Yes, religion is anti-science...and it all comes down to Darwin.


It has been my observation that, more than any other precept, it is Darwin that is the most intractable issue for a sizable portion of the God-believing public. Of course, I understand (as should everyone) that the broader concept of Evolution by Natural Selection (ENS) goes far beyond the seminal thesis of Charles Darwin. ENS is really a superset of scientific fields that all point to precisely the same conclusion…that humans, hawks and hydrangeas are all evolved from a common ancestor. What Darwin observed and documented is merely one portion of the evidences for ENS. Moreover; Darwin's work has been corroborated and refined in ways that he could not have even dreamed of.

I couldn't begin to relate all the evidence for ENS here…and that is not my intent. The 150th anniversary of On The Origin of Species has seen a number of new books (i.e. Coyne and Dawkins) that attempt to lay out all the evidence for ENS…and that evidence is suffocating. In my opinion; anybody that had the aptitude to understand the evidence (it is not really that complex) and is not so impaired by ideology would have to conclude that there is no reason to dispute ENS as, hands down, the single best explanation for the diversity of life on this planet (and probably any other planet).

There are many believers who do recognize ENS as the best explanation for the diversity of life. In fact; the Catholic church's official position is that ENS is, indeed, the better explanation over the creation story of Genesis [ref] (albeit that God started the process with the express intent that ENS would result in us humans…after several billion years…and several hundred thousand years of untold suffering…when he would finally reveal himself to an illiterate desert tribe…but I digress.)

My trouble (and, I believe, your trouble also) is that 40% of the US population deny ENS its due as the most successful theory on biological diversity (with only fundamentalist Islamic Turkey being worse) [ref]. I have to assume that there is a portion of that 40% that, were they exposed to the broad body of evidence, would move from their divine creation beliefs to the well recognized process of ENS. The most troubling aspect is how those theists disbelieve in ENS. Instead of saying they don't understand ENS or they have trouble with some aspect of the science, ENS is portrayed variously as crazy, bulls**t, a fraud, fantasy, a failed hypothesis, and (the ever-popular chestnut) "only a theory" (the latter being another blatant display of ignorance).

It seems obvious that our educational system does a poor job of informing our youth on the importance and breadth of what we know in this area. I believe in evolution because I am familiar with the breadth of evidence. Yet I recognize that my academic exposure to the subject (that I can remember anyway) was a grade-school or junior-high science text that showed the ubiquitous example of the giraffe exploiting the food source high in the trees. It seemed reasonable, but hardly a comprehensive overview of ENS. This trifling exposure would be at a notable disadvantage when competing with the theistic creation story hammered home each Sunday morning. It is important that our youth be exposed to ENS in a broad and comprehensive way.

The most troubling aspect of the ENS deniers well demonstrates just how much damage religion and ignorance can do to the human mind. Those that angrily dismiss ENS as bulls**t are effectively making the argument that every biologist and physical scientist in the world is wrong or in on some anti-God conspiracy. I do not have words to describe the pitiable nature of such a position. It is tin foil hat territory to think so many thousands of unaffiliated scientists could maintain such a front and speak with such a consistent voice. Never mind that, for those scientists that want notoriety in their field, they would benefit immensely from discovering and documenting the thing that is not common knowledge. Were a scientist to offer something compelling to supplant ENS, they would be showered with awards and medals and notoriety and research grants. They would achieve a place in the pantheon of the great minds of history alongside the likes of Copernicus, Gallieo, da Vinci, Pascal, Newton, Bohr, Einstein et. al..

Another troubling argument from the believing side is that ENS says that the universe or life sprang from nothing. Of course, anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of what ENS actually is, knows that ENS says nothing about the origin of the universe or how life began. ENS only describes how the diversity of life arose once the first self-replicating entity came to be. This, again, points back to our failure to educate our youth. (If any anti-evolutionists are reading, please note this fact.)

Yet another troubling aspect is the fabricated controversies underwritten by conservative religious organizations. "Teach The Controversy" is a catch-phrase started by The Discovery Institute (and parroted by our past, ideological president Bush. Ronald Reagan also stated "I have no chimpanzees in my family," ). It is all wrapped up in trappings of the open-society ideals of freedom of speech and information, but is (as determined by a U.S. court) a blatant effort to insert religious creationism into our public school science classes. The effort is to convince the scientifically illiterate and credulous public that there are major rifts amongst scientists that threaten to destroy ENS like a house of cards in the wind. Don't get me wrong…there is a controversy, but it is not within the ranks of evolutionary biologists. There are debates about very narrow aspects of ENS such as where Ardi fits on the evolutionary tree, but nothing that even remotely disputes the core concepts of ENS. The controversy is that religious organizations are making a concerted effort to feed creationism to our vulnerable youth and to undermine science to neutralize a challenge their theistic beliefs. 'Teach The Controversy' is tantamount to demanding that we teach the stork theory of conception in science class…or that we teach that the devil buried dinosaur bones to make it look like they were old. These efforts, at best, are ignorant but well intentioned or, at worst, insidious and dangerous.

Most believers have zero problems with anything else that science says or provides. They are perfectly fine with the concept that matter is made up of atoms…which are in turn made up of protons and neutrons surrounded by a cloud of electrons. Never mind that Niels Bohr's model of the atom is quite theoretical and we have never seen an atom to see if it looks like the model. What is important is that the model accurately describes what we observe in real life and makes reliable predictions of phenomena that we have yet to observe. If we ever got a real look at the structure of an atom; science would eagerly and giddily abandon our current understanding of atomic structure. Believers are also perfectly fine with the idea that microorganisms and genetics are the prime sources of disease (as opposed to demons espoused in the bible).

Is religion anti-science? It all comes down to Darwin. I would have to say, yes… religion is, in one important measure, anti-science. Are all believers anti-science? …of course not. Virtually all believers are able to assimilate and accept most real knowledge that science provides...but it is not a trivial observation that it is only the religious that mount an offense against ENS with rhetoric such as 'Evil-lution'. As far as I know, there is no other body besides the offended religious that has any problem with what the scientific community effectively regards as fact. Were there just one other identifiable group that challenged ENS, we might be able to point the finger of evidence denial elsewhere...but there is no other group. Evidence denial, in this case, is owned wholly by religion. The correlation is clear and cannot be dismissed.

Let us recognize this…Let us ridicule this…and let us educate our children.

5 comments:

Ryan Jennings said...

nice article...you make a strong case here.

I wish you would offer evidence though...I hear all the time from anti-theists that "the evidence is so insurmountable that there is not room to discuss it" and then they don't even provide 1 example. I think offering a few examples of this great body of evidence you speak of would make your case stronger.

Lastly, your comment about "believers" thinking illness comes from demons and not "microorganisms and genetics" is a low blow and from my perspective, disingenuous and anti-intellectual. Sure you could find some Christian believers who feel that way, but that is a tiny-minority opinion. I can find some of those "scientists" you speak of who believe in some cooky stuff and throw that at you too...but to what end? For a good laugh?

I think many anti-theists make fun of such minority opinions because they actually fear the true part of the equation. If demons are real then that offers a great deal of veracity to the biblical text. I'm not arguing that you are afraid of such a notion because I believe you truly want to find the Truth...and to that end I applaud you.

Still enjoying the journey! (and sorry I've been silent so long)

Ryan Jennings said...

speaking of the Giraffe...this makes more sense...

http://www.natureinstitute.org/pub/ic/ic10/giraffe.htm

Why does a Giraffe have such a short neck?

FVThinker said...

Ryan said: “I wish you would offer evidence though...I hear all the time from anti-theists that "the evidence is so insurmountable that there is not room to discuss it" and then they don't even provide 1 example”

First: On the term “anti-theist” …
I want to make an important (if subtle) distinction here. I don’t like the term “anti-theist” only because its simple reading would suggest that I am in opposition to the person holding the belief…the theist. I do not hold anything against the person, but rather, the mode of thought. So more properly, I am not an anti-theist, but I practice anti-theism. Given that anti-theismist is a bit ungainly, I will work with anti-theist as long as you recognize the distinction.

On not providing even “one example”….
There are some things in science that are so well accepted that we stop discussing the supporting details and just begin to treat them as an immutable law. An example of this might be atomic theory. We can predict how elements will interact and how energy will be generated or absorbed in chemical reactions, yet we no longer discuss the details of the how we are able to make those predictions. The theory is so well tested and proven to make such reliable predictions that, in most contexts, the theoretical structure of the atom is considered fact. The same is true for ENS. The scientific community and the majority of literate, western society simply see ENS as being fact. Indeed, ENS is more broadly supported than atomic theory. But as I have already said…ENS, to the exclusion of any other scientific precept generally considered fact, is opposed exclusively by segments of the religious community (for obvious reasons).

I will start by saying that, if there was something so important and so broadly accepted as ENS that I opposed, I would consider it my intellectual responsibility to seek out and understand the evidence myself. In my post, I said that I would not attempt to detail the evidence…and for a very good reason. It would (and does) fill dense books. While a number of books exist, I would pick up Coyne’s or Dawkin’s book (to which I link in the original essay). These books attempt to relate the breadth of evidence that the scientific community now takes for granted.

For the record, however, a smattering of the things that make me believe that ENS is true would be:
- The embryonic development cycle (bat, horse and human embryos are visually identical)
- Physical features of broadly disparate species are, save for proportions, identical (human,whale,bat hands, fins & wings) all have the same bones in the same relationship
- The premise of creatures being selected by environmental pressures is eminently logical and, well demonstrated and observed if nature and in the lab.
- The distribution of species around the planet jives perfectly with what we know about plate tectonics.
- The disparity between the number of genomes between chimps and humans (some creationist ammo) predicted that we would discover a very specific mutation in our genome…and it proved to be true
- Geology has never put an inappropriate fossil in the wrong stratum of earth. Just one such (well and independently documented) event would be crushing to ENS.

I could go on and on and on just off the top of my head…and I haven’t even discussed the sciences that are deemed the most compelling.

Re: demons and low blows….

Whaaaaaaa?!?!?! Please re-read what I wrote. I specifically said that believers are fine with the microbial and genetic concept of disease. I only mentioned the bible because that book DOES mention demons in such a context. Clearly the vast majority are willing to dismiss that which comes from your ‘true’ book in the light of what science has shown.

…and I do not seek the Truth. I seek the truth. In my estimation ‘Truth’ is to ‘truth’, what ‘Gay’ is to ‘happy’ in the homosexual community.

FVThinker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FVThinker said...

In lieu of a broad deconstruction of your linked Nature Institute exposition on the giraffe; I would like to make two observations. I limit myself to these two points until I determine I have an active partner in the discussion. If you, Ryan, would like to engage further on this, I will be happy to take this as far as you would like.

My first observations:
1) I needs to be understood that the giraffe example, while ubiquitous, is merely an easy to understand example of how evolution could work. It is not stated factually that the giraffe developed a longer neck through natural pressures that forced it to exploit a higher food source. The giraffe example is not demonstration of a fact, it is demonstration of a concept.

2) The Nature Institute essay makes much of the giraffe's 'short' neck that makes drinking awkward for them...to our visual sensibilities anyway. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of biology and what evolutionary theory posits. To make a longer neck (to aid in drinking) would require that the giraffe have more muscle and bone mass. This would require that the giraffe discover and consume that much more food. This may not be possible if food resources are limited so any space could support fewer giraffes. Evolution does not produce perfect traits (i.e. our human eyes have large blind spots). Evolution produces the best compromise of all the traits that allow a biological organism to be the most successful at reproducing in a given environment.

3) My last initial observation is on the Nature Institute discussing other ways to exploit that tree foliage. This is probably the author's greatest failing and would take the a good deal of time to fully deconstruct...so I shall limit myself to a narrow point of two: Species adapt through evolution in various ways. We have any number of solutions to flying in biology with birds, bats, bees and even squirrels and spiders. There is never a single best solution for such things and different species adapt with variations of the biological toolkit they have. Exploiting a high food source can be accomplished through climbing, flying and just being taller. Some creatures even topple trees from below to bring the food source to them. While in some untold millions of years could bring the world a flying descendant of the giraffe; you would not recognize it as a giraffe.