Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I am not a biologist, but....

When it comes to the evolution/creation debate (which most scientists see as a political/cultural debate, not a scientific one), I am best described as a creationist. So now you know. I don't waste my time trying to come up with models to explain creationism or miracles such as the global flood, because an inherently miraculous and supernatural event is, well, supernatural. Meaning that science, which is a tool for understanding the natural world, doesn't help there.

So I think many creation scientists are wasting their time. I'm all for looking at the Earth to learn more about the flood, but I don't sit and worry about how it happened. If it happened, and I believe whole-heartedly that it did, then it was a miracle. Models don't enter into it. Although I do believe that miracles can and do leave naturalistic traces of themselves behind and it's worth looking into those.

I think that scientifically, my position is best described as anti-Darwinist, but even that isn't quite right. The long and short of it is that evolution does indeed happen. It has happened, it's continuing to happen, and will go on happening. Evolution is nothing more than selective breeding, with nature doing the selection for us. But I definitely do not believe that, for example, reptiles became birds, or unicellular organisms eventually led to humans. I do not believe that apes and humans have a common ancestor. I believe that new species do come about by evolutionary processes, but these are not the same processes by which we went from a barren world to a world teeming with whales, puppies, and yeast.

Now, anybody's who's spent any amount of time among actual scientists or on science forums (oh, I forgot to mention, I'm a physics major, currently in my sophomore year, so now you know where to "put" me) knows that the above paragraph is worthy of galaxy-sized levels of scorn from the scientific establishment (sci-stab?). You can Google this if you don't believe me. Creationist scientists are treated like communist scientists were in the 1950s, and that's by other scientists, not by the administrative or political powers that be.

I've been a long-time observer and occasional participant in the creation/evolution wars, and I think I've developed a few analytical points about the scorn that creationists receive that I haven't seen discussed elsewhere, so I'll mention them here:

1) I think a lot of the scorn from the scientific establishment is well-deserved, because most creationists are not scientists but lay-people. Let me explain. The lay-person creationist stance ranges from that of outright hostility to all of science, to those who are well-versed in all of the common critiques of Darwinian evolution but not well-versed in anything else (like actual Darwinian theory), to those who are knowledgeable about science but put bulls eyes on their backs by using a discredited argument (such as saying that Eohippus is the modern Hyrax or by using straw man versions of evolutionary theory), to those who are actual bona fide scientists (including biologists). From PhD to science-hating lay-person, the farther down that scale you go, the more often you encounter Internet-style histrionics and uninformed arguments. These people should educate themselves before talking and tarring all creationists as unscientific rubes.

Probably the most useful thing any creationist could do would be to study evolution the standard, textbook way, or at least books written for the non-biologists but which are from a Darwinist standpoint. Read the critiques that Darwinists are making of what creationists are saying.

2) I think a lot of the scorn comes from the common human error of seeing multiple things as a single thing. For instance, evolution of the "micro-evolution" variety is well-documented by experiment and observation. It is undeniable. Evolution of the "macro-evolution" variety has lots of evidence which is largely circumstantial and has alternative explanations which go entirely ignored by the sci-stab (hey, I'm liking that term more and more). And yes, I'm aware that the terms "micro" and "macro" evolution are controversial, but they provide a useful shorthand.

Where I'm going with this is that there is a two-pronged scorning going on here. On the one hand Darwinists ridicule creationists for doubting evolution when there is all of this evidence (experimental and observational) in favor of "evolution" and they also ridicule creationists for doubting evolution when there is all of this evidence (circumstantial) in favor of "evolution." Most neo-Darwinists do not make distinctions between micro-evolution and macro-evolution (maybe because by dividing evolution into two parts, the real one and the inferred one, it made Darwinism more vulnerable to attack? I'm not sure what made those terms fall out of favor). Anyway, because they don't make this distinction (although they really should for practical purposes, because the latter is merely inferred from cherry-picked circumstantial evidence and the former does not guarantee the latter, it is not a mathematical proof-by-induction), any creationist who says they "don't believe in evolution," when they really mean "I don't believe in common ancestry, or molecules-to-man evolution" then a Darwinist hears "I'm such an ignorant Bible-thumping cornpone I refuse to believe all of that factual experimental and observational evidence," when all they are saying is "I don't believe in something that allegedly happened eons ago, when there is only circumstantial evidence of it and nobody actually observed it."

Refusing to believe in that is hardly far-fetched. Heck, the entire Biblical story of creation, or any ID theory, is based on circumstantial evidence and inference, just as Darwinian evolution is.

The second prong is that people also have the common error of confusing a particular interpretation of the facts with the facts themselves. For instance, all of the evidence for common ancestry can just as easily be considered as evidence for common design (and was, before evolution ever came around), or just because quantum theory seems to be true, that doesn't mean the Copenhagen Interpretation is true. So when evolutionists hear "I don't believe in evolution," the confusion between the facts (fossils, genetic similarities, etc.) that are used to bolster common ancestry and the theory of common ancestry, leads the evolutionist to hear "I don't believe all of those verifiable facts."

People who don't believe obvious facts, like Holocaust-deniers, flat-Earthers, geocentrists, etc., deserved our scorn, and they deserve our action when they hold great political and cultural sway. But evolutionists are so stuck inside their mental box they can't tell the difference between a difference of opinion and a difference of fact. Among reasonable people, facts are rarely in dispute. But particular interpretations of the facts often are.

3) I think evolutionists are wasting energy by trying to keep creation teaching out of schools. Let me say now that I don't want the government deciding on school curriculum, but leaving that aside, I think that if everything neo-Darwinian evolution has to say is true, then there can be nothing to worry about if creation is taught along side it. If you put forward two theories in a science class, and one is true and scientific and the other is phony and unscientific, even most lay-people would be able to distinguish fact from fiction if the science is well-taught.

It's like of like what some people say about sex education, they either hear it in the class room or hear it on the streets. The argument I'm making here is that if I were an evolutionist, I'd be more worried about people hearing about evolution from a one-sided book or web site and becoming involved in creationism that way, then by hearing it proposed as a possible alternative espoused by some people, in a class room setting.

The fear that Darwinists have of competing with creationism in a class room makes me think that they are worried people will opt for creation rather than evolution when it is presented to them, or that the critiques of Darwinian macro-evolution from creation teaching can't be refuted. I'm not saying this to be provocative, that's just how I see it. After all, if the government forced private religious schools to teach evolution, and parents and teachers at these schools objected, wouldn't the gut-reaction from evolutionists be "Ha! They're worried their kids will learn the truth!"

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