Wakey wakey

The interface election

I am going to buy 2,000 subscriptions to National Geographic

This is beyond awesome. In its current issue, National Geographic — a magazine that sells directly to heartland America — takes on the idiocy of creationism as bluntly as possible. That first picture above? It’s the cover. The second picture? The opening page for the article.

Indeed, that layout has a quality of bait-and-switch that is practically Onion-esque. As Evan Ratliff wrote in a brilliant Wired article last month, a chief goal of modern creationism isn’t really to persuade scientists. It’s merely to be taken seriously by major publications and government figures; if creationists can manage to get invited to comment at a conference or in a magazine article, it allows them to “prove” to their flock that creationism is a serious, scientific rival theory to Darwinism. Merely being in dialogue with the scientific establishment gives them crucial street cred amongst their real audience, Christians.

So one can imagine a creationist spying the magazine and excitedly grabbing it, assuming that a magazine as prestigious as National Georgraphic has now been forced to take creationism seriously. But that deliciously teasing cover line is really just a set-up for the typographically brilliant “NO”. It is not merely a good article; it’s a rhetorical pie in the face to this brand of barking-mad spiritual literalism that is so badly screwing the scientific future of the country. The US states that are home to the main proselytizers of creationism are falling further and further behind in science; students trained in creationist high schools never develop crucial skills of inquiry, so those states are producing virtually no scientists or scientific discoveries of note. If it were up to these people, we wouldn’t have aspirin or light bulbs.

It is sad comment on modern America that National Geographic even has to publish this. But it’s nonetheless wonderful that the magazine did. And by the way, to those creationists who protest that Darwinian selection is “just a theory?” As National Geographic notes:

In the same sense, relativity as described by Albert Einstein is “just” a theory. The notion that Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory. Continental drift is a theory. The existence, structure, and dynamics of atoms? Atomic theory. Even electricity is a theoretical construct, involving electrons, which are tiny units of charged mass that no one has ever seen. Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact. That’s what scientists mean when they talk about a theory: not a dreamy and unreliable speculation, but an explanatory statement that fits the evidence.

Of course, creationism is not a scientific theory because it does not have a whit of evidence that knowledgeable experts accept as fact.

(Thanks to Waxy.org and Iron Circus for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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