Posts Tagged ‘creation science’

Reconciling Science and Religion

I think that in this year when Charles Darwin will get a hunk of press for the dual celebrations of the bicentennial of his birth and the sesquicentennial of the first edition of his book, the question of the conflicts between science and religion will be discussed by a great many thinkers and writers, including me.

In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennet explained that while Darwin’s  theory of natural selection was not completely original his approach to the question of the role of science in explaining origins was the beginning of referring to our origins without pulling in the need for a Creator.  He was not original even to that, but he layed out a process that completely explains the diversity of all life with no appeal to the supernatural.

Dennet is correct in stating that there had now been a gauntlet laid at the feet of religion in 1859, which had heretofore rained supreme in explaining the existence of the human race.  The prior assumption, untestable yet undefeatable had been that we were in fact a “special creation.”

lion and lamb

lion and lamb

And here is where the real conflict lies, I think.  In early catechism I had been taught that God the Father had existed in eternity (with or without  Logos, I am still unclear on this,) and created the universe because he was lonely for companionship and need us for our love and worship.  Adam and Eve, having been given free will and a warning, sinned at their first opportunity naively thinking that they could have the same knowledge as God.  In His anger, God declared that they would forever bear the burden of their sin unto all generations.  He also cursed the animals, who had until this time never known death nor suffering.  The lions had been laying peaceably with the lambs, the foxes with the rabbits and the parasites with the hosts.  It was always win-win for the animals, if not for the plants.

Theistic evolution, at least as practiced and preached by Ken Miller, needs to have an interventionist God or else it sinks into the quandary of deism and pantheism.  With deism and pantheism, there is no original sin and then from that there is no need for the grace of Jesus’ salvation.  So, the way Miller understands God is as a tinkerer with evolution, a non-“Designer” who nevertheless placed careful modifications to evolution at the level of quantum mechanics so that evolution would still work and lead to the ascent of Man.  We would, God knew, eventually arise to fill our ecological “niche.”

So this is good for Miller, but where does it leave the possibility for reconciliation between religion and science?  It creates a new level of Creationism, in effect.  While Miller, as a crack biologist would bristle at being lumped with Creationism, it is a shoe that fits even it is not a color of his choosing.

Miller carefully avoids all of the fallacies and faults of Intelligent Design, but at the end his finely-tuned universe and his interventionist evolution both point back to his God, the Inventor.

So, I honestly think that there is a quandary for practicing scientists in evolutionary biology who are also religious (whether Christian or some other religion.)

The inspiration for Darwin’s theory of natural selection is largely based on Darwin’s reading of Malthus’ discussion of economics and scarcity.  There is only room for so much life.  Those forms of life which successfully proceed to the next generations succeed long enough to face extinction, in the meantime branching out into populations with common ancestors who may or may not survive.

Natural selection depends on extinction, starvation and suffering.  It is an unpleasant fact.  New species can’t move in if the old ones don’t “move out.” And so nature has ways of dealing with overpopulation; hunger, the need to replicate and the need to survive better than your competitors for the limited resources.

All of this was taking place long before man, and long before Man could have committed the First Sin for which we all need redemption.  The 19th-century scientists who realized this argued that the fossils they were finding represented a separate epoch of Creation, and that it wasn’t until 6000 years ago that God embarked on his final creation; the one that included Us.

With the concept of Theistic Evolution, one would need to accept that the tender, minute touches of intervention are placed by the same being who saw the need to create a cruel world.   It is a world of beauty, yes, but perhaps beauty is all the more precious to us because we know that in large part we will all die and so will all of our fellow life.

This solves one of Epicurus’ riddles, doesn’t it?

“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?”

There is, for the theistic evolutionist, evil in the world because life demands it. Augustine answered to Epicurus by saying that Epicurus had ignored the benefits of suffering in the world.  Indeed, Augustine’s answer is crucial to Catholic theology; it is the idea that one must die in some symbolic way (perhaps to materialism,) in order to be “reborn in Christ.”  That’s not the precise wording of Augustine, but it was the thrust of several of the youth “Teens Encounter Christ” retreats I joined when I was in my teens.  It’s also illustrative of the myth of Jesus’ death and reincarnation.  He died to give us the chance for new life in him.  Rather than dying cruelly to be reborn, we only need to accept his sacrifice; like the grain of wheat that must “die” and be buried in order to give life to a new wheat stalk. (John 12:24.)

I have been reading a new article by Jerry Coyne in The New Republic, which is a dual book review.  In the best tradition of literary criticism Coyne does far more than give a thumbs up or thumbs down of the books he has read.  He is also approaching his understanding of the concepts of the books.  In this case he reviews these books (c -and p because I am getting exhausted and don’t want to create footnotes:)

Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution
By Karl W. Giberson
(HarperOne, 248 pp., $24.95)

Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul
By Kenneth R. Miller
(Viking, 244 pp., $25.95)

Coyne says that both books miss the mark on Science-Religion and  looks to Gould for help, but even the Non-Overlapping Magisteria are not helpful becaue the NOMA only says that each science and religion should ignore each other.

As Alden said in response to Anastasia’s post , “..because, for Theists, there are no purely secular events.”  Perhaps for theists, there can be no secular science.

The observable world makes so much more sense without using God as any explanation.  Coyne relates the story of Napoleon and LaPlace:

Scientists do indeed rely on materialistic explanations of nature, but it is important to understand that this is not an a priori philosophical commitment. It is, rather, the best research strategy that has evolved from our long-standing experience with nature. There was a time when God was a part of science. Newton thought that his research on physics helped clarify God’s celestial plan. So did Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who devised our current scheme for organizing species. But over centuries of research we have learned that the idea “God did it” has never advanced our understanding of nature an iota, and that is why we abandoned it. In the early 1800s, the French mathematician Laplace presented Napoleon with a copy of his great five-volume work on the solar system, the Mechanique Celeste. Aware that the books contained no mention of God, Napoleon taunted him, “Monsieur Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace answered, famously and brusquely: “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothese-la,” “I have had no need of that hypothesis.” And scientists have not needed it since.

Certain dispensers of modernism would do well to remember that science does not exist to displace the need for an active creator.  It just happens to work out that way.

This is, after all, a finely-tuned universe.

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From Wiki-How

I found this Wiki-How site, apparently a guide for life which can be democratically edited much like Wikipedia. It has several guides on how to effectively argue a position, and one of the ones that I like best is the guide to defending Christian Creationism based on Genesis against Evolutionism. Being editable, this article has a few points that look to me like it may have been sabotaged. Or it may have been sincerely edited by a creationist who doesn’t want the readers to look too foolish.

  • It is helpful to know that while many examples of microevolution (i.e., changes to size, shape, color or other features within a species) have been observed. It is not true that scientists have not observed examples of macro-evolution (i.e., evolution above the species level). Therefore using this argument against evolutionists would be a fallacy, although TalkOrigins.org has many examples of Macro evolution. http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB901.html
  • Rather than argue over evidence that is difficult to disprove / disavow, it would be much more persuasive to argue against the philosophical underpinnings of science. Unfortunately, even this avenue can backfire, as most of the philosophical attacks against modernity work as well against theology / theism.
  • Remember that there is actual scientific evidence of evolution, whereas you are going by a fictional book written by humans

It seems to me that whoever has added these edits is interested in leading the creationist on a dangerous path towards a true understanding of evolution.  In the hopes of not appearing to be a fool, whoever follows the advice of this “Wiki-How” will instead learn enough about evolution to actually, finally accept its explanatory power.

(Crossposted at Tangled Up In Blue Guy)

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Definition is the Problem

I have often been frustrated by creationists claiming that evolution can’t explain the origins of life, but even more irritated when evolution’s defenders try to halt the discussion by saying that “Evolution doesn’t address abiogenesis, evolution starts when the first life appears.”

Granted, my background and training are insufficient to explain or understand the full range of possibilities for abiogenesis, but it seems clear to me that the first life had precursors which evolved.  Abiogenesis is presented as a “Holy Grail” of sorts, something for which we lack the fossil evidence and will likely never find, and that science is still “in the dark” on the issue.  I have a problem with the idea that there may have been an abiogenesis “event” that anyone would ever be able to clearly mark as the start of life and then evolution.

is it a planet, or what?The definition of “life” is not a clear one.  It seems to me like the definition of a planet.  Planets were once defined as objects which move in regular orbits in our skies, and even the moon and the sun were considered planets.  As astronomical discoveries advanced, the definition of the word planet became much more problematic as early as 1801 when Piazza discovered Ceres.  It wasn’t considered a planet because it was small, and yet it has a regular orbit.  The International Astronomical Union upset school children and astrologers when they “demoted” Pluto from “planet” to “minor planet” with a new definition of the word.  I was amused that astrologers complained about not being consulted, because it screwed up all of their charts.  How?  Changing the nomenclature doesn’t change its essence.

The same problem exists with life.  Abiogenesis is not limited by nature to a single event, it is limited by our ability to clearly define life.  The more that investigators learn about early replicators, the more they understand how complex the definition has to be.  Nick Matzke addresses the point over at the Panda’s Thumb, in which he clearly shows that the mystery of the Origin of Life that scientists are supposedly “In the dark” about is not intractable, and the claims that said mystery is being addressed by intelligent design  (phhfft.)  Nick explains how both the attackers and defenders of this issue are wrong:

This mini-debate points out what I think, and have often said in conversations, is a major flaw in how we respond to creationists. All too often, when the OOL comes up in popular discussions (reporters, online debates, etc.), the anti-creationist will reply with some variation of “sure, it’s a tough unsolved problem, but we’re working on it”, or the wizened statement “actually, the OOL is outside of the domain of evolutionary biology”, or finally, “we’re pretty much in the dark about the OOL, but at least what we have is better than the creationists giving up and saying a miracle occurred.”

My take: It is high time all of these statements be discarded or highly modified. They are basically lazy, all-too-easy responses relying on hair-splitting technicalities or nearly philosophical assertions of the “even if the creationists were empirically correct on this point, which they aren’t but I’m too busy to back it up right now, it wouldn’t matter” variety. And the worst part is that these sorts of statements mis-describe the actual state of the science among the people who work in the field. It is simply not true that we, the scientific community, know almost nothing about the OOL (what an individual who spent a career working on fossils or fruit flies or speciation might know personally is a different question).

Even though Nick says he is pretty busy right now, he does address the question and illustrates where scientists are looking now and have been looking for the last half century on the Origins of Life.

Another creationist trope Nick addresses is the idea that Darwin had no idea of the complexity of the cell ( emphasis mine:  )

To get an idea of that, let’s read some Darwin. This from near the end of Darwin’s 1868 book on the mechanisms of inheritance, The variation of animals and plants under domestication, page 404. Darwin proposed the idea of “pangenesis”, which was that heredity worked by each part of the body sending “gemmules” to the reproductive organs. This idea was wrong in detail but was an important step towards the eventual discovery of “genes” (so named after pangenesis). At any rate, Darwin thought a bit about what his hypothesis of heredity, or any similar hypothesis, said about the complexity of life:

Finally, the power of propagation possessed by each separate cell, using the term in its largest sense, determines the reproduction, the variability, the development and renovation of each living organism. No other attempt, as far as I am aware, has been made, imperfect as this confessedly is, to connect under one point of view these several grand classes of facts. We cannot fathom the marvellous complexity of an organic being; but on the hypothesis here advanced this complexity is much increased. Each living creature must be looked at as a microcosm – a little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars in heaven.

Bam. It appears that everyone was wrong – scientists who sometimes made a minor offhand remark saying people used to think the cell was simple, and creationists who made a major talking point of this, and Slack who heard it so many times from creationists/IDists, without prominent contradiction from scientists that he believed it himself. Like various dubious statement about the OOL which I discussed above, the “Darwin thought the cell was simple” statement became an unquestioned factoid merely through creationist repetition and flawed assumptions from the critics of creationists – it seemed reasonable, nothing crucial hung on it for scientists so they didn’t bother to double check in a serious way, and besides it is a lot easier to agree with your opponent and declare on other grounds that their point is irrelevant to the fundamental issues, than to do a serious analysis. It might be true that a creationists’ point is irrelevant to the bigger issues, but it lets the creationists get away with something that should not be gotten away with, and through an accumulation of such points the creationists build up a body of claims that even sincere, intelligent, creationist-skeptical, reasonably well-informed people like Gordy Slack find reasonable. Then you get essays like the one Slack produced, and irate responses that shed heat rather than light, and encouragement for the creationist leaders to feel like they’re on the right track.

If the Clashing Culture war over evolution is to be won based on the examination of the data, conceding incorrect points gives creationists ammunition.  People who care about evolution really need to address all of the faulty points and not concede points as important as the 19th century view of the cell.

If philosophers of science can ever fix a definition of the demarcation between life and its precursors, then a reasonable mark between them can be used in the defense of evolution.  Until and if that happens, the defenders are making a mistake by falling back on “evolution doesn’t start until life does.”

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The Rhetorical War Over Evolution

Are creationists stupid or willfully ignorant? Is that a loaded question? I personally don’t think that creationists are stupid, because they come up with incredible gems of twisted logic. They expend quite a bit of effort and time to create justifications for their beliefs, and come up with creative solutions to demonstrate their beliefs.

One of my favorite creationist attempts to “prove” the veracity of The Bible involves the mathematical proof that, yes, Noah could have fit all of those animals on the Ark. Mark Isaak reviews the issue at Talkorigins.org:

  • Collecting each species instead of each genus would increase the number of individuals three- to fourfold. The most speciose groups tend to be the smaller animals, though, so the total mass would be approximately doubled or tripled.
  • Collecting all land animals instead of just mammals, birds, and reptiles would have insignificant impact on the space required, since those animals, though plentiful, are so small. (The problems come when you try to care for them all.)
  • Leaving off the long-extinct animals would free considerable space. Woodmorappe doesn’t say how many of the animals in his calculations are known only from fossils, but it is apparently 50-70% of them, including most of the large ones. However, since he took only juveniles of the large animals, leaving off all the dinosaurs etc. would probably not free more than 80% of the space. On the other hand, collecting all extinct animals in addition to just the known ones would increase the load by an unknown but probably substantial amount.
  • Loading adults instead of juveniles as small as Woodmorappe uses would increase the load 13- to 50-fold.
  • Including extra clean animals would increase the load by 1.5-3% if only the 13 traditional domestic ruminants are considered, but by 14-28% if all ruminants are considered clean.

So, Woodmorappe was creative; yet he was wrong. Is he stupid? No. Is he creative correct? No. Is he willfully ignorant? Quite possibly so, and as much as I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I find it difficult to be generous when it comes to intelligent people who are creationists.

Another example of a creationist who appears to be willfully ignorant is Tom Willis. Willis is the editor and publisher of CSA News, (pdf.)

For Atheist Claim #1: Matter has been here forever or
came into being Naturally. The 1st Law of Thermodynamics
states emphatically that matter/energy can be neither created nor
destroyed. We transform matter, e.g., we burn logs, but the total
matter/energy in the Cosmos does not change.

But, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which, because of
its importance, many believe should be called #1, states that, in
every exchange of energy, some is effectively lost due to an imperfect
exchange. In each energy exchange, e.g., in a fire, or a
living cell, the total energy in the universe remains the same, but
a qualitative change causes there to be less available for work.
The measure of this loss is called entropy, and is called by many
“Times Arrow.” A universally understood result of this law is
that, if the Cosmos had truly been here forever, there would be
no energy available for work. The Cosmos would be at about 3
degrees above absolute zero (0 K on the Kelvin scale, -273.15
centigrade, -459.67 Fahrenheit). This is a largely uncontested
fact, not a “Christian myth.” The atheist, Isaac Asimov, in his
Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science stated essentially the same
This presents a nontrivial issue for atheists. Matter cannot
have been here forever (2nd Law) and it cannot come into existence
in real time (1st Law). Thus, these Laws, known to everyone
qualified to be called a “science teacher” clearly require a
powerful, non-material cause of the Cosmos. Only a fool can
know of these two laws and remain an atheist. Claim #1 of
atheism is absurd.

I’d like to call him stupid for writing this, but my feeling is that he has the mental capacity to choose to understand what it wrong with his argument. He is more intent on providing justification for his own belief than he is in gaining a true understanding of the processes of science and nature.

This is what makes creationism an easy target for people who actually take the time to be curious about how the world works, whatever their religious stance. One doesn’t need to be a scientist to understand that evolution is the process by which life has propagated through all of its varieties. The details are complicated yet available to those of us laypeople who wish to take the time to study them.

More disturbing, however, and the reason I brought this to Clashing Culture instead of my own blog is the contempt that Willis displays towards all evolutionsts. He would, if he were in charge of the democracy, deny anyone who is not a creationist the right to vote. This would include Thomas and Stephen along with Anastasia and myself. In his book, Thomas and Stephen are as much atheists as we are simply because they accept the facts of evolution.

Should Evolutionists Be Allowed to Vote?
* They do not and can not know the purpose for Man. In
fact, all of them believe Man has no purpose.
* Therefore, they cannot make informed judgments about
how men should behave toward each other, or what would
be “good” or “bad” for any group of men to do, or not do.
* Thus, they have no sane foundation upon which to base
“laws” or rational for insisting that other men obey the
* Thus, the religion they profess to believe renders them incapable
of participating in any decision about what men ought
to do. But, that is the purpose of all law.
* Therefore, in a sane society, evolutionists should not be allowed
to vote, or influence laws or people in any way!
They should, perhaps, make bricks to earn enough to eat.
Q.E.D. – Quod Erat Demonstrandum
“That which was to be demonstrated.”

Now, seeing such nastiness from a creationist, how should we approach the attacks on science from these quarters? Do we simply dismiss them as cranks? Do we patiently show them their errors of logic and judgment? Would they listen to us if we tried?

Is creationism an easy target for intellectual exercise, or does it need to be approached more delicately?

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