Saturday, September 12, 2009

Evolution vs. Creationism - Part9

[Long posts scare me. Read time: 5.25min]

I have to return this book tomorrow, so I'm going to whip through the rest of it very quickly.

In Chapter 4, Scott presents a very interesting overview of the scientific community prior to the 20th century. Covering a wide range of people from Plato to Pope Pius XII, Scott points out some of the difficulties that Darwin's ideas faced. For instance, the idea that the world was stable and mostly unchanging [74]. She points out that many discoveries, however, challenged this view. For instance, discovery of the Americas lead to major rethinking of theological as well as scientific assumptions [76]. The scientific community of the mid-nineteenth century considered science to lead to "positive finality. Anything less than certitude was deficient." [80] Darwin's ideas were thus sometimes rejected as not rigorous enough and mere speculation... even though his methodology has since become the standard of science [81]. Scott also claims that Christians reject evolution because of a belief in Special Creation [81] or a need for a Design and Purpose [82].

Scott then discusses some of the political/religious reasons why Americans tended to reject Darwin's ideas despite the fact that, "[by the] mid-twentieth century in Great Britain, Europe, and North America, the scientific community no longer questioned whether evolution occurred." [86]

Scott appears to all but bemoan the lack of centralized education as the reason Americans still don't teach evolution in class [87-88] but then agree with the ACLU that teachers should be given free speech when it comes to teaching evolution [94]. Thus, as long as the educators teach what she likes, she seems willing to flip sides. This is not uncommon for us humans, but an editor should have pointed this out to her.

Chapter 5 covers the "invention" of Creation Science. Scott cites the uneasiness of Fundamentalist parents as more and more students attended high school in early 1900s. [91] My Alma Mater is credited as laying the foundation for Fundamentalism [92] and evolution is rejected for it's incorrect association with German ideals and the robber barons [93]. Scott then talks about the "three-ring circus" of the Scopes trial [93-96] which did little for either side of the controversy [97].

It was Sputnik, Scott claims, that pushed our government to promote science in the classroom... and science was evolution. This lead to a major resurgence of evolution in high schools which had all but disappeared in the years after Scopes [98]. The rest of the chapter is a brief look at the legal history of Creation Science in the courts with a culmination of the Lemon test and other rejections of religion in the classroom.

Most of chapter 6 is dedicated to taking down Intelligent Design. Scott criticizes irreducible complexity by pointing to Behe's mouse trap and the scientists who have made less complex versions [117-118]. Of course, she never cites any of these or gives an example, so these "less complex" options may not actually detract from Behe at all.

Scott next points out that Behe misrepresents the process of evolution. Rather than building piece by piece "like stringing beads", natural selection can build useful, less complex pieces that could form together to make an ultimately irreducibly complex feature [118]. Again, she offers no hint as to how these could, via mutation, combine. She also mentions the "scaffolding" idea: Masons build irreducibly complex arches by supporting the arch with scaffolding before placing the capstone. "The now superfluous components can be removed by natural selection," Scott points out [119]. And while she goes on to criticize Behe's "God of the gaps" argument [119], I don't feel that it is fair to say that her view of evolution is scientifically backed with the gaping holes in her own thinking.

It's true: Science may "come up with an additional mechanism" that fills in these gaps [119], but to put such faith in a current idea that has no cited basis in reality feels far-fetched to me. This is especially poignant when Scott later strips away the "dichotomy between 'natural' and 'intelligent' ...because some of the agents on the 'intelligent' side are actually 'natural'" including "extraterrestrials (if such beings exist)" [122]. Which reminds me of a lesson at Biola: If God exists, then we add nothing outside of reality to support our beliefs. Thus, arguably, the most natural force in the universe is God.

Scott makes an excellent observation, however:
Enamored of an ideological, political, or social goal, it is all too easy to misrepresent or ignore empirical data when they do not support the goal; certainly Creation Science is infamous for doing so. [126]

As is, it seems, the education community as well.

Scott next complains that "Intelligent Design proponents ... exploit public confusion about 'Darwinism' to promote doubt about evolution." [127] I'm convinced that if people like Scott actually defined "evolution" and stuck with the definition, IDers wouldn't be able to so easily sway people. Unfortunately for her, Scott seems unable to keep her own theories straight in her writing and has all but confused me more than once. It is little wonder there is confusion in the general public.

In the last few pages of her own writing in this book, Scott finally mentions the reasons I've always been less than convinced of evolution: The evidence against it. Yet Scott seems unwilling to accept that "evidence against evolution exists" [129]. Why? She doesn't say. But she does say, "Presenting evidence against evolution per se is only bad science" [130]. Ironic, since she's spent the rest of her work promoting the wonders of science's corrective measures when faced with evidence.

She concludes her words with a reminder that while evolution is a theory, it is not "just" a theory because theories are "the best [explanations in science]" [130].

I stopped reading on page 135 when Scott mentioned, "I do not present evidence for evolution" because it is the consensus of the scientific community and you'd need to read scientists or take college classes. This, after the opening when she criticizes IDers for not letting her reproduce their writings because their articles would not do their theory justice. [xviii]

So, now again, half way through a book on evolution, I learn that there is none to be found here. Despite my clear request for a book with the evidence.

Final thoughts on this challenge to come...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Evolution vs. Creationism - Part8

[Long posts scare me. Read time: 3.5min]

Scott spends pages 54-56 talking through the symbolism found in Genesis. My dad has blogged about this before, and there are interesting things to consider in all that.

But then Scott presents us with two huge straw men which she burns in passing. In describing a continuum of Biblical literalists to philosophical naturalists she also tacks on creationists to evolutionists. But wait, there's more! Her first two examples of "creationists" are... flat earthers and geocentrists.

Got that?

She's got two beliefs that are utterly separate from creation as examples of the foolishness of creationism. Granted, they are both part of a literalist continuum of Scripture, but it is completely wrong to include them in a creation/evolution scale.

Somehow she also wants us to equate Young Earthism with Flat Earthism as well. [57]

Now she begins an overview of the various segments of her supposed continuum. A few points worth mentioning:

"The basic body plans of major phyla that appear in the 'Cambrian Explosion' are seen by most [Young Earth Creationists] as evidence of Special Creation." [60] No footnote for further study. No mention of how she got to this idea. No hint as to where we can go to find out why the "Cambrian Explosion" is (or is not) evidence for creation. Nothing. In typical fashion for this work. I'm appalled that the "Internet Bookwatch" would say, on the back of this book, that Scott adheres "to the highest standards of academic research"... when she references nothing of importance. Ever.

Similarly, she states, "In proportion to the mission activity, little scientific research is performed by [Institute for Creation Research] faculty." [61] That doesn't surprise me much. I have no trouble believing it's true. But if you're going to make such a statement, giving some hint as to where she got that idea is essential to prove she isn't just a windbag.

I do appreciate her inclusion of this quote from Matt Cartmill:

Many scientists are atheists or agnostics who want to believe that the natural world they study is all there is, and being only human, they try to persuade themselves that science gives them grounds for that belief. It's an honorable belief, but it isn't a research finding [67].

Scott concludes the chapter by stating,

both supporters and deniers of evolution argue erroneously that because science utilizes methodological naturalism (and quite successfully), science therefore also incorporates philosophical naturalism. Unfortunately, such a confusion makes communication about science and religion, or creationism and evolution, more difficult. [68]

And I would agree.

Of course, arguing from erroneous couplings and citing no evidence also makes discussion more difficult as well.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

Monday, September 07, 2009

Evolution vs. Creationism - Part7

[Long posts scare me. Read time: 3.5min]

Eugenie Scott now turns her attention to "Beliefs: Relgion, Creationism, and Naturalism" where she reminds us again that the natural world is not all that people think about; there are parts of reality that science can't examine. [47] This is, perhaps, "the most important reason scientists restrict themselves to materialistic explanations" [50].

She begins by stating that all religions seem to have "a belief in something beyond the material world, an Ultimate or Absolute or transcendent reality" [47]. And the ethical systems of human societies are "usually, though not universally ... strongly influenced by religion" [48].

Two thoughts:

  1. Non- or irreligious people do have a code of ethics. In fact, they are often easily perceived as more ethical than their religiously motivated, intolerant neighbors who are steeped in the blood of religious history. A closer inspection of this perception would, I believe, be very beneficial to everyone; unfortunately, that is far beyond the scope of this post.
  2. While I think it is perfectly fair for Scott to say that ethical systems are "strongly influenced" by religion, I think it is also essential that we recognize that often societal ills are perpetrated by those who are acting outside of their religious code. For example: Pornography use is rampant within the Christian church, but that is outside of the Christian ethic. I think there are fascinating implications to this reality, but--again--that is beyond this post.

Scott next points out that religion often asks the question of motivation: What is the motivation behind a natural disaster? Were the gods angry? These kinds of questions show a "blended" spiritual and natural worldview [49].

But just because we in the Western world accept a natural explanation for a "natural disaster" that does not mean that God was not involved... merely that He can use the natural world. Though, remember, the Bible does seem to show a certain impartiality to the righteous and the unrighteous.

Scott then quotes St. Augustine who makes a good case for not relying on the Bible to inform our views of natural world: If the Christian maintains "foolish opinions about the [natural world based on Scripture], how then are [others] going to believe those Scriptures in matters concerning the resurrection ... and the kingdom of heaven?" And much like Newton, it is wise to take on a natural philosophy and look for laws within nature. [49]

Yet it is entirely possible to stick with a "methodological naturalism" as opposed to a "philosophical naturalism" [50]. Scientists who are Christian often hold to the former, but there are those who go to the latter extreme and thus reject anything beyond the physical world.

Scott then mentions much of what I wrote in Part 2 stating that, "The Catholic Church rejected [geocentrism] partly on scientific grounds" but also because of their interpretation of Scripture [51]. I would also remind us to think of the political motivations as well.

"It is important to define terms and use them consistently," Scott tells us. [51] Too bad she has so infrequently taken her own advice thus far.

She then talks about "Origin Myths" which "are 'true' even if they are fantastic and deal with impossible events [because they] encapsulate important cultural truths" [52]. And I think that is fair; CS Lewis (or, perhaps, Tolkien?) called Christianity the one true myth. Too bad she does not include her own origin myth on page 27 in this mix.

I'll pause here and let you take a break. We'll continue this chapter in the next post.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father