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Kansas Evolves
February 14, 2001 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Kansas Evolves Yet some school board members still have doubts about the science behind Darwin's theory of evolution. Can't we do an emergency air drop of Cosmos for these folks?
posted by ritualdevice (32 comments total)

 
I went to the link provided. I had thught you meant to airlift Cosmo, the magazine that had invented cleavage, and I thought that might be less acceptable out that way than even Chuck Darwin and his Apes-R-Us
posted by Postroad at 10:05 AM on February 14, 2001


I think we should look at this as a good thing. The public saw the school board members were nutcases and voted them out. Most of them, anyway.
posted by aaron at 10:11 AM on February 14, 2001


Take note! aaron and I seeing eye to eye on something! I knew this was gonna be a good day when I got up this morning.
posted by ritualdevice at 10:26 AM on February 14, 2001


Woo! Will you be my valentine, ritual? ;)
posted by aaron at 10:34 AM on February 14, 2001


*blush*
posted by ritualdevice at 10:39 AM on February 14, 2001


You'd think that these yokels in Kansas would have been the first to admit the merits of Darwinism. After all, they're much more closely related to the Neanderthals... :-)
posted by jpoulos at 10:42 AM on February 14, 2001


"Board members who favored keeping the 1999 standards argued that Wednesday's vote discounted valid, scientific doubts about evolution."

Like - 'if we come from monkeys, how come there are still some at the zooo?, don't try to understand god, we already got in trouble for that flat earth thing'.


teeeheee. I find myself becoming more and more of an atheist each day... hmmm

Question for mefi users - Is there god? Or at least do you belive in one? Explain.

(p.s. why won't anyone be my valentine?)
posted by tiaka at 11:16 AM on February 14, 2001


Any theory about the origin of the universe gets stuck with where matter came from originally, or where a creator came from. And the answer is "well, it always was there."
Personally, I see no reason not to believe in a god; it will hurt nothing and it is impossible to *prove* either way.
I believe in evolution, big bang and such. Can anyone give me a reason not to? I also believe in some unidentified thing that caused everything in the first place, and for my purposes (coping with the absurdity of the universe ;)) the god theory works great.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:00 PM on February 14, 2001


That's how I see it, but then I look at all these smart folks and them reading stuff about empty space and how it's been there. I don't really understand the cause of everything and even if there was a god, would we have afterlife? I mean, I mostly care about afterlife, even if it hell, it's still better than not existing.
posted by tiaka at 12:04 PM on February 14, 2001


well, even the pope has admitted that hell is just a concept (link, anyone?)...

and there is always the argument that reason is flawed by human nature's own inherit imperfections; so science (in our minds), being dependent on human logic, is based upon the faith in human thought processes, making it a faith-based belief system...so could you say that everything is contingent upon faith and how what you are willing to place trust in?


posted by Hackworth at 12:16 PM on February 14, 2001


"In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards."-Mark Twain



Here is an interesting article about the tenuous nature of life
posted by john at 12:19 PM on February 14, 2001



could you say that everything is contingent upon faith and how what you are willing to place trust in?
The scientific method can't prove the scientific method is valid.
That's what I think. It's the dichotomy of my life, however. It's very hard to live as if you believe this, even though I can't prove it's not so, just ask John Cage or Albert Camus...
Ultimately, man is arbitrary, and unless I believed in a god, I would have no justification for living.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:31 PM on February 14, 2001


I kn;ew even as a child that there had to be a god, a grand designer who gave us Valentine's Day...how otherwise could this holiday have "evolved," for which see:

http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010214/wl/india_valentine_dc_2.html
posted by Postroad at 12:42 PM on February 14, 2001


sonofsamiam said:
Personally, I see no reason not to believe in a god; it will hurt nothing and it is impossible to *prove* either way.

Occam's razor was designed for situations like these. If you can't prove it either way, pick the explanation which requires the fewest entities, because it's most likely to be correct. If you don't absolutely need a deity to explain the universe, don't postulate one.

tiaka said:
Question for mefi users - Is there god? Or at least do you belive in one? Explain.

Most entities called "god" are defined in such a way as to make their own existence either impossible or meaningless. Of those "gods" who could actually exist, I have yet to encounter one whose existence was actually necessary, and thus I continue to lack belief in god(s).

sonofsamiam also said:
The scientific method can't prove the scientific method is valid.

Perhaps, but the alternative is solipsism, which is dreadfully boring.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:18 PM on February 14, 2001


It's now fun to show off a British £10 note to Americans, given who's on the back.
posted by holgate at 1:19 PM on February 14, 2001


Mars- I don't like solipsism myself, but I can see no other alternatives.
I guess it's possible that our logical systems haven't evolved yet enough to justify themselves, and one day will. One can always hope.

I need a deity to justify my consciousness. Otherwise I cannot escape the absurdity of it's exisitence.
posted by sonofsamiam at 4:40 PM on February 14, 2001


I think Richard Dawkins said it best: "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."

[Holgate, that is truly fine. It would never happen in the US, which is a real shame. I can think of no-one who deserves that honor more.]
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:50 PM on February 14, 2001


George Carlin says we only need two commandments -- and having read them I'm not so sure he's wrong.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:27 PM on February 14, 2001


OK, I don't post much, but I love talking Philosophy enough to take the plunge and join this one...

Mars Saxman, your post was cogent enough to hint that you might already know this, but the ontological argument attempts to show that the existence of G-d is necessary. In my mind, the nature of the reasoning in the ontological argument makes it more likely that it only demonstrates that belief in G-d is not irrational.

Regardless of the popular appeal of the theory of evolution, there remains significant cause to doubt its efficacy as an explanation of the world we see around us. In truth, this debate is a variation of a very old argument. In Aristotle's time, they debated over whether or not the Universe was eternal--that is, uncaused. It is now commonly accepted that the Universe did indeed begin to exist at a finite point in time, and thus the debate has shifted toward speculation about whether that event (the Big Bang) was or was not caused by an Almighty G-d outside of our Universe. From here, the 'threads' of this argument branch out in various directions: pure creationism, intelligent design theory, etc. I believe that evolutionary theory is linked to the pholisophical postions that assert the universe is uncaused.

Sincere doubt about whether or not undirected evolution exists is not by itself an indicator of ignorance or unreason. The archive at Origins is worth a read if the subject interests you.

As a final note, William of Ockham (of Occam's [sic] razor fame) was a devout Christian who most certainly considered the existence of the Almighty a necessary enough postulate that it escaped being discarded as an unnecessary complication in his scientific and philosophical thinking.
posted by CalvinTheBold at 6:34 PM on February 14, 2001


sonofsamiam:
I guess it's possible that our logical systems haven't evolved yet enough to justify themselves, and one day will. One can always hope.

I'm sorry to say, but as far as I understand it Godel's incompleteness theorem puts this hope to rest. It demonstrates that formal systems cannot be capable of unlimited introspection and therefore cannot "justify themselves."

I don't understand why it is a bad thing that the scientific method cannot be proven correct. In fact I have a hard time envisioning what such correctness would mean. The scientific method is a tool, and as long as it does what we ask of it, what more do we need?

CalvinTheBold:
Mars Saxman, your post was cogent enough to hint that you might already know this, but the ontological argument attempts to show that the existence of G-d is necessary. In my mind, the nature of the reasoning in the ontological argument makes it more likely that it only demonstrates that belief in G-d is not irrational.

Thank you for the compliment.

While I have read about Anselm's argument, I'm not strongly familiar with it. I'm sure the philosophers argued this to death centuries ago, so I will say only that the argument to which you linked seems to rely on the assumption that a thing which "exists in reality" is greater than a thing which "exists in the understanding". This is a strikingly nonobvious idea to accept as an axiom.

It seems to me that the rationality of a belief in god(s) is dependent on the definition of the term. If the proposed god has a consistent definition and a detectable effect on the universe (so that a test for its existence can be imagined), then belief in this god could be rational. It would be a matter of sufficient evidence and lack of a simpler explanation.

If, however, the definition of "god" contains internal contradictions, or it implies no discernible effect on the universe, then belief in this god would not be rational.

Regardless of the popular appeal of the theory of evolution, there remains significant cause to doubt its efficacy as an explanation of the world we see around us. In truth, this debate is a variation of a very old argument.

I am suspicious that when you refer to "evolution" in this context you mean not the process by which one species becomes another, but a sort of overarching mechanistic world-view. Because of this potential confusion, indulge me in a few definitions:

* "the fact of evolution" - the observable state of the world, where the species which exist now are not the same species which existed in the past, which themselves are not the same species which existed before them. "Evolution" in this context means the fact that, by whatever process, species change and have changed over time.

* "the theory of evolution" - or, more properly, theories of evolution. An explanation of the fact of evolution; Darwin's being the best known, in spite of its replacement by the punctuated equilibrium theory and perhaps others that I haven't read about. The idea that a divine agent miraculously transformed one species into the next, as found in creationism, would be a theory of evolution.

* "the worldview of evolution" - this is, as far as I know, an idea discussed only by those who don't accept it, and is typically shorthand for the idea that divine agents are nonexistent, meaningless, or at least irrelevant.

Sincere doubt about the "fact of evolution" can only be achieved by discarding all of physics. Sincere doubt about the "theory of evolution" constitutes many scientists' full time job; as with any other field, competing theories are raised, criticized, and supplanted in search of better understanding. Intelligent-design supporters, whether they describe it in these terms or not, are thus in the business of promoting specific theories of evolution.

As far as the last, it belongs to the domain of philosophers.

It is now commonly accepted that the Universe did indeed begin to exist at a finite point in time, and thus the debate has shifted toward speculation about whether that event (the Big Bang) was or was not caused by an Almighty G-d outside of our Universe.

While the universe came to exist at a finite point in time, spacetime is the fabric of the universe. Accordingly, I do not see how it is meaningful to talk about time outside of the universe. Talking about a cause for the Big Bang implies that there was time before the Big Bang, which makes about as much sense to me as talking about temperatures below absolute zero.

This is an interesting discussion, even if it has flown off at something of a tangent to the actual news article; however I'm getting hungry and it's time to go home for dinner.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:03 PM on February 14, 2001


Well, it looks like I'm going to have to self-link (which Matt says is OK in a followup).

Calvin, there is no longer any doubt about evolution. There remain details to clear up (as in all good science), but the overall issue is not in doubt at all. I wrote two essays about that on my web page: here, and then here. The only people who think there's doubt about evolution are those who desperately want it to not be true. You won't find any reputable biologist or taxonomist or geneticist who has serious doubts about evolution.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:43 AM on February 15, 2001


I truly adore the ten pound note holgate. I think I'll pop into an exchange bank in the city and try and pick one up.

Silly americans, will we ever grow up? I could only imagine the uproar caused if Darwin was a proposed addition to any US legal tender.
posted by mathowie at 12:54 AM on February 15, 2001


"Talking about a cause for the Big Bang implies that there was time before the Big Bang, which makes about as much sense to me as talking about temperatures below absolute zero."
Mars, I agree with your general argument, but negative absolute temperatures really exist! See this link from the sci.physics usenet FAQ.
On the Kansas story... thank Darwin (or God) that people have not completely lost their senses.
BTW this whole hangup with evolution seems to be an Evangelical Christian thing. Other Christian churches such as the catholic (see this papal link- paragraph 6) or the Eastern Orthodox as well as many mainstream protestant churches seem to quietly accept evolution as a physical fact (albeit with the divine guidance clause attached).
This from a devout atheist (of the Greek Orthodox variety!)



posted by talos at 3:54 AM on February 15, 2001


[The tenner is indeed a fine note: and repairs the monetary imbalance between scientists and artists since Elgar replaced Faraday on the £20. I wonder, though, whether the choice was motivated as much by his hard-to-counterfeit beard as his scientific achievement.]

The refutation of Anselm's ontological argument that appeals to me best is the distinction between analogue and digital values: that's to say, existence is a 0 or a 1, not a smooth scale between the two. So you can't simply "turn the imagination up to 11" and hit the divinity.

And to be honest, I can't understand how religious types aren't awed by the visible evidence of species adaptation. I can't remember that much of an 18th-c backlash against the mechanistic world-view of Newtonian physics, and that pretty much clunked up the notion of an interventionist God.
posted by holgate at 8:32 AM on February 15, 2001


sonofsamiam wrote:

Personally, I see no reason not to believe in a god; it will hurt nothing and it is impossible to *prove* either way.

One of my favorite books has a quote about this issue which is closely related to Pascal's wager (believe in God because if he's real and you don't, you'll go to hell): "Faith built on a cost-benefit analysis is nothing more than a conjurer's trick."

For that matter, we might as well all kiss Hank's ass, just in case.

I consider this whole line of reasoning rather preposterous, as you might guess.

And this "it will hurt nothing" thing makes me wonder how you might explain the historic atrocities that have been committed in the name of one god or another. What I can't figure out is, if there is a god (or gods), why didn't he/she/they come on down and clear the matter up, so as to stop the slaughter? Unless he/she/they don't give a shit about human suffering at all, in which case, remind me why they're worthy of worship? I don't get it.

sonofsamiam also wrote:

The scientific method can't prove the scientific method is valid.

Uh, the scientific method includes the ability to test one's hypotheses by (repeated) experiments, involving data which can be perceived objectively. You're saying this is just mumbo-jumbo that gets us no closer to the truth? What else would you propose?

Oh yeah, some old self-contradictory book - suuuuuuuuuure.

No thanks - you go your way, I'll go mine. And if I or someone I love is sick, we'll be happy to take full benefit of the wonders of modern medicine, brought to us courtesy of the scientific method.

Come to think of it, the scientific method is self-referential, so of course it can prove its own validity - checking for validity is a crucial part of the method itself. If you get results which contradict the validity of your hypothesis, then you discard or adjust the hypothesis (or start looking for big sources of experimental error).

I can't understand why people would decide that the scientific method isn't good enough, and keep believing in someone who keeps failing to even SHOW UP.

sonofsamiam continued:

I need a deity to justify my consciousness. Otherwise I cannot escape the absurdity of it's exisitence.

That's a shame, then. Personally I delight in the absurdity of existence - once you get to the point where you can laugh about it, it's a lot easier to cope with. What makes you think a non-absurd universe is somehow more believable than this one is?

Maybe you should watch Toy Story. Seriously. Once you realize what kind of fun you can have as an action figure, it's really not quite so bleak.

For the record, my own personal big-bang theory is something like this: before there was anything, there was nothing, a sort of zero probability. There was a lot of it, in fact, an infinite amount. It sort of collapsed, though - there was so much "nothing", that in itself it sort of became "something", when considered from a different dimension. The difference between the two caused the Big Bang (sort of like a big honking capacitor discharging). Time *began* with the Big Bang, so the idea of "before" doesn't really have much meaning, the way we usually think of time.

That's my current wacky theory. And no, I don't it's provable or disprovable, but I don't care. I like it, but I may change my mind in ten years. Or next week. It really has no bearing on my day-to-day living, so I consider it just an interesting topic to muse about from time to time.
posted by beth at 9:42 AM on February 15, 2001



beth:
What I can't figure out is, if there is a god (or gods), why didn't he/she/they come on down and clear the matter up, so as to stop the slaughter? Unless he/she/they don't give a shit about human suffering at all, in which case, remind me why they're worthy of worship? I don't get it.

If God were to intervene and "stop the slaughter", then we would not have the freedom of choice. We would never be able to commit a wrong or a right. We would be puppets strictly acting out what He wanted us to do. When God gives us the freedom of choice, He is taking a step back to allow us to make this own decision. Not just the decision of living a moral and obediant life, but also whether or not we will worship Him.

Mars:
If, however, the definition of "god" contains internal contradictions, or it implies no discernible effect on the universe, then belief in this god would not be rational.

Just curious. Do you consider yourself a rational person? I mean, do you really believe that everything you hold true can be consider rational?

Certainly you can hold that there are some absolute truths, which you can not rationally prove true. For instance, how can you prove to me that you even have thoughts? How can you prove to me that you have ever loved somebody?
posted by crog at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2001


beth, I've never seen someone read into a comment so many things that were not there (something I'm guilty of myself, I'll admit :P, but this is redik-u-lusk.)

Pascal's wager is a crock. I was not refering to it.

why didn't he/she/they come on down and clear the matter up...
Did I define god? Did I say god is interested in human affairs? Did I say worship it?

data which can be perceived objectively
Nothing can be perceived objectively. We can only approximate and pretend objectivity.

some old self-contradictory book
Did I recommend the bible? (I assume that's what you're talking about.) I view the bible as a historical document, subject to the same faults of misinterpretation, culture clash, whatever, as any other.

modern medicine
I did not say I'm against the scientific method. It's only a tool, and a good one. It works almost all of the time.

the scientific method is self-referential, so of course it can prove its own validity
This makes absolutely no sense. It's based on the assumption that the scientific method is "valid" in the first place and can "validate" things. This may seem pedantic, but I don't think it's any more so than the rest of my arguments :)

a non-absurd universe is somehow more believable than this one is?
If the universe is absurd, then all of mankind is absurd, then all the rapes and murders that occur do not matter one bit. You are only rearranging particles.

posted by sonofsamiam at 1:56 PM on February 15, 2001


talos:
Mars, I agree with your general argument, but negative absolute temperatures really exist!

Thanks for pointing out that article. I had no idea such a phenomenon was possible. I don't remember enough from physics class to follow the argument, but it seems like another one of those fascinating little quirky corners the universe delights in surprising us with.

crog:
Just curious. Do you consider yourself a rational person? I mean, do you really believe that everything you hold true can be consider rational?

That is a difficult question to answer. I'm not entirely sure what you mean, and the question I think you're asking is based on assumptions I do not share.

The faculty of rational thought is part of being human, so in that sense, I am a rational person. It does not follow from this that every opinion or belief which passes through my head is therefore consistent and derived without fallacy from accurate knowledge.

Since I do not have unlimited information or time in which to process it, as a practical matter I have to make approximations and jump to conclusions in order to get by.

Does that answer what you were asking?

Certainly you can hold that there are some absolute truths, which you can not rationally prove true.

If you are referring to axioms, then of course, yes; any logical system relies on basic assumptions. These are only "absolute truths" within the context of the system based on them, and the idea of "proving" them true is meaningless. There is no reason you could not create a different system, for a different job, based on different axioms.

The fewer and simpler your axioms, the more powerful your system, as a general rule. This is why taking the existence of a god as axiomatic creates more problems than it solves.

For instance, how can you prove to me that you even have thoughts? How can you prove to me that you have ever loved somebody?

I assume that by "prove to me" you mean something like "convince me to any arbitrary level of skepticism." Of course I can't do that; the idea is silly. I am, however, of the opinion that you will find the idea that I have thoughts to be a good explanation of the experiences you have while reading the words associated with my name on your computer screen.

This is basic epistemology, and far more learned folk than I have dealt with these questions at great length.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:39 PM on February 15, 2001


I have a book called "No Way: The nature of the Impossible" which contains a large number of individual articles talking about what kinds of things are not possible in various fields, like physics, economics, biology. One of the articles is about the impossibility of being a perfect parent; it's one of the best.

The last article takes on impossibility in philosophy with special attention to the problem of solipsism. It's not new work, but it's more a summary of important work. It turns out that Wittgenstein, among others, managed to thoroughly demolish the solipsist dilemma by referral to language.

Very briefly, and probably with mistakes, the argument goes like this: The solipsist is asking the question "Prove to me that you exist" using language. But language is a means of communicating information, and its existence proves that communication exists. Communication can only exist between two minds, and therefore the act of asking the question already proves what the answer is, for if I didn't exist for you to ask the question of then the language you are using would also not exist. (Side trips like "You might be a dream" are also dealt with. Likewise, since language preexisted computers, "You might be a computer" is unimportant.) The argument proves that other minds exist, not that I in particular have one. But the solipsist question really isn't "Prove that you exist" as much as "Prove that anyone exists" and by asking the question the answer is already known.

Even the article only hits the high points, albeit in far greater depth, but from that it becomes clear that this issue has in fact been dealt with by the body philosophic, and that when analyzed closely the solipsist position falls apart in a welter of contradictory assumptions. For instance, "How can I know that you're not a dream?" presupposes that it's possible to tell the difference, and if we can tell the difference than the question is already answered. The question rhetorically implies that we can't tell the difference, but if that were the case then the word "dream" couldn't exist since we wouldn't have anything to describe with such a word. Since the word "dream" exists, as proved by its use in the question, then there must be something we can identify with that word, and if we can identify it then the question is answered. Again, don't hold me to this; my understanding of the argument might be wrong.

The book is fascinating and I recommend it highly; the article about Computer Science spends a lot of time talking about Alan Turing's "stopping problem" and how a lot of things can be demonstrated to be impossible by anything congruent to a Turing machine if they can be shown to be congruent to the stopping problem. (Automatic removal of dead code is a "stopping problem", for instance, and thus can't be automated because there's no general solution which runs in finite time.)

I've always been fascinated by the impossible. Russell and Heisenberg and Turing are my biggest heroes for proving that there are things I can't do.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:51 PM on February 15, 2001


Here's a (longer) better description of the answer to solipsism.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:10 PM on February 15, 2001


I need a deity to justify my consciousness. Otherwise I cannot escape the absurdity of its exisitence. ... If the universe is absurd, then all of mankind is absurd, then all the rapes and murders that occur do not matter one bit. You are only rearranging particles.

I don't think the universe has any obligation to us one way or the other. If the universe is absurd, then it is absurd no matter how desperately we want to believe it is not. As a species, unfortunately, we are so afraid that our existence might have no point that we collectively invent delusions to avoid even the possibility of discovering that this, our worst fear, is true.

If it turns out that all the rapes and murders do not matter (in a larger arena than the sphere of human society) then they do not matter, and all our desire for them to matter is irrelevant. Personally, I'm going with the evidence, or lack thereof, even if it does give the primitive, irrational part of my brain the willies.
posted by kindall at 6:14 PM on February 15, 2001


Thank you for the article, Steven. Gibt mir something to chew on.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:54 AM on February 16, 2001


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