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More On "Intelligent Design"
Oh, my gosh. I'd thought, even hoped, that I'd put the evolution thing to rest, at least for a week or two.
But I got an email from Susannah Cornett, whose blog I've admired from afar for a while, and like many others, been meaning to provide a link to (he said, as he dangled a preposition).
She followed it up with an actual (I think identical) post, titled, just so we know from where she's coming (avoiding yet another dangle...), MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF TEACHING EVOLUTION IN SCHOOLS.
This was exactly what I was attempting (apparently in vain) to avoid.
But since it was apparently not possible, let me respond, point by point, with all the respect due her.
[Note this post is a follow up of a series of which the most previous one is here.
I've read with interest your commentary about evolution vs creationism (I prefer the term "intelligent design"). One of your major objections to the teaching or adherence to a theory of intelligent design is that it limits scientific exploration.
You also see it as a weakness of faith, a fairly harsh assessment.
Perhaps. Think of it as tough love.
While I do agree that blind adherence to a theory can limit a search for truth, and a weak faith breeds fear, I think you are showing your own bias in your discussion, as well as not fully addressing the moral implications of an unchallenged presentation of evolutionary theory.
I'm not claiming that evolution shouldn't be challenged. I'm claiming that it shouldn't be challenged as science, or that if it is, it should be challenged by a scientific alternative. Intelligent design is not science, for reasons already stated numerous times, in numerous ways, by both myself and Professor Volokh. Frankly, I'm frustrated that you and others don't see or care to make the distinction.
As long as intelligent design is a valid theory - which I think Volokh argued eloquently is the case - then refusing to consider it as an option is biased and unscientific.
Let's back up the horses right here. What does "valid" mean?
Many people take the word "valid" to having some connotation of truth, or certitude. Certainly, neither Eugene (or I) intended to imply that. If we call it a valid theory, it only means one that might be true. But valid theories are not necessarily scientific theories. Science only seeks "truth" within the boundaries of the scientific method. Theories that cannot be evaluated in that context do not belong in science classes. Without repeating all of the arguments of the previous posts, I will simply state that ID is excluded from that category. To understand why, go read those posts.
It's a theory of origin, not a theory of escapism. While it is inappropriate for someone to say, "Well, it's that way because God made it that way" and thus refuse to explore a question further, it is just as inappropriate to say, "Because eventually this explanation might lead to an irresolvable question, we're going to refuse to accept that this could be the answer even though it fits the facts".
The problem is not about what happens eventually. The problem is that, immediately, as soon as we say "God (or someone) did it," we've left the realm of scientific inquiry, and there's no way back except to say "Whoops, sorry, we didn't mean that. God didn't do it, or at least, we can't know that he did." It is simply an utterly useless theory (from a scientific standpoint), because it can't be tested, falsified or disproved.
It is the fact that it [intelligent design] is not disprovable (i.e., falsifiable) that puts it outside the realm of science. It's not simply an uninteresting theory--it is a useless copout (again, purely from a scientific perspective).
Yes, that's exactly what I say.
Is general evolution in its full manifestation provable?
No. That's where we seem to be talking past each other. No scientific theory is provable. What makes scientific theories interesting and useful is the fact that they're disprovable. ID is not.
It's not replicable, we don't have historic accounts; it will never be more than an extrapolation from evidence. To assume it is to limit your explorations. Conversely, if someone developed a theory of how things should look if there was an intelligent designer, and set out to test it, would that be bad science?
No. The problem is, that there's no way to test it. If someone wants to put ID forth as a theory, they have to also describe the experiments (thought or otherwise) that would, with appropriate outcomes, show that it was false. To date, no one has done that. Instead, they simply offer a deus ex machina to explain things that they lack imagination or knowledge to understand.
The originating event is not replicable, but its manifestations might be evident.
Well, here's your challenge. What would they be? If you can't tell us, then there's no point in accepting it as a (scientific) theory. What tests would you perform, that would provide compelling insight as to whether or not we were evolved or designed?
If this scientist found, for example, that man appeared in his current form at one point in history, or other evidence that seem to point more to intelligent design than evolution, would you try to fit it into your own theory, or ignore it, because you don't see intelligent design as a valid theory?
What would constitute evidence that would point more to intelligent design than evolution? Bear in mind as you answer this, that there is an abundance of evidence that we are of lousy design, in many ways, that is much more easily explained by a random process than an intelligent designer.
"If I were to teach evolution in a school, I would state it not as 'this is what happened,' but rather, 'this is what scientists believe happened.'
Belief without proof is called "faith."
Yes, I've already made that point myself, multiple times. Belief in the scientific method is faith, in the sense that there are a number of unprovable axioms that must be accepted:
1) There is an objective reality
There are other tenets, but these are the main ones.
But my major objection to evolution being taught in the schools without any reference to intelligent design as an alternative is the social implications of the "religion" of evolution.
Evolution is not a religion. Science is a religion, by the broadest definition (with some of the fundamental tenets stated above), and evolution is an inevitable product of it. If you want to throw out evolution, you might as well throw out physics, chemistry, other aspects of biology, etc.
I believe that it's important to teach science. More importantly, I believe that part of teaching science is teaching that science is not a compendium of facts to be memorized, but that it is a method, a means of learning about the world.
That doesn't mean that we should teach that the only means of gaining knowlege is science (though as someone who believes in it, I definitionally believe that it is the best means of attaining knowledge).
If you want to teach intelligent design in schools, I have no objection. My only objection is that it not be taught as science, because it's not and cannot be. It's a refutation, a repudiation of science.
I've taught both introductory psychology and sociology on the college level, and in every case the texts explained both individual and social behaviors in an evolutionary context, with many attendant moral extrapolations. An example is the "fight or flight" response. I'm not saying humans don't have that response, but the evolutionary explanation given for it is an extrapolation that isn't supported.
Isn't supported by what?
The development of that response cannot be scientifically tracked or established, given that it happened prior to recorded history and is not still developing, so whence the conclusions as to why it developed? It is assumed that the extrapolation is true, which actually limits exploration rather than encouraging it - we know why it's there, so why look more deeply into its manifestations? Setting it as a trait that developed as an evolutionarily-preferred behavior gives its manifestations, in the eyes of some, an almost moral rightness.
Oh, here's your problem. No, it should never, ever be taught as a moral rightness. We cannot derive morality purely from our genetic heritage, or from science classes. That way lies disaster.
It is natural, and an evolutionarily-advantageous behavior for males to rape females. That doesn't mean that we should approve of such behavior. I've posted numerous times in the past about the danger of equating "natural" with "good" or "moral." Nature is not our friend. Or our enemy. It's just how we got here.
Anthrax is natural. Botulism is natural. Death is natural. That doesn't make them our friends.
We can't derive morality from science, or at least not from the primevil urges of our hormones. That seems to the crux of the problem--people seem to think that our ancestors, or our origin, should define our current behavior.
We have to develop a morality based on what kind of society we want to have today--not one that we had in the savannah of Africa a few thousand years ago (to which, to first order, we remain physically adapted). I don't claim to know what the source of this moral order should be, but it should emphatically not be the mindlessness of our genes.
You have to go outside science to find reason to stem it in some contexts, when it would not have that moral gravitas to begin with if some evolutionists didn't present extrapolations as truth.
I have no control over what some evolutionists do or say. I don't claim that evolution is truth, except within the framework of scientific inquiry.
If you've been following the recent discussions of teen sexuality on some of the blogs, there have been a number of references to "natural" behavior, to evolutionary imperative. That is a moral conclusion arising from evolution-as-religion. It's also used as a reason behind why sexual photographs of teenagers are so desired online - we're evolutionarily hardwired to seek out the best bets for self-perpetuation, thus, youth and attractiveness, so naturally people are drawn to sexual photos of youth. I'm not saying that all the arguments using evolution in their supportive statements would be endorsed by evolutionary scientists, but it is a major source of reasoning for those taking a variety of moral and behavioral stances. It is not a value-neutral, or morality-neutral, scientific theory. It is in our society treated as fact, and many people base their behavior on its extrapolated moral tenets. At the very least, schools should separate fact from those extrapolations.
Then that's what we should fight--the notion that we should base our laws on our base animal urges--not science itself.
As for the weakness of faith that belief in intelligent design supposedly indicates, I would posit that a similar weakness of faith exists in a scientific community fearful of incorporating intelligent design in its assessment of information, at the very least as a valid theory of origin until proven otherwise. It is either a fear that intelligent design is true, or an adamant belief that general evolution is law, not theory, despite its lack of full support; in either case the scientific pursuit is polluted by bias. What avenues of exploration are closed because of a belief in evolution similar to the religious closed-mindedness you mention in association with a belief in intelligent design? Why is questioning evolution considered heresy?
Simply stated, because there's no way to test it within the scientific method.
Let me say it one more time. I can't say what truth is in any ultimate way. I can only say what is science. ID ain't science, and it never can be, because there's no way to disprove it.
My psychology and sociology students were always treated to a lecture on how what you believe about origins has an impact on what you believe about behaviors and morality today.
If that's the case, then I beg your pardon, but you were misteaching them. Perhaps it does, but it most emphatically shouldn't.
I made my own beliefs on it clear, and did not color my presentation of the class material with my own biases in the balance of the class except in asides offering an alternative extrapolation very obviously my own. I don't see how such an approach would suddenly destroy the foundations of scientific endeavor in this society, nor how intelligent design reasonably presented as an option of origin, in all its advantages, flaws and implications, would do the same. It also is not "promoting religion", if dissociated from the Bible and taught as a valid scientific option - which it is.
It is not.
Religion is about who the intelligent designer is, and different groups have different conclusions.
No, religion is about what the bedrock of our belief system is. For some (including me), an intelligent designer is not necessary.
I'm not suggesting we teach in public schools which conclusion is most likely. Just as you would say "I would state it not as 'this is what happened,' but rather, 'this is what scientists believe happened.'
But that's the point. Evolution is what scientists believe happened. If they instead falter, and simply invoke the deus ex machina, they are no longer being scientists. They may be right (there's no way to know this side of eternity) but they're no longer doing science.
And as a religious person, I'm not afraid of science in full flower, exploring every corner of the universe. I encourage it. I'm fascinated by it. Maybe there is intelligent life elsewhere, although I doubt it. I wouldn't stop scientific exploration for fear it will prove my faith wrong, nor do I deny that many aspects of evolutionary theory offer an excellent structure for scientific study. But I also don't believe evolution and faith are antithetical, or reasonably separated into "reality" vs "emotion". It is that characterization in the face of the moral implications of belief in general evolution that give rise to my desire for intelligent design to be presented in schools as an optional theory of origin.
I don't believe that they are antithetical either. Rather, they are orthogonal. ID can be presented as an optional theory of origin. Fine with me. Just don't pretend it's science. It is not, and cannot be.
Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's...Posted by Rand Simberg at May 31, 2002 11:37 PM
Once I got to this part:
I knew any amount of reasoned response to follow would be futile. This person has doubled up in fields so soft as to be gooey. To paraphrase Adams, Psych types can make themselve believe things that would cause a Scientologist to pause and giggle.
Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 1, 2002 01:32 AM
Thank you for the analysis, Rand, and I apologize for having evidently caused you such frustration. My only remaining question - which you may consider rhetorical given the time you've already invested in this - is how do we pull the impact of evolution-as-religion out of society when it's universally treated at least as immutably true as is the Bible by a large segment of society, most especially the educators? The distinction between theory and morality-framing law is not made generally.
And Eric, based on the evidence I have of you I could also make the conclusion that you have the intelligence and manners of a squashed bug, but since I - unlike you - don't make extrapolations from bias and self-limited research, I won't conclude that is true. Hopefully I won't have more evidence to consider in the future. "This person" also has a name. Did you know that depersonalization of the victim is the hallmark of a bully? I learned that in my gooey science.
Thanks again, Rand. And thanks for the kind words about my site. Yours is also a favorite of mine.Posted by Susanna at June 1, 2002 05:53 AM
Biblical myth is neither unique nor original. It is interesting when Christians dismiss others as pagan yet much of their belief is identical to many other religions (existing or dead) (birth/rebirth, resurection, a flood, miracles et al).
It took off in a big way because the wife of a Roman Empire admired the religion and encouraged her husband to make it the Empires religion. In modern terms it was down to luck, good pr and good timing.
It does strike me as interesting that there are fundamentalists (Christian & Islamic) who attempt to paint science as a "religion". It was this sort of mentality that plunged Europe into the "dark ages" and held back the continent for almost a 1000 years.
Ironically, in the case of Islam, it was they who continued to better themselves intellectually during the period Christendom wallowed in their own ignorance.Posted by Andrew Ian Dodgeblog at June 1, 2002 06:44 AM
Thanks for articulating your point so eloquently. Still, I'm with Rand on this. You wrote, "I'm not saying that all the arguments using evolution in their supportive statements would be endorsed by evolutionary scientists, but it is a major source of reasoning for those taking a variety of moral and behavioral stances. It is not a value-neutral, or morality-neutral, scientific theory."
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the thrust of your point, but my first instinct is to suggest that it doesn't follow that just because certain people have extrapolated from a particular theory moral lessons, the theory itself is somehow no longer morality-neutral (a different animal than "value-neutral" -- which I'll give you, concede, but only in the weak sense of Kuhnian paradigm shifts). In short, it's a mistake, I'd offer, to blame the science for its misuse, or (if you prefer a constructivist argument) the text for its misinterpretion. The fact of Joseph Mengale is no reason to scrap the study of anatomy; and just because certain people see post-colonial oppression narratives in "Curious George" doesn't mean it's not an innocuous children's book about an inquisitive monkey.
I think you've missed the point Rand's points if you're still asking how to "pull the impact of evolution-as-religion out of society." Because the way to do that is to separate theories based on the scientific method from non-scientific "alternative theories" of "first cause" -- which means, of course, teaching evolution (in its various permutations) exclusively in science classes. Intelligent Design belongs to philosophy / religion.Posted by Jeff Goldstein at June 1, 2002 01:05 PM
Favorite bloggers abound in this here thread.
Susanna - As an aside, I'm not sure what you're getting at with the "flight or fight" example - the evidence for the evolutionary origin of that response is as abundant as the evidence for any other physical form or function possessed by humans.
That being said, I think it's unfair to claim that people arguing certain positions are deriving them from evolutionary beliefs, or that "evolutionists" are advocates of the naturalistic fallacy ("is equals ought"). To the contrary, I think you will find most, if not all, explicitly reject this position. (Anecdotally, I am not a believer, and I would fit most people's definition of a hard-core Darwinian. I also come down pretty far over on the conservative side of the teen sex debate.)
People making appeals to nature are unlikely to have carefully developed their viewpoints from some Darwinian foundation, and are far more likely merely being thoughtless or sloppy. I also question whether religious, anti-Darwinian folks are less guilty of falling into the naturalistic fallacy than the other side. Rather, it's a natural human propensity. We all tend to fuzz over into "is equals ought" when contemplating behavior we personally happen to approve it, or aren't too bothered by.
(I add that, having learned my Darwinian basics at the hands of nuns, I've always been a bit puzzled by the endless creation/science brouhaha, and the claim that evolutionary theory is irredeemably anti-religion or promotes do-it-in-the-road morality.)Posted by Moira at June 1, 2002 01:12 PM
"Perhaps. Think of it as tough love."
Oh Susanna (forgive me please, I couldn't resist) it's nice to see a lady that can defend herself so eloquently.
Thanks Rand for pointing me to another favorite blog to add to my collection. I hope you know that the time you've spent clarifying this issue has (at least by me) been well regarded.
It's important to keep in mind the distinction between
1. the idea of intelligent design-- that an intelligent creator designed the universe, and maybe meddled with it afterward,
2. the claim of "Intelligent Design theorists" that the conventional scientific approaches *cannot possibly explain* the emergence of life and the subsequent emergence of modern lifeforms, leaving the meddling of an intelligent creator as the most parsimonious explanation.
Intelligent design (1) is simply nonscientific (which does not mean that it is necessarily false). The arguments of Intelligent Design (2) are actively pseudoscientific.
Confusion over this distinction was what kept Eugene Volokh and Max Power talking past each other in their recent "2 + 2 = 5" argument over the issue. Volokh was talking about intelligent design (1) and regarded (2) as an irrelevant claim of a few specific proponents. Max Power was fretting about Intelligent Design (2), using the word as it is in fact being used by the people throwing it around.
I believe that the name "Intelligent Design" was deliberately chosen by the proponents of (2) in order to make it sound like (1), and therefore to make their opponents appear to be insisting, indefensibly, that science demands atheism. Volokh's arguments were fine as far as they went, but he was taking the bait.
The word "creationism" used to work the same way; a priori it sounds like it might just refer to simple theism rather than to the rejection of most of modern science. But almost nobody uses "creationism" in the generic sense (1) any more, whereas "intelligent design" still has a double meaning.
As I've said many times before, personally I'm an atheist, but I care more about science than about atheism, and I think that it's extremely important to stress when talking to people that the one does not imply the other, and to evade attempts to attack science by blurring the distinction.
Who is the "Volokh" mentioned early in the piece who argued 'intelligent design' is science?Posted by Ed at June 1, 2002 10:55 PM
I agree with most of what Matt McIrvin said, only I'd like the atheists to tell me how they determined that there is/are no god(s). If this was done scientifically, I'd like to know how. If not, then their belief is based on faith.
And given the obvious difficulties of determining how the cosmos got here with or without gods, IMO the issue simply ought not be addressed in primary and secondary school science classes. Instead it should be used as an example of how science works, modestly acknowledging that we have only the vaguest extrapolations to go by. Thus we cannot claim to have a meaningful explanation of origins, and thus science does not contradict religion in this respect.
As RS noted, science and religion are orthogonal. Therefore they should be taught that way. And IMO that is the source of most objections to the way science is taught - it is often presented in ways that are needlessly antagonistic to religion. Teaching the "big bang" or other origin theory du jour is needlessly antagonistic without adding significant value.Posted by J Bowen at June 2, 2002 01:44 AM
Well, I am afraid that I can add little to the debate about evolution that has not already been said. In my own life, I am pretty incapable of mustering religious belief of any form. To me, the chilling implications of the intelligent design argument is not the the erroneous conflation of belief and science (for Rand is right to separate between science and religion as axiomatic BELIEFS, and the rational METHODS by which one proceeds to develop from that point). Rather, intelligent design bothers me for exactly the reason Susanna advocates it.
The argument that evolution must be constantly accompanied with an asterisk that it's "just" a theory and that intelligent design is an equally possible "theory" in order to prevent people from deriving moral systems based on biological determinism is an argument that stems from the most dangerous of censorious impulses. It seeks to deny access to knowledge we reasonably understand to be provisionally true in order to shape the moral values of our students.
Religious thought and religious belief have no monopoly on ethical systems. I am not a religious man. I never have been. I likely never will be. And yet, I personally take ethics very seriously. One of the greatest intellectual and philosophical challenges to face the non-believer is how and why to live ethically in a world which is not governed by an external force. From my own perspective, religious morality is irresponsible when it ducks or denies the facts as they appear to be in order to maintain its foundational structures intact. Such a system cannot be other than sporadic, inconsistent, and to my mind inadequate. To deny or undermine the facts, simply because some may draw the wrong moral conclusions from those inconvenient facts is to seek to coerce people into adopting your own moral belief. I am not a believer in biological determinism, myself. But, if we are to have a say on how students come to see their moral obligations in this world, then let us teach comparative ethics in the schools, rather than undermine their pursuit of knowledge and truth in science.
And Andrew: Your ignorance of Christianity's origin is shameful for an atheist. Do not take a system which has been such a powerful shaping force in the world as we encounter it today, so lightly. I happen to be a historian who specialized in the emergence of Christianity in Europe, and it's derivation has nothing to with the whims of an Emperor's wife. It is true that Christianity acquired the force of Empire with the conversion of Constantine. But his forceful eradication of pagan practices was motivated by very real concerns... both spiritual and secular. It's gradual supplantation of previous belief systems took centuries, and thousands of people suffered and died on both sides in the process. Also, the "anti-scientific" "Dark Ages" you refer to happens to be the same period in which we encounter the Scholastic Theologians. Perhaps you have heard of Ockham's Razor. Ockham was a priest. A priest who's formulation of inquiry is often seen as inventing the scientific method. Science and religion are not antagonists. Much of Western scientific method is directly derived from the pursuit of theology. And the Dark Ages were only "Dark" to a posse of 19th century British historians who found the study of post-Carolingian documents to be a waste of time, because the only true "history" was that of Empires. It is the wilful ignorance of how things are, and how they have to come to be, which you exhibit that presages the advent of a "Dark Age" to come.Posted by Geoff at June 2, 2002 02:34 AM
Susanna, if I wished to 'bully' you rest assured I would have addressed you directly. As a Psych pro you seem remarkably unperceptive about the virtual space we're operating in here. Rand is the sole author of the site and I'd say the great majority of those who read the comments know that an entry that addresses no one in particular at its start is addressed to Rand. I don't consider you to be standing around waiting to see if you like or dislike the ensuing discussion. If I was concerned with trying to insult you to your virtual face or somehow attempt to bully you (into what, giving up your lunch money?) by mere disparaging remarks I'd have done so on your own site.
There seems to be a remarkable amount of ego at work here. If Rand had been responding to a Arafat speech and I made a comment entry wondering why the wretched bastard was still permitted to draw air, should he take it as a personal affront that I didn't go to the trouble of specifying his name, even though he was the only person the remark could possibly be about? Or would it roll off his back? Because whatever else Arafat might be he is adult enough to know that there is always going to be someone who'll say things about him in open forums he'd rather not hear. At least, that is, in places where he cannot enforce his will at gunpoint.
I also draw great amusement from your attack on the critic while leaving the criticism unaddressed. Surely you recall what pshrinks have to say about that? I've seen vast mounds of utter nonsense emanate from your twin fields, often to the great detriment of those who live under powers who use the nonsense to enact policy. Which isn't to say the fields are utterly without worth (especially compared to science wanna-bes like the deconstructionists) but due to the ease with which ideas can be accepted solely for being attractive makes it necessary to take it all with a SUV-sized grain of salt. In general I find Psychology and Sociology lacking any basis to criticize Evolution. You've offered no argument to sway that opinion.
One valid overlap between Psych and the study of evolution for me is understanding how artifacts like God came to be. Many biologist have been fascinated in the way Homo sapiens retains juvenile traits when compared against other mammals. This has been suggested to tie in with our brains retaining great elasticity in learning across our lifespans while most other species lose most of that ability at early adulthood. This raises the question of whether God is simply an expression of a juvenile's dependency on its parents. (The Desmond Morris crowd like to point out the cats and dogs as pets enjoys lifelong parents in the forms of their humans and retain juvenile behaviors that feral counterparts give up as they mature.) But that isn't saying anything you'd care to hear, is it?
I can agree with you that science treated as religion is a disaster for all involved. Anything where religion creeps in usually is. This goes back to the basic structure of our brains and what they best achieve without any special training, which is the propagation of our kind under the conditions of many millennia ago. For all of the knowledge and understanding of how to extract knowledge we now possess each human is still born with roughly the same mental ability. Nearly anyone can learn to juggle if the effort is made. That effort will be less for some, greater for others but none have been observed to enter the world with it as an innate talent. It is very much the same for critical thinking. Without an emphasis on that strength you end up with would be educators who are satisfied merely that students can repeat what is in the approved book, be it 'Origin of Species' or the Koran, with little concern given to whether there is any real understanding.
There are some for who history is but a list of dates and events to be memorized and forgotten after the final. I once had an instructor whose could render any portion of the human experience an invitation to slumber. Fortunately there were others who could breath life into events long past and actually get his student interested in how we got to this point and why knowing about it matters. It is even more fortunate when the good ones produce books that can be enjoyed long after one's formal education has ended. Good educators don't grow on trees and are rarely well rewarded beyond the satisfaction of a job well done.
Likewise, researchers who've canonize their understanding of a field can be highly detrimental, for they too are subject to human frailties. The best researchers are prepared to have their hard-won expertise rendered moot, if it advances the field. The public doesn't take well to this though. They don't like changes that may invalidate what they know. If something was learned in an arbitrary fashion than it can only seem equally arbitrary if something takes its place.
"You mean I spent two years taking French in high school only to have the EU adopt Pig Latin as its universal tongue?"
Most of humanity likes their answer simply absorbed and unchanging throughout their lives. This is most often achieved by taking fairy tales and treating them as a framework for all reality. Children are usually exposed to this approach before any exposure to critical thought. Thus all too often it's down hill from there. So, I'd say if you want to eliminate religious thinking in inappropriate places you first have to stop pretending it's appropriate anywhere. Until you address the problem at its root you'll never do more than skirt the edges of a solution.
We should also get away from treating religion and magical thinking as a convenience to avoid children's pesky questions when it is only necessary to undo this teaching to make them capable of functioning in the modern world. One example that has served as an example to me since early childhood was a teacher who attempted to deny the concept of negative numbers because it wasn't on the schedule for another few semesters and I suspect she didn't have a good command of the subject herself.
This was no leap of genius on my part, just a vague concept that formed in my head after I saw a TV show about Edison and the invention of the commercially viable light bulb. I was fascinated by the idea that there was a vacuum aka nothing inside the light bulb. I already knew that there were many sizes of light bulbs so a bigger bulb contained more nothing. More nothing?!? If you could have more or less nothing then there had to be a way of measuring nothing. It was quite a James Burke moment for me. Surely since this was a big part of the modern world surely grown ups had already covered this ground, so I put some questions to the very person who was supposed to help delve into such conundrums. Rather than admit her own inadequacy on the subject and direct me to someone more qualified she instead became protective of her authority figure image.
I've seen this happen in many variations to many children since then. Human frailties again at play to further enforce strictures on vulnerable young minds.Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 2, 2002 02:44 AM
Some of what I previously mentioned brings up a long debated question. How different are we from our distant ancestor who are regarded as same species? Going back beyond 6,000 or so years we have only fossils to examine that offer no genetic data. If all the important changes have happened between our ears we haven't any means yet to learn of it.
A lot of us living and prospering today would never have survived to adulthood without technology of some level. My appendix went kablooey when I was only six. It would have been a death sentence a mere century ago. I also enjoy the use of precision ground lenses to correct the inadequacies of my vision. Throughout most of human history this would have been a crippling handicap. OTOH, many of the traits that serve me well in the modern world don't appear to have any useful application 10,000 years ago. Some would say that technology has short circuited evolution by making serious defects survivable. Has it also made what would once have been mental defects and are now useful abilities more common?
At some point our cleverness put us far enough ahead of the food and shelter game that a few individuals with the right stuff had the freedom to devote most of their time to still more clever stuff that freed up yet more individuals to do the same. This has gotten us to the modern world where there are clever folks whose sole occupation is tying together the seemingly unrelated work of other clever folks to synthesize yet more new tools and techniques for mastering our environment.
Are we still the same species that existed before it became possible for 'clever woman who makes things from clay' to be a full time job because it was so valuable someone else was willing to share their food? A lot of the 'clever guy' traits could get you killed in the early days. Likewise, a lot of traits that made for superior survival skills can be liabilities today. There are some who theorize that the symptoms of ADD are not defects to hunter-gatherers. The guy who has trouble sitting still in a class room is less likely to have a lion sneak up on him because he was overly focused on what was in front of him instead the whole environment.
Is the distribution of cognitive traits the same as it was 25,000 years ago or is has there been a shift brought on by technology?Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 2, 2002 02:45 AM
J., any professed atheist who claims proof for the non-existence of god probably has their intellectual standard grounded more in deconstructionism than science. The Derrida followers seems to think that all reality is merely a linguistic construct and that anything that can be believed or disbelieved in in thought or speech can be made so in reality. (This was a cool subplot for a character in Jim Starlin's Dreadstar but doesn't lend itself to the real world.) Despite this sophistry there is a distinct lack of English departments flying to work and back thank to a disbelief in gravity.
It is not the job of an atheist to disprove the existence of god(s). The extraordinary claim is on the part of the believers and on them lies the burden of proof. This is no different from a disbelief that our planet is regularly visited by extraterrestial intelligences. There is substantial well understood reasons why this is highly improbable and nothing remotely credible in its favor. The UFO crowd has the task to perform, not the skeptics.
If you met someone who firmly disbelieved in the existence of birds would you feel any compulsion to prove otherwise or leave it to the guy making the extraordinary claim?
The dirty fact that nobody wants mentioned is that this is primarily a question of authority, and a debate on which authority is to be accepted by default.
Most of those who argue in online fora for ID or against presenting evolution as fact understand very little about evolution and philosophy of science. Most of those who argue in online fora against ID or for presenting evolution as fact (sometimes with the qualification "scientific") also understand very little about evolution and philosophy of science. They frequently don't even understand the principle of falsification, let alone the (now indisputable, after half a century of post-Popperian research) fact that it is doesn't always apply consistently and offers much too simplified a picture. Nevermind the actually controversial questions inside evolutionary biology itself, such as the relative importance of individual, group and sexual survival!
It's supreme irony that Rand manages to consistently accuse ID as being unscientific because unfalsifiable on one hand, and to admit that no evidence could possibly change his mind about evolution on the other hand, offering as justification a silly comparison with the OJ Simpsons case that has nothing in common with the scientific method, which is what it's really about. The contradiction is as glaring as his refusal, one might call it quasi-religious refusal, to see it.
So what is this all about then?
No biology class teaches evolution as something that would satisfy a skeptical person. There just isn't enough evidence (offered in the class), not nearly so. The same is true for popular books on evolution. (Dawkins' books, one of the most popular ones, are especially vile in this regard because they advance intellectual bullying as their main line of argument). At some point they all say stuff like: "... but, natural selection _is_ sufficient to account for all this change and diversity, as the scientists are now all in agreement" (well, that is of course until the reader happens to hear of group selection or sexual selection, at which point another appeal to authority with different content will be made).
The thing is, it's not bad. It's inevitable. It's only bad when it becomes intellectually dishonest due to attempts to mask it, to present the situation as if it really was a public debate between a shining beacon of ratio on one side and a dark well of religious ignorance on the other.
The thing is, rational people believe accounts of Darwinian evolution because they believe the scientific method, explicitly or implicitly. They trust the majority (or all, depending on the "controversy") of scientists because the way science has developed proved its effectiveness. NOT because they are able or willing to look into resolving the controversy on their own. Very few people are, least of all schoolchildren who are given stuff from some fixed curriculum.
So the debate is on who is to be considered authority on the question of origin and development of species: science (or more precisely the scientific method) or religion (or, say, "intelligent design"). The attempts to sidestep this issue are manifold on both sides. ID proponents' attempts to portrary ID as science are especially stupid and harmful; OTOH, evolution defenders' side-stepping with "well, sure they can teach it, if they don't call it science" is at best half-hearted and at worst deceptive; it's clear that they don't want it taught AT ALL and if some compromise is made whereby ID is taught in the same school in some separate setting, without calling it science, **but taught as truth just as evolution is**, they'd be up in arms fighting against that in no time.
The healthy thing to do, although it won't be done, would be to be open about the inevitably dogmatic presentation of either side in public education, and about the reasons why one authority is preferrable to the other, and about the difference between "truth" and "what we teach here".Posted by Anatoly at June 2, 2002 04:15 AM
The recent discussions of cloning and evolution here have a common ancestor, it seems to me, and here on Sunday morning I'll attempt a grand unification of the controversies in an effort to create a seething mass of philosophical energy sufficient to power Rand's site for many weeks to come...
Out of courtesy to people of faith many have made the point that science and religion are orthogonal, and not necessarily in conflict. Susannah Cornett's point illustrates, however, that the success of science in providing an explanation for our existence does have an effect on religion (Christianity in particular), and the increasing secularization of Western culture shows a historical trend that looks very like Richard Dawkins' ideas of memes in competition.
Certainly it's possible to accomodate religious belief as a scientist, or as an adherent of the scientific method, but it's quite difficult, and most often it's religious belief that has to bend.
Catholicism, for instance, has adapted to accommodate evolution in recent years, much as it accomodated a heliocentric structure of the solar system eventually.
With recent developments in biotechnology, like cloning, these secular pressures continue, and some try to draw moral lessons from the scientific understanding of embryonic development:
"The early embryo can't really be a person since it might become two or more people."
"Twins occur naturally, so what's the big deal with reproductive cloning?"
"Our brains, not our genes, are what makes a person, so cloning embryos for stem cells is morally acceptable."
While these are statements of moral reasoning, they're not scientific statements.
Part of the difficulty in dealing with these issues is that science (as a philosophy) has no built-in morals or ethics other than those supplied by the scientists themselves, while the faithful are rightfully concerned about the effect secular trends, and the success of science, have had on the acceptance of traditional sources of moral authority.
And as Fukuyama warns, there's a risk that scientific developments may even unmake human nature to the point that secular sources of moral philosophy will likewise begin to break down.
The agitation for "intelligent design" or "scientific creationism" is an attempt to adapt to the pressures of secular modernity, but one which is flawed by a lack of understanding of the philosophy of science.
Likewise, as Rand and others point out, those who invoke the "naturalistic fallacy" in claiming that what we can learn from science about what "is" gives us directly moral lessons about what "ought" to be, are making a similar mistake. Science as a philosophy can make no conclusions about morality, but scientists as human beings can, and ought, and do.
One of the big problems for religions the world over is known to theologians as the problem of theodicy (why does evil exist, and what does that tell us about God). One could imagine scientifically minded atheists setting up institutes for "scientific theodicy" and attempting to get their views promulgated in churches, as they attempt to prove God can't possibly exist since nature holds so many examples of evil behavior.
Inserting religion into science through "intelligent design" or "scientific creationism" makes no more sense than would a theological argument based on "scientific theodicy". Neither is science, since both lie outside science's philosophical scope.
That's not to say that religious people and secular ethicists should have no input into science, but rather that they add more value to science through their own contributions which shape the moral beliefs of scientists and the public (which in large part pays for and regulates science), than they would do by attempting to compete with science on its own terms.
In this competition of memes, adaptation is essential.Posted by Ken Barnes at June 2, 2002 07:14 AM
On the contrary, all public debates about evolution are debates about who gets to be the authority in the classroom. You are quite right that most laymen don't understand evolution. It is also true that what can be taught of biology in a high school class is not going to provide any real understanding of evolutionary theory, let alone proof that evolution occurs.
But what is true of biology is true of any science. All of us, even scientists outside their own fields, have to take a great deal, yes, "on faith". Most of the time this is accepted without any thought. No parents lose sleep over what the periodic table is, how it was derived, and what it says about reality. But when it comes to biology - no, when it comes to a very specific field of biology - eeeeeverybody's a philosopher of science.
I don't think this reaction is intrinsic to the subject. If people were still emotionally or philosophically invested in a geocentric universe, there would be websites explaining why the Tusi couple is a better explanation of celestial motion than the theories now accepted by the arrogant atheism-promoting scientific establishment, and organizations devoted to lobbying for "equal time" in physics classrooms.
Btw, I am highly dubious about your claim that Rand really believes that there is no evidence that could refute evolution for him. I suspect he knows from his Precambrian rabbits.
Another thing to throw into the primordial soup:
Just as with Darwinian evolution, Einstein's theories of relativity have had an influence beyond the bounds of physics, as the philosophically clever have asserted that there are no moral absolutes, and that ethics is situational, just as mass, length, and time vary in Einstein's theory depending upon your frame of reference.
Why some would want to draw this analogy is obvious, but if we're looking to relativity for "moral support", so to speak, we could as easily assert that the invariant speed of light gives us hope that Right, like light, is also eternal, unchanging, and universal.Posted by Ken Barnes at June 2, 2002 09:47 AM
Ian, you've been sipping too much Campbell.
Yes, it is absolutely true that at some level Christian "myth" (we must be careful to employ that prejoritive!) shares some common elements with "pagan" (e.g. polytheist) myth: so what? Its like arguing that, when rendered in english, the same 26 letters are used to express all ideas. Wow... a religion has themes of death and rebirth. Again, so what? Duh: every religion will address these issues. Noting they common elements doesn't imply anything about the truth or falsity of their specific statements.
Consider an anology: You might assert the Nazis were defeated by the Allies. I might assert the Nazis were defeated by a troup of armed, rabid squirrels. Note that both theories have common "elements": WWII, Nazis, Armed conflict, invasion, bombs, etc. Again, so what? One theory, yours, has a lot of supporting evidence and is credible; the other theory, mine, is either the product of a demented mind, or a satirical example intended to provoke you to thought.
Saying "Christianity shares common elements with pagan beliefs" in no way impugns its. Any lie contains 90% of the same content as its corresponding truth -- but that doesn't make it true, per se. Statements sharing common words, two stories with common elements don't prove anything about the truth or falsity thereof.
So please, when attempting such to bash Christianity, do it with a little more thought and originality. Don't just mindlessly regurgitate Campbell, trusting in the "magic words" he has given you to repeat, as though they had some power. No Christian claims: "Christianity is a religion which shares no elements with any other belief system." -- refuting such a straw-man argument gets you nowhere.
Instead, I suggest you attack actual Christian doctrine. This is much more effective. True, it has the considerable downside that you would actually have to learn some first, but the results would be so much more convincing.
If you're having trouble thinking of where to start, I'd be glad to give you some suggestions: For example, you might try to disprove that Jesus was divine -- or that he lived at all. That would be pretty effective. Barring that, you could disprove all the fulfilled prophecy on which JudeoChristian beliefs rest. Or, if you *really* want to get rid of this Judeo/Christian belief system, and take out Islam too, you could just attempt to disprove the divine revelation of Mosiac law. Then all three belief systems would come tumbling down. Wouldn't *you* be the man!
Don't just sit there and mutter mindlessly about "rebirth", duh...
"On the contrary, all public debates about evolution are debates about who gets to be the authority in the classroom."
That sounds about right to me; I'm not sure why you feel you're contradicting me here.
My point is that both sides try to pretend this is not the case by using tactics like "ID is also science and is as valid as evolution" on one side and "sure, they can teach it in the classroom, not as science though" on the other. That is not helpful.
Now your "eeeeverybody's a philosopher of science" leaves me perplexed. Yes, laymen don't give a flying fig about E=Mc^2 but they actually care about where they come from. That's a _bad_ thing? How come?
Or is it bad because they do not automatically trust scientists on that, like they do with stuff they care little about? But why would the scientists want that cheap trust? Cheap trust leads to cheap convictions and at best shallow understanding. Oh. They want it because they want their picture to be the default one presented to schoolchildren. It's the authority thing all over again.
Finally, allow me to dwell on another important point. No, evolutionary biology is _not_ like round-Earth or physics in general or even biology in general. Despite frequent (and intellectually dishonest, in case of people who know what they're talking about) protests to the contrary, it is a different kind of science, with different, markedly more relaxed requirements of the scientific method. Here, again, ignorance and confusion abound, especially due to frequent refusal of evolutionist authors to cleanly separate evolution from natural selection as its primary (or only) explanatory mechanism (the two have very different standards of proof and amounts of evidence, despite both having been universally adopted by the scientific community!).
Evolutionary biology, when viewed as a science about the past, is inherently limited in its power of making predictions and conforming to the Popperian framework, _especially_ when it comes to macro-evolutionary processes. Predictions are possible (about what kinds of fossils we will or won't find, for example), but they're highly indirect by necessity. Evolutionary biology is somewhere between theoretical physics and history in this respect. Now history is also a science not to be sneered at, with its own highly developed and extremely useful version of the scientific method. But nobody's claiming that history is an exact science like theoretical physics. It simply isn't.
Evolutionary biology is somewhere in-between. Its standards of proof, and the degree to which its results should convince non-professional objective skeptical persons, are necessarily lower than those of theoretical physics. That's not a good thing or a bad thing. It's how things stand, if the last hundred years of philosophy of science taught us anything. It shouldn't trick anyone into believing that evolutionary biology is not trustworthy. But there are degrees to trustworthiness. Just ask a theoretical physicist about his opinion on whether evolutionary biology is a science just like theoretical physics.
The huge problem, again, is that of evolutinist propagandists deliberately trying to sweep this all under the carpet, out of either ignorance or arrogance. This is what all the talk of "evolution is a fact" is all about, after all; the long and embarrassing mumbling about "well, what is meant in science by a fact is actually not really a fact is such and anyway facts aren't as important in science as theories are and anyway saying that evolution is not a fact is playing to the hand of evil creationists and yada yada yada" which all boild down to one simple thing: the speaker wants teachers to face a nine-year-old and tell him: evolution is a fact. Not "a scientific theory which has been confirmed very extensively". Not even "a fact from the scientific point of view". Just: a fact. The purpose of all this is propaganda.
And although it's propaganda of what I consider to be true, and perhaps in the name of a noble cause, I'm sick and tired of it. I'm sick and tired of people saying that "evolution happened" is just as uncontroversial as "2+2=4". What they don't understand is that they're harming their own cause, because while laymen are largely ignorant, they're not largely stupid, or at least not enough to buy that. People understand, instinctively, that statements about the past we never witnessed cannot be _just as_ uncontroversial and true as mathematical certainties, or contemporary physical theories which generate useful predictions and are constantly tested upon them by the very fabric of our civilisation. And if someone doesn't understand that, what good would teaching evolution to them be? -- they're obviously too dim to comprehend it in any real manner anyway.
Sorry for the large rant.Posted by Anatoly at June 2, 2002 10:08 AM
Forgot to answer your last point:
"Btw, I am highly dubious about your claim that Rand really believes that there is no evidence that could refute evolution for him."
He linked to his own entry here:
"...at this point, knowing the overwhelming nature of the existing evidentiary record, no, I can't imagine any new evidence that would change my mind at this point. Any anomalies are viewed as that, and an explanation for them is to be looked for within the prevailing theory."
I think the statement's pretty clear.
Responding to Ken's comment: "the success of science in providing an explanation for our existence does have an effect on religion (Christianity in particular), and the increasing secularization of Western culture shows a historical trend that looks very like Richard Dawkins' ideas of memes in competition.. certainly it's possible to accomodate religious belief as a scientist, or as an adherent of the scientific method, but it's quite difficult, and most often it's religious belief that has to bend."
If you are stating that science can help provide information regarding the mechanism by which humans exist, yes, of course, that's true to an increasing degree each year. Of course, we *always* knew to some degree why people existed: because their parents had sex, and so on. But so what?
This kind of information only has an impact on "religion" to the extent that religion has addresssed the "how" and not the "why". As you would probably agree, and most people would argue the "why" cannot be addressed by science itself.
So I don't understand then how you then come to the conclusion that there's some conflict tetween "religion" (you're using the generic, not me) and "science". Say I believe no God exists: certainly this a metaphysical proposition. Where is the conflict? Say I believe God is blue and smokes a pipe, and doesn't interefere with the universe? Where is the conflict?
Your blanket assertion seems without evidence.
WTG dude! Excellent commentary. Thank you for throwing in Constantine -- I longed to do so, but didn't want to bifurcate any further. Your evidence and reasoning, and arguments, I take no issue with whatsoever.
Yet your conclusion puzzles me: Certainly, no one should pervert observed truth for the sake of propping up a previously-held metaphysical belief. And certainly no-one should *ever* "muster" unfounded belief. And certainly, all evidence should be considered.
But good heavens, the amount of *evidence* that exists for something outside the laws of physics (which I do not attempt to refute) is quite sigificant, and grows each day. Our current cosmological model (the big bang), if true, leaves us with no option but an external creator (personal or impersonal). The answer to "Does something transcend the laws of physics?" is, these days, a very likely "yes!" -- where is the [irrational] "faith" in that?
Just two days ago, the BBC posted a finding that life in the milky way was far less probable than we might have thought otherwise. The number of constants which have to be set "just right" for *any* kind of life to appear is fairly impressive. Where the heck is "faith" to acknowledge this seems to the state of things, as best we can observe it right now? As one scientist put it (I forget who) the astonishing thing is that we exist at all...
I'm not arguing one should just trot right out an believe in the Judeochristian God. But in terms of being convinced that something outside it "created" this universe, I don't see why that requires any particular "faith" to be "mustered". (Please don't muster faith. Its a bad policy.)
Me personally, I tend to think the external force which brought the universe into existence is personal, rather than impersonal. And while that's certainly a 50/50% choice -- until we have other evidence -- its not the inherantly "irrational" one, and rather does co-incide rather nicely with current observations about the unlikelihood of life arising in the first place.
Evolution seems to address the question: Given that some life exists, how is it changed from one form to another. Interesting, I guess, but fairly far downstream from physics.Posted by Tim W at June 2, 2002 10:56 AM
While Anatoly's quote of me is correct (and I stand by it), I also agree with Moira that if I could be convinced that a pre-Cambrian bunny had found, it would undoubtedly shake my faith. But as I said, I can't imagine such a thing happening.
This may be more indicative of a failure of imagination on my part, than on close-mindedness...
I should also point out that my belief in evolution is not a belief in every jot and tittle of the story as presently told. It is simply a belief in the basic principles of natural selection and adaptation.
But I'm really not being disingenuous when I say I have no objection to creationism being taught in public schools.
I really mean it. The public schools are already such an educational disaster, such a frightening threat to our nation's future, and they already dispense such a load of misinformation, or non-information, that this would be like a literally divine shaft of enlightenment in comparison to much of it. And since we're already teaching Islam in public schools in California, why not give Christianity at least a little equal time?
Please just don't call it science.Posted by Rand Simberg at June 2, 2002 11:17 AM
To Tim W.
That scientific and religious ontological belief systems are in conflict is something your remarks concede when you write that "This kind of information only has an impact on 'religion' to the extent that religion has addresssed the 'how' and not the 'why'."
Do you disagree with the observation that there has been a secularizing trend evident in Western culture?
I thought the examples I chose illustrated the fact that this competition has been quite one sided over the last few centuries, and while as you point out, pronouncements on the nature of God have no philiosophical impact on science, scientific pronouncements on the nature of man and the universe do have theological implications, at least for those whose faiths cannot adapt to accomodate them.
And it's those folks, Christian biblical literalists mostly, who are insisting upon "equal time" for "intelligent design" or "creation science".
don't be an amateur mind-reader - you're not very good at it.
Are you similarly upset by the presentations of the Big Bang theory, plate tectonics, and stellar evolution?Posted by David Fleck at June 2, 2002 12:27 PM
I'm sorry, Anatoly, but your response is so confused I don't know where to begin. In the first place, you're missing the point about authority here. Making the case for why they, and not IDers, should be the authority in the biology classroom is *exactly* what these scientists are doing, and they're not pretending to do otherwise. (And no, this does not constitute an "argument from authority". I throw that in 'cause I got a baaaad feeling that you were wandering over in that direction.)
And no, they do not want their view to be presented as the default. They want it to be presented as the best explanation for the observed facts that science has yet formulated, which is exactly what it is. And the do not want ID in the classroom for the very sound reasons already listed by Rand.
Obviously I know why people care about ev. bio. more than they care about relativity theory. Thus my cynical comments about unwonted excustions into critical epistemology. That's exactly the point. Caring about the question is not a bad thing. Believing that merely caring about a question, or having an existential investment in it, entitles one to direct the science curriculum is. And worse is getting worked up about a subject while refusing to peruse any of its serious literature.
And yes, you are right that evolutionary biology is, as a historical science, an inferential science different in its methodology from physics or math. (The correct analogy is to geology, not history.) But that these sciences are done differently doesn't change the point I was making. My sentence "But what is true of biology is true of any science" was badly phrased, even in context. But I think my point should have been clear from the example in the following paragraph, so I'm not going to belabor it. (And I say that the "intellectual dishonesty" lies rather in implying that the knowledge in these fields is somehow hopelessly tentative and resting on shaky foundations.)
I have no idea what you're going on about with your claim that there is some deliberately induced, massive "ignorance and confusion" concerning the distinction between evolution and natural selection, or your meanderings on the machinations of the "propagandists". (But I'm developing the very strong suspicion that you're yet another reader of pop. ev. books who's cheesed to the gills over the likes of Mr. Richard Dawkins. You're showing the usual symptons. That many people are personally offended by the gentleman's tone and attitude is not an argument in favor of teaching ID in a science classroom.)
P.S. I made the comment about Rand because I saw (mistakenly?) some confusion between "I can't imagine any evidence" and "it's not falsifiable", which are not the same thing. The bunny is not the product of my imagination - I was just repeating J.B.S. Haldane's famous quip.
Posted by Moira at June 2, 2002 03:32 PM
Religious belief being a matter of unfalsifiable faith, no amount of arguing, proselytizing, or asserting the unprovable is going to eliminate the curiosity about things that cannot be observed or described through scientific inquiry. The only thing that will achieve it is for scientific inquiry to somehow compile everything that is knowable, and explain what to us seems inexplicable.
I submit that it's going to be a cold eon in a heat-death universe before that happens.Posted by Kevin McGehee at June 2, 2002 04:03 PM
Ken Barnes: Thank you for your response!
Yes, of course, specific religions which venture to off into the "how" of things can indeed be wrong -- your point about Catholocism and the heliocentric universe being a prime example.
And yes, I also agree that there has a been a secularising trend in western culture.
And Islam is growing quickly, too, but so what? First, if popularity equals proof, then you'd still have to concede that atheism is untenable -- its meme still only occupies 10-15% of the minds. I mean, the meme theory is cute and all, but it sounds like you're mistaking it for some kind of proof of something. The masses can be right, the masses can be wrong. A successful meme isn't necessarily one which produces an accurate model of the universe. Saying otherwise requires more "faith" than I possess since it contradicts what I personally observe!
But I feel you're missing my point, and its partly my fault for phrasing it poorly: Religion, per se, doesn't really *need* to weigh in on specific scientific theories. The heliocentric example is an obvious case: The Roman Catholic church took what was essentially a piece of poetry about the nature of God, slightly mistranslated in Latin, and took it as a scientific, cosmological pronouncement: probably not something intended by the author. (Interestingly, the verse in question actually hints at the "sphericality" of the sky, comparing it to a domed tent, but that didn't come through for cultural reasons. So its not even clear the verse was disproven, even if we *do* assume it was a scientific statement, which I personally don't.)
You also hint at the lack of conflict between science and Christianity when you refer to Christian "literalists". (Thus implying a whole mass of Christians you don't have a problem with.) Perhaps you feel that those who don't believe the world was created in seven 24-hour periods aren't authentic Christians? If so, on what authority would you base this religious pronouncement?
Sure, this specific religion or that specific religion may venture to make some scientific statement, and each such statement should be judged on its own merits, but it seems to me there's nothing about religion which *demands* that it make specific scientific predictions.
Take the one cell/two cell -- is it life? conundrum. While its certainly true that many religious individuals feel it does, I also know of adherants to the same faith who claim otherwise. The bible itself -- to my current understanding -- doesn't explicitly delineate life as beginning at one cell. Further, even if if it did, you have hardly proven the opposite: you seem to think that science has disproven that a cell could receive a soul (please note you are wandering into absurdity, and forcing me to join you, by trying to make these connections) by noting it can split: I could just as well argue that before the cell divided its creator knew it would and imbued it with two souls! Or that second soul moves into the new cell afterward and the first vacates, as skin does when sloughed off!
The truth is, these kinds of posultates are usually difficult or impossible to prove or refute scientificly.
Hence most people claim religion and science are "orthogonal".
So I think I've demonstrated that religion, per se, doesn't have to to make scientific pronouncements. Write back if you disagree.
Now, am I also saying that Christianity, a specific religion, is 100% without statements which have an impact on the "real" universe? No, of course not. (Deism is closer to being a "pure" religion in this sense.) But I personally have yet to see serious conflict on an issue which truly, unambiguously an overall Christian doctrine.
Take one postulate: God created the heavens and the earth. As you hint, some believe this happened in 7x24 hours, yet others (Christians!) believe this is a misreading of the language -- much as with the heliocentric case. But as a whole, all Christians I am aware of subscribe to "God created the heavens and the earth."
Is this untestable? Not entirely: we can do various tests to determine if we think the universe has always existed, and thus attempt to *disprove* the postulate. And to the extent that we can do so, we find, no the universe has NOT always existed -- which apparently disproves the beliefs of a lot of 19th century scientists -- but yet fails to prove "God created the heavens and the earth". Its merely consistant.
Of course, we must understand there are limits to our knowledge and be careful to respond, as we must with any past event, it terms of "extremely likely" or "unlikely". And understand, in humility, that future discoveries can always overturn current knowledge.
But I don't personally see any major conflicts between even this specific religion and science.
But recall you argued in the abstract: "science and religion", not "Christianity and science."Posted by at June 2, 2002 04:08 PM
Rallying point: Reality Check, Yourself!
You say: "Science and religion are incomptable." Great, you're throwing out an axiom, but where's the beef? I mean, the existing evidence I see is against you: Most physicists, even guys like Steven Hawking, have some form of religious belief. Carl Sagan did too, though it was certainly not Judaism! So you can't mean it culturally.
Do you mean that science has disproven every possible religion? That would certainly be an arrogant statement! I personally don't see that either, since I couldn't possibly be familliar with that much scientific knowledge *and* religious belief...
So you whip off this postulate which appears to contradict the universe I know, and I'm just supposed to stand and salute? I'm sorry, I don't have that much "faith" -- what you claim appears to be contradicted by what I see. I'm glad you have faith to believe in things that appear so unlikely, but I don't share your religion.
Then you come out with this whopper: "Morality should be based on objective reality, not religion or evolution." Okay, objects fall at ~9.8 m/sec squared. What morality do we draw from this? E = mc^2. What moral value to we have there? The universe appears to be about 16-20 billion years old. What's does that say about how you treat your neighbor?
And then you profess a metaphysical assumption (God does not exist) as if it were some sort of fait accompli.
C'mon, plug the brain in before the fingers start typing... many of the people posting here -- from all belief systems -- are thinking pretty hard about what they have to say. Don't embarass yourself this way in front of them; or embarass them by professing their beliefs (nor mine!) in such a poorly-argued fashion.Posted by Tim W at June 2, 2002 04:29 PM
As a general response to this argument, why is it that religious types still have such a hard time with the concept of the absence of religion? Evolution is not a "religion" and should not be referred to as such, especially when discussing it in opposition to ID. Along these same lines, I refuse to answer 'atheist' to the question of my religion. Not every 'belief system' (or whatever you want to call it) needs to be put in the framework of 'religion,' and there are a lot of people out there yet to figure this out.Posted by Kelly Hulme at June 2, 2002 05:04 PM
"I'm sorry, Anatoly, but your response is so confused I don't know where to begin. In the first place, you're missing the point about authority here. Making the case for why they, and not IDers, should be the authority in the biology classroom is *exactly* what these scientists are doing, and they're not pretending to do otherwise. "
**Of course** authority in the **biology** classroom properly belongs to evolution and not creationism, and of course ID is a pernicious attempt to circumvent that, and of course biologists are fighting that attempt, and of course they're right to do so.
My point was about schooling in general, not the particular setting of a biology classroom. I claimed that frequent pronouncements of the kind "we'd really be fine with creationism if it's taught to schoolchildren, but NOT as science" are
If you don't see my point and are going to accuse me again of denying that scientists primarily talk of biology classroom and science lessons, just forget it then. It's not that important.
"(And no, this does not constitute an "argument from authority". I throw that in 'cause I got a baaaad feeling that you were wandering over in that direction.)"
Actually, you already agreed that this constitudes an "argument from authority", when you said upthread that no real understanding of evolution, much less a convincing proof of it, can be given in a public classroom. What this means is precisely that expositions of evolution in biology classrooms are largely based on an argument from authority. The authority of science.
You shouldn't feel bad about it, really. I don't, anyway. The use of this particular argument from authority is well-justified.
Teachers who explain evolution to schoolchildren inevitably appeal to the authority of science.
There're two arguments from authority here, but ours if vastly better and more benefitial than theirs.
"They want it to be presented as the best explanation for the observed facts that science has yet formulated, which is exactly what it is. "
Fine. Please cite for me the biology textbook for schoolchildren where evolution is presented as "the best explanation for the observed facts that science has yet formulated", with the appropriate explanation that it may be wrong (recall Popper) and without any attempt to portray it as _fact_ in the quite literal sense of the word. For all I know, such textbooks may exist and I'm unaware of them. I'll gladly accept that you're right on this point then.
"(The correct analogy is to geology, not history.)"
I stand by my analogy as the more illuminating one in this case.
"But that these sciences are done differently doesn't change the point I was making. "
I disagree with that (and as possible evidence I offer the simple fact that despite many people's intellectual investment into the idea that the Universe was created about 6,000 years ago, there're no significant attempts I'm aware of to challenge parts of the cirriculum in the *physics* classroom that directly contradict that).
"(And I say that the "intellectual dishonesty" lies rather in implying that the knowledge in these fields is somehow hopelessly tentative and resting on shaky foundations.)"
I say it lies both in that, and in pretending that the knowledge in these fields is as solid as in theoretical physics or (worse yet) mathematics. However, the first kind of dishonesty is not as appalling to me because I don't expect intellectual dishonesty from IDers to begin with. I do expect it from defenders of evolution, hence my frustration.
"I have no idea what you're going on about with your claim that there is some deliberately induced, massive "ignorance and confusion" concerning the distinction between evolution and natural selection,"
Let me spell it out then:
Many people who consider themselves defenders of evolution and science are massively ignorant on such basic issues as methodological differences between evolution on one hand and natural selection as the primary explanatory mechanism of evolution on the other. They're not aware that evolution was a scientific consensus for some time before Darwin. They do not understand the differences between evidence for evolution and evidence for natural selection being its primary mechanism, and confuse between the two. Many popular books on evolution contribute to such confusion, not through any deliberate malice of course.
"or your meanderings on the machinations of the "propagandists"."
Fine, ignore them then.
"P.S. I made the comment about Rand because I saw (mistakenly?) some confusion between "I can't imagine any evidence" and "it's not falsifiable", which are not the same thing."
Yes, I believe that Rand is confused in precisely such a manner. Nevertheless, he did state that whatever evidence that could appear would not convince him. I'm aware of the bunny's origins.Posted by Anatoly at June 2, 2002 05:19 PM
"However, the first kind of dishonesty is not as appalling to me because I don't expect intellectual dishonesty from IDers to begin with. "
Should be "don't expect intellectual honesty" of course, my bad.
Yours is precisely the argument of an ignorant atheist who's really about as well-informed as an ignorant religious fundamentalist.Posted by Anatoly at June 2, 2002 05:24 PM
Kelly: Hmmm... funny, I see it the opposite way.
It all depends on your definition of terms. If you define "Religion" as "a belief in God" (which some dictionaries do -- so it must be right!) then yes, of course, atheism is not a religion.
Of course, that's the only definition in which atheism is not a religion: Theism religion.
However, then we'd also conclude that Buddhism, Confusianism, polytheism, and various new age beliefs aren't religions either, since none of these believe in "a God" per se.
So I, and many others, tend to go with the definition that makes sense of this situation, and still allows Buddism to be a religion: A religion is a set of one or more unprovable metaphysical or supernatural beliefs.
Atheism is certainly one of those, as it makes categorial, definitive, and inhertantly untestable statements about things located outside the known physical universe.
Which is not a very rational thing to do, but, hey, its no worse than anybody else's behavior...
Okay, ball's in your court, Kelly.Posted by Tim W at June 2, 2002 05:28 PM
To the person with no name, the important part about the Catholic Church's adherence to the heliocentric model isn't where they derived it or whether they did so defectively. What makes it matter is that they had set themselves up as arbiters of reality, that they and only they had all the answers. Anyone who presented a contradictory view would have their livelihood or life threatened.
This level of control was one of the reasons the Protestants were such a threat. Translating the bible from Latin into languages regular folks might actually be able to read made it possible for non-clergy todecide for themselves what God had said.
This was a rather more dire situation than we face today but the basics are same. If you want control over the population you start with children. To allow the teaching of a model of reality incompatible with your mythology is giving an advantage to the competition.
When humans find themselves in competing factions it's easy for them to lose objectivity (if they started with any) and resort to a winner take all attitude. So we end up with bitter battles over what will be taught as fact while losing the importance of teaching children to understanding how the information was derived and why mastering that methodology is more impowering than just the information. What makes many scientists despair is that even in schools where no trace of Creationism is found there is little Science taught. Lots of scientifically derived information but not Science itself.
Most scientists concerned about the future of their field don't need a populace's heads stuffed with agrable info. They need a new generation trained in the ability to usefully derived new information regardless of whether they agree or disagree with their forebears.Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 2, 2002 06:56 PM
Tim, I don't completely disagree with you but I'd suggest there is a great gulf between religion and philosophy. To me the difference has always been that religions invoke supernatural elements as metaphors (gods are handy as undeniable authority figures when needed for the narrative)and threats, like "believe this or Puzuzu will crawl up your hiney and eat your liver."
Philosophy tends to be pure argument without reliance on supernatural elements. Philosophies can be utter nonsense but generally the nonsense of sophistry rather claiming exclusive knowledge handed down by an invisible friend.
I do not regard myself as having a religion. I have certain sympathies for Judaism largely because those intersted in killing Jews don't much care if you're observant or not. If my standards of behavior could sufficiently regularised long enough to hold still and be given a label I'd find that label listed under philosophies.
If we cannot recognize that difference hten how much of a leap is it to include political pursuations, as these are often directly informed by religious and philosophical beliefs. Certainly the major parties have their icons and prophets. If the IRS is listening this might make them nervous.Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 2, 2002 07:15 PM
Ken, I think it is a characteristic of evil people that they are always looking for new excuses to avoid consequences for their behavior and to manipulate others into doing their dirty work.
I've always thought the greatest innovation of the Communists was to inspire people who thought they weren't religious, even anti-religious, to go out on murder sprees that would garner the envy of any Crusader. It perhaps is helpful to observe that Stalin seminary training before he decided that if made up his own God then he could be Pope and do whatever he wanted. Change God's name to State and it worked swell!Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 2, 2002 07:25 PM
Certainly the number of adherents of a particular viewpoint has no bearing on the truth or falsity of that idea (atheists, as you say, are almost obligated to point that out).
My point in invoking memetics was simply to illustrate the adaptation that's taking place among religious people in response to secular pressures arising from the success of science, and its attendant influences on secular philosophy. Religious belief, in that sense, is itself "evolving". And looking at the history of religion, it's also been known (thanks to schisms) to undergo "speciation".
Since this is a discussion about "intelligent design" or "scientific creationism", I was actually making a subtle point, perhaps too subtly. The Christian biblical literalists I referred to are those promulgating ID or creationism, and I cast no aspersions on the authenticity of their faith, only their foray into science. The subtle point was, those religious believers who are not flexible in adapting to modernity, or to science, are the ones who feel their memes most in danger, and perhaps their apprehensions are justified.
Religion and science, as philosophical systems, I agree theoretically _ought_ to be considered orthogonal, but that's often not the case in practice.
As you commented on my introduction of the cloning debate into this discussion, I'll add a little more, noting that you seem to have overlooked my earlier disclaimer,
Personally, I hadn't thought about the implications of twinning on "ensoulment" but since you brought it up, I wonder why people of faith don't argue that because embryos can become more than one person, they should be considered of greater moral weight, rather than less. If one grants that single cell embryos have some fraction of the moral value of a human life, it seems logical that their status as potential twins at later stages should add to that moral value, shouldn't it?
Anyway, biotechnological developments like human cloning do have moral implications, and hence religious implications as well, and add to the secular pressures on religious memes which must be adapted to. Once we start specifying the genetic inheritance of our offspring directly, some will certainly argue that we have transgressed God's authority.
Eric, regarding the heliocentric model as a mechanism for control, and loss of objectivty: Oh, yes, absolutely! I agree completely! Well put!Posted by Tim W at June 2, 2002 10:00 PM
Eric, responding to me:
I hear you differentiating "religion" from "philosophy" as primarily a matter of tone and threats. Interesting! Certainly, its a personal definition, so I can't say "right" or "wrong", but if I'd had to, I'd suggest that what you say is probably the image in a lot of other people's minds as well.
While its probably not an uncommon way of thinking about it, I'd suggest it might not be sufficient "rigorous" to avoid conflict: I mean, there's a lot "non-threatening" religions out there which don't invoke specific dieties (Buddhism, and somewhat also Bahaists). And perhaps I could lump Scientology in there, but its definitely an odd case.
Confusianism would stand the relabelling though, but that's about the only one I can think of...
Thank you for stating your own beliefs candidly. I'm honestly honored.
And if the IRS is listening, I'm sure this would make them *confused*. ;-)Posted by Tim W at June 2, 2002 10:09 PM
Reply to Ken Barnes:
You have an interesting way of thinking. You definitely seem to appreciate a certain form and structure in your arguments -- I've been tempted repeated to respond to your comments about the speed of light and morality: something nicely symmetric there, even if the facts are slightly off, as best we understand them this month. (Speed of light recently not a constant, apparently, wouldn't know how to derive morality from even if so. ;-)
Yes, I agree that in practice they're often no regarded as orthogonal: and (I suspect we don't disagree here) I notice plenty of blame on both sides. Sadly. (Heh, if only all were as open-minded as *we* were. ;-)
Intersting point about the "ensoulment": In truth, I think there's quite a number of options a "person of faith" could espouse, including split then add extra soul, mulitples assigned up front, or delaying "soul aquisition" 'till some point later in the developmental process. So there's no specific argument she would be obliged to espouse: its a tad into the "angels dancing on pins" territory, save for the possible gravity of the question.
And yes, I completely agree: biotechnical development like cloning *do* raise ethical and moral questions, in which we turn to our personal philosophies/religions for direction, but its still important to note that the quandry exists in our minds: not in the facts per se.
(I personally believe in a slight caveat to this, but its not worth explaining here.)Posted by Tim W at June 2, 2002 10:30 PM
Ken Barnes, regarding "religious evolution":
(Sorry for the fine-grained responses I'm posting here.) Certainly, a lot of people feel religion must "evolve or die". But I guess while we're getting into personal statements of belief, I'll hazard one of my own: I don't see it that way at all.
Consider something like Christianity. If false, of course, we can dismiss it out of hand. But if it is, or wants to be, what it claims to be -- a description of some set of immutable, transcendant truths -- then it has no business whatsoever in "evolving". In fact, if we were looking for a "true religion", one of the characteristics of it would be that it *could not* evolve, lest it be clearly revealed as "man creating God" and not "God creating man".
(Note that I'm not saying one's understanding couldn't shift: but it must be plausable given the object of understanding, just as scientists shift beliefs and then discover, yes, that the new interpretation is also consistent with the data which has always been there... oh and a few conflicts are now resolved...)
If a God does exist, then "people of faith" have nothing to fear from (honest!) science, because that God would have created everything that is. In fact, it would be fair to say: "All truth is God's truth", which was, in fact, the philosophy of the earliest scientists, and is still shared today by many physicists today...
Last fine-grained response to Ken Barnes:
Regarding "transgressing God's authority" via genetic engineering: Actually, I think one could argue that line was crossed the moment people discovered contraception. I don't personally believe this, but I'm just pointing out the argument is consistent.
Regarding "false absolutism": While I personally share your revulsion for both abortion-clinic bombers and Islamic Wahabism, I'd like to challege your use of the phrase "false absolutism".
What gives you the authority to use this phrase? What revelation have you received whereby you can pronounce their flavor of absolutism "false"? Do you claim to know the real "absolute morality"?
Or are you claiming there is no possible moral authority, no moral absolutes? If so, then you prove the opposite by contradiction: You have assumed no absolutes exist, which is of course a absolute statement in itself, and found yourself in a contradiction, thus logically proving the opposite: an absolute must exist.
So how can you use the phrase "false absolute"?
I doubt this will be read at this point, but in _A New Kind of Science_ , Stephen Wolfram agrees with one of the main tenents of ID-ers, that random searches (evolution) can't give rise to the complexity we see in organisms. In fact, he argues that evolution actually operates to increase the *simplicity* of organisms. Of course, he goes on to show that cellular automata can give rise to complexity without need of recourse to ID.
The main problem with the ID argument is that it's a "god of the gaps" - taking some aspect of a problem that currently has no good solution (complexity in natural systems) and positing "something" as the catch-all explanation, when it's simply a gap in the theory, and someone - like Stephen Wolfram - will go ahead and fill it with a disprovable hypothesis.Posted by at June 3, 2002 12:09 AM
er, apologies, my name seems to have been et in the preview process.Posted by mindlace at June 3, 2002 12:11 AM
(We're probably the only ones still reading at this point, but here goes...)
On memetic evolution and Christianity:
In suppose there's something to be said for the simplicity of fundamentalism, but if one considers reason a gift from God and humility as a tenet of faith, one must be willing to acknowledge that both the received understanding of scripture and one's own understanding of it might be wrong. God's moral law hasn't changed or evolved, but just as in science where one assumes that theories which account for more observations are more accurate, one can get a closer approximation of that presumed objective reality over time.
When I accused those who use violence as an instrument of "religious" coercion of practicing false absolutism, I was doing so based on both their own moral traditions (to my knowledge, the Quran explicitly prohibits intentional slaughter of women and children in military operations, and the biblical example of Jesus shows that homicide is certainly far from Christlike), as well as my own understanding of morality. You may have guessed from my criticism of moral relativism that I hold certain moral truths to be self-evident (to borrow a phrase).
I rereading your comments, I find that we seem to be in essential agreement. So what were we arguing about again? :)Posted by Ken Barnes at June 3, 2002 03:50 AM
I haven't read Wolfram's new book, so I'm interested in what he means by "evolution is a random search". (I'm assuming he's not making the common mistake of thinking that evolution by natural selection is random.)
That evolution can simplify organisms is not a new idea; there are abundant examples of this.Posted by Moira at June 3, 2002 06:31 AM
And if the IRS is listening, I'm sure this would make them *confused*. ;-)
I brought that up thinking about what it would do to tax status if political parties could claim to be religions.
I'm one of those strongly in favor of taxing either no one or everyone in a progressive fashion. Legitimate religious organizations wouldn't feel any great bite while some of the most loathsome people on Earth would feel it in a big way and would have to go looking for a new scam.Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 3, 2002 06:32 AM
Outdated Conversation, so I'll be brief.
Nothing new to add but a trivial factoid. I saw mentioned the doctrinal underpinnings of the geocentric worldview. In case you're curious, here's how that happened:
Dante's Divine Comedy essentially came to occupy a pseudo-canonical position in the Renaissance Christian world. It's cosmology is quite complex, and mostly recapitulated earlier understandings of the world. In it the world IS round (it's a totaly myth that Columbus discovered... though not necessarily that he PROVED it). The cosmos is a series of nested spheres. The heavens spin around the earth. Earth lies in the center, and initially had no connection to Heaven. When Lucifer led the revolt of angels, God cast him out of heaven and into the Earth. As he fell, he created a vast chasm which came to be hell. The material displaced from this fall created a large mountain on the far side of the world (Purgatory) creating a bridge between Earth and Heaven. Souls would travel to the opposite end of the globe and ascend Mount Purgatory in order to reach heaven. This cosmology perfectly matched the known scientific facts of the day. It fit in nicely with the Ptolemaic cosmology and explained why the horizon had curvature. It also explained what was above and what was below.
Until new facts arose, and the whole situation became rather untenable. Religious minds (hell, even scientific minds) were slow to adapt to the new reality. To this day, many are unsettled by not knowing where exactly their God IS. We've got some new facts. But look to the human mind to start throwing some bombshells at it.
Evolution (and the Big Bang too...) fit the facts quite nicely. The biggest beef of the ID crowd is that they DON'T believe it fits the facts nicely. It's a difference of opinion. It MUST be accidental vs. it MIGHT be accidental vs. it CAN'T be accidental. I don't know. Accidents happen.Posted by Geoff at June 3, 2002 04:04 PM
Egads, its the conversation which would not die! :-)
Responding to Ken Barnes: Yes, so far it does see like we're having the proverbial "violent agreement".
I think the only outstanding issue I can see is that I still don't understand how you can use the phrase "false absolute". I mean, you're claiming to not be a relativist (and hey, I think that's a lot healthier than absolute relativism), yet it seems that you're saying that there are moral absolutes which are true because they seem evident to you. (Not me, though.)
Doesn't that really boil down to relativism? I mean, you are ultimately just appealing to your own feelings...
Just curious!Posted by Tim W at June 3, 2002 07:17 PM
Eric: I personally feel a flat, or any more simple tax for that matter, which takes a bit less, would be fair for all parties. But my, we have gone far afield! :-)Posted by Tim W at June 3, 2002 07:20 PM
Geoff: I'm not saying you're wrong. But I will point out that invoking "accidents happen" assumes the conclusion you're trying to prove.Posted by Tim W at June 3, 2002 07:23 PM
can i have a brief explaination about nuclear physics and its compartments with photo
"We have to develop a morality based on what kind of society we want to have today--not one that we had in the savannah of Africa a few thousand years ago (to which, to first order, we remain physically adapted). I don't claim to know what the source of this moral order should be, but it should emphatically not be the mindlessness of our genes."
I think we have to develop morality based on the FUTURE we want to have. The present only leads to usury and wasted resources. Schroedinger came up with a good description of Life as anti-entropy. I think that is the best way to determine morality. 'Net' creativity. Even gods have this purpose, that's why they are called 'Creator', and from the religious standpoint, we are in that image. From a natural standpoint, we are in that image. Our purpose is to create more structure in the universe than we use up in raw materials. Thus, having 13 children isn't net creative if those children aren't fed and educated to develop the world around them into a friendly place for their offspring. Same goes with any behavior questions.
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