadership to emerging countries that don’t share our Darwin hang-ups, and see science as the wave of the future. If you doubt this is happening today, look at the graduate programs of America’s research universities, still the greatest in the world. Increasingly, they are filled with bright, eager, creative students from around the world, taking places that American students just don’t seem interested in filling. Once trained, they will become the scientists of the future, while more and more of our own students have been persuaded that science has nothing to offer them. If this doesn’t change, scientific discovery will increasingly become something that happens elsewhere.

Second, and in my view just as important, our problem with science constrains and narrows our views and vision of the world. My personal concern for those who hold that view isn’t just that they are wrong on science, wrong about the nature of the evidence, and mistaken on a fundamental point of biology. It’s that they are missing something grand and beautiful and personally enriching.

Evolution isn’t just a story about where we came from. It’s an epic at the center of life itself. Far from robbing our lives of meaning, it instills an appreciation for the beautiful, enduring, and ultimately triumphant fabric of life that covers our planet. Understanding that doesn’t demean human life — it enhances it. We may be animals, but we are not just animals. We are the only ones who can truly appreciate, as Darwin put it, that there is “grandeur in this view of life,” and indeed there is. To accept evolution isn’t just to acknowledge the obvious — that the evidence behind it is overwhelming — it is to open one’s eyes to the endless beauty that life has generated and continues to produce. It is to become a knowing participant, in the truest sense, in the living world of which we are all a part.

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“The human heart has hidden treasures, in secret kept, in silence sealed; the thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures, whose charms were broken if revealed.” ~ Charlotte Bronte

  

 

“In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful they may be, or for what good end they may be set to serve. Secrecy means evasion, and evasion means a problem to the moral mind.” ~ Gilbert Parker

What is the difference between secrecy and privacy? Is privacy a matter of choosing whether or not to share something without fear or shame? Is secrecy choosing to withhold something because of feelings of guilt or embarrassment? 

Or, to reduce it to its most simplistic terms: Privacy is a right to which everyone is entitled; secrecy is a choice made to keep things hidden. That being said, where do the lines blur? When does something private become a secret? I think that it’s a matter of intent. Consider: Is the individual keeping the secret because the relationship could be affected adversely if the information were to be revealed? Conversely, is the information merely something that concerns the individual only and if revealed, would cause no harm? 

One article that I read which addresses this issue was written by a therapist who stated the following: 

Secrecy comes with guilt and fear, while privacy results in a stronger sense of self without guilt. Secrecy is about control and destroys trust, while privacy does not. Secrets are often about addictive behaviors, or old defense mechanisms, while privacy is more often about personal history, values priorities, dreams, and visions of the future. The decision to withhold a secret, or to keep something private, is a choice reflecting our values and emotional maturity. Choosing to share a secret is a healthy and mature act even though it may create conflict. Choosing to keep something private, is our right and privilege, however if we choose to share something personal, it has the possibility of deepening an intimacy. 

“Three things cannot long stay hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.” ~ Gautama Siddhartha

When I was growing up and living with my parents, I had no privacy. My mother would search my things, look under my mattress, listen to my telephone calls, read my mail. I was determined that when I had children of my own that I would treat them with the respect they deserved and allow them a sense of privacy. Did I find out things anyway? Of course. But 98 percent of the time, I believed that their privacy was their right as individuals. 

Charles Darwin . . . Shh . . .

Everyone is entitled to privacy. I don’t need to know everything that Corey thinks or says. Having just said that, I also don’t believe that secrets benefit anyone except the secret-keeper because the truth always has a way of revealing itself. Sandra Petronio, a professor of communications at Indiana University-Purdue University, devised a rule-based theory on privacy in 2002 called Communication Privacy Management, or CPM. Essentially, CPM states that individuals own information until they decide to share that information with someone else. Underpinning CPM is the idea that information is shared based on a set of rules. 

For example, if I choose to share information about my past with X, and I say to X that I don’t want anyone else to know about this information, then I have established a boundary for that information, making X a co-owner of the information. These rules are understood, and if the person receiving the information breaks the rules by sharing the information with someone else, then trust is broken. Of course, the rules fluctuate depending upon circumstances. 

Another aspect of CPM is the concept of rewards and costs: As the information owner, I control who has access to the information; by sharing this information, I could be rewarded by the freeing aspect of self-expression. On the other hand, sharing this information runs the risk of loss of control over the information or possible embarrassment. Therefore, the information owner sets boundaries to control disclosure of the information. 

I will admit that I have reduced CPM to the barest lay terms and by doing so have left out a great deal, but I thought that it was an interesting concept and a more scientific way of looking at the issue of secrecy versus privacy. 

“Lying is done with words and also with silence.” ~ Adrienne Rich

I saw an interesting clip on Today online about this very issue. Essentially, the premise was that the Internet and e-mail have made it possible for more and more people to be unfaithful digitally. That’s right: digital infidelity. A British study revealed that 20 percent of individuals had checked their spouse’s browser history on the computer. I confess. I have done this, but I’m not proud of that fact. My reasons for doing so—insecurity about where I stood—made sense to me, but I still regret the invasion of privacy. 

While technology has made it easier to be duplicitous, it has also made it easier to find out the truth—a matter of be careful what you wish for because that e-mail you are opening may contain more than you ever wanted to know. As Regina Lynn said in an article on Wired.com, “The internet reveals a glimpse of polyamory to everyone who has ever flirted over IM, entered a chat room or joined a role-playing game. Regardless of whether you have sex online, every coquettish remark gives you a taste of what it means to share attention, time and intimacy with other people.” 

Apparently, more and more relationships are suffering as a result of one partner’s online activity because of the opportunities for secrecy that cyberspace offers. And this harmful activity is not limited to connecting to other people. Other significant issues that can come between two people include online gambling addictions, pornography addictions, even shopping addictions.  The question that the secret-keeper should ask is whether or not he or she would want the spouse/partner to engage in the pattern of behavior that is being kept secret? If the answer is no, then there is something wrong with the behavior. 

One aspect of the Today story that I found particularly interesting was the idea that although digital infidelity is not a physical connection, it is usually an emotional connection or a time connection, which keeps one partner from the other. Then there is the added risk that an online connection may lead to a physical connection. One of the experts commenting on the story remarked that more people are leaving their families behind to be with someone they have never met in real life. Am I the only one who finds this weird, abandoning reality for a perceived connection? 

A true cautionary tale: 48 Hours Mystery episode “Love and Lies” tells the story of Jennifer Corbin, who was murdered by her dentist husband. Jennifer was having an online affair with an individual named Christopher. Turns out, Christopher was a woman. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Regina Spektor, “Man of a Thousand Faces”