Evolution and education

Tim Dunlop is complaining about the prevalance of creationist ideas, and notes that it is not just a US problem:

Speaking completely anecdotally, I have a cousin who is a geologist and who was doing surveys in NSW a few years back. He said he had to speak to a lot of property owners in order to get permission to do his work and that in explaining what he was doing–checking out the fossil record, dating the rocks–he often got a response along the lines of impatient dismissal. He was regularly told that the earth was only 6,000 years old.

In a similarly anecdotal vein, Rob Corr didn’t have any trouble unearthing a number of creationist commenters when he discussed the topic recently, people who saw acceptance of the theory of evolution as a matter of faith rather than of scientific investigation.

Ignorance of science is apparently a big issue when it leads to political consequences. But widespread scientific ignorance is by no means confined just to biology. Consider the Theory of Relativity. Try to summarise what the Theory of Relativity says. What does the equation e=mc ² actually mean? (atomic bomb is not the actual answer).

I managed to get through a 1980s education without the foggiest notion of what these things were all about. Thankfully these days there is the Internet, where autodidacts like me can find these things out for ourselves.

But the next time they do one of these surveys about the prevalance of creationist ideas, I’d love to know what else people do not know as well.

What does this say about the state of our education system? I’m not sure. It is quite possible to have a happy, productive, and fulfilling life in ignorance of the Theory of Relativity, just as many people clearly are happy to disregard ideas by Mr. Darwin. However, I would like to think that any nation which wished to have a well educated citizenry would have an education system which ensured people graduated from it with a reasonable grasp of the scientific principles which explain how the world actually works.

This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
50 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Couldn’t agree more, Scott.

Robert Corr at Kick & Scream, as well as Tim Dunlop, has also had something to say about this issue. His post attracted an incredible 115 comments, with the thread dominated by ‘Creationists’.

http://www.robertcorr.net/blog/2004/11/17/the-balance-of-creation/

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Oh, sorry, just noticed the reference to Rob Corr in Tim’s quote – anyway, the url is above if anyone wants to have a look.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Bloody hell I just skimmed throught some of the comments. Does seem that some people have ‘too much time on their hands’.

Next theory please
Next theory please
2022 years ago

Perspective people:

“In 1993, Shaikh Abd Al-‘Azeez bin Baaz, the supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia, declared that the earth is flat, and that anyone saying otherwise is an atheist deserving of punishment.”

Robert
2022 years ago

Well, obviously that means we need to teach flat-earth theory in geography. We wouldn’t want to imply that superstition should be treated as less substantial than science.

Yobbo
Yobbo
2022 years ago

As I commented on Rob’s blog, people have little cause to complain about the teaching of creationism or even flat earth theory as long as they are happy to keep teaching their own favourite superstitions.

I would put it to you that the teaching of the black armband version of Australian history, Keynesian economics and deep green environmentalism in schools has done a lot more damage than teaching creationism has in the US.

I got a lot more people jumping up to defend the Ehrlich-inspired misanthropists at PETA than Rob got defending God.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Having read through most of the thread over at Robert Corr’s blog, I am certain that none of the people participating in the “debate” had a clue what they were arguing about, or why. Ignorance of science is by no means confined to creationists. There is no single, monolithic “theory of evolution”, nor are all evolutionary theories facts. There are many different theories in a number of different scientific fields, some well-accepted, some accepted but recognized as being only a partial explanation of the data they attempt to explain, others wildly controversial. We only have to look back at the bitter dispute between the punctuated equilibrium proponents (Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge) and their nemesis, Richard Dawkins to see that this is the case.

Unfortunately, in the face of attacks from creationists, evolutionary biologists, population statisticians and paleontologists have tended to close ranks and pretend that there is an undisputed, monolithic theory of evolution. The reasons for this go back to the history of Darwin and his role in British science, the defensiveness of the Anglican church in the nineteenth century, and the determination of some prominent atheists (notably Huxley) to use evolutionary theories as sticks to beat the church with. The “debate” between atheists and creationists has continued at the same low level of intellectual honesty ever since.

For anyone interested in a short book detailing the development of evolutionary theories (note the plural), some of the current range of theories, and the history of the religious dispute (which is what the creationism/evolution debate essentially is, despite protestations to the contrary by ignorant people who think they are on the side of evolution) I strongly recommend Kirsten Birkett’s The Essence of Darwinism (Matthias Media, 2001). Although Kirsten is a Christian, this is the most intellectually honest and rigorous analysis of this issue I have yet seen. Kirsten is a formidable intellect, and not given to making wild assertions. She is also thorough in her research. FWIW, she got comments on the sections of the book describing scientific ideas from Professor Peter Barry (School of Physiology and Pharmacology, UNSW), Dr Ian McFarlane (School of Biochemistry, UNSW) and Dr Shane Ahyong (The Australian Museum), so I doubt if anyone is gravely misrepresented in these passages.

Irant
2022 years ago

Neither Gould/Eldredge or Dawkins disputed the fact of evolution. Eldredge/Gould differed with Dawkins on the tempo and mode but even these arguments do not bring into dispute that evolution occured (Frankly the “feud” between Dawkins and Gould was overblown IMHO and more an ego/transatlanic kerfluffle. See Dawkin’s latest book in which he has a simple and moving tribute to Gould) .

The is an indisputable fact that life has evolved, through descent with modification. We may not understand all the details (but there is a hell of a lot we do know) and people argue about but the core, central fact remains. As Dawkins put it, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”

Evolution Ss the Cornerstone of Biology which is one of the best blogs on the subject around.

Irant
2022 years ago

Bugger. Looks like the link didn’t work. http://evolutionblog.blogspot.com/2004/11/is-evolution-cornerstone-of-biology.html is what I was trying to link to in the last sentence.

Eduard
Eduard
2022 years ago

I am a scientist and I do not happen to believe evolution is valid. As for Einstein’s equations, well they can be either proven or disproven in a laboratory, and some of them have been proven, while others have shown need for modification. However, and I am not a biologist, as far as I know evolution can not be proven and people can merely argue about it and feel that they are correct and that anybody that does not agree with them is a lunatic. Show some equations that prove that it is true, or show at least one example of one species changing into a different species – you know, something with some authority. Until then I guess everyone can just act like a child and call anyone that does not agree with them names and maybe even make faces at them.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

That’s fine, Irant, but observing a phenomenon doesn’t amount to a theory. A theory, to be worthy of the name, must have some explanatory power, must draw together and explain a variety of phenomena etc. There is a range of theories within the broad evolutionary tent, as I said. Some are better than others. The fact remains that this debate is primarily about religion, not evolutionary theory. To see that this is true, let’s look at the views of some eminent evolutionists.

First, let’s take Richard Dawkins. “Science shares with religion the claim that it answers deep questions about origins, the nature of life and the cosmos. But there the resemblance ends. Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.” (From River Out of Eden: A Darwinian view of Life, p.33 – why that title, I wonder?) Dawkins has made a crusade out of attempting to use science to refute religion. Another quote “Faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate”. Dawkins thinks religion should be replaced by science “Uplift, however, is where science really comes into its own. All the great religions have a place for awe, for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation. And it’s exactly this feeling of spine-shivering, breath-catching awe – almost worship – this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide. And it does so beyond the wildest dreams of saints and mystics.”

What about E. O. Wilson, the great sociobiologist? He believed that religion can be properly understood through natural science “Religions are analagous to superorganisms. They have a life cycle. They are born, they grow, they compete, they reproduce, and, in the fullness of time, most die”. He believed that religion springs from our survival instinct, our wish to understand and control life and our desire to protect the tribe. Religion has been invented everywhere, and so must be fundamental to our natures “such inevitability is the mark of instinctual behaviour in any species”. In short, he believed that religion exists because it confers a hereditary selective advantage. Wilson went on to develop the idea that the false mythologies of past religions should be replaced with a factual mythology, based on science. “The eventual result of the competition between the two world views, I believe, will be the secularization of the human epic and of religion itself.” Thus he saw religion being, in effect, subsumed into science.

Finally, Stephen Jay Gould. His contribution was the idea of non-overlapping magisteria. He believed that both science and religion had their proper place, and conflicts between them resulted from one of the magisteria overstepping the mark into the other’s territory “the net, or magisterium, of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and value.”

The bottom line is that the real fight here is over these “questions of ultimate meaning and value”. At the one extreme we have Richard Dawkins, who denies that there is any ultimate meaning and value “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” While opposing this view, theists of whatever religion contend that ultimate meaning and value comes from a supreme being, creator of the universe (whatever their views about the processes of that creation). In between we have the agnostics such as Wilson and Gould, who see some role for religion but are not convinced that there is definitely a creator. And clouding the whole issue we have people who pretend that the debate is about whether or not evolution has taken place.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

PS, that should be “While, opposing this view …” in the last para!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Alex, on another thread, I was talking about anthropological universals. That is – the concept in social science that there are only a very few behaviour patterns, or concepts, that are common to all known human cultures. The argument by the sociobiologist that you mention, E. O. Wilson, appears to suggest that religion is one of these. It is not.

Before developing this argument, I would draw your attention to what I wrote on Troppo about the pitfalls that await anyone seeking to define a religion. It’s here:
http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/007579.html

One of the most telling criticisms of Marx’ determinist theories of history is that he reads back into earlier periods distinctively modern ideas. In order to claim that the economy is always determinate in the last instance, he has to do violence to the social structure, conceptual world and lived experience of past societies and cultures in order to inscribe a distinct concept of “economy” as a separate sphere of life. This doesn’t work even for the feudal period in medieval Europe. It is basically what we call in logic a category error.

Similarly, for religion. All the anthropological evidence suggests that in what used to be called ‘primitive’ cultures the entire worldview made no distinction between spiritual and material dimensions. What we see as inanimate objects and ‘nature’ were imbued with meaning. There was no sacred and profane, and thus no religion in the sense we understand it. Similarly, as I argued on the thread I referred to above, the Western definition of religion is not only culturally specific but also a post-Reformation construct. Prior to the Reformation, there was no equivalent concept and the meaning of the Latin word ‘religio’ and its derivatives was radically different.

Thus, it literally makes no sense to assert that every culture has a religion, unless we judge purely by our own yardsticks, which would have been unintelligible to ‘religious’ figures in our own tradition of the stature of Augustine and Aquinas.

This is the problem with sociobiology more generally – a deficient understanding of history and culture leads it to posit “evolutionist” (or whatever) understandings of particular human behaviours – which when you reflect on it logically, simply hold no water.

Sadly, it’s not to dissimilar to rational choice theories of religion in social science – which should give some sense of the implicit and unstated bias contained within what is putatively scientific fact.

Irant
2022 years ago

Alex,

I’ll admit that I’m more of a Gouldian than a Dawkinsian (whichh makes it sorta of appropriate that I’ve finally got around to reading “The Selfish Gene” as this debate arises). I think that Dawkins goes too far, at times, with his crusade against religion. Even given that he finds a foundation in evolutionary theory for his atheism doesn’t detract from the validity of evolutionary theory as a science (nor do I think evolution = atheism).

On a tangent, I think the Gould’s NOMA has been widely misunderstood. There is a lot of merit in his ideas and I bet Gould would rankle at being called agnostic. ;-)But that is for a another time. And I won’t comment on Wilson as I haven’t read this work yet.

Regarding ultimate meanings and value, science had nothing to tell us. Given that evolution is true it does not tell us the slightest about what meaning life has or how we are to live. Of course that is the real reason behind the debate as creationists often claim that if we teach that we descended from monkeys (which is incorrect) we’ll behave like monkeys.

Personally the idea that the universe cares nothing about us is not an issue. What I find solace in is that I’m alive and I have the ability (as we all do) to investigate and ponder the universe. I’ve said before that if there is no God and other sentient life forms, we are then the universe manifest which is pretty awe inspiring in my book.

You are right in that there is a relgious element to the debate. However, even given some of the metaphysical blubber from Dawkins etc there is one thing that is indisputable. Creationism and/or Intelligent Design is not based on science. They brought religion to the table first.

As a rank amatuer regarding the philosophy of science (I know it shows) Eduard’s comments are interesting. My understanding of science is that it never sets out to prove anything. Science is always provisional in that it offers data and theories to explain the data. And even when, say Newton is stood up by a certain 20th century upstart, the idea that Newton was “wrong” grossly distorts the progress of scientific knowledge.

simon
simon
2022 years ago

Alex I actually think the debate is not about religion or evolution but about relative spheres of authority and to a lesser degree bias. Some have argued let science have authority over matters factual and theories concerning this world let religion have authority over the next.

If find it your stance interesting. I’m not qualified to debate over the strengths or weaknesses of the theory of evolution so as a lay person interested in science I try to find out what are the consensus views of main stream scientists qualified in their fields.(with a little bit of common sense and critical thinking thrown in) I do this by going to respected science journals, magazines and popular science shows. (American Scientific, New Scientist and the ABC’s The Science Show etc)

When I find a overwhelming consensus on matters like the Theory of Evolution by biologists or even a majority consensus on Global warming, by the worlds leading climatologists I tend to give them a bit more credence than individuals out side these fields interjecting with their 2 cents worth. You would have heard of extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.

The fact is if creation scientists played by scientific method rules there wouldn’t be an issue. But these people don’t change their theory to fit the facts they fit/change/misrepresent/ the facts to fit their theory. It’s about intellectual honesty and these guys don’t cut the mustard.

BTW a short story should illustrate what relevance this can have for even the most highly skilled and educated in our society. I remember reading

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Goodness me, I seem to have really started something!

Mark, interesting comment re “primitive” worldviews seeing no distinction between spiritual and material dimensions. Not sure that it invalidates Wilson’s view that all societies develop religion, though. Consider this sequence of worldviews: 1/ Early man: no distinction between self and not self – basically the same as most other animals (also possibly how infants see the world). 2/Recognition that self and not self are different. 3/ Recognition that self and body are not the same. 4/ Recognition that other things may have non-material qualities – representational art. 5/ Imparting of special “magical” properties to some aspects of material world (eg animism) 6/ Manufacture of artefacts to which special “magical” properties are imparted (idols) 7/ Conception of entirely non-material being with “magical” powers, including creation ex-nihilo (Judeo-Christian God) 8/ Conception of material world created by non-material being who, however, does not interfere with material world (deism) 9/ Conception of material world that “just is” (atheism) 10/ Conception that there is no “self” seperate from body/brain 11/ Start to see self and not self as being the same after all. Maybe we are only apes with delusions of grandeur.

Now, somewhere along this path we cross from non-religion to religion, then back to non-religion again. But where? And do we only have religion when we have the formal trappings of what is recognised as religion in the current age?

Irant, I don’t think it’s fair to say that creationists brought religion to the table at all. If we go back far enough in the history of this sorry tale, we find that pre-Darwinian evolutionary theorists, notably Lamarck and Saint-Hilaire, were fierce atheists and opponents of neo-classical biology. When The Origin of Species was translated into French, it was seen as supporting Lamarckian evolutjon as well as political progressivism, materialism and anticlericalism. Then of course we come to Huxley, who wanted to use Darwin’s theories (which, by the way, he doubted the truth of himself) to attack the church. You need to understand some of the background to understand why. The Anglican church at the time was a very powerful organisation, full of corruption, people with no active faith taking clerical positions simply for the attractive income they generated, etc. Far worse than we can even imagine today. Barchester Towers is actually quite a mild depiction of what was going on. Of course Huxley was also an atheist, and saw an attack on the church’s beliefs as a way of attacking the institution he despised. Unfortunately for the church, they had hung their hat on the natural theology theory of William Paley. Paley used the analogy of finding a watch, and being able to see from the intricacy and efficiency of its design that the watch had a maker. (You may be familiar with this story from Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, which also attacks natural theology). When Darwin provided an alternative explanation for the complexity of the natural world, Huxley saw the opportunity to use it against the church, which had championed Paley’s view.

If we consider what happened a little further on down the track, we find that the series of booklets called “The Fundamentals” which gave fundamentalism its name, actually present quite a positive view of evolution, in articles by B. B. Warfield and James Orr. However, their view that Christianity and a creator God can be harmonised with an ancient earth, the fossil record and evolutionary theism do not seem to have cut much ice with their atheist opponents. Fundamentalists seem to have reacted by “circling the wagons” and retreating to a narrower sphere of debate. Hence the current phenomenon of “creation science” and the pleas for equal time.

Simon, I’m not proposing that creation science advocates are playing fair. I simply commented that I didn’t think most people come to this debate with any knowledge of the real issues and that that applied just as much to the pro-evolution camp (if I may call them that) as to the creationists. As I have said in at least two posts so far, there is no single “theory of evolution”, so its a bit hard to debate its strengths and weaknesses. Presumably when people use the phrase what they really mean is natural selection, which is one of the proposed mechanisms by which evolution takes place. However, to quote Gould “selection cannot suffice as a full explanation for many aspects of evolution, for other types and styles of causes become relevant, or even prevalent, in domains both far above and far below the traditional Darwinian locus of the organism. These other causes are not, as the ultras often claim, the product of thinly veiled attempts to smuggle purpose back into biology. These additional principles are as directionless, non-teleological and materialistic as natural selection itself – but they operate differently from Darwin’s central mechanism.” (BTW, by “ultras” Gould means ultra-Darwinians, his term for Dawkins and other adaptationists.)

This is not to deny that natural selection has considerable explanatory power. But it does not explain, by any means, all that we observe in nature or in the fossil record. There are other theories that explain some of these other things, for example population genetics has provided a compelling account of the role of neutral (ie non-adaptive) changes in the evolution of nucleotides. There are many other phenomena for which there is currently no scientific explanation. For example, why are there so many species of beetles? And the biggest question of all, why is there life? So yes, natural selection is a good theory, but not by any means as monolithic and unassailable as the simplistic assertions of some would have us believe.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

The key, Alex, is what is understood by the term ‘religion’. As I’ve argued, to stretch it to cover all the sorts of societies you mention is to render it too unspecific to be meaningful. The notion that religion progresses from animism to polytheism to monotheism is also thoroughly discredited in recent scholarship in anthropology, sociology and religious studies. There’d be a good argument to be made that many New Age beliefs (contrary to their own rhetoric – not products of “ancient wisdom” but very much late modern) inculcate animist beliefs.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

BTW, there are two further aspects of this issue that I’d like to comment on. First, going back to your original post, Mark, I notice that you describe Tim Dunlop as “complaining about the prevalence of creationist views”. Funny, we never hear people complaining about the prevalence of animist views among some tribes in Indonesia or Laos. In fact, the anthropologists are always telling us that we should treat the worldviews of these people as equally worthy of respect as any other, including secular western values. So why is the same respect not extended to tribes with creationist views in our own societies? Could it be that such “primitive” views are not respectable for us white folks? Do I detect a strong whiff of cultural imperialism/racism?

Second, I note with amusement that the most passionate proponents of each side of the debate seem utterly convinced of the compelling truth of their own views. If they are so convinced that their beliefs are compelling, why would they care if the opposing belief was taught to schoolchildren? Surely the stupidity of the opposing view would be self-evident?

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

OK Mark, I’m not suggesting that all the scenarios I posed constitute religion. What I said was that somewhere along the line, we progressed from no religion to religion, then back to no religion. What I was getting at was exactly the question you’ve raised in your response, ie what exactly do we mean by religion? Be interested to see what you mean by it.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Alex, you might like to direct your first point to Scott as he’s the author of the original post.

On the second point, the difficulty with the ‘creationist’ argument is that it’s not amenable to reason. There’s an incommensurability between rational argument and faith-based assertion. The problem with teaching kids biblical ‘theory’ is that as anyone who knows anything about the psychology of education and cognitive development knows is precisely that the development of higher-order reasoning ability is something that requires training. Those of us who’ve been well educated are able to spot a fallacy. Most school students, until the later years of education, simply do not have the mental equipment to discriminate. That’s no reflection on anyone’s intelligence – just a recognition that the evaluation of competing arguments on the basis of reason is itself a learned skill. Teaching kids nonsense as a “competing truth” will do nothing to develop reasoning abilities.

Scott, I think, is suggesting that education must be based on rational grounds. I thoroughly agree. If people want to teach “creationism” in voluntary RE, I have no objection. However, I would be more comfortable about our society if religious based schools were to conform to a curriculum that teaches reasoning ability rather than acceptance by blind faith.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Alex, see my previous post for an answer.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Sorry, Alex, senility and/or red wine are destroying my memory. My thoughts on the definition of religion are actually at this post:

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/007549.html

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Damn,
just when I think I can attempt to say something that even sounds wise Alex hets up and beats me to it.
I echo almost all his comments and particularly Kirsten Birkett’s book.

At the risk of repeating my self continuaaly on this topic.
Genesis1 is about why and for whom the world is created not how otherwise we would have got a detailed description.

Focussing on how means you miss the main reasons of the chapter.

The Fundamentals which was the origin of the expression fundamentalist had an impressive set of writers.

Some of themn saw NO contradiction between Darwin’s theory and the Bible.
I admit to being agnostic on the topic.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Mark, sorry about taking your name in vain. Scott, over to you. What are the reasons why people are willing (indeed eager) to be tolerant of (eg) animist beliefs in Indonesian tribes, and so unwilling to be tolerant of creationist beliefs in western tribes?

Mark, thanks for the link re your thoughts on the definition of religion. I’ll digest that when I have more time. On the other issue I raised, the point I was trying to make was that most of the people arguing in favour of an evolutionist perspective are equally unamenable to reason, and are also generally arguing from a position of considerable ignorance about what evolutionary theories actually entail, what predictions can be drawn from them, what data they do and don’t explain, etc

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Alex- that’s easy; if the creationist views cause people to vote against left-wing parties, then it becomes a political issue. That is sort of the point of the post- you do not see the same concern about general ignorance of the principles of physics.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

alex
it’s simple. i don’t give a shit about the animist beliefs of indonesian tribes because it’s not going to affect the quality of schooling in australia.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Thanks, Scott. I agree there is a strong political dimension to the debate, as indeed there has been from the beginning (see my earlier comments re Lamarck, who was a strong supporter of the French Revolution, and Huxley). But I also see another dimension which I would describe as anti-theist rather than atheist. Judging by what he has written, it would not be unfair to describe Dawkins as anti-theist.

On the issue of implications for the education system, while in principle I agree that everyone should be taught the basics of how the world works, there are some practical difficulties. I think the generally low level of the evolution vs creation debate is indicative of how poorly most people have attended to their studies! The debate on Rob Corr’s blog exemplifies what I mean.

Neither side seem to have much grasp of the scientific issues, nor do they seem terribly interested in applying logic to the issues in a dispassionate and fair manner. Of course, I exempt from that description the many scientists such as Gould who have generally behaved responsibly. I think they should continue their efforts to inject reason into the debate. But their task is not made easier by polemicists with an axe to grind.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Mark, I’ve now had a chance to check out your post on religion. Good post, I heartily endorse your last para (reproduced here, to save others chasing it up).
“But for those who are concerned to uphold the normative separation of religion and politics (and I’m one of them) are the only alternatives a flight into a reverse dogmatism (as I think people like Philip Adams implicitly suggest) or a resignation – with Gray – that we need to acknowledge the place of “mystery” in politics? I’d argue for a third alternative – a reclamation of the humanist and critical scepticism associated with that great writer of early modernity – Michel de Montaigne, a wry and ironic but passionate scepticism about all claims to absolute certainty and a resolute desire to subject all dogmas to reflection and argument, including one’s own.”

Later in the thread, I noticed a comment by Irant that seems particularly appropriate in the context of the creationism/evolution debate “at the heart of dogmatism (whether it be belief/non-belief) is a fear that one’s convictions are wrong.”

Also checked out your post on Wicca. Enjoyed that very much also.

simon
simon
2022 years ago

Alex I have no problem with a healthy sense of scepticism

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks Alex – I’m meaning to do a post on Montaigne sometime…

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Simon, I fully agree. What I’m saying is that those who are debating the issue on the evolutionist side (as well as those on the creationist side) are lacking both the healthy scepticism and the respect for others’ views that I consider desirable.

My own view is similar to Homer’s. I believe that there is considerable evidence supporting natural selection, and that it is the best theory we have at the moment regarding how species evolved. However (and this is where I differ from the anti-theists) I do not believe that the theory of natural selection precludes belief in God. Nor do I think that the anti-theists have presented any evidence that it does so, despite Dawkins’ assertions to the contrary.

As someone whose position is somewhat in the middle, it pains me to see the dogmatism and inflexibility of those at the extremes of this debate.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

alex
i don’t have a problem with belief in god – i think that issue is really outside the realm of testable proposition. but it did sound as if you were giving the creationists more credence than they deserve.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Jason, I’m sorry you feel that way. Obviously I don’t agree, though I’d be interested to know what I wrote that made you think that.

I’m not impressed by creationists, if you mean by that those who espouse Creation “Science”. I agree that their approach to science is deeply flawed and in essence fraudulent. However, I’m equally unimpressed by Dawkins and others who push the view that the theory of natural selection and modern cosmology prove that there is no god. This is equally fraudulent, and Dawkins, like most atheists, seems to be driven by the need to deny something in his past (could it be relevant that he attended an Anglican boarding school in his teenage years, I wonder?). For more analysis on what drives atheists, it’s worth going back to Mark’s post about the John Grey article dealing with this topic. http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/007579.html

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Jason, I’m sorry you feel that way. Obviously I don’t agree, though I’d be interested to know what I wrote that made you think that.

I’m not impressed by creationists, if you mean by that those who espouse Creation “Science”. I agree that their approach to science is deeply flawed and in essence fraudulent. However, I’m equally unimpressed by Dawkins and others who push the view that the theory of natural selection and modern cosmology prove that there is no god. This is equally fraudulent, and Dawkins, like most atheists, seems to be driven by the need to deny something in his past (could it be relevant that he attended an Anglican boarding school in his teenage years, I wonder?). For more analysis on what drives atheists, it’s worth going back to Mark’s post about the John Grey article dealing with this topic. http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/007579.html

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Sorry about the double post. First time I tried to post it, I got a screen of gobbledegook.

Alan
Alan
2022 years ago

A non-literalist reading of religious texts is not incompatible with the fact of evolution.

Fundamentalists who question the fact of evolution are only impelled to do it because their religious beliefs are as faulty as their scientific beliefs.

Why can’t they use their God-given brains instead of their mullah/pastor-given attitudes?

If the fact of evolution were dubious, it would be the subject of secular questioning. It isn’t.

saint
2022 years ago

Ditto Alex, Alan and even Homer.

Jason said: “it’s simple. i don’t give a shit about the animist beliefs of indonesian tribes because it’s not going to affect the quality of schooling in australia”

Perhaps not, but understanding the religious beliefs of others certainly affects the quality of your relationships – especially when you work in jobs like mine where you are forever dealing with teams of people drawn from around the globe.
Gets very interesting at times.

Irant
2022 years ago

Alex,

You have a good point and I’ll agree with you on Dawkins (and others) using evolution to push their atheism so that modifies my earlier statement on creationists bring up religion. In the metaphysical debates that accompany the issue extremes are just a bad as each other. The scientific debate (which really isn’t a debate) it is a different story.

However, there is the implication that athiests dominate the ranks of the evolution proponents. This a gross over simplification as there are many activists so to speak who rally against creationism yet hold religous beliefs.

Regarding understanding evolution itself, using Robert Corr’s blog isn’t a great example of the debate. Check out the The Panda’s Thumb for excellent examples of how to counter creationists. The people there are very knowledgable and the comments often just as illuminating as the posts. Natural selection is obviously an important component of the Evolutionary theory and you are right to point out that other components as well. Even with questions unanswered modern evolutionary theory does explain a hell of a lot and has made some outstanding predictions and continues to do so.

I can conceive of the possibility of a new theory that would supplant current ideas on evolution. But such a theory would encompass all that we know now. But as with Newton, being wrong in science is sometimes a matter of relativity.

simon
simon
2022 years ago

Alex we seem to agree on things more than disagree. I for one am a secular humanist/strong atheist and think the J/C God is as mythical as any of the other gods it replaced.

I use a number of different arguments but I certainly cannot prove beyond a showdown of doubt it doesn’t exist.

I don’t think evolution, modern cosmology or anything for that matter will prove the J/C doesn’t exist. But that goes for invisible pink unicorns as well.

mark
2022 years ago

“Funny, we never hear people complaining about the prevalence of animist views among some tribes in Indonesia or Laos. In fact, the anthropologists are always telling us that we should treat the worldviews of these people as equally worthy of respect as any other, including secular western values. So why is the same respect not extended to tribes with creationist views in our own societies? Could it be that such “primitive” views are not respectable for us white folks? Do I detect a strong whiff of cultural imperialism/racism?”

Alex, when Laotian tribesmen start insisting that an animist religious viewpoint be thrust upon the children of sensible people, you can start trying to compare them with modern-day Creationists.

yobbo
2022 years ago

What about when secular humanist fundamentalists insist that their deep green environmentalist beliefs be thrust upon children? Oh, wait, that’s already been happening for 30 years.

Ken Miles
2022 years ago

What about when secular humanist fundamentalists insist that their deep green environmentalist beliefs be thrust upon children?

Do you have an example of a idea taught in a schools curriculum which isn’t backed up in the scientific literature?

Alan
Alan
2022 years ago

A sick troll Yobbo. Environmental degradation happens, as surely as evolution does. Educators (religious and secular, whatever hue of green) who teach this fact have nothing to answer for.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

You’d possibly be appalled, Ken Miles, if you saw some of the propoganda flooding our schools. Many of the more talented teachers have a sense of futility, knowing that anyone who points out the Emperor’s mew clothes aren’t there, will be marginalised, and passed over for promotion, not to mention better classes.
Most have given up worrying about it, and wait resignedly for their superannuation.

simon
simon
2022 years ago

While I’m not sure this strictly keeps to the thread topic it does highlight the topic of bias. Alex & Norman feel free to supply us with examples of deep green propaganda. Or like Michael Duffy and Andrew Bolt you think the world’s environmental problems are a myth and you conveniently ignore mainstream scientists because the reality doesn’t your ideological agenda. Talk about a spade calling the kettle black.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Simon: Norman’s standard debating tactic – ‘If only you knew what I know…’ – is impossible to counter. I wouldn’t bother. You can be confident that no evidence other than the unverifiable anecdotal kind will be forthcoming.

mark
2022 years ago

Well, there’s those textbooks — Al Bundy apparently talked about suffering under such beasts a while back — that do little else but declaim left-wing propaganda.

They may not actually exist, but they’re a dangerous threat nonetheless, and mention of them lends credence to any right-wing rant.

MD
MD
2022 years ago

Very good thread. I’ve enjoyed reading it.

I do suggest, however, that there is third player in the debate that is usually neglected: postmodernism.

“Creationism,” whatever one takes that to be (and I’m no apologist for it), shares certain fundamental assumptions with Western science, which are usually overlooked in the debate (and which actually make the debate possible in the first place).

For example, that the physical world is real; that the cosmos has a coherence and order; that the the human mind is capable of rational thought; that rational thought is useful and beneficial; that the cosmos has been so designed that is it susceptible to investigation by rational thought; and that a rational understanding of the cosmos is both possible and useful.

Postmodernism shares none of these presumptions, and in fact challenges most, if not all, of them.

Hence, postmodernism’s assault, not just on Darwin and his heirs, but on all of Western science and the scientific method. The scientific method, to a postmodernist, is just one more “way of knowing” the world, with no special dispensation over any other (animism, say).

Creationists and your neighborhood scientist share nearly all important and fundamental views about reality, except one: how it began. Otherwise, they are in nearly total agreement. Creationists even try to use “science” and its methods to their own benefit. A postmodernist would sneer at that concession.

To a postmodernist, the scientific method is an artifact of western logocentrism, a particularly virulent result of patriarchy, rationalism (pronounced with a sneer), and the fiction of “reason.”

I agree, “creation science” uses a facade of rationalism in the pursuit of what is in the end irrational (an article of faith). But, postmodernism denies and derides “rationalism” itself.

simon
simon
2022 years ago

A quick correction I meant Yobbo not Alex.

Ken Miles
2022 years ago

You’d possibly be appalled, Ken Miles, if you saw some of the propoganda flooding our schools.

Do you have some actual examples?

I finished secondary school about a decade ago (in a New Zealand state school) and in reflection, I’m pretty happy with the quality of the education which I recieved. Individual teachers could have been better, but there was nothing which I would descibe as propaganda.