Friday, July 08, 2005

"Religious" views on science

I think I may have been the first evolution blogger to see the New Republic piece in which major conservatives were asked for their views on evolution vs. (ID) creationism. I didn' t blog it because I found it vaguely obvious that leading conservatives would lean against evolution. Of course, it should be news that so many conservatives are willing to proclaim their idiocy, and I erred in failing to report it.

To quote the great J. S. Mill:

I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.

The Volokh Conspiracy decided to take a whack at it, and after distancing himself from ID, Todd Zywicki alleges that "the left … plainly have their own 'religious' beliefs when it comes to scientific questions." (For an arbitrary definition of "religious." He basically defines "religious" as "baseless personal bias," which is an odd definition.)

To illustrate this thesis, he wants to pose these questions to "leading leftist intellectuals." I'll raise myself up and take a swing at them:
1. Are differences between men's and women's aptitudes solely a result of society and culture, or is there an evolutionary basis for some of those distinctions?
Both. Duh.
2. Do you think that schools should expose children to the scientific hypothesis that evolution has produced innate differences between men and women that partially explains differences in interests and aptitudes, or should they teach that all differences are socially-constructed?
In colleges, yes, in high schools, no. I think that the interplay between cultural, environmental, sexual (including hormonal factors and epigenetic interactions), and genetic factors all control the measurable differences between genders, and students should not have testable scientific hypotheses hidden from them. But introducing those ideas too early can leave students with inaccurate impressions. High school students tend to lack the subtlety to accept that many factors interact.
3. Do you believe that Harvard's faculty was correct in censuring President Larry Summers for offering the hypothesis that differential performance by men and women in math and science achievement at elite universities may be in part the result of differential distribution of natural abilities in math and science between men and women at several standard deviations above the mean?
Yes. There is vast variation within each gender, and for a person who makes personnel decisions to justify inequitable hiring practices using broad patterns is not acceptable.
4. Do you believe that the theory of evolution applies to the evolution of mental traits as well as physiological traits?
Yes, but not exclusively.