In dealing with controversies I am still working with health care. I have in previous articles explored the political/economic policies that have contributed to our current poor state of health, e.g. the "Roosevelt" food plan that grew out of the farmer's subsidies and the "Truman" health care plan which grew out of the imposition of wage controls after WWII. I then looked at the implied policy, implied in that it is never explicitly stated as such, that because America is a "rich" country, that its citizens have the right to live as irresponsibly as the rich have traditionally lived. Today I begin an exploration into the deeper roots of our health problems. These extend back to the very beginning of our Republic and beyond to our European roots. I am going to do it in a rather round about way by looking at another controvery, i.e. Darwinian evolution.
It is important to recognize that although we discuss Darwinian evolution as a subject of science, the controversy that surrounds it has little to do with science and a great deal to do with politics. It is my firm belief that any object, theory or thing that properly belongs in the free market, whether that market is the market for sugar or homes, or capital, or ideas and theories, and is shifted to the political arena, where it really does not belong, determining the value of that thing/object/idea/theory becomes very difficult. Indeed, a great deal of the motivation to keep whatever it is that has been removed from the free market firmly in the political market place, is that those who keep it there are afraid that it (whatever "it" is) would be vastly undervalued in the free market. We will see how this applies to wages later. Today we are exploring this idea with respect to a theory--Darwin's theory of evolution.
For me, this is best illustrated by my own experience, which I offer forewith.
When I began my graduate school studies in biophysics, the physics department was about equally divided on the subject of evolution. About half said they were sceptical about it due to 2nd law (of thermodynamics) considerations and the other half essentially said, "The geologists and biologists accept it. They are scientists. I am a scientist. I wouldn't like them making declarations about my science, I don't think that I should make declarations about theirs." When, and if pressed, they would add, "Besides life is an open system and the 2nd law doesn't apply." My own major professor, and the university's only biophysicist had not made his view known, so I was eager to hear what he would say when he was asked to give a lecture on Darwinian evolution. The lecture was a part of a series of lectures on controversial topics, most of them, of course, political in nature. Dr. Dibble, my major professor, began his lecture by citing several of the examples provided to him by the geologists and biologists when they heard that he was to give the lecture. He said that he was impressed with all these "proofs" but that they did not overcome his own doubts due to the 2nd law considerations. In short, he could not accept the validity of the theory of evolution as expounded by Darwin because, he felt, it violated the 2nd law.
Had he been asked to give that lecture at the end of my graduate career, I suspect that he would have been forced to temper his conclusion considerably. The reason was that in the interim the legislature of Lousiana, in an effort to stem the outflow of students in the public school whose parents were using alternatives because of the objection to materials being taught, notably evolution, passed a law saying that if Darwinian evolution were taught an alternative should also be taught. Not surprisingly, the geological society and the biological society objected. Unfortunately, the American Physical Society, whose business, in my opinion, it was none of, also issued a statement of protest and added effectively, that anyone wishing to consider themselves a part of the physics community would back them up. This, of course, would have been only so much hot air, were it not for the fact that the American Physical Society wields a great deal of influence in deciding who gets government research grants. In other words, if you wanted to get any government money for your research, you better not be making any anti-Darwinian comments.
As a sop to the members of the society who had 2nd law objections, the society magazine "Physics Today" published an article by a Russian physicist showing, he claimed, at least, that at the beginning of every physical process there is a very short period of time when entropy decreases (i.e. the 2nd law is effectively violated). Conviently, he made the period of time for any observable process (such as an explosion) so short that his theory was not really experimentally verifiable. (For example, in a process such as an explosion which from beginning to end might last 30 seconds, the period of entropy increase was only one trilloneth of a second). His "proof" consisted largley of a series of rather complex statistical themodynamic equations. Since I was taking a graduate class in statistical themodynamics at the time, I suggested to the instructor that going over the equations in this article might afford a better example than the ones in the text book. He initially agreed, but later changed his mind saying that he didn't have time in the class to do it. My own guess is that he either didn't understand the equations himself or decided that the whole subject was too politically charged to get involved with.
In the next post I will continue this subject by looking at the difference in the way we look at typical science theories and the way we look at Darwinian evolution. For now, I merely wish to state that my own experiences, including the one detailed above have convinced me that knowing the truth of Darwin's theory--indeed of any theory--so long as it remains in the political arena is very difficult, if not impossible.