Anti-ScienceReligionScienceSkepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 8.27

Fact: Intelligent Design is harmful because it teaches religious theories as science, which discourages critical thinking.

Fact: Religious people fight for Intelligent Design because they believe evolution is at odds with their beliefs (aka creationism).

Fact: Religious people are not likely to abandon their beliefs and accept evolution en masse.

Fact: Stephen Jay Gould proposed that science and religion are not incompatible, in that science is the wrong medium with which to investigate religion and vice versa. This approach gives Christians room to believe that God created the universe and set evolution in motion.

Fact: Richard Dawkins believes that religion is harmful. Dawkins doesn’t exempt religion from critical examination and doesn’t sell out to gain a wider audience.

Question: Should skeptics accept creationism as separate from and compatible with evolution so that more Christians accept Darwin’s theory, and quit fighting for Intelligent Design?

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68 Comments

  1. Now that I have the the number one comment I can expand a little. I just really wanted to see that 1 by my name. I’m number 1!

    I think what we, skeptics, atheist, agnostics, humanists, secularists, or even religious people who accept that religion isn’t science and shouldn’t be taught as such, is get onto school boards. We need to quit bitching about what is taught in school, organize and get ourselfs elected to local, county and state school boards. Then we can proactivly ensure that science is taught in science and religion is taught in philosophy or religious history classes. It is better for the students and save a lot of money over lawsuits.

  2. Creationism is a simplistic fairy story. Evolution is a provable scientific fact – an amazing and beautiful one at that. Tempting as it is to offer comfort to the religious or deluded, trying to reconcile creationism with evolution is a fruitless and impossible exercise.

    As for religion being harmful, I think on the whole it probably is but we can’t ignore that fact that there are many genuinely good people who practice religion and do good works in its name without any urge to fly planes into buildings or set fire to abortion clinics. I’m not anti-religious in the sense that I would actively support the suppression of religion (history proves this to be another pointless exercise), I’m just hopeful that one day, as humanity progresses in technology and knowledge, it’ll just fade away.

  3. Oh, and based on previous discussions here, this:

    This approach gives Christians room to believe that God created the universe and set evolution in motion.

    Is called theistic evolution which is entirely different than creationism (especially YEC), and I personally have no problem with the idea of god starting things off and using evolution. I think this option does give many religious people sort of permission to explore and learn about evolution.

  4. If a person considers himself/herself part of a movement for rational thought, then no. Doing so would be an unwarranted concession to the other side. And that would just be a poor tactic in an environment that by nature is adversarial.

    On the other hand, if said skepticis just a regular chick or dude in a discussion, than she or he may consider that tact, just to save herself or himself a lot of headaches.

  5. Depends. Do you mean “Creationism” in the sense that god created everything, or YEC? If YEC, we shouldn’t pretend it’s compatible with evolution, because, well, it isn’t.

    If you mean theistic evolution, I don’t think anybody is really fighting it, because no one is trying to teach it in schools.

  6. I don’t think it goes both ways. In my opinion, a skeptic should not allow for God to have something to do with evolution.

    BUT — someone who believes in God believing God and evolution can co-exist? I’m all for it.

    There are many “healthy” religious people — people who are religious by tradition, but who approach religion and theology from a rational, literate, intellectual angle. A lot of these people are academics. They allow for the existence of God, but don’t accept the Bible (or any religious text) as the Definitive Truth. They’re able to simultaneously “believe” and accept religious texts as allegory, metaphor, myth, etc.

    A lot of these people have no trouble accepting science.

    Meanwhile, there are several atheists I’ve met who believe all kinds of fake stuff, so what the hell.

  7. I would say “no”.

    Evolution is a strong scientific theory, supported by a tremendous amount of physical evidence. Teaching it not only explains the past, but provides a foundation from which to predict or research future developments.

    Giving equal teaching time to a weak but apparently popular myth is a dead end and, as a dead end, serves the honest interests of no one.

  8. No! Gosh no.

    The fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible requires a YEC view of the world, and their need for that type of creationism needs to be challenged. Intelligent Design just tries to put a lab coat on that same philosophy and will not be dropped by the YEC and related crowd no matter what.

    Although I agree that allowing god even into evolution is a breach of scientific thought, it’s not wise to attack god at the outset of teaching a scientific theory. Personally, I believe that you should teach people the wonders of science and the efficacy of the scientific method, without saying yay or nay about god or religious beliefs. If you attack someone’s personal beliefs at the outset, you are more likely to have them tune out your scientific knowledge.

    However, if you are speaking out against religion in its own right, that makes sense, too. Just don’t expect to make a lot of friends doing it. (sad)

  9. Skeptics should treat religion and its corollaries just like everything else. They should examine it and, if it contradicts what is actually known, point that out. I don’t think it should be required that skeptics cut some slack to the sentimental. Instead, the sentimental should either demonstrate that their sentimentality is rational or else admit their irrationality.

    Not that things will ever work this ideally, of course, but ideals are at least something to aim for against the natural tendency for things to slide downhill.

  10. Nope. Sounds like the suggested plan is to try and be sneaky and manipulative and something other than entirely intellectually honest, which I can’t see being a good idea.

    But, it is important not to overstate what the evidence for evolution actually implies. The only theory with any grounding in reality does appear to be that all life evolved through processes of Darwinian natural selection – the evidence points where the evidence points – but some people find this idea compatible with their god. I’m an atheist, and understanding evolution has certainly been influential on that, but the sound scientific theory we have only describes some elements of the natural world. It doesn’t directly imply that there is no god.

    I think if we can nudge people towards ways that they can hold onto their belief while also accepting known facts, they won’t feel like they have to abandon anything too valuable in order to take a more rational stance, and we won’t have to make any disingenuous concessions.

  11. I don’t know much about creationism, but I think there is a difference between believing god set evolution in motion and creationism. Does creationism have any role for “macro evolution”?

    I am okay, for now, with letting the religions talk about God role with evolution prior to 10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang. I am actually okay with religions talking about various “miracles”, that is, various claims of one time violations of the laws of physics as we know them that might purport to demonstrate god’s existence. Burning bushes, resurrections, saints healing, that sort of medicine show stuff. Show me enough proof of these one time miracles and I’ll believe too.

    But I see no reason to require creationism explanations to justify the every day random plodding motions of evolution, small or large.

  12. As long as it is not taught as science, then there is no problem. The problem with creationism is not that it is a belief in a God, but rather that is an untestable hypothesis; therefore, it is not science by definition. So it largely depends on what you mean as “compatible.” Should we ridicule those who believe it but do not acknowledge it as a scientific theory? No. Should we allow for the idea that God made the Universe and then used evolution to create man? Not in science class because this idea is not testable.

  13. Creationism separate from and compatible with evolution…

    That sounds like a false false dichotomy

    …or something.

    Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s anything a critical thinker could let fly.

    Moreover, I think the words “creationism,” “evolution” and “compatible” make for awkward sentence buddies.

  14. The grand unifying theory of evolution is the product of logic, observation, rational thinking, and lots and lots of hard work, and is subject to being disproven, either in part or in full, by future hard work, observation, logic, rational thinking, etc.

    Creationism is a result of people studying and after-the-fact rationalizing away what other people have claimed and written down, who were thinking about what other people have thought and written down, etc.

    Tell me how those are compatible? ‘Cause I just don’t see it.

    And encouraging people to think of creationism as having any benefit at all, or compatible with the processes that have given us the useful things like the theory of evolution, is not helpful at all, in my view.

  15. I agree with most of the “no” answers above. I don’t think skeptics should “accept creationism” in any way, just as it wouldn’t make sense to accept as compatible with science my theory that the singularity from which the Big Bang banged was actually formed when millions of tiny pink dancing unicorns danced right into each other at top speed and smashed together. Sure, nothing in science could technically disprove that, and I guess in that sense it’s compatible… but come on, really.

    If there are people out there that believe in creationism and also accept the evidence for evolution, maybe they shouldn’t be our first priority in science education. That’s the one concession I’d make to the “yes” side.

    The other thing I really wanted to add was, I don’t understand why it’s important that Stephen Jay Gould says this and Richard Dawkins says that. Lots of people have made those arguments lots of times, and who happens to say each one doesn’t make them more or less true. Maybe it just fit the “Fact: A. Fact: B.” formatting better, in which case, fine. It is factually correct that they have argued from those perspectives.

  16. Science should be taught as science. If some people work out ways that the science jives or whatever, that’s their own thing. So long as the classroom sees nothing but actual science, and there are no glaring gaps in said science, I couldn’t give a shit less what god people want to cram in the gaps.

  17. Just to clarify – when I said “should skeptics accept creationism”, I didn’t mean “should skeptics believe creationism”. I meant – should skeptics be lenient with Christians by not fighting their belief that God created the universe and set evolution in motion – as long as they quit fighting evolution.

    Writerdd said it more clearly than me:

    Is called theistic evolution which is entirely different than creationism (especially YEC), and I personally have no problem with the idea of god starting things off and using evolution. I think this option does give many religious people sort of permission to explore and learn about evolution.

  18. @Stacey

    Fact: Intelligent Design is harmful because it teaches religious theories as science, which discourages critical thinking.

    Does something known as “religious theories” exist? In such that it can be tested and replicated in a way that would lend itself into being disproven. Something that would qualify as a theory?

  19. Does something known as “religious theories” exist? In such that it can be tested and replicated in a way that would lend itself into being disproven. Something that would qualify as a theory?

    No, and that’s a great example of the misuse of the word “theory”. Good catch!

  20. Well, “religious theories” are taught in seminary, and that again is a great example of the misuse of the word “theory”. Religious people are notorious for misusing the word “theory”.

  21. The beliefs of the YEC’s are just flat out not compatible with evolution.

    Everything else is on a spectrum of compatibility.

    The ID’ers are ideologues that will push their agenda no matter what. You can’t reason with unreasonable people. An argument could be made for not giving them any attention at all.

    In terms of winning religious people over to evolution, we shouldn’t concede the evidence. We should present the evidence in a respectful, friendly and understanable way. Not everyone will be in a state of mind to hear what we have to say, but hard-core geeky self-righteousness will turn them off every time. You’ve got to meet people where they are at to open a productive dialog.

  22. Your premise that, “Fact: Religious people fight for Intelligent Design because they believe evolution is at odds with their beliefs (aka creationism). “ is in fact not true (broad brush argument) and would be much more correct if it said “some religious people…”.

    ID and creationism are in fact ideologically and religiously based beliefs that are not part of the accepted body known science facts and evidence supported theories. Fine to teach them in a comparative religion or philosophy class as what some people believe. I see no rational way to “accept” creation “science” (what ever that is) or ID (which seems to be a redefining of science and evidence) as credible options in the area of education and rational thought. So I guess my answer is no.

    As for testing Religious theories I suppose the proof is in the pudding. And that’s one reason I’m no longer religious.

  23. So much good stuff!

    Does knowledge have value absent a social context? If I were to tell you that I “believed” (whatever that means) that under the hood of my car were 10 demon-horses trapped in minscule jewels, as well as a demon horseman who whipped them mercilessly when I turned the key, would that make my car not start? Is someone who “believes” that gasoline and atmosphere combined at the precise stoichiometric ratio of 1:14.5 a better driver? A six year old can understand how an engine works, but they can’t reach the pedals. Yet, every time you drive you are surrounded by people, who for all intents and purposes are whipping demon horses under the hood of their car. It’s all magic, and it’s reality all at the same time. You can “believe” anything and it still works.

    The same can be said for Evolution. The theory has no “value” absent a set of particular social contexts. If I say I don’t “believe” in Evolution in a Church, I am rewarded. If I say the same thing while presenting a paper on adaptive systems in mucous production in the lungs of laboratory mice, then there’s a problem. People who say they don’t “believe” in Evolution simply have no need to use the framework that the system of theories and knowledge called Evolution provides. They turn the key, and it works. Don’t look under the hood.

    When they say they don’t “believe” in Evolution, they are making a complicated argument about what they do believe. And subsequently, they are building an unconscious straw man. They are saying, “I believe in my family. I believe in my Community. I believe that these people are here to help me. I believe that I will sacrifice to help them. I believe that sexual jealousy can rip a community apart, so I believe that it is necessary to restrict myself to one sexual partner. I believe that children, of which I am obligated to produce as many as possible, need a stable environment to become good adults. I believe that I want my children to inherit my wealth when I die. I believe that life is so good that it can’t end on this world when I die… etc… etc… etc…”

    So when you say you “believe” in “Evolution” you are effectively saying, “I want to take your children away from you and raise them in a state-controlled homosexual indoctrination camp where they will be forced to worship Satan and have weekly abortions. Meanwhile, Half-human/half-ape remote-controlled rape robots will be patrolling your suburban neighborhood. You cannot flee in your SUV, because Eco-Terrorists value owls more than they value human life. Your day will begin with mandatory injections of heroin directly into your eyeball. Then you will burn the American Flag while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to Satan…”

    See? Who believes in that? No sensible person. It’s a very pernicious argument, because, again, the straw man is an unstated proposition. Every person can construct their own private version of a Hell where Darwin rules supreme. It’s a straw man begging the question… that level of unreason is simultaneously very convincing and unassailable.

    If they want to live in the middle ages, what can be done?

  24. Wow, ronstrelecki. Just wow. I think you hit the nail on the head better than any of us here. Evolution has been demonized in such a way and it’s sad! But how do you get someone to realize that that is their straw man argument and help them to break it down? I don’t know. I think they have to take the first step themselves.

    But it also makes us powerless to argue with that. Hence, most science education focuses on the majority that’s kind of neutral.

  25. I’d take a different tack on the issue. I would argue that what people choose to believe is entirely irrelevant to the question of understanding evolutionary theory.

    Religion is different. Christianity, for example, only “works” if you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And the Bible is explicit about this: “So that all who believeth in Him shall have everlasting life.” If you don’t believe in Jesus, Jesus can’t do anything to help you.

    Evolutionary theory, on the other hand, is a consistent and coherent set of tools that you can apply to the natural world in order to better understand the diversity of life. And it works whether you believe it or not. It’s entirely possible (not likely, mind you, but possible) for a YEC or ID proponent to apply the principles of evolutionary biology honestly and consistently to a biological question, and come up with an answer that is consistent with observations.

    You can use evolutionary theory to do really cool things like discover Tiktaalik or treat MSRA or design next year’s flu vaccine this year. You can learn about feathered dinosaurs and be stopped dead in your tracks the next time you see a red, red robin go bob-bob-bobbing along. And ontological and epistemological questions don’t have to enter into it.

    In this view, evolutionary theory is like a kind of complex role-playing game or a giant gedankenexperiment, but with real-world applications. “Belief” should never be an issue.

  26. That’s the best way to show that science is right – it always works. Your belief or acceptance of it has no bearing. The presence of nonbelievers does not prevent a gun from firing or a cell phone from connecting. Doubt all you like, but plants photosynthesize, actions have equal and opposite reactions, rocks fall, and everyone dies.

    These truths are demonstrable across the board. We can show why one idea is right and another is wrong. We can demonstrate the truth of science in observable ways.

    When a religion manages to do the same, then it can weigh in on questions of reality. Until then, none has any place in a science class. I don’t care if you want to believe that some deity set the ball rolling, just don’t try to convince me of it without evidence.

  27. I recommend the latest two podcast episodes of Point of Inquiry, because the guest Michael Dowd presents a third way: adapting traditional religion to be reality-based without abandoning the language and symbolism that is so powerful for many. I’m planning to buy his book “Thank God for Evolution” because he was so compelling. (To further whet your interest, he’s a reverend who was kicked out of a church once for advocating polyamory.)

    As a second point, I disagree that the phrase “religious theories” is somehow paradoxical or nonsensical. Clearly a “religious theory” is not the same as a “scientific theory”—one is an explanation based on revelation whereas the other is an explanation based on empiricism—but each is a “theory” because it is an explanation. The problem with creationists is not that they use the word “theory”, but rather that they conflate “scientific” theory with “religious” theory (or “pulled-out-of-your-ass” theory, as in “just a theory”) by hiding the modifier.

  28. >Well, “religious theories” are taught in seminary, and that again is a great example of the misuse of the word “theory”. <

    I don’t think that’s fair; they aren’t using the word in the scientific sense. Should we scold English professors for teaching “literary theory”? Of course, when creationists start yammering about how their Creation Theory is really scientific and just as valid as Evolutionary Theory, that’s something else again.

    To the point at hand: I’m with Gould on this one. I don’t have a problem with the idea of theistic evolution. I’m more than happy to explain why I’m an atheist to anyone who’s interested, but I’m not the thought police. If people want to believe in god, as long as they’re being rational in those areas of life where being rational matters, and as long as they’re not inflicting some arbitrary, faith-based moral code on the rest of us, or trying to teach theology in science class, it’s their business. I don’t think liberal religion is a threat to anyone.

  29. Should skeptics accept creationism as separate from and compatible with evolution so that more Christians accept Darwin’s theory, and quit fighting for Intelligent Design?

    My take is the evolution is science and should be taught in a science course. I have no problem with the teaching of Un-Intelligent Design as long as it is not taught in a science course as science. Teaching it in a philosophy or comparative religions course is perfectly acceptable.

  30. My brain works in strange ways so you’ll have to try to follow my “logic” on my answer.

    I would say no, and here’s why. It reminds me of my seemingly never ending search for a partner. I could take the path of least resistance and make all kinds of concessions and pretend to be somebody I’m not so that I could get along better with the potential woman of my dreams.

    But how long can that last, I just can’t be that dishonest with my elf or to someone else. Eventually the truth will be known and it will end badly.

    Just as a female crazy enough to put up with my B.S. must do so willingly and without any coercion from me, so must someone who comes to understand evolution do the same, else the chance of turning away is far greater.

    Makes sense to me.

  31. Should skeptics accept creationism as separate from and compatible with evolution so that more Christians accept Darwin’s theory, and quit fighting for Intelligent Design?

    I’m not sure this question even makes sense. My understanding of the people behind Intelligent Design is that they want to discredit Evolution. They want it thrown out completely so that their “theories” can be taught in its place. They don’t care if we think God is okay.

  32. No, the people behind ID do not care if we think God is ok… but the bulk of the followers do. They follow ID because they are told that evolution stands against God, and everything the believe in. The question is, should we give them this alternative in an attempt to get them away from ID… If they accept evolution, what else might they accept.

  33. @ronstrelecki, #29

    Does knowledge have value absent a social context?

    Yes.
    Knowledge.Value > Ignorance.Value

    The *degree* of value between the two may be different due to social context, but real knowledge always has more value than ignorance. To a driver, there may be no practical value between real engine theory vs demonic horses theory.

    However, the former can be built upon, because the reality it is based on is a constant.

    The same can be said for Evolution. The theory has no “value” absent a set of particular social contexts.

    Disagree, per above.

    When they say they don’t “believe” in Evolution, they are making a complicated argument about what they do believe. And subsequently, they are building an unconscious straw man.

    Completely agree with here on…very insightful. :)

  34. Something similar occurred to me recently. I haven’t bothered to flesh it out, so it’s just idle thought at this point.

    You put your key in the ignition of your car, and the engine starts. You press the gas and turn the wheel, and it goes. That’s all you care about, right? If you wanted to believe that your car runs by a happy little elf on a treadmill, and was created in the magical land of Roshkalhol, where tires grow on trees, then that’s completely harmless, as long as you don’t commit any moving violations.

    In programming, we call it layers of abstraction. Some other programmer can create an object that performs a service, like retrieving data from a database. I can take that object, and use it in another larger program. My program calls on the object to retrieve the data, and the object returns the data. I don’t care how it works. For all I care, the object could divine the data from a crystal ball. I only know that it works, and how to make it work. This makes programming easier, because I don’t have to look under the hood.

    God, and creationism, are layers of abstraction. You can say that god created the universe, and that god made humans and animals as they are today, you can even say that the earth is only 6000 years old if you wanted to, because that’s just another way of abstracting the details that you don’t need to function on a higher level. You might need to know about evolution to develop penicillin, but you don’t always need to get down to the nitty gritty details of evolution to brew coffee, or pay your phone bill.

    Of course none of that imaginary stuff is true, and we all know it. I’m no mechanic, but I kinda how an internal combustion engine works. I’m no biologist, but I’ve got a rough handle on evolution. And in spite of huge gaps in my own understanding of these principles, I function fairly normally in the real world. I fill out my time card at the end of every week, and the payroll department magically drops money into my bank account.

    The problem is that for future generations to become doctors and biologists and such, schoolchildren are going to have to look under the hood once in a while and see what’s under that layer. And that’s pretty much where I left off.

    So maybe we can convince believers that they can know the truth, yet still choose to believe otherwise, because your average accountant or CEO doesn’t need to know about the fossil record to perform their day-to-day activities. How? Damned if I know. Like I said, it was just idle thought. For all I know, it could be just a major cop out.

  35. Nicole: Thanks for the kind words. I wish you were there when I was at the DMV last week… I agree that in our current educational system, people must educate themselves. I think a lot more people make the first steps toward rationality than self-identifying skeptics suppose. The problem is that the scientific method, rhetoric and logic are taught in a sort of “vocational” mode. We don’t see a need to teach people these worldviews unless they are going to actually become scientists, an opportunity that is available to precious few.

    Naturally, not everyone can be a scientist, but to abandon the vast majority of students after the graceful few have been filtered out seems wrong to me. I think a fast and elementary course on basic reason, peppered with some logic, rhetoric and a rigorous exploration of logical fallacies is something that is within absolutely everyone’s reach. But as long as our educational system is concerned with filtering the Doctors into Doctor School and the Mechanics into Shop class, we’ll have this problem.

    If people were as irrational in all facets of their life as they are in church, I would never leave the house. Do you remember how daunting a task driving was when you first approached it? Every time you are on the road you are surrounded by people who “believe” that angels, devils, and the creator of the Universe are taking an active interest in their sex life. And yet these people manage to drive thousands of miles plus a year without incident. There are “believers” out there in operating rooms, surgeons who have 1,000 times the knowledge of Leonardo DaVinci on matters of the human body, who literally take your life in their hands. Then they go home and burn incense to balance their chakras and redirect their “chi”.

    We apply reason where we need it. Where it is not our concern, we can often abandon it to simpler heuristics… That goes for everyone. No doubt there are Nobel Laureates on our highways right now pressing the gas pedal, imagining the demon coachmen whipping the spirit horses on toward their destination.

  36. That’s what I get for doing my job for a change instead of wasting time reading blogs. I didn’t read all the comments before posting, and completely missed ronstrelecki‘s earlier post, and his analogy is way cooler than mine.

    Would my car run better if I swapped out my elf for a demon horsemen? can I get it done under warranty?

  37. Josh K: I really like how you state this. I think perhaps I was stating the opposition case without clearly identifying my “speaker”. What I meant was, basically to a Christian, Evolution is a “shibboleth”. Since it plays no function in their daily lives (in their view), and since simpler abstractions (as Peregrine elegantly points out) provide superior outcomes, the social cost of “believing” in Evolution is too high for them. The part you disagreed with… I was paraphrasing their case (building a straw man of my own!) in a way.

    Peregrine: elegant! Did you know that the concept of the black box has its origins in alchemy and demonology? Alchemists thought they could trap “demons” (not demons as in minions of Satan as we tend to think of them, but Demons or daemons as anthropomorphized elemental forces) in special boxes and somehow force them to do work? Thankfully the concept of the black box has been reclaimed for reason.

  38. Should sceptics accept creationism as separate from and compatible with evolution so that more Christians accept Darwin’s theory, and quit fighting for Intelligent Design?

    Could this, perhaps, be described as “The Dawkins’s Dilemma”.
    Is it best to tread softly and avoid alienating moderate Christians or should one grab the bull by the horns and distain all compromises?

    Should pragmatism outweigh principle or should principle always tip the balance?
    It depends on what you believe will be the outcome of each approach. Which strategy, if either, would achieve the result you desire?

    Would more Christians accept evolution and reject ID if sceptics accepted that creationism and evolution were compatible? I think NOT, in fact, I believe it would have the opposite effect! After all, isn’t the distinction between creationism and ID a distinction without a difference? Fundamental Christians didn’t replace creationism with intelligent design, rather, for purely tactical reasons, they just started referring to creationism as intelligent design. The purpose of this change was to allow them further opportunities to pursue their goal of supplanting science with theology.
    It would no more be possible for a genuine theist to simultaneously accept both Creationism and Darwinism, than it would be for a genuine sceptic to do the same – ID/Creationism and Darwinian Evolution are mutually exclusive world views. A deist could accept both notions but not a theist! Christians (and Moslems and Jews for that matter) are most definitely theists! Sceptics accepting creationism would simple encourage them, which is perhaps why it’s not a dilemma for Professor Dawkins?

  39. That does sound familiar. Probably one of those trivial factoids I read years ago and forgot.

    I also know that daemons, as in Unix/Linux daemons that run in the background and handle things so that we don’t have to, have similar origins. They were basically mythical spirits, neither good nor evil in some versions, who could be summoned to do handle tasks on the summoner’s behalf.

  40. God, and creationism, are layers of abstraction.

    I agree, but they are also cultural. This is important because there is actually a cost for rejecting your culture – even if it is to better understand it.

    To continue your analogy, imagine opening your car hood and examining the contents. Not just looking, but getting your hands dirty and taking things apart. After a few hours you might understand how your car worked, but now it is in pieces. You could put it together, but your child needs to be to soccer in 15 minutes.

    What I’m trying to get at is that there is actually a cost involved in learning. Unlike a car, however, somethings can’t be put back together. Ignorance is one of them.

  41. In programming, we call it layers of abstraction….This makes programming easier, because I don’t have to look under the hood.

    Agree completely, and a great analogy for all levels of science and engineering! :)

    I’ll be stealing that one…

    God, and creationism, are layers of abstraction.

    I will disagree here. The problem with god and creationism is there’s no way to drill down in a way that reflects the physical world.

    God and creationism are at best an undocumented API for the physical world. You can, through trial and error, discover the correct syntax for your method calls, but (absent documentation) you’re much, much better off inspecting the source code.

    @50 ronstrelecki, #50

    I think perhaps I was stating the opposition case without clearly identifying my “speaker”. What I meant was, basically to a Christian, Evolution is a “shibboleth”.

    Oops, my bad! Yes, completely agree with your post now. Very elegantly stated.

    I think a fast and elementary course on basic reason, peppered with some logic, rhetoric and a rigorous exploration of logical fallacies is something that is within absolutely everyone’s reach. But as long as our educational system is concerned with filtering the Doctors into Doctor School and the Mechanics into Shop class, we’ll have this problem.

    Also completely agree here. Very well said. :)

  42. I would hope that I wouldn’t be stupid enough to take my car apart if I was going to need it later. But admittedly, I know some people who have tried to fix or install something only an hour before they had to leave for somewhere.

    I have lots of users who are blissfully unaware of how their computer works, and take great effort to maintain their ignorance. Users get themselves into messes, sure. But seldom from taking their machine apart just to see what makes it tick.

  43. We must define ourselves first before we debate. I have difficulty with extremists, no matter what end of the spectrum, no matter the subject, unless the evidence is simply undeniable. One cannot disprove God. One cannot prove God. I have a horrific problem with religious fundamentalists; however, I’ve discovered through my reading of Hitchens, Dawkins and the blogs of the skeptical community that I am a tad uncomfortable with AGGRESSIVE atheist viewpoints. What am I? Dunno. I guess I’m 7/8 humanist, 1/8 deist, but I don’t think I’m an atheist. I am a culturist ( my term ) in that I enjoy my common roots and cultural history ( raised as a Jew ), but I have no use for organized religion in my everyday life. I am spiritual, not religious. But I do not begrudge others their religion, nor do I think all aspects of religion are harmful. As with any tool ( anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or a purpose ), the risks and benefits of that tool lie with the skill and the intent of the user. Many, many use religion as a framework for charity, morality, and ethics without relying on dogma. I have no beef with these people. I do have a huge problem with those who rely on authoratative dogma as a tool for manipulation or to promote propaganda.

    That said, creationism is, at the most benign, simple church propoganda. At it’s worse … it’s manipulation: manipulation of the less educated in order to minimize defectors and undermine rational thought. And that’s a dangerous thing for any society.

    For a millenia the Catholic church made sure the language of the church was in latin in order to disable the populace to interpret the bible for themselves. The Pope feared moveable type in Europe. Once Gutenberg printed bibles in the language of each country’s common tongue, Martin Luther had the vehicle for his reformation. Education and information that conflicts with dogma has always been attempted to be crushed by those in church power – ANY church or religious central agency .

    What is creationism’s purpose? Answer that … and we can answer this question.

    Though I have NO PROOF, I think it’s purpose is darker than just an alternative theory to Darwinism.

    I vote NO.

  44. God and creationism are at best an undocumented API for the physical world. You can, through trial and error, discover the correct syntax for your method calls, but (absent documentation) you’re much, much better off inspecting the source code.

    As it happens, I was working on an application just last week with all the documentation in French. My French is more than a little rusty. So, yeah, been there.

    But only I need to know how the program works. My users need neither the documentation, nor the source code.

  45. I don’t think that’s fair; they aren’t using the word in the scientific sense. Should we scold English professors for teaching “literary theory”? Of course, when creationists start yammering about how their Creation Theory is really scientific and just as valid as Evolutionary Theory, that’s something else again.

    I actually agree with you that Christians use the term “religious theory” in keeping with “literary theory” as opposed to “scientific theory”. Unfortunately, I also think that general misuse of the word theory leads to ignorant statements like “evolution is just a theory, as if that were synonymous with hypothesis. So, maybe science should think of a new name for theories that isn’t at all misleading. Sounds petty, but it actually becomes a pretty credible argument with people who aren’t familiar with all that a hypothesis has to go through to become a theory.

  46. I agree with James Fox: “ID and creationism are in fact ideologically and religiously-based beliefs that are not part of the accepted body (of) known science facts and evidence-supported theories. Fine to teach them in a comparative religion or philosophy class as what some people believe. I see no rational way to “accept” creation “science” (whatever that is) or ID (which seems to be a redefining of science and evidence) as credible options in the area of education and rational thought.”

    My thought is that “religious theory” = theology. I’ve yet to see any theology that is provable in a scientific way.

    The “Christers” (thank you, Gore Vidal!) still misuse the word “theory” as meaning “wild guess,” though it has been pointed out to them as an abuse of the language repeatedly. I must conclude that they are more interested in sophistry than fact in this case. Remember that it was the Catholic Church via the Jesuits that came up with the concept of “holy deception,” where lying that results in “salvation” is appropriate. I think the Christers picked this idea up from them or came up with it independently. Either way, they obviously missed the concept that that “The ends do not justify the means.”

  47. @Peregrin, #56

    But only I need to know how the program works. My users need neither the documentation, nor the source code.

    Agreed. I think “levels of abstraction” is a great concept that can apply across all levels of all sciences. You don’t need to understand the layers of abstraction up or down from where you’re working, just how to interface with them. You do, however, have to understand your own layer.

    The problem I had is with this section in #47:

    God, and creationism, are layers of abstraction.

    We’re dealing with three degrees of knowledge here, ranked in order of usefulness:

    1) Some
    2) None (Trust in daemons)
    3) False (Belief in demons)

    Your users can have no knowledge of how the program works and still use it; they only need to know the layer of abstraction they’re working with, and trust that you know what you’re doing in your particular layer of abstraction.

    They trust in daemons, but do not believe in demons.

    Trust in daemons:

    Example 1) Call tech support if you get a BSOD, because something is wrong and you don’t know what.

    Example 2) Call a mechanic if your engine starts knocking, because something is wrong and you don’t know what.

    Belief in demons:

    Example 1) Play soothing music if you get a BSOD, to placate the demon living in your PC.

    Example 2) Put sugar cubes or carrots in your gas tank if your engine starts knocking, to placate the demonic horses.

    When too many members of society believe in demons rather than trusting in daemons, science decends into ignorance.

  48. @Peregrine

    LOL, actually, I’ve been thinking this over half the night…your original analogy, including the ‘god as a level of abstraction’ was pretty darn tight across the board.

    I must have considered and dismissed a good half dozen different arguments before coming up with that one.

    Damn good discussion; I’m glad you brought it up. :)

  49. Stephen Jay Gould proposed that science and religion are not incompatible, in that science is the wrong medium with which to investigate religion and vice versa.

    However, the trouble comes when religion tries to pretend to be science.

    Sure – science and spirituality or religion are not intrinsically incompatible – but science and fundamentalist creationist psuedoscience such as “intelligent design” most certainly are incompatible.

    Question: Should skeptics accept creationism as separate from and compatible with evolution so that more Christians accept Darwin’s theory, and quit fighting for Intelligent Design?

    “I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.” – Carl Sagan

  50. a reply to Stacey, comment #58

    The “just a theory” argument is a logical fallacy of sorts: Equivocation (more or less – an interesting variation, it combines equivocation with a simple argument from ignorance). If you start crafting your arguments based upon your opponent’s ignorance (“think of a new name for theories”) you are needlessly ceding territory to the opponent. You are allowing their argument from ignorance to win. Basically, their argument, if it can be stated logically, which it can’t be, because it depends on irrationality to work is, “I don’t understand what a theory is, therefore any theory is ‘just a theory.'”

    Argument from ignorance. (I don’t understand A, therefore, ~A)
    Equivocation. (two definitions of “theory”)
    Straw Man. (claiming that evolution is a folk theory)

    There are simply too many fallacies in the argument to deal with without sounding like a pedantic jerk. You end up saying, “Please define your terms,” and then you are getting all semantic and pointless. You are never going to convince them. And if you have an audience, your “arrogance” will come through loud and clear. They have two thousand years practice at acting “humble” while being irrational and forcing their opponents to be pedantic and then acting “wounded” to win the sympathies of a lay audience. This kind of irrationality and deliberate deception is what religion is based on as QuestionAuthority so eloquently illustrates.

    It’s like sitting down to a game of chess. You open with a simple pawn move. Your opponent moves three pawns, and then starts squawking like a chicken. Half the audience starts hooting like an owl. You are perplexed, but somehow manage to make your second move. Your opponent plays “Jungle Boogie” from a concealed boombox and starts preaching to the audience. Then he throws a few checkers on the board. You get angry, knock over the pieces and storm off. He says to the crowd, “I guess she doesn’t like chess…”

    It is pointless to “debate” these people. They aren’t playing the same game, and they have no respect for rules.

  51. I think the solution to the problem that ronstrelecki mentions, assuming you want to “debate” them, is to emphasise the accepted definition of “theory” by pointing to other theories, like the theory of gravity, the germ theory of disease, information theory and so on.

    Do not, under any circumstances, accept the premises of a creationist’s “argument”. That means don’t waste time denying it, either, because by denying an argument, you give it time. Someone trying to explain evolution has nothing to gain and everything to lose by wasting time on their arguments.

    I guess that’s what ronstrelecki means by it being pointless to “debate” them. I agree in part: You don’t debate Duane Gish to win over Duane Gish. If anything, you do it to win over the audience.

    Incidentally, on the revised original question:

    I meant – should skeptics be lenient with Christians by not fighting their belief that God created the universe and set evolution in motion – as long as they quit fighting evolution.

    The question is ill-posed in that it assumes that skeptics and Christians are disjoint sets, which they obviously are not.

    Answering the intended question, though, the answer is “of course”. A Christian who behaves themselves is not someone that you need to “fight”. By all means discuss. By all means put your case. If a particular person or group gets disrespectful with you, by all means disrespect them back. You don’t have to pretend that you agree with them, but you don’t have to pretend that they are your mortal enemy either.

  52. Stacey,

    Sorry if someone already said this, but I disagree with two of your ‘facts’.. Both your second and third ‘Fact’ are opinions, not facts. Neither of them are equally applicable to all ‘religious people’ with any accuracy at all.

    If by ‘religious people’, you intended to say ‘fundamentalist Christians and Muslims’, then I would agree with your statements. However, in their stated forms I have to disagree.

    That said, none of this takes away from your question. My answer to that is, “No.”

  53. MoltenHotMagma,

    By “religious people fight for Intelligent Design because they feel that evolution is at odds with their beliefs”, I meant exactly what I said. “Religious” is an adjective of “people” – it doesn’t say that all religious people fight for ID. It says that the people who fight for ID are religious.

    If you think there are other reasons that they fight for ID, please state them so we can discuss.

  54. To answer the original question, “No.”

    I’m sure everything I’d like to say has been said, but Stacey’s last post sums it up with “the people who fight for ID are religious.”

    The only people I know who don’t accept the overwhelming evidence of evolution are those with a theological axe to grind.

    If you disagree, go to “Uncommon Descent” and try to talk to someone about real science.

    ID and creationism are shades of the same color. One calls itself “Navy Blue” and one calls itself “Royal Blue.” But neither are “True Blue.”

    And neither are science. Denyse O’Leary and Ken Ham can argue all they want, but all they’re fighting over, metaphorically, is whether Led Zeppelin is “the worst rock band ever” or “the worst band ever.”

    And they’re both wrong. Because Led Zeppelin is the best band ever, and the evidence points to Zep kicking everyone’s collective asses.

    (Zep is totally rock-and-roll science. Get your horns up, bitches and bastards!)

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