I have been reading for at least the second time, maybe the third, Richard Dawkins’ magisterial book about evolution, The Greatest Show on Earth (hereafter Show). Like the other one or two times I have read Dawkins’ book, it was an exhilarating ride. Until I read the appendix, which pertains to how the theory of evolution is, to this day, received in the US and non-Scandinavian Europe. That appendix to Show is a real downer. (I reacted similarly when I first read the book.) It turns out that, even in the supposedly enlightened First World – again, the Scandinavian countries are the blessed exception -- around 80% of respondents accept a theory of evolution that accommodates some kind of supernatural explanation, e.g., God did it all according to a literal reading of Genesis, chapter 1; o
Have you ever had the experience of noticing a certain pattern in a wild variety of contexts, a pattern that occurs so consistently that you feel it simply has to mean something … but you have no idea what? I say “in a wild variety of contexts” to rule out cases of patterns that occur within the same context, even though, at the time, you may have no idea of the cause. I remember back in the early 1960s, when I was in junior-high school, I went on a “geology jag”. I spent several months reading books on geology, geophysics, and volcanology that noted with perplexity the mysterious – in the early '60s – pattern whereby volcanic activity tended to be concentrated around the circumference of, e.g., the Pacific Basin, what we today call the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” and similar places.
Sometimes even smart and literate people are somewhat naïve when it comes to science. We had an example just recently when educated and sophisticated people compared prevalent conservative skepticism about climate change / global warming with almost non-existent skepticism about the causes of the recent solar eclipse. But this turns out to be a case of dueling misconceptions about differences in scientific methodology: the methodology used to substantiate climate change and the methodology used to account for solar eclipses. The differences are subtle, requiring a working knowledge of the history of science, but important in appreciating the extent to which the two cases – climate change and eclipses – are not quite comparable. Almost. But not quite.
I am riding this partic