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May 3, 2005 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Are evolution's advocates giving fire to creationists? So says Michael Ruse, "philosopher of biology (especially Darwinism)", who claims that outspoken evolutionists (e.g. Richard Dawkins) should do more to make evolution compatible with religion, rather than touting it as a worldview of its own.

Tell that to Nosson Slifkin (NYTimes, login required), an Orthodox rabbi whose books were banned by a number of eminent rabbis for "seek[ing] to reconcile, rather than to contrast, sacred texts with modern knowledge of the natural world."

That said, will those like Slifkin and Rev. Dr. Arthur Peacocke be able to make a difference, or will they be ignored and scorned?
posted by greatgefilte (82 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
The true roots of the conflict isn't about religion or evolution, it's about power for those who would use religion as a platform to gain/keep that power.
posted by nofundy at 10:33 AM on May 3, 2005


This is a great Salon interview with Richard Dawkins published a few days ago. (Day pass and so on)
posted by billysumday at 10:38 AM on May 3, 2005


I thought ID was an attempt at merging the two... and I have to tell you have has much less tolerance for ID then I do for straight out creationism. It is bad science and bad religion all in one go, wheee.

Perhaps we should start thinking on how to rework archeology to fit the 4004 BC creation date as well.

I say bah.
posted by edgeways at 10:47 AM on May 3, 2005


Dawkins doesn't try to "make evolution compatible with religion" because evolution isn't compatible with religion, at least within the bounds of what evolution attempts to explain.
posted by gwint at 10:51 AM on May 3, 2005


What the infected want you to believe is that there really is an "Evolution-Creation Struggle" when there is not.

There is just a radical group of zealots whose religion is falling down all around them, and if they don't proselytize like banshees the echoing death knell will be too much to bear.

No scientists considers magic to be science.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 10:52 AM on May 3, 2005


While power certainly plays a role, I think it really is about religion and evolution. Or more deeply, about certainty versus uncertainty. Most people, it seems, would far rather be certain than inquisitive. Religion offers people The One Truth About Everything, end of story, no further questions required. (Buddhism excepted in large part, though even it has its inviolable unprovables.) Science offers, "Here's the best we can tell at this point based on the evidence, but it might all be wrong, and if you like, you can help us find out."

Of course, the irony is that uncertainty applies to religion too! Most religious people are wrong about the true nature of the universe. That is 100% guaranteed to be true because the major religions are exclusive of one another, and none of them is followed by the majority of people on the planet. Even if one of them is spot on, that means all the adherents of the others (i.e., the majority of people) are dead wrong in their beliefs. Doesn't matter which one is correct, if any; most religious people are barking up the wrong spiritual tree. And it's an invisible tree.
posted by koreth at 10:56 AM on May 3, 2005


Like computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect. If you are the victim of one, the chances are that you won't know it, and may even vigorously deny it. Accepting that a virus might be difficult to detect in your own mind, what tell-tale signs might you look out for?

1. The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as "faith.'

2. Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based upon evidence. Indeed, they may feel that the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief.

3. A related symptom, which a faith-sufferer may also present, is the conviction that "mystery,' per se, is a good thing. It is not a virtue to solve mysteries. Rather we should enjoy them, even revel in their insolubility.

4. The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly towards vectors of rival faiths, in extreme cases even killing them or advocating their deaths.

5. The patient may notice that the particular convictions that he holds, while having nothing to do with evidence, do seem to owe a great deal to epidemiology. Why, he may wonder, do I hold this set of convictions rather than that set? Is it because I surveyed all the world's faiths and chose the one whose claims seemed most convincing? Almost certainly not. If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had.

6. If the patient is one of the rare exceptions who follows a different religion from his parents, the explanation may still be epidemiological. To be sure, it is possible that he dispassionately surveyed the world's faiths and chose the most convincing one. But it is statistically more probable that he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent --- a John Wesley, a Jim Jones or a St. Paul. Here we are talking about horizontal transmission, as in measles. Before, the epidemiology was that of vertical transmission, as in Huntington's Chorea.

7. The internal sensations of the patient may be startlingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love. This is an extremely potent force in the brain, and it is not surprising that some viruses have evolved to exploit it.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 10:57 AM on May 3, 2005


Evolution is not a worldview. It's not a hypothesis ("theory" in the common usage that is used rhetorically as in, "It's only a theory, not a fact"). "Evolutionism" is not a system of belief. Evolution is a fact. It has been demonstrated beyond any standard of reasonable doubt. The Theory of Evolution stands on more solid ground than the Theory of Gravity. There are no serious objections to evolution. It revolutionized biology as a scientific discipline. If you do not believe in evolution, you are not qualified to comment about biology or teach it in any way, shape, or form; modern biology without the Theory of Evolution would not exist.
posted by graymouser at 11:03 AM on May 3, 2005


"But folks, I have to tell you, in the bullshit department a businessman can't hold a candle to a clergyman. Because when it comes to comes to bullshit, big-time, major leage bullshit, you have to stand in awe--in awe!!--of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims: religion. No contest.

Religion--easily--has the Greates Bullshit Story Ever Told! Think about it: religion has actually convinced people--many of them adults--that there's an invisible man who lives in the sky and watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And who has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.

And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to remain and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry, forever and ever, till the end of time. But he loves you!

He loves you, and he needs money! He always needs money. he's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, but somehow... he just can't handle money. Religion takes in billions of dollars, pays no taxes, and somehow always needs a little more. now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy shit!"

- George Carlin
posted by camworld at 11:08 AM on May 3, 2005


Where the fuck is bevets? This flame war is awfully one-sided.
posted by fungible at 11:12 AM on May 3, 2005


Dawkins doesn't try to "make evolution compatible with religion" because evolution isn't compatible with religion

Speak of the devil! Just Friday night I went to the first lecture in America about Breaking the Spell, a book coming early next year from Dan Dennett. Dennett, like Ruse an academic agnostic, wrote Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and is director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts. He's not nearly as hostile to religion as his friend Dawkins; the new book says that we should pay more attention to investigating the evolution of religion.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:13 AM on May 3, 2005


"Evolutionism" is not a system of belief.
yes!

Evolution is a fact.
well, not really.

It has been demonstrated beyond any standard of reasonable doubt.
yes!

The Theory of Evolution stands on more solid ground than the Theory of Gravity.
whoa.

If you do not believe in evolution, you are not qualified to comment about biology or teach it in any way, shape, or form
BUT IT'S NOT A BELIEF SYSTEM!

It's a semantics argument, but an important one, as it cracks to the core of misunderstanding about Evolution. It's *not* a belief system, therefore there is nothing to "believe" in. Evolution is a very detailed model for change in the natural world. Because it is a model, by definition it is "wrong", by which I mean it is changeable; the scientific process continues to use the model to ask and answer questions, which then in turn feedback into the model itself.

This of course is completely unacceptable to people that need ANSWERS and not questions. Such is the nature of Religion vs. Science, one of the more absurd debates of our times. It's a belief system based on faith vs. a method towards a better understanding of the world around us. Or, in other words, Apples v. Oranges.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:14 AM on May 3, 2005


I like how these articles always include poll results X number of Americans believe Z. I understand the whole social aspect of certain arguments (especially religion) and how that can affect what is true or not (after all alot of "truth" is simply perspective) but their little polls won't mean diddly when Mr and Mrs Cletus turn to dust instead of riding the white light to heaven. I don't really care than most of my neighbors believe in Jesus. Leave me alone and if your crutch is religion or if it truly helps you, fine, but stop living in a fantasy world. One problem with ID is that no intelligent being would have prodded 99.999% of people into existance.
posted by evilelvis at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2005


Ruse gave a talk at my current university once. In response to one question: "You'd better step back sweetheart because I can hit that one out of the park." And after another back-and-forth that he was clearly losing in a very defenseive manner: "Well how about you pull yours out, I'll pull out mine, we'll put both on the chopping block and we'll see whose is longer."

He's the philosophical equivalent of a troll (without the fun-loving spirit) and I don't think evolutionary biology should make a habit of looking to him for political advice. That said, I believe he is right that packaging evolution with atheism is going to do more harm than good in the long run. If we reject anyone who isn't an atheist evolutionary biologist, that's just asking for a hard time.
posted by ontic at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2005


I think that Ruse is both right and wrong -- he's right that there is as much in the "culture" of evolution's advocates (to which I for the most part belong) as in the Darwinian view of biology itself to incite opposition from Christian fundamentalists/Biblical literalists. And that the origins of the fervent opposition to teaching evolution in schools come out of what can be seen as a long-term alliance between socially progressive ideas and the work various scientific fields have done trying to answer big questions in biology and physics without reference to religious scriptures. The combination of the two has certainly been interpreted as a partnership and a threat by many religious conservatives. They don't like the social ideals being promulgated, and they also don't like the idea that their religious beliefs are sidelined in the attempts to explain the cosmos. When you put those two together, I suspect that you get a picture of a massive secularist enemy which must be fought on all fronts.

But Dawkins could disappear tomorrow and make not a jot of difference in this. High-profile scientists who make dismissive remarks about religious people certainly stir up anger and help innoculate some Christians against reasonable arguments. But the tidal movement toward a rejection of both progressive social policies and the intellectual rigor of a scientific worldview would continue even if every biologist in the world took a vow to speak with delicacy and respect about the religious faiths of others.

Does Ruse really believe that respect and outreach (I speak only of rhetoric -- I agree with the above posters that science, as we understand it, can't really do much to "partner" with religious doctrine. It's only concerned with the evidence, if you like, of things seen) on the part of secular thinkers will stop religious activists from wanting to replace an education in scientific thinking with an education in their "values"? I don't dismiss the need for such respect, but that's because I think that respecting other peoples' religious faiths is in general good manners.

But I don't think it's going to stop Rev. Wildmon.

(on preview -- dead on, ontic, and good points mcstayinskool)
posted by BT at 11:21 AM on May 3, 2005


BUT IT'S NOT A BELIEF SYSTEM!

That was a point I could've stated better as - "Not believing in evolution is akin to not believing in gravity." If you don't believe in gravity, you can have nothing to do with Newtonian physics; if you don't believe in evolution, you can have nothing to do with modern biology.

Seriously, at this point the main distinction between people who don't believe in evolution and flat-earthers is that there are more people who laugh at flat-earthers, and fewer who treat them like they have half a point.
posted by graymouser at 11:24 AM on May 3, 2005


nofundy nailed it.

I don't think science should make any comments, positive or negative, about the existence of god/creator/buddha/jesus, nor about religion or faith. Science is fit to talk about science, and the tools of scientific reasoning and testing do not mix well with metaphysics. Evolution doesn't demand atheism, but it does demand that you not believe in biblical literalism. Anyone who does believe that the bible is real and true in an absolute sense (no metaphor, no symbolism) is not going to accept even the most whitewashed form of evolution or even ID + evolution unless it comes from within their own church hierarchy.

ID does not belong in the science classroom. Whatever classroom it may belong in should also contain all the other creation mythology, from Coyote to Zeus.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:29 AM on May 3, 2005


From the article: "This is not just a fight about dinosaurs or gaps in the fossil record," says Ruse, speaking from his home in Florida. "This is a fight about different worldviews."

Ruse should listen to his own words. It is a fight between opposing worldviews. Nobody ever won a fight by trying to be "more compatible" with your opponent. Fundamentalists are not only uninterested in being "compatible" with the opposing worldview, they are trying to eliminate that worldview.

We of the reality-based community didn't choose this fight. We don't want to fight anybody. But we are being forced to fight, because fundamentalists absolutely refuse to agree to disagree.

ontic said: That said, I believe he is right that packaging evolution with atheism is going to do more harm than good in the long run.

I know for a fact that many people who accept and even teach evolution are also quite religious, so it is (in my opinion) ridiculous to speak of anyone "packaging evolution with atheism." Evolution is a fact, independent of one's religious or philosophical position (or lack thereof).
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2005


graymouser: I agree completely. I wasn't trying to call you out there, just trying to underline what I feel is the primary misconception of evolution. I make it a point to never say I believe in Evolution, because I think that's missing the point. But then, I usually leave people looking very puzzled/scared at me, so maybe it's not the best way of going. But I'm sticking to my guns.

And by the way...the world is flat.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2005


evolution isn't compatible with religion, at least within the bounds of what evolution attempts to explain.

Nonsense and hyperbole.

Evolution isn't compatible with a literal, fundamentalist view of religion. Many intelligent people I know reconcile the two just fine, by interpreting (for example) the Book of Genesis as metaphorical. What's 7 days for God? Why can't that be 4 billion years for us? And isn't a God who put in motion all the beautiful mechanisms and emergent behavior we see in biology at least as impressive as one who crudely slaps everything into existence by hand?

As I understand it, even the Catholic Church basically accepted Evolution some time back, and there's certainly no conflict with, say, most forms of Buddhism.
posted by freebird at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2005


Mystic religions are all about the 'science of god', and the fact is, there is no inherent contradiction between 'religion' and 'science' and in fact most religions have no problem with science.

When you are a fundamentalist, however, your sacred book is not a living document that is subject to interpretation. 7 days means 7 days. This is not "religion" it is "a religion".

Let's not confuse belief in god, or any religion, with specific religions which are not open to scientific belief.
posted by chaz at 11:36 AM on May 3, 2005


-Most of the comments here seem to be ignoring some of what Ruse is saying. In many ways Evolution the scientific theory is being used as Evolution the social mandate. Perhaps mandate is too harsh a word, but when people do stupid things we say "Darwinism in action."
Survival of the fittest is one of the most understood concepts of our time. As misunderstood as Nietzche. And many folks use this purely scientific model to cover other areas. Much in the same way folks took to quantum physics as a method of understanding the Tao or validating some form of mysticism. Or how Nietzche's work was perverted to serve Nazism.

While the science behind Evolution is unquestionable (despite the religeous monkeys misguidedly throwing feces at it) the extrapolations many people have made (some of them scientists) from Evolution to other non-biologic subjects do tread on philosophic & religeous areas where it has no business being. And thus deserve the feces barrage.

Why God can't be behind or rather at one with evolution is something I'll never understand about the anti-evolution folks.
(Old Zen tale about a fox and causation - in essence: the enlightened one does not defy causation but is at one with the law of causation)
Perhaps it's too Spinozan for some too teleological for others.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:46 AM on May 3, 2005


Uh, freebird, I think we actually agree here. When I said "within the bounds of what evolution attempts to explain" that meant that evolution isn't compatible with any religion that attempts to explain the origin of life appearing *poof* out of nowhere caused by the word of a deity. Religions that don't attempt a detailed cosmogony wouldn't necessarily conflict with the theory of evolution. Then again, most religions can't help but attempt just such a thing.
posted by gwint at 11:47 AM on May 3, 2005


"Most of the comments here seem to be ignoring some of what Ruse is saying."
or at least did, seconds until just before I posted.

"Anyone who does believe that the bible is real and true in an absolute sense (no metaphor, no symbolism) is not going to accept even the most whitewashed form of evolution..."
Agreed. And yet these are the people some pundits are saying we (as in people who don't believe in fairy tales) need to have more tolerance for. Unlike nearsightedness or other biologic shortcomings, irrational thought can be overcome and should not be coddled.

Good points all
posted by Smedleyman at 11:53 AM on May 3, 2005


Dawkins does mix his atheism in with his evolution, this is true.

Creationists hate the way that scientists venture into new areas and assume secular, mechanistic explanations for things they can't yet prove, such as the first origins of life, or the beginnings of the universe. "That's not science," they claim sometimes correctly, "that's merely supposition!" Creationists want to find the exact limit of strict scientific knowledge so that they can populate everything past that point with the fairy creatures of their choice.

Of course the scientific suppositions turn into experiments which turn into theories which turn into accepted fact, and the creationists fight some silly rearguard action but wind up drawing yet another line in the sand back a few million years. It's like a large mechanism being revealed, bit by bit, with some person who, early on, theorized "purple gnomes work the machine", then insisting at every point: "okay the purple gnomes must be over there in that hatch... i mean inside those pipes.. clearly the machine was built by purple gnomes! you can't prove otherwise!" You can understand why people might respond by wishing the purple gnome people would shut up, and why they wouldn't look to any more purple-gnome theories for useful insight.

I hate how Creationists seem unable to really grasp how their God might work through materialism. It's like they lack the imagination, or faith to believe that a creator could be completely invisible.

Instead, they want science to even prove that God exists -- which is what that steaming heap of bullshit called intelligent design claims to prove. Think about it; ID people are claiming to have a valid scientific proof of God's existence. If this were the case, it would be front page news and the religious and scientific worlds would be ringing with discussion of the theory (c.f. evolution). Instead it's just some crap they hammered together into the shape of a trojan horse that only needs to last long enough to be wheeled into science class.

I think it's the intelligent religious people who need to silence the creationists; they're giving all religion a bad name, and maybe attracting the wrong kind of people to faith.
posted by fleacircus at 11:57 AM on May 3, 2005


I think it's the intelligent religious people who need to silence the creationists; they're giving all religion a bad name, and maybe attracting the wrong kind of people to faith.

We have less influence over them than you do; to them, we're as bad as atheists, but wussier.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:23 PM on May 3, 2005


Smedleyman is right on.

A clear example of how evolutionists or people that believe in evolution trash religious people is seen in this thread. There is little space for a nonaggressive discussion here. And this is in the smaller scale, imagine now with people whose lives have been dedicated to evolution.

Remove your religious -or lack of- believes and have an intelligent discussion.
posted by dov3 at 12:25 PM on May 3, 2005


I think it's the intelligent religious people who need to silence the creationists; they're giving all religion a bad name, and maybe attracting the wrong kind of people to faith.


Exactly. That's what Ruse is implying, I think. That the scientific community shouldn't bother dealing with creationist and ID quackery and the people who back such nonsense, but rather ally themselves with the RR (rational religious). But how? And will it work?
posted by greatgefilte at 12:27 PM on May 3, 2005




The conflict is not as widespread as the vitriol. Many religions (Cath, most Prot) accept evolution as a sufficiently fleshed-out scientific model and don't see anything necessarily more spectacular about life appearing *poof* out of nowhere than life appearing *p-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-f* out of no where.
posted by klarck at 12:28 PM on May 3, 2005


I think Dawkins is harming evolution by not making it more compatible with my belief in the Time Cube and Keynesian economics.

Richard Dawkins should do more to make evolution compatible with Gene Ray, the Wisest Human, and John Maynard Keynes, and the plot-line of X-Files, rather than "touting" science as science.
posted by orthogonality at 12:30 PM on May 3, 2005


Sorry, the dark ages are over. Religion needs to reconcile with science, not the other way around.
posted by baphomet at 12:43 PM on May 3, 2005



Dawkins doesn't try to "make evolution compatible with religion" because evolution isn't compatible with religion, at least within the bounds of what evolution attempts to explain.


Evolution isn't incompatible with religion, Just certain interpretations of specific religions.

Anyway, Evolution's critics are all crazy, anyway. What difference does it matter if they have "fuel" for their arguments?
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM on May 3, 2005


Sorry, the dark ages are over.

Sadly, they are not.
posted by grouse at 12:50 PM on May 3, 2005


The idea that evolution and religion are irreconcilable is something I'll never understand. I don't want to get too involved in this, because I usually can't find much to say since people on both "sides" are so vehement. To me, anyone that's claiming a "side" is claiming to have a monopoly on truth, something no science or religion has.

"Nobody ever won a fight by trying to be "more compatible" with your opponent."

But a lot of people have stopped fights because of it and the only other option is total annihilation of one side. Think about it; humans waste a lot of resources on pointless opposition that we could be using for something constructive.

Gerald Schroeder has some very interesting theories that reconcile Biblical literature with current scientific thought. If you're actually looking for some insight into the matter, I'd check it out. Zola Levitt Ministries (I am not a fan) made a video of a presentation he gave to some old folks that's OK.
posted by nTeleKy at 12:53 PM on May 3, 2005


I've read the article by Dawkins on Salon. To say he argues against religion would be to heap grand praise on his claims.

Just two, of many, problems:
Speaking on the origin of the recent antipathy toward evolution he says, "It comes, I'm sorry to say, from religion. And from bad religion. You won't find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians." So it's not religion that he has a problem with at all! In fact he admits that being a scientist is completely compatible with being religious. So why the antagonistic stance toward religion in general? Why not seek to join with putatively sophisticated theologians to help drown out the so-called zealots? No, he'd rather paint with a broad brush and deliver some hate filled preaching of his own.

But then he continues "I don't wish to suggest it is doctrinal disputes that are motivating the individual soldiers who are doing the killing. What I do suggest is that in places like Northern Ireland, religion was the only available label by which people could indulge in the human weakness for us-or-them wars."
But when he is asked "How would we be better off without religion", he answers "We'd all be freed to concentrate on the only life we are ever going to have. We'd be free to exult in the privilege -- the remarkable good fortune -- that each one of us enjoys through having been being born." Which is it Dawkins? Is it a basic human proclivity to split up into groups and kill each other without regard to the causes we enlist? Or is it just religion that makes us act like that and if we were only free of its yoke we could be happy? (As if humans have never acted badly for reasons beyond religion.) You cannot say that religious doctrines are merely a convenient label for actions we are disposed to doing anyway and then say that getting rid of said label would solve our problems. How? Why wouldn't humans rally around different ethnicities, languages, countries, skin color or favorite rock-band? How would would doing away with religion solve the underlying problem? A problem that he admits exists!

(Then he acts as if evolution is the way to stopping the problem of an infinite causal regress. Huh? How is evolution supposed to explain itself?)

Dawkins has an axe to grind. He wants everyone to be an atheist (agnosticism is apparently only for wimps) and he is willing to use any argument against religion, even if if he contradicts himself.


And while I'm on it could that interviewer, Gordy Slack, be any softer? He keeps asking these softball, open-ended questions. To call this an interview is just flat-out lying. They should just have removed the lame questions and let the guy write an essay.
posted by oddman at 12:58 PM on May 3, 2005


A clear example of how evolutionists or people that believe in evolution trash religious people is seen in this thread. There is little space for a nonaggressive discussion here. And this is in the smaller scale, imagine now with people whose lives have been dedicated to evolution.

Remove your religious -or lack of- believes and have an intelligent discussion.


Sorry, no intelligent discussion is to be had. How can you discuss evolution with someone who dosn't even understand the most fundemental aspects of it, and refuses to even entertain the possibility it might be real. It's just a waste of time.
posted by delmoi at 1:02 PM on May 3, 2005


Which is it Dawkins? Is it a basic human proclivity to split up into groups and kill each other without regard to the causes we enlist? Or is it just religion that makes us act like that and if we were only free of its yoke we could be happy? ... You cannot say that religious doctrines are merely a convenient label for actions we are disposed to doing anyway and then say that getting rid of said label would solve our problems.

Dawkin's didn't say that. Learn to read.

More specifically, Dawkins said two separate things:

1) Religion gets a bad rap because people who hate each other for political reasons often differ in religion, thus "religious disputes" are often not religious disputes at all.

2) Without religion, individual people would worry more about enjoying life now rather then trying to earn points for the afterlife/reincarnation

There is no conflict between one and two at all, one talks about individuals, the other groups. Basically, without religion people would lead happier lives while trying to kill each other over oil, or race, economic theories or whatnot.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 PM on May 3, 2005


A clear example of how evolutionists or people that believe in evolution trash religious people is seen in this thread. There is little space for a nonaggressive discussion here. And this is in the smaller scale, imagine now with people whose lives have been dedicated to evolution.

Remove your religious -or lack of- believes and have an intelligent discussion.


You're right in only one sentence: there is little space for nonaggressive discussion here.

There are three kinds of people who doubt evolutionary theory: those who are ignorant of the subject, those who are direly misinformed about the subject, and those who make up outright pseudoscientific lies about the subject. This third category includes all "Creation Scientists" and many "Intelligent Design" advocates. The second is made up of those who, lacking the scientific background to penetrate the nonsense, believe their quackery. None of them are capable of engaging in honest, intelligent debate; the ignorant are insufficiently informed, and the misinformed have only the lies of pseudoscientists to go on.

In scientific terms, there is no debate. The only debate is whether or not one chooses to believe what science says.
posted by graymouser at 1:12 PM on May 3, 2005


I've never quite understood any religious antipathy towards evolution. It can be considered consistent with several current religions.

Now string theory and the big bang? Once we get some more information smashing the concept of First Cause, there's a real religious controversy brewing.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:12 PM on May 3, 2005


See also my favorite Victorian Christian, Cardinal Newman, on Christianity and Scientific Investigation (from The Idea of a University). In one of his letters, Newman cheerfully observed that he thought Darwin was right.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:13 PM on May 3, 2005


A clear example of how evolutionists or people that believe in evolution trash religious people is seen in this thread. There is little space for a nonaggressive discussion here.

I think if people are aggressive here, it's because many creationists/fundamentalists are so aggressive in wanting to foist their beliefs on everyone else without discussion.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 1:16 PM on May 3, 2005



(Then he acts as if evolution is the way to stopping the problem of an infinite causal regress. Huh? How is evolution supposed to explain itself?)


Care to back that up? I doubt Dawkins said that, because clearly evolution does not solve the problem of "infinite casual regress", and he does know a lot about these things.

Evolution is a theory (a proven theory) that describes how one type of living thing can change into another type. That's it. Evolution doesn’t say how life started.

Claming that evolution has problems because it doesn’t explain how life started is like claming relativity has problems because it doesn’t explain now life started, or that chemistry or geology or electromagnetic physics has problems because it doesn’t explain how life started.

That's not the friggin' point!

Now, of course biologists are interested in finding out how life started, and they believe that once it started, evolution started immediately afterwards. There are a number of theories about how life could have started, and people are doing experiments to try to find out whether or not those could have actually happened on primordial earth. No one will ever be able to prove that those specific things did happen, and ultimately it doesn’t matter.
posted by delmoi at 1:20 PM on May 3, 2005


You wonder if the fundamentalists should be worried about when and if they prove god exists. I reference another holy book which states this...

[snip discussion about babel fish's ability to translate any language]

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the NON-existence of God.

I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
`But,' says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'
`Oh dear,' says God, `I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.
posted by jboy55 at 1:24 PM on May 3, 2005


Delmoi do you always begin debate with an ad hominem? I can read very well, thank you.

You should notice however, that the quotation (which I provided) in which he argues that religion is a scapegoat, is about individual soldiers not groups as your analysis (1) suggests. So coupled with your analysis (2) there is a conflict.

Further, and this is really the main point, exactly how would doing away with religion keep us from killing each other over oil, race or economics? Was there some major religious angle to the American Civil War, the Russian Civil War and the French Civil War? Was the slaughter of Native Americans in the USA's Manifest Destiny campaign religious? Was apartheid in South Africa religious? Was Japan's involvement in WW2 religious?


Per your later request. Dawkins' claim, in toto, "Yes. For a long time it seemed clear to just about everybody that the beauty and elegance of the world seemed to be prima facie evidence for a divine creator. But the philosopher David Hume already realized three centuries ago that this was a bad argument. It leads to an infinite regression. You can't statistically explain improbable things like living creatures by saying that they must have been designed because you're still left to explain the designer, who must be, if anything, an even more statistically improbable and elegant thing. Design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything. It can only be a proximate explanation. A plane or a car is explained by a designer but that's because the designer himself, the engineer, is explained by natural selection."

Now, it seems clear that he is, at least, arguing that we have no need to posit the existence of God to explain our 'elegant design' because evolution can do that all by itself. And you suggest that this is all that he is doing. If so, I withdraw my objection. Clearly we do not invoke God to explain internal combustion engines nor should we invoke Him to explain anything that has a proper mechanical (to use an old fashioned term) explanation. But I took his invocation of Hume and the problem of infinite regression (i.e. who designed the designer) to be evidence that he is interested in making a stronger claim. To wit, a claim that God is completely unnecessary. This he clearly cannot show. The infinite regress argument is an argument (in this context anyway) about causes and events. In a nutshell if every effect needs a cause (and it seems that this is analytic) then how did the causal chain get started? No effect can happen without a cause but every cause is itself an effect so no cause can happen. This is clearly a problem. In fact, many philosophers (Aristotle and Leibniz to name two) believe that the only thing that could cause itself is God. So, if Dawkins is trying to make the stronger claim then it seems that his argument actually leads (or at least can be used to argue for) the exact opposite conclusion from the one he supports, namely atheism. If he is making the weaker claim then his argument for evolution does not touch any (reasonable) debate about God at all.
posted by oddman at 1:39 PM on May 3, 2005


Look, all but a very few biologists will tell you that evolutionary theory is what ties together all the rest of biology: it's the underlying theory that makes biology make sense as a unified whole, rather than as a mere collection of unrelated facts.

The application of evolutionary theory to the conundrums of biology makes it a super-sharp scalpel with which to "cleave nature's joints". It's shear foolishness to blunt that instrument to make it better conform to the mystical visions of millennia-dead desert nomads.
posted by orthogonality at 1:41 PM on May 3, 2005


There are so many nice points being made here! However, to include Buddhism along with some faiths as one and the same is to ignore the fact that Buddhists do not have a god to which they pray but rather a set of practices and ideas with Buddha as an exemplar.

And to suggest that religion can be viewed as similar because its holy boks ar metaphorical is simply trying to accept something that is contradictory: what holy text (and they are long) talks about "this is all a metaphor"?

What needs to be noted, though, is that if I follow along with evolutionary thinking (and I do), then I want to know why for so many years and even today, so many people are or have been willing to accept what religion suggests? Is there some evolutionary gain to be made by such thinking? If so, what? If not, then why is it still so central everywhere ?

My personal view: when I was very young, I accepted 3 things: the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and god...I no longer accept that trinity, although each offered me something to gain, I thought.

Do I miss the "spiritual"
No! Darwin noted, looking back at what he had written, that there was a grandeur in the view (looking back at the millionsof years that led to this moment)..or, as the early chinese had it: it was The Way and we are part of it.

Disney, in The Lion King: the circle of life...here today, gone tomorrow but....
posted by Postroad at 2:02 PM on May 3, 2005


Delmoi do you always begin debate with an ad hominem? I can read very well, thank you.

Really?

Further, and this is really the main point, exactly how would doing away with religion keep us from killing each other over oil, race or economics?

It would not. Does Dawkins say anywhere that it would? Or are you responding to my summary
Basically, without religion people would lead happier lives while trying to kill each other over oil, or race, economic theories or whatnot.
If so, again I can only say that you must learn to read more carefully.

Dawkins doesn't blame religions for all the worlds problems, Dawkins doesn't say that removing religion would solve all the worlds problems, only make it a little more enjoyable. And yet, you're complaining that he doesn’t explain why removing religion would make people stop killing each other.

But why should he need to explain something he doesn’t believe? Basically, you're flaming him based only on your inability to read and understand English text.
posted by delmoi at 2:05 PM on May 3, 2005


Good links.

I agree with Slifkin. Religion is supposed to be about defining meaning and Science is about defining the mechanics of nature.

Seems to me religion is now anything BUT helping people find meaning to their lives and more and more about a way of making one group of extremists feel superior to another group of extremists.

Why must there be a conflict between the to at all.
posted by tkchrist at 2:12 PM on May 3, 2005


Now, it seems clear that he is, at least, arguing that we have no need to posit the existence of God to explain our 'elegant design' because evolution can do that all by itself. And you suggest that this is all that he is doing. If so, I withdraw my objection.

I think that's all he's doing. You'd have to ask him, of course. I read the inverview, and I have my own ideas as well. But to me, it seems like he's saying that evolution shows how something can be designed without a designer. If you don't need a designer, you don't need to use the idea of "god" to explain everything's design.

In other words, if you look out your window, you see (hopefully) all these beautiful natural things. It used to be that all these things were used as "proof" of god, but now we can say that they came about via evolution.

There is a huge difference between "cause and effect" and "design and designer".

Newtonian physics states that all causes have effects, but nothing states all designs have designers. It's a logical conclusion, I guess, but evolution short-circuits that.

As it comes to cause and effect, that’s totally different and has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution follows the rules of cause and effect. Animals reproduce via cellular division, sustained by chemical reactions --- all of which follow the cause effect model. Modern biology depends on cause/effect as much as it does on evolution.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on May 3, 2005


orthogonality: Thinking about what you said, I realize (or I think) that you think Dawkins said that by removing one of the labels people use to divide "Us vs. Them" there would be fewer problems in the world.

In fact, I think he was trying to say something nice about religion, that it's not to blame for those problems, rather it's usually just another excuse.

He then went on to say there would be other benefits to getting rid of religion.
posted by delmoi at 2:27 PM on May 3, 2005




"Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all." -- Herbert Spencer
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:18 PM on May 3, 2005


Delmoi, it's interesting that you continue to mix insult with debate. Why can't you simply argue points? Continue with the cheap shots if it makes you feel better, I'll not hold it against you.

You say that "Newtonian physics states that all causes have effects, but nothing states all designs have designers. It's a logical conclusion, I guess, but evolution short-circuits that." And go on to argue that evolution follows the rules of cause and effect. All fine and good I won't argue with any of that. (Though I do have a semantic quibble with the claim that a design does not need a designer. Perhaps by "design" you mean something closer to an ordered system and not really the typical meaning.) But the problem with Dawkins' argument, as I tried to explain earlier, is that this only removes the real argument at hand by one step. The real argument (or in any case more interesting) argument isn't whether we came to have two eyes by evolution or by God's design. The real argument concerns how the series of events of which our existence is a part came to start? That is the problem at the heart of infinite regress arguments and that is what Dawkins' dismissal of God via evolution cannot touch. To show that we can come to be by evolution, and without God, is not very much at all when you fail to show that the universe does not require God.


Per my ability to read here again I quote Dawkins while you seem content to merely disparage.
"How would we be better off without religion?

We'd all be freed to concentrate on the only life we are ever going to have. We'd be free to exult in the privilege -- the remarkable good fortune -- that each one of us enjoys through having been being born. An astronomically overwhelming majority of the people who could be born never will be. You are one of the tiny minority whose number came up. Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one. The world would be a better place if we all had this positive attitude to life. It would also be a better place if morality was all about doing good to others and refraining from hurting them, rather than religion's morbid obsession with private sin and the evils of sexual enjoyment. "

Now he does not say that the world will only be a little less bad. He does not as you put it claim that we will be happier while nevertheless trying to kill each other. He makes the blunt claim that the world will be better. I choose to interpret this as a strong claim that the world will be much better (his strong antipathy toward religion supports me here) while you choose to read him as making a weak claim that the world will be only slightly less bad. Since he is not weighing in on the debate, perhaps we should leave it at a stalemate.

Either way, his argument for evolution is not an argument against theism, and really it just cannot be.

His argument that religion is a malignant force that makes the world a worse place is simplistic and unsupported by anything other than simple conviction on his part. In fact it is telling that he does not even mention the good things that religion has accomplished. Only the most simple thinkers actually believe that things are anywhere near as black and white as he seems to think they are.

Of course, here you will accuse me of putting words in his mouth, of being unable to read. Delmoi, reading involves interpretation, I grant him the strongest possible anti-religious positions because that is what he seems to want. He likens believing in God to believing in unicorns. He likens religion to a delusion. He accuses zealots of employing torture and violence because of religion. Aside from one or two qualifications his view of religion is overwhelmingly negative. So I feel that my attributing strong positions to him is well justified.

Now, I enjoy a good intellectual debate. In fact, I think you made an interesting observation that he intended the weak argument in his discussion of the infinite regress. But, if you insist on continuing to insult me I will consider our conversation over.
posted by oddman at 3:19 PM on May 3, 2005


"Sorry, no intelligent discussion is to be had. How can you discuss evolution with someone who dosn't even understand the most fundemental aspects of it...."
- Educate them.
...you spelled fundimental wrong.
...yes I'm just jokingly pointing out the irony ( esp. considering how much I misspell - glass houses 'n' all that)

"In scientific terms, there is no debate. The only debate is whether or not one chooses to believe what science says."
Conceded graymouser. But the debate is not over what the science says. Or rather, people on both sides of the non-issue are making the debate about something other than the science. The validity of any scientific theory does not disprove the existance of God any more than ID proves anything.

"Religion is supposed to be about defining meaning and Science is about defining the mechanics of nature."
Dead on tkchrist

"Think about it; ID people are claiming to have a valid scientific proof of God's existence"
- Man that's terrifying isn't it? I mean most people can't even really define what they mean when they say "God"
posted by Smedleyman at 3:53 PM on May 3, 2005


orthogonality:

We ain't dead yet, dagnabbit!
posted by clockzero at 4:27 PM on May 3, 2005


nTeleKy said: But a lot of people have stopped fights because of it and the only other option is total annihilation of one side. Think about it; humans waste a lot of resources on pointless opposition that we could be using for something constructive.

Well, that might be so, if defenders of evolution were interested in annihilating religion, but I don't really think that is true. It certainly it isn't true for me. I'm perfectly happy to agree to disagree, and perfectly willing to allow them to believe what they want to believe and teach their children that evolution doesn't exist, without saying another word. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, have explicitly said that they want to wipe out opposing viewpoints. They have passed legislation to that effect. They simply refuse to agree to disagree and let everyone else alone. Am I supposed to just sit back and let them take my freedoms away because opposing them would cause an unpleasant scene?
posted by RylandDotNet at 4:35 PM on May 3, 2005


delmoi: He then went on to say there would be other benefits to getting rid of religion.

Do any of these benefits constitute a evolutionary advantage?

delmoi: Without religion, individual people would worry more about enjoying life now rather then trying to earn points for the afterlife/reincarnation

That sounds like an empirical claim to me. Has anyone done a study showing that a-theists claim higher levels of enjoyment and life satisfaction than theists? Because the studies I've seen seem to show the opposite; that in general those of a moderate to strong religious belief and practice show markedly higher levels of happiness and stronger resistance to stress and depression. Studies that make some claim to this extent abound but I've actually never seen a study that contended the opposite, if anyone has a link I would be very curious to see it. Brain scans of Buddhists monks for example show them to be blissfully happy to an almost unprecedented degree when compared to the general population.

tkchrist: Religion is supposed to be about defining meaning and Science is about defining the mechanics of nature.

The line is typically drawn at the point where 'is' is transmuted to 'ought.' Most religions contain moral proscriptions and place strictures on how one 'should' act. They also impose an imperative in terms of adherence. Science occasionally blurs the line between description and proscription. Evolution is one of those cases where people often begin to ascribe meaning to a state of affairs. Evolution is particularly amiable to such interpretations because it is easily reconciled with a teleology. Once teleology is introduced it is but a short step to usurping the traditional domains of religion: ethical proscription (act in such a way as to benefit the species), purpose (to adhere to the laws of evolution and be obedient to its inexorable forces), utopianism ( evolution moves us progressively closer to a better society), the beautiful ( how mighty and majestic is the hand of fair Evolution who gently guides us), individualistic prominence (you are the culmination of millennia of evolution, the pinnacle of creation), duty (you have dominion over all by benefit of your unique reason and will and correlative duties therein). However all of these ascriptions of meaning to evolution are based on heuristics that evolution itself does not contain.
posted by Endymion at 4:53 PM on May 3, 2005


There's been a lot of well said things in this thread but before I go back and read it all I'm going to put my two cents in, apologies if this has already been said.

Dawkins' (and other scientists') job is to discover scientific facts. If those facts collide with someone's world-view - tough luck. World-views that demand facts to be 'spruced up' before they accept them are world-views that admit that they prefer a nice lie over a harsh truth.

Reality always win in the end.

Sadly, the reality may be that most people are superstitious nutjobs
posted by spazzm at 5:31 PM on May 3, 2005


Evolution is one of those cases where people often begin to ascribe meaning to a state of affairs. Evolution is particularly amiable to such interpretations because it is easily reconciled with a teleology....However all of these ascriptions of meaning to evolution are based on heuristics that evolution itself does not contain.

It should be noted that most scientists who study evolution--including Dawkins--avoid this scrupulously. Ascription of meaning is yet another misapprehension most common among those with a shallow, lay understanding of the theory.

Do any of these benefits constitute a evolutionary advantage?

This question is neither here nor there. By answering it with another quote from delmoi (who is in turn paraphrasing Dawkins), you seem to be trying to create the impression that Dawkins would answer it in the affirmative. He makes no such claim.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:41 PM on May 3, 2005


World-views that demand facts to be 'spruced up' before they accept them are world-views that admit that they prefer a nice lie over a harsh truth.

People who live in glass houses should read and understand Quine (and Kuhn) before throwing stones.
posted by gd779 at 5:44 PM on May 3, 2005


gd779: Nice troll. Where does Quine and/or Kuhn advocate accepting dogma over scientific fact?
posted by spazzm at 5:54 PM on May 3, 2005


The claim is that scientific empiricism is inherently dogmatic.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:57 PM on May 3, 2005


The claim is that scientific empiricism is inherently dogmatic.

Give the man his cupie doll! Oh, wait, we've had this conversation before, haven't we? ;-) Very well, then, carry on, carry on.
posted by gd779 at 6:01 PM on May 3, 2005


I'd like to see some empirical evidence supporting that ;)
posted by spazzm at 6:02 PM on May 3, 2005


The claim is that scientific empiricism is inherently dogmatic.

Well, if we must have dogma, I'd much rather have it churning out X-Boxes (boxen?) and flying cars than the Christian alternative (which if I remember my medieval history was 10 people living in a single room hut dying of the plague).
posted by boaz at 6:09 PM on May 3, 2005


mr_roboto: It should be noted that most scientists who study evolution--including Dawkins--avoid this scrupulously. Ascription of meaning is yet another misapprehension most common among those with a shallow, lay understanding of the theory.

I don't see how that is addresses to my point which was that evolution lends itself easily to such interpritations and that such interpretations are common. I did not state that evolution contends a specific meaning, the fact that it doesn't was the very essence of my point. It doesn't matter whether one particular scientist made such an error or not. The domain of this post was society on a large scale; many people do make such errors.

This question is neither here nor there. By answering it with another quote from delmoi (who is in turn paraphrasing Dawkins), you seem to be trying to create the impression that Dawkins would answer it in the affirmative. He makes no such claim.

I can see how the structure of my post could lead one to misunderstand it as such but the question was an sincere one. I have no idea how Dawkins, or delmoi for that matter, would answer this question. However the question is far from irrelevant as you seem to think, on the contrary it is at the very heart of evolutionary theory. If evolution is to be strongly scientific it must have predictive power. One theoretically at least, should be able to predict whether a given trait will increase or decrease within a population based on its fitness.
posted by Endymion at 6:17 PM on May 3, 2005


I'd like to see some empirical evidence supporting that ;)

Heh. I like your style.
posted by gd779 at 6:18 PM on May 3, 2005


As Chico Marx once said: "Teleology? You can't a-fool me. . . .
Evolution, she ain't no opiate of the masses!"
posted by rdone at 6:20 PM on May 3, 2005


I don't see how that is addresses to my point which was that evolution lends itself easily to such interpretations and that such interpretations are common.

It doesn't. I just thought it should be noted, so I noted it.

However the question is far from irrelevant as you seem to think, on the contrary it is at the very heart of evolutionary theory.

Religious belief isn't even genetic. How is evolution involved in any way? If anything, you'd have to be talking about the "evolution" of ideas in human society, which is a fringe topic at best. To say it is "at the very heart of evolutionary theory" is wildly inaccurate.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:38 PM on May 3, 2005


mr_roboto: Religious belief isn't even genetic. How is evolution involved in any way? If anything, you'd have to be talking about the "evolution" of ideas in human society, which is a fringe topic at best. To say it is "at the very heart of evolutionary theory" is wildly inaccurate.

Well there are some who think there might be a genetic foundation for religious belief, whether there is or not is far from conclusively decided. I'm baffled as to how to respond to the second part of your comment. My statement was spurred by the references to Dawkins whose career has evolved around meme theory. If you are someone who isn't convinced that evolution operates on ideas then I accept that we are at an impasse but the notion that evolution functions on ideas is fairly common these days, and things like evolutionary psychology are nascent but blossoming fields.
posted by Endymion at 6:55 PM on May 3, 2005


Endymion:

Dawkins invented the term "meme" in "The Selfish Gene." It is not accurate at all to say that his "career has evolved [pun intended?] around meme theory; better to say that meme theory has evolved around Dawkins.

Meme theorists suggest that a "religion", that is a body of propositions accepted on faith alone, is a "memeplexe," or mutually reinforcing set of memes that are subject to trasmission via replication/repetition. Dawkins suggests that the growth and evolution of the human intellect is primarily a matter of mimetic augmentation rather than purely a matter of biological change--once the critical mass of brain size and vocal cord utility was reached. There is a foreseeable prospect that the "intelligent designer" behind future evolutionary change will be Mimetic Man, as Dawkins alludes in his last comment in the Salon interview.

As to the Hume comment, Dawkins refers obliquely to a discussion of Hume's comments on the topic of "the Argument From Design" found in Dan Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea.", q.v. "Hume's Close Encounter", at pp. 28-33. Only an arbitrary, faith-based termination of the "who urged the demiurge" inquiry gives one the right to declare that the Uncaused Cause has been located, hiding right behind a copy of the Summa Theologica.
posted by rdone at 7:23 PM on May 3, 2005


Whatever you can say about those snotty intellectual biologists who don't respect religions, you can say against religious figures a thousand times. Fundamentalists ridicule and attempt to silence those with whom they don't agree with blackmail and threats. ID is as relativistic as Tom Delay at a fundraiser and Bill Frist at the bedside of a comotose patient. If there is any thought to it that isn't tautological and positivistic, I'd love to hear it.

Creationism isn't a believe system, but a rebellion against divergent opinions. These people would argue the world was flat, if there weren't photographic evidence. They would insist that the universe revolved around the sun, if they thought they could get away with it.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:39 PM on May 3, 2005


mr_roboto:

It should be noted that most scientists who study evolution--including Dawkins--avoid this scrupulously. Ascription of meaning is yet another misapprehension most common among those with a shallow, lay understanding of the theory.

And yet this is exactly what Dawkins and others (Edward O. Wilson, et al.) have been doing, and it's the basis of Ruse's argument.

Note that it's not Dawkins's scholarly work that's at issue here (and, judging from a quick poke around on Ovid, he hasn't been doing too much of that lately). Rather, it's the popularizers' use of scholarly authority to produce a series of (scientifically negligible) popular works to push certain ideological barrows.

Ruse is trying to make a distinction between evolutionary science (what goes on in research teams in Universities) and evolutionism (the extension of evolutionary theory into the cultural realm). What Dawkins has been engaging in for the last decade or so is the latter. The idea is that evolutionism (the attacks on religion; pop sociobiology, and so on) is (a) scientifically worthless, and (b) may even endanger the political viability of evolutionary research in the States in the medium term, by stoking enough cultural backlash to allow 'equal time' for ID in classrooms to be uncontroversial.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:05 PM on May 3, 2005


Master of the false dichotomy, Sonny Jim? Into damning Dawkins as a "popularizer? Have you read "The Ancestor"s Tale," or did that not show up on your Ovid quickie?

Is "scientia" supposed to be something that only "research teams" at Florida State appreciate? Should professors be prohibited from writing things that will annoy the rubes?

"Intelligent design theory" is a political ploy, as Dr. Ruse should be able to explain with the best of them. Demonizing Dawkins for articulating--with verve and erudition, I hasten to add--a view rejected on an a priori basis by some with tender sensibilities smacks of an attempt to adopt the same kind of "Philip Johnson wedge" strategy, only in the other direction. Lulling the ignorant with platitudes will not promote the "political viability of evolutionary research."
posted by rdone at 8:44 PM on May 3, 2005


These people would argue the world was flat, if there weren't photographic evidence. They would insist that the universe revolved around the sun, if they thought they could get away with it.

They did for more than a few centuries, if memory serves. But hey, since scientific empiricism is just as "dogmatic" as the noetic approach, who am I to say they're wrong?

Oh shit, I forgot: how many angels can we cram onto that pinpoint again? :)

"The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to the Holy Scripture. The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith." - Holy See Committee on This Galileo Chap, 5 March, 1616
posted by joe lisboa at 8:57 PM on May 3, 2005


"The mathematical expressions for electrodynamic action led, in the mind of Gauss, to the conviction that a theory of the propagation of electric action [as a function of] time would be found to be the very keystone of electrodynamics. Now, we are unable to conceive of propagation in time, except either as the flight of a material substance through space, or as the propagation of a condition of motion or stress in a medium already existing in space... If something is transmitted from one particle to another at a distance, what is its condition after it has left the one particle and before it has reached the other? ...whenever energy is transmitted from one body to another in time, there must be a medium or substance in which the energy exists after it leaves one body and before it reaches the other, for energy, as Torricelli remarked, 'is a quintessence of so subtle a nature that it cannot be contained in any vessel except the inmost substance of material things'. Hence all these theories lead to the conception of a medium in which the propagation takes place, and if we admit this medium as an hypothesis, I think it ought to occupy a prominent place in our investigations, and that we ought to endeavour to construct a mental representation of all the details of its action, and this has been my constant aim in this treatise."

Its hard to discern your point from a quote. I take it you are saying that the Holy See Committee was wrong but what conclusion you derive from that fact I can't tell.
posted by Endymion at 9:21 PM on May 3, 2005


rdone, I'm not saying that Dawkins isn't a first-rate researcher in his own right, or that he's not a writer of considerable rhetorical force. But you can't claim on the other hand that his books simply share an objective 'scientia' with the masses. They're laden with cultural baggage, and, in particular, his own militant atheism.

Ruse has written (and I agree with him) that Dawkins seems increasingly obsessed with religion -- and this was before Dawkins started claiming that anyone who goes to church is with the terrorists.

The point I was trying to make is that Dawkins's rhetoric makes it that much easier for the religious right to reduce science as a whole to a consciously anti-religious boogeyman, with potentially interesting cultural results.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:44 PM on May 3, 2005


Hmm, is it worth replying anymore?
That sounds like an empirical claim to me. Has anyone done a study showing that a-theists claim higher levels of enjoyment and life satisfaction than theists? Because the studies I've seen seem to show the opposite; that in general those of a moderate to strong religious belief and practice show markedly higher levels of happiness and stronger resistance to stress and depression. Studies that make some claim to this extent abound but I've actually never seen a study that contended the opposite, if anyone has a link I would be very curious to see it. Brain scans of Buddhists monks for example show them to be blissfully happy to an almost unprecedented degree when compared to the general population.

Well, that was what Dawkins said, not me. I suspect that people who see the world as it is would not be as happy as those who see the world as they would like it to be.

On the other hand, I have never heard anything so rediculous as mesuring 'bliss' via brain scan.
posted by delmoi at 9:05 AM on May 5, 2005


Do any of these benefits constitute a evolutionary advantage?

Probably not.
posted by delmoi at 9:37 AM on May 5, 2005


They simply refuse to agree to disagree and let everyone else alone. Am I supposed to just sit back and let them take my freedoms away because opposing them would cause an unpleasant scene?

No, not at all. And you shouldn't let people that you agree with take away others' rights, either. And when anyone tries to make politically stupid maneuvers, call them out on their politics, not the merit of their beliefs. The point I was trying to make is that it's no use buying into the artificial "science vs. religion" dichotomy they've set up. I just wish that people would put more effort into showing that there is no incompatibility rather than just knocking down strawmen all day, which seems to be how these things end up. But regardless, tell them that they have no right to use the government to enforce their beliefs, right or wrong - if they are so powerful allow them to be judged on their own merits.
posted by nTeleKy at 10:39 AM on May 5, 2005


[Y]ou can't claim on the other hand that his books simply share an objective 'scientia' with the masses. They're laden with cultural baggage, and, in particular, his own militant atheism.

I will claim just that--precisely because he refuses to tug his forelock in the direction of metaphysics in examining the mechanisms of evolution. "The Ancestor's Tale" is remarkable work of knowledge, i.e. "scientia," in its original sense, for those of the "masses" who are willing to heft and read it. All books are laden with cultural baggage of one sort or another, if only because each is written in some culture's language, in the first instance, and in the argot of the particular subculture to which the book's message is directed or of which the writer is au courant.

I am sure Dawkins might be viewed as blasphemous but I don't particularly care about that. The mechanism of evolution is manifestly at work in the life forms on our planet. It matters nowt if one fervently believes that the Holy Spirit--or Mithra or Vishnu or Amaterasu, for that matter--personally superintends the expression of proteins in cellular replication. First, it can't be proven: this is where "faith" has to come in. Second, it does not change the actuality of what is a miraculous, wonder-inducing process full of unanswered questions.

The evolution of life on Earth is a giant detective story. One is swiftly trapped in the "god of the gaps" conundrum if one attempts to solve the riddle by assigning divine intervention as the a priori answer to questions not easily answerable in terms of current "scientific" knowledge.

I prefer to contemplate the question of evolution from a materialistic standpoint because metaphysical speculation, as Socrates wisely cautioned, is philosophically sterile. IF a hypothesis can never be tested in the natural world, an infinity of goofy, wrong explanations may be offered to justify its acceptance. Dawkins, with a degree of forthrightness which rankles the observant of various creeds, refuses to admit the untestable hypothesis of divine intervention as an explanation for evolution through natural selection. He could just as easily take this position if he were a Sufi or a member of Opus Dei: that he happens not to believe in a personal deity does not make his science wrong.

The "Intelligent Design" scam is fraudulent camouflage for those who prefer to believe that a Christian God serves as a cosmic Building Superintendent in matters biological--in the teeth of facts that show that the lion's share of life as we know it functions quite nicely in self-replicating, automatic fashion. If one inserts a different "intelligent designer" at various stages of life as we know it, the problem of infinite regress is inescapable: who designed the Intelligent Designer? It's designers all the way down. . .

If, on the other hand, one posits but a single, omnipotent Intelligent Designer, that position is equivalent to and indistinguishable from that of the "scientific creationist" as a philosophical matter--and equally unprovable. I reject the notion that scientific inquiry in the biological sciences must hamstrung by a need to pander to credulous persons who do not even accept proven facts which they deem contrary to their belief system.
posted by rdone at 5:21 PM on May 5, 2005


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