You might have heard of OKCupid, a dating website with a mathematical approach to match-making. Aside from filling out a standard dating profile (age, gender, general interests…) each user answers a self-chosen number of multiple-choice questions. These questions are user-submitted and range from the seemingly mundane (Do you like to sleep with the window open?) to the controversial (Should people with low IQs be allowed to reproduce?). You answer, note how important the question is to you, and which answers are acceptable in a potential match. A simple algorithm then calculates your match percentage with other users and suggests the ones that score the highest.
Although I met my current boyfriend through this excellent algorithm (95%), I shall not dwell on it but focus on one specific question. OKCupid gives you the option to explain your answers further, and one question seemed to foster some of the more interesting explanations: “Could evolution and intelligent design both be right?”.
Now, anyone who has been on the Internet for a while knows that asking a question about evolution is asking for trouble. As some of my other answers clearly declared me a godless heathen, and the algorithm matches accordingly, I mostly saw the profiles of similar, scientifically minded people… who answered “No”. As it happens, I answered “Yes”.
This got me some amusing spontaneous messages, mostly of people who didn’t seem to bother reading my explanation. They send me links to texts by Dawkins, helpfully explained basic biology, gave common arguments defending evolution, and didn’t use the customary introductions (“Hello, I read your profile. Nice picture! We seem to have a lot in common…”). They were, in short, not looking for a match; they were trying to convert me – without really understanding which ‘side’ I was on.
Others understood me better. They sent no such messages and explained alongside their answer, grudgingly, that of course intelligent design cóúld be right – although the changes were very, very small. Yet, they could not bring themselves to answer “Yes” (and neither should you, one remarked), and so they answered “No”. But why?
To some, science is waging a war against religion, and any confession of doubt in scientific theory is akin to admitting defeat. But doubt is the heart of science. Without doubt, a theory would be infallible – and that word has no place in any good scientific discussion. Teaching people scientific thinking is not teaching them evolution as opposed to intelligent design – it is teaching them to doubt… ánd prove their doubts. We push people not to question evolution – but we should push them to question everything, and use sound arguments when they do.
Evolution is too good a theory of life to be used as a cheap weapon of self-righteousness. Some can not bring themselves to admit that even the best scientific concepts can be proven wrong – but the value of these concepts is in that very quality.