Thursday, February 12, 2009

Denying Darwin

Massive ignorance helps

The Tulsa Beacon is disinclined to join the celebrations in honor of the bicentennial of Darwin's birth (and the sesquicentennial of the publication of The Origin of Species). Instead, the Beacon chose to mark the occasion by publishing an editorial decrying the state university's involvement in Darwin Day festivities and the expected arrival of the Antichrist Richard Dawkins as a featured speaker.

The Beacon's editorial writer chose an interesting strategy with which to combat the enthusiasm of Oklahoma's intelligentsia for Darwin's legacy. How better to combat pointy-headed intellectualism than with slope-browed creationism and a display of densely concentrated ignorance and misinformation? By that token, the Beacon editorial is a brilliant success.
Evolution indoctrination at OU

February 5th, 2009

What is the difference between education and indoctrination?

The line between conveying information with an open mind and a mindset that parallels religion is being crossed this year at The University of Oklahoma with a 12-month celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin.

While devoting huge resources to a campaign to “prove” that evolution is not a theory, the scientific brain trust at OU will virtually ignore parallel theories of the origin of man—including Creation Science and Intelligent Design.
If indeed the University of Oklahoma has set out to “prove” evolution, it must be the only educational institution in the world doing so. Scientists don't “prove” evolution. They seek out and compile the results of experiments and field work. Do the results strengthen the theoretical framework in which they operate or do they argue for changes? The framework (the “theory”) within which biology operates is evolution (and has been for more than a hundred years). The Beacon editorial writer is evidently of the “only a theory” school of thought—although “thought” is probably the wrong word. He doesn't know that theories are organizational principles for the organization of observed facts.
OU will trot out Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, to try to convince students and the public that there is no God and science has all the answers.
We can be quite certain that Dawkins will give no aid or comfort to the god-botherers while he's in Tulsa, but we can be just as certain he will not argue that science has all the answers. No scientist argues that. None.

Of course, so far science has all the good answers; that is, the answers that do anyone any good. Answers derived from religion or faith are notoriously weak, unreliable, and disputed by the thousands of contending sects. Pity, that, but true.
Darwin became infamous 150 years ago when he wrote The Origin of Species. He speculated that all life evolved from lower forms and that men were derived from the apes.

His unproven theories were all that the humanist movement needed to attack the Bible and any belief system that hints at the existence of a supreme being.
One more time: Darwin did not say that we descended from apes. He argued that humans and apes have a common ancestor. The ancestor certainly had many apelike characteristics, but it wasn't a gorilla or chimp or orangutan. Could we finally get this right, pretty please?
OU has a website devoted to this worship of Darwin and evolution. It’s clear from the content of that website that organizers believe that evolution is a fact and that if other theories are mentioned, they will be discounted or ridiculed.

Do things change? Certainly. But species don’t evolve into other species. Dogs don’t turn into cats. Monkeys don’t turn into men.
The “worship of Darwin and evolution”? Excuse me while I take a moment to genuflect.

It's not worship, Mr. Editorial Writer. It's acceptance of a successful theory. “Other theories”? Sorry: there aren't any. It's simple: no results, no acceptance. Those who prate about intelligent design and irreducible complexity and curiously warped versions of information theory won't get any respect until they produce some results. That's the reason for the well-deserved ridicule. Sad, perhaps, but completely understandable.
In fact, even secular scientists are doubting the viability of evolution concerning the origin of life. The laws of thermodynamics and common sense tell us that things don’t get better—they deteriorate.
In a word: No. Even the tiny, tiny handful of credentialed scientists who deny evolution know better than to use the laws of thermodynamics. They leave that to the hardcore creationists (some of whom probably also know better, but can't resist an argument that still stirs up the troops).

While we're at it, how about a nice list of those “secular scientists” who doubt evolution's viability? Unless you count a batch of goofy engineers, an addled semi-mathematician or two, and the occasional wacky physician, you don't have any, do you?
The biggest case against Darwin’s evolution is the fossil record. There are no viable transition fossils when there should be millions if you buy into his theory.

Where is the missing link? There isn’t one in the fossil record.
The “missing link”? No “transition[al] fossils”? If we were playing creationist bingo, there's hardly any possible configuration of entries on a bingo card that wouldn't have scored a win by now. The writer has packed so many tired old creationist talking points into one editorial that it must be under tremendous pressure. Surely we must be close to the point of a massive explosion.
Evolution science is not really science but a religion. That is why it cannot stand honest scrutiny or tolerate other views. It takes more faith to believe that men came from monkeys or a primal soup struck by lightning than it does to believe that God created the Earth and mankind in seven days.
Boom! Ka-pow!
Both are religious beliefs. Oklahoma students should be exposed to both theories (including Intelligent Design). Instead, the public school system in Oklahoma has bowed to the pressure of secular humanists and insisted that there is only one theory to explain the origin of man—evolution.
Now we're back to worshiping Darwin some more.
Incidentally, the origin of life cannot be proven by the scientific method, which requires observation and testing. No one was around when life began and no scientist—no matter how many degrees he or she has—has been able to recreate life in the laboratory.
“Were you there?” Ken Ham would be so proud!
Here’s the worst aspect of this story. State tax dollars are going to support the celebration of a mad scientist who infected the world with a new religion that teaches that God cannot exist.
Damn those schools who use tax dollars to teach science when they could be teaching religion! The writer began by asking the difference between education and indoctrination. He is firmly on the side of indoctrination, isn't he?
OU has stacked the deck for humanism and against other religions. Creationism and Intelligent Design should get equal time in this huge “celebration” of Charles Darwin.
That's right: humanism is a religion, too. And see how “equal time” just slipped in? Other creation myths need not apply, though. There's only two theories!
There is a God and that belief is held by the vast majority of Oklahoma taxpayers. Withholding that truth from our students does them a disservice and damages our society.
This just in: Tulsa editorial writer proves the existence of God by simple declarative statement. Nice job! Let me try:

Evolution is a fact. Evolution is a very successful theory. Evolution has no credible competition. Get used to it.

I slipped into imperative mode at the end there, but the simple declarative sentence is fun to write. It's harder to prove the assertions that simple declarative sentences contain, but the content of my sentences derive from a vast intellectual enterprise known as science. The Beacon's editorial writer prefers faith, so in a debate over scientific matters, he loses. Sorry, guy, but science is evidence-based.
When we tell our college students that they are nothing more than animals, why do we act surprised when they act like animals?
Who is acting surprised? Young people have always acted like animals. Of course, it's just possible that Mr. Editorial Writer was a virgin all the way through college and alcohol never touched his lips during the entire four (five? six?) years he was an undergrad. Unlikely, but at least possible. Unlike any of the arguments in his editorial.

13 comments:

William Wallace said...

"Scientists don't 'prove' evolution."

Finally, somebody who understands science. Scientists can only corroborate or contradict theories.

But are they scientists?

When is the last time you saw scientists from other fields making a video glorifying and singing the praises of a dead scientist?

It was just done today.

Strange.

Alex, FCD said...

When is the last time you saw scientists from other fields making a video glorifying and singing the praises of a dead scientist?Two years ago when Carl von Linne, better known as Linneaus, turned 300. The Swedes love him to death.

unapologetic said...

Of course, so far science has all the good answers; that is, the answers that do anyone any good. Answers derived from religion or faith are notoriously weak, unreliable, and disputed by the thousands of contending sects.

Answers about physical reality, sure. But there are other answers...

Luke 6:27-31,37-38:
But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.


I rather think this transcends any one religion, and even religion in general. There are many roads to many essentially equivalent statements, but you can't deny that this is an answer offered by religion, and I think it's a pretty damned good answer. The editorial staff at the Beacon could do to hear it, certainly.

Nick Barrowman said...

Scientists don't “prove” evolution. They seek out and compile the results of experiments and field work. Do the results strengthen the theoretical framework in which they operate or do they argue for changes?

This is Karl Popper's formulation of how science works, but you've expressed it with more nuance than is customary by referring to "strengthening the theoretical framework" versus "arguing for changes". As far as I know, Popper didn't get into assessing the strength of a theoretical framework. In the case of evolution, the overwhelming majority of biologists would say the basic theoretical framework is very strong. But this isn't always easily conveyed to the layperson, which provides a golden opportunity for mischief makers.

When we tell our college students that they are nothing more than animals, why do we act surprised when they act like animals?

The nothing-more-than-animals argument is interesting. I'm currently reading Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? by theologian Nancey Murphy. She argues for physicalism: "we are our bodies -- there is no additional metaphysical element such as a mind or soul or spirit." But hers is a nonreductive physicalism: humans are "complex physical organisms, imbued with the legacy of thousands of years of culture, and, most importantly, blown by the Breath of God's Spirit; we are Spirited bodies."

Now whether this is a useful or coherent position is another matter. I haven't finished reading the book, and I'm still trying to understand her arguments. But it suggests that a more nuanced (there's that word again) view is possible.

RBH said...

Nick Barrowman wrote

As far as I know, Popper didn't get into assessing the strength of a theoretical framework. In the case of evolution, the overwhelming majority of biologists would say the basic theoretical framework is very strong. But this isn't always easily conveyed to the layperson, which provides a golden opportunity for mischief makers.

Well, Popper did talk about "corroboration," which was his way of saying that hypotheses derived from a theory had passed a lot of tests and had not (yet) been falsified. As Martin Gardner notes, though, "corroboration" seems like a way to sneak induction (which Popper hated) into the discourse. When I read Popper and Carnap in grad school in the late 1960s I had a tough time figuring out just how they differed, what with Carnap's "degree of confirmation" and Popper's "corroboration" being (at least as I saw them) essentially identical. Gardner discusses that in a little more detail in the linked article.

Billy C said...

The University of Oklahoma has a small extension campus in Tulsa, but even so it's a stretch to call OU a "local university" of Tulsa. Dawkins will be coming to OU's main campus in Norman, near Oklahoma City.

I know it's a nit, but as a former resident of Tulsa and an alumnus of OU's school of Library & Information Studies, I can't help but pick it.

Dr. Pablito said...

Hey, you got bible quote-mining on your blog! Sweet!

I enjoyed your takedown of the Beacon editorial.

*WHUMP*
He's down on the mat and Zeno goes in to apply the pin... No! The cretards are up again, but *CLANG* into the turnbuckle and now Zeno scales to the top rope for the pounce and *WHAM* down on the mat again for the Beacon!

Zeno said...

Thanks for the nitpicking, Billy C. I see that my description of OU as "local" with respect to Tulsa is mistaken and I've removed the unfortunate adjective. I am grateful for the correction and bow to no one in my appreciation of picking nits. Eternal vigilance is the price of accuracy.

Nick Barrowman said...

The link in the comment by RBH isn't working, but I think perhaps the piece by Martin Gardner is A Skeptical Look at Karl Popper. Thanks, it's a good read!

Zeno said...

Thanks for catching that, Nick, and providing a working link.

RBH said...

Argh. Sorry, folks. That's the one, Nick. Thanks.

SWE said...

I was recently called a "Darwin worshipper" in honor of Darwin Day. I suspect that people wouldn't make such a big deal out of Darwin and his life and times if the general population had a better grip on how scientific inquiry does not equal the death of all morality. One hopes that a more personal angle would interest people who can't be bothered with the science, but it looks to me a lot like it's just another excuse to justify teh stoopid. (Can't tell Darwin Day was a bit of a bust for me this year, can you?)

Margaret said...

What is the difference between education and indoctrination?

The line between conveying information with an open mind and a mindset that parallels religion is being crossed this year ...


The writer did get one thing right in claiming that the religious mindset = indoctrination.