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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: AntiGuv

I doubt it. That is much too narrow a view. I don't think Islam has anything to do with it. Islam was not on the radar screen until 9-11, and the evil empire went out 10 years before. There was no sign of flagging religious faith in the 1990's. Religion is so much more personal, and micro, than some reaction to macro international events.


641 posted on 05/25/2005 10:46:28 PM PDT by Torie (Constrain rogue state courts; repeal your state constitution)
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To: LtKerst
archiopterix was a fully developed Bird.

And yet Creationists claim you can fake an archaeopteryx by sticking feathers on a dinosaur skeleton.

One of these is a "fully developed bird"

642 posted on 05/25/2005 10:47:13 PM PDT by Oztrich Boy (Creationsts consider evolution an affrort to their god, the Lord of Lies)
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To: Ichneumon

You can toss words like "nonsense" and "pseudoscience" about.

My feathers aren't ruffled. I read the book, made sense to me, and if you don't like it, it's probably because anything that does not agree with your beliefs is automatically "nonsense" and "pseudoscience".

You Darwinists are a fervid lot.


643 posted on 05/25/2005 10:48:13 PM PDT by little jeremiah (Resisting evil is our duty or we are as responsible as those promoting it.)
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To: Torie

Yes, but generational shifts require generations to operate and 10 years does not make a generation, much less the several required for such macro transitions. The conservatism of contemporary Islam itself represents a modern phenomenon of reaction to Western imperialism.

Moreover, I did not mean to suggest that no other factors were operant, just that this was a significant distinction with those other societies that you are presumably drawing a contrast against (Europe & East Asia).


644 posted on 05/25/2005 10:53:48 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: jwalsh07

Unless you can show an in context Dawkins quote where he advocates banning (dictionary meaning: an official prohibition or edict) religion or show in some other way that he has advocated it, then you are just another Creationist liar.


645 posted on 05/25/2005 10:56:08 PM PDT by edsheppa
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To: AntiGuv

Well, Eastern Europe was under the thumb of the Evil Empire, and Western Europe in its shadow. The well springs of American religiousity run much deeper than that.


646 posted on 05/25/2005 10:56:40 PM PDT by Torie (Constrain rogue state courts; repeal your state constitution)
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To: Fester Chugabrew
[If Dawkins is right on the science, he's right. Period. No matter *what* other things he may say, believe, or do on other subjects.]

Yours is one example of clear logic among few, and I agree. Objective truth exists.

Thank you.

But Dawkins himself states his convictions about evolution as a BELIEF, not an absolute truth:

So?

His disciples think they can slam themselves into the front seat of education in the name of objective truth, when in fact their belief is just as much subject to scientific prodding and questions as that of ID'ers.

ROFL!!! Nice try, but no. What you're missing is that Dawkins's belief (about the validity of evolutionary biology) is based on a vast amount of evidence and testing, whereas that of the ID'ers not only is not, it has already been falsified in many respects.

So no, as much as you'd like to play the usual creationist card of, "it's all just beliefs, so ours might be just as valid as yours", it just doesn't fly.

Not all beliefs are created equal. There are informed beliefs, there are well-tested and well-supported beliefs -- and there are also flawed beliefs which don't stand up to close examination.

While no many may have a handle on Absolute Truth(tm), the former is vastly more likely to be much closer to Truth than the latter.

647 posted on 05/25/2005 10:57:13 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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To: edsheppa

Did you read Walsh's link to me that contained a Dawkins screed?


648 posted on 05/25/2005 10:57:52 PM PDT by Torie (Constrain rogue state courts; repeal your state constitution)
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To: Torie

Just playing a role, eh? Just poking the old hornet's nest? I doubt it.


649 posted on 05/25/2005 11:00:59 PM PDT by edsheppa
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To: edsheppa
Read the Screed.
650 posted on 05/25/2005 11:07:11 PM PDT by Torie (Constrain rogue state courts; repeal your state constitution)
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To: Torie

In the postwar era, collective action in Eastern Europe was organized by atheist Communism. Adversarial collective action in Western Europe was organized by ethnic nationalism, gradually displaced by secular transnationalism. The shape of collective opposition to the Evil Empire by Western Europe was defined in terms of transnational unity, which required a secular framing due in part to the competing religious creeds of its constituent societies.

Adversarial collective action (and also social pacification) in the United States is defined by what is loosely termed 'patriotism' - a political construct with an integral religious component. The fact that the two appear to go hand in hand is not an accident.


651 posted on 05/25/2005 11:08:09 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: AntiGuv

Hmmm. Western Europe had Protestants and Catholics, and the US had Protestants and Catholics. I failed to notice any great need to paper over religious differences in Europe with transnational structures. That was done to for economic and defense reasons.


652 posted on 05/25/2005 11:13:59 PM PDT by Torie (Constrain rogue state courts; repeal your state constitution)
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To: Fester Chugabrew
[. . . you're trying to ramrod the issue through by getting school boards to make such teaching *mandatory* in their school districts.]

Hehe. I think it was you, who moments ago, posted a canard whereby the school board deck should be stacked in favor of evolutionist disciples:

"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."
Your unfailing ability to completely misunderstand everything I've written is a constant source of amazement to me.

Let's have a show of hands -- did *ANYONE* other than Fester Chugabrew have any problem understanding the point made in that post?

Did ANYONE other than Fester come to the silly conclusion that it was intended to dishonestly "stack the deck" in favor of one viewpoint or another?

Did ANYONE other than Fester COMPLETELY FAIL to grasp the point of taking a RANDOM SAMPLING of science educators in order to get an advisory board that was ACTUALLY REPRESENTATIVE of educators' views on this matter?

Was ANYONE other than Fester INCAPABABLE of grasping the fact that the usual practice of having "two from each side" (or whatever) on an advisory board gives a grossly misleading impression of the actual support for the "sides" since in actual fact the one side has overwhelmingly larger support among educators and the other side has vanishingly small support?

In short, is anyone else even remotely as confused as Fester?

Like Lysenko and your cheerleaders, the interest is not in ascertaining objective truths about the universe. It is, much like science in Galileo's day, rooted in ego, pride, politics, and a faith of your own.

Please do not post your ill-informed fantasies as if they were fact. They most certainly are not, and your insulting presumptions here are bordering on slander. Think twice before you continue.

Meanwhile, you better go tell Dawkins that what he has is not a belief, but the objective truth. I'm sure he'll listen.

Again, your constant ability to grossly misunderstand what I've actually written is quite simply amazing. Even a stopped watch is correct twice a day, but you've had a perfect record of misunderstanding things for *months*.

*Please* tell me it's just an act.

653 posted on 05/25/2005 11:19:05 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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To: little jeremiah
You can toss words like "nonsense" and "pseudoscience" about.

Especially when they are fully justified, as they are in this case.

My feathers aren't ruffled.

That wasn't my intent, so... whatever.

I read the book, made sense to me, and if you don't like it, it's probably because anything that does not agree with your beliefs is automatically "nonsense" and "pseudoscience".

You presume much, and wrongly. Actually, I call it nonsense and pseudoscience because that's what it is. And whether it "made sense to you" matters not, since it promulgates known hoaxes and debunked material. If that sort of thing "makes sense" to you, then I submit that it's because you just swallowed Cremo's hucksterism, and haven't actually bothered to double-check any of it, as I have.

So spare me your desperately defensive insults, you're just making a fool of yourself.

You Darwinists are a fervid lot.

Fervid about debunking horse manure, yes. A mind is a terrible thing to pollute with misinformation and propaganda.

654 posted on 05/25/2005 11:23:27 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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To: Torie
No I hadn't. Now I have. Nowhere in it does he advocate banning religion.

On the contrary, he makes many very good points as he did in this thread's article. Is there any doubt that religion is an important (IMO determining) factor in Islamic terrorism? Likewise, I have no doubt that many Creationists know when they are using out-of-context quotes or making baseless allegations but justify it in their minds thinking it will advance their religion. (The book Mere Creation is an eye opener.)

Just to be clear, I think Dawkins is way over the top in his condemnation of religion. People do bad things for all kinds of reasons. Furthermore I find his philosophical commitment to atheism not different in any important respect from the philosophical commitment that many have the other way. IMO neither is justified.

655 posted on 05/25/2005 11:28:51 PM PDT by edsheppa
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To: Fester Chugabrew
[I have a challenge for you -- try to actually respond to the points raised in this post, without resorting to spewing paragraphs of empty invective. Just prove to us that you can actually discuss something like a normal person for once.]

I regret to inform you that I tend to shun advice from personal agents who consistently provide evidence that the speed of dumb in a vaccuum is faster than the speed of light in the same environment.

Challenge made, challenge failed. Now we know.

656 posted on 05/25/2005 11:35:01 PM PDT by Ichneumon
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To: Torie
Both America and Europe papered over religious differences in order to implement collective action amongst them; the former did so with patriotism and the latter with secularism. America initiated this process much earlier (in 1789) and the internal rivalries of society were also crucial to the maintenance of religious organization. The ethnic nationalisms of Europe were intimately coordinated with the ethnic religions of Europe, with three partial exceptions (Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland - each of which arrived at its own solution, for better or for worse).

More importantly, you are ignoring the complexity of the various histories that we are considering, in particular the degree to which anti-clericalism factored into the development of collective reaction to the political establishment of each society (which, fwiw, is also where Marxism and its spawn originated). If you take France, by example, you have to account for the legacy of the Revolution and of Republicanism.

The question at hand is how collective action was organized in each respective society. It's worth keeping in mind that to some degree that is probably arbitrary; you will recall that I initiated this segue by stating that in my view society actuates via religion what it would by other means in the absence of religion. In other words, that one society implements religion toward a given purpose does not necessitate that another achieve the same purpose by that same means. Religion is one of several sociopolitical tools that are ultimately interchangeable, and contingent on related societal needs.

BTW, we are technically also speaking of Greece (Orthodox) and Turkey (Muslim) although both are rather marginal in this regard.
657 posted on 05/25/2005 11:36:54 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: Torie

PS. And the short, snippy answer to your statement would've been: because in 1945 "Western Europe" did not exist, whereas the United States did.


658 posted on 05/25/2005 11:38:42 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: Torie

PPS. And in my post #657 wherever I say Europe I am referring to Western Europe, and specifically its endeavors in opposition to Eastern Europe.


659 posted on 05/25/2005 11:42:14 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: Fester Chugabrew
I bet if the title read, "Evolutionists: Science's Gift to Ignorance" you would consider it "science bashing."

Then you bet wrong. I'm actually able to read an article and know when it is bashing evolutionists (e.g Dawkins) vs. bashing science.

Let evolutionists cry like stuck pigs while their philosophy is exposed for what it is.

There are politicians in Kansas redefining the meaning of science and they are doing it because one scientific theory is contrary to their religious beliefs - not all religious beliefs mind you, only some. That is certainly to be lamented.

However, we'll see about the crying. Creationism is headed for the dustbin. We're witness to its last hurrah.

660 posted on 05/25/2005 11:47:43 PM PDT by edsheppa
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