Friday, August 15, 2003

Your Say

Preface: After I wrote the question which ends this post, I realised that I had bugger all else to say on the topic. So I'm stealing John Quiggin's Monday Message Board idea (I prefer to think of it as an unauthorised borrowing, and I'm prepared to swear on a bloody high stack of copies of Philosophical Investigations that it's done with no intention to permanently deprive him of it) and leave the topic open to discussion in the comments thread.

Friday was a good day for new blog topics. Besides the immediately personal subject of my new Preparing for Work Agreement, I remembered a quote that I read somewhere, from someone who was troubled by the fact that something like 60% of Americans want the biblical account of creation taught in schools and that in George Dubya, they have a president who is happy to go along with them. Unfortunately I don't remember where I read this, or who said it but I don't think that matters right now. The thing is it got me thinking.

It occurred to me that if the remark was accurate, then the whole debate over the scientific justification for the Kyoto Protocol is, as far as the US is concerned, completely moot. Especially if, as some have inferred, the current US President is a closet creationist.

The only bit of evidence I could turn up via Google, is an often repeated quote from the 1999 election campaign, which doesn't come from the man himself, but from a spokeswoman:

"He believes it is a question for states and local school boards to decide but believes both ought to be taught," a spokeswoman said.

I think it would be hard to find a better example of dog-whistle politics: if you're a creationist, it's easy to conclude that Dubya is on your side, at least to the extent that he believes that creation should be given equal time in the science curriculum. On the other hand, leaving it to local communities is eminently in keeping with a grass-roots apporach to democracy and, if anyone actually wanted to make a serious issue of Dubya's position on the relative merits of creation science and the real stuff, there's not much of a peg there to hang anything on. The crowning touch is to have the statement delivered through a spokeswoman so that if push comes to shove, you can always maintain that, regrettably, your actual position was inadvertently misquoted.

So there's plenty of room for some of the President's supporters, and just about every one of his detractors, to assume that Mr Bush is a closet creationist although there's bugger all evidence to satisfy a balance of probabilities standard of proof, let alone establish the case beyond a reasonable doubt. But what the hell, this is a blog, not a court of law, so let's proceed on the quite explicit assumption that President George W Bush is a creationist and see where it leads us.

The first conclusion it leads me to is that, as far as global warming is concerned, any scientific arguments based on the fossil record or events occurring on geological time scales beyond the date of creation estimated from the biblical chronology aren't worth a damn. I can't remember the exact estimate of the age of the Earth from biblical "data": i think it's somewhere around the 6,000 BC mark with one estimator settling on the first day of the Michaelmas term at Oxford University as the actual day of the year.

Most of what I wrote in my post on the work of Veizer and Shaviv goes into the bin on these grounds: any cosmology that supposes that the Earth has spent 450 million years travelling around the galaxy has to be a load of cobblers if there are in fact only 7,000 or so years of terrestrial history to account for. This is one of the reasons I'd rather talk about this in terms of creation science versus the real stuff, rather than creation science versus evolution: it's not just Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, or its modern derivatives that's at stake here, it's the whole of modern science.

I think it might be best to skip the jeremiad about the coming dark age of religious unreason, at least for the time being. While it might be fun to write, it will probably go over better if I do enough research to give it a little verisimilitude. For now let's stick to the topic at hand - what if George W Bush is a creationist? All relevant comments are welcome but I'd be especially interested in what you think the consequences for world politics and other big picture issues might be.

Afterword: I doubt that anyone's going to believe any protestations I might make that in no way do I consider this equivalent to asking if George W Bush is an idiot but all the same I'm going to insist that no imputations are intended about his cognitive functions, regardless of whether your preferred measurement standard is Spearman's g or Adorno's F Scale. Difficult as I might personally find it to conceive of such a person, I'm prepared to concede as a matter of courtesy that there are intelligent creationists in the world. And yes, the preface is one of those self-subverting ones beloved of post-modernists.

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