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Creationism: God's gift to the ignorant (Religion bashing alert)
Times Online UK ^ | May 21, 2005 | Richard Dawkins

Posted on 05/25/2005 3:41:22 AM PDT by billorites

Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it: “Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on.” Science mines ignorance. Mystery — that which we don’t yet know; that which we don’t yet understand — is the mother lode that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do.

Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. Worse, it threatens the enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect that creationism or “intelligent design theory” (ID) is having, especially because its propagandists are slick, superficially plausible and, above all, well financed. ID, by the way, is not a new form of creationism. It simply is creationism disguised, for political reasons, under a new name.

It isn’t even safe for a scientist to express temporary doubt as a rhetorical device before going on to dispel it.

“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” You will find this sentence of Charles Darwin quoted again and again by creationists. They never quote what follows. Darwin immediately went on to confound his initial incredulity. Others have built on his foundation, and the eye is today a showpiece of the gradual, cumulative evolution of an almost perfect illusion of design. The relevant chapter of my Climbing Mount Improbable is called “The fortyfold Path to Enlightenment” in honour of the fact that, far from being difficult to evolve, the eye has evolved at least 40 times independently around the animal kingdom.

The distinguished Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin is widely quoted as saying that organisms “appear to have been carefully and artfully designed”. Again, this was a rhetorical preliminary to explaining how the powerful illusion of design actually comes about by natural selection. The isolated quotation strips out the implied emphasis on “appear to”, leaving exactly what a simple-mindedly pious audience — in Kansas, for instance — wants to hear.

The deceitful misquoting of scientists to suit an anti-scientific agenda ranks among the many unchristian habits of fundamentalist authors. But such Telling Lies for God (the book title of the splendidly pugnacious Australian geologist Ian Plimer) is not the most serious problem. There is a more important point to be made, and it goes right to the philosophical heart of creationism.

The standard methodology of creationists is to find some phenomenon in nature which Darwinism cannot readily explain. Darwin said: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Creationists mine ignorance and uncertainty in order to abuse his challenge. “Bet you can’t tell me how the elbow joint of the lesser spotted weasel frog evolved by slow gradual degrees?” If the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, a default conclusion is drawn: “Right, then, the alternative theory; ‘intelligent design’ wins by default.”

Notice the biased logic: if theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right! Notice, too, how the creationist ploy undermines the scientist’s rejoicing in uncertainty. Today’s scientist in America dare not say: “Hm, interesting point. I wonder how the weasel frog’s ancestors did evolve their elbow joint. I’ll have to go to the university library and take a look.” No, the moment a scientist said something like that the default conclusion would become a headline in a creationist pamphlet: “Weasel frog could only have been designed by God.”

I once introduced a chapter on the so-called Cambrian Explosion with the words: “It is as though the fossils were planted there without any evolutionary history.” Again, this was a rhetorical overture, intended to whet the reader’s appetite for the explanation. Inevitably, my remark was gleefully quoted out of context. Creationists adore “gaps” in the fossil record.

Many evolutionary transitions are elegantly documented by more or less continuous series of changing intermediate fossils. Some are not, and these are the famous “gaps”. Michael Shermer has wittily pointed out that if a new fossil discovery neatly bisects a “gap”, the creationist will declare that there are now two gaps! Note yet again the use of a default. If there are no fossils to document a postulated evolutionary transition, the assumption is that there was no evolutionary transition: God must have intervened.

The creationists’ fondness for “gaps” in the fossil record is a metaphor for their love of gaps in knowledge generally. Gaps, by default, are filled by God. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. Ignorance is God’s gift to Kansas.

Richard Dawkins, FRS, is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, at Oxford University. His latest book is The Ancestor’s Tale

TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: biblethumpers; cary; creation; crevolist; dawkins; evolution; excellentessay; funnyresponses; hahahahahahaha; liberalgarbage; phenryjerkalert; smegheads
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To: RadioAstronomer


101 posted on 05/25/2005 7:24:26 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. The List-O-Links is at my homepage.)
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To: AndrewC; From many - one.; patriot_wes
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

So how does that verse disagree with sciences understanding of the solar system accreting from interstellar dust and gas?

If it rains, you would say that "God brought the rain". You would be right.

But I might choose to say that moisture condensed out of the air in the low pressure system, and I would be right as well.

The Bible does not disagree with science. Only your interpretation of it does.

102 posted on 05/25/2005 7:25:16 AM PDT by narby (Ignorance is Godís gift to Kansas.)
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To: PatrickHenry; Junior
What a splendid essay!

Why I bookmarked the original.

103 posted on 05/25/2005 7:26:23 AM PDT by RadioAstronomer
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To: wideawake
He particularly hates creationists and reserves most of his venom for them...

That would be because of the lies told by creationists. Do you worship the Lord of Lies?

Out of context quotes are lies.

104 posted on 05/25/2005 7:27:28 AM PDT by js1138 (e unum pluribus)
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To: armymarinedad

Good point...and it was the church who told them the earth was round!

105 posted on 05/25/2005 7:27:34 AM PDT by patriot_wes (papal infallibility - a proud tradition since 1869)
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To: flevit
all you have done is push back "miracles" in time. "laws" (lawgiver??), "life" (life giver). to the point where you can rationalize away a miracle subtitute it with "first cause" and suggest its not about it. however, if a first cause miracle can happen, whould there be any reason for there not to be more.

Maybe He got it right the first time. If He's supposed to be all-powerful, I'd allow for that.

106 posted on 05/25/2005 7:29:21 AM PDT by VadeRetro ( Liberalism is a cancer on society. Creationism is a cancer on conservatism.)
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To: TomB; armymarinedad
Contrary to public perception, theories are not "promoted" to laws. A law is a concise mathematical relationship that we observe, such as Newton's law of universal gravitation. A theory seeks to explain how the law we observe works, such as Einstein's theory of general relativity. In the early part of the 20th century, it was observed that the orbits of all the planets obeyed Newton's laws except one: Mercury. Look up on the web the precession of the perihelion of Mercury. Einstein showed that Newton's law of universal gravitation was an approximation that becomes inaccurate in the presence of strong gravitational fields. Newton's laws are still taught, of course, and for ordinary things work quite well. However, Einstein's theories are currently the dominant paradigm of how we believe gravity works. In this way, gravity is both a fact and a theory.
107 posted on 05/25/2005 7:30:17 AM PDT by Liberal Classic (No better friend, no worse enemy. Semper Fi.)
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To: Thatcherite

It was about the time of Aristotle. He would not have had to argue the fact if it was believed to be round. Science grows and learns.

108 posted on 05/25/2005 7:30:39 AM PDT by armymarinedad (Character makes you draw a line in the dirt.)
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To: PatrickHenry
You may have accidentally hit a real prime, there.
109 posted on 05/25/2005 7:31:07 AM PDT by VadeRetro ( Liberalism is a cancer on society. Creationism is a cancer on conservatism.)
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To: RadioAstronomer
It occurs to me that Dawkins is probably aware of threads like this. People with published writings are known to do Google searches on their own names, to see where they or their works are being discussed.

So, Professor Dawkins, if you should encounter this thread, I salute you!

110 posted on 05/25/2005 7:31:30 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. The List-O-Links is at my homepage.)
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To: ArGee
That said, there is a lot of good research that can come out of Intelligent Design study.

Really? Like what? Suggest a fruitful research project to me.

111 posted on 05/25/2005 7:31:54 AM PDT by donh
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To: narby
The Bible does not disagree with science. Only your interpretation of it does.

Oh, really? Please tell me what my interpretation is.

112 posted on 05/25/2005 7:32:57 AM PDT by AndrewC (Darwinian logic -- It is just-so if it is just-so)
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To: stremba
I've got a friend who knows a guy who did some original research on the Spotted Owl. He's the reason why the enviros don't mention SO's any more.

Seems as how SO's were pretty rare in pre development days, nearly non-existent. They live in trees, and hunt best in open fields where they can catch critters for dinner.

But when loggers started clearcutting, the SO population went up considerably, because there were now more fields for them to hunt in, and THEN they were discovered by enviros who made the point that they lived in large trees, not in clearcut fields.

The point is that loggers actually caused the population of Spotted Owls to grow, not decline.

Result - enviros have shut their trap on Spotted Owls.

113 posted on 05/25/2005 7:33:12 AM PDT by narby (Ignorance is Godís gift to Kansas.)
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To: TomB
Is there any evidence of evolution that would make it a "law"?

Is there any evidence supporting the theory of gravitation that would make it a "law"?

114 posted on 05/25/2005 7:34:26 AM PDT by donh
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To: Liberal Classic; armymarinedad; RadioAstronomer
Contrary to public perception, theories are not "promoted" to laws

Of course. Thanks for helping out with what was going to be my next post (and I had no idea how to word it).

My original point is that there is no way for evolution to become a "law", as defined by creationists. They will always have questions, and that, in their mind, will invalidate the "law".

115 posted on 05/25/2005 7:37:11 AM PDT by TomB ("The terrorist wraps himself in the world's grievances to cloak his true motives." - S. Rushdie)
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To: stremba

would that not be teaching by example? considering how the important the 6 days of work and 1 day of rest is through-out the bible.

116 posted on 05/25/2005 7:37:12 AM PDT by flevit
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To: rollo tomasi
Over 500 people observed Christ Resurrection after He died on the cross. Many people who saw and relayed it back were killed. Not quick deaths mind you, but tortured under extreme measures to shut people up. You would think if this was just sacred fiction they would be subdued about the subject or even keep it a secret.

The conspiracy theory of salvation--I love it.

117 posted on 05/25/2005 7:37:44 AM PDT by donh
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To: js1138
That would be because of the lies told by creationists.

Which lies are those? And I'm not talking about random anonymous statements on fly-by-night websites. I'm talking about published evolution critics like Johnson, Behe, Dembski, etc.

Out of context quotes are lies.

No published author in the ID movement has quoted Dawkins out of context. They have pointed out where his stated views conflict with some of his observations.

118 posted on 05/25/2005 7:37:59 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
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To: furball4paws

Indeed it is-- it was one of the first books of the bible that I read, and I love it. It helped inspire me to read the rest of the bible, and I can't tell you how glad I am that I did that. Modern Christians (with the possible exception of the Baptists) don't read and study the bible nearly enough-- I was raised Episcopalian, confirmed at 12, and I can tell you that I got hardly any exposure to it at all. I didn't read much of it until many years later, in my mid-twenties, when I went back to college and studied English literature. My seventeenth-century poetry class focused mostly on John Donne, Andrew Marvell, George Herbert and Richard Crashaw, and let me tell you, you can't read those guys without a background in the bible. But I never got around to reading the whole thing until this past year or so, and I just finished the last of it a couple of weeks ago.

119 posted on 05/25/2005 7:38:13 AM PDT by walden
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To: TomB

Theories never become laws. Theories will always be theories. They are two different things. For example, it once was thought that the law of gravity was an accurate universal description of gravity. Once a THEORY of gravity (better known as the general theory of relativity) was formulated, however, it was realized that the law of gravity isn't accurate in some situations. Basically, this is an example of a theory replacing a law. The problem is poor science education. I am aware that many incompetent science teachers have promulgated the notion that ideas in science progress from hypothesis to theory to law, but that is utterly false. The reality is that theories and laws are different types of ideas. In a nutshell, laws describe phenomena, theories explain them. What scientists actually strive for are theories, not laws.

120 posted on 05/25/2005 7:38:19 AM PDT by stremba
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