25 October 2005

Meet the darkagers

First, let me be perfectly clear about this: I do not believe we are heading into another Dark Age. Been there, done that. But in case I'm wrong, I think it might be a good idea to start identifying those among us who seem to want to shove civilization in that general direction. I call them “darkagers.” A bit like New Agers, only with slurred pronounciation, lower cases and narrower minds.

Allow me to call attention to a few, using statements made within the past few weeks. Once you get the basic idea, you can play “spot the darkager” yourself. I'll begin with a tricky one.

A couple of weeks ago, evangelist extraordinaire Jerry Falwell showed up on the CBS Early Show. His comments were laced with the usual nonsensical observations and mischaracterizations of reality, such as referring to the “myth” of global warming. Apparently Falwell hasn't been paying much attention to the thermometer lately. No matter. It was in response to a question posed by host Harry Smith, concerning the recent attacks of hurricanes on American soil: “Is God mad at us?”

Now, you might be tempted to single out Falwell as an obvious darkager. But the real offenders here are Harry Smith and his producers at CBS. There can be no rational excuse for posing the question in the first place, and certainly not that early in the morning.

Now meet biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, an otherwise respectable institution of higher learning located in the unfortunately named town of Bethlehem, Penn. He's one of the few degreed scientists who support “intelligent design,” the anti-Darwinian explanation for the diversity of life with the sole redeeming feature that its name pretty much obviates the need for further explanation.

Testifying last week as part of a lawsuit in Harrisburg, Penn., on the right of a nearby public school board to include intelligent design in its science curricula, Behe admitted during cross examination that his personal definition of a scientific theory “is used a lot more loosely than the NAS (National Academy of Sciences) defined it” and would apply to astrology. Just what we need. More horoscopes.

Another easy target is the president of these United States, commenting on the qualifications of his nominee to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. According to the Washington Post, “Bush said it was appropriate for the White House to invoke Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers's religion in making the case for her to skeptical conservatives.” Never mind that pesky Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. You know, the one that says "no religious test shall ever be required as qualification" for federal office holders. After all, Miers doesn't appear to know much about the Constitution anyway.

I next nominate cosmic-self-help-guru-guy Deepak Chopra. Here's a typical snippet from the master: “I think we can think of evolution in terms of meta-biology, the evolution of our consciousness and the evolution of the consciousness of our consciousness.” Maybe he's just trying to confuse us into buying his books. Still, if any language qualifies as an attempt to undermine the Enlightenment, that's it.

Moving on to more conventional, and therefore more dangerous, characters, we have CNN mouthpiece and celebrity-worshipper Larry King. The other day he made a pathetic attempt to explore the creationism-evolution quagmire. His first question, to the philosophy professor and evolution stalwart Barbara Forrest, set the tone: “How can you out-and-out turn down creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?”


But wait, I have more. Can't forget the muddle-headed Bill Frist, leader of the Republican guard in the Senate. "I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith," said Frist, whose MD from Harvard Medical School has never been adequately explained by his alma mater. He must have missed the lecture on the difference between fact and fancy.

And how about third-string science fiction author Michael Crichton, whose most recent work is an ill-informed attack on the entire field climatology masquerading as a novel. (A novel with footnotes? Come on.) He actually said, in a speech to an innocent audience, “There is at present no good public forum in which to debate and evaluate climate data, in an atmosphere of aggressive and penetrating inquiry, full of challenge and true debate.”

This is classic darkager strategy. Pay no attention to what the scientists are saying. I, the esteemed author of Congo, am far better qualified to hold forth on something as complicated as global carbon cycles and the effects of polar albedo than are the scores of tenured editors of academic journals devoted to the subject.

I could go on. Maybe I will next time. Feel free to send me your own nominations to the darkager hall of infamy.


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1:07 AM  
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