Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

Down with Darwin (in the good way)

Maybe it’s just PR trickery, the sort of thing one might expect from a church that boasts about having “a sympathetic approach to contemporary culture,” but the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor sure has a nice bumper sticker. It’s nice to see Christians who are so openly down with Darwin (usually the phrase “down with Darwin” means something entirely different in a religious context).

They sponsor something called “Camp Creation,” which seems like the kind of thing that would raise all sorts of red flags to nonbelievers, but turns out to be an artsy-craftsy summer camp where kids focus on creating things. And something they call “Jesus Brand Spirituality®” (yes, including the “®” symbol) turns out to be fairly innocuous.

All in all, they seem like a nice bunch of folks — for believers, that is. I’m sure there’s much to criticize (they do believe in a magical sky-wizard — I mean, these aren’t UUs we’re talking about here), and I’m sure someone like PZ Myers would be willing to go out of his way to do so, but my gut feeling is that religious folks and institutions that are friendly to evolution are rare enough that we should try to meet them halfway (or at least, a couple baby steps in their direction).

(via Reddit)

Science Is Real

science_is_realThis is awesomely awesome: My favorite-ever band, They Might Be Giants, has a new kids’ album out, “Here Comes Science.” And in the song “Science Is Real,” they lay it all out:  “I like those stories about angels, unicorns and elves … but when I’m seeking knowledge, either simple or abstract, the facts are with science.” And they make it clear that you can’t just pick and choose: “Science is real, from the Big  Bang to DNA/Science is real, from evolution to the Milky Way.”

So, is this polite? Is it a breach of etiquette? Well, maybe. It’s perhaps a bit rude to suggest to religious folks that angels (which are mentioned in the Bible, not just in populist pablum spouted by feel-good New Age-y types) are in the same category as unicorns or elves.

But is it rude to say that if you’re seeking knowledge, you should look to science rather than religion? I don’t think so. Unless, of course, you want to argue that it’s rude to say that if you’re seeking divine/godly/spiritual/religious guidance, you should look to religion rather than science. I’m guessing most religious types don’t think it’s rude to make such a suggestion, or to say that science can’t tell us about God since science deals with the natural while religion deals with the supernatural.

So, sauce for the goose, etc. If you want people to respect what religion has to tell us about spiritual matters, then have some respect for what science has to tell us about material matters. It’s a two-way street.

Sure, Richard Dawkins says his scientific perspective tells him that there aren’t any deities (a position not advocated by most atheists), but it’s not like he’s trying to get the government to force religious preachers to stop preaching religion, or to preach scientific concepts as if they’re religion. Whereas there are plenty of folks trying to get the government to force science teachers to stop teaching science, or to teach religious concepts as if they’re science.

Sunday Sermon: What if God was one of us?

god_brainSo some creationists are trying to be happy about a recent scientific study that says the appendix isn’t as useless a vestigial organ as was previously thought.

As has already been pointed out, the study is based on a phylogenetic analysis of various critters, including humans — that means the results are based on the assumption that humans and those other critters all evolved from a common ancestor.

But creationists have a long-standing explanation for the evolutionary relationships between various critters (again, including humans). They say it’s “common design” rather than common descent. After all, when we design things, we often reuse the same components for different designs, don’t we? So of course it’s not surprising that God would do the same thing.

There are lots of problems with this — ask yourself why the same bone structure would be ideal for a bat’s wing, a human hand and a dolphin’s fin — but what interests me about it is its sheer anthropocentrism. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing deity, whose mind we can’t begin to fathom, do things the way ordinary humans tend to do them?

It’s funny how when humans describe how God works, it always seems to be pretty much the way humans work — except when God does something no self-respecting human would ever do.

When God tells a loyal follower to tie his son to a slab and plunge a knife into his heart, or instructs a tribe to kill all the men, women, boys and babies of a rival tribe, saving only the young girls for themselves, or tells a couple to let their teenage son die rather than seek medical help —  suddenly God’s ways become mysterious and unfathomable by us puny humans with our tiny brains.

Wright is wrong

religion_evolutionRobert Wright’s NYT commentary on science vs. religion makes some good points, but glosses over the arguments militant atheists use against God, and the arguments theists use against evolution.

Wright says militant atheists “might even grant that natural selection’s intrinsic creative power — something they’ve been known to stress in other contexts — adds at least an iota of plausibility to this remotely creative god.” How does that makes sense?

If a purely natural process has intrinsic creative power, how does that argue for the existence (or increased possibility of existence) of an intrinsic creative power outside of nature? That’s like arguing that the ability of a television broadcast to create the appearance of little people inside the TV screen adds at least an iota of plausibility to the notion that there are actually little people in the TV, and your 3-year-old has been correct all along.

Wright also suggests that religious folks are within shouting distance of getting the concept: “The first step toward this more modern theology is for them to bite the bullet and accept that God did his work remotely — that his role in the creative process ended when he unleashed the algorithm of natural selection (whether by dropping it into the primordial ooze or writing its eventual emergence into the initial conditions of the universe or whatever).” Yeah, right, Wright.

The problem isn’t that there are a lot of people who think evolution needed a bit of divine nudging here and there once it started, the problem is that there’s a disturbing number of people who don’t accept evolution at all — who insist that God created everything in 6 days, a few thousand years ago, just like a literalist interpretation of the Bible declares. And those people have a ridiculous amount of influence in our society. Nudging the moderate folks a bit more toward science isn’t going to do anything about the (pardon the lapse in etiquette) yahoos who are still driving the religious discourse in America.

But Wright has some good points as well, like this one: “Of course, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on awe and inspiration. The story that science tells, the story of nature, is awesome, and some people get plenty of inspiration from it, without needing the religious kind.” As the late Douglas Adams said, “I’d take the awe of inspiration over the awe of ignorance any day.”

(cartoon via Palmyria)

Making accommodations


Answering the Accommodationists isn’t really etiquette-oriented (it’s mainly a discussion of how far the promoters of evolution education should go in reaching out to religious types who might want to ban it). But it does tie in to the subject of this blog, which involves deciding just how far to accommodate oneself to the reality of a world where most people are religious, and even some of the nicest ones have a deep-seated prejudice against atheists. Here’s a particularly relevant passage:

“The accommodationist strategy implicitly validates the very prejudice it seeks to counter: that faith is superior to science and should win out if the two conflict. This would be like a person who lived during the suffragist era conceding the anti-feminist argument that women are intellectually inferior to men, but arguing that they should get to vote anyway, because after all, we don’t make men pass intelligence tests to vote, do we?”

That last bit strikes me as interesting, and probably wrong. Was nobody in those days making an argument along those lines? Really?

IIRC, lots of abolitionists (and Abe Lincoln, who wasn’t exactly an abolitionist, but was close) believed whites were superior to people of other races, but simply felt that slavery was cruel. Lots of people think lab rats have the same rights as humans, but I doubt those people think lab rats are equally as capable as humans. And surely nobody thinks everyone with a right to vote is intelligent enough to vote sensibly. I’d bet money that there were suffragists (perhaps even suffragettes) who were happy to concede that men were more intelligent.

But I’m getting off track here. Perhaps the anti-accommodationists are as well, and/or the accommodationists.

One group is focused tightly on the teaching of evolution (properly) in schools, and happy to distance themselves from, or even write off entirely, atheists (especially the more militant ones). Ignore Dawkins and his ilk, they say — we’re not all like them, and lots of us are religious. Belief in God and Jesus and even the Bible (interpreted the right way) isn’t threatened one bit by modern science.

The other group is fighting to promote understanding and acceptance of atheism, and perfectly willing to alienate the devoutly religious by stating baldly that such a worldview is starkly incompatible with a reality-based view (including, but not limited to, the fact that we evolved from apes and that our ape ancestors evolved from much more primitive forms, etc.).

One problem with this schism, a problem that plays right into the hands of creationists, is that it creates the impression that the accommodationists are lying, that they’re hiding the incompatibility of science and religion as part of a devious plot to lure impressionable youth into the “science” camp.

Creationists can claim that the accommodationists’ real objection to Dawkins et al isn’t that they’re strident or alienating, but that they’re giving away the secret. Perhaps there’s a bit of psychological projection going on here — creationists assuming that their enemies practice the same strategies and tactics as themselves.

Certainly there are religious movements (including some very large, very mainstream ones) that cloak the sillier and nastier aspects of their worldview behind innocent-seeming platitudes, and wait until new converts are firmly hooked before getting into the nitty-gritty details of what their theology really states and implies.

But I’m getting off track again. Overall, I have to say my gut feeling is that we should at least show respect (whether we feel it or not) for diverse views (no matter how silly), and surely the world is big enough not only for both religion and atheism, but for accommodationism and anti-accommodationism, and for even those who are certain they’re right to admit that there’s at least a slight possibility that they might be wrong.

After all, if creationists and other Christians want to complain about the “dogmatism” of some atheists, why don’t the rest of us agree to drop the dogmatism — and suggest the Christians do the same?

(Creationism cartoon via Pharyngula)