Archive for the ‘intelligent design’ Category

Is “Theistic Evolution” better than Creationism?

May 16, 2007

I’ve been reading PZ Myers‘ blog Pharyngula for a while now. If you don’t read it, you should. It’s wonderful. I usually find myself agreeing with Myers on most issues. Recently I’ve found a topic that I can disagree with him on. Strangely, it involves Mitt Romney.

My claim, hotly disputed by Myers is that it is (vastly) preferable to have someone understand the science of an issue (evolution in this case) than to dismiss the science and embrace superstition (god did it).

Now, it’s pretty easy to figure out that in a battle of wits with Myers I’m effectively unarmed, however I just don’t see where he’s coming from on this one.

He followed up with another post requesting clarification from his readers. He wants to understand their viewpoint because there was a significant number of dissenting opinions. That’s one of the things I love about scientists. You think I’m wrong? Show me how and I’ll believe you.

Anyway, I think Myers is wrong because he’s looking at the issue in black and white terms. Myers says that pandering to any form of religious nonsense is a slippery slope. He seems to be worried about some future world where theistic evolution is accepted and merged into ID. In the hypothesized ensuing court cases evolution somehow gets chased out of our education system and god gets let back in.

I’m not trying to caricature his argument. I have immense respect for his opinions and writing. I’m just not understanding him on this issue.

The point I would make is that it might be better to view science and religion as orthogonal for the sake of this discussion. Let me be clear here, I’m not advocating Gould‘s non overlapping magisteria position. I don’t agree with Gould on that one, I think science will eventually be able to address the questions that Gould believed were out of reach. However, in my disagreement with Myers, it becomes much simpler to determine whether an understanding and acceptance of evolution is to be preferred over literal biblical creationism. I think in all cases and places such an understanding is vastly preferable to superstitious nonsense.

I’m arguing for an incremental approach to the “education” of the religious population in this country. I claim that it’s naive and foolish to think that continually ignoring people’s faith is going to get us anywhere. It’s not. I think we need to lead people towards critical thinking and an understanding of science in a way that doesn’t threaten their faith. This allows religious people to gain a better understanding of the world they live in without the fear that their faith will be ripped away.

The argument hinges on one key point: increased understanding of the natural world, including evolutionary theory, will necessarily lead to a decrease in superstitious and religious thought. Throughout history, god has been invoked to explain all manner of natural phenomena. As science inexorably marches forward, superstitions have been relegated to deeper and darker corners of human discourse. I’m not saying they’re gone, but very few people, for example, worship the sun any more (George Carlin being a notable exception).

When people understand enough science and the method behind scientific progress, religion is in trouble. The other component needed to crush religion is the skill of critical thinking (disappointingly rare) but that will need to be discussed further elsewhere.

In summary, theistic evolution as espoused by Romney is preferable to creationism because it accepts scientific research as the only valid way to understand nature. Sure, it tacks on some superstition and it would be better if the superstition could be removed altogether but this is a good intermediate step. If we head down this path, we at least have a chance to move toward a world without superstition and religion. If we continue to gnash our teeth and denounce anything that even vaguely mentions god, we just can’t make any forward progress. People are too threatened by it.

This is a battle we should fight. It’s a battle we can win. It certainly won’t be the end of the struggle for rationality, but it’s a sensible, practical and, above all, a useful step for us to take.

Sorry PZ, you’re going to have to work harder to convince me I’m wrong.

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Lies, damned lies and Christians

April 19, 2007

There’s been a feeling building in me over the last few months that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I figured it out recently; a whole bunch of Christians are completely, utterly full of shit. They lie. They lie like it’s their fucking job. Maybe it is.

The first stage of me figuring this out was to realize that I reacted in a very strong negative way to certain writings and speeches by Christians. At first I really thought that maybe I was just reacting negatively because I disagreed with them. At first I thought that maybe they were just honestly mistaken. Then I saw the video by Ken Miller about the ID movement and its collapse. Ken is a devout Roman Catholic which would seem to put him squarely among the class of people that I disagree with most often. Then, however, I realized that I loved listening to him speak and respected his opinions.

How could this be? I thought about it for a while but couldn’t quite nail it down. Possibly I just liked him because he understands evolution and explains it well (he’s a fantastic speaker, I highly recommend checking out his work). That didn’t quite seem to explain it completely, but I moved on. I started reading a book called Misquoting Jesus, given to me by a friend. In it, the author, Bart D. Ehrman starts out as a fundamentalist evangelical “crazy” Christian. I mean, he goes to the Moody Bible Institute at one point. The MBI might be the place where you’ll find more religious nutbaggery than anywhere else on Earth. If it’s not, it’s certainly a contender. His book chronicles his quest to discover the text in the original versions of the Christian gospels.

Anyway, so I’m reading Mr. Ehrman’s words and they’re not grating on me like religious tripe normally does and I couldn’t figure out why. The writing was light, quick and humorous which is rare in such a scholarly work. It was just a good read and I was having no bad reactions. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks; Ehrman cares about what’s true! He knows that the current form of the bible isn’t what was originally written down. He wants to know what was originally written down. I find this quest admirable. Ehrman says at one point that knowing the inspired word of god was written down is wonderful, but given that those words have changed over time, how inspired are they now? Doesn’t it actually matter what god originally said rather than what fallible humans have written in the intervening 2,000 years? Of course it does.

He highlights a couple of very interesting places that scholars know that large tracts were added. They can wait for a more detailed review of his book. I’ll do that at some stage. Regardless, the godless and faithheads alike should read it, it’s a simply wonderful analysis. You’ll learn things.

Anyway, back to me for a second 😉 I have this dawning realization that I seem to not object to Christian claims when the claims are made by people who care about what’s true. This leads me back to the video of Ken Miller and the discussion about the Kitzmiller trial.

Miller recounts how, during the trial, it was exposed that as a result of a ruling in 1989, Creationism “textbooks” were altered to be Intelligent Design “textbooks”. In some cases this was done using search and replace. I’ve come to understand that this bothers me for a number of reasons:

1) It’s dishonest

2) It borders on illegal

3) It involves denying (or at least hiding) god

I did a little more investigation into the people involved with the ID case and found the Discovery Institue. I won’t link to it. Their articles just instantly started making me angry, although now I know why; it’s because they do not care about the truth.

Even the names of their websites and organizations are dishonest: Evolution News and the Discovery Institute. Evolution News is a bunch of people making ridiculous claims about evolution being wrong. The Discovery Institute is basically a religious organization promoting the teaching of creationism. The dishonesty is in how these people portray themselves. It sickens me. For fuck’s sake, be up front about it. They want to teach creationism but they hide behind this disgraceful veneer of ID.

The first article I came across while trawling Evolution News was by Michael Egnor. It is entitled “What if Darwinism were true”. The title sounds promising until you realize the nuanced meaning contained in the term Darwinism. Darwinism is a manifestation of yet another dirty trick used by ID proponents. I call it the “you’re just as silly as us maneuver”. I think that deep down (some deeper than others 😉 ) most religious people know that they’re on shaky logical ground. They know that they can’t coherently explain the things they believe because the things they believe don’t cohere all that well. So, with varying degrees of subtlety they imply that Darwinism is like a religion. “See you believe a bunch of crazy shit, just like us!” It’s transparent and tacky, but it’s used all the time. A great example is the debate between McGrath and Atkins recently where McGrath continually insisted that atheism is a “faith”. Or this recent article by David Klinghoffer. Do these people not understand that they’re denigrating their own faith by doing this? Sheesh.

Believe what you want, just make sure you care what’s true. And to the ID clowns out there; when you talk about an intelligent designer but deny that you mean god, you’re actually denying god his due. Don’t sweat that too much though, it’s been done before.

The collapse of intelligent design

April 1, 2007

I just watched a video entitled “The Collapse of Intelligent Design”. It contains a lecture style presentation by Ken Miller, a Professor from Brown University. The video is well worth the investment of time to watch. Professor Miller eviscerates the ID movement with a lot of brilliant analysis.

It is worth noting that Ken Miller is a devout Roman Catholic. He is confident in his faith and comfortable reconciling his belief with his understanding of evolution. Kudos to him for being a modern, intelligent Christian. The world could use more people like him.  In the course of his remarks, he touched on morality and how the ID movement equates  acceptance of evolution with denial of any moral foundation.  This is so stupid that it will require a future post all of its own.

Miller was involved in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial in 2005. The case that the ID people together was simply laughable and, reassuringly, laughter is the response it got in court. The ID crowd were simply destroyed. The memorandum of opinion is an interesting read. In places it’s a mind blowing indictment of the ID concept and many of its proponents. Judge Jones does not hold back. Given his conservative outlook, the condemnation from Jones is quite stunning.

Even beyond the shudder inducing stupidity of the ID movement, it’s their blatant lies that bother me most. I really enjoy the fact that the trial exposed the outright dishonesty of this crowd. For supposedly Christian people, they sure lie a hell of a lot. Then again, based on their holy book, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

To me, two of the most interesting quotes came in the Q&A session after Miller’s presentation.

Miller explains that science and religion are not at odds:

I do think that most people within the scientific community have come to accept the notion that one can be a genuinely religious person in the traditional Abrahamic sense and still be fully accepting of science as a way to learn about the natural world.

and follows up with a jab at James Watson (in response to a question) for his narrow view of the world:

He may see no place for god in his view of the world. I do. That means we differ on matters of philosophy and theology but I don’t think it necessarily means we differ on matters of science.

I love these comments because they demonstrate true rationality. Miller is basically saying that he knows god exists and that he knows science is the best way to understand god’s creation. Obviously, I think Miller is wrong about god. That being said, I admire Miller a great deal and would love to hear him speak in person. I think I’ll also be buying his recent books. I hope they’re as much fun as his speaking.