Monday, January 26, 2009

I snarfed

Despite the fact that I live in a state where you can't swing a bag without hitting a fundamentalist-type christian, I rarely discuss evolution with those that don't already believe it.
This Friday, I was enjoying time with friends when some new people (new to me anyway) joined our table. Inevitably, the "what do you do for a living" question came up and I gave one of my stock answers, "I'm a microbiologist." My friend then chimed in, "she has a PhD." Immediately the guy turned around and said, "Oh, well then I'd like your opinion on this awesome movie that I saw a couple of weeks ago." I figured I was about to get asked about a somewhat microbiology-themed movie, like 28 Days Later or Outbreak, so I said, "sure" and took a big ole swig of my beer while he formulated his question.
Guy: "I can't think of the name of the movie, but it was really informative and it had that Ben Stein guy in it."
Me: I snarf the beer. (snarfing = verb, when liquid that you put into your mouth comes out of your nose. You can also snarf a solid.) Finally, after I composed myself, I asked him if he was referring to expelled.
Guy: "yes!!" Followed by, "I just wanted to know what you thought about it."
Me "I think the movie is propaganda for the Discovery Institute."
Guy: "Oh, why?" So I tell him, and I am pretty nice about it. Eventually, he asks me why I don't think intelligent design should be taught in the science classroom, to which I replied, "There is no evidence for intelligent design and science is evidence-based." Then he said, "Well, there is no evidence for evolution either." I paused, shocked at the statement. I was prepared for comments about the gaps in fossil records and the like, not flat out denial that there is any evidence for evolution. Finally, I calmly replied, with a five or so pieces of evidence for evolution. Afterwards, he gave me the evil eye and started playing with his phone.
I think I need to take this as a wake-up call to get better prepared to talk to people. At the very least, I think I should avoid blowing beer out of my nose. I don't think it gave me too much cred.


PhizzleDizzle said...

man oh man. i cannot talk to people like that. i used to try, but when people cannot be reasonable, i have a hard time acting reasonably. sigh.

ScientistMother said...

yikes. I commend you on shutting the guy down.

Citronella said...

I commend you for having been able to calmly give him five evidences for evolution.

I would have been so "wait, what?" that I might not have been able to reply.

But I have to add that I come from a country where evolution is so easily accepted (included by Christians) that until I came to the US a few years ago I had no idea it could be a controversial subject.

Ambivalent Academic said...

BAM! Nice job.

I find it very hard to have a rational intelligent discussion with people who are being willfully ignorant.

It is important to distinguish between the ones who realize they may have been disinformed and really are looking for answers (they are rare but I have run across a few -- it's amazing what happens when those hapless brainwashed children hit the real world and a decent education), and the ones who just want to pick a fight. Those ones just piss me off. If you want to talk about science then the rules are evidence and logical conclusions.

But they want to talk about "science" and change the rules as they go. Now, I'm all for creative solutions...but only when there isn't one that currently intelligent creator ain't floatin' my evidence-lovin' boat.

I have not yet figured out how to respond to these people except to note that they are not interested in an honest pursuit of the truth through evidence so I have nothing to offer to them.

Then I turn away and quaff (not snarf) my beer...though like you, there have been times when I was caught unawares and did indeed snarf. I worried about my cred to.

Props to you -- an excellent handling of the situation.

Thomas Joseph said...

Here is how I would have handled it:

Guy: Hey, I saw this good movie with Ben Stein in it.

Me: Ferris Bueller's Day Off?

Guy: No, not that one.

Me: You sure? He's really good in that movie.

Guy: Yah, this movie was about evolution or something.

Me: Hmm, in Ferris Bueller he's an economics teacher, he's really funny.

Guy: Uhhh ...

Me: That's the only movie I know with Ben Stein in it. Sorry, I guess I can't help you.

chall said...

the only thing that scares me reading tis is that I do not know if I have 5 examples on my sleeve when i get shocked....

fossils? correlation between mammals and primates? mitochondria and those green thingyis inside leaves (lost the word now - chronoplasts?) and similarities to cyanobacteria?!

Gosh.... on the other hand I have retracted to "well, maybe we should talk about this another time and not when we are out drinking". chicken answer? maybe, but the first time I ended up trying (yes really trying) to wrap my head around "there are three races of humans - white, black and red - why are you arguing about that fact you Phdmissy"
blank face anyone?!?!!?

chall said...

lost one part in the last comment - the first time I tried to humour someone while drinking my beer that conversation came up and seriously, I could not really enjoy it when I had to really try and not just say "you are dead wrong". To a person who really was not interested in understanding but rather dishing out and telling me I was wrong.

not a point trying to "discuss it" since they might want to tell you why you are wrong. not the same thing.

Rebecca said...

WAY to snarf! LOL

Ambivalent Academic said...

You know, given a three hour essay exam I could probably come up with 3 easy-to-explain trains of evidence that I could probably pare down for the purposes of such a conversation...but 5 on the spot like that I'm not sure I'd be so suave. I'm sure I could go into the nitty-gritty of a few more, but that really doesn't do the job when you're trying to make an easily illustrated point to the willfully ignorant.

I've got Darwin's finches in my back pocket but what else?

Do you mind sharing your cited examples?

I would like to be so well-prepared as you when I next find myself in the same situation.

Thomas Joseph said...

In regards to the willfully ignorant. You know, there is nothing in what MXX said that leads me to believe that this fellow is "willfully ignorant".

For all we know, this guys education may have been sorely lacking in terms of sound scientific teaching during his formative years (and admit it, do we all pay attention to everything we learn in school?) and he's recently come across ID-speak. The IDists are very good at putting together a pretty package, and a lot of people have been hooked because of it. The onus isn't on them to go further (as far as they know, they now have the answer), it's on us to counter it.

Just calling people "willfully ignorant" and writing them off, isn't a proper countering technique.

microbiologist xx said...

Everyone – Wow! Thanks for commenting. I was feeling like I didn’t do such a good job with this situation, but you guys made me feel much better about my exchange. Thanks for that.
I do find it hard to talk to people like this guy, but I feel like I should at least make an effort. You are all correct, it is hard to distinguish the misinformed from the willfully ignorant, so if I am in the mood, I will give talking to them a try. However, if I find that they are clearly unwilling to entertain my ideas and aren't interested in any kind of intelligent discussion, I just walk away.

As far as the being able to come up with five pieces of evidence for evolution on the spot, don’t be too impressed. One of my friends, who writes the Nondiscovery blog, is well-versed in this information and I probably would have only been able to come up with a couple of examples if we didn’t have such frequent discussions about this very topic.

The examples I gave this guy were the ones I think know the best (good grief, I hope these aren’t wrong): fossil records, anatomical similarities of related animals, insects, etc., geographical distribution of related species and sequence similarity. For my fifth example, I tried to illustrate how evolution is validated continuously. My example was: Yes, there are gaps in the fossil records, but evolution predicts that certain fossils should exist in those gaps. Evolution is validated (yet again) when those “predicted” fossils are discovered. Sooooo, there is previous evidence that allows you to make predictions that can be tested. (That’s when I got the evil eye.)
I didn’t make any of these points quite so eloquently last Friday. In fact, I used a hell of a lot more verbage to get my point across. ☺

Thomas Joseph – I wish you were there last Friday. It didn’t even occur to me to use Ferris B’s Day Off. I mean really, that is the only movie Ben Stein has been in that I would consider a great movie.

Rebecca - yeah, it was pretty attractive.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Agreed TJ -- It was not my intention to imply that the fellow in question was one such person. I just re-read my comment and yes, it does come off that way...I mis-typed.

I have run across many examples of the miseducated-and-disinformed, as well as some tried and true I-will-not-entertain-the-notion-of-evolution-you-heretic sorts.

I really enjoy engaging with people who are either a) curious, and/or b) willing to have a reasonable dialogue about the matter. Unfortunately, I have been enticed into conversation with a few of the latter only to discover that they are not interested in conversation, but rather condemning my soul to eternal damnation. While I don't put much stock in that, it's a bit off-putting to say the least.

You are absolutely correct that it is the responsibility of scientists to counter these concepts and properly educate people -- you're right that many of them have received really poor scientific education. My reference to the "willfully ignorant" is not meant to write these people off.

It is just a recognition that there are some out there who are more interested in pointing out the "evil" in evolution, and for the ones who are really vehement about it no amount of reasonable conversation is going to change their minds. It seems to me that these specific individuals are not at all interested in gaining a better understanding of an important and topical bit of science, but rather proselytizing, which I really don't appreciate. It's these that aren't worth my time. There are many many more who have an insufficient science education and some religious beliefs that they have been told are incompatible with evolution and are trying to figure it out. These people are absolutely worth my time. Sometimes it's hard to tell them apart at the start of a conversation.

MXX - I dug this up recently in the interest of making sure that I could make a stab at being eloquent in your situation. I think that the title is unnecessarily inflammatory but the article is pretty good.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Incidentally, have you been following this thread?

One commenter is an example of someone who is trying to figure it all out and to that end engaging in some reasonable conversation. I find it heartening.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I've had some interesting run-ins with creationists on my blog. Some of them are fun to debate, in other cases it's like banging your head against a brick wall. These days I tend to direct them to the Talk Origins FAQ page.

What is it they say - you can't reason someone out of a position they've not reasoned themselves into? Something like that anyway.

microbiologist xx said...

AA - thanks for the link to the article and yes, I followed that thread for a while. There seems to be a good exchange of information going on there.

Cath - Agreed! Thanks for the link, that should certainly come in handy. Also, I can't remember how that saying goes either, but I know exactly what you are referring to. :)

Candid Engineer said...

Haha, yeah, I don't know if I'd take you very seriously after blowing beer out your nose, either. ;o)

You handled the situation fine, that guy is a doofus.