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15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense
June 17, 2002 12:57 PM   Subscribe

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense From Scientific American..."Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up. Besieged teachers and others may increasingly find themselves on the spot to defend evolution and refute creationism. The arguments that creationists use are typically specious and based on misunderstandings of (or outright lies about) evolution, but the number and diversity of the objections can put even well-informed people at a disadvantage. To help with answering them, the following list rebuts some of the most common "scientific" arguments raised against evolution. It also directs readers to further sources for information and explains why creation science has no place in the classroom." Creation "science?"
posted by martk (89 comments total)

 
If someone tries to engage me into a conversation about how creationism is right and evolution is wrong, that's a conversation I'm walking away from. Unless, of course, that person is my grandmother, and then I just smile politely, nod, and say, "Yes ma'am."
posted by ColdChef at 1:10 PM on June 17, 2002


Seeing as how the ten-headed dragon of Babylon will rise from the east and destroy us all in a rain of fire on January 1st, 2000, I can only view this argument as moot.
posted by mathis23 at 1:24 PM on June 17, 2002


This is a good summary for laymen but is unlikely to help you when confronted by a die-hard well-armed creationist.

If you're serious about this, I recommend the talk.origins FAQ

In general, I also follow the ColdChef policy.
posted by vacapinta at 1:24 PM on June 17, 2002


Word. I've found that people typically believe what they want to believe, regardless of the obvious idiocy of it, and no amount of proof, reason, evidence or otherwise will convince them to change their minds. Nice to see Sciam defuse the little argumantative traps, though, for the benefit of the punishment-gluttons.
posted by UncleFes at 1:24 PM on June 17, 2002


As someone with a science and research background, nothing makes my blood boil more than the phrase "it's just a theory." In my interaction with creationists and theists, rarely have we ever moved past that gem, but this list of 14 other points is great to know.
posted by mathowie at 1:25 PM on June 17, 2002


Creationism and evolution can co-exist. God can create everything and have a plan and still use an evolutionary framework to do it in. God may have created the earth in 7 days but what are 7 God Days?

I make fun of the people that, in the face of over whelming evidence, still say the earth is 5,000 years old. You can put people with this opinion in the same boat with people that say the world is flat and the earth is the center of the universe.

Humans want to feel special and excluded from nature and all the laws of nature.
posted by MaddCutty at 1:26 PM on June 17, 2002


I make fun of the people that, in the face of over whelming evidence, still say the earth is 5,000 years old.

My first experience with this was a backpacking trip in the grand canyon with some relatives, and finding fossils in a rock about halfway down the rim. I remember saying how remarkable it was to find shells that once sat on the bottom of the ocean, millions of years ago. My cousin took issue with that statement, as the entire grand canyon was formed in two weeks, thanks to heavy rains and a good deal of mud. The point of view astounded me since.

Humans want to feel special and excluded from nature and all the laws of nature.

That's the reason that's often at the very core of someone that doesn't believe in evolution. "I'm not related to a monkey" is just so much pointless pride. You are, and you know what? Does it really matter or make you feel any less special?
posted by mathowie at 1:34 PM on June 17, 2002


Is it a cold-hearted scientist who can look at things like the Big Bang, consciousness, the Horsehead nebula, and indeed the entirety of quantum physics, and not ask Why? and What is with all this beauty, and strangeness, what is it all for, and what is my part in it? It used to be that religion and philosophy worked hand-in-hand with science to come up with those answers -- and wasn't afraid to, either. What happened?
posted by drinkcoffee at 1:34 PM on June 17, 2002


Weak, weak, weak. Any good creationist/intelligent designist could tear these 15 points to shreds. The argument between evolutionists and creationists/intelligent designists is not an argument about evolution. It is an argument about argument. As such, it is a thing of post-modern beauty. But the rational scientist should stay the heck out of of this playful tar pit. One good reason is that evolution may be, in fact, a deeply and seriously flawed model for reasons entirely aside from the those put forth by the creationist/intelligent designists. Nimble minds shouldn't let ignorant minds force them to hunker down, even in such a seemingly formidable edifice as evolution.
posted by Faze at 1:34 PM on June 17, 2002


its easy to feel somewhat righteous about the whole creationism/evolution thing since you can argue that it rarely affects you directly. However, there are many states in which mentioning evolution in a biology textbook is enough to get that textbook not purchased by the state's Board of Ed. Keeping in mind that many kids from these poorer states may never go on to college to get an opposing viewpoint and that's some scary news indeed.

With the death of Stephen Jay Gould -- one or the more outspoken Christian evolutionary scientists -- one hopes that there will still be people willing to make these arguments, ad nauseum if need be, until the point gets across.
posted by jessamyn at 1:36 PM on June 17, 2002


Drinkcoffee: If I may quote Stephen Crane...

A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
"A sense of obligation."
posted by mathis23 at 1:39 PM on June 17, 2002


I find some of the answers to the questions problematic. For example:

8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.

Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities. Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (nonadaptive) ones. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times…


Natural selection only kills off the organisms that are not well suited to surviving in their environments. This is not the same as creating organisms, as the first sentence in the quote above claims. It is indeed random mutation that, according to scientists, gives rise to new traits and organisms. Natural selection only determines which ones survive. Also, natural selection itself is very much a random process, for it depends only on the features of an organism and the conditions of its environment, which are both rather accidental conditions.

I am not saying that I have anything against natural selection, just that it is being misrepresented in the answer above. Also, mathematically, it is conceivable that humans could “spring up by chance.” Stephen Jay Gould, for example, wrote many a book on the subject.
posted by epimorph at 1:44 PM on June 17, 2002


You know, funny enough, it wasn't until high school did I learn that people actually questioned evolution. I've noticed that fundies are exponentially more vocal about creationist than evolutionists are to evolution. It reminds me of that Hamlet (or was it Macbeth, I think it was Hamlet), quote, "Methinks thou protest too much."

It's a shame that the vocal majority has the ability to sway those who really aren't heartfelt, dare I say apathetic, to evolution/creationist.
posted by geoff. at 1:54 PM on June 17, 2002


Weak, weak, weak. Any good creationist/intelligent designist could tear these 15 points to shreds.

please do!
posted by mcsweetie at 2:00 PM on June 17, 2002


As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction

true, epimorph. This statement is controversial within academic circles. One view is that evolution is "directed" toward more complex organisms and another the view that evolution does nothing more than favor local environments and that complexity arises from a random-walk algorithm.


random-walk algorithhm: Imagine a drunk walking beside a wall. He randomly takes a step either left or right. Mathematically, it can be shown that the drunk will end up farther and farther from the wall over time even though he has no preference for left/right. Likewise, complexity arises because there is more "room" for organisms to walk in that direction.

posted by vacapinta at 2:00 PM on June 17, 2002


Matt, not to bait you, but more to debate you, I'll give you that the theory of evolution is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.", but the scientific theories on this as well as other subjects have been evolving for quite some time [centuries?] now. Even quite recently, paleontologists had problems agreeing on whether dinosaurs were warm blooded or cold blooded. They still can't come to agreement on whether the T-Rex was a scavenger or a predator or both. So lets back up and take 'science' as an evolutionary process. Any scientific theory is "well-substantiated" based on the facts at hand. New facts are always being discovered, such as the (what seems pretty recent) theory that cetaceans developed from land mammals.

So what we do is lean on science till it breaks. If it doesn't break, or seem to break with the facts at hand, then we call it "well-substantiated" and it goes into the books until the next genius comes along and blows the theory out of the water. For a field that has to come to grips with new theories all the time I'm always astounded by the iron grip that 'science' seems to have on scientists. The impossible and implausible is part and parcel to scientific thinking. Thinking in the abstract. Thinking beyond the bounds of reason.

If we knew everything there was to know about biology/evolution/etc., we wouldn't still be studying it and updating the 'scientific theories' with our new findings. If you can't allow for the possibility of creationism then science is dead.
posted by mikhail at 2:10 PM on June 17, 2002


If we knew everything there was to know about biology/evolution/etc., we wouldn't still be studying it and updating the 'scientific theories' with our new findings. If you can't allow for the possibility of creationism then science is dead

I never said evolution is absolute law, that's what creation is supposed to be. Of course I agree that there are many, many holes in the scientific story of the universe (especially some really big, obvious ones).

My problem is simply people thinking the word "theory" means the same in common usage as it does in the scientific communites. Creationists use this logic to say things like evolution is a theory that holds as much merit as any common "theory" like there is a bigfoot in the woods of Washington State.

I know full well, and am comfortable with the "unstable" nature of science's description and explanation for all things. I know that nothing is absolute in science, but creationism is absolute. God created the universe on this day, and blah, blah, blah happened afterwards, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
posted by mathowie at 2:22 PM on June 17, 2002


Presumably, the article "misrepresents"--that is, oversimplifies--the subject in the same fashion that the guides to "Preventing Your Catholic Child From Being Perverted by Raving Fundamentalists" or "Preventing Your Protestant Child From Being Seduced by Hysterical Romanists" oversimplify questions of Roman Catholic or Protestant theology. Since neither participant in this purported "debate" acknowledges the validity of the other's perspective, the article offers quick-draw answers designed to shut down a conversation, not open up a dialogue.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:22 PM on June 17, 2002


Queen [Gertrude]: The lady doth protest too much, methinks. -- Hamlet, III.ii.225

(Referring to the Player Queen's fervent argument that, should her husband die, she would never, ever marry again.)
posted by macrone at 2:22 PM on June 17, 2002


Creationists use this logic to say things like evolution is a theory that holds as much merit as any common "theory" like there is a bigfoot in the woods of Washington State.

running with it...
posted by Ty Webb at 2:34 PM on June 17, 2002


The BBC has some nice articles on both sides.

The Theory of Evolution - Part I

The Theory of Evolution - Part II

Discrepancies in the Theory of Evolution - Part I

Discrepancies in the Theory of Evolution - Part II
posted by mikhail at 2:35 PM on June 17, 2002


What dialogue is there to be had, thomas j wise, with people whose ideas about the world are based on faith? They do not reason, they rationalize. They cannot reason, or they may discover cracks in the beliefs that are more important to them than knowledge. Thus they do not discuss - they merely argue, and there is no profit to be had in conversation with them.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:36 PM on June 17, 2002


From Part II of The Theory of Evolution article:

"...humans share 50% of their genes with bananas."

umm...cool.
posted by mikhail at 2:39 PM on June 17, 2002


"I'm not related to a monkey" is just so much pointless pride. You are, and you know what? Does it really matter or make you feel any less special?

On one level, I think it matters very much; on another, not at all. And it makes me feel quite special to know that I am the end result of millions of years worth of process, and that, by my criteria at least, I am further along than a monkey. That is mind-blowingly cool--far superior to being belched out by some tyrant god on a whim one day.

If you can't allow for the possibility of creationism then science is dead.

And if we can't allow for the possiblity of the aether, then science is dead? or the flat-earth or geocentric theories? or the various myths that attempted to explain where babies came from before the process was understood? There comes a time when the better, more testable, more plausible, more consistent with the existing body of human knowledge, less preposterous theory has to be adopted over its competitors. We can never know anything with absolute certainty--we are constrained by the structure and function of our brains. But probability is enough, particularly when it is skewed so far in one direction.
posted by rushmc at 2:43 PM on June 17, 2002


I wont debate creationism but I'll address a misrepresentation in the methodologies of science.

then we call it "well-substantiated" and it goes into the books until the next genius comes along and blows the theory out of the water

Name one well-substantiated theory that was blown out of the water. Einstein, for example, refined Newton whose equations we still use for our rockets. Theories have sometimes proved inadequate when extended to new domains but that is not to say that they were falsified.

Science has rules. Its not about making things up. Its about reasonable inductive processes and falsifiable hypothesis.

I, like mathis23, believe that the world will end in a rain of fire on Jan 1st,3000 and I dare you to show evidence to the contrary. If you are going to propose a theory be sure to include how I can determine whether its wrong.

No, if you are going to propose a theory, tell me *why* it works. Take for example, Bode's Law about planetary orbits. It's eerie and many astronomers will even tell you that they think there may be something to it but nobody has come up with an explanation for it and so it is still outside of the mainstream scientific community. Packaging it up as some 'music of the spheres' or whatnot will not make it more appealing. However, showing that it is derived from more well-accepted laws such as dynamics will make it accepted.

. If you can't allow for the possibility of creationism then science is dead.

Oh, I've allowed for it and I've studied it. And, like most reasonable people, I've dismissed it just like I have most of the other quack theories circulating on the Internet. This particular one, however, has a particular dogmatic history that ensures that it wont just go away so easily, like astrology.

I acknowledge that evolution has its flaws and may, who knows, in time be replaced by a stronger, better version (perhaps with the unwitting help of intelligent creationists). That evolution is flawed does not mean creationism is right. Its not an either/or.
posted by vacapinta at 2:45 PM on June 17, 2002


If someone tries to engage me into a conversation about how creationism is right and evolution is wrong, that's a conversation I'm walking away from.

Does this mean you accept your belief in evolution dogmatically, or do you just not like to argue with fundamentalists (a feeling I certainly sympathize with)?

There's nothing wrong with evolution being a theory. Technically, you don't really get better than a theory. Gravity is a theory. It can be disproven, if the evidence is found. I think there is ample evidence of micro-evolution (change within a species via natural selection), but I still don't see the evidence of macro-evolution (wholesale change from species to species). I think the arguments against mutation explaining evolution are good ones. Anyway, who knows what tools the scientific community will have in 50 years, or even 10? Generally laypeople and politicians, outside of science (like me) think that there are only 3 possible explanations: darwinian evolution, young earth creationism, or thiestic evolution. There is still much debate about the mechanisms of evolution, the how and why, within the scientific community.

At some point when evolution was being proposed as the best theory, some athiest probably said "oh, look, I can use this to argue against the existence of God." To which the fundamentalist response was that if science argues that God does not exist, then science must always be wrong. This kind of madness really took hold with the Scopes trial.
posted by insomnyuk at 2:46 PM on June 17, 2002


If you can't allow for the possibility of creationism then science is dead.

I was with you right up until this sentence.

One of the pesky little details about science is that, for a theory to be taken even vaguely seriously, there has to be at least some evidence to support it. Sure there are details about evolution that we don't fully understand -- but there's plenty that suggests we've got at least the big picture correct: from the fossil record to the microevolution visible when (for example) generations of bacteria become increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

No evidence supports creationism. None. Just an old book, of dubious provenance and authorship, that isn't even internally self-consistent.

Not knowing every little detail of how a theory works doesn't invalidate the theory; it just means we don't understand it completely yet.

[on preview: wow, you're all much faster typists than I am.]
posted by ook at 2:52 PM on June 17, 2002


Evidence against evolution does not equal evidence for creationism.

If anti-evolutionists come up with good arguments against evolution we'd be left with nothing. That'd be fine with me. It happens all the time. It's called "don't know".
posted by Wood at 3:02 PM on June 17, 2002


What dialogue is there to be had, thomas j wise, with people whose ideas about the world are based on faith? They do not reason, they rationalize.

No dialogue to be had, Mars? That's a pretty cynical reduction of religious people (although perhaps you meant true fundamentalists and the like). Telling someone whose ideas about the world are based on faith (among whom you won't find me, by the way) that they "do not reason" simply because they begin with premises that you, lacking faith, could never accept, makes things worse. It could be that they have found something more important to them than knowledge, and it ain't the cracks in their beliefs. Sometimes I wish I could discover it, too; but I was destined to be one of the only ones in my tiny, deep south high school willing to question openly the teaching of creationism in my classes. I think the dialogue has taught me more about both religion and the scientific outlook than almost anything else.
posted by sj at 3:06 PM on June 17, 2002


Natural History ran a controversial feature on intelligent design in its April 2002 issue. It opened its pages to intelligent-design proponents and ran them in point/counterpoint style, but, in two additional pieces in that issue (not online), slapped ID down pretty hard nevertheless.
posted by mcwetboy at 3:24 PM on June 17, 2002


"There comes a time when the better, more testable, more plausible,..." yadda yadda

I agree. But, since science has yet to explain the universe in its infiniteness, there lies this backdoor of possibility where the untestable, less plausible, inconsistent and preposterous takes place. And my point is that it is there where both madman and genius formulate their ideas.

"Name one well-substantiated theory that was blown out of the water."

I would say Quantum Mechanics blows alot of things out of the water, but since you brought up Einstein — through his Theory of Relativity he debunked the whole ether and corpuscular theories of light that were prevalent at the time.

I do understand that you're trying to say that new science is built on the shoulders of predecessors, but we do occasionally completely throw out outdated and inconsistent theories which no longer fit the facts.

I was with you right up until this sentence.

heh, yeah, i didn't phrase that one too well.
posted by mikhail at 3:33 PM on June 17, 2002


Is it a cold-hearted scientist who can look at things like the Big Bang, consciousness, the Horsehead nebula, and indeed the entirety of quantum physics, and not ask Why?

Everyone asks why, but some of us like to take the agnostic approach because we think there aren't enough facts to make a decision on religious concepts. I wouldn't call that cold hearted. Nor is the atheist cold-hearted, the world to her is mechanistic and materialistic and as far as she can tell doesn't have deities pulling strings.

I don't know if your post is a hypothetical case, but let me be the first to tell you that the non-religious have certainly thought things through. Cold hearted? I don't think so.

Creationism and evolution can co-exist. God can create everything and have a plan and still use an evolutionary framework to do it in. God may have created the earth in 7 days but what are 7 God Days?

Maybe, but not in the way you suggest. You're rationalizing. I'll give you your God Days, but do you also need a God flood to explain the lack of a worldwide flood in the past couple thousand years? You can say, "To God a small series of floods around the world is a worldwide flood. From God's perspective." You can add the God adjective to anything. It doesn't mean anything other than you're suddenly a revisionist.

Name one well-substantiated theory that was blown out of the water.

Sure, Newton's concept of absolute time is a myth. Its all relative. Or Germ Theory replacing cellular theory or whatever it was called. Or Quantum randomness.

As to why we use Newtonian math for rockets, from my understanding of relativity its because the math behind Newtonian physics is far simpler and the margin of error, unless the rocket going near the speed or light or is incredibly massive, is negligable.
posted by skallas at 3:37 PM on June 17, 2002


"Science has rules. Its not about making things up. Its about reasonable inductive processes and falsifiable hypothesis."

Well, while I think you meant to say verifiable hypothesis, it still strikes me funny then why Einstein would fudge his equations on General Relativity and avoid giving up his notions of a static universe by adding a term called the cosmological constant, which warped space-time the other way so that bodies move apart. The repulsive effect of the cosmological constant would balance the attractive effect of matter and allow for a universe that lasts for all time.
posted by mikhail at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2002


I have to agree with coldchef, and i'm sure sometimes it seems bitchy to people, but really, even the assumption that i will argue with you sorta pisses me off. i haven't studied computer science, and i don't go around making wild claims like, "i don't believe in a C-compiler" i don't really understand what a compiler does, so why would i make such a wild claim? i don't. i know other people know about compilers, and if they claim they're useful fine, i believe them.

IF i had a vested interest in the non-existance of a c-compiler i would not do 1 google search, form some half-ass theory, and start arguing with a computer programmer. it would only piss them off, because i don't know what i'm talking about. when they say they don't want to talk to me, i would not, then, say "if you don't have an open mind then computer science is dead!"

people who haven't studied evolution have two options:
1. believe the people that have studied it
2. study it as much as them and offer something to the discussion (which has by no means stopped)

"evolution isn't true"
"really? how can you explain things like the progressive changes in myoglobin across so many species?"
"what's myoglobin?"
"oh, i'm sorry, i thought you were talking about biology"
posted by rhyax at 3:51 PM on June 17, 2002


For pretty convincing creationist arguments, check out Answers in Genesis. I think creationism is bunk, but a lot of this made me think.
posted by Samsonov14 at 4:06 PM on June 17, 2002


i don't get how a lack of proof for creation is construed as absolute proof that it's false. for all practical purposes it may as well be false, but that hardly constitutes an absolute proof.

eg: none of us has met someone who was alive 200 years ago. a theory that some sort of creation (*poof* the universe appears with everything we accept to be in it including people with memories of a past) took place around that time can't be absolutely disproven.
posted by juv3nal at 4:24 PM on June 17, 2002


An example of a theory that was blown out of the water: epicycles.

Another example: humors as causes of disease.

Another: volcanoes as explanation for the moon's craters.

This list could be extended indefinitely.

The problem with creationism is not that it offers a different explanation for the world around us, but that it offers a different standard for evaluating such explanations: scriptural inerrancy is supposed to trump the search for evidence and logical deduction. That is not science.

It is not necessary to wonder what would happen "if" the Biblical theory of creation and the modern theories of geology, physics and evolutionary biology were placed on the table and given a fair chance in competition with each other. This did happen -- in the 19th century. The results, despite an immense entrenched belief in Genesis, were a blowout victory for the new science.
posted by anser at 4:24 PM on June 17, 2002


while I think you meant to say verifiable hypothesis

No. I meant falsifiable, ala Popper.

As for the cosmological constant, it is what Einstein referred to afterwards as the biggest blunder of his life. Other scientists called him on it. So, he was human and he was honest about it. You also know, of course, that Einstein was one of Quantum Mechanics most vehement opponents. Nevertheless, QM is now generally accepted. That is how science works - even Einstein's immense reputation was unable to quash the new theory.

Nevertheless, the cosmological constant is still used today. Einstein's intuition may have been partly right after all as there is new evidence of what is provisionally called 'dark energy', forces which may be influencing the shape and future of the universe.

An example of a theory that was blown out of the water: epicycles

Of course. The original qualification was "well-supported" which I suppose can easily lead into an argument about semantics.
posted by vacapinta at 4:36 PM on June 17, 2002


Every time I see this arguement I wonder why it always devolves to a hard line between evolutionist and crazed Christian creationists? Those are not the only opinions out there: there are probably 2.5 billion Hindus, Taoist/Confusciusnists and Buddists, etc that don't give a damn about either point of view.
posted by Mack Twain at 4:51 PM on June 17, 2002


Great thread. Here is an entertaining review and refutation of Michael Behe's book on Intelligent Design, "Darwin's Black Box": Darwin v. Intelligent Design (Again).

Daniel Dennet has said that he thinks Darwin's theory of evolution is the single best idea anyone has ever had, and I tend to agree. Of all the ideas I have ever come across, I find it the most humbling and inspiring.
posted by homunculus at 5:04 PM on June 17, 2002


Mack Twain: considering the rising biotechnology industries in South and East Asia, where Hinduism and Buddhism are widely practiced, are you sure? I've oftened wondered how the theory of evolution would be received in a culture whose religious beliefs include reincarnation. I would guess that evolution is more compatible with Hinduism and Buddhism than with Christianity.
posted by homunculus at 5:09 PM on June 17, 2002


Is it a cold-hearted scientist who can look at things like the Big Bang, consciousness, the Horsehead nebula, and indeed the entirety of quantum physics, and not ask Why?

Certainly, the difference is that the Creationist looks at these things and says, "God made them" while the Atheist looks at these things as beautiful examples of how simple things can produce very complex things. The myth is that atheists loose their sense of wonder and awe regarding the universe. I suggest the opposite, many atheists see the universe as so wonderful that they can't imagine a god even more wonderful.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:13 PM on June 17, 2002


once again, i am amazed at the vehemence of the arguments on this subject. the truth or falsity of evolution has little to say about the existence of God and vice versa. those Christians that believe in literal truth of scripture are obviously threatened by evolution, but, believe it or not, they are a relatively small minority of all professing Christians. They just happen to be extremely vocal. Sort of like the NRA to gun owners. Or maybe PETA to animal lovers.

Most of us Christians are extremely sanguine about creationism/evolution debate, so long as the hard-core evolutionists don't try to make the foolish argument that evidence of evolution somehow disproves the existence of God. What I find sad is that so many of you seem to equate Christianity with right-wing fundamentalism. As satifying as that must be, it's hardly a fair characterization.
posted by boltman at 5:28 PM on June 17, 2002


(b) The purpose of the stars.

The reasons stars were made are given to us in several places in the Bible, not only in the well-known Psalm 19 but especially in the Creation account. In Genesis 1:14 we read: ‘And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.’

We see from this that stars are there for mankind on earth.


Sorry, Samsonov14, but that's as far as I got. What mindboggling ego!
posted by rushmc at 5:43 PM on June 17, 2002


This is a good summary for laymen but is unlikely to help you when confronted by a die-hard well-armed creationist.

haha. you mean a moron?
posted by Satapher at 5:55 PM on June 17, 2002


"Every time I see this arguement I wonder why it always devolves to a hard line between evolutionist and crazed Christian creationists?"

Where did this discussion devolve? I don't see any hard lines or Christian creationists here either. I hope no one is putting me in that box. I am neither Christian (crazed or otherwise) or hardline.

"once again, i am amazed at the vehemence of the arguments on this subject."

Actually I am amazed that anyone is seeing this thread as any kind of heated argument. I thought there was some interesting discussion and debate going on.

RE: Falsificationism - I like that idea.
posted by mikhail at 5:58 PM on June 17, 2002


I hear you RushMC, but egocentrism is pretty much central to the bible. This ark stuff is a lot better. Also see their stuff on the flood.
posted by Samsonov14 at 6:02 PM on June 17, 2002


One thing that's got me puzzled is why some insects and snakes have poison far in excess of anything they could reasonably want to kill.

Surely making a big, complex poison molecule uses energy that could be better used elsewhere. Isn't this anti-evolutionary?

Anyone?
posted by emf at 6:03 PM on June 17, 2002


"Answers in Genesis"? Oh please. Let's take a look at Genesis, shall we? According to legend it was written by Moses. According to modern Biblical scholarship it may have been written as late as the reign of Solomon. Either way, multiple generations separated the events from their transcription. Adam was not taking notes, and if you will compare Gen 2:17 with Gen 3:3, you will see that Eve could not keep straight from one day till the next what God had said. Spare me rhetoric about the infallible word of God.

For the record, I used to be a Christian that didn't have a problem with Evolution as Reality. Evolution seemed pretty well proven to me based on my meager high school science experience, supported by everything I knew about plant varieties and cat breeds. I didn't see any particular reason God couldn't be the First Mover behind evolution.
posted by ilsa at 6:05 PM on June 17, 2002


I make fun of the people that, in the face of over whelming evidence, still say the earth is 5,000 years old. You can put people with this opinion in the same boat with people that say the world is flat and the earth is the center of the universe.

Actually, 5,000 years is incorrect. Following the timelines, we see that the earth is indeed about 8,000 years old.

The problem with circular logic is not necessarily in the theory of survival of the fittest, but regarding time itself. We all have had a species die during our lifetime. The problem with circular logic is that evolutionists will tell you that the earth is some trillions or whatever years old. Then when they carbon date and look at soil layers and such, they do so, assuming that when they perform dating experiments, they have a fixed point to look back on and say "oh look, this is 1,000,000 years old."

Now if they would assume that the earth is only about 8,000 years old, things start to fall into place. Stalagtites that take thousands and thousands of years to form are underneath the lincoln memorial in Washington DC.

How about the fossils of species that died out long before something "evolved" into a human, but then they found fossils of the animal with a human footprint underneath it?

Someone please try to refute my 16th nonsenical point.

If the parents of monkeys were also the parents of humans, why are there both of us? Wouldn't logic dictate that in order for either species to develop fully within the time given, one of them wouldn't evolve at all? What is/was the parent animal? Why have we not evolved further than this? Why have monkeys not evolved further than monkeys?

boltman, I agree. The hardcore fundamentalist's "I hate everyone who's not like me" is not the way God teaches us to live. But the hardcore fundamentalists are the loudest. And you know what they say about that squeaky wheel.
posted by schlaager at 6:31 PM on June 17, 2002


Anyone?
Perhaps the poison is to convince predators there are better things to eat.
posted by thirteen at 6:34 PM on June 17, 2002


ok, I'll take up your question, emf.

Note that I didnt know this 20 minutes ago but, apparently the toxicity of poison arrow frogs is due to a particular chemical process the output of which varies with the input (diet). In fact, different sub-species have toxicity levels which correlate with diet and, when in captivity, these frogs often lose their poison.

So, the answer seems to be that the extra 'energy' is gained from diet and probably cant be usefully re-purposed towards other ends, at least not without using up even more energy, so ... you might as well leave it as 'extra' poison. Hmmm.

the above is unsupported. Do the research yourself. I was simply sharing my understanding of the matter.
posted by vacapinta at 6:35 PM on June 17, 2002


I just read this thread through. I don't have an opinion worth mentioning, but golly, you guys are some smart fuckers.

I'm gonna go play with my Superball now.
posted by jonmc at 8:24 PM on June 17, 2002


If the parents of monkeys were also the parents of humans, why are there both of us?

Well, schlaager, this objection is tantamount to asking, "If children descended from adults, why are there still adults?" New species evolve by splintering off from established ones, when populations of organisms become isolated from the main branch of their family and acquire sufficient differences to remain forever distinct. The parent species may survive indefinitely thereafter, or it may become extinct.

Or so I recall reading somewhere.
posted by ook at 8:35 PM on June 17, 2002


Thank you, Vacapinta and thirteen.
posted by emf at 9:28 PM on June 17, 2002


Or better yet "if the parents of your brother were also the parents of you, why are there both of you?"

Gee, that makes no sense does it?
posted by ilsa at 9:42 PM on June 17, 2002


Regarding the stalactites at the Lincoln memorial, chemists have suggested the following:

The stone is made of marble and is being destroyed by acid rain. Marble is calcium carbonate and it reacts with sulfuric acid, the most common acid found in "acid rain" to produce calcium sulphate which is then washed away. This phenomenon also affects the Parthenon in Greece, the Taj Mahal, the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa and the Lincoln Memorial. The chambers underneath the Lincoln Memorial already sport huge stalactites caused by the erosion of the marble and its conversion to calcium sulfate.
posted by dejah420 at 9:51 PM on June 17, 2002


in other news: we're all here, so lets start a band!
posted by mcsweetie at 10:11 PM on June 17, 2002


MC Hawking at his best.

If that link doesn't work, try;
http://www.ampcast.com/music/11003/artist.php
posted by krisjohn at 12:05 AM on June 18, 2002


> "...humans share 50% of their genes with bananas."

But that's just an average. Some are actually much more banana than others.
posted by pracowity at 12:44 AM on June 18, 2002


I hope people in the US realise elsewhere in the world it provides great amusement that a nation that can send a man to the moon is still troubled, in some areas, by the idea of teaching evolution...
posted by malevolent at 1:12 AM on June 18, 2002


um, anybody who thinks that evolution and creation are mutually exclusive hasn't really thought out the implications of the word "omnipotent." given an omnipotent creator, there's absolutely no reason that the universe can't be simultaneously many billion and eight thousand years old.

i understand that many of you will want to know the point of even delving into such an obviously specious point (after all, if you can just pull a deus out of your machina, what's the point in talking?), but for me the implication is personally relevant: i can stand on the rock of my faith and reach for the stars. having faith does not mean you have to be a know-nothing twit.

about the poisonous insects: p'raps the "random walk" hit on a poison-based evolutionary strategy at a high poison level, and any mutation which had less poison didn't do particularly better? evolution's a pretty conservative process. just a guess.
posted by hob at 1:15 AM on June 18, 2002


How do I know "evolution" is the correct assumption to make about how life exists?

I don't personally have any hands on experience with it. But I trust that the minds before me and their exacting excellence in their fields speaks to how I must gauge their science. It is brilliant. It speaks for itself with the attendant representation and falsifiability that science demands.

But still I believe, regardless of any kind of strident tactic by either side, that evolution is the most correct assumption of how life as we understand it arose.

Personal testimony as to the power of one's god and way is useless. It's trash. It's by way of ancient texts for Christ's sake! Read something modern. It's like the history of the Star Wars Universe as told by the Tatooine-bound Jawas. It's pedestrian, self-serving and denys and distorts a great many facts that would be much better taught by impartial teachers not at all of the blind assumption that god exists.

You god-people need to figure out how you're going to get your inattentive god to save the planet at this point and quit focusing on how true knowledge and its pursuit can be subverted by your unwavering myth of creation. The gods, it would seem, endowed us with brains. Use them and use the skepticism you have for the biological sciences upon your most cherished, unfounded outside of your own psyche's belief, that your particular flavor of religion is correct. Quit holding the rest of humanity hostage and help fix what science has demonstrated is wrong with this planet.
posted by crasspastor at 1:20 AM on June 18, 2002


"...humans share 50% of their genes with bananas."

if any bananas want to share my genes, they'd better ask me first
posted by quarsan at 2:56 AM on June 18, 2002


humans share 50% of their genes with bananas.

[Stores this away for next argument about GM food.]
posted by rory at 3:04 AM on June 18, 2002


The notion that God created the world a long time ago - a world in which evolution takes place, under His gaze perhaps but without noticeable interference - is pretty much where orthodox Christianity ended up after the scientific revelations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a "religious model" it has held up well, allowing (for example) deeply religious astronauts to go about their duties without worrying that their spacecraft was going to bump into the sphere of the heavens, and devout oil explorers to compare rock strata and core sample ages without having to add "um, I mean 5,000 BC" to every observation.

The only thing it doesn't do is put religion in the driver's seat, which makes it unsuitable for America's semi-permanent fundamentalist revival. That is why our state curricula are being dumbed down with the televangelist version of evolution and creation: they have the airwaves and the rural support.
posted by anser at 4:43 AM on June 18, 2002


It's gratifying to post a link that generates such an interesting and well-mannered discussion. Nicely done MeFiers! I had to leave and was unable to participate, but did want to make this small point. Simply put, it often seems like the extreme creationists (those who often drive the debate and try to force their beliefs on others) / evolution debate boils down to a black & white worldview versus a shades of gray view. If those fundamentalists were to accept any aspects of evolutionary theory, it refutes the absolutism of their biblical teachings and that opens Pandora’s box. I think that is far too threatening for their saved/unsaved worldview. It’s unfortunate that in many areas of the US, creationists have enough power to influence what is taught in public schools.
posted by martk at 6:32 AM on June 18, 2002


I hope people in the US realise elsewhere in the world it provides great amusement that a nation that can send a man to the moon is still troubled, in some areas, by the idea of teaching evolution...

And some of us are deeply ashamed of it.
posted by rushmc at 7:12 AM on June 18, 2002


On a somewhat lighter note, I just finished the book Calculating God by Robert Sawyer, a Canadian SF writer. It delves into many of these same discussions, and takes a look at how theories of intelligent design (which is clearly differentiated from creation science as the book unfolds) fit in with evolutionary science, astronomy and visits from little brown men from Beta Hydri III.

It's a great read (especially since it's set in a city just down the road from me :), and there are some interesting discussion points in the novel, especially surrounding the notion that intelligent design is not necessarily creation science, or incompatible with being a "good" scientist that believes in evolution.
posted by Cyrie at 7:30 AM on June 18, 2002


juv3nal - eg: none of us has met someone who was alive 200 years ago. a theory that some sort of creation (*poof* the universe appears with everything we accept to be in it including people with memories of a past) took place around that time can't be absolutely disproven.


Actually, the earth is billions of years old. The bible was created 20 years ago by mischevious imps from the 5th dimension who planted false memories and faked old copies of the bible & related documents as a practical joke. Prior to this creation, everyone who is now a christian actually worshipped Zogwath, god of green cheese. If you can't absolutely disprove this theory, you have to take it as a serious possibility, no? Unless you're going to do something boring and close-minded like only considering those theories which have some evidence going for them.
posted by tdismukes at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2002


Close minded people criticizing close minded people. Intelligent design is not creation science. Duh. The points were weak and generally were straw men type arguments. I'm not convinced by any explanation of our existence thus far.
posted by Mondo at 9:32 AM on June 18, 2002


"As a result of Darwinian evolution, many people started thinking in terms of the different people groups around the world representing different ‘races’, but within the context of evolutionary philosophy. This has resulted in many people today, consciously or unconsciously, having ingrained prejudices against certain other groups of people"

"When Christians legalistically impose non-biblical ideas such as 'no ‘Inter-racial’ marriage onto their culture, they are helping to perpetuate prejudices that have often arisen from evolutionary influences."


evolution causes racism.
posted by tolkhan at 10:22 AM on June 18, 2002


oops! source is Answers in Genesis, which, if you haven't read through some of AiG's 'answers', you should. lots more fun stuff.
posted by tolkhan at 10:24 AM on June 18, 2002


"If you can't absolutely disprove this theory, you have to take it as a serious possibility, no?"

It's not a matter of absolutely disproving a theory. If that's your theory then the burden of proof is on you. But both philosophically and scientifically you have to allow for the possibility of the illogical or ridiculous before you can dismiss it.

But lets logically reason back a few steps. Skipping over evolution and leaving the bible home, to the point at which no life existed on the planet. It's at this point that the illogical happens. Life begins where no life existed. Borne of nothing. Both scientist and christian have differing viewpoints of what happened next.

It's arguable that the earth was in the perfect position to populate itself. In a sense, people itself as a tree bears fruit. Scientists have an idea of the natural forces that may have contributed to the spontaneous creation of life, but they are unable to duplicate the process. This is not evidence of the existence of God, but does leave the door open for the possibility of the supernatural. But here again, lets skip over this point and go back to the origins of the universe. Something scientists feel they have a better handle on.

Scientists are pretty much in agreement that the universe began as a singularity. There is a difference between the origin of the universe and the creation of the universe. The origins are addressed by physical cosmology, but it is the singular point of creation that science is unable to unravel. Again, this is not proof of the existence of God, but it leaves the door open. If we take the philosophical stance that everthing that exists has an origin then we have to ask for the origin of God.

So, there comes a point where it must be conceded that either everything existed and has always existed and the universe formed itself through a spontaneous act of creation, or that the universe was created from nothing, borne of nothing but the spontaneous act of Divinity. A divinity which existed and has always existed.

Pick a side, any side, you're still gonna find yourself believing in what seems illogical, ridiculous, and lacking in reason.
posted by mikhail at 10:34 AM on June 18, 2002


malevolent: I hope people in the US realise elsewhere in the world it provides great amusement that a nation that can send a man to the moon is still troubled, in some areas, by the idea of teaching evolution...

rushmc: And some of us are deeply ashamed of it.

And then again, some if us are deeply proud of it. The point of our whole little experiment over here is that everybody gets to believe what they want to. Including wrong things.
posted by hob at 11:21 AM on June 18, 2002


that'd be all well and good, but problems arise when someone who believes in a wrong thing tries to force others to believe it also by allowing them to believe nothing else.
posted by tolkhan at 11:37 AM on June 18, 2002


As someone pointed out, Intelligent Design is not really the same as Creation Science. The latter "discipline" has the scriptural inerrancy fetish and the emphasis on critiquing, subverting and confusing the real work of scientists so as to make room for dogma.

Intelligent Design, also known as the "argument from design," is very old and basically works by pointing out really complex stuff in nature and then appealing to your common sense - there's no way that could happen by accident, or assemble itself via natural selection, etc.

The advantage to I.D. is that it lets people who know too much real science to buy into the 5,000 year/7 day stuff, still have a place for their faith, instead of having to feel like total atheist heathens. With a genteel sneer at the Flood-obsessed yahoos, you can look at the world in an approximately rational way while still knowing in your heart that the Creator's at work.

The disadvantages to I.D. are several. One is that both the fundamentalists and the rationalists think you're a bit loony, which isn't fun. Another is that as with all pseudoscience, I.D. doesn't actually explain anything in a useful way or lay the groundwork for further research: it just erases a little area of intellectual inquiry to make a faith-niche, like a gardener weed-whacking around the concrete Virgin.

People don't seem to understand the degree of self-selection involved in the argument by design. For example, someone can say "I look at the Horsehead Nebula and ask WHY?" but if you pick a truly random sky location then "WHY?" is not necessarily the first question that comes to mind. Ultimately it's all about us, babe.
posted by anser at 12:11 PM on June 18, 2002


mikhail - So, there comes a point where it must be conceded that either everything existed and has always existed and the universe formed itself through a spontaneous act of creation, or that the universe was created from nothing, borne of nothing but the spontaneous act of Divinity. A divinity which existed and has always existed.

Or... a divinity which formed itself through a spontaneous act of creation ... or a divinity created from nothing by another divinity (eternal or created) ... or we can just say that the word "universe" means all that exists, which would include any divinities, so our choices simplify to 1) the universe always existed or 2) the universe spontaneously created itself. Either way ... wow, pretty mind-boggling thought.

Pick a side, any side, you're still gonna find yourself believing in what seems illogical, ridiculous, and lacking in reason.


Operative word here is "seems" - none of the choices above are inherently self-contradictory. What they are is completely non-intuitive for brains that evolved to deal with timespans ranging from seconds to decades and distances ranging from inches to miles. We have the same problems dealing with sub-atomic/quantum phenomenon or physics at relativistic speeds. We can describe what happens, construct logically consistent theories that make useful predictions, but those theories, as well as what happens, will always seem just a little insane, because they don't match our experiences of the world at the scales we evolved to perceive. Therefore, we can't make a judgment of any of these theories based on what seems naturally reasonable to us. The evidence shows that what seems naturally reasonable is wrong.

It's at this point that the illogical happens. Life begins where no life existed. Borne of nothing.

Umm ... I don't think I can quite buy that formulation of the problem. Try this restatement: At this point there exists a vast landscape of matter & energy, flowing in a variety of patterns, based on physical laws. At some point, a particular pattern of matter & energy occurs, which allows a particular clump of matter to appropriate adjoining matter to replicate the pattern it finds itself in. (At this point the replicating pattern would have none of the complexity we associate with life.) According to the theory of natural selection, these replicators would quickly multiply, mutate, selectively succeed in appropriating resources based on those mutations, and over the course of billions of years develop the complexity that we consider to be characteristic of life. With this formulation of the problem, there is no "something from nothing", just a different arrangement of the matter & energy that already exist. (From our standpoint, it's a pretty significant arrangement, but then as living beings we might be biased.) The effects of billions of years of evolution are, once again, somewhat non-intuitive for us humans, but I think they are much more approachable than quantum physics or long-range cosmology.
posted by tdismukes at 12:20 PM on June 18, 2002


"At some point, a particular pattern of matter & energy occurs, which allows a particular clump of matter to appropriate adjoining matter to replicate the pattern it finds itself in."

True, my statement — Life begins where no life existed. Borne of nothing goes just a bit too far in it's generalization, but expounding on your statement — a particular pattern of matter and energy occurs, which allows inanimate matter to become animated. Something which you have to believe matter is capable of doing on its own, through natural processes, and then, in a sense, matter itself becomes the source of life. That matter is somehow imbuded with properties we don't yet comprehend, and capable of spontaneous animation based on the formation of patterns which can occur if given the proper circumstances. Patterns which probability can predict, and higher math can explain, but still offers little when asking why some matter lives and other matter is inert.

wow, pretty mind-boggling thought.

Actually you can't say "the universe always existed" because the universe had an origin which science can point to, but you can say that everything that makes up the universe always existed. In that sense, everything existed and always existed.

But in some sense, that simplified breakdown of choices fits in with theistic beliefs. Although when you get scientifically or theistically specific, paths diverge. The idea that everything in the universe always existed is part of many religions and is somewhat a part of current quantum cosmology. The difference lies in that science can prove that the universe came into being, by itself without and outside cause, and theists believe that the universe could only have come into being through divine intervention. Hence a universe based on causal events.

There are some great lectures by Hawking on the origins of the universe if anyone is interested.
Inflation: An Open and Shut Case
Why Does Inflation Start at the Top of the Hill? complete with Real media.

And an article by Quentin Smith:
Why Steven Hawking's Cosmology Precludes a Creator

It comes down to the specific idea of what creation is. Creation is spontaneous, it only happens once. Anything else is recreation. True creation happens without any forethought and hence outside of time. Something simply 'comes into being' through an act of creation. You do not think thoughts about thinking thoughts, before you think them. You simply think. It is spontaneous. Thoughts appear. When you are embroiled in a conversation, you are not stopping to think every thought, and then think how to open your mouth and speak before the words form. There is a sense of flow. A sense that conversation creates itself. I'll grant you that there are countless physical causations taking place in nanoseconds that produce actions, but rationalize it down to the singularity. There is a point at which matter creates something outside of cause. In essence a sort of creationism that occurs in all things.

"It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." bwahahaha

Sorry, getting too serious and had to break it up with a little levity.
posted by mikhail at 1:44 PM on June 18, 2002


Myself, I think that life is inevitable. There's a "rule-set" for the universe that favours organization over disorganzation: yes, entropy is a lie.

This might not be quite as wiggy as it first seems. The variations on "the game of life" can start with a completely chaotic distribution of cells, yet naturally evolve structures that "create life." Cellular automation models can result in patterns that at first look chaotic, yet reveal themselves to be organized.

I don't find any mystery in the existence of life. I find wonder and awe, but no mystery.

I look over at that mountain, and I can be filled with awe at its majesty and splendor, I can boggle at the incredible timespan that its creation encompassed, but I don't end up trying to find some sort of deeper meaning for its existence: I don't try to account for it by Slartibartfastian superbeings with ineffable plans up their sleeves.

That mountain just Is.

Likewise, I'm delighted to have the gift of life, and pleased to experience it, and find some amount of wonderment in looking back over a long, long family tree and the ultimate inter-relatedness of all humans... but I don't need to postulate some sort of magical supreme inventor and master controller to account for our existence.

Life Just Is. It's inevitable, it's unstoppable, it's how the universe works.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:52 PM on June 18, 2002


The problem with circular logic is not necessarily in the theory of survival of the fittest, but regarding time itself. We all have had a species die during our lifetime. The problem with circular logic is that evolutionists will tell you that the earth is some trillions or whatever years old. Then when they carbon date and look at soil layers and such, they do so, assuming that when they perform dating experiments, they have a fixed point to look back on and say "oh look, this is 1,000,000 years old."

A misunderstanding of how we date thing. Radiocarbon dating is referenced using events that we know about. We know from historical records when specific buildings were constructed, we can use carbon-containing material from those buildings to set our carbon-dating clock. (In addition to corresponding data such as tree-ring analysis.)

Of course, there are some key assumptions here. One is that the decay of radioactive elements follows the same inverse square law over time. The other is that radioactive carbon is created at a fairly constant rate by cosmic rays. Both of these appear to be very solid becuase we don't take radio-isotope dating on faith, we compare it to other methods. If indeed our oldest carbon-dated materials were crafted 8,000 years ago, then the Tower of London must have been created last year. We know that the Tower of London was created a few centuries ago, therefore by logical extension the oldest dated materials must be far in the past.

Arbitrarily setting the clock at 8,000 YA raises some serious problems. One of those problems is with the radiological dating issue. Radioactive decay uses an inverse square law (the ammount of material left decreases exponentially over time). The why this happens is related to the strength of electrical force. If this changes over time, then electrical force must change over time creating disasterous consequences for life. Even a tiny change in the electrical charge of an electron radically alters chemistry.

Fortunately, sufficent evidence to debunk the young-earth hypothesis came not from the isotope chemistry, but geology more than 50 years before the discovery of radioactivity.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:17 PM on June 18, 2002


So five fresh fish, you're in line with the anthropic principle to explain life in the universe?

The principle basically states that if the universe had not been suitable for life, we wouldn't be here asking why things are as they are.
posted by mikhail at 2:20 PM on June 18, 2002


"The latter "discipline" has the scriptural inerrancy fetish and the emphasis on critiquing, subverting and confusing the real work of scientists so as to make room for dogma."

And science often purports itself as doctrine when trying to explain life. Scientists can be just as unwilling to let go of doctrine or outdated thinking as any 'crazed' christian.
posted by mikhail at 2:38 PM on June 18, 2002


mikhail - Actually you can't say "the universe always existed" because the universe had an origin which science can point to

The universe as we know it has a beginning that science can point to. Once you get back to the singularity preceding the Big Bang, the laws of physics as we know them break down, and our ability to peer back any further fizzles out. As far as what might have come before...physicists have plenty of fun ideas, but no real evidence. I've seen speculation both for creation out of nothing and for the substance of the creation coming from a previous universe.

I did my best to wade through Quintin Smith's article. I'm not sure I totally get what he's saying, due to his heavy reliance on jargon & allusion to other philosophy papers. If I am understanding correctly what he's saying, then I don't buy it. Trying to logically disprove the existence of God is about as futile as logically proving the existence of God. It's also unnecessary. In the absence of evidence for the divine, its probability may be taken about as seriously as my practical-joking 5th dimension imps cited above.

I was starting to develop some arguments about why I think Smith's arguments are flawed, but decided that I would first like to untangle Smith's interpretation of Hawking's theories from what Hawking has actually said (since some of his interpretations sound suspect to me & I don't have a copy of Hawkings work with me at the moment.) I'll see if I can find a handy copy & will post later if I do.

You do not think thoughts about thinking thoughts, before you think them. You simply think. It is spontaneous. Thoughts appear. When you are embroiled in a conversation, you are not stopping to think every thought, and then think how to open your mouth and speak before the words form.

What I've read of cognitive neuroscience indicates that this is an illusion of the conscious mind. The complexity behind the scenes which is required to create that illusion of spontaneity is amazing.
posted by tdismukes at 2:45 PM on June 18, 2002


If the parents of monkeys were also the parents of humans, why are there both of us? Wouldn't logic dictate that in order for either species to develop fully within the time given, one of them wouldn't evolve at all? What is/was the parent animal? Why have we not evolved further than this? Why have monkeys not evolved further than monkeys?

Ohh, here is another big creationist mistake is in thinking that evolution is goal-oriented (or in regards to the snakes and frogs example, that evolution results in some ideally created species.) In fact, one of the best arguments for evolution is that species are not perfect. Human beings have perhaps the most traumatic methods of giving birth among class mamalia. The head of the fetus must make two different rotations in order to pass through the birth canal compared to one rotation for chimps. Chimps are born face-forward while human babies are born sideways. Creationism says this is part of the curse of original sin. Hominid evolution proposes that this unusual way of giving birth is part of a series of trade-offs between the ability of adult women to walk, and maximizing natal brain size. The patterns we observe in living organisms suggests that if there was a creator, it didn't create ex nihlo. Instead, it created using pieces and parts borrowed from other organisms, evolution explains why whales have rear legbones and why pandas have the thumbs they do.

The idea that evolution involves trade-offs between competing needs also helps to create some hypotheses for poisonous snakes. What are the signals for turning off venom production? What happens when those signals are triggered at the wrong time? How do you identify how much venom is in the venom glands? Is it better to have too much or too little? It is possible that the risks and the costs of turning off venom production are higher than the problem of too much venom. Excessive toxicity may be a by-product rather than a selected-for trait. Or perhaps its the case that more toxic venoms kill faster and reduce the chance of injury. At any rate, while creationism can only say, "that's the way god made them", an evolutionary hypothesis opens up some doors to genetic research.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:55 PM on June 18, 2002


mikhail: yup, I guess so. :-)

In the layman-level books of quantum physics that I've read, there appears to be a chaotic interface between matter and energy. Quantum particles spontaneously come into existence, and just as spontaneously disappear. It's like the foam on the seashore: from a distance it looks contant, yet from up close it's always changing. Macro particles -- electrons, etc -- are stable, while the component quantum particles that compose them are not.

I think life is much the same. For whatever reason -- and I don't think it's any higher a reason than that for quantum particles -- it spontaneously occurs. In this universe, the rules are such that life is as inevitable as gravity.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:20 PM on June 18, 2002


mikhail -
And science often purports itself as doctrine when trying to explain life.
I would be interested in seeing this supported with examples -- it should be easy to do if science "often" does this. My experience of actual science (as opposed to cereal box summaries of science, or pseudoscientific critics' versions thereof) is that it seldom, if ever, attempts to "explain life," and definitely does not "purport itself as doctrine" when it delves into the fundamental issues of biology. This is easy to demonstrate by looking at any prominent journal (login metafilter/metafilter).
Scientists can be just as unwilling to let go of doctrine or outdated thinking as any 'crazed' christian.
Individual scientists can and do have all these flaws and many more: and the reason we know it is that they end up looking like idiots when science as a whole progresses inexorably and leaves them in the dust.

One of the ways in which creationist pseudoscience attempts to propagate itself is by claiming a false "parity" between its systemic blindnesses and the individual failings of selected (and all too human) scientists. The comparison fails because science as a whole has a built-in corrective mechanism which creationism cannot afford to carry.
posted by anser at 9:25 PM on June 18, 2002


I should also note that I believe this "rule set" is the reason we see so much duplication in life.

Just as with stable, quantized electron orbits, there are stable life designs. Evolution didn't so much design these characteristics as it filled the "orbit" that was available.

For instance, there seems to be a limited number of designs for sight: light-sensitive nerve spots (as on a planaria), compound eyes, and mammal/bird/reptile/fish-style eyes. Why so few designs? It's not because they're the best design so much as they're the only "stable" designs... the only forms of eyeball available in this universe.

I should say that I'm not fanatical about this idea, and it's all still very wishy-washy and vague. But it makes a whole lot more sense to me, even with all the questions I have, than the silly idea of a supernatural space being with an unprecedented interest in my personal life!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:34 PM on June 18, 2002


I always learn a lot in these evolution discussions and this has been no exception. My earlier remark wasn't referencing this particular thread but rather, the fact that the discussion is always evolution vs a certain sort of creationism (Christian) while leaving out beliefs thousands of years older, religions/philosophies with an entirely different viewpoint such as no beginning/end thus no need to explore 'creation'...I'm not convinced the argument is restricted to two choices nor that all three are mutually exclusive. Maybe next time someone more grounded in Eastern philosophy can add to the discussion.
posted by Mack Twain at 1:48 PM on June 19, 2002


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