Charleyne, my ex-wife, is a ballroom dancer, and at one of these events she was talking to a young man in his twenties. At some point he made an assertion that seemed obviously wrong to her, so she remarked, “All the scientific evidence is to the contrary.” His reply: “I don’t do science.” Her dry response: “Do you do gravity?”
Not do science? How does the young man think his iPhone works? Magic? It terrifies me that anyone thinks it’s all right to go through life making decisions based on nothing more than “I heard it somewhere” (it used to be “I read it somewhere,” but for too many young people those days are past). In a world of instant communication of ideas across the globe, wrong information is not only unfortunate, but can be harmful, even deadly. The idea, being deliberately spread in Africa, that condoms cause AIDS, for example, makes me want to run screaming into the front yard, tearing at my hair, adding to my neighbors’ suspicions that I’m too weird for shoes.
I’ve ranted about such things in other posts (see particularly “Superstitions,” March 21, 2010), and I’ll try not to repeat myself other than to say that all my life I’ve striven to know what is true and what is not. Is there any valid quarrel with such a goal? How I decide what’s true or not is a matter of considering the wisdom that others have gleamed through their efforts, investigations, discussions, tests, and their detailing of the history of everything we’ve done on the planet. I’m a lawyer, and I want evidence before I act. Don’t you? If there’s no evidence to guide us, well then, of course, we must make the best decision we can based on the facts we do know. But those last words are the key: based on the facts. Not based on rumor (“Obama is a Muslim”) or wishes (“A guardian angel watches over my every move”) or ridiculous theories that the slightest investigation would show to be false (“Homosexuality is caused by an overly protective mother and an absent father”).
Most people reading this will shrug their shoulders and say, “So what if people have mistaken assumptions?” The answer is that mistaken assumptions get acted upon, and can do major damage. The “Intelligent Design” theory of creation continues to demand that its conclusions be taught in the schools alongside (or instead of) evolution. What could be wrong with presenting both sides, they argue? The answer is that schools only teach what can be proven. Evolution is undoubted by anyone exploring the issue without previous bias. The evidence is simply overwhelming—see Richard Dawkins’ latest book, laying it all out in great detail, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But the constant pressure of the ID crowd leads to the dumbing-down of the elementary and high school biology curriculum. Depressingly, most science teachers avoid or give short shrift to evolution lest benighted parents protest. So the United States is producing students who know little or nothing about this important topic, and the rest of the world justly laughs at us for being controlled by these irrational forces.
I have a good friend who, alas, believes in astrology, and he should stop reading now. Any scientific investigation of astrology shows there’s nothing there (see the Wikipedia entry on “Astrology” for a discussion of the research). Ah, well, but it’s harmless, you may say. No, it’s not. Ronald Reagan used astrology to guide his presidential decisions! When I was in law school I was dating another law student, and things began to be serious. She casually mentioned that we could never marry. “Why not?” I asked, astonished. “Because you’re a Libra and I’m a (I forget what sign she said), and they should never marry because they’re incompatible.” I dropped her immediately. She was right. We were incompatible: she believed in ruling her life according to astrological charts and the idea horrified me. When I practiced law in Chicago, my very young secretary also believed in astrology, so one time I wrote a week’s worth of predictions for her (“Water will play an important part of your day” was one). She was amazed at the accuracy of my prognostications. I think of astrology the same way I think of racism or sexism or homophobia: it types people according to irrational conclusions, and that leads to the usual trouble.
Nowadays if someone asks me what my sign is, I use Barbara’s line: “Slippery When Wet.”
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013