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    I think I've got it.
    By Oliver Knevitt | June 7th 2012 07:13 AM | 20 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Oliver

    In a nutshell: I like fossils. But even more than than that, I like arguments about fossils. Which is why my current occupation as a PhD researcher...

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    I think I've got it.

    The reason why we, as evolutionists have such difficulty in speaking to creationists is because the idea of it is so far removed, so abstract - indeed, so patently wrong - that we have literally no idea where to start.

    [This stems from a comment that I was writing which has spiralled out of control. I thought I'd siphon it off into another blog post, as the other thread is bloated enough as it is]

    I think of the amount of hours that I spend studying the intricacies of fossils and their evolution.  I look at the career of people like my colleague Dick Aldridge has put in, who is now retiring, and so has contributed 60 odd years of figuring bits here and there about fossil groups and evolution. Even this pales into insignificance when you think of all the paleontologists around the world that are working away, filling in gaps, day by day, in what we previously knew. Sure, I'd be the first to admit that a lot of it isn't earth shattering. Indeed, most of it is filling in little bits here and there about certain groups and certain time periods. All in all, though, it's all part of the grand objective; to understand the minutiae of the process of evolution and the history of life on Earth.

    So when some bloke - whether he be some nutcase in the southern US, or a tenured university professor* - has the temerity to boldly declare that, the accumulation of all our work is false; the initial reaction is not to make us think and search within ourselves. Our first reaction, would simply be to laugh at such a ridiculous proposition.

    Let me put it another way. I used to work part time in a card shop when I was growing up, in Norwich. I knew all the locations of the cards, the pricing strategy, the envelope size nomenclature, and how the till works. I knew the different deals, the retail strategy, and most importantly, how to store and sort cards without getting a papercut.

    Now, the equivalent here would be someone saying to me that they believed that the card shop didn't exist. Not only that, they believed it was impossible to buy cards from shops, that people don't write cards, and indeed, that Norwich, where I grew up, doesn't exist.

    The suggestion is so absurd that my first reaction would be that the person was making a massive and not very funny joke. Upon finding that they are sincere, I would obviously assume that they were mad. Why on earth would to object to the existence of Norwich or card selling? Naturally my first reaction would be to ignore them. I'm busy, and I've got other problems to deal with.

    If push came to shove, however, ultimately, the task of explaining the principle behind card-based retailing would be incredibly onerous and take a lot of time. But, in a way, it would be achievable. This is because it might only stem from ignorance. It might be like trying to explain vector calculus to a 6 year old, but in the end, they might finally accept that there is a place called Norwich in the east of England. They might even come to embrace the idea that people enjoy sending short messages written on a folded piece of card. It might then not seem inconceivable that cards can be bought in shops, and that some of these can be found in Norwich.

    However, let's imagine that we start talking to our man and he says that, it's not that he didn't realize that Norwich and sending cards didn't exist, but that he actively denies their presence.  I try to help him through it; perhaps he is embarrassed at his own ignorance of personalized gift cards and Norwich. I present a map of England with Norwich clearly shown, but he claims it's been forged. I get a similar reaction after presenting my old name tag from the card shop, and even after presenting him with a card I've written myself.

    Now if that sounds tricky, if we compare it with the struggle we face when talking to creationists, it is the easiest task in the world. Because here, the problem has become entrenched in religion, something that is very, very close to peoples' hearts. And so, to tackle the problem is to go about deconvolving the issue from religion; a veritable minefield. The funny thing is that ID has done exactly that, and so has made creationism palatable to those who don't want to feel out of place in a technologically literate western democracy.

    The point is, we don't really care what the alternative theory is. It simply doesn't matter. Sure, you can have an alternative theory for some part of modern evolutionary theory; that's how science works. But there's no point wasting our time entertaining the rather stupid notion that the whole lot is wrong.

    Because evolution is so patently not wrong, it doesn't matter whether you state that we've all been plonked there by an angry alien 500 billion years ago, or made out of dirt by some invisible deity 5000 years ago. One's not more wrong than the other, they're all just wrong. The real issue at stake is that people have been deluded into thinking that the accumulated grand theory that we've spent over 100 years working on is a delusion in itself.

    Essentially, it's a simple matter of truth and trust; we want people to believe the truth and to trust us. We are so past the point of going "Look: more evidence for evolution" that we just don't say it any more. But maybe we should. And actually, I think talking about more controversies within evolutionary biology would be a good idea, as Enrico Uva has suggested in a comment on the mummy article to this one. We need to somehow ram home the point that has been missed here, and that is there certainly are controversies within evolution. But creationism is not one of them.

    This option seems a bit more palatable to me. It would be a bit more of a quiet, sneaky way of addressing creationism. It's mostly preferable because I wouldn't have to spend weekends deleting comment after comment on articles that go head first at the problem.

    ---

    *But why, oh why, are they always friggin' men? Is it that men are more likely to be bold and outspoken?

    This time I really, really don't want comments from creationists. Call it censorship, whatever, but there are plenty of other places where you can tell me I'm wrong.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    I think that often the religious dimension provides a different kind of motivation that simply cover for evolution.  If we accept the idea of biological evolution, then humans are simply one step along the path of life.  There is nothing fundamentally more special about them than any other creature.

    While that may not seem like a big deal, I suspect that to many people it suddenly raises the problem that we are actually accountable for what we do as a species.  We can't simply declare that it was all "given to us".  We can't simply presume that we will be "saved".  In short, we suddenly find ourselves seeing our problems in the world as being real, depending on our knowledge to address, with no "silver bullet" solutions in the event we fail.

    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley
    Gerhard,
     
    I think that your “given to us” is a parody of what most believers actually believe, though I would not rule out the existence of some who fit that mould, especially those with a political or commercial axe to grind.
     
    If I were to ask our readership “how do we today think differently from our ancestors a few hundred years ago”, many of the replies would be coloured by the “science versus religion” paradigm.  However, about a hour ago, another example struck me, which I think weighs/weighed much more heavily in everyday life:
     
    Judge Judy was saying to a defendant “those were only words, there was no physical attack”, almost implying that, whether in the law of the USA or in the Judge-Judaic worldview I can’t say, words don’t matter.  However, a few hundred years ago they did matter, and could be a casus belli.  Even in more modern times, duels would be fought over insults.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam
    Robert, I would agree in substance, but there are also far too many people that would view that position of "dominion" as being a God-given "right".  In my view, far too many people have the attitude that life consists only of "animals" which don't have any intrinsic "right" to existence beyond that which we recognize.  They don't have any intrinsic "right" to be left alone beyond that which we care to indulge.  Most people don't even consider animals as having a "right" to be free of suffering, because they are "only animals".

    So, I don't think that it is a parody.  I'm also somewhat disappointed that many people with strong religious beliefs [these are people I respect] have expressed the view that many of our concerns regarding the planet or the environment will be taken care of by God and don't really represent problems to humans. 

    Regarding the Judge Judy incident, without knowing more specifics she has a tendency to be a bit curt and flip about subjects she know better.  Of course words matter, which is precisely why we have libel laws and why "freedom of speech" has limitations on it [i.e. inciting a riot, etc.].  So, to say, even within the context of the television show, that "words don't matter" is simply foolishness.

    Now, if she's arguing that words aren't sufficient to claim "self-defense" over, then we have a different matter and culturally there's no doubt there would be far reaching differences of opinion there.  Ultimately this wouldn't be much different than what we expect for different social customs regarding "honor".

    Again, I don't view the differences between our ancestors [or Judge Judy] as significantly different in science vs religion, as much as in those rules that were relevant for social survival or even physical survival.  Ancient humans weren't environmentalists.  They were the product of natural selection, since those groups that didn't care of their environment would inevitably perish.  So, our behavior isn't different from our ancestors.  Instead the consequences of our behavior are different, as a result, we find a greater diversity of beliefs because none of them have consequences associated with their exercise.

    While I don't mean to sound too flip regarding religious beliefs, but it is much easier to declare "miracles" when one has the advantage of modern medical technology acting on their behalf.  As an aside, I find little more annoying than those couples returning from a fertility clinic pregnant with 8 embryos, suddenly declaring this as a miracle from God and they couldn't possibly decide to terminate any of the embryos.

    One can't help but notice that God's will is never good enough when it comes time to die, or when someone can't get pregnant.  However, once those messy medical issues are resolved by science, then invariably it's a "miracle".
    Mundus vult decipi
    Creationism is psychological denial.
    As long as creationists have venues and support where they can
    "act out" their denial, they will. Fundamentalist churches and creationist groups
    provide that support. Trying to logically explain to a drug addict or an alcoholic or
    someone with any kind of denial system in place, usually doesn't achieve much.
    So it is with creationists. Its a psychiatric state that logic is simply not going to
    penetrate. Its a waste of time to debate them and scientists shouldn't do it.
    There are libararies and libraries full of information to help them which they won't
    utilize.
    Ignore them, have a good laugh , and go about your business .
    They crave your attention as they act out their denial. They know they have a problem.
    Alert your political leaders . Natural selection willreduce their numbers.
    Will Fraser Oil and Gas Geologist

    As scientists, or at least scientifically literate, we are ethically bound to stick with facts and logic. Creationists can just make up stuff as they go.

    Actually, if you pay enough attention to the popular science press, you'll see articles with titles like "New Discovery Supports Darwin's Theory" with dismaying frequency.

    rholley
    In 1903, G.K.Chesterton wrote:
    “Of the thousands of brilliant and elegant persons like ourselves who believe roughly in the Darwinian doctrine, how many are there who know which fossil or skeleton, which parrot's tail or which cuttle-fish's stomach, is really believed to be the conclusive example and absolute datum of natural selection? We know scarcely anything of the Darwinian facts that lead to conversion. What we know is much more important: the Darwinian facts that come after conversion. What we know, to use a higher language, are the fruits of the spirit. We know that with this idea once inside our heads a million things become transparent as if a lamp were lit behind them: we see the thing in the dog in the street, in the pear on the wall, in the book of history we are reading, in the baby in the perambulator and in the last news from Borneo. And the fulfilments pour in upon us in so natural and continual a cataract that at last is reached that paradox of the condition which is called belief. We have seen so many evidences of the theory that we have forgotten them all. The theory is so clear to us that we can scarcely even defend it. If we walked up to the nearest rationalist we know and asked him to prove evolution, he would be dazed, like a man asked to defend justice.
    Two points. 

    (1) The last sentence in this extract does, it seems to me, express your predicament beautifully.

    (2) Chesterton later abandoned his belief in evolution because of its strong association with the Eugenics movement.  His thoughts were expressed in Eugenics and Other Evils (1922).  You’ll have to enlarge text in your browser (Ctrl-+) to read that one comfortably, though.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam
    Chesterton later abandoned his belief in evolution because of its strong association with the Eugenics movement.  His thoughts were expressed in Eugenics and Other Evils (1922).
    I understand what you're saying, but I expect that such isn't quite accurate from Chesterton.  After all, the reason for his paper was specifically because evolution was true and that it was being abused by the Eugenics movement that he wrote this in the first place.

    This has always been its appeal, because we know that it is true and we recognize its potential.  After all, this is the criteria we've applied to domesticated animals and we know quite well that it works.

    The problem is different from the general concept of Eugenics though.   What makes it difficult, is in answering the question whether a species can actually domesticate itself and whether it has any means of judging what constitutes "good" or "positive" traits.  In my view, this element alone is sufficient to consider Eugenics a silly enterprise.

    However, when it is coupled with the politics, economics, and special interests that would seek to circumvent such basic selection, the Eugenics becomes an evil enterprise.  Not because its objectives are fundamentally wrong, but because it's objectives are ignored in favor of self-interest.  That this will always be the case, is important because it relates specifically to the latest variation of the Eugenics movement which is resurrected in Transhumanism.  The idea that somehow replacing the natural selection of traits with the artificial selection of technologically induced/produced traits somehow changing the equation is what renders it equally problematic.


    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, I hope to make a good case for creationism here and sow plenty of doubts in your mind. I'm definitely a theistic creationist and I studied a lot of philosophy - I don't really think the evidence makes the evolutionary case conclusively enough. First thought experiment: What is our experiential difference of God creating the world with fossils already in the ground and of an atheistic Big Bang evolving the same exact picture? Answer: Nothing. God could have created a world where there is a fossil record to give you all kinds of distractions as to how the world was really created. You said you have studied for many hours with people you respect and couldn't imagine evolution being false - but then you are implicitly admitting that all the creationists in the past who laid down 'wacky' theories of how God created the universe were wrong, right? They spent years in research or contemplation too, certainly. Humans send mixed messages (haven't you ever sent anyone on a wild goose chase or been in a dead end in a maze?) and we're created in the image of the Creator, so naturally one could see the same thing happening with God.

    What's really at stake in this debate? I have no problem saying that evolution, in some sense, is going on today, right now - which is to say we are growing and all the species of earth are changing. But then it seems like a lot of evolutionists are trying to become historians and say that the same process is exactly what happened in the past (even though they weren't there nor can they prove that the scientific "laws" would have still been the same then). Evolutionary theory smells of an agenda: namely, atheism. It seems like a Trojan horse against the Faith, in my estimations. First, atheists get theists to believe in evolution and the Big Bang and then break down people's faith by saying, "Hey, look at the universe! It can stand on its own, it created itself!" Then it takes little to jump to atheism once evolution has been accepted. Creationism in itself is inherently theistic, though, and it seems like evolution is more of a friend to atheists than theists. Darwin was something of an agnostic, if I'm not mistaken, so to say that this evolutionary theory came "from God's inspiration" for a theistic purpose sounds like an odd idea.

    Why did Darwin feel a need to explain the origin of the world, anyway? What's the purpose in doing so? Why can't we live with the reverent mystery of what God created in the past? Evolutionary theory should only have importance today if it's related to making our lives better, to "evolving" us into healthier peoples. Yet is that all that evolutionists promote, or is there usually a promotion of atheism and an attack on traditional creationism/Biblical history?

    Holes abound in the evolutionary theory, or more people would rush around with headlines in the news calling evolution "The irrefutable proven theory". Is evolution some kind of exact mathematical science like "2+2=4"? Demonstrably, it is not otherwise it would have gotten the press as being such. A lot of evolutionists are trying to have their cake and eat it too, by saying that science is a hypothetical inductive process but that evolution is fact. Richard Dawkins, famous evolutionary biologist, for instance, admitted he was 99% sure that God didn't exist, in "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed". Contrarily, most theists are 99% sure that God does exist. He also did not explain exactly how life came from non-life on this earth (abiogenesis) but said that the scientists were close to finding the explanation. So the old "filling in the gaps" argument definitely applies to evolutionists too - Dawkins made reference to a theory about life coming from rock crystals to form small living micro-life, but didn't have strictly conclusive evidence. This is just one of many examples. Hence, there is room for doubt in the evolutionary theory, which is why creationists call it a theory and don't believe it.

    I think there will probably be a resurgence of intelligent creationism in coming years. In Job 38:4, God challenges Job and says, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand." Job was wondering why God had allowed so much misfortune to come upon him - it was a test of his faith. God was also basically saying, "you weren't there, so you don't know!" Do you think our criminal justice system has ever executed a criminal who was innocent, without anyone ever knowing? Do we really "know it all" about evolution with the same certainty to reach a verdict? We are fallible human beings overconfident about something which is just a theory. I think there's plenty to doubt and I'm not buying. This debate is properly philosophic about the interpretation of scientific findings. I will maintain that given the fossil record and what we know about human biology, most evidence points to evolution being true - but that's not all the debate is about! In the past, man was thought to be primarily a spiritual creature, with a body - now, we're more materialistic and swayed by atheism and think we're physical bodies with a spirit. So, naturally given our current Zeitgeist, we're less focussed on the world of the soul and more inclined to make physical conclusions about things.

    Put yourself in a creationist's shoes and think about the view of the world before the fall of mankind: There was peaceful harmony with God and no need to inquire into the origins of the universe, but only to love God and others who were around. That is to say: There are plenty of things I don't know about that I don't really NEED to know about. What made us NEED to know about evolution? Mere curiosity is a fair enough interest, or to use evolutionary theory of today's creatures in order to medicinally heal. Yet, again what comes to my mind is: what's at stake here? Invariably, there are certain political, social, and religious issues that evolutionary atheists are trying to use evolution to attack, right? Otherwise, I could just be an "idiot" with a wrong understanding. Evolution seeks to create autonomy of the universe apart from God and perhaps destroys the mystery of Creation. This is why creationists are outraged.

    Something I think about.

    Gerhard Adam
    What is our experiential difference of God creating the world with fossils already in the ground and of an atheistic Big Bang evolving the same exact picture?
    First problem.  You can't even ask the question without demonstrating that there is something called "God".  What the proposed role of "God" is.  What are the limitations/boundary conditions of "God".  What does "God" explain that nothing else can, etc.?  In short, as I've stated elsewhere, your statement is no different than if I rephrased it to read:
    What is our experiential difference of Gandalf and the Ring of Power creating the world with fossils already in the ground and of an atheistic Big Bang evolving the same exact picture?
    Unless you can demonstrate why your statement is materially more correct than my own, you simply have a superfluous addition.
    Why did Darwin feel a need to explain the origin of the world, anyway?
    He didn't.  Enough said.
    He also did not explain exactly how life came from non-life on this earth (abiogenesis) but said that the scientists were close to finding the explanation.
    Again ... not relevant and not part of evolution.  Whatever alternative explanation you wish to offer regarding abiogenesis needs to be presented as a theory with testable hypothesis.  Other than that it's simply another story or opinion and not particularly interesting.
    I think there will probably be a resurgence of intelligent creationism in coming years.
    That's simply a silly statement.  Define "intelligent" within this context, but also you need to define specifically how a trait such as "intelligence" is capable of manifesting itself into physical control of results.  In other words, to claim something is intelligent only lays claim to a particular characteristic.  It says nothing about how that trait is supposed to translate into the creation or manipulation of life.  Basically, it's another dodge to introduce God.  Go back to the beginning and define your terms and conditions.
    There was peaceful harmony with God and no need to inquire into the origins of the universe, but only to love God and others who were around.
    I have to admit, that's the first time I've heard the argument made that we should give up everything and return to the caves.  After you ....


    Mundus vult decipi
    "I could just be an "idiot" with a wrong understanding. "

    Yes, that sounds about right.

    MikeCrow
    What is our experiential difference of God creating the world with fossils already in the ground and of an atheistic Big Bang evolving the same exact picture? Answer: Nothing.

    If there's no difference between the two, why would believing in evolution in anyway interfere with your faith?
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Evolution seeks to create autonomy of the universe apart from God and perhaps destroys the mystery of Creation. This is why creationists are outraged.
    This is perhaps your silliest argument, although I suspect it does get to the heart of the problem for many.  After all, the only reason to be outraged is that the evolutionists may well be right in your eyes.  So the fear isn't for what evolutionists believe.  It's what they may persuade you into believing, so you hold on to your outrage as an act of denial against the "facts".


    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    Ha ha - PJ - I enjoyed your argument. Yes, you are almost 100% correct with what you write. And because you think like you think, that is why I tell those progressive new-atheist types that their arguments are no good and only serve to polarize. They do not grasp your point of view; they are as unable to understand you as you are unable to understand why god makes fundamentally no sense.
    You touch on a very important topic with
    "Is evolution some kind of exact mathematical science like "2+2=4"? Demonstrably, it is not otherwise it would have gotten the press as being such. A lot of evolutionists are trying to have their cake and eat it too, by saying that science is a hypothetical inductive process but that evolution is fact."
    That is why I tell people only about the tautological truth of evolution and suchlike. Evolution as well as quantum mechanics are like 2+2=4. Anything else can be due to a creator that may well have evolved, just like we evolved and now start to make new worlds (inside computers for example). As long as the argument is not about the very foundation, all this creationist versus new-atheist debates are basically political, you are quite correct PJ.

    vongehr
    Oliver - you are "nice" and thus you somehow feel that others can/should be similarly "nice", and if you just explain it, they would surely see. You need to start actually accepting the theory that you promote: Evolution! Our brain is a rationalization machine that does certain things very well (e.g. human visual system) and for a damn good reason that you should know more about than I.

    You seem to be hung up on the "unfair world" that makes it that you evolution researchers have spend so much time and still people do not respect. That is a bad approach for two reasons: 1) Time creationists have collectively spend preparing Sunday schools. If time and self-ascribed seriousness is the issue, they win. 2) The problem with evolution is not that it is difficult. Evolution is self-evidently true and quite simple (not the intricacies that emerge via evolution of evolution, but the basics of variation and selection). It is the same with quantum mechanics and relativity for example. The core is self-evident and people not accepting has little to do with their intelligence. There is a reason for especially engineers not accepting relativity; but engineers are not stupid people. The reason people simply "do not want" to accept evolution and relativistic QM is the same damn reason: They just cannot accept that they are not willing, deciding agents, and this extremely strong feeling of agency has evolved for a good reason, especially strong with social animals. There is little you can change via serious research - anybody who goes according to serious research already knows evolution to be true before the research. The only thing that may happen is that the newer generations have less severe problems, but they will still have them.

    UPDATE: I just now read PJ above, and he indeed proves my first point correct: "... you have studied for many hours with people you respect and couldn't imagine evolution being false - but ... all the creationists in the past ... They spent years in research or contemplation too ..."
    Trying to get 'someone' to change their world view requires strong evidence and the 'someone' must be willing to take a rational view of the evidence. Not likely in the creationists world.

    As Sascha alludes, the true believers have spent a minimum of one hour per week having their view reinforced. 52 weeks per year times how long have they been attending their place or worship? That's a lot of reinforcement to overcome with just the facts.

    I personally don't believe in magic, but it is time wasted to argue with folks.

    MikeCrow
    I keep trying to point out there's nothing to argue about, If God can do as he wishes, he could create a Universe that's perfectly scientific with no evidence of his hand, leaving his existence to faith, which would seem to me to be what he'd want.

    The fact that even this doesn't defuse the debate, makes me think it's the implications of evolution (no proof of God, common ancestor, etc) that can't be swallowed.
    Never is a long time.
    Yes to the first point. Mind you I don't think God wants blind faith but people do have a terrible tendancy towards wishful thinking. Of course this idea should not be used to bludgeon non-believers.  However, Cretin-ists and ID-iots seem to have no qualms about imputing rank stupidity, conspiracies of deception AND wilful ignorance to Godless scientists... 

    As to your second paragraph, no, it's simpler than that.  Despite the efforts of the ID PR-mill, all forms of creationism have one basis and one only, namely the creation story in Genesis. Now there are all sorts of fables in the world so one must ask why this one in particular is believed so fervently. And here we come to the fact that to these people (and many others) the Bible is "The Word of God".  Even that phrase is used literally - these are God's direct words written down on the page. If one accepts evolution then the literal interpretation of Genesis must be jettisoned, there is no way to skirt the issue. This puts the whole "bible-believing" system in jeopardy. And in that case what basis is left for believing anything? That, I would suggest is a far more powerful motivator than merer lack of proof, it directly undermines their whole faith.  At least, they see it that way. Other than xians such as myself telling them "Come on in, the water's lovely" what can anyone do? And the meme of course has evolved defences - I am obviously a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing... an agent of Satan. <sigh>
     



     
    MikeCrow
    I like your explanation, mine was just some shiny trinkets hanging on the branches.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    I would suggest that the issues are more fundamental.  One side has a scientific problem to solve while the other only has an aesthetic argument.  As a result, the consequences for different points of view are markedly different.

    This gets back to the luxury of what someone can 'afford' to believe.

    As a result, people are free to accept or reject all kinds of ideas, provided they don't actually have to apply them to solve any problems.  Once the latter occurs, then the evidence or value of any particular idea becomes much easier to see and invariably most of these arguments or disagreements quickly disappear.

    It's for precisely this reason that we can have the following comment made by PJ.
    "There are plenty of things I don't know about that I don't really NEED to know about. What made us NEED to know about evolution?"
    In effect, it's an admission that the primary argument is based on not having any particular need to be concerned about the effectiveness or accuracy of his belief.   As I've always maintained ... if people actually had to live with the consequences of their beliefs, I expect that we wouldn't see as many polarizing perspectives.
    Mundus vult decipi