NCSU Student Puts Ignorance On Display

NCSU Student Puts Ignorance On Display February 11, 2012

I’ve never really understood why people insist on taking bold positions on issues that they clearly do not understand. There are lots of issues I know almost nothing about, but as a result of that ignorance I do not spout off about them or take bold positions about them. Which is why I always find it highly absurd when someone speaks out about evolution, especially publicly, when it’s absolutely clear that they know nothing about it. This article in the North Carolina State University newspaper by Madison Murphy is a textbook example. To wit:

The theory of evolution can be explained simply: Complex creatures evolved from simplistic creatures over time. All creatures come from a common ancestor. Over time, mutations in genetic codes were maintained as they aided in survival. This process of mutation is called natural selection. Eventually, these mutations build up until a complex creature is the result.

That second to last sentence shows just how ignorant Murphy is on the subject. We don’t call the “process of mutation” natural selection; natural selection acts upon genetic diversity, which is caused by mutation and other sources of variation.

There are opposing theories to evolution, however, and they are also some of the most controversial theories to ever be discussed in science, politics, religion and education. These opposing theories are creationism and intelligent design. Some people lump these two together, but they are slightly different.

The theory of intelligent design states that the creation of a complex being could not have happened randomly or by chance. There had to have been a higher power that created this complexity. However, according to intelligent design, this “designer” could have been anyone.

The theory of creationism, on the other hand, states the designer was God. The extremes of creationism vary as well. Some people believe in what is strictly stated in the Bible in Genesis without any room for other possibilities. Others, such as Catholics, believe evolution could have occurred the way Darwin describes, but by the power of God. This belief also says evolution cannot account for the creation of the human soul.

This is all nonsense. Neither intelligent design nor creationism are theories at all, they are religious beliefs. Murphy makes this mistake because, as she quickly reveals, she doesn’t have the slightest clue what the word theory means in science:

My professor started talking about the Theory of Evolution as if it was a fact. This is a problem. Evolution is not a fact, it’s a theory.

Defined, a theory is “an unproven assumption.” Let’s treat it as such. I have no problem learning about evolution if it’s presented as what it is: unproven.

Absolutely false. She appears to have pulled this false definition out of thin air; it isn’t even the dictionary definition of the word, much less one that puts it in a scientific context. In science, a theory is not an unproven “assumption” (whatever that could possibly mean here; in science, a theory is well-tested explanation for a range of data. Evolution is actually a large collection of theories — that is, explanations — for an incredibly vast set of data. Some of those theories are still relatively untested, but the general theory of common descent has been established as true beyond all reasonable doubt. There simply is no other coherent explanation for the data in about a dozen fields of science.

This particular professor went on to state that those who don’t believe in evolution are wrong. He said that there are so many facts proving it’s truth that one would have to be ignorant not to believe it. I found this to be deeply offensive. I am not ignorant simply because I choose to believe one theory over another.

I’m sure you were offended at being called ignorant, but your offense doesn’t challenge that conclusion at all. In fact, you have proven with this article that you are, in fact, ignorant of this subject.

If professors or teachers at any grade level are going to teach evolution, they should make sure their students are aware that it is a theory and not a fact.

No, what they should make sure of is that students know what theory and fact mean in science. You clearly don’t.

Not only do professors need to be wary of what they’re teaching, but students must also be cautious. Students, never take anything a professor says at face value. I encourage you to research things for yourself and make an informed opinion.

I suggest you take that advice yourself. And here’s a hint: reading the Bible or a bunch of creationist tracts is not “research.”

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  • matty1

    She appears to see ‘ignorant’ as an insult, an accusation of stupidity. It would make more sense to see it as a factual claim, you are ignorant of something if you don’t know about it. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn, it means you should learn, at least if you want to talk about the subject.

    Proudly celebrating your lack of knowledge in a newspaper article though, that is stupid.

  • Jordan Genso

    I’ve found that irrational people often revert back to encouraging others “to research things for yourself and make an informed opinion”, but only when there is a false propoganda movement regarding the issue. There’s nothing wrong encouraging people to be informed, but since they only make that encouragement when there are sources that are as badly misinformed and illogical as them, it reveals the encouragement to be a strategy to mislead.

    I encountered this during the fluoride debate my community was having. The anti-fluoride movement is suprisingly well-organized, and they have mastered the tactic of overwhelming with different sources, and then encouraging others to “research things for yourself and make an informed opinion”, because an initial search for fluoride information is more likely to lead one to anti-fluoride websites, rather than the sites that logically dispute the anti-fluoride movement.

    With the internet acting as a way to make unfounded positions seem just as valid as intelligent positions, it legitimizes their creationism “theory” since you can find numerous sites stating that creationism is a scientific theory.

    It’s just a continuation of the overall strategy between the rational and irrational. The irrational put out as much false information as they can, and the rational then logically counter that information, but the irrational side never acknowledges the logical counter, and instead pretend like it is ok to just “agree to disagree” and let others decide for themselves. The problem with that is reality does not care about democracy. It doesn’t matter if 99% of the population believes position A, while 1% believes position B, position A would still be wrong if position B demonstrates it as such. But when position A ignores the points being made by position B, it allows the 99% to make the logical fallacy of argumentum ad populum.

  • D. C. Sessions

    I find it rather telling that there is so much corrolation between two groups of people in the United States:

    1) Those who don’t believe that there is adequate evidence for biological evolution, even with nothing more at stake than thought.

    2) Those who are willing to accept the evidence presented in capital cases as “beyond a reasonable doubt” even though there is a human life in the balance.

  • sailor1031

    It’s called Dunning-Kruger effect.

  • This belief also says evolution cannot account for the creation of the human soul.

    Checkmate, Darwin!

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    However, according to intelligent design, this “designer” could have been anyone.

    The “designer” is the Christian god with the serial number filed off. Intelligent design was developed to get around the legal prohibition for religious indoctrination in American public schools.

  • savagemutt

    She appears to see ‘ignorant’ as an insult, an accusation of stupidity.

    Here in the south, it is often used as a pejorative.

    “well, yer just ignorant!”

  • dingojack

    I thought the correct Southern usage was:

    ‘Yer gist plain ig-nor-aint – bless your heart!’

    😀 Dingo

  • exdrone

    A little respect please. Murphy is listed as Deputy Viewpoint Editor, so she has probably spent years scratching up facts and taking on scientific “theories” on the gritty viewpoint beat.

  • gvlgeologist

    I teach physical sciences at the community college level, and I find it now necessary to teach the Scientific Method in EVERY class, to counteract the ignorance of what a theory is. I point out that a better definition of a “fact” is something that, when tested, is the same every time, and by that definition, scientific theories and laws are BOTH as certain in science as we can get, and thus are facts.

    The good thing about that is that I rarely have students challenge me any more when I mention an old age of the earth, or mention evolution in passing. (“In passing” because I teach earth sciences rather than biology.)

  • gshelley

    As always, atomic theory, germ theory, heliocentric theory, theory of relativity, cellular theory, plate tectonic theory.

    I don’t recall people complaining about any of these being taught as “fact not theory”

  • raven

    This belief also says evolution cannot account for the creation of the human soul.

    Evolution also doesn’t explain where socks disappear to when you do the laundry.

    It doesn’t explain why the sky is blue or what happened to George Bush’s brain .

    OTOH, evolution is about life changing and how through time. It isn’t supposed to explain everything.

  • brocasbrian

    I once had a psych prof (a phenomenologist) tell me that biology had nothing to do with behavior. I thought this was bs at the time and still do. So I think it’s important to take things with a grain of salt even if they’re coming from an expert in the field. If a number of experts, however, are saying the same thing I’d have to assume they were correct. She goes completely off the rails and gets hung up on a confused semantic understanding of a word. It reminds me of a prior president of S Africa who didn’t believe HIV caused AIDS because it’s impossible, by definition, for a virus to cause a syndrome.

  • Uncle Glenny

    Evolution also doesn’t explain where socks disappear to when you do the laundry.

    I believe there’s a new extension to string theory which covers this.

  • brocasbrian

    evolution cannot account for the creation of the human soul.

    Evolution can’t account for a wide range of things. Especially when those things are made up. It can’t account for Thor’s hammer or Zues’s thunderbolt either.

  • matty1

    @11

    As always, atomic theory, germ theory, heliocentric theory, theory of relativity, cellular theory, plate tectonic theory.

    I don’t recall people complaining about any of these being taught as “fact not theory”

    They are less common, or perhaps less vocal but all of those do have their denialists. Opposition to germ theory is particularly pernicious often being linked to refusal of medical treatment, try googling ‘Christian Science’ for a few examples.

  • slc1

    Re #11

    Try writer Tom Bethell, who, among other things, is a relativity denier. His books are published by Regnery, a font of literary denialism.

  • Sastra

    Which is why I always find it highly absurd when someone speaks out about evolution, especially publicly, when it’s absolutely clear that they know nothing about it.

    Such unjustified confidence (in evolution or anything else) is usually the mark of someone who has spent a lot of time in a closed community — and is laboring under the delusion that this community is, for all intents and purposes, “the world.” Spend enough time in an echo chamber where it’s just plain common sense that everyone knows that evolution is unscientific, vaccines cause autism, or quantum theory proves the universe is conscious and it’s very, very easy to underestimate how much scientific background in a particular field someone has to have before they disagree with the scientists who are “in power.”

    I still remember a woman at a county fair YEC booth telling me that she has personally read abstracts in evolutionary biology journals and determined for herself that they were seriously flawed. When I asked what her background was — because I certainly couldn’t wade through or follow such dense material — she told me that it was no problem because “I’m a mom.”

    All you really need, apparently, is motivation and hard work. Genius is 99% perspiration.

  • dingojack

    brocasbrian – Theodor Geisel had a Thunderbolt*? Who knew?

    🙂 Dingo

    —-

    * EIEIO

  • Putting On The Foil

    These people demote the word theory when it suits them, and then they promote their uneducated guesses right past hypothesis up to theory. We need a word for UNeducated guess.

  • rukymoss

    @6

    “The ‘designer’ is the Christian god with the serial number filed off”–I am going to be actively looking for a chance to use that line–priceless! (I guess that’s an example of how you became OM.

  • d cwilson

    However, according to intelligent design, this “designer” could have been anyone.

    Once again, I call bullshit right there. There is not a single intelligent design proponent who won’t, when pressed, admit that their idea of who the designer is not some form of god. None of them even take the idea that it could have been aliens or something else serious.

  • d cwilson

    I teach physical sciences at the community college level, and I find it now necessary to teach the Scientific Method in EVERY class, to counteract the ignorance of what a theory is.

    I teach science at my local community college, too and I present the scientific method on day one.

    Of course, I’m sure Murphy has been told by her professors what the correct definition of the word theory is. But just like Banana Man claims no one has ever shown him evidence to support evolution, she just chooses to ignore it because it doesn’t fit the narrative she’s selling.

    One I’ve that makes me shudder is that now we have a whole group of young people entering college and the workforce who grew up watching Fox News. They’ve been trained since childhood that the way to deal with facts is to either ignore them or shout them down.

  • Who Knows?

    It is disheartening that someone would reach that level of education while remaining that ignorant of basic science. But, reading the comments on the opinion piece really made my day. There are quite a few people who recogninze the author’s problem.

    Unfortunately, Ms. Murphy has probably spent most of her time on the phone with Mom, Dad and the Church back home telling tales of her persecution in the name of Christ.

  • davem

    The comments in the OP are interesting – Looks like one of the professors there who came up with:

    New Rule: If you can’t learn basic evolutionary theory, or understand even the basic terminology used in the sciences, or think your unshakable, religious ignorance should take precedence over the scholarly works of experienced research professors in class, you should consider attending Pat Robertson’s faith school, not be enrolled at a research university.

    Nice.

  • Michael Heath

    d cwilson writes:

    I teach science at my local community college, too and I present the scientific method on day one.

    I still remember first being taught the scientific process when I was in elementary school though I don’t recall what grade. It was a huge moment for me because I had a vague idea that the fundie doctrine redundantly rammed down by throat didn’t ring true. To realize others also thought different than those around me, and in a far superior manner, was a very happy moment – that I wasn’t a freak.

  • Michael Heath, I hate to break it to you, but you’re still a freak. Those glowing red eyes, that cold rictus grin, those stainless steel bones, that relentless drive to root out and exterminate the last vestiges of humanity…

    On second thought I might have you confused with someone else.

  • hunter

    It’s heartening to see that she got raked over the coals in the comments.

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    There is not a single intelligent design proponent who won’t, when pressed, admit that their idea of who the designer is not some form of god.

    Raelians.

  • peterh

    She’s so ignorant of the basic history of the concept she doesn’t even realize that the general tenor of evolution was firmly established before Darwin was born. And the comments on the linked to page thump her agenda-driven stupidity quite soundly.

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  • ssakaseo

    Meh, ignore my above post. Still getting used to WordPress.

    Anyway, I may have found where she got her definition of “theory.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theory

    It’s part of the sixth definition listed.

    Defining a word by its sixth listed definition. Almost seems like she was searching for the worst possible sounding definition to score ideological points.

    Nah, I’m sure she had nothing but the best intentions.

  • Midnight Rambler

    The comments in the OP are interesting – Looks like one of the professors there who came up with:

    That was a student; their profile says “studied at NCSU”.

  • Pieter B, FCD

    These opposing theories are creationism and intelligent design. Some people lump these two together, but they are slightly different.

    This is as far as I’ve read. Does it get worse?

    I think I need a drink.

  • maxamillion

    Looks like Madison Murphy is getting her arse handed to her.

    I loved the irony in this post on the linked site.

    Scott McWhirter · Summer Staff at Garden City Chapel & Retreat

    Go to answersingenesis.org… not all creationists are stupid.

  • chaosof99

    I usually hold it like this, why some creationist makes the asinine “it’s just a theory” point:

    Evolution is a fact. We know that organisms change over time. We have observed this in the lab and in the wild. We have mountains upon mountains of evidence for it. There is simply no denying it.

    The theory of evolution is a theory. It explains why and how organisms change.

    Compare this with gravity. We know that gravity happens. Gravity is a fact. The theory of gravity explains how and why gravity happens.

  • kermit.

    Uncle Glenny: ‘Evolution also doesn’t explain where socks disappear to when you do the laundry.’

    I believe there’s a new extension to string theory which covers this.

    No, the latest research indicates the answer is to be found in evo-devo. Socks are the larval form of coat hangers.

  • kermit.

    Sastra: I still remember a woman at a county fair YEC booth telling me that she has personally read abstracts in evolutionary biology journals and determined for herself that they were seriously flawed. […] All you really need, apparently, is motivation and hard work. Genius is 99% perspiration.

    Hard work, or course, means reading numerous tracts and church bulletins, and if truly dedicated, buying a book or watching a documentary like Expelled.

    I can assure you – not that you need it – that these folks haven’t a clue what is involved in getting an advanced degree in science.