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
What legal agreement? Here's an excellent account I just tracked down of the persecution of Galileo by the enemies of science in the Catholic Church. Perhaps you should read that before answering.
Note, btw, the shady methods of Galileo's enemies and how remarkably similar they are to modern creationist tactics....
That'd be Dembski's "explanatory filter".
johnnyb and I argued and talked right past each other in this thread.
I am learning lots about people of faith. I was raised to think that one fought oppression best by being a good example to your children and to others.
I didn't know that Frodo was supposed to use the ring to overthrow his opprseeors.
sounds awfully familiar...
Might I point out a fact that should be obvious, that Galileo has done more to defeat his oppressors while dead than he could have by taking up arms while alive. If he had been a good boy and suppressed his publications, his ideas would have died with him, or at least been delayed.
BTW, one more little historical footnote. Aristotle had also envisioned the heliocentric model but came to reject it for what were actually valid scientific objections: that if the earth moved then the stars should evidence a parallax. This was the same basis upon which Ptolemy and others would then resist the ideas of Aristarchus. What the ancient Greeks didn't comprehend was how far away the stars were, and therefore how miniscule their parallax.
There are probably a number of reasons, one is the possibility that what appears to be random might be law governed (cf. Wolfram's work on cellular automata), another is an observation made by a pro-Darwinian-mechanism-evolution FReeper in response to a query of mine ages ago: selection works at a cellular level, too. (Which opens the possibility that filtering cellularly lethal variation out of changes at the level of precursors to germ cells might produce some slight bias toward globally beneficial variation at the level of heritable changes.)
There is also the fact that the 'randomness' for all Dawkins confidence that it is randomness on the ontological level like Brownian motion or the collapse of the wave-function, was really always just epistemological randomness--we don't know a law governing pre-selection variation, and it's unpredictable to us.
It might also be a political move: admitting that it's epistemological randomness rather than "chance" takes a bit of the heat out of the debate.
Poor chose of words? Did I write that?
My goodness. I just came home and see all these posts because of my lousy "chose" of words this morning.
I'd blame it on not having my morning coffee, but I did.
Thanks for your understanding. Memo to self...
"Post in haste, repent at leisure.
There was another very powerful reason for the ancients to believe that the earth didn't move. It's so ridiculous sounding now that it's virtually never mentioned, but before Isaac Newton (a generation after Galileo's trial) it was regarded as a great problem. The argument was that if the earth moves, then why doesn't it leave the moon behind?
Think about it. If no one knew (before Newton) that gravity was the same on earth and in the heavens, then the problem was a very real concern. Galileo's telescope, which showed that Jupiter (which everyone agreed was moving) had moons, yet the moons somehow stayed with it, was the killer observation. But it wasn't until Newton that any real understanding of this was possible.
"You're side may be correct. Our side my be right. BUT If our side is correct, I sure wouldn't want to be in your place at the last roundup!"
I suspect God thinks religious people are silly and boring, but has a soft spot for scientists.
The important issue is not whether variation is random, but whether it correlates with reproductive advantage. It could be the result of a very simple program, but if it doesn't anticipate need, the selection sees it as stochastic.
Thanks, that's interesting.
Paul (Saul of Tarsus) never saw Jesus in the flesh or resurrected or in any tangible form. His claim to fame is having a vision of a bright light and hearing a voice just before he went into a 3 day coma while heading to Damascus (Acts 9:3-7).
About AD36, Paul had visited Peter and James in Jerusalem and learned of the legend there. Although he denied it (Gal 1:11-12), his testimony is second hand stories of whatever he heard from them.
While he was a energetic evangelical, Paul is a poor witness for Christ.
You hitting the bottle or the pipe? Who claimed that Marxism was a religion? You line up a strawdog and shoot it from 10 meters Congrats, you're an expert marksman.
This is like saying I'm an evangelical Christian because I probably agree broadly with Jerry Falwell on economic matters.
Right. Very good. Academia has been good to you.
Really? Marx was and Dawkins is an atheist. And in saying 'his views are remarkably similar to Marx vis a vis religion', you weren't alluding to the fact they're both atheists?
No, but you're so consumed by whatever that you aren't able to recognize that. There are plenty of atheists who would not banish religion if they were King, the live and let live variety. Marx and Dawkins are two who would not. Understand the difference Professor?
Give me a break.
No more breaks for you Professor, you've crossed the rubicon and swallowed the kool aid. You're now a full fledged member of the "list". At one time you were an independent thinker on FR with conservatism on your agenda. It's been swept away by evolution.
Support Dawkins all you'd like, it's a free country.
If you're gonna use big words Prout, perhaps it would behoove you to learn thewir meaning.
Your pal Dawkins is discussing religion in the article. I am attacking the mans views about religion, not the man. His views are relevant to the article and religion. His views on religion are marxist. Such is life.
Fair enough, thats your opinion.
As I understand it, Marx considered religion to be the "opium of the people," a kind of self-medication to deal with the world's indifference toward us. Dawkins thinks that it is pre-scientific thinking that persists largely because children are naturally gullible which he perceives as an evolved behavior.
Marx and Dawkins are both from the same school of thought. Religion should have no place in a society. Dawkins and Marx agree on that, for slightly different reasons perhaps but their goal would be the same and in that way Dawkins is marxist.
You think some of these people care what Dawkins says about President Bush? It doesn't even make a dent.
Right, marching onto the trains and into the ovens was a good example for the children.
I didn't know that Frodo was supposed to use the ring to overthrow his opprseeors.
Uh, you've slipped into fantasy land again js.
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