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Science, Evolution, and Creationism
January 4, 2008 9:24 AM   Subscribe

The National Academies release their new book Science, Evolution, and Creationism, targeted at the public, which summarizes the "scientific understanding of evolution and its importance in the science classroom." Download the 89-page book free in PDF format (you will be asked for your e-mail address, location, and employment sector first). Other resources on evolution from the National Academies, including other free online books (previously on MetaFilter). There's a brief NYT story about it as well.
posted by grouse (66 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Get the PDF on Scribd, as the license allows noncommercial, educational reproduction

Discussion on the Panda's Thumb blog
posted by grouse at 9:31 AM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Watch this fantastic Nova on Kitzmiller v. Dover.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:53 AM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course, if anyone was listening to what scientists were saying, this book wouldn't be needed in the first place. But I applaud them for putting it out there anyway. If people won't listen to the truth, at least we can try to drown out the lies.
posted by DU at 10:16 AM on January 4, 2008


Well, DU, people always want to throw out the "there's no scientific consensus" lie, so it's helpful to have something yet again from the U.S.'s most prestigious science organization to rebut that.

But generally the information in the books can be used by those directly fighting battles over evolution in the classroom, so that they will be informed.
posted by grouse at 10:22 AM on January 4, 2008


Interesting book, good idea, but the medium is severely inadequate. Some of their target audience reads , but most would probably be enticed to read the book AFTER seeing a movie/documentary a-la "inconvenient truth".
posted by elpapacito at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2008


We have the Christian fundamentalists, like the one’s in York, PA [near me], who made the national news when they tried to place Creationism in the curriculum. For myself, the main point is that God is the source of life. Now it is on that stance that many ‘fundamentalist scientists’ find the contradiction, not between faith and reason or creation and evolution, but between their own observations and personal ideology. But this booklet appears sound and evenly spoken and I look forward to reading it more thoroughly. Apparently, each camp has their zealots who try to make science into a faith or faith into a science.
posted by Fidei at 10:36 AM on January 4, 2008


people always want to throw out the "there's no scientific consensus" lie

Lie? It's absolutely true. The fact that there remain skeptics in the scientific community is one of the great strengths of science. The further fact that such skeptics are not ostracised or excommunicated (or burned at the stake) for rejecting dogma is an even greater strength.

My fear is that there are too many scientists who accept "theory" as unchallengeable dogma and this makes them no better than their "faith based" opponents.
posted by three blind mice at 10:50 AM on January 4, 2008


Lie? It's absolutely true. The fact that there remain skeptics in the scientific community is one of the great strengths of science. The further fact that such skeptics are not ostracised or excommunicated (or burned at the stake) for rejecting dogma is an even greater strength.

I think you're misunderstanding the concept of "consensus." It doesn't necessarily imply a unanimous, to-the-man, uniformly held opinion. It means "general agreement" or "the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned." When you're talking about large populations (all the biologists in the world, or some similarly-sized group), there's always going to be outliers here and there.

I don't think that you can plausibly argue that there is not general agreement among scientists that evolutionary theory is valid, and that Biblical-style young-Earth creationism is bunk. The fact that you can find a few outliers does not mean that there isn't consensus on the issue.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:01 AM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


The fact that there remain skeptics in the scientific community is one of the great strengths of science.

Well...yeah, but I think you're missing the point. The "fact" of evolution is that it's an observable, tested, proven phenomenon. The "theory" of evolution is really only about the mechanisms, the minutia, of how it works. No credible scientist in the field disputes the former, so the ID folks attempt to jump on the latter as though it was the only relevant question. By trying to get their minions to focus on niche issues such as disagreements over the exact path eyes took to evolve, they attempt to extend the perception of the lack of consensus to undermine the bigger picture.

It's intellectual dishonesty, pure and simple.
posted by kjs3 at 11:34 AM on January 4, 2008


I think the comments by Fidei and three blind mice betray a common misperception: dissension about details == disbelief in the core theory. In any science there are those whose work is fleshing out details and they are inevitably at odds with prevailing beliefs about those details. Lots of such disagreements roil in the biology literature.

My fear is that there are too many scientists who accept "theory" as unchallengeable dogma and this makes them no better than their "faith based" opponents.

Then they aren't scientists, they are merely technicians. Just like "Christians" who don't follow the teachings of Christ aren't really Chistians, just Pharisees. And such "scientists" are by far the minority of those who call themselves such. Most of the scientists I know (and I know a lot of them) treat theories as something to improve upon and a tool to gain further insight, not as dogma (although they wryly refer to some theories as dogma; cf. cosmologists).

Lie? It's absolutely true.

So if over 99% of the practitioners in related fields believe in the basic idea of evolution, you wouldn't call that a consensus? I'm interested in what you would call a consensus.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:37 AM on January 4, 2008


I think the comments by Fidei and three blind mice betray a common misperception

Not speaking for three blind mice, I'm not sure what you read into my post. Has evolution illustrated the 'origin' of matter? Do you think science has proven the "God module" in mankind? My point was in comparing religious zealots bent on discrediting science, as comparable to some evolutionary biologists whose desire is to discredit religion. There are plenty of Darwinian prophets’ intent on just that…
posted by Fidei at 1:33 PM on January 4, 2008


When considering something that is not inherantly measurable or testable, such as the origin of the universe/earth/life/mankind/etc, what exactly is the scientific justification to limit the possible phenomena at work to natural causes? Is it an initial assumption? Is it justified by way of induction (ie every other thing I can observe follows only natural phenomena, so therefore the origin of ___ must as well)? Is there some other justification?

It seems to me that the best answer is that scientific reasoning can only consider scientific, natural phenomena, and therefore the answers produced will be limited to the scientific domain. But that in itself does not limit what *could have happened*, it simply limits what scientists are able to investigate.

Is the question of the existance of supernatural phenomena an a priori question, which comes *before* you start doing science? Doesn't that mean that the scientific method can't answer it? Isn't stating that science disproves creation something of a tautology? How do you know God didn't create the world using supernatural phenomena? (<- this is a real, not a rhetorical question - I'm curious what you think, not trying to preach)

As somebody that does beleive in God, I am confused by the utter disdain that many people seem to have for those who believe that God had a role in creating the world, as if science has disproved that, and anybody that thinks otherwise is closing their eyes and ignoring the evidence. To me, it seems that there used to be much more tolerance of people who chose to believe in God's role in the World. Suddenly (in the last few years) it seems that this perspective has gone from one that is simply outside the domain of science to one that is seen as utterly incompatible with science and an idea which is anathema and dangerous.

Not trolling, I promise. These are genuine questions that I have had for a while (I am currently halfway through the Blind Watchmaker). I would love to know what you think, or what you think I am missing.
posted by jpdoane at 1:54 PM on January 4, 2008


jpdoane…the confusion is not yours, but the ideologues that puzzle over the fact mankind does more than compete and reproduce. How does an evolutionary system, outside of God, produce the universal religious belief system in man that serves no evolutionary purpose?
posted by Fidei at 2:13 PM on January 4, 2008


Belief in God (or not) is orthogonal to science in one sense: the concept of God is not amenable to disproof, measurement, or any of the other tools of science. Some philosopher put it this way (I paraphrase): To ask whether God exists is in the same category of questions that contains the questions "How high is red?" It is a categorical mistake. Believers in God don't care about science and science is agnostic. It just keeps asking questions about how things work, builds models to answer the question, then tests those models to see how well they answer related questions. If one posits that God set it all in motion, fine. If one posits that no sentient creature did, fine as well. Infinite regress assures that the believer will always have room to believe and science will always work quite well for the agnostic or atheist.

produce the universal religious belief system in man

Not sure it is universal, unless you cast the term "religious" far beyond its generally recognized limits. Further, "evolutionary purpose" is an oxymoron. It ain't about teleology.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:33 PM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Those interested in non-creationist alternatives to the theory of evolution may want to look at the work of Agnes Arber, particularly her book, The Mind and the Eye: A Study of the Biologist's Standpoint. An issue of Annals of Botany was dedicated to her and her work. Basically, Arber advocates a holistic, organicist approach to biology. She draws much of her inspiration from the scientific work of Goethe. The essential spirit of this approach is expressed by Hegel in his Philosophy of Nature:
Already in the crystal, as a point, the entire shape is at once present, the totality of the form; the crystal's capacity for growth is only a quantitative alteration. Still more is this the case in the living thing.
posted by No Robots at 2:34 PM on January 4, 2008


When considering something that is not inherantly measurable or testable, such as the origin of the universe/earth/life/mankind/etc,

This isn't about the origin of the universe, the earth, or life. This is about evolution, and evolution, speciation, and natural selection certainly are measurable and testable, and have withstood endless tests.

Science tends to use the simplest explanation possible for natural phenomena, and since there are well-understood explanations of the fact of evolution, there is no need to use supernatural phenomena to do so. That doesn't mean that other explanations aren't possible, but they aren't scientific, and should not be taught in a science class. It is strange that those who demand that supernatural explanations of evolution be taught do not also demand that supernatural explanations of other natural phenomena, such as gravity also be taught.

it seems that this perspective has gone from one that is simply outside the domain of science to one that is seen as utterly incompatible with science and an idea which is anathema and dangerous.

It becomes dangerous when people falsely insist that non-scientific explanations are also science.

the universal religious belief system in man

If there were truly a universal religious belief system, then you wouldn't have to have this discussion. There's no universal religious belief system.
posted by grouse at 2:55 PM on January 4, 2008


Fidei: are you saying that evolution should explain the origin of matter? That's a bit of a leap, isn't it, considering evolution's concerned with living things?

I don't really follow what you mean about the 'god module'. Googling it seems to indicate that it's a region of the brain whose activity is associated with religious experiences. Its existence seems to be reasonably uncontroversial, if not its implications. What is it that should be proven?

I like your summary, Mental Wimp.
posted by alexei at 3:54 PM on January 4, 2008


This is good stuff; thanks!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:49 PM on January 4, 2008


... what exactly is the scientific justification to limit the possible phenomena at work to
natural causes?


Because there is no evidence for any "supernatural" influence in the world; there are no known phenomena which are explained better by supernatural influence than by natural physical processes. This is not an a priori assumption. If evidence did arise for supernatural causes, then science wold account for that fact. It's on the same level with the idea that gravity will still exist tomorrow. It's taken for granted usually, but it is not an a priori assumption.

... scientific reasoning can only consider scientific, natural phenomena, and therefore the answers produced will be limited to the scientific domain. But that in itself does not limit what *could have happened*

Science can consider any and all truth claims for which there is evidence, period. If you really want, however, you could posit a supernatural being that influences the world but leaves no evidence. And you could claim that the supernatural explanation for some event was just as valid as the scientific claim, despite the lack of evidence. But when you abandon all evidence, you lose the ability to put forth a legitimate truth claim. It becomes impossible to differentiate between any statements, regardless of their absurdity. When you ignore the evidence, there's no way to distinguish "god created humans" from "evolution created humans" from "David Letterman created humans". David Letterman could be a Superbeing that created humans millions of years ago, but there's no evidence for that.

How do you know God didn't create the world using supernatural phenomena?

I don't know it any more than I know David Letterman didn't. There's no evidence for either, and we've been improving our knowledge of the universe just fine without either of these theories. It's certainly possible that they're true, but just because it's possible isn't a very good reason to think it's true. Let me also make the converse explicit too: any claim that god exists, without evidence, is only as legitimate as my claim that super teenage mutant ninja turtles exist, without evidence.

(digressionfilter, I know. But they asked, so I can't resist.)
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:17 PM on January 4, 2008 [4 favorites]


Alexei, I do understand this is about evolution and not the origins of the universe and I’m not “saying that evolution should explain the origin of matter”, but can we really speak as though Darwinists are not set to “disprove” the existence of God; Hitchens, Dennett and the like. They are not content with stating that species evolved—that’s evolution, they are not content with staying within the confines of science. They move into the realm of denying what science cannot prove as if empiricism is the only way we know truth. As Sagan has said, “Whatever it is that we cannot explain is attributed to God” [paraphrased]. This makes discussion difficult when it is not the theists who are trying to discredit science, but vice-versa. That was my point.

Now grouse says, “If there were truly a universal religious belief system, then you wouldn't have to have this discussion. There's no universal religious belief system.” Belief in a higher being is universal and timeless, ask any anthropologists. D’Souza talks about this in his latest book and how the only explanation atheistic evolutionists have for this universal phenomenon [which must have hung in there during the entire process] is to discover the natural roots for believing in a deity, calling it the “God module”. It’s a recognized constant.

For mental wimp to say, “Believers in God don't care about science and science is agnostic” is not supported by the history of science. Most of the fathers of the various branches of science were Catholic priests. They said there was no conflict between faith and reason, and my single point is that neither do I. As for the booklet put out by National Academies, I think it is pretty good…although I haven’t read it closely; and that may mean little, from a non-scientist, but then again, who was the target audience if not the general population? I do believe they affirm what I am stating here concerning any contradiction between science and religion, they’re just being amiable and not stating what the vocal biologist are speaking and writing about concerning God and faith. This attitude appears more frequent with the biological sciences rather than the physical sciences, where laws and constants are readily observed.
posted by Fidei at 6:13 PM on January 4, 2008


can we really speak as though Darwinists are not set to “disprove” the existence of God

I'd be surprised if there were any Darwinists left, after 149 years of science that have modified his theories. But regardless of the inaccurate name you choose for them, your conspiracy theory about evolutionary biologists is untrue. Atheism is no more universal among evolutionary biologists than theism is among humans. It's odd that you would try to hold those two viewpoints simultaneously since they are contradictory.
posted by grouse at 6:45 PM on January 4, 2008


It's my unprofessional opinion that the existance of creationists or anti-evolutionists in their religiously-based forms in America represents the absolute failure of local public science education. The fact that these wedge issues take very specific forms seems to indicate that early introduction of the facts of biology and critical thinking skills would be enough to defeat them; that this does not occur shows that somebody is asleep on the job.

Anyways, that idea that religious doctrines should be "right" about the world died in the 18th century during the Renaissance. Didn't Rousseau introduce the concept of an emotional interpretation of god as opposed to an intellectual one, thus ignoring factual incorrectnesses like flat, young earths?
posted by sandking at 7:28 PM on January 4, 2008


"To ask whether God exists is in the same category of questions that contains the questions "How high is red?" It is a categorical mistake. Believers in God don't care about science and science is agnostic."

So basically the argument is: it is blatantly obvious that God doesn't exist, duh!

Because it is most definitely not blatantly obvious to me that God doesn't exist. Are you suggesting that anything that we can't measure/prove/quantify scientifically isn't real?

I have experienced God in a number of ways, none of which I would submit as scientific proof, but which are significant and convincing to me. Is the scientific method the only way to learn what is true? How can I prove that my wife loves me? How can I prove that molesting children is wrong? How can I prove that Mozart or Metallica makes great music?

And the categorical statement that people who believe in God don't care about science, I find pretty offensive.

When you ignore the evidence, there's no way to distinguish "god created humans" from "evolution created humans" from "David Letterman created humans".

What evidence am I ignoring exactly? Nobody really knows what the probability is for a complex molecule that is capable of reproducing itself spontaneously coming together within the first billion or so years of the Earth's formation, but even Dawkins concedes that is incredibly tiny. Why are atheists allowed to believe in a highly improbable event that has never been observed? Why is this any less fantastic than believing in God?
posted by jpdoane at 7:30 PM on January 4, 2008


Nobody really knows what the probability is for a complex molecule that is capable of reproducing itself spontaneously coming together within the first billion or so years of the Earth's formation, but even Dawkins concedes that is incredibly tiny.

Yeah, that isn't evolution either. Evolution, on the other hand, we do not need to estimate a probability for because it is a scientific fact. We have observed it and we continue to observe it.
posted by grouse at 7:46 PM on January 4, 2008


Yeesh, this is getting ridiculous. This is getting painted as if evolutionary biologists are trying to disprove the existence of god. If I may quote from the preface of this book:

"As Science, Evolution, and Creationism makes clear, the evidence for evolution
can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different
ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces
the potential of each to contribute to a better future."


Also, fidei has this to say:
This makes discussion difficult when it is not the theists who are trying to discredit science, but vice-versa.

Please keep in mind that this book is a response to the various attacks over the years by religious groups on teaching evolution in science classes.

I don't know about your Sagan paraphrase, but I do know he did say "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". He also wrote "The Dragon In My Garage". How would you respond to the people claiming floating dragons in their garages, fidei? Especially if they told you that their floating dragon refuted the "theory" of gravity, and required changes in the physics classes in the public schools?

If you'd be skeptical, maybe you could find a little empathy for those biologists who are irritated by having to repeated refute creationism or "intelligent design" in detail.
posted by Reverend John at 8:21 PM on January 4, 2008


"How would you respond to the people claiming floating dragons in their garages?"

I would say, "let me see it!" - I think those people are nutty too. However, please don't lump thoughtful Christians in with this. There is plenty of logical and rational reasons to take seriously the historical Christian faith and the person of Jesus. This Flying Spaghetti Monster stuff really clouds the issue and is another example of a priori dismissal of anything that doesn't fit your preconceptions. It is also somewhat of an ad hominum attack and doesn't really advance the discussion.

"the concept of God is not amenable to disproof, measurement, or any of the other tools of science [and therefore] To ask whether God exists is in the same category of questions that contains the questions "How high is red?" It is a categorical mistake. "

as if science was the only source of truth. Science certainly is a significant source of truth - I agree that if a fact is scientifically disproven, then it can be deemed false. But I don't agree that an idea which is not or cannot be proven scientifically then it is necessarily a bad or false idea. However, this seems to be exactly what Mental Wimp is saying.
posted by jpdoane at 10:27 PM on January 4, 2008


Another way to state my concern:

I feel that the secular position begins with niceties like this:

"As Science, Evolution, and Creationism makes clear, the evidence for evolution
can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different
ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces
the potential of each to contribute to a better future."


And then through some bait and switch gets changed to this:

"The fact that these wedge issues take very specific forms seems to indicate that early introduction of the facts of biology and critical thinking skills would be enough to defeat them; that this does not occur shows that somebody is asleep on the job."

Its all well and good to say that theological discussions don't belong in the science room. Its quite another thing to say that theological ideas are inherently faulty, illogical and dangerous.
posted by jpdoane at 10:39 PM on January 4, 2008


jpdoane: Can you point out anyone with an entirely logical belief in a deity?
posted by leviathan3k at 11:35 PM on January 4, 2008


jpdoane: There's a difference between people believing in God, which to me, and presumably the NAS panel, is just fine, and people claiming that theism means they ought to disregard well-established science, which is bad.

I think it would be dangerous if people still denied that earth revolves around the sun, given that science shows that it does. I think it is just as dangerous that people deny evolution.

One of the points of this book is that acceptance of evolution need not conflict with a belief in God:
Scientists, like people in other professions, hold a wide range of positions about religion and the role of supernatural forces or entities in the universe. Some adhere to a position known as scientism, which holds that the methods of science alone are sufficient for discovering everything there is to know about the universe. Others ascribe to an idea known as deism, which posits that God created all things and set the universe in motion but no longer actively directs physical phenomena. Others are theists, who believe that God actively intervenes in the world. Many scientists who believe in God, either as a prime mover or as an active force in the universe, have written eloquently about their beliefs.
posted by grouse at 7:13 AM on January 5, 2008


Personally I reject creationism as belief system that can be the basis of any dialogue. If there are more contradictions in biology than there are contraditions in the bible, it's only because there is a lot more evoloutionary biology than there are books of the Bible.

I was shocked when I met my first creationist. She was close friend who came out to me as a fundamentalist when I came out to her as gay. I think it had more to do with loyalty to her father, who had died when she was a teenager, than anything else. In all other respects she was reasonable, intelligent and very logical. Oddly, she didn't even seem very religious.

However my father, and evolutionary biologist never even believed in God until graduate school when he realized how amazing the natural world was. But the creationists aren't interested in this. They're interested in simplifying the natural world and sticking their noses up at people like my father. Obviously he must think that he's better than them on account of all his fancy book learnin'.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:03 AM on January 5, 2008


Thanks for your responses so far.

jpdoane: Can you point out anyone with an entirely logical belief in a deity?

I think that I do, and I think that a lot of other people do. I see tons of evidence for God. I see the very real reality of good and evil in the world that requires a deeper explanation than a bunch of molecules banging around. Just like sesamtkunstwerk's father I see the beauty of the world and of other people, and I know that there is significance and intent behind their creation. I read the Bible and the stories of Jesus, and I see a man so compelling that I can't help but want to follow. I think of the growth of the early church in the face of Roman persecution, and that 11 out of 12 of Jesus' disciples were executed for telling others what they saw with their own eyes. These were not people that had been duped into believing a fairy tale, these were eyewitnesses.

To me the only logical response is that there is a God, and that He not only cares about the world, but that He is involved with it and interacts with it. I know of no scientific or logical proof against any of this, and therefore it seems that I am logically bound to believe in and follow God.

People tend to throw around faith and reason as if they are opposites, but they are not. It is foolish to have faith in something that is unreasonable or illogical. Read through the Bible - it is full of reasoned and logical argumentation. Faith doesn't deal primarily with how I know something is true - that is the realm of logic, evidence, reason, etc - but rather faith deals primarily with how do I respond to something that I know to be true.

After looking at all the evidence, I have come to believe in the mechanism of evolution. I used to be a more traditional creationist, but after reading a lot more on the matter, I have come to see that there is likely sufficient evidence for evolution. But mind you, it did take a lot of convincing. And I think that it is precisely because I am scientifically minded that it took so much convincing. I needed to see the evidence before I changed my mind.

I guess part of the disconnect is that Occam's razor works in reverse for people that already believe in God. If you allow a belief in an active God and you look around at the complexity of the world, then it takes a lot of evidence to be convinced that evolutionary forces could develop the diversity and complexity of life, especially human life. Rather than just take scientists' word for it, I needed to be convinced. For a believer in God, Occam's razor easily points to a simpler, ex nihlo creation.

For these same reasons, I still have trouble believing that life could spring from non-life, or that human intelligence and emotions can be fully explained through natural selection. Because divine interference is for me a plausible possibility, it seems to me likely that God played a critical role at certain critical points. It is not for dogmatic reasons that I believe this - if there was sufficient evidence to convince me otherwise, I would listen.
posted by jpdoane at 10:51 AM on January 5, 2008


Another Big Bang for Biology
posted by homunculus at 11:19 AM on January 5, 2008


So, jpdoane, is it fair to say that you accept that humans share the same ancestors as chimpanzees and gorillas, and that you accept that the mechanism of natural selection can explain the development or accentuation of traits likely to lead to more reproductive success, but that you have trouble believing that humans intelligence evolved without supernatural direction?

Given that, say, chimpanzees are already quite intelligent, is it really that much of a jump to think that greater intelligence could evolve naturally? Especially when you consider the dramatic advantage greater intelligence would give a proto-human in surviving and reproducing. Clearly our intelligence has been advantageous as humans have colonized the world and reproduced far in excess of any of our other simian cousins.
posted by grouse at 11:26 AM on January 5, 2008


How network television is treating this: NBC News's story on the new book (Sorry, link to Raw Story)
posted by grouse at 11:51 AM on January 5, 2008


grouse, that is a great point. I will have to think about that. However, I do believe that humans have something quantitatively different than apes, more than can be accounted for by gradual improvements in adaptation.

The point is, I feel that it is logically consistent and intellectually honest to weigh your point against the possibility that God intervened (and honestly I think I have a better case for the origin of life, although that doesn't fall under evolution proper). This is not the "how high is red" sort of thinking that was implied upthread. The difference is that I am willing to consider certain phenomena as possible (as would anybody that believes in God, I would think), whereas others do not consider it possible. It seems inevitable that we would arrive at different estimations of what is probable and what is improbable.

It seems that your point is: we are here, so obviously evolution is a fact - it's the only option. Whereas I say: there are other possibilities to consider, and therefore I am more skeptical than those who *must* believe in evolution because there are not other options.
posted by jpdoane at 12:36 PM on January 5, 2008


To clarify, by evolution, I mean the completely undirected process of bacteria to humankind, not the mechanism of natural selection or common ancestry.
posted by jpdoane at 12:42 PM on January 5, 2008


I do believe that humans have something quantitatively different than apes, more than can be accounted for by gradual improvements in adaptation.

I think you mean qualitatively. In that case, I agree with you. There's been some research that suggests that one of the key differences is our version of the FOXP2 gene. Just two amino acid changes may be enough to explain why humans have spoken language abilities unlike the other primates. The resulting communication abilities may do much to explain our subsequent development of complex culture and civilization.

The pattern of genomic variation near FOXP2 is consistent with a selective sweep, indicating that humans with the current allele of FOXP2 were so much more successful than those without it that the latter were quickly wiped out of the gene pool.

It seems that your point is: we are here, so obviously evolution is a fact - it's the only option.

That's certainly not my point. Ridley outlines three main theories of the history of life. In addition to evolution, there were also theories of transformism (the idea that changes have gradually occurred within lineages but that the lineages do not split, and speciation does not occur) and separate creation (the idea that species have unrelated origins and do not change). Of course the scientific evidence gathered over the years will not support these alternative theories.

Evolution is the only option because the other theories have proven false, not because it's the only theory we have examined.
posted by grouse at 1:33 PM on January 5, 2008


I know that there is significance and intent behind their creation.

How exactly do you know this? You say you see beauty in your surroundings. Why must this necessarily mean a creator, and not just that you find things beautiful?

Read through the Bible - it is full of reasoned and logical argumentation.

Do you have an example of a specifically reasoned and logical argument, backed up by real evidence, that points to a deity's existence?
posted by leviathan3k at 2:34 PM on January 5, 2008


1 John 1:1-4

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.

(Written by John the Apostle, who spent 3 years hanging out with Jesus, and who was a witness to his miracles, as well as his death and resurrection)

I have listed some of my logical reasons for believing in God. Its one thing to have a discussion about the relative strengths and weaknesses of such arguments, but it is another thing to say that a belief in God is categorically illogical. You may disagree with me and think that I am wrong, but don't tell me I have no rational basis for my beliefs or opinions.
posted by jpdoane at 3:11 PM on January 5, 2008


Written by John the Apostle

Says you. I've found at least 4 different alternatives proposed by biblical scholars up to and including Mary Magdalene.

but don't tell me I have no rational basis for my beliefs or opinions

Indeed. What would be the point. You've redefined logic to suit your needs, and refuse to consider the accepted definition. You're impervious to counterargument.

This Flying Spaghetti Monster stuff really clouds the issue and is another example of a priori dismissal of anything that doesn't fit your preconceptions.

Concept of Irony to the white courtesy phone...
posted by kjs3 at 4:43 PM on January 5, 2008


Says you. I've found at least 4 different alternatives proposed by biblical scholars up to and including Mary Magdalene.

Ok, that sounds like an interesting discussion to have. But can you tell me how I've redefined logic to suit my needs? If you read through my posts, my point every time has not been to prove the concept of God or supernatural phenomena, but to ask why I, holding these views, am dismissed as fundamentally illogical? What evidence am I ignoring? What logical fallacies have I employed?

I appreciate grouse's responses, as he has provided a lot of good arguments which I will have to look into and think about, as opposed to short circuiting the discussion by saying that I have no place at the discussion.
posted by jpdoane at 5:12 PM on January 5, 2008


Grouse, you quoted the book, “One of the points of this book is that acceptance of evolution need not conflict with a belief in God.” That has been my point all along. You may hold that opinion and I am glad if you do…May your tribe increase. But to say as you did to me, “your conspiracy theory about evolutionary biologists is untrue. Atheism is no more universal among evolutionary biologists than theism is among humans” is as off as it gets. Here’s a link to Gould’s website with an article from Nature.

The first line reads, “The question of religious belief among US scientists has been debated since early in the century. Our latest survey finds that, among the top natural scientists, disbelief is greater than ever — almost total.” Notice on this link that biologist had the lowest percentage of belief in God, [5.5%].

For world wide religious beliefs, here’s a link to the breakdown of world religion statistics…you can see that atheists/agnostics are less than 15% of the total world population.

So my statement remains valid, irregardless of the book’s valid point that evolution and God need not be in conflict. There is no tension between faith and reason, but by in large, evolutionists have ideologically driven agendas that contradict the National Academies book. They are not trying to stop at science, but want to be part of making the world God-free!
posted by Fidei at 5:22 PM on January 5, 2008


Sorry, can't figure out the link trick...here's the text for cut and pasting...

Nature article
http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html

Biologists belief %
http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm

World religions %
http://www.geocities.com/richleebruce/mystat.html
posted by Fidei at 5:24 PM on January 5, 2008


Fidei, you have said several times that religious beliefs are "universal." A survey that estimates that more than 900 million people are nonreligious does not really help you on that front.

Furthermore, merely noting that 65 percent of top biologists are atheists does not mean they have some sort of agenda. That's the unwarranted conspiracy theory. (And it's a bit ridiculous to include the agnostics in with the vast atheist conspiracy—what is their agenda? To convince everyone that they should be unsure of whether there is a God or not?)

If you want to make proper links, the little HTML help link next to the comment box will tell you how.
posted by grouse at 5:50 PM on January 5, 2008


grouse, that is a great point. (I don't for a minute consider it).
Ok, that sounds like an interesting discussion to have. (I'll never have it)


No comment, since the points are never addressed, merely pandered to. "Gosh, look at what an open and inclusive person I am...I acknowledge your argument without ever addressing it.".

What evidence am I ignoring exactly?

All of it, as has been pointed out better than I.

To clarify, by evolution, I mean the completely undirected process of bacteria to humankind, not the mechanism of natural selection or common ancestry.

You appear to think this is a logical statement which supports your argument. It isn't. You know that (or, more precisely, I hope you do).
posted by kjs3 at 6:54 PM on January 5, 2008


I, holding these views, am dismissed as fundamentally illogical? What evidence am I ignoring? What logical fallacies have I employed?

As has been pointed out before, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The level of proof for an all-powerful deity has *nowhere* near been satisfied. I've long considered exactly what would be the necessary level of proof for me to actually believe an all-powerful deity existis. At a bare minimum, it would require knowledge of every ability of this infinite being, coupled by an infallible assurance of the correctness of this knowledge, along with some way of testing all of this power. The Bible, as well as any other document considered holy, is not an infinite document, nor is there infallible assurance of its correctness. And we certainly don't have any way of testing this.

Also acceptable would be the both the infinite knowledge and the infinite power of this being, as well as infallible assurances that whatever was given to me was truly the limit of the power of this being (and of course the subsequent testing of all this).

Both of these would theoretically be possible for an infinite being, but I don't expect either of them to be fulfilled any time soon. Short of these, I am unaware of any other sets of evidence that would definitively point towards the existence of such a deity. And short of this level of evidence, you can never truly *know* of its existence. You may believe, but you will not know.

Now, as for the evidence you present...

Unless I missed something, every piece of evidence I see relies on strongly felt emotion somewhere. Something I've learned is that the human experience is a highly.. malleable one. The emotions one can feel towards something change significantly depending on one's mindset, one's memories, etc. The fact that you are human probably plays a role. Something else that plays an *enormous* role is the company you keep. A group dynamic can vastly inflate the emotions felt by the individuals. Any place this emotion, even if felt to the point of bursting, is relied upon as evidence of existence or of something happening a certain way is a colossal logical flaw, and is reason enough to discount the whole argument.

Of course, I could be wrong with this point. If you've given a logical argument that does not rely in emotion in any way, feel free to point it out again.
posted by leviathan3k at 7:49 PM on January 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Grouse, I’ve state repeatedly that religious beliefs are universal. By that I mean that belief in a deity has been practiced everywhere and always. That does not mean that everyone at every time has specifically believed in a deity. I think that ‘belief in religion’ is a satisfactory way of stating that fact.

You can downplay the majority of leading biologists being atheists [conspiracy is your word not mine], but that is significant in a field that inspires “awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet” going on to state that theologians and scientists “[explain] that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. P.11. There is no conflict in reality, but recent publications are not in agreement.

Now you’re correct that those figures do not warrant what you are referring to as a conspiracy theory, but what I’m calling it is a growing attitude that belief in God is incompatible with science.

There is a NY Times.com article on Dawkins, which states, “the scientific assault on religion that has been garnering attention recently, in the form of best-selling books from scientific atheists who see religion as a scourge. In "The God Delusion," published last year and still on best-seller lists, the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins concludes that religion is nothing more than a useless, and sometimes dangerous, evolutionary accident. "Religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate byproduct of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful," Dawkins wrote.

By the way, thanks for the link tip!!
posted by Fidei at 9:25 PM on January 5, 2008


grouse, that is a great point. (I don't for a minute consider it).
Ok, that sounds like an interesting discussion to have. (I'll never have it)


Well thats a very generous attitude you have towards me. Thanks for that. Grouse's point did give me pause, and I have been and plan to continue to ponder it. And I do think a discussion on the authorship of 1 John would be interesting, although off topic. I would have been quite interested in discussing it over mefi-mail if I thought that it would be mutually respectful.

Unless I missed something, every piece of evidence I see relies on strongly felt emotion somewhere.

Yes, many of my beliefs are based on strong opinions, emotions, and experiences. Many of yours are too. What is wrong with that? (For example, why do you believe that murder is wrong?) I have never tried to submit an airtight proof for God's existence, nor have I claimed that there is one. We all hold ideas that cannot be either scientifically proved or disproved, and which are influenced by our family, friends and culture. That does not prove them to be false nor illogical.

And the fact that you are predisposed to disbelieve in something and have established for yourself a high burden of proof is not a logical proof of its non-existence.

So again, what proof for the inexistence of God or the impossibility of divine intervention in the world am I ignoring?
posted by jpdoane at 10:20 PM on January 5, 2008


You appear to think this is a logical statement which supports your argument. It isn't. You know that (or, more precisely, I hope you do).

I'm not entirely certain what you mean. My intent was simply to clarify the scope of my previous statement, specifically what I had meant when I used the word evolution. I wasn't trying to introduce a new argument.
posted by jpdoane at 11:55 PM on January 5, 2008


Yes, many of my beliefs are based on strong opinions, emotions, and experiences. [...] That does not prove them to be false nor illogical.

It may not necessarily prove them false, but it absolutely does make them illogical. Reality does not change when one's opinions or emotions change. Opinions and emotions are heavily influenced by factors outside the lone instigating factor. They are not reliable indicators of truth. Because of these factors, they can't be relied upon in a sound logical argument. "I feel chocolate is good thus chocolate is holy" simply doesn't work.

And the fact that you are predisposed to disbelieve in something and have established for yourself a high burden of proof is not a logical proof of its non-existence.

Logically, the default is to deny a given claim of existence unless good evidence can be made for its existence. If this were not the default, any claim would be given credence simply by being made. The high burden of proof I've stated is simply necessary given the magnitude of the claim given. It is, in fact, an infinite claim. It cannot be proven without an infinite amount of evidence. Thus, without the proper evidence, it *cannot* be logically asserted that this deity exists. This is not just my predisposition here. This is logic.
posted by leviathan3k at 2:05 AM on January 6, 2008


I’m calling it is a growing attitude that belief in God is incompatible with science.

Maybe. It seems to mirror a growing atheism and agnosticism in the general population, which I think is due to a number of factors. You haven't determined the reasons for these beliefs. Regardless, what I object to is the idea that evolutionary biologists have some sort of antitheist agenda. Yes, a few prominent scientists and philosophers are, but I only see one evolutionary biologist there (there might be more, but you're going to have to name them). Oppose this to nine NAS/IOM members on the panel of this new book.

You're saying this book doesn't agree with Dawkins. So? That's part of the point of publishing this book. Dawkins does not speak for science or evolutionary biology. Hell, I don't even agree with everything he has to say about evolution.
posted by grouse at 3:57 AM on January 6, 2008


It may not necessarily prove them false, but it absolutely does make them illogical.

There is a lot of room between that which is logical certainty and that which is completely illogical.

what I object to is the idea that evolutionary biologists have some sort of antitheist agenda


I'm glad to hear you say this, because I have had the same concerns as Fedei. I'm willing to think better of evolutionary biologists as a whole the attitudes and agendas of a vocal minority. I hope that people can do the same for Christians.
posted by jpdoane at 6:41 AM on January 6, 2008


as a whole *despite* the attitudes
posted by jpdoane at 6:42 AM on January 6, 2008


Are you suggesting that anything that we can't measure/prove/quantify scientifically isn't real?

Yes! There is nothing that affects the world that is not in principle measurable.

(Not that this is not the same as saying the "state" of all systems is measurable; the uncertainty principle clearly shows otherwise.)


I have experienced God in a number of ways, none of which I would submit as scientific proof, but which are significant and convincing to me.

You, like all of us, are easily deceived. I think the existence of snopes.com is a pretty good indication that all of us must be careful with what we takes as fact.

Is the scientific method the only way to learn what is true? How can I prove that my wife loves me?

I'm so tired of this argument being brought up constantly. #1, science does not "prove" anything beyond question. It deals with evidence, and in the case of evolution, overwhelming evidence. #2, I can provide evidence (not prove!) that your wife loves you by a past history of caring/affection/sacrifices, et cetera. There's the evidence, duh. That's the only way you know it, through evidence. Space god, not necessary.

Nobody really knows what the probability is for a complex molecule that is capable of reproducing itself spontaneously coming together within the first billion or so years of the Earth's formation, but even Dawkins concedes that is incredibly tiny.

Perhaps you need to read more on the statistics of abiogenesis. That link doesn't even point out the fact that the number of "tries" to get a self-replicating molecule is enormous. There are about 200-400 billion stars (currently) in the Milky Way. We're beginning to see that planets around stars are actually common. There are somewhere between 1 and 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The universe is 13.7 billion years old. When you start talking about numbers like these, even when you take into account the necessary conditions for the stars and planets, the probability that life formed on one of them starts looking better and better. And I'm also curious where this Dawkins quote came from, since I would be quite surprised if he doubted the possibility abiogenesis.

It is foolish to have faith in something that is unreasonable or illogical.

If only people understood this!

I'm willing to think better of evolutionary biologists as a whole the attitudes and agendas of a vocal minority.

Biologists (I'm not really sure why they need the qualifier "evolutionary", any more than I need the qualifier "relativistic" astronomer or "lambda-cold-dark-matter" astronomer) have for the past 150 years had their field attacked by buffoons who claim that science is wrong because it contradicts their magic-book. I don't know why you wouldn't expect them to be largely atheists. Religion has stood in the way of no field more than it has for biology.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:17 PM on January 6, 2008


grouse, you can add kiltedtaco to that list
posted by Fidei at 2:06 PM on January 6, 2008


For what it's worth, kiltedtaco, I use evolutionary biologist not to refer to biologists who accept evolution (all mainstream biologists do), but to those that research evolution itself. And Fidei, as far as I can tell, kiltedtaco is not an evolutionary biologist either.
posted by grouse at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2008


Yes! There is nothing that affects the world that is not in principle measurable.

What about morality? Do you subscribe to the idea the good and evil are simply necessary constructs for living in a society? Or are there things that are actually evil? How do you define and measure evil?

You, like all of us, are easily deceived... all of us must be careful with what we takes as fact.
Agreed

science does not "prove" anything beyond question. It deals with evidence

Also agreed - I have been trying to get this point across the entire thread. My example about my wife was an intent to show my belief in something intangible that I have plenty of evidence for, but would be unable to "prove" it scientifically. As far as God goes, I can only look at the evidence I have (both "hard" facts such as the testimony of the apostles, as well as personal experiences and convictions - keeping in mind your important point about the ease of deception), and make a decision. You and I might make different decisions - thats fine.

Perhaps you need to read more on the statistics of abiogenesis.


Thanks for the link - I will read it! I began reading The Blind Watchmaker primarily because I wanted to lean more about this. He addressed it, but not at the level of detail that I wanted. I think that there is definitely more sophistication to these theories than I realized, and while the whole thing still strikes me as incredibly far fetched, I want to learn about this stuff.

the probability that life formed on one of them...


This is essentially what Dawkins says too. He doesn't doubt abiogenises, but he invokes this anthropomorphic principle as well. However, this way of thinking makes me a little uneasy, although I can't pinpoint exactly why. Isn't there a logical problem somewhere with taking all possible planets into the probability equation? I need to think more about this
posted by jpdoane at 2:27 PM on January 6, 2008


I think you mean the anthropic principle.
posted by grouse at 2:38 PM on January 6, 2008


ah, yes.

I obviously haven't fully digested it yet, but this is a really interesting paper that seems to address my questions on the anthropic principle.
posted by jpdoane at 8:28 PM on January 6, 2008


The CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Managing Director of Intelligent Design Network, Inc. appear on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR (51 min).
posted by grouse at 10:19 AM on January 7, 2008


Evolution Not 'Just a Theory', and Yes, Huckabee It Does Matter
posted by homunculus at 5:25 PM on January 8, 2008


Algorithmic Inelegance: Complexity in living things is a product of the lack of direction in evolutionary processes, of the accumulation of fortuitous accidents, rather than the product of design.
posted by homunculus at 5:46 PM on January 8, 2008


Former creationist preaches gospel of evolution:
"We don't try to show evangelicals or young earth creationists or intelligent design people that we're right and they're wrong," [Rev. Michael] Dowd said. "Evolution gives me a bigger God, an undeniably real God."

Dowd believes that God's revelations didn't stop in biblical times but continued in the form of scientific discovery, a worldview that he thinks is important as public schools grapple with how to teach evolution, Americans choose a new president, and the world faces environmental threats.
See his web site, Thank God For Evolution!
posted by grouse at 4:37 AM on January 12, 2008


I’ve reread the various posts thus far and have wondered if anyone considers belief in God [I will narrow that down to be from an orthodox Roman Catholic perspective, not to be exclusionary, but to only be specific] with belief in evolution? Not anyone’s personal opinion on the existence of a deity, but just a conflict between faith and reason.
posted by Fidei at 8:44 AM on January 12, 2008


Stop following me!
posted by homunculus at 7:02 PM on January 13, 2008


naif with nothing to say
posted by Fidei at 8:17 PM on January 13, 2008


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