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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: jwalsh07; Right Wing Professor; RightWingNilla
This leftist puke is all yours.

Please expand on this bizarre statement. What exactly does it mean for someone to be "all his"?

And what on Earth was the purpose of your spewing this comment, other than the obvious intent of a double-edged ad hominem fallacy of the most transparent and childish kind?

601 posted on 05/25/2005 9:13:38 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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To: Ichneumon

Sorry, you haven't produced the card yet.

602 posted on 05/25/2005 9:15:03 PM PDT by jwalsh07
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To: edsheppa
Creationists lies are a dime a dozen.

I hardly think they have a monopoly in that respect. In fact, what you perceive as lies may be an overreaction. Does "Creationists: God's Gift to Ignorance" sound like a religion-friendly title to you? I bet if the title read, "Evolutionists: Science's Gift to Ignorance" you would consider it "science bashing."

You will not find many creationists, at least any thoughtful ones, saying "all evolutionists are atheists." I need to know more about the Marx school of religious thought before I comment on whether Dawkins dovetails with it, but I would not be surprised.

Evoutionists, OTOH, have "dime-a-dozen" fantasies PLUS a monopoly on public education. Education has put up long enough with naturual selection and random mutations as fully explanatory of the processes currently observed in the heavens and upon the earth. Let evolutionists cry like stuck pigs while their philosophy is exposed for what it is.

603 posted on 05/25/2005 9:15:18 PM PDT by Fester Chugabrew
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To: Torie
The cup is either half full or half empty to the atheist.

What do you mean by that? Most people would regard me as an atheist and I would not characterize myself by either phrase. But, then again, it may fit depending on your meaning.

604 posted on 05/25/2005 9:17:25 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: AntiGuv


605 posted on 05/25/2005 9:18:12 PM PDT by King Prout (blast and char it among fetid buzzard guts!)
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To: AntiGuv
Some atheists emphasize religious faith gone wrong, and some do not. I happen to think religious faith is salubrious to society, more often than not. I happen to think it as least as often animates the synapses, as it does to deaden them. I find Dawkins paradigm that religious instruction of the young is akin to brain washing cult training, at once silly and offensive. I myself have just not been blessed with the gift of faith; thus I am a near atheist.

I hope that helps.

606 posted on 05/25/2005 9:23:20 PM PDT by Torie (Constrain rogue state courts; repeal your state constitution)
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To: AntiGuv

For some people, politics and ideology are more important than science. Lysenko is an example.

607 posted on 05/25/2005 9:25:05 PM PDT by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: Fester Chugabrew

"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo." Karl Marx

608 posted on 05/25/2005 9:26:01 PM PDT by jwalsh07
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To: billorites


609 posted on 05/25/2005 9:32:30 PM PDT by LiteKeeper (The radical secularization of America is happening)
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To: Doctor Stochastic
Lysenko is an example.

You're in good company.

610 posted on 05/25/2005 9:33:18 PM PDT by Fester Chugabrew
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To: donh; Michael_Michaelangelo
[I don't care about the "total." ]

Of course you don't, because than you'd have to wrestle with the absurdity of this argument--you don't care to uncover this question because you know perfectly well that virtually all biologists are pursuaded by evolutionary theory. There is no vast controversy within the scientific community about the reliability of the theory of evolution, no matter how much confident-looking preening and strutting you do. That is a plain and obvious fact anyone can check out for themselves by going to any reputable university natural history department or biology department, and taking a poll of the scientists you find lurking there.

There was a recent post on which I think is the *perfect* antidote to all of the ridiculous school-board "debates" over the past few years wherein creationist activists are trying to shoe-horn their fantasies into classrooms under the guise of "teaching both sides". It's based on the same sort of idea you've described here. Here's the post:

Subject: Re: In the News: Biologists snub 'kangaroo court' for Darwin
From: "Ron O" <>
Date: 2 Apr 2005 12:49:04 -0800

I have a simple solution for the Kansas board. Since we are talking about biology education, all they have to do is put the names of all the names of biology faculty from all the US Universities in a hat (They can even include the religious universities like Sean's employer) and pull them out at random. They call the person they pick and tell them what they are doing and how they are choosing the people that will present the scientific views of the biological sciences. They must accept every person that agrees to present their views of science education. They can go down the list until they get the number of people that they think will give the board enough information to decide the issue. My guess is that ID advocates will be outnumbered by at least 30 to 1 and they will probably have a hard time even finding anyone willing to claim that what they consider to be ID is even science. There are a lot of religious people in the sciences, but most of them know what science is and what it isn't.

What is a given is that they will have a hard time finding anyone willing to defend the "teach the controversy" scam outside of the scam artists that are perpetrating this scam. If the board thinks that this isn't true, they can adopt this selection plan and see what they get.

Ron Okimoto

611 posted on 05/25/2005 9:36:09 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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To: Fester Chugabrew

In what way? Lysenko was the guy who had Darwin supporters murdered. I guess my opposition to Lysenko troubles you.

612 posted on 05/25/2005 9:36:32 PM PDT by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: little jeremiah
"Forbidden Archeology - The Hidden History of the Human Race" by Michael Cremo is a good place to start.

Um, sure, if you're starting out to read nonsense and pseudoscience.

613 posted on 05/25/2005 9:37:59 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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To: jwalsh07
And Dawkins says . . . "Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do."

Boy. He sure has a low regard for science. Par for the course.

614 posted on 05/25/2005 9:40:55 PM PDT by Fester Chugabrew
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To: Ichneumon

"Ooooookay... You really need to stop reading the creationist propaganda and get out in the real world some more."

LOL! I see you spend much more time than I do on these crevo threads.

"And it has apparently escaped your notice that the *majority* of Americans who are "evolutionists" are *Christians*. I'm sorry if that punctures your cherished preconceptions, or makes your head explode."

You mean they were converted into evolutionists by the anti-Christians. Notice that I did not pose that statement in an interrogative form. It's a declarative statement of fact.

In the end, I believe this issue will be resolved in the streets, not through words or persuation or hiding behind a monitor.

My head is not exploding, but Force may eventually come out of its box, you know.

615 posted on 05/25/2005 9:43:32 PM PDT by Baraonda (Demographic is destiny. Don't hire 3rd world illegal aliens nor support businesses that hire them.)
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To: Doctor Stochastic
In what way?

Oh, you just happen to be one of those products of natural selection who would rather see discussion of ID supressed in public schools for emotional, political, religious, and perhaps other reasons. At least you're such a swell guy you would refrain from murdering ID'ers. Very kind of you. Might as well palm your wishes for the suppression of ideas off on judges and police officers instead.

616 posted on 05/25/2005 9:46:28 PM PDT by Fester Chugabrew
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To: Torie

Oh, I see what you mean. Hmm.. I would say that I don't clearly fall into either category. If anything, my general attitude toward religion is that it's of no great consequence. In other words, that by and large society actuates via religion what it would by other means in the absence of religion. Since the details of a creed are arbitrary, there are distinctive permutations contingent on such doctrines, but the overall function of religion is uniform.

I'd say the governing factor of human affairs is economics, itself a proxy for security and control. Religion can and is adapted to suit whatever one wishes for it to represent, and ultimately subordinated to economics. By example, the Christianity of today is utterly alien to the Christianity of 500 years ago, and both are equally alien to the Christianity of 1500 years ago. The objectively irrelevant framework is the same, but its respective functions bear little resemblance to one another, and therefore neither does the experience of it or the perception of it.

More importantly, in the grand scheme of things it certainly appears as if religion is on its way out as a viable force in human affairs. I wonder what will replace it because that's not at all clear to me. It's even less clear to me that its replacement will be preferable. My suspicion is that tighter political regulation will be the solution, and that's not at all an improvement in my view. At its extreme, it ultimately eliminates the apertures of ambiguity that all religions provide within which personal freedom could thrive.

617 posted on 05/25/2005 9:50:39 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: Fester Chugabrew

So do you support Lysenko's suppression of Darwin's supporters or not?

618 posted on 05/25/2005 9:51:11 PM PDT by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: ArGee
[Argee wrote:] As this thread shows, either side can bash the other with abstractions. And either side can find examples of the other side misbehaving. But the broad-brush statement that faith is incompatible with science is bigoted and unworthy.

[donh replied:] ...and rarely seen here coming from the defenders of evolutionary theory posting here, nor from scientists, that I am aware of.

[Argee responded:] I responded to one such in post #97.

No, you didn't. Post #97 was a reply by TomB to a post by armymarinedad, on a subject having nothing to do with the subject at issue. Care to try again?

If you're actually referring to narby's #91 (the only post I can find that could *possibly* be misinterpreted the way you describe), then I have to point out that your grossly misrepresenting what he actually said. He said that faith and science "don't mix well" (and was clearly making the statement in a specific limited context) -- that's not at all the same thing as your misinterpretation that anyone on this thread has said anything like your absolutist version of, "faith is incompatible with science". That's not at all what he wrote.

619 posted on 05/25/2005 9:53:11 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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To: Gumlegs
Twain also said, "Heaven for climate. Hell for society."

I've always been fond of, "If dogs don't go to Heaven, then I want to go where the dogs go."

620 posted on 05/25/2005 9:54:10 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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