Posts Tagged ‘Intelligent Design’
Sir Harold Kroto has responded to my blog on Michael Reiss, and his comment I include below:
The Reiss Affair – a Matter of Intellectual Integrity
Various letters, such as that from the Bishop of Lincoln (Guardian) etc, contain a significant amount of self-righteous criticism of the Royal Society with regard to the Rev Michael Reiss’s position as Director of Science Education. It is clear that there is almost total ignorance about the real issues involved and a truly pathetic understanding of Science – the culture that created the modern world – from anaesthetics and penicillin to jet engines and the Internet. Of course “The Origin of the Universe and Living Organisms” is a perfectly respectable question for the Science lesson (perhaps the most exciting and fundamental one) – as long as someone with Intellectual Integrity is there to answer it! There is a major problem however for the religious person, scientist or otherwise, in answering this question and it involves, first and foremost, Intellectual Integrity.
Let me clarify the fundamental philosophical issue – The Scientific Mindset: Science is based solely on doubt-based, disinterested, examination of the natural and physical world. It is entirely independent of personal belief. There is a very important, fundamental concomitant – that is to accept absolutely NOTHING whatsoever, for which there is no evidence, as having any FUNDAMENTAL validity. A lemma: One can of course have an infinite number of questions but only those questions that can be formulated in such a way that they can be subjected to detailed disinterested examination, and when so subjected reveal unequivocally and ubiquitously accepted data, may be significant.
The plethora of more-or-less incompatible religious concepts that mankind has invented from Creationism and Intelligent Design to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Scientology, Hinduism, Shinto, Shamanism etc., etc., etc., are all basically indistinguishable, from the Freethinker’s perspective. It really does not matter whether someone believes a mystical entity created the Universe five thousand or ten thousand million years ago – both are equally irrational unsubstantiated claims of no fundamental validity. Unfortunately Michael Reiss who is, according to reports, a nice guy, was just in the wrong job. He, together with all religious people – whether they like it or not, whether they accept it or not – fall at the first hurdle of the main requirement for honest philosophical scientific discussion because they accept unfound dogma as having fundamental significance. Note that I did not say value (positive or negative!). In the Jeffersonian sense Church and State (including education especially on Sundays) must be separated – otherwise our democratic freedoms are undermined. A secular socio-political framework is an absolutely necessary (though unfortunately not always sufficient) condition to guarantee freedom of religion – as well as freedom of non-religion.
I do not have a particularly big problem with scientists who may have some personal mystical beliefs – for all I know the President of the Royal Society may be religious. However I, and many Royal Society colleagues, do have a problem with an ordained minister as Director of Science Education – this is a totally different issue. An ordained minister must have accepted that there is a creator (presumably more intelligent than he is?) and thus many of us (maybe 90% of FRSs) cannot see how such a person can pontificate on how to tackle this fundamentally unresolvable conflict at the science/religion interface. Reiss cannot have his religious cake in church on Sunday and eat the scientific one in the classroom on weekdays. This is where the Intellectual Integrity issue arises – and it is the crucial issue in the Reiss Affair.
I suggest that the Rev Reiss, the Bishop of Lincoln and any others who presume the authority to dictate how religious issues should be handled in the science classroom read from Sam Harris’s book “Letter to a Christian Nation” at their Sunday sermons. Then perhaps some of their flock may understand what Intellectual Integrity and true humanity actually involve. Furthermore I suggest that this wonderful little book be a set text for young people at Sunday School, so they recognise that the really dangerous people can include the religious who are hell-bent on dragging us back into the Dark Ages, rather than the Freethinking Humanists who are struggling to save the democratic freedoms of “The Enlightenment” for our grandchildren.
Sir Harold Kroto FRS NL
Florida State University
Reposted from comments here.
A debate rages in the Royal Society over the continual appointment of Michael Reiss, who in an article mentioned that creationist views of students should be discussed in the classroom. Nobel Laureates Sir Harry Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts have written to the President of the Society to dismiss him.
Reiss in an article wrote:
Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson. When I was taught physics at school, and taught it extremely well in my view, what I remember finding so exciting was that we could discuss almost anything providing we were prepared to defend our thinking in a way that admitted objective evidence and logical argument.
So when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have (hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching) and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion. The word ‘genuine’ doesn’t mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time.
The question is was he suggesting that in the Science classroom teachers challenge student doubts about how old the world is and the validity of evolution (which he claims) or that creationism should be taught as an alternative so that the scientific viewpoint could be considered as a different world view (which the Nobel Laureates rightly oppose). The problem is saying another world view makes it sound like an equal alternative.
If Reiss was suggesting that the discussion should be student led, with the teacher showing the validity of the scientific method then this would be a good thing. One that I would have benefited from at school seeing as I was brought up to believe that evolution was wrong on a scientific basis – if we could have discussed the science behind evolution and why we know the world is billions rather than thousands of years old would have been brilliant.
Reiss clarified his remarks this way at the Royal Society website saying:
“Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis. I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview’; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.”
I have just posted that clarification on the Dawkins website. It seems too many people were making judgments about him being sacked based on second hand comments of what he said, rather than reading his original article.
Ever wondered how to sum up evolution as being a valid scientific theory? PZ Myers suggests:
Yes, I believe evolution is true.
I consider it the best explanation of the origin and diversity of life on earth,
and it is backed by an immense body of evidence. Strictly speaking,
it is not a matter of belief, but a recognition of the knowledge
of qualified experts and a familiarity with the research
that has been done in the field; I would also
add that science does not deal in absolute
truth, but strives for approximations,
and is always willing to discard old
ideas if better explanations
with better evidence
Do you have evidence for an alternative theory?
I think that I shall never see
A theory dumber than ID:
It says that God can make a tree,
A beaver or a honeybee-
That God can simply get a whim
To make the small E. coli swim.
He waves His hand through Heaven’s air
And lo! Flagella everywhere!
But sometimes even God falls down
And makes a poor, pathetic clown:
Yes, poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make Behe.
Well just got back from Leicester listening to Ken Ham talk about creationism this Thursday evening. Handed out a few leaflets to people attending on science education, but it became clear during the talk that Ken Ham’s version is smoke and mirrors.
His talk centred on there being observable science. That there was only the same facts, but that a creationist looked at it from the standpoint of the Word of God and others from the human reasoning stand point. What he seemed to suggest is that from our respective biases we drew conclusions from the same evidence – but his was true because it was based on the Word of God.
No – the world being billions of years old is confirmed by geology. He did show a video claiming that Mount St. Helens showed that the world could be created in a very short space of time – which it does not of course. There was a video on the Chameleon (shown in the Creation Science Museum) which suggested that swivelling eyes, and a brain that could process the information, let alone the ability to change colour, was proof enough that God did it.
Talking to one of the Answers In Genesis (AiG) staff outside the talk he claimed that I could not have a form of morality because it was not based on the bible. I pointed out that even the view of morality based on the bible had changed, and that in civilisations without the bible moral codes had developed. I even mentioned John Rawls and how the veil of ignorance worked – this went over his head because he said that human reasoning could not say why the holocaust was wrong. I pointed out that it was wrong to kill people on the basis of their belief or ethnicity, how did I know? Well because it was arbitrary and I would not want to live in such a society that did – and part of that was empathy with people and the whole veil of ignorance thing. That I could recognise such action as being a crime against humanity.
Ken Ham himself mentioned that Genesis was the foundation for the Christian message, and that evolution was wrong in the common descent because of it. In short, the literal interpretation of Genesis was essential not only to Christianity but also to moral virtual because secularism by not being based on God’s Word would lead to evil like abortion, pornography and gay marriage – even racism(?)
The display for this was two battle ships fighting one another. A recurrent theme was that secularism was not about being neutral – it was open hostility to God’s Word. It misses the crucial point that secularism is not based on whether you believe in evolution or not, faith or not, abortion or not. The principle is that the state does not use it’s power to enforce religion on it’s citizens, allowing them the right to their consciences in this regard but not to have dominion over another over a faith claim. But no, apparently morality is not something that atheists can have.
He also mentioned about seeing the Ben Stein movie Expelled. I kind of see watching Ken Ham talk as my way of making up for not seeing it in Minneapolis. One video Ken showed was two palaeontologists digging up a dinosaur fossil, and one says that it is millions of years old and the other that it is 4,300 years old because the bible tells me – then leaving it at that with no evidence accept that the bible says. As if both sides were just two different points of view like whether to support Manchester City or Man United – only that one side would be for justice and glory.
All the videos depended on the audience going “Wow, how amazing, so complex, there had to be a God.” Then Ken Ham following up with bible scriptures. At one point the Trinity was mentioned in scripture given proof by the perfection of creation. The leaps being made within seconds of one association over the other were breathtaking and liquid refreshment was needed to get over the nerve of someone that was prepared to say that they loved science and yet could pretend that the facts supported that the earth was thousands of years old and their view of Christianity.
The lecture ended with a look at the various books and DVDs we may want to buy. I was able to pass on that opportunity. The way that AiG staff can say that they do not want intelligent design in schools but Ken Ham can say that they should get involved in school boards to promote creationism is a double faced show. They do want books in the school libraries that denote the earth as a few thousand years old. They want society to be based on their human interpretation of the bible (something they do not accept – it is God’s of course) and the sooner we live our lives to the message of Christ the better.
There was the part where apparently with death and all an atheist has no purpose. May as well just die now. But through Christ we have meaning and a reason to live a life based on God’s Word. He quoted Dawkins as saying get used to the truth when asked if it was a bleak message science mentioned about existence. It missed the part that what we feel about facts is neither here nor there only whether they are true to be called that. Being alive makes us the lucky ones and we can find our purpose for ourselves.
The problem with Ham’s message is that this means taking away my rights, and making science second fiddle to what they claim the bible tells us. Ken Ham even claimed that Genesis was the only creation account that told us everything – clearly therefore it was true! Apparently no other religion now or before tells us about our origins. Later on he showed us a video that talked about how the aboriginals had a similar tale of creation to the bible. Which made me wonder how much of the double talk the listeners were hearing.
In the end we headed down the pub and showed that far from life having a pointless existence, lacking any meaning when you reject a sacred text as being literally true, there were things worth living for. Not just beer, but companionship and that it is better to talk about things as they are then talking about things as you wish they were.
Was the protest worth it? Well it was difficult to get the people to talk about science – ended up with the argument that personal revelation in their lives was more important then human reasoning. It gave them comfort, and meant that they knew what was right because it was in the bible. One of them had never heard of Lot and the seduction of him by his daughters – this surprised the gentleman because an atheist knew the bible. It surprised me because he worked for AiG and the account is in Genesis after all. I had asked him how we knew paedophilia was wrong as it was not mentioned in the bible. Not even in the ten commandments – graven images more of a sin then that? He tried to say that it was an affront to god – I asked if paedophilia was too? He could not bring himself to say that human thought derived such acts to be immoral and unethical – for him that could only be derived because of the bible.
Please do not think this is just a bunch of crazy people who mean us no harm. They really believe it is to the betterment of society that they project their belief onto how science is discussed, and that society must embrace Jesus (as defined in their ministry) before the world becomes a happier place – or Armageddon comes. They really cannot conceive that the world could have a noble purpose without that kind of belief. I beg to differ, and hope that science education is not befallen to faith claims but to evidence which is not based on the stand point of a religious text.
My thanks to Pennie and Chris who gave me a lift, and to fellow Leicester Secular Society members who attended the protest.
It seems that my ideas about the OUT campaign (a hammer over a feather approach) are not recognised by everyone as being effective. Maybe they fear rather than hammering the point home I will bludgeon it to death and in a way that will not be receptive to the audience wanting to attend Ken Ham’s talk.
I suppose that my point would be that they do not trust the science as much as they do their interpretation of the bible and the earth being 6,000 years old. As such I would argue that if they do not care about such facts then the fact that there are friendly smiling atheists outside wanting to discuss the matter with them really could change perceptions. I am hardly suggesting that we get A tattoos and start shouting “Delusional fuck-wits” at them.
Rather this is what I had to say to someone on the forum who fears that the A symbol is forcing atheism down people’s throats and would stop us engaging them:
I do not think having an A symbol on my person is ramming my conclusion’s about the natural world down some-one’s throat. As an atheist I am not out to convert people to my world view, but I reject attempts to force creationism in the classroom based on down right lies.
And if you think my opening line will be: “Hi I’m your friendly neighbourhood atheist, godless and a strong supporter of science” then please give me more credit. If I wear the symbol it is because I want to raise consciousness that atheists are not the evil people Ken Ham claims. I think that while science education is important you miss responding to the attacks that Ken Ham throws our way. That there might be something more to protest then his attack on science.
I think that the significance of the A symbol is being missed here. It was chosen because people “brand” atheists as less moral, untrustworthy, not the sort of people to leave your kids with. The campaign is about challenging that assumption. I cannot think of a better way of changing it then having friendly not two headed atheists prepared to have a friendly chat and talk about science with people – who just happen to be atheists. That evolution is a scientific fact that is supported by evidence – let us talk honestly about it.
The problem is that we are letting Ken Ham dictate our tactics here:
The atheists and evolutionists are more aggressive than ever. Indeed, we need your prayers and support to counter their message. Will you stand with us? Will you pray for us? As you’ve seen, the new breed of atheists is attacking the foundations of our faith as never before! Please partner with us now to proclaim the gospel—and combat the hopeless message of the evolutionists.
I cannot think of a better way to show that this is about science education then a show that people of faith and none join together in promoting science education – and not a distorted pseudo science that meets some-one’s interpretation of the bible.
Then there is his attack on atheists:
Only the person who believes in God has a basis to make moral judgments to determine what is “good” and what is “bad.” Those who claim God does not exist have absolutely no authority upon which to call something right or wrong. If God doesn’t exist, who can objectively define what is good and what is bad? What basis could there be to make such judgments? The atheist has no basis upon which to call anything good or bad. They can talk about good and bad, and right and wrong—but it’s all relative, it’s all arbitrary. What’s “good” in one person’s mind might be completely “bad” in another’s.
http://www.answersingenesis.org/article … loving-god
Then we seem to be concerned that Ken Ham may be right about Dawkins:
Dawkins added, “Charles Darwin hit upon a truly brilliant idea that elegantly explains all of life on earth without any need to invoke the supernatural or the divine.”Do you see the irony? The clergy supporting evolution, but the evolutionary, secular humanist insisting such a position is untenable. Dawkins has stated that evolution led him to his atheism.But … Dawkins is right this time—evolution and Christianity are incompatible.
I am involved as a contributor to a web site called Ask the Atheists. It enables people who really think that we may eat babies to ask questions – and get answers that show we are a part of humanity as any other. I think that far from turning people off it is important that people of faith and none faith stand together (think Ken Miller and Richard Dawkins). Understand that the mind set you are trying too play to is atheism = Darwinism = evolution = immorality.
My concern is that people actually believe that Ken Ham is correct about New Atheism. Including people that should know better. What can unite faith believers and atheists is the concept of secularism – that will only happen if we challenge Ken Ham’s view of secularism = atheism = evil. That secularism is about government not having tyranny of belief over it’s citizens and is neutral in faith matters, and would allow people their conscience in the private sphere and the universal principle in the public sphere (i.e. anyone outside that faith could agree). If Obama can get that I am sure the people attending the meeting can do too – and an important part of that is changing the perception of atheists.
On that note a new article on Answers in Genesis:
We know wolves haven’t been around for millions of years because the world isn’t that old! From studying the Bible, we can figure out that the world is about 6,000 years old.
http://www.answersingenesis.org/article … rom-seeing
This is about using science text books that state that wolves are millions of years old, and teaching children to be discerning about such things so they go to the biblical view. We must show that their claim – we want both sides taught you want one and our approach is fairer – is preposterous.
I think it is possible to do those things, and that the A symbol rather than getting in the way is actually something that could help in starting a conversation going. We all want to challenge Ken Ham on science, but that will entail challenging him on other matters as well because of the web lies he spins and how he connects it that even facts become irrelevant to a supposed greater truth about god given morality.
Richard Dawkins is not only Darwin’s Rottweiler; he is for many the intellectual heavyweight in the battle for reason and the scientific method over faith based conclusions over the natural world. His talk at the conference was an immediate highlight as the first guest speaker on what really would be a good Friday.
The argument from design is one that not only shows “failure of imagination” but also the ”lamentable state of education”. Darwin’s explanation about the appearance of design is the opposite of chance. The argument that life existing at all without a designer is akin to a hurricane in a scrap yard forming a 747 is fanciful when “god is the ultimate 747″.
The supposed persecution of those that support intelligent design as a credible scientific theory is to be parodied in a film by RDFRS called Expelled: No Storks Allowed that will suggest that stork theory is a credible alternative to sex theory in the propagation of the human race.
In an earlier blog I talk about PZ Myers being expelled from the actual Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed showing at the American Mall. Dawkins commented that the film was utter rubbish in it’s “execution, unartistic and just plain incompetent from a film making point of view”.
There are real scientific controversies that we can discuss: extinction of the dinosaurs, man made contribution to global warming. This really is one that a discussion is taking place and one where arguments and evidence count to reaching a theory which is supported by a body of facts.
Sometimes the savagery in which Dawkins goes for the jugular of creationists makes people wonder if we should be more polite – whether the hammer or feather approach. The feather approach would be one that we can have faith and evolution (Ken Miller) and that Dawkins is rocking the boat (Eugene Scott).
One idea to counter that is this: some religious people claim that evolution and faith are incompatible – if we demonstrate the fact of evolution then we will destroy religion. Yet clearly the fact of evolution has not destroyed faith – it also suggests that the feather school wants a compromise that is not going to happen. The hammer approach is no respect would be unwarranted and that we have the right to question faith claims. One significant way is to encourage comparative religion – especially as fundamentalist christians would hate it as “children learn about faiths, see the incompatibility and draw their own conclusions”.
To aid in that focus it is crucial that we use our resources on long lasting matters rather then token gestures. That we concentrate on stem cell research, tax free status of faith groups as opposed other groups, and a proper education that is denied in a Madrassa. That rather than Pyrrhic victory that plays into the hands of extremists like defacing dollars or the public situation of the ten commandments. In the Q & A Dawkins accepted that if the use of “In God We Trust” was being used to further encourage religious faith in political discourse because it is on the currency (only since 1950s) then may be it was not a token gesture as he had mentioned.
The issue is that we do not want to come across like the stereo type “fuss pots” being “propaganda for christian fundamentalists”. We do not want to make it easy for politicians ignoring us nor let them get away with it, something which Ellen Johnson touched on. Consciousness raising is what this is about and mentioning the token issues are a good example of that whether the dollar bill or the pledge of allegiance. Just as feminists made us more aware of the language we use, let us make it clear that labelling children by their parents faith is not only wrong but ridiculous and that we should not label children as a christian child anymore then we would a conservative child.
Nor should we feel that we have to use our atheism in making the long lasting cases that will make a difference. This goes back to what Sam Harris said about not lying in the chalk outline that fundamentalists paint for us. There is hope for the future, concentrating on the issues that matter. In doing so we are promoting education, and civil rights.
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species changed the world. Here Richard Dawkins introduces a 34-page celebration of the book and its author, available FREE with today’s edition of The Guardian (UK)
Why Darwin matters
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species changed the world. Here Richard Dawkins introduces a 34-page celebration of the book and its author, available FREE with tomorrow’s edition of the Guardian
Charles Darwin had a big idea, arguably the most powerful idea ever. And like all the best ideas it is beguilingly simple. In fact, it is so staggeringly elementary, so blindingly obvious that although others before him tinkered nearby, nobody thought to look for it in the right place.
Darwin had plenty of other good ideas – for example his ingenious and largely correct theory of how coral reefs form – but it is his big idea of natural selection, published in On the Origin of Species, that gave biology its guiding principle, a governing law that helps the rest make sense. Understanding its cold, beautiful logic is a must.
Natural selection’s explanatory power is not just about life on this planet: it is the only theory so far suggested that could, even in principle, explain life on any planet. If life exists elsewhere in the universe – and my tentative bet is that it does – some version of evolution by natural selection will almost certainly turn out to underlie its existence. Darwin’s theory works equally well no matter how strange and alien and weird that extraterrestrial life may be – and my tentative bet is that it will be weird beyond imagining.
But what makes natural selection so special? A powerful idea assumes little to explain much. It does lots of explanatory “heavy lifting”, while expending little in the way of assumptions or postulations. It gives you plenty of bangs for your explanatory buck. Its Explanation Ratio – what it explains, divided by what it needs to assume in order to do the explaining – is large.
If any reader knows of an idea that has a larger explanation ratio than Darwin’s, let’s hear it. Darwin’s big idea explains all of life and its consequences, and that means everything that possesses more than minimal complexity. That’s the numerator of the explanation ratio, and it is huge.
Yet the denominator in the explanatory equation is spectacularly small and simple: natural selection, the non-random survival of genes in gene pools (to put it in neo-Darwinian terms rather than Darwin’s own).
You can pare Darwin’s big idea down to a single sentence (again, this is a modern way of putting it, not quite Darwin’s): “Given sufficient time, the non-random survival of hereditary entities (which occasionally miscopy) will generate complexity, diversity, beauty, and an illusion of design so persuasive that it is almost impossible to distinguish from deliberate intelligent design.” I have put “which occasionally miscopy” in brackets because mistakes are inevitable in any copying process. We don’t need to add mutation to our assumptions. Mutational “bucks” are provided free. “Given sufficient time” is not a problem either – except for human minds struggling to take on board the terrifying magnitude of geological time.
A certain kind of mind
It is mainly its power to simulate the illusion of design that makes Darwin’s big idea seem threatening to a certain kind of mind. The same power constitutes the most formidable barrier to understanding it. People are naturally incredulous that anything so simple could explain so much. To a naive observer of the wondrous complexity of life, it just must have been intelligently designed.
But intelligent design (ID) is the polar opposite of a powerful theory: its explanation ratio is pathetic. The numerator is the same as Darwin’s: everything we know about life and its prodigious complexity. But the denominator, far from Darwin’s pristine and minimalist simplicity, is at least as big as the numerator itself: an unexplained intelligence big enough to be capable of designing all the complexity we are trying to explain in the first place!
Here may lie the answer to a nagging puzzle in the history of ideas. After Newton’s brilliant synthesis of physics, why did it take nearly 200 years for Darwin to arrive on the scene? Newton’s achievement seems so much harder! Maybe the answer is that Darwin’s eventual solution to the riddle of life is so apparently facile.
Claims to priority were made on behalf of others, and by Patrick Matthew in the appendix to his work On Naval Timber, as was punctiliously acknowledged by Darwin in later editions of the Origin. However, although Matthew understood the principle of natural selection, it is not clear that he understood its power. Unlike Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, who hit on natural selection independently, prompting Darwin to publish his theory, Matthew seems to have seen selection as a purely negative, weeding-out force, not the driving force of all life. Indeed, he thought natural selection so obvious as to need no positive discovery at all.
Although Darwin’s theory can be applied to much beyond the evolution of organic life, I want to counsel against a different sense of Universal Darwinism. This is the uncritical dragging of some garbled version of natural selection into every available field of human discourse, whether it is appropriate or not.
Maybe the “fittest” firms survive in the marketplace of commerce, or the fittest theories survive in the scientific marketplace, but we should at very least be cautious before we get carried away. And of course there was Social Darwinism, culminating in the obscenity of Hitlerism.
Less obnoxious but still intellectually unhelpful is the loose and uncritical way in which amateur biologists apply selection at inappropriate levels in the hierarchy of life. “Survival of the fittest species, extinction of poorly adapted species” sounds superficially like natural selection, but the apparent resemblance is positively misleading. As Darwin himself was at pains to point out, natural selection is all about differential survival within species, not between them.
I’ll end on a subtler legacy of Darwin’s big idea. Darwin raises our consciousness to the sinewy power of science to explain the large and complex in terms of the small and simple. In biology we were fooled for centuries into thinking that extravagant complexity in nature needs an extravagantly complex explanation. Darwin triumphantly dispelled that delusion.
There remain deep questions, in physics and cosmology, that await their Darwin. Why are the laws of physics the way they are? Why are there laws at all? Why is there a universe at all? Once again, the lure of “design” is tempting. But we have the cautionary tale of Darwin before us. We’ve been through all that before. Darwin emboldens us – difficult as it is – to seek genuine explanations: explanations that explain more than they postulate.
Reposted from here
The archbishop recently praised Richard Dawkins for increasing public understanding about the natural world, that allowed believers to be in awe of the natural world (though of course the Archbishop of Canterbury thanks god for creation). In this theology science helps with the understanding of the natural world, it’s theories verified explain the wonder of what god has accomplished.
In the view of god-of-the-gaps god created the world and what is more evolution is not the way he did it. Any evidence is either fraud committed by scientists or a trick of the evil one. It takes away the idea that god lends an active hand in nature and the world around us. Not only does intelligent design explain it all, but any question that cannot be answered by science is proof god did it, or if the answer is too complicated fingers in ear god did it personally.
Much was the reaction when my mother watched some of the Ken Miller lecture on Intelligent Design. So why is it that Ken Miller and the Archbishop do not find the theory of evolution a threat to their religious belief and way of life but others professing faith (like my mum) do?
In some ways Ken Miller spoke about it in his lecture. Basically the theory of evolution is seen as suggesting that we in common with other forms of life have a common ancestor. We are therefore not made in his direct image. From this theological problem is that because we are part of the animal kingdom than all manner of evils can be done, because we are no better than animals. So bring on the porn, rape the woman next door, steal from your boss and let Satan take possession of your soul.
This misses a very crucial point. Because the theory of evolution makes no moral claim on how we should live our lives. Rather game theory, tit for tat concept, the human cognitive ability to live by rules and empathises with others play their part. One reason we exist as a civilisation is that we are so capable of doing so – this has in terms of population benefited us.
Science is no way to base morals. Social Darwinism (nothing to do with Darwin) is to be confined to the trash bin of political ideology. When anyone suggests that we should have a public policy based on it shout them down with reason and humanity. As Dawkins points out we fight, outwit and go against what would benefit our genes all the time because it benefits us as people in terms of our goals – why on earth should we live our lives for them?
The other reason is that people are skeptical of experts. BSE, climate change, MMR, SARs, GM crops – confidence in science, let alone politicians, is shaken. People are questioning a materialistic culture in a world where most people barely survive. People question not only organised religion but anything just because it is an institution.
So into this vacuum come the alternative ideas – new age therapies, homeopathy. Supposed Gurus tell people to search themselves for the answers, and even the way to heal themselves. Most religious claiming people belong to no church – they are in touch with god because they feel the divine everywhere. I am convinced that this abstract concept is what the majority of religious people mean when they say they are religious but more detailed surveys would be illuminating on this point (see Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” for a much more detailed suggestion on how to try and do that).
Gather all the empirical evidence you want. Explain science with enthusiasm about beauty, exhibiting the awe of understanding. For some belief in belief will never be broken down by mental appeal. Rather, it could only work by understanding why the person needs their belief. When that is based on fear (of people and other ways to live) and love (of other people and ways of thinking) - when you say evolution for some people you are not just questioning their god, but their whole system by which they survive in this world. It is rooted that some benevolent force will make things right now or in the future – it is a shred of hope held so tightly that to know how it is rooted by fear and love you would never get at it in a debate on ID and evolution.
In short those that think one day reason and facts will win over superstition and super naturalism need to really appreciate how people reflect on things. The way we think lends itself to a self centred ego placed in the central point of the universe. This feeling gives rise to spiritual explanations of how things are or could be for you. Religion survives down the eons because it piggy backs well in the way the mind thinks of itself.
On an intuitive level it seems to most people to make sense. Intuition has been seen as the way to overcome supposed expert opinion – you know best, come to your own conclusion, live your life. In some ways that has been part of the individualistic agenda as demonstrated in Thatcher’s Britain.
In short, it really has to be up to a person to be curious about what science has to offer. And prefer the higher knowledge questions of how rather than answering lower intuitive questions of why. Science answers the how very well. Why questions denote the self discovery aspect of what we deem the way we think (consciousness) – and religion jumps in there whether being the old guard or menu-a-la-carte of the modern age.
So does it really matter? Yes because science is our best hope of not only understanding the cosmos, the natural world and us, but also in improving our quality of life. A world where science is belittled and challenged by religion would signal a world of introspection, skepticism of everything accept how you feel. Where progress is not measured by who benefits but whether it offends sensibilities of some group that can veto it otherwise. This extends not just to science but to culture as well.
In this sense are the values of the enlightenment under threat. We are the in touch generation, the one that has access to so much information and yet is skeptical of so much that is credible. Yet where MMR scares are accepted as “medically proven” (they are unfounded), where homeopathy is seen as a credible medical practice (there is no proof it does anything physically changing). Where ideas about Princess Diana’s death by agents of the state take precedent over a drunk driver. When more people believe in horoscopes than any organised religion. Where writers and broadcasters are put to death or threatened for what they say.
It is in this society that we make our stand. If I am sounding pessimistic that is not my intention. This is climbing the mount improbable of thought. By slow careful steps it can be done. But to think this is one quick charge is a grave error in calculation. This is a war of attrition. One can only make the case – but the priority for me is that science education should not be subjected to religious belief, that children should not be branded by their parents religious beliefs, that religious education of all faiths and philosophy is more necessary in the modern age not less.
Above all is the recognition that life is precious and fleeting – that life is over too quickly for too many in this world. We must use our collective talents to get a grip on the problems of this world. Too often religion, ideology, nationalism, even the human ability of kinship get in the way of recognising that as humans we are descended from the same ancestor. These differences are few compared to the many similarities we have – yet we allow trivial things to divide us.
In the global world how will we respond to the challenges facing ourselves and the planet? Can we go beyond our selfish self preservation and do what benefits all? What will we look to for the answer – because whether we think it is faith or science (or even both) one thing I do agree with the Archbishop on in his sermon:
It starts with us embracing our common humanity.