Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mike Huckabee Says "It's Just a Theory"

 
This is a video from several years ago when Mike Huckabee was Governor of Arkansas. Here's the description on YouTube.
A young Arkansan asks Mike Huckabee what should be done about schools not teaching evolution properly. The former governor then advocates what the student has already said was against state standards...that schools should teach creationism because evolution's only a theory.
Huckabee is entitled to his opinion about creationism, of course, but what troubles me is his statement that evolution is only a theory. Most of us don't (usually) make statements about things that we know nothing about. I can't believe that Huckabee is completely ignorant about the basic facts of biology. Somebody must have told him at some time during his life that evolution is overwhelmingly supported by solid scientific evidence.

What is it about IDiots that makes them so immune to rationalism? Why aren't people like Huckabee challenged when they lie? Is it because it's not polite?





30 comments :

  1. George in Oregon

    Remember that Mr. Huckabee also said that he was not sure if the earth was 6 billion years old as he seems to think the science says.

    The man just doesn't know much of anything it seems.

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  2. Evolution is a view? It's just a theory? Does he know what a 'theory' even is? While I give that methodological naturalism is a view, it is also one that works so incredibly well that ignoring its products is done at the peril of looking like an idiot. Science punted that creationist drivel long ago, yet morons like this keep propogating mythology as if it should have an equal footing in a Science class. What rot! And this is a frontrunner for the leadership of the most powerful nation in the world? Huckabee is the embodiment of why fewer and fewer Nobel Prize laureates in the sciences are not American. We should begin calling him 'Hickabee'.

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  3. Well, old Hickabee (nice one) has fallen well behind Romney and McCain now. Don't like them either, but they're not as egregiously stupid as the Hick. Still, every time a creationist clod opens his mouth and spouts idiocy like "it's only a theory," they make a better case for why science education needs to improve drastically than we ever could.

    Gravity is "only" a theory too, after all. Duh.

    The threat of creationism and religious anti-science to America as a whole cannot be discounted: America will simply not be able to compete economically in the 21st century if the vast majority of our population are scientific illiterates.

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  4. He is, unfortunately, hardly alone with the problem of what the term 'scientific theory' actually means. Even many of those on the side of science don't know and seem to think there are immutable things in science called 'laws' and other things that are much flimsier in terms of evidence that are called 'theories'.

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  5. The threat of creationism and religious anti-science to America as a whole cannot be discounted

    Quoth Carl Sagan: "We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."

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  6. ....but what troubles me is his statement that evolution is only a theory.

    What baffles me is why scientists continue to be so boneheaded on this point.

    The self-righteous ranting that "you don't understand what a theory is" doesn't help. It also sounds defensive, and it's a bad combo to sound self-righteous and defensive in the same statement.

    Most folks have no idea how scientists want them to apply the term "theory", and all the snotty comments about ignorance and idiocy do nothing but damage. And frankly, I can't think why they should care why scientists want them to use a term in a different way than they've grown up using it. And it's not rare to use scientists using "theory" in the more common sense either, by the way.

    Talk about poor and ineffective framing ...

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  7. The vast majority of the public have no clue about what a 'theory' means in the scientific sense. Huckabee is just a statistic - sad but true.

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  8. OK, Scott - what should we say, then?

    Since it's apparently rude to point out when someone is making a mistake (and I'd like to emphasize here the special case of a prominent political figure making such a mistake), what should be done?

    Evolution is both a fact and a theory. The fact of evolution is mainly common descent, the historical fact of the relatedness of organisms. The theory of evolution is the explanation for that fact. Should we stop trying to explain evolution at all, and just beat these IDiots over the head with "fact! fact! fact!" at the expense of other rhetorical techniques?

    I admit, that could be satisfying on some level, but I don't think it's a viable strategy for correcting a wide-spread misconception.

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  9. Look, I understand all the "both a fact and a theory" stuff. What I'm saying is that communication of that continues to fail miserably, with a major contributor being the redefinition of common terms.

    How should scientists communicate this? Almost anything would be an improvement, I suggest. But I'm not a scientist, and I have no idea how they communicate among themselves. About all I can say is that my layman's opinion is that the current communications approach to the Outside World is a dismal failure, and I can't think why this would change with repetition.

    "Evolution provides the only consistent explanation of a wide variety of observations about the natural world and how groups of organisms change over time." Beats me whether that's an improvement, but I suggest strongly that it can't be any worse than what's going on today.

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  10. I think the best way to address the lack of understanding of the use of a word such as theory is to address it when our children are young so that they understand the use of it in terms like "theory of relativity" or "theory of evolution". Get them to understand it before they grow into adults that are accustomed to using it in a way that means "guess".
    This would, of course, require science to be taught as science and christian creation to be taught as one of the many many creation myths. ID is no more a science than creationism or "flood mythology" are.
    The reason I think most scientists get in an uproar over the use of the word theory, is that it only takes about 3 minutes of research to understand what it means and if there is one thing scientists can't stand, it is intellectual laziness.

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  11. ,,,it only takes about 3 minutes of research to understand what it means and if there is one thing scientists can't stand, it is intellectual laziness.

    Well ... if you want to classify most of the world as intellectually lazy because they won't do the "research" to understand what you think you're saying, then I suggest you not be surprised when they don't understand.

    Frankly, that strikes me as laziness on the part of science ...

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  12. Scott says,

    ....but what troubles me is his statement that evolution is only a theory.

    What baffles me is why scientists continue to be so boneheaded on this point.


    This isn't a question about how we define "theory." We all know how Huckabee defines it and how the general public thinks about it. What's so amazing is that they think evolution is just some wide-eyed speculation. What do they think about all those fossils showing the evolution of hominids over the past 5 million years? Are they just figments of an overactive imagination?

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  13. Larry Moran said:

    What's so amazing is that they think evolution is just some wide-eyed speculation. What do they think about all those fossils showing the evolution of hominids over the past 5 million years? Are they just figments of an overactive imagination?

    Or to burrow a bit deeper - how could science have failed so miserably to communicate the reality and the wonder of one of science's supreme achievements?

    You can look at this from either side - why don't those bozos understand?? or why have we failed so completely to communicate effectively??

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  14. Scott, if people cannot understand that words have different meanings in different contexts, it is hopeless to expect them to understand anything more complicated.

    Stop framing this argument as if the word 'theory' is a barrier to communication. Huckabee is manipulating the dual use of the word theory. He is being dishonest. That is not the problem of Scientists. If scientists were to actually change the term, you would have people like Huckabee claiming that the Evilutionists were trying to hide the fact that the theory of evolution is 'just a theory'. Again, this is not a problem of miscommunication. This is a problem of lying and dishonesty.

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  15. Again, this is not a problem of miscommunication. This is a problem of lying and dishonesty.

    Huckabee is irrelevant to my argument. Assume he's being as slimy and dishonest as you believe. All he's doing is taking advantage of science's failure to communicate effectively.

    Look, I'm not a scientist, but I am an interested layperson. Over the past few years, I've become frustrated going on infuriated at the misrepresentation of evolution which (in my opinion) has been aided by science's communications failures. Blame it on "those jackasses" all you want, but that approach hasn't changed anything, and in my judgement, it won't.

    Do you believe that going after people like Huckabee in the way that you did is actually going to make a difference? I mean, the choir will support you, but out there in the Real World? That approach has failed. It's not a question of right or wrong, it's question of effectiveness. And at the moment, science is losing ... badly.

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  16. Scott, again, you fail to understand the problem.

    Huckabee is lying. He is lying to people who want to be lied to.

    The root problem is not miscommunication of scientists.

    It's people who do not wish to believe.

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  17. Scott, again, you fail to understand the problem.

    Huckabee is lying. He is lying to people who want to be lied to.


    Chris, did you actually read what I said?

    Assume he's being as slimy and dishonest as you believe. All he's doing is taking advantage of science's failure to communicate effectively.

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  18. Chris said:

    Care to communicate better?

    As I said, one interpretation is that Huckabee is taking advantage of science's failure to communicate effectively.

    To look at it from another perspective, do you believe that the approach of explaining again and again and again how scientists want the public to interpret the term "theory" is working?

    If so, is there some evidence of progress to which you can point?

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  19. Scott says,

    Or to burrow a bit deeper - how could science have failed so miserably to communicate the reality and the wonder of one of science's supreme achievements?

    You can look at this from either side - why don't those bozos understand?? or why have we failed so completely to communicate effectively??


    Do you want to know my honest answer?

    I think we could do a much better job of communicating science but that's not the most important problem.

    Religion, especially Christian fundamentalism, is the real enemy. That's where I'm aiming my big guns for now.

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  20. Hear, hear, Larry. I can not count the number of times that I've stated the characteristics of a scientific theory, yet I doubt anyone I've corrected takes the message home with them at all. They just goes back to the fallback position because then they don't have to actually consider evolution as a viable explanation and can just pass it off as mere speculation. When we say people should do their own research, it's not like we're saying that you have to apply for research grants. There is so much excellent popular science literature out there (particularly lately). That these people can't be bothered to open a book aside from that vile thing called the bible isn't my concern. But if they question the science, particularly in favor of some fundmantalists 'magic man dunn it' nonsense, they'd better come prepared. That's like bringing a rubber spatula to a gun fight.

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  21. a major contributor being the redefinition of common terms

    It's been a while, and I can't find the reference now, but IIRC the common "definition" of theory is younger than the scientific one. Both has changed over time btw, as I understand it.

    Even if I'm wrong on the above we can't ask "the Outside World" to stop redefining its terms. Personally I think it is enough with explicitly mention "scientific theories" instead of coming up with a new term. Most of the time the public conflation isn't the core problem, as pointed out by many. And even if science changed conflicting terms, it would be another point of confusion.

    This will always be a loose-loose situation for specialities. If one modify a generic term (which I believe wasn't the case here), it will be confusing. If one use a specific term, it will be confusing. Especially if the public adopts it in another sense.

    It feels to me that 5ive's mentioning of laziness may be the main explanation behind such difficulties. Do laymen expect specialties to be without specific accomplishments? If not, they should expect some conceptual and communication hurdles.

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  22. Btw, looking at communication/conceptual difficulties, from a scientific viewpoint the confusion about "theory" isn't the largest one to 'aim ones gun' at, for several reasons.

    First and foremost, a large number of much simpler concepts are confused, such as energy, power, potential, et cetera.

    Second, "scientific theory" is both a complex and fuzzy concept. (Perhaps one could compare it with the "species" concept?)

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  23. If Hickabee gets elected, I'm moving to Canada.

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  24. Huckabee is entitled to his opinion about creationism, of course, but what troubles me is his statement that evolution is only a theory. Most of us don't (usually) make statements about things that we know nothing about.

    Tautology coming up!

    I can't believe that Huckabee is completely ignorant about the basic facts of biology.

    ..and we know that he is "ignorant of the basic facts of biology" because... *drum roll*... he doesn't believe in evolution!

    - And why doesn't he believe in evolution?

    - Well, because he is ignorant of biology!

    - How do we know that he is ignorant of biology?

    - Well, because he doesn't believe in evolution.

    - And why is that?

    - Well, because all true scientists believe in evolution!

    - Oh, what about the scientists who DON'T believe in evolution?

    - Well, those are not true scientists!

    Round and round and round we go in the darwinian magical kingdom.


    Somebody must have told him at some time during his life that evolution is overwhelmingly supported by solid scientific evidence.
    *yawn* Yes, Larry, we heard this before. The strange thing is that no one seems to be willing to give that "solid scientific evidence" to skeptics.

    What is it about IDiots that makes them so immune to rationalism?

    Depends on how you define "rationalism".

    It's not rationalism that makes darwinists believe that the livign world is the result of unguided, impersonal, undirected forces of nature.

    Why aren't people like Huckabee challenged when they lie? Is it because it's not polite?
    Well, for once, I agree. I would love that when people lie in the name of a certain philosophical, religious or political viewpoint they be confronted and exposed as frauds.

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  25. Marty sounds the alarm!
    Gravity is "only" a theory too, after all. Duh.

    Haven't we been here before, Marty? Didn't we agree that darwinism is diferent from testable, verifiable, empirical, "we-see-happening-in-front-of-our-eyes" type of science?

    The threat of creationism and religious anti-science to America as a whole cannot be discounted: America will simply not be able to compete economically in the 21st century if the vast majority of our population are scientific illiterates.

    Nonsense, alarmist Marty. There was a time when magical evolution was not taught in the USA, and it did not prevent the USA to get more Nobel prizes than any nation o the plannet. I think that it was in 1968 that the last anti-evolution law was struck down. Go to the Nobel prize list from that period all the way back to the early century, and see how many Nobels the USA got.

    Face it, Marty. Your religion is not really necessary to science, as Dr Phil Skell more eloquently said it. The only purpose of that "theory" is an anti-Christian one.

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  26. Mats,

    I take issue to a number of your comments, but I empathize just the same.

    I assume Huckabee is generally ignorant of biology and science in general because--as far as I am aware --his background doesn't include anything substantial in the way of science education or experience. From my experiences discussing science with people, it is apparent to me that the majority of people in the US don't understand science--let alone evolutionary theory well enough. There are many fundamental misconceptions out there.
    I think the assumption that Huckabee falls into this group is a fair one.

    As far as correcting the misconceptions and truly explaining the support for modern evolutionary theory goes, that's a lot to ask somebody to do in a casual comment forum. In general, the people who really understand the ins and outs of something as broad and complex as evolutionary theory have spent significant time independently educating themselves. Unfortunately, previous generations were not given the thorough presentation (or any presentation in many cases) of evolutionary theory that our children are receiving today--hence the broad misunderstandings and uniformed opposition to the idea in this country.
    It IS the responsibility of those making the claims to present evidence, but folks need to make a little personal investment in their own educations. There is no magic cookie that can be served to satisfy the average person's ignorance with a quick snack.

    As far as "theories," "hypotheses," and assorted vocabulary are concerned, it is my opinion that the general ignorance of the public has initiated the language problem, but the scientific community is responsible for exacerbating by drawing too many false distinctions between these words to deal with this ignorance. In my experience, working scientists don't typically draw such discrete definitions in their work. We (the scientists) need to work harder to increase the education and understanding of the public instead of lazily calling "foul" for the public using their own language to describe something they don't understand.

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  27. @ Mats:

    Didn't we agree that darwinism is diferent from testable, verifiable, empirical, "we-see-happening-in-front-of-our-eyes" type of science?

    "darwinism"? Huckabee was commenting on the science of evolution.

    And that has all the properties you mention, besides being a fact. Say, I bet that is why Martin mentioned the likewise endowed process of gravity, which is also an observable fact. Um, you do know the difference between observable facts and testable theories, don't you? [Tip: The later are often much less uncertain. Figure out why, and you will have the distinction you missed.]

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