21 March 2009

The Polarization of Science and Faith?

I wondered about the wisdom of posting two articles linked to creationism in a very short time, but decided to go ahead because it is somewhat relevant to a recent talk at the Secular Hall. Following the visit made by Professor Michael Reiss, a conversation sparked by that event and a debate about religion (but not creationism) between Dinesh D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens on YouTube, a thought entered my head that just wouldn’t go away. Why is it that the “evilutionist” scientists who actively and vociferously speak out against the nonsense of creationism and ID are almost universally atheists? The Christian biologists, like Dr. Kenneth Miller, who actually take a stand, seem to number in single figures.

To a non-believer, the Holy Books are just books; books written by primitive human beings. In general, they seem to have been written by not-very-nice human beings judging by the atrocities and bigotry they appear to have revelled in. They are books which are historically and scientifically inaccurate (demonstrably wrong in many instances) and they are certainly morally reprehensible with just a few notable exceptions – most of which pre-date the scripture if one looks into the history of other cultures.

It is very clear to everyone except those who do it, that most theists cherry-pick their Holy books. In some cases, this is because they haven’t actually read the book they declare is the word of God and which guides and supports them as they negotiate the rollercoaster of life. In others, they have read it but simply declare most of it to be allegorical. Maybe this is the problem.

Professor Reiss and others declare that they accept evolution. They accept that we evolved from early self-replicating molecules and that all living things are related. They do not believe that Adam and Eve were created as depicted in Genesis. Why not? Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, was born of a virgin and died on the cross to rise three days later and be physically transported into the sky. Why?

Both stories are in the Bible. They are both claimed as the word of God – because the Bible says it is the word of God. So is this why Christian evolutionary scientists do not oppose creationists, leaving it, largely, to their atheist colleagues? Is it because they know that they are wishy-washy in their beliefs and that they would find it hard to defend this against someone who really, really believes?

But they have an additional problem that comes at them from the science “side”. In order to defend science, one has to accept that there is no evidence for magic in this world of ours. No unicorns, no Tooth Fairy, no Santa Claus, no miracles.

So, faced with the prospect of standing up for science but admitting a belief in magic (Jesus’s miracles, virgin births, people raised from the dead, etc.) because an ancient book says it happened, and arguing against the belief in magic – from the same book - involving complex organisms being "poofed" into existence, talking snakes, global floods and a pair of naked mole rats somehow finding their way to Noah’s big boat, perhaps it is just too daunting for these educated people? Is the cognitive dissonance too great? Do they know they are caught between a rock and a hard place? Best to keep quiet perhaps?

They are doing…. and the silence is deafening.

17 March 2009

Creationism: Why It Has No Place In Science Classes

Creationism: Is it ignorance or dishonesty?

Preachers who seek to teach Creationism as science are mistaken, or worse.

There was a time when everyone believed Earth was flat. Philosophers and mathematicians found this belief to be flawed. Initially, they were ridiculed or feared. Then, a few took notice, now everyone finds the evidence that the earth is spherical to be overwhelming. It took hundreds of years.

We fly to distant parts of the world, see images from space and accept time differences in various countries, all of which reassures us of the truth of claims that Earth is not flat. Could it all be a conspiracy by scientists to deceive the gullible masses? This seems unlikely, as knowledge of the shape of the earth underpins so much of what our understanding of the modern world is built upon.

There was a time when people believed that the creation stories in scriptures were historical fact. Scientists have found this belief to be flawed. Initially, they were ridiculed or feared. Then, a few took notice and now people find the evidence for both an ancient Earth and for evolution to be overwhelming. That the understanding of evolution underpins so much of what modern medicine and biology is built upon is, for most people, ample evidence that these scientists are right.

However, Creationists still deny the evidence for evolution. Why would they want to distort scientific understanding in order to support their doctrine? Is it ignorance or dishonesty?

Don’t they understand basic science? Is this why they fail to recognise that what they preach is not science and why it should not be taught in schools as science? When they claim evolution is “only a theory”, they appear not to understand what a ‘scientific theory’ is. A ‘scientific theory’ has a different meaning from the word ‘theory’ in general use and does not mean ‘conjecture’ or a ‘hunch’, as Creationist preachers imply. A scientific theory is a body of evidence that explains facts. It is a fact that people fall ill, the Germ Theory of Disease explains this. Gravity is a fact, the Theories of Gravity explain the fact of gravity. It is a fact that living things change over time (evolve) the Theory of Evolution explains how. They clearly don’t know this – or are they deliberately trying to mislead? To teach an ‘alternative theory’ in science, it would be necessary to have an alternative scientific theory to teach.

Do they know, in spite of feeling qualified to lecture on the subject, that their references are sometimes 150 years out of date and many of the ‘gaps’ they speak of have been filled for decades? Have Creationist preachers highlighted, for example, the discovery of tiktaalik rosae in 2004 (Google it. It is fascinating!) or have they denied its existence or played down its significance?

Should we give them the benefit of the doubt, assume their opposition to the Theory of Evolution is based on ignorance and place the blame firmly on our education system? They do not attempt to discredit Germ Theory with the same passion, even though it contradicts Biblical teachings of the causes of disease, so is it dishonesty that drives them? If their faith allows them to be dishonest, doesn’t that pose another question?