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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: Ichneumon
Put up the lesson plan and see how it fairs.

[Thunderous applause!]

681 posted on 05/26/2005 3:32:27 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. The List-O-Links is at my homepage.)
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To: Ichneumon
Was ANYONE other than Fester INCAPABABLE of grasping the fact that ...

[Thunderous applause!]

682 posted on 05/26/2005 3:41:59 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. The List-O-Links is at my homepage.)
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To: Ichneumon
If evolution is *not* true, why does the jigsaw puzzle formed by the mountains of evidence so well match the evolutionary picture predicted by the theory?

Stunning post. Superb! Link saved.

683 posted on 05/26/2005 3:52:08 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. The List-O-Links is at my homepage.)
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To: billorites
I am decidedly an "agnostic" when it comes to the precise mechanisms of speciation. I have no idea how "guided" natural selection is/was, nor the extent to which the process is responsible for the present range of diversity we see. I am certainly not a "young earth" advocate. I have posted that stuff here before, and am still trying to figure out my own cosmology. I am a theist who believes that God leave his "signature" in His creation, but don't find the material constructs that non-theists play with to be "threatening" at all. They sometimes have alot to show me. I really do try and be respectful when I can. Please view the next statement against that backdrop.

Dawkins is a dyspeptic asshole with an ideological axe to grind. He is a mirror image of the type of "creationist" he skewers. MY GOD is a man with such credentials so stupid that he doesn't realize that many "creationists" are convinced that "evolutionists" lie because they do the same thing that the creationists do -- commit to a philosophical position and then hammer your "facts" till they fit? Does he WANT to just give them fuel? He is someone with impeccable academic credentials but he is an idiot when it comes to the public forum. Mylanta would be cheaper, Richard.

I think I will become a Buddhist so I can believe in reincarnation. Carl Sagan lives in Dawkins.
684 posted on 05/26/2005 3:55:29 AM PDT by chronic_loser
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To: From many - one.
Please note for the official record my successful capture (prior post) of the only primAL number. Mere primes, pah!

Yes, 666 is the one prime I don't own. It is, of course, the nexus of all coordinate systems, focused on the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin Central's HQ are located.

685 posted on 05/26/2005 4:02:52 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. The List-O-Links is at my homepage.)
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To: chronic_loser

Buddhism is far more intriguing. There are so many ambiguities and paradoxes to contemplate and it definitely isn't at odds with the empirical universe. With Christianity the only interesting questions are the free-will dilemma, the theodicy paradox, and the Trinity contradiction. Actually, those are pretty intriguing as well. I suppose I just got tired of thinking about them. Buddhism has the whole novelty factor thing going for it. =)

686 posted on 05/26/2005 4:17:54 AM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: Ichneumon
Your unfailing ability to completely misunderstand everything I've written is a constant source of amazement to me.

Did ya miss the convo about the speed of light the other day?

Look here:

687 posted on 05/26/2005 5:06:46 AM PDT by RadioAstronomer
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"And are not shy about telling how much they know and how stupid everyone that disagrees with them is."

Bravo!!! It's nice to hear the hammer striking the nail so cleanly... very good.

688 posted on 05/26/2005 5:11:18 AM PDT by Sun Soldier
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To: PatrickHenry; dread78645

Thank you both. I was busy inserting figures into a paper I am writing last night.

689 posted on 05/26/2005 5:13:31 AM PDT by RadioAstronomer
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To: The_Reader_David
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.

Ontological vs. epistemological randomness. hmmm. Well, That sounds almost like english; like you could be talking about the Baysian debates. However, there remains nothing particularly up for debate in scientific circles about the notion that evolution proceeds by random variation followed by selection; the process of evolution as currently practiced by creatures we can observe shows a clear preference for random variation. While there may be some quibbles about the timeline produced by driving the molecular mutation clocks backwards, and observing that there doesn't seem to be enough time to get everything done, they do not discredit variation with selection as a viable explanation; they only suggest that variation is not uniformly distributed over the state-space.

Now, this could be because GodDidIt or because the lizard people from Rigel drop in from time to time to improve the breeding stock, or it could just be that genomes are better at evolving that we had at first assumed. However, science, being limited like it is, tends to pursue the last of these explanations as it has some hope of gathering metrics about it. Sporadic intervention by Gods or more advanced species doesn't tend to be an overly metricisable phenomenon, so science pretty much leave these avenues of speculation to the science fiction writers, the UFOlogists, the tongue speakers, the miracle workers and spirit channelers, as layfolk had it pretty much covered, and didn't try to poach on science's territory in the classroom, due to the laughingstock factor. At least, up until this recent flurry of school board confrontations, over some recent Rube Goldburg'ian offerings that give off the odor, if not the substance of science, by Behe and Dembski.

690 posted on 05/26/2005 5:32:08 AM PDT by donh
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To: VadeRetro

...I can't understand it. I won't understand it. You can't make me! Goddidit. I won't learn any more about cause and effect!"...

Pretty quick dismissal of all the "Scientific minds" who through the centuries have tried to explain the misteries of God's creation and have contributed so much knowledge used to support the theory of "evolution".
To conclude that because one believes in God, curiosity and the pursuit of scientific knowledge stops automatically is not supported by history or reality...not even in Kansas.

691 posted on 05/26/2005 5:32:47 AM PDT by UltraKonservativen (( YOU CAN'T FIX STUPID ))
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To: Fester Chugabrew
His disagreement was with most of the scientific world of his day, which was, and is today, welcomed by the church insofar as science aims for the truth. Galileo was defending the views of a Catholic priest who also happened to be a scientist.

Galileo was defending a truth the church found threatening to its power over the affairs of men. All else is historically insignificant.

692 posted on 05/26/2005 5:44:38 AM PDT by donh
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To: ArGee
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.

Much as to suggest that all snake oil salesmen are bad for your health, and all accredited medical doctors are good for your health, does not represent an open mind. It may not be entirely true, but it's a good way to bet.

I am sure many if not most creationists are a credit to their communities--however, they are pretty much universally a disgrace to rational discussion about science in the classroom at school board meetings.

693 posted on 05/26/2005 5:51:26 AM PDT by donh
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To: Dimensio
So what about the previous claim that many of them were secretly tracked down and tortured then murdered by some mysterious cabal?

Never heard of it and never heard it so I can't comment. I don't think it took cabals to track down and murder Christians. IIRC Governments were doing it at the time.


694 posted on 05/26/2005 5:54:40 AM PDT by ArGee (Why do we let the abnormal tell us what's normal?)
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To: Junior
He was writing to the people of Corinth, which was quite some distance from the Holy Land. Hell, people back then believed stories of dog-faced men in Africa and that one-eyed giants inhabited some of the islands of the Mediterranean.

And we, who are so culturally sophisticated, know better?

Come on. Luke travelled a great distance to find out about what he had learned and wrote his Gospel to share the information. People could and did check out facts, as easily as people can and do today. They also could ignore them as easily as today.

Whether you believe what Paul wrote or not, Paul was putting the evidence on the table. And he was doing so for people who COULD check up on him, as we CAN NOT today.


695 posted on 05/26/2005 6:02:38 AM PDT by ArGee (Why do we let the abnormal tell us what's normal?)
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To: donh
Galileo was defending a truth the church found threatening to its power over the affairs of men.

Exactly how is the teaching of whether the earth revolves around the sun or vise versa a means of holding power over the affairs of men? It was not only the church that held Ptolemy's view in Galileo's day, but science in general. Galileo was scorned by both sacred and secular parties. He didn't help his cause in presenting himself as an acerbic know-it-all.

696 posted on 05/26/2005 6:03:22 AM PDT by Fester Chugabrew
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To: js1138
Why should it matter what Galileo's motives were, or why should it matter whether he was right?

As I said, I was not claiming moral equivalency. I was not claiming Galileo was "equally wrong."

I'm not sure I agree with your claim that a crime against free speech is the greatest crime, but I will certainly rank it very high.


697 posted on 05/26/2005 6:04:47 AM PDT by ArGee (Why do we let the abnormal tell us what's normal?)
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To: Ichneumon
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.

You err in asserting that faith operates apart from evidence, and that the assertions of ID'ers have been falsified. If Dawins himself says that he cannot prove his belief scientifically, then he needs your help to put words in his mouth.

698 posted on 05/26/2005 6:06:52 AM PDT by Fester Chugabrew
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To: ArGee
People could and did check out facts, as easily as people can and do today.

Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire

just fwiw (scroll down for link to rebuttal)

699 posted on 05/26/2005 6:08:55 AM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: Fester Chugabrew
Galileo was scorned by ... secular parties.

Mind naming one?

700 posted on 05/26/2005 6:10:14 AM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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