Skip to comments.Creationism: God's gift to the ignorant (Religion bashing alert)
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 dont yet know; that which we dont 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 isnt 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 cant 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 scientists rejoicing in uncertainty. Todays scientist in America dare not say: Hm, interesting point. I wonder how the weasel frogs ancestors did evolve their elbow joint. Ill 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 readers 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 dont know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You dont understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please dont go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, dont work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries for we can use them. Dont squander precious ignorance by researching it away. Ignorance is Gods 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 Ancestors Tale
I'll guess 6.342. Here's my dollar. (Well its Canuck, but what can I do?)
Yeah, well I'm Sparticus.
Doesn't it happen just that way?
This is such serious malarky that it offends me. Galileo was expressing a technical opinion about the nature of the universe in disagreement with the church, which, for all practical purposes, was, at the time, also the state. And a pretty bloody arbitrarily powerful one at that.
The argument was most definitely and overwhelmingly about science, and the nature of the universe. And to charactarize anything Galileo might have said, no matter how intemperate, as an "attack" on the church is like accusing a flea of trying to attack an elephant.
You have some pretty odd sensibilities, to be touting conventional, conservative and polite rules of argumentation in one breath, and promulgating this very odd, rather senseless, and un-historical take on the Trial of Galileo, with no more apparent thought to defend it in detail than a sparrow has for quantum mechanics. I believe I'll ask you to quit offering us instructions on proper argumentation.
BOC should remake their song "Veterans of the Psychic Wars" to "Veterans of the crevo Wars". :-)
I like that song.
BTW. It was played in the movie "heavy Metal" as well.
Veteran of a Thousand Crevo Wars
(with apologies to Blue Oyster Cult)
You see me now, a veteran
Of a thousand crevo wars.
I've been posting on these threads so long
Where the wind of ignorance roars
I've tackled ID proponents
And battled YEC.
I've ripped into catastrophism
Until there was nothing left to see.
Please bring the creos on
I'll never need a break from it
Don't like it you can leave
We've been living in the flames
We've been revving up our brains
Oh, please, please bring those creos on.
Sometimes I get so weary
Repeating stuff to you
You call me a bloody commie
And blame me for Nazis too
But the war's still going on dude
And there's no end in sight
And I can't say if we're ever
I can't say if we're ever gonna end this fight
You see me now a veteran
Of a thousand crevo wars
I've got energy to spare
Until my opponent's on the floor
Science supplies me weapons
Creos are helpless and bereaved
Worse, one needs to have a probability estimate for every possible route in genome space between ancestor and progeny. A given molecule may have occupied more than one completely different function between its role in ancestor and its role in progeny. Most of the homology data we have suggests that molecules were often coopted; that a molecule, say, that functioned as an ion pump may have fortuitously added another domain and became an ion-gradient-driven mechanical device. It's improbable that a complex multimeric protein came together all at once to fulfill a role; it's much less improbable that a simpler molecule evolved to fill some role, and that a mutation caused another domain to stick, which gave it second (probably inefficient) role, which then evolved. We're a hundred years away from being able to map out the probabilities of such events.
On the other hand, I'm dubious about the claims made on behalf of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, partly on the basis the fact that I hold a probably extreme view of falsifiablity and the predictive part--natural selection--usually ends up being tautolgous, and partly because the other part 'random variation' either has randomness defined away in any statistically meaningful sense, or is untested.
Popper began with a similar view, but changed his mind.
IMO evolution makes plenty of predictions; we can make concrete predictions, for example, about the likely characteristics of as-yet-unsequenced genomes. Using maximum parsimony, for example, I can predict the likely sequence of any even moderately conserved gene in the last common ancestor of humans and rats. You can argue that that long extinct animal will never actually be sequenced to test my prediction - and that may be true (though we are getting better at getting DNA from fossilized material) but we can look at other descendants, and see if their genomes are consistent with that of my predicted ancestor.
It would have been a much less accessible movie than Jurassic Park, but if you have enough different descendants, you could plausibly propose to reconstruct a major part of the genome of a long extinct common ancestor, just by looking at the sequences of the descendants. No mosquitoes required!I can tell you, for example, with a high probability of correctness, the chemical structure of the myoglobin of the last common ancestor of the whales, even though no living whale has exactly that myoglobin. This sort of research is in its infancy, but from the properties of such gene products, we may be able to tell, say, if the ancestor lived on the land or water, how big it was, etc.. That, IMO, is quintessentially predictive.
clap clap clap :-)
Well, that does'nt concern me too much. Many of the Pharaohs that we know about have left no evidence of their existence beyond their name written on their kid's or grandkid's tomb that has been terribly desecrated.
It is also unlikely that the Pharaoh upon whose watch the events in Exodus took place, was eager to have that memorialized or otherwise enscrolled. Call it the "Sir Robin's Minstrels Effect". If you've ever seen that flick, If you have'nt, call it the "LBJ Effect". Or the "Jimmy Carter Effect". ;-)
So the legends of evolutionism extend to the minds of those who espouse it. Predictable.
It was science that was being used as the excuse for the action on both sides. The scientific argument was the public face of the political battle. As so often happens in history, it was the official reason as opposed to the real one.
If Galileo had merely presented his theory, instead of trying to club the Church with it, the results would have been very different. Many in the Church had already accepted the heliocentric (sp?) theory.
How many Christians have atheists and non-Christians killed throughout the ages? Your question is no more germaine to our discussion than mine.
It most certainly is germane. Galileo did not "attack the church" with threats of condemnation, excommunication, jail, or burning at the stake. Such restraint was not observed by the other side of this argument.
They didn't react to his science. They reacted to his politics.
Good grief. Galileo was a personal friend of the Pope, and hardly one for stirring a political pot. It is one of the best known facts of history that they reacted to his science, massively. The publication of his book created such a stir that they had no choice but to crack down on him. No matter how "political" or intemperate Galileo might have been, it is a totally miniscule issue beside the publication of his book. Everybody, but I mean everybody, should know this. It is fact of history that manifests down through the subsequent centuries in so many ways that it hard to believe there is anyone in the western world who could really believe what you are putting forth.
only the churches--rather as is now the case with creationists and biologists.
Broad brush bigotry again.
I don't understand how this response even makes sense in the context we were discussing. But at this point, I don't care. Please concentrate on one thing at a time until you can produce a cogent argument with some legs regarding facts you didn't make up in a daydream.
Arguments over the correct interpretation of an oracle were common, but the oracle was always happy to give another prophecy if more gold was provided. A good example is the famous incident before the Battle of Salamis when the Pythia first predicted doom and later predicted that a 'wooden wall' (interpreted by the Athenians to mean their ships) would save them.
That kills her success rate right there.
You mentioned "writers" with regard to the oracle. The Bible is a compilation of 66 books written by over 40 different authors, some of them prophets, some of them not, but all commonly linked by their belief in YHWH, God of Israel, and their remarkably consistent message.
What is the Greek counterpart to that which lends support to the existence of the Greek gods, preserves their message and details the prophecies of those such as the oracle?
It's a matter of interpretation. It amounts to a hatred of being challenged by any means. What you would have to do to prove hatred of science is demonstrate that every scientific discovery of the time was condemned by the Church, or even that the Church forced laws to make scientific pursuits illegal. I don't know of any assertion. Instead, this one event, anecdotal evidence as it were, is used to prove a trend.
Good grief--are you still at this? Maybe you should be talking to the guy who thinks that 500 people observed christ's resurrection, and were tortured to death by a mysterious cabal of conspirators for it.
I think it was, but that's beside the point.
I'm wondering what the moral equivalence is between someone publishing a theory, and a church imprisoning a person for disagreeing with them.
If I gave that impression, I'm sorry. What I was trying to say was that if Galileo had REALLY wanted to further the cause of science, he would not have used his discovery as a club to try to attack the Church.
I am not an apologist for the Church as a political power. People's politics can be motivated by their beliefs, but the Church, as an institution, should not be governing nor directing governments.
How is this behaviour of the church different from the behavior of the Taliban?
Conceptually, it is not.
This is not my understanding. I will go back to my sources and produce them for you. But it will not be this evening as I am about to leave and won't have any time to post any more on this topic tonight.
As for the bigotry accusation, it stands no matter what the rest of the conversation. To suggest that all creationists are bad and all biologists are good does not represent an open mind.
In either case, each left pretty extensive records, especially of his military adventures. Remember also, the Egyptians recorded literally everything, including the sales of slaves. Hundreds of such sales records exist from this period, but none mention anything to do with Hebrew slaves. Indeed, the entire historic record is mute on this point.
That's the account of Paul.
1 Corinthians 15: 1-8 (RSV) Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
You don't have to believe Paul's testimony if you don't want to. He was writing this letter to people who could have checked his story out. You and I can't do that, so we ahve to turn to other tests.
As for the gruesome deaths of the Apostles, those are a part of Church History. They are not well documented but have been handed down for nearly 2000 years.
Ahhgh! More of this balony. The heliocentric theory of the universe was in direct conflict with central teachings of the catholic church, whether many in the church believed it or not was irrelevant. What was relevant, for the church, was that the heliocentric picture of the universe undermined the notion, amongst the illiterate, that the church spoke with the voice of God regarding the disposition of the earth, because it undermined the notion that the earth was the center of the universe, and therefore, God's special concern.
If Galileo had sung sweetly as an angel, or smelled like fresh cat dung, it would have made precisely 0 difference--the idea, not the man, was what was dangerous and offensive to the church.
This is so unbelievably out to lunch.
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