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
Stunning post. Superb! Link saved.
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.
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. =)
Did ya miss the convo about the speed of light the other day?
"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.
Thank you both. I was busy inserting figures into a paper I am writing last night.
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.
...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.
Galileo was defending a truth the church found threatening to its power over the affairs of men. All else is historically insignificant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
just fwiw (scroll down for link to rebuttal)
Mind naming one?