Sunday, March 20, 2011

Evolutionists, Creationists, and War Profiteers.

The origin of life: a topic of discussion sure to offend at least someone, so obviously I had to bring it up. Many humans insist evolution and creation are polar opposites, like Democrat and Republican, vanilla and chocolate, or some other superficially-illustrative-but-actually-non-antonymous pairing. (It's more accurate to say politician and taxpayer, vanilla and seawater, or chocolate and regurgitated stomach acid.) If you view evolutionism and creationism as the extreme ends of a spectrum, brace your egos for impact, people. You're wrong.

What those who insist on conflict regarding the grand mechanics of life are really comparing is science and religion. Their mistake, besides being an overly-emotional mammal (wait, emotional and mammal – that's TWO mistakes), is trying to compare two different variables on a single continuum. This isn't a black and white number line with infinite integers of gray between them. What's necessary for accurate representation is a coordinate grid. Enter the abscissa and the ordinate.

Consider the level of acceptance an individual has with what's in the Bible and what's been studied by biologists for the last 150 years. As these are variables completely independent of each other, they plot like an X and a Y.

Take Young Earth Creationists as an example. By the way, mismatching adjectives and subject in that name can create some funny mental images. Like pre-schoolers rolling playdough balls. The label is a simple way to categorize those who adhere literally to what's written in the first page and a half of Genesis: the Earth is 6000 years old and is part of a divine creation out of nothing which took six 24-hour periods to complete. High literal belief in Genesis chapter one (y axis), zero acceptance of scientific research on the topic (x axis). Might look like this.

Similar but with a key difference, Old Earth Creationists take the timeline of Genesis figuratively. “Days” is a reference to a non-specific time period. As a result, they accept the findings of geologists and astronomers about the age of the solar system and the Earth, though there is variation in acceptance of biological principles.

Billy Graham, a well known Christian leader once made a statement regarding his faith and the principles of evolution.

"I don't think that there's any conflict at all between science today and the scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we've tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren't meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. ... whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God." (Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man, 1997. p. 72-74)

My interpretation would be to put him here, overlapping the Old Earth Creationists, but with a bit more leeway about the scientific evidence accepted.

I've been made aware of another individual with some impact on modern Christianity. Pope John Paul II was some kind of a clergyman of some denomination or other. He gave a statement in 1996 to a scientific group of his church.

“In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points....Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies – which was neither planned nor sought – constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.” (Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. October 22, 1996)

I would place him on the diagram like this.

There has been a more recent movement known as Intelligent Design. The premise of this group is that unanswered questions in the explanations of evolutionary mechanisms suggest other sources of change, perhaps a higher, unmeasurable power. The observations so questioned span molecular and subcellular development all the way to evaluations of galactic parameters. All fascinating questions. At first glance this seems to be a happy combination of belief in God and acceptance of science. When presenting their hypotheses though, they meet with resistance from the scientific community, because any hypothesis involving the existence of deity is untestable. The Deitometer has yet to be invented and properly calibrated with positive and negative controls. Had they paid attention in grade 10 biology, they would know that eliminates their questions from the realm of scientific query. It doesn't necessarily make them wrong, though. An inability to measure something is not proof of non-existence, only non-science. Hmm. Deitometer. I smell research funding proposal with high costs and low expectation of results. Maybe I should change jobs...

But what of the evolutionary biologists? Percent of scientists who don't accept evolution: 0.015%. They are the ones whining because they can't get published or hired. Couldn't be the fact that they misunderstand the junior high basics of what science is...
(Chang, Kenneth. "Few Biologists But Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition" (php), The New York Times, 2006-03-21. Crowther, Robert (2006-06-21). Dissent From Darwinism 'Goes Global' as Over 600 Scientists Around the World Express Their Doubts About Darwinian Evolution.)

Scientists who believe in a higher power fall mainly into a group known as Deistic Evolutionists. An impersonal entity organized the universe as we know it, or at least set the events in motion, but he or she or it doesn't have a personal presence in people's lives. The rest of the higher-power-believers are Theistic, the only difference from the former being the personal nature of said power. They believe there is personal involvement and even daily interaction.

Any discussion of this topic would be incomplete without Atheism. Typically with full acceptance of scientific findings, those in this group are more likely to be disinterested by anything but that which is measurable and testable. However, disproving God with science is as useless as proving. Nothing to measure, nothing to test, all that's left is personal belief and faith. Whether that faith is in a presence or absence is irrelevant for this argument. Either way it's religion and not science.Where do they go on the chart? I don't know. How about here...

The final diagram looks nothing like a continuum. Told ya. More like the colorized left side of a Rorshach blot (I see a male turtle's plastron with sexy tattoos, and I'm really losing my focus, here). Also, it's a mess of disagreement and argument and difference of opinion, flavored by arrogance, ignorance, and mistrust both earned and gratuitous.

Okay, that was cynical. I wrote a bit longer than I could hold to the professional detachment. Back to objectivity.

What I find the most interesting is what groups exhibit the most variation. It's those who include some form of Creation in their beliefs. To pin down a Christian definition of how Creationism and Evolutionism relate is impossible. There is too much variety, too much personal interpretation of too little data. My non-cynical nature (located in one of my toes) thinks this is great. A huge variation in religious belief is tolerated and even encouraged. In not many places is that possible. Still, why attack the science which takes no stand on a deity when other Christians disagree on the preferences and commandments and even the very nature of that said deity. It's fine to scrutinize someone else's house, ignoring the crews which are subdividing your Father's house into tenement apartments?

Even those with full acceptance of a century and a half of observation have some variety in their theological side. Again, the personal life aspect. So does the disagreement in these two groups mean religion just makes a mess of things and is irrelevant? I'm trying to be a nice turtle, so I will make no comment. Okay, one. Maybe two. First, wars with a religious flavor, which is most of them: humans don't need divine help to be that stupid. Second, peaceful and community-centered religious teachings are biologically helpful. No, the problem stems from some of the believers.

Is it that science is just too rigid and unwilling to accept outside ideas? Doesn't matter, because without a testable hypothesis, Creationism of any flavor can't ever be considered science.

The issue isn't complete without a discussion of motivation. Why is so much energy spent pushing various interpretations of 1.5 pages of a thousand-plus page text? Why are scientists attacked for failing to take into account that which isn't even measurable? Some subjectivity is possible in my illustrations, but the greater variation, the lack of unity, lies within the Creationists. Yet they don't bother each other. Either they don't realize others interpret two chapters differently, or they don't have the courage to bring it up and challenge one another. Maybe they don't want to cause contention. That's a good Christian reason, but it's not the real one.

A review of how Creationism is pushed with overpriced books and videos, in huge auditoriums packed full, and I think it becomes pretty clear. Sure, scientists write text books, but very few people buy them. They teach in auditoriums, but to one or two groups over a semester, not a different crowd paying for seats sufficient to pull in a biology department Ph.D.'s salary in three days.

What's the real issue? American humans swarm to controversy. They pay well to hear it. Controversy requires a villain, though. Until recently, scientists were too busy expanding human knowledge to bother about being so labeled. Now the superficially evangelical but greedy-beneath-the-facade have swollen the ranks of the scientifically illiterate to the point of concern for public education and research. Scientists try to fight off the inverse renaissance and Creationists cry foul. I guess they missed that Golden Rule thing Jesus said.

Forget the Deitometer idea. I'm gonna start a multi-level Creationism marketing company.

P.S. Some useful reading material, but not very funny.

Evolution, Religion, and Free Will .,y.0,no.,content.true,page.1,css.print/issue.aspx

Myth: Many scientists reject evolution and support creationism.

The Origin of the Universe, Earth, and Life

72 Nobel laureates, 17 state academies of science, and 7 other scientific organizations support rejection of Creationism as science.

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