What are the benefits of believing evolution?

— Ben M. Schorr (@bschorr) October 29, 2014

I always appreciate when writers and thinkers engage with me. As I’ve said before, I have much to learn. Last week I got into a Twitter discussion about my Federalist essay with Ben Schorr and the inimitable Dan Kahan*. I wanted to briefly follow-up to the great point Schorr raised above.

It’s true that Wilt was probably encouraged to be a better free throw shooter. But this point is where the analogy doesn’t really work. Since it is in fact my analogy, I guess I only have myself to blame. Let me try clarify why it fails here. Basketball players accrue specific benefits when their free-throw shooting improves. The same cannot be said for creationist doctors. Becoming a doctor in America is already very, very difficult. If someone can get a high enough MCAT score to get into med school, pass the multiple segments of the USMLE, get through residency and the medical boards…what do they gain by “believing” in evolution? It’s what I asked about my mom and Hindu astrology. Believing in either evolution or cosmology may simply not improve people’s life or work in any meaningful way. So I’m not sure why we insist on it when it doesn’t provide any concrete gain.

On the contrary, again as I highlighted with respect to Hindu astrology, rejecting a core belief may have psychological, social and emotional costs. To stretch the analogy even more unreasonably, I see it as forcing Wilt to practice free-throw shooting to the exclusion of his other skills. Sure in an ideal world, with all else equal, it would be wonderful if all basketball players were better at free-throws. But in the real world we have limited time and we must make tradeoffs. It may have been better for everyone if Wilt focused more on his low-post game because he would never be that good at free-throws anyway.

One final point that is not a sports analogy. As I re-read that Twitter conversation, I believe Schorr, like my friend Matt, is partly making an aesthetic and moral argument. That is, people should believe in evolution just because it is true and beautiful. I think that’s a fair stance to take. A big part of me agrees with it. But those subjective values should be acknowledged openly. Not doing so leaves you arguing that believing in creationism is bad because it has specific negative consequences. That, in my humble opinion, is a bit unscientific.

* Make sure to check out this awesome profile of Kahan in The Chronicle.

1 Comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *