Wednesday, November 02, 2005

defeating darwinism

Another blogger (and friend) commented that I seemed to display some hostility toward Christianity. I'm a little ashamed to say he might be right. I actually don't feel hostility toward Christians in general but I do have hostility toward the anti-education and anti-science types that make this kind of book:

I don't know what the Korean title is, and I couldn't read the book itself, so I have to judge the book by it's cover. Update: Johnson's book 'Defeating Darwinism...' is well known in evolution/creation circles and reviews and critiques of the English version are easy to find.

The book is written by Philip Johnson and my understanding is that he is more interested in closing minds and shutting curiousity down than opening anything. Christians like him try to give science a bad name and end up making people like me hostile toward the religion. I can't say that Johnson lies in the book but the critique above gives an example of 'quote mining'; using elipses and selectively quoting someone to make him argue against themself.

Perhaps you have heard the expression; 'Sports create good sportsmanship'. The expression is true but sports also create bad sportsmanship. The former is to be lauded; the latter to be criticized.

The same is true for religion. Christians like Philip Johnson need to remember not to 'bear false witness' and be examplars for their religion or stop damaging the religion they claim to love and follow.

Ironically, I found the same comment describing a Alan Bonsell and the other defendants in the Kitzmiller Vs Dover case. Argento is saying that since the defendants lied, they must not be Christians so their requirement that Intelligent Design be taught isn't religiously motivated.

... school board members can use this to defend against the charge that they were motivated by religious belief in introducing intelligent design or creationism into the biology curriculum. If they were motivated by religion, how come none of them ever heard of the Ninth Commandment — you know, the one about bearing false witness?


skindleshanks said...

I'll agree with you that science
I spent a large part of my (private Christian)high school career butting heads with my creationist teacher, not so much on the theories behind creationism (he was a six-day creationist who was, in my opinion, fairly unscientific), but with the way he dismissed evolution without giving it fair and scientific consideration. I came out with a deep dislike for most creationists, and mainly wondering what scientists on both sides of the fence were doing, prognosticating about phenomena that were neither observable nor repeatable.

Browsing through the responses to the current lawsuit by the evolutionary community (such as talkorigins), I see the same level of (dare I say) religious zeal and irrational arguments. Okay, so maybe a lot of the supporters of intelligent design may be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, or what have you. Most of the supporters of evolution may be secular humanists, athiests, Buddhists, or may have any number of philosophical backgrounds that predispose them to their particular theory of origins (or lack thereof). What does that have to do with science? Not much, so why is it a big deal?

(Well, the US has this separation of Church and State, so if one can prove an idea is associated with religion, then its out. I understand the historical basis for the law, but it's rather arbitrary and extreme, isn't it? Religious belief is an important of most people's lives--why should it be excluded from education. You could make a law that declared the separation of culture and state (the intended purpose being to not prefer one culture over another in a multicultural society). Well, that would cut a big section out of the history, social studies, and literature textbooks, wouldn't it?)

One of the reasons I avoided the scientific field despite having nearly perfect marks in the sciences throughout high school was because I believed that many of those involved in higher learning were so biased against anyone who might approach the evolutionary camp with a critical mind. It does seem to me that one may but whisper the word "design," and they are imediately ostracized and ridiculed.

However, I have met several biology majors who don't consider themselves to be religious, but they do find the notions of evolution (everything happening by chance) a little hard to believe. Of course, I'm sure they kept their doubts suppressed during their exams!

I wasn't ready for that kind of hypocrisy, and I felt that the inevitable battle wasn't worth fighting my whole career over, so that is why I am now an English teacher, and enjoy studying in fields where new approaches and critical thinking are welcomed.

I am a Chrstian, but I also try to avoid dogmatic religious groups like the one that ran my high school (they also taught that the King James Bible was authoritative even on points of grammar. (Unfortunately, I was not astute enough in Grade 9 to use proof texts to argue that my use of "and" and "but" at the beginning of sentences was grammatically correct!)

All that to say, although I tend to favour ID as a theory (one which is not necessarily at odds with evolution in some senses), I don't see that there is a "moral high ground" on either side.

kwandongbrian said...

Talk Origins is where I get my basic information these days. Many of the pro-evolution posters there are Christians (I noticed tht wasn't on your list).

Perhaps part of the problem is thinking that evolution works entirely by chance. As part of natural selection, chance accounts for about half. The other part, so often ignored by critics, is selection. Selection is a statistical event and so may be random for any one individual but when populations are observed, is not related to chance.

ID might be stronger theory, if only there were a theory. Right now, as in the Dover case, the defendants were probably using ID to sneak religion into school. Most of the pro-ID organizations in the US are fronts for religion. This doesn't have to be the case. I suppose that a scientist could look at the problem with no preconceptions and find ID to be acceptable even without thinking that the designer is the Christian God.

However, the current problem with ID is that it has no theory, no guidelines. There is no way to currently test for design. If the designer designed everything, dirt should look designed. If the designer only designed some things, what were they?

It seems that Behe (in the Dover trial) admitted that ID (or his version) is only a theory if you change the meaning of the word theory. He admitted on the record that to change the word 'theory' to fit ID would also allow astrology to be called a scientific theory.

Currently, we cannot show a perfect line from the first living thing to humans or any other currently living organism. However, we can show how some things evolved. An example I just read about is how arthropod gills became insect wings. Dinosaurs to birds is fairly well documented. so, what did the designer do? Design some things, come back and design diffent things, notice that news things had arisen but design other stuff?

To say the designer designed everything that science can not explain is to have the designer shrink every year. Behe said science could not explain bacteria flagela (SP?). Now science can. Behe said blood clotting was unexplainable. Now it is. "I don't know" means "I don't know", not "God did it".

skindleshanks said...

Thanks for your response. For the reasons I mentioned above, I haven't engaged in any in-depth study of current scientific research, but it does seem evident that what you say is true, that there is not a coherent theory of ID. I think that is one reason, perhaps, that there should be some openness to it.

To put it simply, is it not possible (and helpful) to consider that there may be more than one interpretation of the available data?

To use the most popular ID argument, one finds a Swiss watch among a pile of other things on the beach and says, this is amazing, the elements in the sea have come together to produce this watch (and perhaps begins to notice other items that may form developmental links or what have you). His friend says, this is terrible, there's been a shipwreck, and his other friend says, some rich guy has lost his watch!

Now I'll agree that this analogy isn't completely fair to evolution (as you said, evolution claims only about 50% chance). However, one must admit that there are a number of plausible, possible explanations of how the watch got there.

There was a time when a large majority of the scientific world was quite certain that the world was flat, and the state (which in the west encompassed the church as well) dictated that alternative theories were dangerous to society. I can only wonder what these trials in the US might look like in history books 500 years from now. In that perspective, maybe everyone would approach their scientific investigation with a little more humility.

My uncle is a cosmologist who has been an influential part of some major paradigm shifts in his field. He is a Christian, and seems to experience an enviable level of freedom in his work and research. He explains his theory of ID in this way: You can study a circle painted on a canvas for hours without knowing where it began or where it ended, or how exactly it was drawn. It is really a useless point to debate. However, one can say with fair certainty that there was a painter, and that there was a point of beginning and a point of ending. The role of science, is to discover and describe the intricacy and beauty of the painting.
(I'm not sure if he would agree with his mentor Hawking that the painter may someday be mathematically described.)

It seems that evolution has stepped a little beyond the limits of science by not only describing the relationships between living things, but also prescribing how they came to be that way. I think creationism errs in the same way.

kwandongbrian said...

Thank you for a quick response. I'm writing this before work so it's being done quickly an di hope it is coherent. I will reread it later and possibly write a new comment below. That will probably be tomorrow or Thursday.

I want to be careful that I don't sound like an evolutionary scientist. I cerainly am doing no research and have very limited access to journal articles on the subjects discussed. The best I can do is quote or paraphrase others; I did study evolution at university but that was a long time ago. Although I made my decision years ago when I had more access to information than I do now, I must be honest and say that I currently depend on faith more than I would like when I make arguements.

"...there is not a coherent theory of ID. I think that is one reason, perhaps, that there should be some openness to it.

To put it simply, is it not possible (and helpful) to consider that there may be more than one interpretation of the available data?"

There are many differing interpretations of the data now. Most are within the evolutionary framework and are devoted to how evolution worked. One might think about Newton's physics discoveries. Einstein improved Newton's formula and showed where they didn't work but he didn't discard them. Several lines of evidence converge and show evolution to be the best explanation.

What I think scientists would like is testable predictions from the ID hypothesis. It can't be a theory unless it is tested and there is nothing solid enough to be tested.

kwandongbrian said...

I am late in making the comment I promised. I don't even know if anyone is reading this now.

The Swiss watch example is a good one but it has one element that I find important. All the designed things I know of are unable to reproduce. When creationists use the "a tornado in a junkyard doesn't make an airplane" argument, they ignore the obvious fact that evolution requires almost perfect reproduction.

One place we might be able to meet halfway at (although I am enjoying this discussion) is that perhaps the Creator set up all the elements when he caused the Big Bang and was able to predict and plan billions of years into the future. Perhaps he is using evolution as the motor for his creation.