On Evolution and Rent Control

One of the common refrains we hear from creationists is that schools ought to “teach the controversy.” This is an excellent talking point, in that it manages to cast people who wish to teach science as having a dogmatic (i.e. unscientific) viewpoint. It works well because it’s full of ambiguity.

First, it’s not clear what “teach” means. If “teach” means “teach in debate class” or “teach in religious studies” or “teach in poli sci,” I don’t think anyone has a problem with it. Of course, none of the legal trials over creationism have ever been about teaching it in religious studies. They’re about whether you can teach non-science in a science class.

Second, it’s not clear what “controversy” means. If you say “there is no controversy,” all those legal trials can be cited. This is because there is ambiguity as to whether you mean “scientific controversy” or “political controversy.” That is – is it a controversy between the educated and the educated or is it a controversy between the educated and public opinion?

I believe our usual counterargument goes something like this: “What controversy? That’s like saying there’s a controversy over whether the Roman Empire existed!” I think that’s a flawed counterargument, and here’s why: It doesn’t fully capture the specific nature of the creationism argument. It doesn’t capture that there is tepid public acceptance but overwhelming acceptance of evolution among biologists. That is, in the case of evolution, there is *actual* controversy. It just doesn’t exist between people who are educated on the topic.

About a week ago, we did a podcast with economist Mike Munger. One of the segments we did was about points of consensus in the field of economics. Here, Mike brought up rent control.

Rent control is a form of price fixing in which government puts a ceiling on what a landlord can charge for rent. Mike noted that he’d never personally met an economist who favored rent control. And, according to Principles of Economics (Mankiw, 5th ed, p 35) 93% of economists agree with the proposition “A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.” I looked up a clarification, and it said 76.3 flat out agreed, 16.6 with qualifications, and 6.5 disagreed.

In any scientific discipline, especially a complex social science like economics, I think it’s safe to say 93% consensus is damn good.

However, in politics, rent control is often popular. I had trouble finding polls on public acceptance of rent control (I’m guessing it’s not a sexy issue), but I did find that many large cities, including New York and San Francisco, employ rent control.

Why does this matter? Well, it’s very analogous to the “evolution vs. creationism” controversy. In both cases, the people who study the phenomenon agree on it, but some members of the public and of the political class do not agree. However, I don’t believe that anyone would ever insist that someone teaching economics should “teach the controversy.” The economist, especially at the undergrad level, would be expected to teach the consensus among economists.

I think this is a better analogy than what we often use. Additionally, in America at least, anti-evolution people tend to come from a supply side economic perspective. So, economically, they probably agree that price fixing is not good economic policy.

Perhaps by using this more apt analogy, we stand a chance to get a few more people to comprehend why “teach the controversy” is not a viewpoint than any reasonable person should accept.

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23 Responses to On Evolution and Rent Control

  1. Juan Manuel says:

    I think that you are making a point, but nevertheless, there is also a point in “teaching the controversy”. Don’t get me wrong, it is painfully clear that there is no such controversy in biology. What I meant is that there is a real social (or political?) conflict here, and it should be faced with seriousness in both accademy and maybe even in schools. That is, the problem is to understand why there is this discussion, getting to a higher ground than the individual points of view that most people have. I assume that there is already some group of people working for this goal, but it is not being pervceived anywhere in formal education.

  2. Dranorter says:

    But almost any undergraduate economics professor will mention the fact that the conclusions economists come to are not always listened to. It’s not quite “teaching the controversy;” I think teaching the controversy here would be the prof saying “this is what economists think and why, but believing this won’t win you any votes and here’s why.” Rather, responsibly presenting economics should involve some thought about the difficulty of putting economics’ conclusions to use.

    The analogy would suggest that it’s important to teach biologists about engaging the public in the reasoning behind evolution; and in class, go over a bit of why evolution is disbelieved by so many, as well as teaching what misconceptions people have about evolution. Something like that. But evolution does not have the same sort of practical advice that economics does, so this is not nearly as important as with economics. (Rent fixing could be eliminated given an educated public; teaching evolution? Maybe it helps people realize antibiotic resistance is a real issue? Not sure.) Mainly we want to make sure the theory of evolution survives within the scientifically-minded, for which purpose it is quite important not to have a public actively hostile towards its teaching.

  3. Hey Zach,

    Interesting post. The analogy strikes me as potentially useful, but also somewhat flawed. If you allow me a somewhat wordy response…

    In the case of rent control, it’s explicitly a subjective matter about “what’s best.” The fact that 93% of economists agree may simply reflect that they come from a common discipline, and therefore perceive “what’s best” as a long-term, utilitarian point of view related to economic prosperity. For the renters who live in neighborhoods that suddenly become popular, rent control is the only thing that allows families who have live in the same apartment for decades to not get forced out when suddenly hipsters start swarming because the bar next door gives away coupons for Urban Outfitters with every third PBR.

    In the case of evolution by natural selection, and all that goes with it (e.g., humans evolved, the earth is billions of years old), 99% of biologists agree that it occurs (though details still remain to be worked out, as you know). In the case of rent control, it’s a policy that economists believe, based on their experience and biases, is generally a bad one. However, you could disagree not only on the opinion of whether it’s really bad for your stated goals, but also, with the same assumptions and expected outcomes, you could disagree simply because you have different goals for society. Therefore, there really could be a controversy, if not now, then in the future. In the case of evolution by natural selection, biologists believe that it’s the by far the most probable explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. It’s not a subjective position, because it’s a theory of explanation rather than policy.

    Thoughts?

    • ZachWeiner says:

      I think you’re assuming there’s a normative aspect to the rent control question as I used it. Whether it’s good is irrelevant to the question of whether it happens. The poll question is about what happens to quantity and quality of housing over time under certain conditions. This has a strong basis in theory and empirical observation. Whether it’s good or bad is of course a non-scientific question. But, then again, whether it’s good or bad that evolution is true is also a non-scientific question.

      • You’re right, I think I read too much into your post. All you’re saying is that 93% (or whatever) economists think that
        given: rent control (contra its absence)
        then: qualitative effect on quantifiable metrics regarding housing.
        Which is science.

        Carry on.

  4. Omari C. says:

    I might be ticking off a lot of people here, but I don’t believe economics to be as trustworthy a science as evolutionary biology is. Not that rent control is necessarily good or bad.

    • ZachWeiner says:

      I think you’re conflating economics as an institution with economics as a science. If I tell you “under normal conditions increasing the money supply decreases the value of money” you would probably agree that’s a fact. So, that’s an empirical fact produced by the science of economics, regardless of whether you trust the field overall.

      I think it makes more sense to distrust claims than fields of study. A field of study isn’t really even a framework, beyond the use of the scientific method.

      • Omari C. says:

        I’m under the impression that economics has always been billed as a scientific institution. I’d certainly agree that increasing money supply decreases the value of money, yet if 93% of economists came to some conclusion about rent control being bad or good, I’d say “let’s get that up to 99% before I make up my mind.” It’s because of all times that prominent economists have made errors.

  5. Pat says:

    Rent control is an obscure idea to use, in that the economist explanation is more complex than multiplication, which is about the level of the average member of the public. I propose using Santa Claus as the analogy.

    Everyone with even the littlest bit of education knows about Santa. All adults know the full story. No one would honestly “teach the controversy” on Santa. And those who insist on the Santa story have a highly vested interest in obscuring the truth. Santa is benign, but still a lie. (And I already know people will be mad at me for saying the truth out loud!)

    Creationism is much worse than Santa, but the mechanism is the same.

  6. kitukwfyer says:

    Sooo…. I seem to be the lone creationist. It happens betimes.

    Just to make two things clear: natural selection makes sense. I don’t know any creationists personally who don’t believe that natural selection is a real thing that is happening right now. The conclusions some biologists have theorised based on this mechanism are what I don’t believe.

    Thing 2: Christians aren’t the only creationists. I have heard people theorising that life was started by aliens. If humans didn’t evolve then some aliens evolved, and they’re all super-advanced and they started life here. First that doesn’t answer the question of how the aliens evolved and second, aliens started life here is kind of the definition of creationism. It’s just not Christian.

    There’s a lot of weird stuff that seems to support the theory of evolution, but there’s a lot of other stuff that doesn’t make sense within the context of that theory. So, there’s a chance it’s wrong. Maybe a very tiny chance, but a chance nonetheless. So, there’s room to doubt.

    If you doubt evolution, there’s this competing thing called creationism, which most people hold isn’t a science at all and just a big pile of gobbledygook…. So what? I’m not claiming I have a crapton of scientific evidence for creationism. I’m not a scientist. I’m just going off what is to me, and only to ME (notice the “me” there?), reasonable doubt in a theory, and believing something else instead. In other words, I’m just holding this theory to higher standards. It’s not 100% done and dead. So it comes down to a question of faith.

    Yeah, I know. The whole “science is a religion” thing. I’m really not trying to equate them, although I don’t think they’re intrinsically opposed to each other as many on both sides do. Evolution has a lot of evidence behind it. I’m not 100% convinced. Creationism does not have as much evidence behind it (some read: none at all), but to some people that evidence is more convincing, or there are awesome, magical rewards for believing.

    So it’s a gamble either way. Believe in evolution and feel smart while you’re alive… maybe. Or believe in creationism and possibly feel smart. Or believe in Christian creationism and feel like an idiot half the time but a unique, beloved idiot who will live happily ever after anyway.

    All that goes to say, this rent control analogy shan’t work on many of us. Because what you’re saying amounts to the same argument we’ve always gotten: Don’t argue with your betters. Seriously. That’s what the argument boils down to. With the rampant politicisation of science, I don’t take anything I see or hear from ANY scientific discipline at face-value unless it comes with a mathematical proof.

    I fully accept the fact that I’m not an expert. I can’t argue against evolution. I also can’t argue for it. Not because of faith, but because I’m not a biologist. Similarly, I try to avoid arguing for God dogmatically because I’m not a theologian. I have my opinions, and I’m willing to share them, but they’re my opinions and beliefs not my dissertation. I’m studying linguistics and math, not biology or theology. I know my limits, so to speak.

    Personally, I think rent control sounds like a terrible idea, but not just because economists say so. It makes sense to me personally. Biologists can say so all they want, but their theory doesn’t make sense and convince me personally.

    Final point: Comparing economics and biology is like comparing apples and cucumbers. Believing something about economics does not endanger anyone’s soul, like believing the theory of evolution, according to some people. I understand where you get the analogy, but… no. This is completely different. I thought it might just be something I notice as a Christian, but my atheist friends laughed out loud when I told them about it. So it’s not just me.

    You can think I’m an idiot if you want. I’m pretty used to it by now. I just thought this was a legitimately thoughtful argument and deserved a response from the other side. :)

    • ZachWeiner says:

      YO!

      I don’t want to dig in too hard here, but let me push back against a point that I think is important:
      I never ever said “Don’t argue with your betters.” Ever. It would be a logical fallacy to do so. I said that for publicly funded education, the people who know the most about something should be the ones writing the curriculum. I never said they were infallible or that you can’t argue with them. I said it’s reasonable to suppose that the biology curriculum should be set by biologists.

      • kitukwfyer says:

        I can agree with that. Sorry if I’m overly combative. It’s pretty ingrained at this point. XP

        My point was that, while I think your main idea is good, it’s going to sound a lot different to some of my creationist brethren. Biologists are certainly experts in biology, but evolution is dealing with the origin of life along with current biological processes. At least it did in my school. Once you touch on the origin of life, you’re crossing into theological territory.

        If the experts in a field should handle the curriculum of said field, then don’t theologians have legitimate grounds to demand their say in the classroom?

        Of course it’s a *biology* class we’re talking about, so no. They really don’t. But I can guess the frustration creation scientists/theologians must feel when their theory is delegated to tabloid status in many people’s eyes, just because it isn’t allowed into a secular classroom. This refusal, however politely worded, feels like a slap in the face because of the rather obvious implications. Try admitting you’re a creationist in a modern physics lab. People will literally laugh at you now.

        Honestly, I accept the “biologists teach biology” thing. That really does make sense. But I can totally understand people getting pissed off about how biology, and biology’s theories, are placed on a pedestal, however unintentionally. This patronage makes a lot of people feel like they can step on a silly little creationist with impunity. It’s kind of a crappy feeling. I endorse manning up and then showing them up. It gets old though.

        The idea YOU express is fine. But in application, a lot of people will perceive what I said. That idea is not fine.

        Whenever I hear creationists (who happen to be Christian) complaining about how creationism isn’t taught in schools, I tell them that’s why we have Sunday Schools. To us the Truth is more important than acceptance/respect of our fellow mortals. It would be nice though. It would be really, REALLY nice. And having just one dinky little 90 minute lecture in a *science* classroom would signal some of that respect.

        • ZachWeiner says:

          The reason biologists don’t want to give it a 90 minute lecture in a science classroom is because it’s not accepted theory based on evidence. If every field had to teach heterodox theories based in the beliefs of 0.2% of the professional population, we’d have to teach homeopathy in chemistry class and astrology in astronomy class.

          I think also you may have at least one misunderstanding of evolution, since you bring up the origin of life. Evolution, by definition, does not explain the origin of life. Evolution is a description of what happens to self-replicating entities that experience mutation over long periods of time. That is, it’s what happens to life after it already exists. Abiogenesis is a different field of study from evolution.

          The origin of life is a much harder question, and as you may know, there are many competing theories in biology. Thus, no definitive explanation is given in high school biology classes.

          I’m sorry you feel put upon, but the fact that a group feels put upon is not an argument for anything. I’m an atheist living in the deep south. People here say openly they would not vote for a person with my views. But I don’t think my status here as an atheist entitles me to tell a tax-exempt religious institution it should say “Now, we believe all this, but maybe atheism is right too.” When it comes to teaching, I think we should leave religion to the religious and science to the scientists.

        • Sean says:

          “Once you touch on the origin of life, you’re crossing into theological territory.”

          Well, once you say what is or isn’t science or theology, you’re crossing into epistemelogical territory. Whether the origin of life is a question of science or theology depends on who you ask, now doesn’t it? And I’d say that most scientists and philosophers of science would say that it is by its nature much more like a scientific question than a theological one. Science doesn’t just include what you can do in a lab in the present day, but also paleontology, geology, cosmology, and other sciences that are mostly or completely historical in nature. The origin of life fits right in with those studies.

          (As Zach says, abiogenesis is about the origin of life, while evolution is only about the origin of species and other variations among living things.)

          “Try admitting you’re a creationist in a modern physics lab. People will literally laugh at you now.”

          Guilty as charged. In my defense, I’ve actually engaged with “creation scientists” and intelligent design advocates directly (e.g. critiquing some of Dembski’s papers), so I do at least know about what I laugh at. Creationist scientists do, in most cases, feel stepped on, persecuted, shut out, what have you, and they do their best to make sure everyone is always aware of that. But I have to say, they have never struck me as particularly *competent* (and in many cases, not even as honest!). How they feel is not relevant to whether or not they are sufficiently qualified and trustworthy to provide useful input.

          To put it bluntly, after seeing how creation scientists actually conduct themselves, and what their ideas and arguments consist of, I *cannot* respect creation science as a discipline, nor can I see why a teacher should actually want to signal respect for a set of ideas that rarely have any intellectual merit and that have often been advanced in highly unethical ways (e.g. through straight-up lies, clearly fallacious, manipulative reasoning, and so on).

          (Sorry to pile on here on the one creationist, but it’s hard to resist.)

          • kitukwfyer says:

            I can understand it. I actually DON’T argue for the inclusion of creationism in public schools, but I understand the position of people who do.

            As far as the origin of life being a scientific or theological question, you’re right it depends who you ask. I was trying to make that point myself. :) I fail at articulating things sometimes.

            I also appreciate that creation scientists don’t uphold themselves as well as they should, but I think that’s true of evolutionists too. I have no problem with evolution as a THEORY at all. It’s just when biologists start treating it as an absolutely proven fact that I have a problem. If you didn’t know, a lot of them do that.

            And I also totally agree that creationists tend to sound stupid/desperate/whatever when they try to defend creationism scientifically because it’s not a, primarily, a science. that’s not how we’re taught to defend it. For the majority of people who believe it, it’s just a faith thing. If someone wants to argue for evolution in the specific context of the Christian faith, that’s different completely. Unfortunately, most creationists don’t recognise that you have to argue differently in different contexts.

            As for the origin of life thing, most people actually don’t differentiate between evolution and abiogenesis. In a lot of high schools, biology classrooms make no distinction between the two. I had three biology classes that covered the subject. Each of them talked about theories concerning an “evolutionary” theory on the origin of life. Evolution as defined, I say again, I have no problem with. the practical definition differs significantly from the technical, however.

            That’s not the fault of biologists. They (usually) make the distinction. You guys do too. But “abiogenesis” is a word most people don’t know. Spell-checker doesn’t know it either.

            Zach, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with dumb crap from Christians. More Churches should point out that Vlad the Impaler was a devout “Christian.” Being a Christian or an Atheist does not automatically make you a good or bad person at all. By God’s standards, we’re all losers and inherently sinful. Christians tend to forget the whole humility thing. If a smart, compassionate atheist ran for president, I’d vote for him over a fire-and-brimstone super-Christian any time. DX

            Oh, and fun fact: When I took honors astronomy, we did spend a lecture talking about astrology. :) It was actually really fun.

            And yes. I will probably keep responding until I don’t have a reason to procrastinate. XD

        • Sean says:

          We ran out of reply levels, so I’ll stick my next reply here.

          “I have no problem with evolution as a THEORY at all. It’s just when biologists start treating it as an absolutely proven fact that I have a problem. If you didn’t know, a lot of them do that.”

          Well, I do know that, but I think there are some distinctions to be made here. Firstly, in science, calling something a “theory” just means that it’s a framework for theoretical knowledge, but it doesn’t mean that it’s actually uncertain. So there’s quantum theory, or the theory of special/general relativity, or the theory of plate tectonics (all proven true, according to any reasonable scientific standards). There’s “string theory”, which has not been definitely proven. I’m sure in the dustbin of history there are many things once called “theories” that have turned out to be false.

          Once something is labelled a “theory”, that label is rarely changed, whether it is proven true or false, so there’s no distinction between “theories” and “facts”. Saying that something is a theory and not a fact is meaningless in science, where most things that we refer to as theories actually *are* facts as well.

          The other thing that’s worth pointing out is that, by scientific standards, evolution *is* as well-established a fact as scientific facts get. Certainly natural selection is established and reproduceable in the lab. The part of evolution that creationists strongly object to is common descent (the idea that more or less all life on Earth shares a common lineage), but that is also very well established. We can even trace the genetic history of very specific traits, exploring how and why, for example, certain primates like ourselves lost the ability to produce our own vitamin C (even though most of the genes necessary to do so are mostly intact in us, some critical bits are broken), but gained extra color vision with respect to other mammals (by duplicating an eye pigment, but tweaking the new version to pick up slightly different colors of light from the old one). The fossil evidence lines up; the genetic evidence lines up; the anatomical evidence lines up; from a scientific perspective, there’s no reason *not* to treat common descent as a fact.

          From a philosophical perspective, maybe you can argue that the scientific standards of evidence are wrong (e.g. that science just doesn’t work in certain situations, or that it needs to change to fix some flaw). From a scientific perspective, though, evolution goes above and beyond the typical burden of proof, so you would have to present very strong evidence against it to instill any real doubt on the matter.

          “Unfortunately, most creationists don’t recognise that you have to argue differently in different contexts.”

          Well, the people I was talking about were people with scientific training. William Dembski is one of the most famous intelligent design proponents, one who claims to have developed an argument against unguided evolution using information theory. In my experience, his academic papers are riddled with errors, besides which, some of his conclusions have been definitively disproven. Yet he does not usually amend or retract them. Sometimes he misrepresents opponents’ criticism. These are, generally speaking, *very good reasons* for biology journals to turn down his papers.

          This is not a case of a theologian being confused by scientific practices. This is a case where someone who is famous for attempting to put creationism on scientific footing turns out to be terrible at it. This was my real concern, not just that *most* creationists have done so poorly, but that *all* creation scientists, even the most lauded, have failed to make a good case, or in most cases even abide by standard scientific and ethical practices.

          “In a lot of high schools, biology classrooms make no distinction between the two.”

          This can be somewhat of a problem. It’s worth pointing out, however, that a lot of high school biology classes don’t teach evolution very well, if at all. And that while you could argue that this is partly because scientists haven’t been active enough in focusing on early education and outreach, I think we all know some of the other reasons why some high school science teachers prefer not to spend much time on the subject. Not that this is a comment on your experiences at all. I’m just saying.

          (Also, I suppose that technically there *are* evolutionary hypotheses about abiogenesis. For example, there’s been some suggestion that some of the basic structures of life (DNA, ribosomes, and so on) were the product of natural selection operating on a previous version of life, such as an “RNA world”. So these hypotheses do sort of suggest that there was a simpler beta version of life that evolved into life as we know it. Of course, these hypotheses are not the same thing as evolution *in general*, nor do they explain abiogenesis completely, but they overlap with both fields.)

    • Sean says:

      Some simple points that came to me when reading this:

      “Christians aren’t the only creationists. I have heard people theorising that life was started by aliens.”

      You seemed to skip something here, which is that there are a lot of other versions of creationism. For example, there are Jewish and Muslim ones, of which the latter in particular has some differences from the Christian version, and every non-Abrahamic faith.

      “So, there’s a chance it’s wrong. Maybe a very tiny chance, but a chance nonetheless. So, there’s room to doubt.”

      Well, that’s true of almost everything that happens. I don’t see this as much of an argument against evolution in particular. For example: “So, there’s a chance that Jimmy Carter doesn’t exist, and he’s just a series of robots and actors pretending to be Jimmy Carter. Maybe a very tiny chance, but a chance nonetheless. So, there’s room to doubt.” This is true, but it doesn’t convince me that I should take the possibility seriously.

      “I’m not claiming I have a crapton of scientific evidence for creationism. I’m not a scientist. I’m just going off what is to me, and only to ME (notice the “me” there?), reasonable doubt in a theory, and believing something else instead.”

      If you don’t think that you can provide a decent argument for your position, what role are you playing here? Isn’t this a reason to simply suspend judgment (i.e. not side either way), or to go with whatever is more probable, rather than just picking something on a whim? What you’re saying seems to add up to “I don’t know the answer and the issue is a bit confusing, so I will assume it’s too difficult or impossible find out for sure, which means I have an excuse to believe whatever I want, however implausible.”

      “Because what you’re saying amounts to the same argument we’ve always gotten: Don’t argue with your betters. Seriously. That’s what the argument boils down to. With the rampant politicisation of science, I don’t take anything I see or hear from ANY scientific discipline at face-value unless it comes with a mathematical proof. ”

      This is an exaggeration, and a pretty harsh and misleading one at that. Consider this statement: “If you’re going to act dismissive toward people who’ve really done the study and research to understand a subject well, you should at least make sure you’ve also done enough study and research yourself to back up what you’re saying, or else you come off as both arrogant and ignorant.” Not a totally uncontentious statement, but very different from “Don’t argue with your betters.” and probably closer to what was meant.

      Also, virtually nothing in science comes with a complete, deductive mathematical proof, because science is, definitionally, empirical. I can mathematically prove that *if* general relativity is true, and *if* planets and the sun are approximately spherically symmetric, and *if* other stars are far enough away to not disrupt the orbits much, then planets will orbit a certain way. I can then empirically observe that planets *do seem* to orbit that way, and not the way predicted by any different theory, and then count that as evidence in favor of general relativity (which can be made quasi-rigorous using Bayes theorem). But I can’t start with set theory and prove the existence of general relativity, any more than I can deductively prove the existence of golden retrievers or ham.

      Similarly I can assert that *if* certain very simple and overwhelmingly probable things are true, then the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution. But this is induction and abduction, not deduction.

      (By the way, “politicization”? Really? Just because something runs counter to your political beliefs does not mean that it was made up or promoted solely in order to advance someone else’s political agenda. Believe it or not, the modern understanding evolution really, really was not just made up to argue against Christians. It was constructed over decades as an explanation that biologists genuinely believed was the best explanation for what they observed in the natural world. I could make similar statements about climate change; it wasn’t invented just because a bunch of climatologists got together and decided it would be fun to hate on oil companies, I promise.)

      “I know my limits, so to speak.”

      Again, I have to wonder, if you can’t put forward a clear scientific argument on the issue, and you admit it, then what are you trying to contribute to the discussion?

      “Personally, I think rent control sounds like a terrible idea, but not just because economists say so. It makes sense to me personally.”

      Why did you say you have “higher standards” for evolution, but not for being against rent control, where you seem to have just picked whatever seems to make sense after a few minutes’ thought? Why do you have “higher standards” for evolution than for creationism? You may have the right to your own opinion. You may have emotional reasons to have higher standards for ideas you dislike than for ones you’re attached to. But it’s not rational, and not, as we say, “intellectually honest”, because it shows a higher commitment to enjoying your own preferred opinion than to discovering the actual truth.

      “Believing something about economics does not endanger anyone’s soul, like believing the theory of evolution, according to some people.”

      Well, who cares what “some people” think? You can find “some people” to tell you just about anything I think it is improbable that people have eternal souls, and even if they do exist, I am not convinced that people’s beliefs about Jesus or evolution or anything else matter any more than their beliefs about economics or Mohammad or the Queen of Hearts or the contents of Justin Beiber’s sock drawer. To me, in fact, there is no difference, and that doesn’t change just because “some people” think differently unless those “some people” have a *good* reason that will change my mind.

      “I thought it might just be something I notice as a Christian, but my atheist friends laughed out loud when I told them about it. So it’s not just me.”

      A) How they reacted when you told them your interpretation is not the same as how they might have reacted if you just showed them the article first.

      B) Why are the opinions of your atheist friends (who none of us would know) any more relevant than those of “some people”, and if you do think those opinions are relevant, than why aren’t expert opinions relevant (like those of economists or biologists)?

      C) Macroeconomics seems less rigorous than biology in a wide array of circumstances. It’s hard to experiment on economies, and the sample size is always low. So, depending on the situation, I might agree that they are not comparable, because biological research is much more sound.

      “You can think I’m an idiot if you want.”

      Speaking only for myself, I don’t make judgments about you as a person. I just don’t think that these arguments are very good. Disagreeing with someone, even thinking that their arguments really suck, doesn’t mean you have to think they are stupid in general, although it’s easy to mix them up.

      (That said, there are some people who are very talkative, very persistant, and leave very little room for doubt about how ignorant they are.)

      • Sean says:

        Corrections of some typos I just noticed:

        “[...]so I will assume it’s too difficult or impossible to find out for sure[...]”

        “You can find “some people” to tell you just about anything. I think it is improbable[...]“

  7. “I think also you may have at least one misunderstanding of evolution, since you bring up the origin of life. Evolution, by definition, does not explain the origin of life. Evolution is a description of what happens to self-replicating entities that experience mutation over long periods of time. That is, it’s what happens to life after it already exists. Abiogenesis is a different field of study from evolution.”

    This is brilliant – I may bring this into work tomorrow.

  8. Joose Vuoristo says:

    I just have to say, as a student of economics, that I partially don’t think the rent control analogy works, because the pros and cons of rent control WERE brought up during my first microeconomics course. In other words “teaching the controversy” was part of our curriculum.

    The analogy does however work in a way. In our material we were mainly shown the flaws of rent control, and while it was made clear that it had good intentions, it was a theory based on misinformation and flawed logic, mostly used by economically unaware politicians (of course there are people who agree with it for moral reasons, i.e. think of utility differently from the vast majority of economists).

    I have a hunch that most scientists who had to teach creationism in biology class would have a similar approach to the subject. I also have a feeling creationists would have a problem with creationism being taught in a scientific way, as the reasoning behind believing in it really has nothing to do with science. In other words if creationists want the “controversy” to be taught in schools, it has to be done in a scientific way, like in any other subject, and that probably isn’t going to work for either party.

    • ZachWeiner says:

      Yeah, exactly. I think it’d be fine if bio teachers could say “there’s this other thing called creationism or intelligent design. Here are a few of its arguments, and why they’re considered scientifically incorrect.”

      And, in the same way denying creationism doesn’t need to be a denial of your deity, denying the efficacy of rent control doesn’t mean poverty is good. It’s just a matter of what seems to be scientifically correct.

      • Joose Vuoristo says:

        That last creationism/rent control comparison is actually really good, I’ll have to remember that one. For the next time I’m simultaneously arguing about creationism and rent control… Alright, I’ll probably never be able to use it in an argument verbatim, but it’s still a neat comparison.

  9. Chris Rudy says:

    HEY! Not to pick nits, but we don’t want biologists writing biology curriculum. We want educators writing the biology curriculum. In consultation with biologists. This is a small but important distinction.

    For historical precedent, consider when we let mathematicians write the math curriculum. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_Mathematics_Study_Group

    That was a mess.

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