Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

Ben Carson and Evolution

November 9, 2015

I got this meme off of Facebook. I think it originally came from the left-wing blog Daily Kos.

Carson Evolution

Why is this an issue in any presidential campaign? Since the duties of the President of the United States do not include teaching a science class, how is any candidate’s opinion on the theory of evolution particularly relevant? I would be more concerned with a candidate’s opinion on the theories of Marx than of Darwin. Marx’s ideas have contributed to the murder of millions and has caused more misery than any opinion on evolution ever has, yet candidates with ideas derived from Marx never seemed to be questioned by the media. The fact that Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist or that Barack Obama had as mentors such left-wing Marxist radicals as Bill Ayers and Frank Marshall Davis seem to me to be of far more concern than Dr. Ben Carson’s thoughts on evolution.

I suppose that the people at Daily Kos would argue that Dr. Carson’s beliefs about evolution disqualify him for the presidency because they show that he is anti-science. If that is the case, that Carson really is against science, what do they imagine he will do as president? Cut all funding for research? Insist that universities that accept federal funds teach creationism? Even if he wanted to do this, and there is no indication that he did, President Carson would find it very difficult to impose creationism on the scientific community. The President of the United States is not a dictator, at least not yet, and cannot single handedly control the education policies of the entire country. I think that science is safe from a president who does not believe in evolution.

But is Ben Carson really anti-science? For that matter are creationists really anti-science? They certainly do not believe that the theory of evolution is a valid explanation for the origin and adaptation of life on Earth and they disagree with current ideas about the age of the planet and the universe, but is this being anti-science? According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the definition of science is:

The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Science can also mean “an organized body of knowledge on a particular subject”, so one might argue that Dr. Carson and creationists  are not knowledgeable in the sciences of biology and geology but that is not the same as saying that they are anti-science in the first sense. In fact, hardly anyone is actually anti-science in the sense of being against the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world. Even people people espousing wildly unscientific ideas try to assume the mantle of science. Creationists like to say they have scientific evidence for their position, even when it really boils down to, “The Bible says it”. Disbelief in evolution does not necessarily imply disbelief in the scientific process.

The real importance of evolution to the left does not seem to be its status as a scientific hypothesis subject to falsification but as a means to differentiate between the elite intellectual elite and the bitter clingers in flyover country. To them, belief in evolution is a sign to show that you are on the right side of science and history. It, along with climate change is sacred knowledge, not to be questioned or doubted. By demonstrating a disbelief in evolution, Dr. Carson shows that he is lacking in intelligence and should be disqualified from the presidency.

The irony here is that Dr. Ben Carson is probably a good deal more intelligent and educated than the person who put together that meme. He is certainly more accomplished, being a gifted neurosurgeon. It is even possible he is more scientifically knowledgeable, even about evolution. I wonder how much that that person who created that meme really knows about the theory of evolution or can explain why it is accepted as an explanation for the development of life by nearly every scientist knowledgeable in the relevant fields. I would guess that he believes in evolution because it is what was taught in school and that it is what all of the smart people believe. Well, that is not the same as actually investigating the matter for oneself and actually trying to understand why a given theory is believed to be true. You don’t get to give yourself credit for being in the intellectual elite for simply remembering what you learned in school twenty years ago and you don’t get the right to sneer at people better than yourself.

 

 

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God on the Ropes

February 28, 2015

According to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, some brilliant new scientific research has demolished the Christian Right and the Creationists.

The Christian right’s obsessive hatred of Darwin is a wonder to behold, but it could someday be rivaled by the hatred of someone you’ve probably never even heard of. Darwin earned their hatred because he explained the evolution of life in a way that doesn’t require the hand of God. Darwin didn’t exclude God, of course, though many creationists seem incapable of grasping this point. But he didn’t require God, either, and that was enough to drive some people mad.

Hatred is perhaps too strong a word to apply to many Christians’ feelings about Charles Darwin, but many Christians certainly do not approve of his theory, judging it to be a direct attack on their faith. They shouldn’t feel that way. Darwin’s theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the development and adaptation of organisms to their environment. Like every other scientific hypothesis, evolution has nothing to say about any deities. Questions about the existence of God belong to the realm of metaphysics, not physics. To say evolution dispenses with the hand of God is a metaphysical rather than a scientific statement. One might just as well say that Newton’s theory of gravity or Einstein’s theory of Relativity dispenses with the hand of God. An Atheist may believe this but a Theist would see the hand of God behind evolution or gravity.

Darwin also didn’t have anything to say about how life got started in the first place — which still leaves a mighty big role for God to play, for those who are so inclined.But that could be about to change, and things could get a whole lot worse for creationists because of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary. “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.

I hope that there are not many Christians who would make the argument that because we do not know, at present, precisely what natural processes were responsible for the beginning of life on Earth, that no natural process could have began life and therefore life had to have a supernatural origin. This attribution of divine intervention for things that we do not understand is called the God of the gaps argument. God is held to be active in areas scientific research has not yet penetrated. This is a very bad argument because the gaps are always shrinking. It also does not give God enough credit. God is not active just in matters that we cannot explain, but is present and active in the whole world. The observations we make about the motions and relationships of the objects in the universe and which we call natural laws are all ultimately manifestations of the divine will. The hand of God is everywhere and there are no gaps in His providence.

For this reason, I have never been very impressed with the argument that the origin of life on Earth is so statistically unlikely that only divine intervention could explain it. When God created the universe he also created the natural laws by which the universe operates. If God wanted life in the universe, why would He design it in such a way that the formation of life would be very unlikely, even impossible? It seems to me that the idea that God had to step in to correct the natural course of events makes for a rather clumsy and bumbling God. I believe, rather, that God specifically designed the universe to make the formation of life not just possible but likely and even inevitable. Thus, I do not see Jeremy England’s hypothesis, for it cannot yet rise to the status of theory, as any particular challenge to my faith, but as a sort of confirmation how I believe God interacts with the natural world, provided that the hypothesis is found to be supported by data and research.

Bill Nye

September 26, 2012

Bill Nye, the former Science Guy does not like the way evolution is taught, or rather not taught in this country. I read about his views in a story by AP.

Nye

Nye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The man known to a generation of Americans as “The Science Guy” is condemning efforts by some Christian groups to cast doubts on evolution and lawmakers who want to bring the Bible into science classrooms.

Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer and star of the popular 1990s TV show “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” has waded into the evolution debate with an online video that urges parents not to pass their religious-based doubts about evolution on to their children.

“The Earth is not 6,000 or 10,000 years old,” Nye said in an interview with The Associated Press, citing scientists’ estimates that it is about 4.5 billion years old. “It’s not. And if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs.”

Millions of Americans do hold those beliefs, according to a June Gallup poll that found 46 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago.

Nye, 56, also decried efforts in recent years by lawmakers and school boards in some states to present Bible stories as an alternative to evolution in public schools. Tennessee passed a law earlier this year that protects teachers who let students criticize evolution and other scientific theories. That echoes a Louisiana law passed in 2008 that allows teachers to introduce supplemental teaching materials in science classes.

“If we raise a generation of students who don’t believe in the process of science, who think everything that we’ve come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you’re not going to continue to innovate,” Nye said in a wide-ranging telephone interview.

In the video he tells adults they can dismiss evolution, “but don’t make your kids do it. Because we need them.” Posted by Big Think, an online knowledge forum, the clip went viral and has 4.6 million views on YouTube. It has garnered 182,000 comments from critics and supporters.

Naturally, young earth creationists do not appreciate Nye’s plunging into this controversy.

It drew the ire of the creationism group Answers in Genesis, which built a biblically based Creation Museum in Kentucky that teaches the stories of the Old Testament and has attracted headlines for its assertion that dinosaurs roamed alongside Adam and Eve.

The group produced a response video featuring two scientists who say the Bible has the true account of Earth’s origins, and that “children should be exposed to both ideas concerning our past.”

Ken Ham, a co-founder of Answers in Genesis, said dating methods used by scientists to measure the age of the earth are contradictory and many don’t point to millions or billions of years of time.

“We say the only dating method that is absolute is the Word of God,” Ham said. “Time is the crucial factor for Bill Nye. Without the time of millions of years, you can’t postulate evolution change.”

While I am somewhat sympathetic to Bill Nye’s concerns, I nevertheless believe that that he is out of line. He does not have the authority or the right to tell parents what they should teach their children. He is saying that parents should not teach their children what they believe to be true. To his credit, Bill Nye has not suggested that the government should compel parents to teach their children the theory of evolution, at least not yet.

Frankly, I think the greatest jeopardy to science in America is the tendency to treat science as a list of facts to be memorized and orthodoxies to be accepted without question. I am afraid that the way the theory of evolution is taught is an especially bad example of this tendency.

The theory of evolution is a scientific hypothesis that purports to explain the development and adaptation of the many organisms on Earth. As a hypothesis, it is a very good one and there is quite a lot of evidence to support it. Indeed, most of what we know about the science of biology doesn’t really make sense outside of this theory. It is important to remember, however that the theory of evolution is only a hypothesis that stands or falls solely on the evidence. Charles Darwin did not receive the text of The Origin of Species on tablets of stone on Mount Sinai. However unlikely it may seem not, it is possible that the theory of evolution will be replaced or modified in the future. After all, the theory of phlogiston, the theory of the four humors, and the luminiferous ether all seemed to have plenty of evidence in their favor.

That being said then, why shouldn’t the students be encouraged to question evolution? Science ought to be taught as a means of asking the questions and getting the answers rather than as facts to be memorized for the test. Don’t just tell students that the theory of evolution is true. Show why the great majority of scientists believe it to be true and why there is not, at present, any real alternative. Better that than teach evolution as a thing that must be believed. If we are going to teach unquestioned orthodoxies in the schools, we might as well teach young earth creationism. At least, it is somewhat less controversial.

I think the progress of science, and society in general, would be better served by young people who are taught to ask questions, whatever their views on evolution .

The Creation of Adam

After all, it could have happened like this.

 


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