In “How It Felt to Be There” ( London Review of Books, 2 August 2012),
Neal Ascherson reviews Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life by Artur Domoslawski, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones in the course of which he reports an incident that goes to the core of a key problem with science, as well as journalism, today: Loss of respect for facts.
When a friend pointed out that a Tanzanian riot he described had happened in a different place in a different way, Kapuscinski shouted at her: ‘You don’t understand a thing! I’m not writing so the details add up: the point is the essence of the matter!’
Kapuscinski is mistaken. The essence of a matter depends on its facthood.
The struggle between ID theorists and Darwinists over the drivers of evolution is – in some part – like the struggle between Kapuscinski and his friend: A struggle over whether facts mean anything.
Dawkins believes that we should accept Darwinism because something like that has just got to be right. The ID theorists say the facts don’t add up and “something like that” is not science, any more than “whatever” is. Indeed, the course of discovering the true nature of our world has often been slowed by “something like that” reasoning. Much better is ID theorist Mike Behe’s question: “How, exactly?” Acheson goes on,
And sometimes this works. In Amin’s Uganda, he described the horror among a group of Africans who had caught a gigantic fish, swollen to monstrous size by devouring the corpses thrown into Lake Victoria. Kapuscinski knew this wasn’t true: the fish was an introduced Nile perch bloated by eating the native species. And yet the story captures exactly the terrified atmosphere of those nightmare times.
No, the problem is, it doesn’t capture it.
The terrified Ugandans (they are not all “Africans” any more than all residents of North America are “Americans”) may well have believed that the monstrous fish had been devouring human remains. But if Kapuscinski knew better, he should have told them and us what he knew, instead of encouraging us to enjoy the thrill of the terrified ignorance of others.
It’s not so different from Darwinists marketing just-so stories to cement what popular culture believes to be true.
Note: That said, there is a most interesting revelation toward the end of the profound difference the plastic water jug has made in Africa.