Religion Science

Science (and evolution) is not a matter of faith…

You know what the real problem is with Intelligent Design? You know why it seems impossible to make it clear to people why it is such total bunk? It’s because the battle was conceded years ago in a parallel argument. Here’s my understanding of the philosophy of science – someone proposes a hypothesis, people test it. If the hypothesis is disproven it is thrown aside. Science is a process of throwing away hypotheses that do not work. It evolves and changes. It is as simple a process as working out that spilling hot things on yourself is something you don’t want to do twice, because the hypothesis, “it is nice to spill hot things on yourself” can be swiftly and easily determined to be untrue. Scientific rationality never claims things to be true beyond all doubt, unless they can be proven in self-contained conceptual systems like maths. In science, any theory is there to be disproven. People make careers out of challenging the work of their predecessors. Science is a process of self-critique.

But it’s not just about having hypotheses and testing them. Scientific rationality is also about understanding the nature of hypotheses themselves. Firstly, there may be an infinite number of hypotheses to test – even if they are only subtly different from one another. As such, with the sheer variety of options, it’s probable you will never achieve an answer that you can say is true beyond all doubt. But you can get pretty close. One step is to undergo testing of reasonable hypotheses. But the other is to pass over the infinite number of untestable hypotheses that also exist. These can be passed over because there is no logical basis for giving any one of those theories any credence over any other. Untestable concepts, untestable hypotheses must be treated with enormous scepticism in any rational attempt to understand the world.

Now we get to religion. I am an atheist of long-standing. Other people believe in a god of some kind. I think they’re wrong but it’s their right to make that error. What is interesting is when people try to move the terms of the debate to deny the existence of atheism itself. The argument bascially goes like this – given that you cannot prove that god doesn’t exist, then atheism is as much a matter of faith as religion. In fact, they argue, atheism is not even really a sustainable position – you can only really be agnostic.

This argument is founded on the assumption that one particular untestable hypothesis – no matter how fantastic – is different from all the others, and that we must give it more credence than equally provable ones about space aliens, pastafarian gods and the like. But it is the responsibility of the person promulgating a hypothesis to demonstrate that it is testable and that the results can be repeated. By allowing ourselves to lower that expectation, and to allow people to conflate a process of testing with a process of justifying, we’ve made it possible for people to argue that not believing any random theory that someone conjectures on the spot is a matter of faith – as good or as bad as any other theory.

We’re reaping Intelligent Design because we allowed the sowing of a view of ‘science’ and ‘religion’ as parallel activities. They are not parallel activities. They are precisely different activities. They are not two approaches on the same quest for truth, they are two different processes with two different ends. They may be compatible views for people prepared to accept faith as the answer to areas where hypotheses cannot be tested, but that compatibility is predicated on the two world views operating on different levels, in different territories. Intelligent Design and Evolution are not equivalents. They too operate on different levels, in different territories. We cannot be asked to believe Intelligent Design on the basis that it’s as good a theory as any other that hypotheses magic to fill gaps in logic. Nor should we accept the characterisation of the scientific approach as one based on faith. We have to fix that earlier mistake on first principles if we expect to move forward.

33 replies on “Science (and evolution) is not a matter of faith…”

Did you know that majority of the Americans want creationism to be taught in schools? (Check my blog, there is a submission regarding this) This is just sad actually!

In the interest of humor, I will begin by saying, “Amen.”
But, in the interest of actually saying something meaningful, I will post my loud agreement. Intelligent Design exists not as a replacement for or alternative to evolution through natural selection, but as a weak-minded rational for a literal interpretation of the Bible. Intelligent Design and Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution by mutation and natural selection do not (as Tom noted) even exist on the same plane.

This will always be debated no court can decide this issue I hope not anytime soon with the new justices are picked. I think you should teach both and maybe another if so the more knowledge the better!!

Jessica that’s exactly my point, if you teach Intelligent Design then you’ve conceded a key point that we should not concede – that science is just a matter of faith and that there is (1) no difference between approaches which build upon themselves, challenge themselves and change in response to evidence and (2) approaches which assert that one untestable hypothesis is more special than all the others and should simply be accepted because it correlates with received wisdom. Science is not just a matter of faith. It’s a simple system of reasoning.

Hear Hear!! I love to read clear, concise arguments for science/atheism.
While I agree absolutely with the notion that science is, as you say, “a simple system of reasoning”, and it is science that has contributed to my devout atheism, I would also like to say that atheism can have an equivalence to theism so far as believe goes.
What I mean is when someone asks me if I believe in god, I don’t just say ‚Äúno‚Äù, I strengthen that by saying ‚ÄúI believe there is no god, no such thing whatsoever‚Äù ‚Äì an important distinction I think. Indeed, I may even consider myself, in the right company or given enough alchomohol, and evangelical atheist.
The problem we atheists have is that scientifically, or rather logically, there is no way I can prove that God does not exist, but my believe is fully falsifiable by having a deity pop into existence in front of me and saying “Hey, I’m God”. Of course she would have to do a number of godly things before I would believe it was not just magic.

I agree. Sceince is all about testable hypothesis. I don’t think there is any evidence out there to rigourously prove a designer (the appearance of design is indirect proof). However, I see many problems with evolution. Firstly, the fossil record is incredibly broken. Second there are many stages of organisms, and organelles, that have no direct descendant, only a posited distant link. Thirdly, evolution works as a mental construct, there is hardly enough evidence to provide the basis for massive speciation(i.e. Lizards change among other lizards (evolve), but we’ve never seen a lizard produce something that isn’t a lizard, i.e. a bird). Fourthly, all of this research into the past is quite untestable hypothesis. Lab science requires one variable in testing. We can only make assumptions about the environment in the past, we can’t be sure of the controls of experiments. And fifth, which I’ve ever heard an answer to before: How does a shrinking gene pool (natural selection causes the death of the weaker, leaving smaller variation among the genes of the species) cause ever diverging species? Wouldn’t the rate of mutation need to be *incredibly* high to keep enough variation among the species? Essentially an equal distribution creates a bell curve. We will also assume that the edges of the curve, due to natural selection, die (it could be the center just as easily, a bell curve distribution is still the result). Therefore the will get smaller and smaller among the species. This is the reverse of speciation. So if geological effects seperate a group, each group will speciate down a tree towards a common organism, more “evolved”, but not more advanced. This doesn’t explain how life is so diverse.

Tricky. Can’t argue with the intent – pushing creationism into science teaching riles me enough I fear I get irrational. A few thoughts jumped out:
1/ If think the more general principal used by science to discount creationism in the way you outline is Occam’s Razor:'s_Razor
As implied in wikipedia – even if you hold it true, there is still room for debate on how it applies.
2/ If you want a truly thorough and well written exposition against creationism and the idea that the wonder of nature implies a divine being then Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchman is excellent.
3/ Sssh. Don’t tell anyone but hardly any of science matches the ideal you espouse. I don’t think a different appreciation of how science works negates the thrust of your argument though. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was, I believe, the seminal work on this. There’s an outline here:
[btw – this work first coined the phrase “paradigm shift”]
4/ As an agnostic with atheist leanings I essentially agree with what you wrote, but I’m not sure it is likely to yield converts. Knowledge is sometimes considered as justified true belief. No wonder it’s hard to split science from strongly held religious belief if that’s where you are coming from.
I think another approach might be to argue on utility rather than truth. There is a scientific method and following it delivers huge technological progress. There is a strong case that teaching creationism undermines adherence to this method – a heavy cost to risk. What perhaps can be allowed is more effort to show how there is room for faith. The example that humbles me is quantum mechanics where your head spins if you look to it to say something about the nature of the world beyond being _merely_ a mathematical tool to make predictions.
I’ll go on too long if I explain where I’m coming from & going. The feynman lectures give good insight into just how odd Quantum Mechanics is if you ponder it being beyond just a prediction making tool: – though that’s just an input for my thoughts.

A few comments, it seems like you have gotten the basic premises of the scientific method wrong (not to say creationism is a substitute for science).
Science does not prove anything. It cannot, based on two points.
First, all scientific studies basicaaly rely on idenitfying correlation not causation. Second, it is not the purpose of science to prove things. To deal with the first point, scientific method as practiced nowadays estimates under certian condiditons if one event corresponds with another event thus giving an estimate of the likelyhood that two events coincide and this is not due to chance. Generally this is based on the statistical assumption that all things in nature perform according to a bell curve. This however does not mean that one event causes another, or on the flipside, that a third event is a cause of both the events. Simple science cannot prove causation but can give an estimate of correlation, or the tendecy for two (or more) events to occur in a certian sequence. This focus on correlation and the inability of science to prove causation is a part of science (second point). It is in the nature of science to disprove things, because it cannot prove things… thus science is a pratical guess. It rides upon the premise perhaps best espoused by Thomas Edison “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.” If you know everything that will not work, you will either be at a dead end or find something that does. The scientific method, thus, is aimed at “disproving” (yes this is subject to the same critisim as “proving”) hypothesis. In fact a law is just a hyposethis that no one has “disproven”, but realize that it is also a hypothesis that no one has proven either.
So summarily, science is our best guess- this is seen in tensions throughout science, like the laws of physics by Newton and Quantum mechanics. This is not to say that science is wrong, its to say that you just inherently cannot prove science right. This is what makes science useful, ironically.
Religion has a totally different aim in my viewpoint, as a prof of mine stated religion addresses what happens to you when you die(Prof K). While I do not totally agree with this, it is insightful if taken properly. Simply it addressess the why we live issue if not the how we live. Perhaps this is better explained by the question ” Why are we going to the store?” “Why” in this case is ambigious. The answer could be “to pick up a loaf of bread” (Religion). Or it could be “we can go to the store because we have a car which has a motor and wheels” (Science). Note the former doesn’t care about the how to get to the store or how a car works and the latter really doesn’t care about the why the car was manufactured or the point of going to the store.
Thus you can say religion and science address different things and perhaps they should or should not be taught together, but certianly they are not the same subject and this should be distinguished to students.
(A thanks to Cosmo for his waggity help. and an apology to those who will find typographical mistakes and grammer errors- spellcheck and peer review spoils me.)

Sorry, but sounds like some of you have the same idealistic notion of science as the fundamentalist Christians do of religion. And the same arrogance: “Other people believe in a god of some kind. I think they’re wrong but it’s their right to make that error.”
This is why the debate does not move forward. Both sides cling to their understanding in fear of budging on their worldview. After all, this touches the core of every person’s belief system and shapes just about every action and reaction a person makes in this world. But the truth is – as experince teaches us about almost everything -somewhere in the middle, where few really want to meet to truly resolve the issue.
The bottom line Truth is that science has not – and can not – prove or confirm an absence or presence of intelligent design. The choice of god or no-god, meaning or no-meaning, is arbitrary, and the arguments and theories on both sides are without conclusive evidence. Like many scientist, this article proposes to throw away the untestable tenets of ID, but continues to cling to its own unprovable conclusions about the purpose of life. Hardly seems fair; definitely reflects a shallow understanding of science today.
In any case, here’s the main problem: in the science classroom, and blatantly in the current scientific literature, there is a real, influential bias towards a meaningless process of cosmological and biological evolution. There is no alternative to balance this view in our public education system.
This underlying assumption of a god-less life has contributed to creating a society overwhelmed with despair, poverty, depression, anger and other social dis-eases. IMHO, it is because, like all diseases, it is out of harmony with the true nature of the universe.
The “church of science” has it own dark secrets about evolution that make it vulnerable to the argument of intelligent design, but it hides these truths in the textbooks and promotes its agenda with the zeal of a Christian evangelist. If it were honest with its facts and theories, there would be no need for the Christian right to hijack the intelligent design argument to serve its own purposes.
The scientific community could clearly point out in its publications that science has not Рand possibly cannot Рdetermine the ontological nature of the universe, and thus direct students on pursuing that topic to other subject areas. But it chooses it protect its holy grail that evolution proves their is no god, therefore science is superior to religious and/or mystical knowledge, all at the expense of honest debate about why we’re here.
I’d love to see required classes in comparative religion/cultures at the high school level; the world needs to better understand each other more now than ever. Being exposed to our wisdom traditions (you know, that type of knowledge rejected by science)with unbiased presentations would be a great thing. Unfortunately, schools have neither the funding, motivation, ideology, nor resources to make this a reality anytime soon. And so atheistic evolution goes unchecked in our educational system, and our wealth of wisdom traditions that offer alternative views on the purpose of the universe are completely ignored.
For the record, I believe in science for understanding how the universe works and for bettering our physical existence. It satisfies my rational mind. I also believe in spirituality for understanding my purpose in life and for bettering my experience of and with the human community in which I live. It satisfies my heart.
The two are not mutually exclusive and for someone to proclaim that I am wrong for believing in God is ludicrous and offensive. I do not claim the atheists are “wrong”, they just choose to believe differently. Besides, from my experience, when push comes to shove, most atheists I know reject a god that I reject as well; they’ve just never been exposed to, or open to, considering a different understanding of “God”. Hell, most Christians would claim my understanding of god to be atheistic!
Granted, for many religion is about “belief” in a human-like super being, but for some of us, mysticism and spirituality are about knowledge; real, direct knowledge of a higher power or consciousness, the kind you get from visiting a New Orleans underwater, vs. the kind you get from reading about or studying second-hand through theories and experiments. But mysticism is brushed off by science as being irrational; much like a person who fails to understand a place they have never been to before and, at the same time, denies that it even exists.
On a side note, it is quite telling that the Big Bang theory was first proposed by a Catholic priest, rejected on said basis, and then later accepted because it is the best explanation with at least some supporting evidence. Implicit in this theory is that there was some thing or some cause behind this first moment of creation. A conundrum that science hides in its closet until hopefully some day it can refute.
Enjoy being an atheist and I’ll enjoy my knowledge of my spiritual nature. In the meantime, let’s find the middle ground to make our world a better place without imposing our beliefs on each other. Although I am not for the recent Christian right leading the intelligent design court action, I am for balancing our class rooms with the view from both sides some how and in some way.

To the last couple of commentators, I have to say – excuse me?! What post are you reading?! To the person who says I misunderstand science and talk about how much it proves things, I beg to differ. I said exactly the opposite and you’ll find that stated in lines like: “Someone proposes a hypothesis, people test it. If the hypothesis is disproven it is thrown aside. Science is a process of throwing away hypotheses that do not work.” and “Scientific rationality never claims things to be true beyond all doubt.”
I want to make this absolutely clear – science doesn’t prove things, science creates hypotheses and abandons ones that can be disproven. Every scientist accepts that the current view of the world that they understand could be superceded by a new one. They just need demonstation that there are things that the current theories cannot describe, or examples where they fail. After that point, it looks further afield towards other models, paradigms – each time looking to see if there are ways that the approach could be tested, normally working on the principle that the theory that relies on the fewest assumptions or unprovable aspects is probably the most plausible. Theories that are unprovable are not rejected out of hand, they’re just considered to be outside the remit of science – interesting as thought experiments, but little more (for scientists) – because there is no more logical reason, there is no more evidence, to believe in an uber-consciousness and power behind all things as there is to believe in mind-control cheese. Religious people feel they have some personal direct experience of divinity that makes it easy for them to see the difference between an uber-consciousness and mind-control cheese. Many scientists are religious as well – and they too feel that they can tell the difference between the two – but they accept that these beliefs, being unprovable and subjective, have no place in science or the teaching of science.
And to the last commenter, I can ask – if you believe in a god and I do not, how on earth can you state that you don’t think I’m wrong?! Of course you do. It doesn’t mean we can’t coexist! It doesn’t mean I can’t defend your ability to practice your religion! But then nor does it mean that I’m going to be stand quietly by and . If we get anywhere, we’ll get there by talking to each other, trying to convince one another, disagreeing with each other and trying to find a higher or better consensus that we all agree with. We’ll get nowhere by just denying there’s a disagreement.
So let’s go through some of the ways I disagree with you – it is not the case that every disagreement is solved by the answer “it’s somewhere in the middle”. Although there may be god in the world, there must still be nothing unfalsifiable in science. If you introduce the principle that ‘even if it’s not a legitimate hypothesis that cannot be tested, it must still be taught and investigated as if it were science’, then you’ve basically destroyed the solid principles of science and left it open for every religion (on one hand) and every paranoid schizophrenic (on the other hand) to start justifying their intuited understandings of the world as science. That cannot stand. It’s like saying that formal logic would be improved if you could just fudge whole bits of it here and there, or that maths would be better if occasionally 2+2=7.
I want to repeat the fact that there are a lot of religious scientists and state again the limits of where science should step. Science is there to generate theories of the processes and to see if it can explore further back to understand first causes. But it’s not there to insert a religious explanation when it can find no other. If it did so, how would it determine which religion to fill the gaps with? And to your statements that science clings to its own explanations of the purpose of life, I’d say that I see no evidence of that! If the theories that are presented seem to you to suggest no purpose for life, then that’s a problem for you. It’s not proven a problem to religious scientists, who simply posit a different root cause, while not taking issue with the processes. All scientists have demonstrated so far is that processes of evolution do seem to be able to happen without external agency. They can demonstrate that there is no need for external agency by talking about what would happen randomly and exploring the probability of changes emerging through natural selection, sexual selection and the like. That there seems to be no need does not prove that a god does not exist – it simply means that it does not prove that a god does exist.
With regards to your comments about comparative religion – I agree. Bring it on. I’m a Classicist by training, I’ve read a lot about the religions of pre-Christian societies. For me, it did nothing but make it clear that most religions are based on helping people come to terms with the world rather than on any evidence for their existence. But there’s a lot of personal value that people can get from the wisdom of these traditions and their attempts to put into words what it is to be human. Teach away. I’d be delighted, frankly. I don’t think it has anything to do with this issue though.
Nor do I think that it’s easy to demonstate that a godless society is any more violent or inhuman than a godful one. I mean, have you read any history? The amount of wars fought ostensibly over religious criteria seem to me to be as bloody (or more so) than anything since. That they seem more cynical is perhaps only because their cynicism has been exposed, rather than concealed in aspirations to meeting God’s purpose or whatever. And frankly, I’d rather wars and violence seemed cynical and depressing rather than noble and aspirational. I think that’s the way to make less people die, not more…
So yes, I will continue to be an atheist, and I will be delighted for you to continue not to be so. And I’m more than comfortable with there being a middle ground in our schools and our minds – let’s just keep it between the teaching of comparative religion and the teaching of science, and not pretend that teaching Intelligent Design in a science class is anything more than an unneccessary undermining of the discipline.

To your one point: “We’ll get nowhere by just denying there’s a disagreement.” Let’s try to define the disagreement.
To start, I understand the integrity of the scientific process that you are defending, and want to make it clear that I am not attacking the theory of scientific discovery; I am a scientist at heart and agree with you on much of this. But to get to the point, it’s this:
Ideally the modern community of science should behave as you say – and I agree – and it should not “prove” anything. Unfortunately, in the real world of academic science, it supports the idea of an atheistic universe void of purpose and meaning. That’s the reality. Open a textbook on evolution. Watch PBS. (Which I enjoy) It is the common myth associated with evolution and perpetuated in our culture by the scientific community. It is one reason why the fundamentalist Muslims hate us; they feel we export atheism with our culture.
I see a great gap between the ideal you support – and with which I honor – and what is happening in the world around me. In our pop culture, Evolution = Atheism; right or wrong, this is as true as O.J. = Not Guilty.
So to me: “Scientific rationality never claims things to be true beyond all doubt.” is an ideal, but not a reality. I did not suggest that you claim science can prove anything, but Joe Schmo on the street does believe this.
If you disagree with this, then we have no common ground to move forward. No problem. And from this statement, I assume you do not: “And to your statements that science clings to its own explanations of the purpose of life, I’d say that I see no evidence of that! If the theories that are presented seem to you to suggest no purpose for life, then that’s a problem for you. . It’s not proven a problem to religious scientists, who simply posit a different root cause, while not taking issue with the processes.‚Äù
First, they don’t cause a problem for me; I have no issues reconciling evolution and an intelligent cause ‚Äì at all. I have a problem with the fact that our children are being taught through all aspects of our culture that science and spirituality are at odds because of the evidence for evolution.
Second, the evidence that is touted as proof of no ID is usually indirect; i.e., with every example of how the evidence supports evolution is the implication that you no longer need an ID to explain how things have come to be. So no, there is no one thing that is hard cold evidence, but the argument for atheism always strings these bits of evidence together to support itself. Case in point: there are several concrete examples of evolutionary evidence in today’s textbooks that have been debunked by even the likes of Stephen Hawking. For real examples of this clinging, read The Case for a Creator by journalist Lee Strobel. (I’d point out these references, but I have the audiobook, not the print version.).
Third, your comment about how scientists handle this is not completely true. Many religious scientists took out a full page ad in a major publication in protest to the atheist leanings of a recent PBS special. Very often religious scientists are treated as second class citizens in the larger scientific community. If you don’t acknowledge this prejudice against religious or spiritually minded scientists, than you are living in quite a different world than my self; many religious scientists can not get their ideas published because of the politics of science. Many “hold the corporate” line to hold on to their jobs. Again, perfect example of the gap between the ideal of science and the practice of science; just as disturbing to me as the gap between the ideal of religion and the practice of religion. For detailed interviews with some of these religious scientists, again I suggest Strobel.
If you can come to agree that this cultural myth exits, then the point of my response stands: This bias is not a fair and balanced presentation of what science knows about our purpose. I am not asking for ID to be taught in the science class; I would like to see the prejudice towards atheism removed from the science class. That’s all. And, again, if you don’t see this, then we must have different experiences in life; as a student of many science classes in many disciplines, the assumption that evolution supports an accidental, random life was both implicit and explicit.
As for the study or religion, I have a degree from Duke in Religious Studies. I have read every major world scripture, and many minor ones. I have studied the Psychology of Religion, Sociology of Religion, Anthropology of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, Science & Religion, History of Religion, Mysticism, and more at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. To be clear, I am not an apologist for religion; it is flawed by the humanity that lives it, just as government is flawed by the humanity that governs it. At the same time, it appears that you learned what you wanted about religion, not the full complexity of religion and spiritual experience.
But I also studied graduate level Developmental Psychology and understand that “meaning” is as essential to human survival as water. As Kegan observed, “if we can’t mean, we perish.” In fact, just a few years ago Time had as its cover article the headline “Gene for Spirituality Discovered by Science?” So while many atheists successfully fill this need with meaning that works for them, many, many people breakdown who do not have the access to education and other avenues for forming functional belief systems. So yes, I believe that atheism contributes (to what degree is open to debate) to social and personal disease. But I’d say the same for fundamentalist religions and many other unhealthy religious belief systems that plague our world.
Most important, my study of mysticism and my own mystical experiences (no, no flash in a sky appearance of a human-like super being, just every day life and awareness) and the recognition of what Huxley calls the Perennial Philosophy, reveal a common wisdom tradition that is grounded in real life human experience, not faith and piety in some otherworldly paradise. Amidst all the world’s religions there is a core set of principles that are common and not antagonistic; this core is always grounded in the direct perception of unity and compassion underneath all physical attributes. Matthew Fox likens it to One River, Many Wells.
In my world, I know all religions can’t be right ‚Äì they are the individual wells, but I also do not think any one religion is completely wrong ‚Äì they must draw some water for the thirsty or they would be abandoned. Atheism, in my mind, is a spirituality – it is a lifestyle based on a belief system about the ultimate nature of the universe. Thus, as a tenet of the religion of Atheism, I have no issues saying that you are “not wrong”; to do so would be like saying ‚Äúyour well does not produce water.‚Äù Obviously, your belief system is nourishing you in some ways as you are alive and thriving. Likewise, I will never say “I am right”, I know I must be wrong about some things, although I may not acknowledge what they are. I also would not say you are right. I start with the assumption that some of what you and I belief is true and some is not. So to take me to the matt for this attitude seems to be your issue, not mine.
In sum, I know this: to function in my everyday life, I prefer tapping both reason and intuition, knowledge of the mind and of the soul. Of course, I think this would be healthy for the world I live in. For me, this is the cultivation of wisdom, which supercedes both science and religion, and is a much need value on our modern world. So yes, I think this has great relevance to this issue.
Hence, to bring this all back around, I’d like to see the atheistic prejudice of science either removed or balanced (and not by the far right) in our pop culture, starting with our educational systems.
In closing, you stated: “And I’m more than comfortable with there being a middle ground in our schools and our minds – let’s just keep it between the teaching of comparative religion and the teaching of science, and not pretend that teaching Intelligent Design in a science class is anything more than an unnecessary undermining of the discipline.” Either ID needs to be taught side-by-side science’s preferred theories when/if ontology is raised in a science classroom, or the bias towards atheism needs to be removed from the science class and pop culture should be raised above its current level of ignorance. When Bill Maher rants against the Kansas situation because “evolution is an undeniably proven fact” – and by this he means every aspect of evolution that supports a history without ID, then more debate and education is needed.
As an atheist, I see no reason why you would want to join me in this endeavor. So I wish you peace.
Curious, are you familiar with Ken Wilbur or Michael Polanyi?

The comments preceding this one have already hinted at this, but perhaps I could put it in my own words. Tom: I completely sympathise with your argument against agnosticism on scientific grounds. Indeed, there is no greater need or reason to be agnostic about the existence of God than about the existence of an eight-foot-cubed piece of spinach and ricotta tortelloni in the Sahara desert. However, you make a conflation later in your argument of which any scientist should be ashamed.

It’s one thing to make an existential argument about God as an ontology — but quite another to conflate “God” in that sense with “religion”. While often related, they are categorically not the same thing. Religion is a personal and social behaviour and structure which exists and persists for a vast number of reasons, many of those completely independent of and oblivious of any existential commitment to God. Indeed, reputedly the most religious nation in the West, America, when subjected to sociological and socio-scientific analysis, actually exhibits remarkably low or vague levels of belief in God. Again, existential commitment and churchgoing are not necessarily related. I go to church regularly because I always have done, but I most certainly don’t believe in God.

This kind of conflation issues typically from a belief that humans are fundamentally rational. I don’t share this view.

The problem with this argument is that we’ve seen things that appear to be random mutations occuring, we’ve seen processes that appear to indicate natural selection in progress (at the microcosmic scale), we have a fossil record of change (at a macrocosmic scale), and we have maths that support the idea that patterns like the ones we see around us could statistically emerge from randomness and environmental pressures. What we have seen no evidence for is a guiding hand, and no obvious gaps in the theory that suggest such a pressure is necessary. Intelligent design as a scientific discipline does not exist – the reasons why they posit a designer are, on the whole, equally explainable without one. No one can disprove the existence of an intelligent designer, but – again – the evidence shows */nothing/* to indicate that there is one. Again – evolution as a theory doesn’t refute the existence of an intelligent designer, it simply indicates that there is no need for a designer to govern this particular process of change.
I’ve met many many scientists who considered themselves Christians, and many Christians that support evolution. The bloody VATICAN supports evolution. Pope John Paul II in 1996 himself stated that evolution is ‚Äúan essential subject which deeply interests the Church”, recognised that the church and science sometimes have ‚Äúapparent contradictions,‚Äù but said that when this is the case, a ‚Äúsolution‚Äù must be found because ‚Äútruth cannot contradict truth.‚Äù There is no real debate here to be have, and the split is not between ‘scientists’ and ‘christians’ but for the most part between a particularly ardent group of individuals in *one* part of the religious right in America and everyone else. They’re the ones characterising this as a battle between atheists and god-fearing folk, and it’s really unhelpful. The scientists I know with faith talk about the creation of the universe, the laws of physics and the way the universe has manifested itself in ways so appropriate to humanity. They don’t need Adam and Eve to be literally true to have faith in something larger than themselves
And sure, there are atheists in the sciences – logic is a difficult path to take and it exposes you to many different and sometimes unpleasant ideas that shake your understanding of the world you’re in – that humans have unconscious impulses, that everything around us was formed inside stars, that we are almost infinitesimally small inside a universe of almost unimaginable age, that we evolved from lesser creatures, that most matter is just space and that at fundamental levels it doesn’t behave like any physical things we understand. For me, the processes I’ve learned about brought me to the conclusion that a religious viewpoint was unnecessary. For others it has confirmed their belief in something larger than themselves.
The point is, how life was created has no impact on whether life has value or meaning. For me, standard religious understandings of god as a creator who sets rules and boundaries seems arbitrary. Can meaning really be imposed by the simple addition of a spiritual element? Where does that meaning come from? Why should I agree with it? But for many other people it seems a necessity. And yet still, how human beings came about seems completely unrelated to the question of where meaning comes from. Meaning could be in aspiration, it could be in struggling towards some other evolutionary goal, it could come from humans themselves, or in the setting of the ground-rules for a universe that allowed life to arise. And your argument that people must derive comfort and meaning to be able to live in the world may well be true, but it doesn’t make what they want to be true suddenly become true. In fact, their need for it to be true makes it less likely – more plausibly a fiction.
I’m sorry that we’ve disagreed so strongly here, but I simply cannot see how the position you’re taking is justifiable on anything other than expedient grounds – people feel a need therefore it must be so. That’s not enough for me, I’m afraid.

The bottom line Truth is that science has not – and can not – prove or confirm an absence or presence of intelligent design.
In the same way that it can’t prove or confirm the absence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Which pretty much undoes any argument you can talk circles around here.
Let’s just nip this in the bud right now: religion is basically philosophy, and as an esteemed lecturer once told me in the final year of my philosophy degree, “philosophy is bullshit.”

Well, this is quite interesting I must say. NewFred makes an excellent point about “religion” vs. God. Bush has taken the christian/protestant religion and is using it in much the same way Rome used their pagan gods. No one of high stature in Rome actually believed those gods existed. They worshipped as a point of unity for the state. Religion *served* the state. Bush is doing the same thing now. He is using religion, in it’s social capacity, to serve the state (something I despise as a Christian). Religion in it’s various forms has become a social/cultural construct. And for all those who are here bashing religion in their short-sighted comments, without it, you’d have a lot fewer hospitals, and a lot more hungry homeless going through your garbage.
To get back on track; when Darwin published his Origin of Species, nearly every established scientist was against him. Even the ones we reverence today:
Sir John Herschel – Bowlby, J., Charles Darwin: A new life, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, p. 344, 1990.
James Clerk Maxwell – Lamont, A., 21 Great Scientists who Believed the Bible, Creation Science Foundation, Brisbane, Australia, p. 205, 1995.
William Whewell
Adam Sedgwick – Ed. Darwin, F., Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol.2, D. Appleton and Company, New York and London, p. 43, 1911.
Andrew Murray
Richard Owen (coined “dinosaur”)
Louis Agassiz
Louis Pasteur – ironically, his Law of Biogenesis is broken in evolution.
As I’ve said before, evolution has many problems that aren’t addressed. Creating complex systems of information require more and more information to be added to the system, not taken away as natural selection does. The fossil line is no where near as clear as Tom suggests (It is clear in microevolution within species). The Law of Biogenesis (inverse of spontaneous generation) is broken in evolution. Science must break it’s own laws to be correct in the case of evolution. Not to mention the more current research into the “primordial soup” paradigm to create life is failing: – all science here.

And there’s the rub. Science never claims to know the ‘truth’ in the way religion does. Clearly there’s always more to be learnt. I’m sure there are many things about the universe which are way beyond our comprehension at the moment. Clearly there are ‘holes’ in the theory of evolution just as the theory of General Relativity clearly isn’t complete. But science is willing and able to deal with this. Religion, it seems, is not.
What I find most objectionable is the unspoken equating of religion & science. This is classic Newspeak (see Orwells 1984) on the part of the religious. (which seems to be something the right-wing specialise in, but that’s another discussion perhaps…) Science is not a religion.

I share in all your criticisms, Jason, and while science as an ideology or discipline may not claim absolute truth, scientists and scientific language often operates in a quasi-religious, quasi-mythic way, and offer assessments of the absolute too readily.
Scientific language is imbued with arbitrary meaning just as religious language is. The challenge for science must, in my view, be to remain loyal to the Modernist project (in a Postmodern age) and cast out the demons that dwell within it. For an example and explanation of these points, just look at the way Richard Dawkins rants in the press against religion, or in his book “The Selfish Gene”, or see Mary Midgley’s “Evolution as a Religion” — published in the UK by Routledge Classics.

The religious, agnostic, and atheist position:
The religious point of view:
“I have an elephant in my living room. You can’t see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, or taste it, but I know it’s there”
The agnostic point of view:
“I can’t see, hear, smell, touch, or taste the elephant, but it may well be there”
The atheist point of view:
“There is no elephant in his living room”

Lets just be honest about one thing. I am NOT and atheist and I firmly believe in heaven and hell. I also am a strong believer in God! But when this world ends, whether as is predicted in the Bible, or however other people would like to predict it, I am in a win win situation. How can I lose? If I am wrong and the rest of you atheists are right about there being no God, then I have lived a fun fulfilled live that I can be satisfied with. But if in fact there is a God and I am right about the decision I have made to live my life for him, than you all lose! According to the Bible all those who do not believe will perish and spend eternity in hell. You may laugh at me now but what if the Bible is truth? It would be a great loss on your part!

Most people are not fortuned with a math and physical science background. Thus they believe creationism can not be tested when in fact that is the part truth. Anything which has a perfect antithesis which can be disproven, can be proven true. Likewise, a creation model can not be directly proven but if one considers the negation, they will encounter a number of contradictions which make an entirely creator-less existence impossible.

The issue that baffles me is when the scientific community dismisses “Intelligent Design” on the grounds that it is “unproven” while embracing facets of string theory wholeheartedly. I get a kick every time I see scientists try to explain dark matter: “We can’t really measure it, but hey, it is out there. . .” Funny, I remember hearing the same thing from my Catholic School teachers when they tried to explain how “God” fits into our first science class lesson on the empirical method.

Yes except no one does that, and your characterisation is unfair. For a start, no one argues that intelligent design is unproven, they argue that it is untestable, and that observable phenonema like weaker mutations dying out, selective breeding and the existence of mutations make a divine hand in the development of species apparently redundant. Intelligent design is as unproven as the existence of invisible puppet penguins, and also as serious a theory.
String theory is, in fact, NOT taken as a matter of faith, and neither is the existence of dark matter. Both are a function of people proposing a theory (quantum physics, general relativity) that can be directly tested in a laboratory and which have yet to be disproven. String theory is one of several proposed hypotheses attempting to unite two theories and if one piece of evidence manifests itself that goes against it, the theory will change and refine itself or be abandoned. Dark Matter is simply a name for the physical substance that math predicts should be in existence, because the rate of expansion of the universe (among other things) doesn’t appear to be concordant with our sense of how much matter exists. As a consequence a massive amount of intellectual effort is going into attempting to discover whether or not it exists, what it constitutes or whether there is another factor going on.
These things are not prescribed truths – they are testable theories, build on mathematics and observation and if – like Newton before them – they appear to fail under the weight of evidence, they will be abandoned and new, better theories will rise to take their place. Each round of theories will describe the universe in better and better ways. The Intelligent Design theories do not put themselves up for that kind of scrutiny, and do not provide criteria whereby they can be challenged. Therefore they ARE dogma, stated opinion and belief rather than a critical interrogatory perspective on the world.

Why doesn’t anyone try to rebutt/discuss/acknowledge anything that JohnO offers as evidence against evolution??? I think he makes some well laid out points. In particularly his fifth problem with evolution.
“And fifth, which I’ve ever heard an answer to before: How does a shrinking gene pool (natural selection causes the death of the weaker, leaving smaller variation among the genes of the species) cause ever diverging species? Wouldn’t the rate of mutation need to be *incredibly* high to keep enough variation among the species? Essentially an equal distribution creates a bell curve. We will also assume that the edges of the curve, due to natural selection, die (it could be the center just as easily, a bell curve distribution is still the result). Therefore the will get smaller and smaller among the species. This is the reverse of speciation. So if geological effects seperate a group, each group will speciate down a tree towards a common organism, more “evolved”, but not more advanced. This doesn’t explain how life is so diverse.”
can anyone address any of his points?

The reason is that they’re terrible points. Let’s be clear – each child has half of the genes of each parent. For any species to exist in the world successfully without genetic defects coming to the fore, there has to be a relatively large population of those creatures, each slightly different from all of the others. Each child then is a mix of different genes from a wide spread of variation and the combination there alone is enormous. Given that there’s enormous variation and completely new combinations of genes in each generation, there’s always going to be a push towards variety, albeit variety within constraints. Also the insane speed you’re talking about is actually monolithically slow! And it’s not like evolutionary advantage only operates in one direction. We have humans that are stronger than average, humans that are cleverer than average, humans that are more resistant to pain than average, or are more determined. Each of these traits is an advantage in a different direction. The sheer variety of possible combinations and available sucessful traits keeps things interesting.
I would imagine speciation occurs for a whole range of reasons, but let me give you a good example – a successful species comes to dominate its niche in the ecosystem, is not put under a lot of pressure from predators and as a consequence proliferates and extends itself. A small number of these creatures end up on an island without connection to the rest of the continent where there is a change in the environment, meaning that there’s a material advantage to being small – a pressure that the other creatures don’t face. The larger creatures are then less likely to successfully breed, and the species on the island gradually becomes smaller. At some point many thousands of generations later the island and the mainland reconnect and the creatures are so different that they’re able to co-exist, but not breed with one another. They will then subtly adapt to their different niches by natural selection.
Given that the environment remains totally the same for creatures (including the existence of other creatures and a total filling of the evolutionary niches at their disposal), I think it’s highly likely that you get creatures just optimising themselves to fill those niches. But how incredibly unlikely is a situation where nothing ever changes!? And the same creatures in different places will be changed in different ways.

Thanks, Tom for a very interesting site and a great run on this thread. I do enjoy the dialogue. I agree with Joe that a discussion of the work of Michael Polanyi would be very helpful for this thread. The underlying pulse of this discussion has centered on issues of epistemology within the scientific and religious enterprises. I think your portrayal of science is limiting. Science does not simply throw out what it is no longer confident of and retain theories with some kind of “pending discard” label. There is a sense of real knowing in the scientific pursuit of knowledge. Relativity produced Hiroshima… science in ash and death. Scientists are not just a bunch of agnostics standing around hoping that their theories are not excommunicated, no they seek proof. The fact that scientific revolution upheaves these proofs from time to time does not make medical science, for example, a tentative commitment to the POSSIBILITY that scientific research has yielded potential cures. The results are hard and fast… either the injection cures or it doesn’t. But our fairly recent awareness of the history of science turning past knowledge into misunderstanding (see Thomas Kuhn) is opening a new humility in science. We know, as you pointed out, that we can be wrong. We don’t hold on to the hammer of science so tightly. That doesn’t mean that we don’t drive nails with it. I agree with Joe (see September 4, 05 post)that the atheistic bias in science is not in keeping with the scientific quest for truth. For 300 years scientific minds talked about the sciences removing the need for faith in a Creator. The God of the Gaps was not going to be needed when science filled the gaps. The assumption was that God was the “everything we can’t explain” drawer in our dresser of beliefs. I think that is a terrible oversimplification of religion, although it does point to a genuine phenomenon seen in the religion of Enlightenment era Christians. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are not religions of the God of the Gaps though. God was not primarily the “everything we can’t explain” deity. He was rather seen as a dynamic character in the narrative of history. WHO he was was far more important than WHAT he did. What He did was only important in so much as it revealed WHO he was. We have imported western understanding into these religions… they are all originally Eastern religions. They sought not to inform and clarify, but to reveal a character in the story of life. Why is this relevant to the posting here? Well, in a sense I agree with you that the argument has pushed religion into a non-religious debate. Christians in particular (and I am one)have taken up a crusade against the scientists because of a perceived threat to their metanarrative. The clash is really one of an Eastern religion becoming part of a western culture. Jewish minds meeting Greek minds all over again. And because the Greek mind is concerned with utilitarian detail and logic rather than wisdom (applied reason/rationality as part of a wholistic practical mode for living well in body, mind, spirit) the Hebrew mind finds itself in a foreign debate. All of a sudden the hebrew mind, which is primarily relational, sees the scientific talk about Creation as an affront to the Creator and engages the debate in that way. The other option, the more favorable one for a Christian/Hebrew would have been to say: while I affirm the importance of the existence of a creator, I understand that this is a discussion of the mechanics of the origin of the species, not a debate about God. He could use whatever mechanics He wanted (supposing he exists). Unfortunately, the agenda of many ID folks is not to enter into dialogue about these mechanics, but rather a continuation of the culture clash… taking evolution debate to be a religious issue. Now, I do think it can alter religious positions, but it is not the cornerstone of faith in a personal God. What is important and ought to enter into this discussion is the actual data that does enter into the debate. For example, the conditions for evolution to even be a possibility are so precise that we find ourselves in a very unlikely scenario (existence/life). Scientists and philosophers are calling this the “anthropic principle”. Look it up. This is the data that begins to make ID an issue for science. The key is to not conflagrate ID with a necessarily deistic position. There is a big difference between looking at scientific data and saying “we see structure and order that shows evidence of guidance towards and end goal or design” and saying “God made the world because the Bible told me so”. The first keeps the dialogue where you are arguing that it ought to be… pursuit of scientific knowledge of the way things work. The second is kindergarten Bulverism that pushes an agenda (granted I believe in the agenda but the method sucks and is wrong). The first is viable ID position that ought to be addressed in our education. Famed evolutio proponent, Stephen j. Gould, has even conceded lately that the old pictures of the ape slowly walking erect are wrong, there are much more drastic jumps in the metamorphosis as we see it in the fossil record. He claimed in a film I saw in 1999 that newer models of evolution see some mutation as guided biological response to threat that drives a species toward survival, and thus the jumps in the fossil record. Now, that sounds like a gasp to me, but if we assume it’s true, we have a biological principal of not mere survival ofthe fittest, but of guided adaptation. WHY? HOW? How does a species adapt PROACTIVELY and Unconsciously towards a more durable corpus? That seems fairly mystical for a respected scientist.
I have always had this question and I would love for somebody who knows mor about this to answer it for me: Natural selection is accomplished through the four F’s: Feeding, Flight (escape), Fighting, and F***ing. The weakness or absence of any of these abilities endangers a species. That is about as basic as Natural Selection gets. SO, my question is: How does natural selection then account for the deveolopment of NECESSARY sexual reproduction? It takes two to reproduce in most species, and they have to successfully find each other and copulate, so how does a species survive the obviously incredibly long process that it would take to develop sexual organs? What would the process of hermaphroditic or Asexual reproduction look like in transition? How does that mandatory piece of the survival of a species become mandatory? How does the species endure if genders are not evolving at the same rate? What about compatibility within a species? Dogs can breed with dogs, but if the mutations are actually creating new species with the kind of drastic jumps Gould talks about, how do the genders remain compatible in breeding as their species evolves? I would love to hear some answers for these questions as I’ve never come across any discussion of this in my limited research.
Summed up:
We need education about the Anthropic Principle.
We need education about what pieces of the theor y of evolution are still contested and being developed
We need education about differing epistemologies: East/West thinking, Aesthetic and ideological truth in concert with the best in rationalistic/scientific thought. We need to teach the debate… let the many voices be heard in the classroom rather than offer one point of view. One can posit “THIS ID IS thouroughly rejected by the scientific community for the following reasons, but is an active discussion within our culture and therefore part of your education. I don’t see how THAT would be harmful. Thanks for your responses.

I think Corrigan Clay makes a good point, but statements like “THIS ID IS thouroughly rejected by the scientific community for the following reasons, but is an active discussion within our culture and therefore part of your education.” belong in current events, not biology.
I believe people like to muddy this issue by introducing a lot of disciplines that have nothing to do with “science” as the world sees it.
– Science is not the study of truth or existence (philosophy)
– Science is not the study of popular opinion and norms (sociology)
– Science is not the study of the super natural (theism)
– Science is not a democracy (politics)
Science is the study of how the world and universe works.
Scientists don’t care about all of this crap, and as well they shouldn’t.
It’s really that simple.
Anyone who challenges something in science with any bias from any of the previous disciplines is just presenting a straw man argument.
This is why religious scientists are seen as “second class citizens”. The fact that someone puts the two words together says they are just pushing an agenda.
What’s the easiest way to make a crack pot scientist? Have them hold some theory that they can’t prove.
Think about all the crazies out there that call what they do science. Pick whatever belief structure you believe in, twist it into something that is totally the reverse, and you’ll find someone calling themself a scientist pushing their agenda.
There’s no wonder why many people have some twisted view of what science really is.
It’s interesting that scientists can still go to church on Sunday and have no problems with any of this. They must not be too smart.
Why would someone who is genuinely interested in trying to figure out “how things work” as their life long profession care about someone’s holy war?
Evolution is the widely held theory by scientists concerning how life developed on this planet.
Saying about else about evolution has nothing to do with science. It’s just political, zealot spin. We pick out some theory and make a big deal out of it.
And since we’re doomed to repeat history, I remember some guy named Copernicus that had similar problems hundreds of years ago.
Fundamentalists and zealots have problems with science. They have problems with it because it infringes on their turf that they have spent thousands of years building myths upon. Their reasons aren’t that important.
ID’ers are political, nothing else. The concept of ID belongs in Philosophy if it belongs anywhere. It’s too bad the philsophers wrote thousands of pages on ID-like concepts during the scientific revolution.

I think the west has an unduly level of taboo on intelligent theology.
It seems to me that you begin to waver on the same level of your fanatical opponents: you turn an argument against the theory (albeit, weak theory) of ‘Intelligent Design’ into an argument for something entirely unrelated: ontological debate.
Please do not confuse a stance on ‘athiesm as religion’ with one on Intelligent Design. Because you can end up offending a lot of rational religious individuals, who would otherwise be glad to enjoy a discussion.

Why does this discussion alway devolve into God or evolution. Why can’t evolution be the method by which God created man? Why must I be Godless if I believe in evolution? And, of course, why does creationism imply God? If we were created by God or little green men they should have left some evidence that can be put to use proving that hypothesis. (You know, kind of like the big bang. Happened a long time ago, but we still see evidence of it today.)
Fun fact of the day: When Newton introduced his Law of Gravity to the Achedemy of Science, he stated “hypothesis non fingo.” (I feign no hypothesis). Newton’s Law of Gravity (which Einstien disproved but is none-the-less still considered a law) provides no mechanism for gravity. It is mearly an equation that works so well that noone (except Einstien) questioned it.

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