Random Thoughts Posted by: Dale Franks
on Tuesday, November 09, 2004
For the last 5 weeks, and probably for the next two or three more, my schedule has been so jammed that I simply haven't really had any time for regular blogging. So, I find I'm being reduced to more or less a commenter on the blog. Hopefully, by 1 Dec, I can roll out my new toy to the Marine Corps, and get back to a more regular schedule.
Until then blogging is going to be a little hit and miss, I'm afraid.
With that in mind, here are some stray thoughts about some of the topics of conversation for the last few days.
Creation v. Evolution
I can appreciate that a lot of folks don't like evolution taught in public schools as a fact, while at the same time, being prevented from teaching creationism. I understand that it seems that science is dethroning God for some of you. Unfortunately, while I sympathize with your plight, I am unwilling to allow creationism to be taught in public schools.
Look for something to be a science, it has to have a couple of very important characteristics:
1. It forms hypotheses based on the best available empirical evidence. 2. Hypotheses must be testable, verifiable, and disprovable.
I'm sure we could quibble about a few more things, but really, those are the...uh...fundamental ones.
Creationism, whatever else it may be, is none of those things. If there is an apparent contradiction between the facts and the Bible, the Bible trumps the facts. So, the hypothesis flows not from an observation of the evidence, but rather from a reference to scriptural authority. That also makes creationism immune from disproof. Creationism is nothing more than Lysenkoism with Jehova.
Science, unfortunately, doesn't have that luxury. It is limited to the physical evidence available from geology, paleontology, astronomy, and biology, etc. It demands rigorous examination of the facts. It demands that old theories be abandoned when new facts falsify them. The practitioners of science must submit every paper they publish to the possible scorn and vicious critiquing of their colleagues, who are, by the way, often their competitors and critics. Science isn't allowed to take refuge in faith, pronouncements by authority, or miracles.
Indeed, science can be no other way, or it wouldn't work. We don't create electric lights by propitiating the Spirits of the Tungsten Filament. We don't drive to work because our Nissan Murano commands the flame demons.
Science works because it relies on rigorous devotion to the facts. Religion works because it ignites the faith and hope resident in the human spirit. Both of those things may be quite impressive, but never, ever, should they be confused with each other.
Now, having said that, science doesn't always work. People get attracted to certain theories, and they simply can't let go of them. Other people become recognized experts, who expect their word to be taken as law in their chosen field. Science, in short, is deeply flawed, because all activities involving humans are deeply flawed. It is, however, the best--and the only--way we have of going about the gathering of knowledge.
That's what we should be teaching in school.
Every four years, Libertarians go into a kind of mini-tizzy. They don't get no respect. They don't get no votes. It's embarrassing, man! And it's likely to keep being so. The Libertarian Party, who are generally good, civic-minded people, just can't seem to tear itself away from the pull of crankery. Frankly, I don't know how the LP can become anything other than a philosophically irrelevant splinter party, in it's current incarnation.
Part of the problem is that it wants too much, and tries to keeps its ideological purity untouched. One often gets the impression that if you don't follow the whole libertarian line, then you're some sort of apostate who needs to be put in a bamboo cage and poked with sharp sticks. There's a prickly sensibility about the LP that gives the impression that any attempt at compromise is a complete sell-out. That's just not conducive to progress. The LP asks that we legalize drugs, and prostitution, bring all our troops home from overseas, kill all federal entitlement programs, etc., etc., etc. You know the riff.
But here's the thing, see: Just doing any one of those things would be a monumental task. To try and do them all, and to completely eradicate a system we've had since our grandfathers built it is asking a bit much.
And, of course, some of the things the LP wants is just completely unwise. Take the American military power, for example. It's not just that the LP asks that we bring all the troops home. It's that, among many Libertarians, there's considerable doubt about the need of a standing army of any size at all. If the citizen-soldier was good enough for George Washington, why isn't it good enough for us. I think both of those ideas are extraordinarily dangerous.
America has vital interests all over the world. We are no longer a relatively small nation, isolated on our continent. We are now part of a world economy that supplies us with both products and markets. In the last century, we have ceased to be a nation of more or less self-sufficent yeoman farmers. That world is dead and gone, and, for people like me, who have no desire whatever to be a self-sufficient yeoman farmer, I say good riddance. If the 1930s and 1940s taught us anything it should be that it is no longer possible for us to confine ourselves to our shores secure in immunity from attack. Is tragic as it may be, sometimes foreigners are going to need to be killed, and I'd rather kill them over in Kaplokistan, than do so by sniping at them from the rubble of San Diego.
Second, in the highly technical and lethal modern battlefield, we have a word for citizen soldiers: targets. Actually, two words: dead targets. A citizen soldiery was fine when it was a bunch of guys standing in line firing rifle volleys at another bunch of guys standing in line. An enlisted force composed of potato-fed farmers, and an officer corps of swaggering horsemen showing off their pretty blue uniforms was perfectly adequate, as recently as 40 years ago. But that simply isn't the case now.
I was talking a few weeks ago with one of my co-workers, who used to be the commander of the 5th Marine regiment. He remarked to me that, when he was a young company commander in Vietnam, his job was comparatively simple. He had to know a fairly limited number of Mission Essential Tasks to be a good infantry commander. Nowadays, a 22-year old second lieutenant learning how to be a platoon leader has a fantastically large number of highly technical tasks he has to know. The average enlisted man today spends up to two years in training before going to his first unit, and taking up an entry-level position.
Soldiering is a profession, and if we expect our soldiers to fight and win on the battlefield, they have to be professionals.
No matter what the Founders envisioned, the world is a completely different place than it was when the Framers hammered our Constitution together in 1789. The LP often pretends as if that's not true, but facts are immune to ideology.
The LPs all-or-nothing attitude is simply a non-starter. Look, it'll be hard enough for my generation to reduce the size and scope of the federal government, reform the tax code, and reform social security, and to do so in such a manner as to affect a cultural change as deep as the one FDR and Truman accomplished in their era. Asking for all the rest of it too, is just asking for too much. We've built up our current political culture over the course of a whole century. Changing it--if it can even be changed--will probably take just as long.
Testable and verifyable, huh? Using this definition evolution isn't a science.
Same is true for superstrings, quasons and lots of other things that are called "science", but are really nothing more than speculation (or "theory") since they can't be verified or tested.
Evolution is speculation and, as someone with two engineering degrees and probably more science training than you have, it has some very, very serious flaws.
So to have someone present evolution as "fact" or "science" is ridiculous. Go read Kuhn.
And don't be so insecure. Children can be exposed to "Intellegent Design" without a religous text or indoctrination. It just points out that things are just a LITTLE bit too orderly and convenient to be by random chance. This shouldn't be all that threatening since it requires as much "faith" as belief in evolution.
It is a false dichotomy to pit "religion" against science. I can understand Dale's point of view; Religion in general is concerned with the actions of people in the world rather than how specifics of the existence of the world are defined. Nevertheless, where the two fields do overlap, it is usually in areas where the conflict cannot be simply waved away by saying "science is rational and religion isn't".
If it was demonstrably provable that the world didn't come into existence 6000 years ago, then certainly some parts of Judeo-Christian religion would have to be radically reinterpreted (and the religions are robust enough that some people have done such reinterpretation quite successfully). But of course it is quite impossible to really prove that the world didn't come into existence 5 minutes ago - there's only the evidence of your senses (easily fooled) to prove otherwise.
A religious, creationist philosophy of course has to explain the existence of contrary "evidence" too, but this does not make it any less scientific than evolution.
Consider for a moment a couple of less-than-genius, less-than-expert folks (like most of us) debating the merits and demerits of evolution and creationism: Evolutionist: I won't believe in Creation since it is obviously unscientific - carbon dating and fossils prove there was life on earth millions of years ago. Creationist: Well, I don't know why that would be, but I believe the Good Book, so I'm sure there's a reason why that carbon dating stuff seems to contradict me, but I'm not changing my opinion.
Now, turnabout is fair play: Creationist: I refuse to believe in evolution because it doesn't explain how such complex features as a human eye, a bombadier beetle's "bomb" [Google it] or a vampire bat's ability to anesthetize it's victim could have come about in a gradual fashion. Evolutionist: Well, I don't know why that would be, but I believe the Scientists are working on it and there's a rational explanation so I'm not changing my opinion either.
My point is that in the end you are putting trust and belief into something - either a book of revealed wisdom, or a body of discovered knowledge. The problem with the body of discovered knowledge is that despite the numerous flaws in the evolution hyptheses, it is still regarded as a proven fact. It is still scientifically "acceptable" to not "believe in" superstring theory, since not all the kinks have been worked out, so why is evolution such a holy cow, inaccessible to criticism?
The answer has to be that there is a specific agenda in promoting evolution as a philosophy, and the specific agenda is the opposition to religion.
Religion is shown to be ignorant and irrational, while science is shown to be intelligent and knowledgeable. Since there is such a dearth of evidence for evolution, it seems clear to me (and perhaps others) that the blind belief in it is a specific desire to remove all religion from the arena of discussion. Even though I said earlier that most of science and religion do not coincide, when "science" (as a belief rather than a rigorous method of investigation) sets itself to negate religion it arrogates to itself moral authority which it is essentially lacking.
For example - science can determine exactly how to administer drug X to person Y in order to save them from disease Z. It does not have anything intelligent to say however about whether person Y should receive the drug: Is person Y a terrorist? is he old (and wise) and someone else younger (but more foolish) could benefit for a longer time? Is the treatment expensive and he can't pay? Is there only so much money to go around and giving to him will deprive others of food? These are moral questions which science cannot answer, and essentially it is the place of philosophy and religion to answer this. But when religion has been ridiculed to a huge extent for believing things "without proof" as if the "science" of evolution were better, then the religion doesn't get a say even in the forums where it obviously should.
The LPs position on foreign policy reminds me of your first discussion on the difference between science and faith. Ideological libertarians believe we should withdraw from the world, and everything will be fine.
But that's an article of faith. In fact, since it's never really been tried, a lot of the LPs rigid positions are unverifiable assumptions.
Jon: I have a bachelors degree in Materials Science and a Masters in Computer Science. I'm not an enemy of science, nor am I incapable of listening to answers.
I've studied (a little) and seen the problems which come about from believing in the evolutionist answer. I would be thrilled if you could explain to me how extremely complex systems evolved in any gradual way.
Having said that, even if there was a perfectly good explanation, one which I could with certainty say "that could have happened", I would certainly hesitate to say "that did happen".
The whole premise of evolutionary theory is the same as that of forensic science - a forensic scientist (if they are good) can tell you with absolute certainty something like: "The wound we found was consistent with a six-foot-tall left handed person standing behind the victim stabbing with a 12-inch long blade", and this can be absolutely true. Of course, there's no saying that another smart person (trained in forensic science say) who was only 5 feet tall couldn't stand on a box and do the same thing...so a conscientious forensicist will state it how I said above.
Now, a criminal case can still be decided on the basis of forensic evidence, when it becomes overwhelming, simply because at a certain point we don't believe the alternatives - yes, someone else could have found hair and skin samples from you, and spread them around to fool the DNA tests, yes, they could have pulled threads from your clothes and also snuck into your house to put blood or mud in the treads of your shoes, but in the absence of a better explanation we apply Occam's razor and suggest the simpler explanation, with less assumptions is more likely to be true.
years ago I had a silly conversation about evolution vs. creation on a cll-in radio show (not the best place for intellectual debate) and I began a rant saying:
"Well the scientists don't have an explanation - how a soup of chemicals somehow formed into DNA which somehow made a cell, which somehow evolved into an organism..." you get the idea.
The host interrupted me to say (in a fairly condescending tone):
"Well, I guess it's much simpler to believe that some great bearded man in the sky made it all out of Lego"
My answer: "Yeah, it is simpler actually, which makes it more likely to be true".
You can talk about evolution and answer every question I have on it (maybe) but at some point, the answers which you will be giving are essentially ad hoc ones - they are tailored to fit the specific question rather than being of whole cloth with the general explanation. I fail to see why this is a generally more scientific mehod of answering the question than to say "God made it".
Obviously, if God made it, you will ask me (amongst other things) Why does radioactive dating say my rock is 20 million years old? If you are willing to hear my answer, I'll tell you...but my answer will be of whole cloth with the basic premise that God did it, which is at once simpler than you want to hear, and also simpler than it is easy to refute.
Gentlemen - the creationism you are espousing with your degrees in science as license (and no disrespect intended at all...) for credibility is not the creationism that's being discussed, and probably not that which most mainstream Christian religions would recommend as a teaching. I don't recall being taught that God's Day and my day, might in theory have a different # of hours (read millennia), or that Adam and Eve were allegorical characters. Nor do I recall hearing such an outrageous idea as thinking God is a "Clockmaker" during any of my religious training.
We're not discussing training for theologians here, we're talking about what they are going to teach children between the ages of 6-18. Think of the mental conflict caused for these children when clearly contradictory theology is going to be presented to them.
Intelligent Design (of which I am also a proponent) is not what the Bible dictates as the story of creation. Intelligent Design is a rationalization of creation. The Scopes trial was not argued on the concepts of Intelligent Design or irreducible complexity.
Then too, you must overcome the complaints of non-Christians who happen to believe in creation different from the Christian doctorine. Unless you are prepared to teach something akin to the following in your 'Creation 101' classes;
The earth was shaped like a wheel. In the center of the world was the heaven. It was called Mount Meru; a mountain that was over 250,000 miles high(!) at its peak. The heaven was circled by the River Ganges. The cities of Indra and the other gods were along its banks. The foothills below Mount Meru were home to the Gandharvas (the good or benevolent spirits). The demons lived in the valleys. The hood of the great serpent Shesha supported the whole world. When each great flood covered the universe, Shesha coiled up on the back of a tortoise. The world had many floods. At the end of each deluge, the world was born again. Once, a golden cosmic egg floated on the waters that buried the world. For a thousand years the lord of the universe brooded over the egg. Finally a lotus flower, as bright as a thousand suns, grew from his navel. The lotus spread and flourished until it contained the whole world. Brahma sprang from the lotus with the powers of the lord of the universe. He created the world from the parts of his body.
you have to address the problem of establishment. This is public education of creation we're discussing.
For a wealth of reasons, it should be left to the parents and their chosen religious leaders to teach creation.
Evolution on the other hand allies itself to NO religion and can be taught the same way scientific theories on the universe are (in fact, what better place).
looker: "Evolution on the other hand allies itself to NO religion and can be taught the same way scientific theories on the universe are (in fact, what better place)."
Allying itself with no religion! That's a good one. The belief in evolution (as the origin of species) is just as much a religious belief as the belief in God (or I suppose gods like your example).
I agree with you 100% that I would not particularly like my kids to be taught whatever that quote was (Bhagavid Gita?) as "TRVTH"...perhaps it would be interesting in a comparative religions course. By the same token I would also not like my children to be indoctrinated in a belief which is not particularly backed up by scientific fact like "evolution producing species" which has in fact never once been observed in the real world and is no more rational an explanation than my "God did it" one.
It is impossible to really teach all possible views of the origin of the world, as you point out, and it is not particularly desirable either. The only reason for determining the origins of the earth and species (as far as I can see) is to determine what that implies for us. If one believes in a creator, one might feel morally obligated to actin ceertain ways (more to the point, one cannot feel morally obligated without believing in some sort of God, at least according to Kant).
Otherwise, it's just an interesting theory, and no more vitally important to teach our children than the theory that we were all sneezed out of the nose of the great octopus...
As an evangelical Christian, and a proponent of intelligent design, I (like I think I hear Kibi saying) don't necessarily want to see intelligent design taught in schools, so much as just having a simple statement that there are other theories for the origin of the earth that there is some scientific evidence for.
Evolution is still a theory, and even though I know that the rest of the country is laughing at us backwood, ignorant rednecks down here in Georgia for putting labels in the textbooks, that's really all this debate is about. The stickers simply state that evolution is a theory.
It is incrediblly ironic to me that the "open-minded" people of tolerance who regularly criticize and condemn Christians for "shoving their beliefs" onto others can be so close-minded and intolerant as to not even acknowledge that evolution is a theory, and that there are other theories as well. In a case where (for the most part) Christians are asking for multiple viewpoints to simply be acknowledged, it is the opposition that wants to force its single viewpoint onto students as fact.
I firmly believe that creationism - in the Biblical sense - should not be taught in public schools, but I also believe firmly that when evolution is taught, it should be taught as a theory and not as fact.
Kibi - good point. The conundrum is how do you address a child's natural questions of "where do we come from, where did all this 'stuff' come from".
Prior to Darwin, I suppose it was literally an article of faith and therefor didn't need to be addressed.
I hesitate to dance round the issue in school, but neither can I accept something other than a comparative religions course to compensate for it.
We're torn between trying to teach children to be fact based and rational in areas like math or physics, and faith based, on the idea that the universe and life evolved by itself (trust us) or that God created it all (trust us).
Neither theory can be proven with the facts to hand, but I must say, I FAVOR the creation aspect as frankly the evolutionary aspect means when my spark goes out, it's likely that it will be permanent in every sense of the word (rather self serving I suppose, but certainly comforting as I grow older and realize I'm really NOT going to live forever after all).
Still, I can't condone teaching creation because it will be hijacked by one group or another, and I'm not prepared to see the government "get religion".
"In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know, that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion." -- Carl Sagan
Science is, among other things, a process of creative destruction (a popular term in economics). It is cyclical in that observations are made, theories are propounded, theories are tested, observations are made, etc. Each theory in it's time falls victim to finer and finer levels of measurement made possible by developing prior art.
Theories are usually either inductive or deductive. In the inductive case one stands back and attempts to find a pattern in observed phenomena, to the limits of current measurement, something that (maybe) explains that segment of the cosmos that one is viewing. Inductive theories tend to be grand in scope and difficult, at best, to test.
It seems to me that both Creationism and Evolution are the product of inductive reasoning. The problem is that we have neither the intellectual tools nor the measurement ability to discern whether either, both, or neither, are correct at this point in the development of mankind. I would think that it is premature to rule out either theory.
There is a great deal of speculation in the fossil "record". Speaking of that charlatan Carl Sagan, have you ever wondered how they got all those dinosaurs killed by a massive comet impact buried under the iridium layer? Their bones are a lot bigger than the few centimeters in thickess of the iridium layer. Shouldn't the bones extend upwards from the iridium layer as the dinosaurs laid down and died on the existing surface level?
There are a lot of other interesting questions posed in books on intelligent design (e.g. Of Pandas and People).
I'm beginning to suspect that the conflict between evolution and Creationism (in whatever its current guise) boils down to whether or not theories proposed to explain natural phenomena (our explanation of gravity is also a theory, after all) ought to avoid any reliance on the supernatural (i.e., on the unverifiable). Whether we prefer, in other words, that any explanation remain, above all else, _materialistic._ Even if that limitation also means that a theory remains incomplete.
While evolution may (as yet) be unable to adequately answer legitimate criticisms like those surrounding "irreducible complexity," its proponents also don't attempt to dismiss those criticisms by invoking some sort of deus ex machina: they simply remain agnostic about such questions until such time as further evidence is obtained.
The same can't, I don't think, be said of the "competing" theories proposed by evolution's Creationist critics.
In any event, considering the strong feelings evolution apparently still inspires, it should come as a relief to learn that most Americans aren't nearly as opposed as previously thought to teaching that theory (and it alone) in science classrooms. As this recent poll reveals:
I don't want to ignore a lot of the responses to my initial comments, but I'm unable to get into a detailed discussion of all this.
For answers to specific creationist disputes with evolution, I recommend TalkOrigins. In my experience, the questions raised by creationists are readily answerable...but they don't seem to acknowledge that the questions have been answered already.