Rush Limbaugh doesn’t understand how evolution works.

If you’ve been reading SEB for any amount of time then it probably doesn’t need to be said that my politics don’t line up with Rush Limbaugh’s politics. It’s also probably obvious that I think that Rush has said some amazingly stupid things over the years, but I’ve never thought the man was particularly uneducated. That’s probably as much due to the fact that I try to limit my exposure to his rantings as much as possible than it is him actually being educated.

On Tuesday during a segment about the kid falling into the gorilla enclosure in Cincinnati, Rush demonstrated his scientific ignorance of the Theory of Evolution. The folks at Media Matters captured his idiocy in all its glory:

“A lot of people think that all of us used to be apes. Don’t doubt me on this. A lot of people think that all of us used to be gorillas.”

headdeskOK, let’s stop right here. There’s more, but this is all you really need to realize that Rush has no clue what he’s talking about. Humans did not evolve from apes, or chimps, or gorillas. We are a kind of ape ourselves. We share a common primate ancestor (Homo-Pan) and have travelled different evolutionary paths starting around 6 to 7 million years ago. Either Rush is ignorant of what the theory of evolution says or he’s intentionally setting up a strawman. Based on what he says next I’d wager it’s the former.

“And they’re looking for the missing link out there. The evolution crowd. They think we were originally apes.”

The problem with the “missing link” is that there is no missing link. Evolution isn’t a matter of sharp delineations. It’s a matter of gradual differences. There is not, nor will there ever be, a fossil find that we can point to and definitely say that is the exact moment we stopped being Homo heidelbergensis and started being Homo sapiens. Reality is messy and doesn’t give a shit about fitting things into obvious categories. People like Rush don’t like that fact so they try to ignore it.

Here is his pièce de résistance. The statement that clearly shows his complete lack of understanding of evolutionary theory:

“I’ve always — if we were the original apes, then how come Harambe is still an ape, and how come he didn’t become one of us?”

First, we’re not the “original apes.” As I said before, we share a common ancestor. Secondly, had Harambe spontaneously evolved into a human it would invalidate evolutionary theory as well as a number of laws of physics.

To be fair, it’s not clear if Rush is suggesting that if evolution was real that Harambe would’ve evolved into a human in the time he was in the zoo or if he’s using the old argument of “If we evolved from apes why are there still apes?” Not that it matters, both would reveal his ignorance of what the theory of evolution actually says.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s really not that hard to understand the theory of evolution if you take the time to actually read up on it. There are a number of books that lay it out in layman’s terms and provide quite a bit of the evidence that back the theory up. A good one is The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. It’s one I think Rush Limbaugh should probably read. He won’t, but he should.

You can hear Limbaugh’s words for yourself below:

Finally, an answer to the Chicken or the Egg question.

This is one of the things I love about science. It can take a relatively silly question like the old one about whether a chicken or an egg was first to come into existence and apply a little thought to it along with our understanding of theories such as evolution and put forth an answer to a seemingly impossible question.

Check it:

What I like most about this video is how it points out how ambiguous the original question really is: The answer depends in part on how you define your terms. It also highlights one of the problems with dealing with reality when we have a tendency to think in absolute terms.

Thinking in absolute terms is one of the problems I think Evolution deniers have. “I’ll believe in evolution when I see a dog give birth to kittens” is one of the common arguments you’ll hear from them. Evolution doesn’t work that way. It’s the result of the accumulation of small changes over long periods of time.

In the evolution of, say, the wolf into what we know today as the domesticated dog there’s no one point along the line where you can point and say that’s definitively where it stopped being a wolf and started being a dog. It doesn’t help that there isn’t a “line” to point to because pups in a litter are not clones of each other. Each one has its own small mutations that make it slightly different from its parents and siblings. Each batch of pups starts a bunch of different potential branches which, depending on if they survive and manage to breed themselves, produces that many more potential branches with their own mutations. That’s why we call it “the tree of life” and not “the single file line of life”.

Given enough time you will eventually get different, but related animals. Given even more time you’ll get much more different animals that can be difficult to tell are related to something in the past (e.g. birds being the descendants of dinosaurs). That’s apparently hard for a lot of people to wrap their heads around. Hence you get silly questions like: Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

Another survey says more Americans believe in angels and devils than evolution.

Another Harris Poll with more proof that many Americans need a mental enema:

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll(R), a new nationwide survey of 2,126 U.S. adults surveyed online between November 10 and 17, 2008 by Harris Interactive(R).
Some of the interesting findings in this new Harris Poll include:

—80% of adult Americans believe in God – unchanged since the last time we asked the question in 2005. Large majorities of the public believe in miracles (75%), heaven (73%), angels (71%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (71%), the resurrection of Jesus (70%), the survival of the soul after death (68%), hell (62%), the Virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary (61%) and the devil (59%).

—Slightly more people – but both are minorities – believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution (47%) than in creationism (40%).

—Sizeable minorities believe in ghosts (44%), UFOs (36%), witches (31%), astrology (31%), and reincarnation (24%).

There’s some other interesting stats as well such as the differences in beliefs between Catholics and Protestants with Catholics, for example, being more likely that Protestants to accept the theory of evolution. Which is kind of ironic given the history of the Catholic church.

The good news is that the ratio of people accepting evolution has risen since a similar poll in 2005 in which 51% of people didn’t accept the theory of evolution. Which was up from a poll in 2003 that had only 28% of people buying into the theory of evolution. One of the benefits of being a long time blogger is being able to look up old polls in your archives.

So Americans are largely still idiots, but less so than in the past. That’s some progress at least.

Don’t Ask Bobby Jindal Anything “Sciency”

[Crossposted from Smugbaldy.com]

Here’s some more for our Republican War on Science file.  Or should that be – Idiocy in high places file?  Either way, LA Govenor Bobby Jindal demonstrated yesterday that he has no grasp whatsoever of the issues surrounding the establishment of religious dogma under the heading of “Intelligent Design” in our science classes.

Here are some areas where Governor Jindal demonstrates his willful ignorance of the underlying issues:

When asked if he had doubts about the Theory of Evolution, Jindal replied:

I don’t think this is something that the Federal or State government should be imposing its view on local school districts.  As a conservative I think that government that’s closest to the people governs best. I think local school districts should be in the position for deciding the curricula and deciding what students should be learning.

In this case that’s absolutely, positively wrong, Mr. Governor, and you should know it.  You should be aware that Federal interests trumps State and Local interests whenever constitutional rights of American Citizens are infringed.  In the case of Intelligent Design (or ID), federal courts have found that ID is nothing more than Christian Creationism with some scientific-sounding jargon.  The teaching of this isn’t just bad science (or non-science) it also violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  As such – any local school board that attempts to sneak ID into public schools is actually indoctrinating students into a “state-preferred” religion, and the Federal government has an expressed interest in keeping that from occurring.  That is, unless you all want to have your kids recite the Branch Dividian creed in Bology class.  Thought not.

Jindal goes on to say:

I don’t think students learn from us withholding information from them.  Some want only to teach intelligent design, some want only to teach Evolution. I think both views are wrong … As a parent when my kids go to public schools, I want them to be presented with the best thinking.  I want them to make decisions for themselves. I want them to see the best data.

That’s not entirely true now, is it?  The best data in human sexuality clearly demonstrates that abstinence education doesn’t work, but conservative parents like Jindal want their kids exposed to it rather than comprehensive sex-education that could save their lives.  The best data available also clearly demonstrates that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is scientific, while Intelligent Design is instead a religious-political position.  And nobody in a state like Louisiana, that has a large population of conservative Christian voters, wants to dwell on that little truth nugget.

Interestingly, conservatives are ok with science as long as it doesn’t appear to step on their religious toes too much.  For example, most parents are OK with teaching about viruses and bacteria in science classes – especially techniques for minimizing the spread of harmful ones like hand washing and food service sanitization.  Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways Mr. Govenor.  If your more fundamentalist supporters have their way, ID would replace Evolution in science classes, and we’d also have to replace bacteriology with an “evil spirit” theory of disease.  Interestingly, in some areas (not just beloved Louisiana) this is what passes for medical science, sometimes with disastrous results.

Of course, the scariest part of this whole episode is that, Bobby Jindal is reported to be on McCain’s VP short list, which would mean he has a great shot at becoming president himself since McCain is older than, well, everyone.  Is it too much to ask that we get presidential and vice-presidential candidates that have more than a thimble full of scientific literacy?