Monday, June 04, 2012

Unwarranted Smugness

Last week someone I know posted a link on Facebook to an article indicating that people's skulls are getting taller and narrower  in the last 150 years along with a comment about evolution. He believed that this was an example of evolution and that his belief in it makes him superior to creationists. The problem is that this is not evolution. I pointed it out to him and his responses showed that he does not have a clear idea of what evolution is or how it works.

Before I go any further I want to say that I do believe in evolution. In fact, my belief in evolution was strengthened after reading a book arguing against it. The anti-evolution book had gaping holes in its logic and spotting them deepened my understanding of evolution.

Evolution is a genetic change and happens as either a response to changing conditions (I.E. a new Ice Age) or because of a beneficial mutation. Major evolutionary changes happen over hundreds of thousands of years minimum. The length of time needed is directly related to the length of a generation. In humans, this is generally figured as 25 years so we are only talking about six generations.

There are two likely explanations for head sizes and shapes changing. One is that the composition of Americans has changed. We are a nation of immigrants and there have been different waves. The study was limited to whites but there have been waves of Irish, Germans, Poles, and other ethnic groups over the time being studied,

A more likely explanation related to nutrition. Americans have gotten taller and heavier over the same period, It stands to reason that this could also change the shape of people's heads. This change in size is mainly attributed to improvements in nutrition, especially during pregnancy and the first two years. Studies have shown that the average size and health for people born during periods of famine show a dip from the rest of the population.

I pointed this out to my friend but he still thought that evolution was somehow involved,

Here is my point - he feels superior because he believes in evolution but he does not understand it. He only believes in it because people he trusts have told him that this is the proper belief. That puts him on the same level as most creationists. As far as I am concerned, you cannot feel smug for believing in the scientific thing unless you understand it.

This ties in with a recent study on belief in global warming. It turns out that most liberals believe in it no matter what their educational level (no surprise there). The surprise is that the better educated a conservative is the more likely he is to be a sceptic. That shocked the people doing the study. They assumed that disbelief in warming is caused by ignorance and that conservatives just need to be educated. Instead, it turns out that the more educated you are the more holes you see in global warming theory.

Again, liberals tend to be smug about their belief in global warming. The book The Republican Mind speculates that the issue is just too difficult for conservatives to understand. This study complicates that view.

In general, liberals tend to think of themselves as superior because they believe in the right things. As I said above, simply believing in the right things is not enough. If you don't understand them then it does not count.

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