Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Dividing Line?

Peter Lindsay has written an op-ed for the Atlanta Constitution-Journal in which he tackles the confluence of evolution and religion. He writes:

That people do not accept widely held scientific conclusions is troubling. More troubling still, however, is that so many seem so unclear on what science even is. With this thought in mind — and in the spirit of the month — perhaps it’s time for supporters of Darwin to take the offensive with a different sort of public policy, one inspired by the Cobb County school district.

What if the state mandated that stickers with the following disclaimer be affixed to Bibles distributed by any tax-exempt Christian organization? “The existence of God is just one theory among many about the origin and purpose of the universe.” Or better yet: “There is no scientific evidence for the existence of God.” Both statements are, after all, accurate. There are many theories about the origin of the universe, and there is absolutely no scientific evidence for the existence of any deity, Christian or otherwise.

So what do we think? Good idea? Well, perhaps not. These stickers ignore boundaries that exist between two quite distinct ways of knowing the world, the religious and the scientific.

This is another take on the bumper sticker "Keep your stickers out of my science books. I don't paste crap in your Bibles!" that I have seen. Kind of makes me wonder what the Charles Darwin Bible has to say about that (No, i still haven't picked up my copy!). He continues:

To know something in a scientific sense is not to have faith in it. It’s to look at what we think we know and do our level best to disprove it. In a sense, the security of scientific knowledge rests, somewhat paradoxically, on the ultimate insecurity of its claims.

While this means there can be no complete certainty, it certainly does not rule out high degrees of it. The more a claim conforms to the way we understand the world, and the more that our repeated and persistent attempts to refute it fail, the greater our certainty about it. Such is the case with scientific conclusions about the shape of our planet, the laws of thermodynamics and, gulp, evolution.

On this last claim we need to be quite clear: It is simply not the case that evolution is disputed in the scientific community. There is debate within evolutionary theory — about the rate at which species arise, about the precise mechanisms of natural selection, about the validity of evolutionary psychology, about the role of contingent events — but on the general claim that species evolve through natural selection there is no scientific disagreement.

It doesn't help that there are some people who argue vociferously that evolution is all fact. Some is, to be sure, but some is conjecture and some is probably fact. As we fail to refute a theory like evolution, the probability that it is correct increases. That is as far as science can go.

The last bit is quite correct. The only folks who dispute the theory of evolution are creationists, some ID proponents (not Michael Behe, though) and scientists who are very far removed from either biology or geology (the Dissent from Darwin list). This is often over-exaggerated by these individuals and organizations to the point where evolution is thought of as a "theory in crisis." Read the whole thing.

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  1. The reason that everyone is forced to accept evolution is fairly simple. Money and Power.

    If you are a scientist, you don't want to be blacklisted.

    The money is only sent to those who buy into Darwinian evolution. If you want money for your projects, you are forced to toe the line.

    In fact, the institutions that Behe works at felt compelled to put a disclaimer about his work in an attempt to protect their status within the scientific community so their institution could compete for funds.

    Just as politics can go corrupt, we don't believe scientist either beause the system has institutional corruption. If science was actually open ended and involved everyone, then it would be taken a little more seriously; however, all we have now is a one-sided biased system which forces everyone to accept its faith statement even if support does not exist.

    The fact that 700 scientist would sign "Dissent from Darwin" tells me that there most likely more than 10,000 + who actually would have signed; however, fear from reprisal kept them from signing.

  2. Anonymous5:49 PM

    "The fact that 700 scientist would sign "Dissent from Darwin""

    700 people with PhDs but not 700 scientists, there is a difference. Essentially none of the people on the list has any credentials in any field relevant to evolution. Those that do accept evolution - see - most of the rest are all associated with anti-evolution religious apologetics ministries. Some of the original signees didn't even know what they were signing -
    Anyway check out Project Steve -

    Nothing annoys me more than the claim that more scientists would come out to speak against evolution if only it weren't for some sort of prejudice or bias against those who do. It is a completely unverifiable claim. Why do so many theists so steadfastly defend evolution? If they were skeptical about it, they would simply be quiet and not say much about it. But instead, a great many of them spend their time giving lectures to the public, doing interviews, and generally explaining the evidence for it. They don't have to do this and yet they do.
    Moreover, why don't we see all these pressurized scientists coming out after they retire, and so no longer need the job security of whatever you claim is making them toe the party line, and admit that they never really accepted evolution but were forced to for their careers? I've never heard of a single scientist do this. Why not?
    I suspect that because like all other creationist claims it is little more than propaganda.

  3. "The reason that everoyone is forced to accept evolution is fairly simple. Money and Power."

    ZDENNY, you remind me a bit of the dwarves toward the end of the Last Battle.

    The money is NOT sent to those who espouse Intelligent Design because they have no testable models, and that is by their own admission! Why would you give money for research to someone who would not be able to demonstrate the veracity of their work? That is silly. Lehigh University put up that disclaimer because they felt that Behe's work in ID did not constitute science. Why? Because there are no testable models.

    As far as the Dissent from Darwin is concerned, anonymous is absolutely correct, and I have posted about this: it wouldn't matter if there were ten thousand Ph.D.s that signed it if none of them had any familiarity with the evidence.

    It is not a statement of faith to accept the evidence for gravity, quantum physics, palaeontology, genetics, geology and taxonomy. If you consider the evidence from those disciplines as taking something on faith, then one wonders what would constitute science.

  4. The 27th Comrade4:05 AM

    Jimpithecus, I concur in most of that. However, let's not pretend that science is free of politics. Many people here will know what a vicious fight is put up in there for funds and grants. It's only natural (evolved?) behaviour for politics and my-side-ism to take a firm root in such an environment. In this, ZDENNY is correct.

    It may be that the Ph.Ds outside biology are empowered to dissent, by being outside the target range of the politics, and therefore we should listen to them. I mean, we know that mothers aren't the best (or, at least, not the fairest) arbiters of their children's failings. And anyway, most of these people in Biology have learnt and taught and gloried in evolution. There are biases that, at the very least, need to be acknowledged. These people have other beliefs outside of evolution that influence how they view opposition to the theory of evolution. (Epigenetics of a sort, if our metaphors are sufficiently elastic.)
    To come to the conclusion that evolution is implausible doesn't require one to live in the labs. (In much the same way it doesn't take living in the Audi assembly plant for a biologist to conclude that the Audi A5 can't be the result of a chimp's work. Even with four trillion chimphours.)

    And as for testability, well ... if creationism isn't science, then treat it with respect - as something else. Not shutting it down viciously, just because it isn't science. The philosophy of science is not science (and cannot ever be reduced to science), yet these scientists find it an area worthy of respectful pursuit. (Actually, I lie. Most scientists today don't know anything about the philosophy of science, and the viciousness towards creationism is exhibit A in my defence. The philosophers of science do look at creation with respect. Even when they are staunch evolutionists.)

    Lastly, creationism offers testable models. If that wasn't the case, it would be impossible for scientists, like yourself, to reject creationism (of one sort or another). It failed some test you gave it, and you rejected it. So, yes, it is testable. Everything that invalidates creationism is a test for (and one failed by) creationism. And sites like that of the Turkish man, Harun Yahya, comprise of what can be seen as celebrations whence the testable predictions that can be made by creationism are validated.

  5. 27th Comrade, You are, sadly correct about the politics—we see that both on the pro-evolution side and on the anti-evolution side. The recent school board battles attest to this.

    As far as the Dissent from Darwin list is concerned, if the purpose of the list were to protest the EFFECT that Social Darwinism has had on society, then I would feel much better about it. The problem is that these are people that are arguing that evolution cannot explain present and past biodiversity and they don't have the necessary background or education to make that judgment. The keepers of the list focus on the "Ph.D." quality of the signatories. So what? I have a Ph.D. in biological anthropology. I don't know beans about inorganic chemistry or macroeconomics and would be hard-pressed for a coherent position on a problem involving either discipline.

    I need to be clearer about my understanding of creationism and Intelligent Design. Creationism is, as you correctly pointed out, testable. That is the problem. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. The testable hypotheses that are put forth by creationists are shown to be demonstrably false by folks with even a rudimentary understanding of science. Doesn't seem to phase 'em. They go on their merry little way without paying any attention to the mainstream scientists. The problem that I have with creationism is that it masquerades as science, intentionally. That is its sole purpose in life, to espouse a pseudoscientific view of science. That it consistently fails to play by the rules and never assesses its theoretical constructs has (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) earned it scorn. The other problem that I have is that creationists intentionally do an end-run around the scientific establishment, instead making a pitch to the general public to gain support. It just makes the job of teaching real science that much harder.

    Intelligent design, however, is not testable. It exists in the absence of evidence—"we don't know why x happens, therefore it has to be designed" or "This structure bears all of the hallmarks of design." This sort of thing is exacerbated by the fact that every time an article or book comes out that purports to show design by trying to show that evolution cannot explain something, it gets blown out of the sky (e.g. Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box or William Dembski's No Free Lunch).