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Does it matter that a lot of people are wrong about evolution?

Pretty much for the pure pleasure of it, I have recently been reading The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. (I chose that link because what it leads to features the same cover artwork as my copy has. Presumably that’s the exact same edition as mine.)

The basic agenda of this book is explained in its subtitle: “The Evidence for Evolution”. I can summarise this evidence by saying that what it shows is that if God did create all of life on earth, in a great surge of Godly creativity just a few thousand years ago rather than over a period of time massively longer than that, then all the evidence – all the evidence – says that this God went to a truly diabolical amount of trouble to make it look as if it was evolution that did it, rather than Him. In this bizarre project of divine self effacement, God has so far not been caught out making one single, solitary wrong move. Okay, God is omniscient, so of course if he wanted to cover his tracks completely, he could. But why do this? Why the colossal subterfuge? Everything in life now looks like it could have evolved. Nothing in life now looks like it could only have been made by God.

The details of how this evidence shows what Dawkins explains that it shows aren’t my concern in this posting. This is not a book review. I recommend this book if you like reading about the many wonders and horrors that life on earth consists of. (Dawkins argues that evolution is not only true, but also awe-inspiring, albeit in a rather morally gruesome way.) And I recommend this book if, like me when I started reading it, you accept the truth of evolution but would enjoy learning a little more about some of the many, many details of the mountainous quantity of evidence which proves the truth of evolution, and which makes a nonsense of creationism. Having been reading this book for a while, I am now more than ever entirely sure that evolution is a fact, for all the reasons that Dawkins says that it is a fact. I entirely agree with him that his creationist opponents are hopelessly and absurdly wrong about how life on earth came to be.

But my concern here is not whether Dawkins is right that evolution has happened and is happening. Of course he is, of course it has and of course it is. No, what interests me is whether the fact that so many people now, still, deny the truth of evolution matters. Dawkins thinks that this rejection of one of the central achievements of science is scandalous and appalling, and that these crackpot creationists must be told the error of their ways, and told and told again, until they return to the straight and narrow. Me? I don’t think I care that much.

To illustrate my point with a contrast, I think it matters a very great deal that so many people have been and continue to be so very, very wrong about the nature of the financial crisis that now afflicts the world. Errors in this matter are not merely erroneous. They are errors with huge and hugely damaging consequences. Millions have already suffered horribly because of these errors. Millions more are about to. But who is suffering because of creationism? Why does it matter to the rest of us what creationists think? Are creationists forcing their nonsense upon others? Maybe to some extent they are. Many potential commenters will know a lot more about the answer to that question than I do. If creationists are doing this, that would be a reason to berate them about all the errors they are making. But, are they?

Another good reason to go after creationists is to demoralise them, because of the other bad things that creationists are doing.

But what other bad political projects are creationists contributing to? Dawkins regards the USA’s aggressive policies in the Middle East as very bad, and thinks that Christian creationists are responsible for these policies in a big way. I agree that occupying foreign countries these days tends to be a mistake, while shorter, in-and-out attacks, with fewer pretensions in the direction of telling the locals how to govern themselves (such as I hope and trust the recent Libyan escapade has been (and fear that it may not be)), are also fraught with peril but seem, on the face of it, somewhat less harmful. But I don’t think that Christian creationists are by any means the only people who support such military operations.

Inflicting demoralisation upon Muslim creationists strikes me as worth doing, because of all the other bad stuff that such Muslims also support.

An atheist friend of mine goes a bit further in the matter of Muslims. He points out that central to demoralising the Muslims is pointing out that their God is imaginary nonsense. But so too, he adds (and I agree), is the Christian version of God. Failing to point out the imaginariness of the Christian version of God means that we then confront Muslims with one argumentative arm tied behind out backs. Christians, my atheist friend argues, are (to use an American sporting metaphor) running interference for the Muslims, and we shouldn’t let them do this. Demonstrating the truth of evolution is central to the process of demonstrating that the Christian God is imaginary nonsense, and also to knocking the intellectual steam out of Muslims. We should be consistent, says my friend, rather than weaken our case with selective atheism.

Personally I prefer to be a selective atheist, despite what my atheist friend says. If your God tells you to do stupid and destructive stuff, then argument number one that I will use against you will be to point out that your God is made-up nonsense. But if your God is telling you to be nice, or even just to be harmless, then I will not constantly badger you with arguments that your God is imaginary. I may say this from time to time, when that’s relevant to other things that I’m saying, as here, but on the whole I’ll leave you to worship your God, and I’ll get on with my life.

If your God says that we should all be libertarians, as the God of several Christians of my acquaintance does say, I’ll regard you as a comrade. If you are a Muslim whose God says that we should all be libertarians, ditto. (Something approximately like that may apply to the author of this book, if the talk I heard him give last Saturday (he’s bottom right in the pictures) is anything to go by.)

Other atheists argue for selective atheism in favour of Muslims, because, unlike me, such atheists agree with Muslims about lots of other things.

Not being that interested in Dawkins’ opinions about matters on which he is not nearly as much of an expert as he is about evolution, I may be wrong in suspecting him of strongly disapproving of the general run of right wing American domestic policies, as opposed merely to being disapproving of those domestic policies which he considers friendly towards or insufficiently hostile towards creationism. This BBC report, recycled at RichardDawkins.net, suggests that Dawkins has swallowed the whole CAGW mantra hole, but I may be wrong about that. If he has, that would be a further reason for him to denounce creationists, if he believes most of them to be unpersuaded by CAGW.

In general, I surmise that being a creationist might make you generally more suspicious of leftist/statist policies, on account of those favouring such policies tending to be so scornful of creationism. If so, then as far as I’m concerned: good for creationism. I would not be at all surprised to hear that some anti-statists favour creationism in various ways not because they believe it to be true, but merely because it enrages all the people whom they like to see enraged.

Does the Tea Party contain mostly, many, some or hardly any creationists? I don’t know, but would like to know.

What does Dawkins think about the level of US government borrowing? Does he agree with the Tea Partiers about that? I do, very strongly. Maybe Dawkins disagrees with the Tea Partiers about US financial policy, and believes that anti-creationism should be used to demoralise them, on financial policy grounds as well as anti-creationism grounds. Maybe Dawkins fears that the Tea Partiers may be right about US financial policy, but that they will use their rightness in that matter to then go on and enforce creationism, far more than they do now or even than they now talk about doing. I also fear that outcome, a very tiny bit, but I fear the consequences of bad financial policies a thousand times more than I fear enforced creationism as a result of those bad policies being somehow reversed.

Dawkins makes much of the fact that public opinion in favour of creationism is on the rise, in both the USA and in Britain. Like so many confronting a graph that is going up in what looks like a bad way, Dawkins, to my mind, continues the graph onwards and upwards in his mind, and sees civilisation collapsing, but ought not to. Me, I also fear the collapse of civilisation, a tiny bit, but if that happens, creationism will not be the cause of the collapse, merely a symptom of it, and arguably not even that.

In particular, I think that creationism seems now to be on the rise in the Anglo Saxon world partly because of the many failures of state education, rather than because of any non-existent creationist intellectual triumph. Anti-creationist statists having made such an expensive mess of running state education, a few creationists are now moving in on the running of schools. But this is not because they have persuaded anyone important of the truth of creationism. It is merely that educational decision-makers who are keen to rescue education think that a bit of creationism is a small price to pay for the educational improvement that will follow from the kinds of reforms that allow creationists to become more active in education. I think that too.

During the last few weeks I have asked various friends the question at the top of this posting. None of them have come up with any answers that I hadn’t. Several of them talked about the general principle that it is always good when truth triumphs over falsehood. I agree. That’s always nice, and in ways it is often very hard to see coming. But my friends haven’t, off the tops of their heads, been able to suggest any considerations involving public policy and definite and immediate harm done by creationism or creationism to large numbers of people that I hadn’t thought of. They could offer nothing saying that people who think as Richard Dawkins does, and as I do, about evolution and about creationism need, as a matter of urgency and for the good of humanity as a whole, to reduce creationism to the status of a theory that only a tiny number of total crackpots even know about. Can anyone here do better than that?

As I often add to questions that I ask at Samizdata (something I do here quite a lot), the question marks in this posting are all absolutely genuine, asking questions being one of the very best things you can do with blogging. I ask because I would truly like to know.

76 comments to Does it matter that a lot of people are wrong about evolution?

  • I participate in Tea Party activities and I couldn’t tell you how many are creationists because, I am sure you find not the least bit surprising, it simply doesn’t come up.

    I often wonder at this incredible animus toward creationists who do not, as far as I can tell, contribute in any proportionality greater way to our current problems. I suspect that it’s because creationists are strongly religious and therefore far more resistant to the totalitarian state people like Dawkins want to build. One need only look at the history of statism in its various forms to see why statists hate the religious. I think that comes first, and the anti-creationism simply a handy stick.

  • Christianity is the belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

  • Frederick Davies

    I agree with AOG; for the Left, “Creationist” is really a proxy for “religious”, and hence, “non-lefty”.

    As for the question that started the post, my answer would be “Not much”: in everyday life most people do not need to know about Evolution. People like Dawkins would say Medicine uses Evolution to explain many things, and so being ignorant of Evolution will handicap them concerning Medicine, but that is another smokescreen. People do not take Nurofen when they have a headache because they understand the way the human body evolved cell receptors for certain enzymes whose production is disrupted by ibuprofen; they take it because half-an-hour later they have no headache!

  • Classical liberal

    Interesting question. I’m not sure of the answer – for example I still can’t quite decide whether it’s acceptable to teach children creationism – on one level it’s none of my business what people teach their children as long as it’s not that 28 year old gingers should be murdered or similar, but it’s also grievously handicapping that child if he or she wants to go into pretty much any kind of science or tech-related field.

    What I do know is this:

    It’s perfectly possible to be a productive, decent, kind, virtuous, upstanding, happy member of society, and also believe that the Earth is 10,000 years old and that humans were directly created by God.

    Indeed, I know several people who do combine those things, and I’d much rather spend time with them than with the preachy and statist – and usually rather humourless – monomaniacs who make up so much of the modern “humanist” movement.

  • Thieving git, you nicked a post right out of my mind!

    Bitty comments:

    1) You write, “I may be wrong in suspecting him of strongly disapproving of the general run of right wing American domestic policies, as opposed merely to being disapproving of those domestic policies which he considers friendly towards or insufficiently hostile towards creationism. ”

    You are not wrong. He does strongly disapprove, and also, I think strongly overestimates the influence of creationists or even religious people in these policies. He is one of those who thinks theocracy is descending on America (Glenn Reynolds regularly quotes a quip to the effect that it always seems to get diverted and land in Riyadh instead.)

    2) You paraphrase your friend as saying “Demonstrating the truth of evolution is central to the process of demonstrating that the Christian God is imaginary nonsense”.

    No, most rich-world Christians believe in evolution in general, without ruling out miracles, divine guidance of evolution and the like. For some reason Dawkins and like-minded people overestimate the proportion of creationists. More accurately they tend to “count” as a creationist anyone who answers a survey with anything other than pure 100% random evolution as the mechanism at work. I can’t work out whether this is an honest mistake through fear, a tactical move to stiffen their own side, or (my personal theory) a kind of orgasmic relish in thinking of themselves as pitted against a rising and imminently overwhelming tide of stupid Americans. See “theocracy, descent of”, above.

    3) Vardy’s “creationist” academies as a response to the failure of state education. Spot on. Spot on like a particularly spotty leopard nicknamed “Spot”. Add to that that the parents who send their kids to these schools are not generally creationists either. They just think, rightly, that they are likely to be slightly less crap than the rival state schools in the area and think a little fudge over a minor part of the GCSE biology syllabus is a small price to pay. Actually, Vardy himself claims not to be a creationist, but I don’t know the facts about that.

    4) Having taught science in a state school I can tell you that another reason for not being frightened of creationists is that most pupils forget 90% of what they are taught anyway. No, this wasn’t because I was particularly incompetent. It was because that’s the way it is. Every now and then there is a survey that tests the general public’s knowledge of basic astronomy, famous people in history and the results are always quite terrifying.

  • Dom

    Most creationists will accept that the Aids virus has mutated, and will, in fact, accept any number of things that are built on evoution and genetics, and the idea of adaptation. They get innoculations for their children, for example. They don’t bother me much.

    But there are other evolution-deniers who do bother me, very much. They are the soft deniers, such as women who believe that biology does not explain gender differences, who believe in fact that there are no gender differences, or that the terms of discussion must be so arranged that such differences can not be mentioned.

    These soft deniers spout such nonsense! Here for example is a quote that is considered a monument of feminist “research”, from Professor Isabelle Stengers:

    “[Darwin has] not succeeded in explaining living beings, but in constituting them as witnesses to a history, in understanding them as recounting a history whose interest lies in the fact that one does not know a priori what history it is a question of.”

    And there is much, much worse. Does Dawkins attack this?

  • Personally I prefer to be a selective atheist, despite what my atheist friend says. If your God tells you to do stupid and destructive stuff, then argument number one that I will use against you will be to point out that your God is made-up nonsense. But if your God is telling you to be nice, or even just to be harmless, then I will not constantly badger you with arguments that your God is imaginary. I may say this from time to time, when that’s relevant to other things that I’m saying, as here, but on the whole I’ll leave you to worship your God, and I’ll get on with my life.

    What I’d say is that I don’t know and don’t care if your God exists or not, and whether he tells you to do something. *You* are the one responsible for what you are doing anyway, whether it’s good or bad. You’re the one who should get either the credit or the blame.

  • Oh, and the answer to Brian’s question is ‘of course not’. Dawkins is everything others here said he is, and possibly worse.

  • Sigivald

    I tend to agree – “evolution” has become a touchstone for anti-religious feeling for far too many people.

    Far too many people who are militantly against anyone not believing in evolution’s reality couldn’t begin to coherently explain it accurately; which fits, since they’re using it as a shibboleth.

    If you’re not doing paleontology or paleobiology, the truth of evolutionary speciation is of virtually no importance at all to the truth value of your beliefs or claims.

    I’m quite certain, on the evidence, that evolutionary speciation explains the forms of life on earth. I’m equally certain that it’s of very little practical import for almost everyone, in either daily life or their work.

    As an atheist, materialist* scientifically-inclined person, I still think Dawkins is a giant prat**.

    (* In the philosophical sense.)

    (** Perhaps it’s because I was raised without God, that I don’t have some sort of visceral hatred of the very idea. I’ve noticed that the most venomous atheists tend to be converts, echoing the timeless fact of convert zeal…)

  • I’ll echo Dom’s comment. I’m currently fighting off an amoxicillin-resistant bug; small-scale evolution via natural selection is alive and well.

    I don’t think “creationism” is a failure of the education system. Most creationists can tell you the basics of evolutionary theory; they just don’t buy it, just like you could explain Keynesian econ to me without buying it.
    Many folks take the Dawkins-style argument and counter with a “old-earth” model that leaves room for evolution while keeping God in charge.

  • I have found applying a bit of evolutionary theory to diet is extremely helpful. It is also supportive of the libertarian mindset; once you realize that the grains, legumes, and dairy promulgated by your local regime aren’t particularly good for you, you’ll likely figure out the rest of their stuff is bad too.

    Dawkins completely misses reality in my opinion. Trying to fight God with evolution is like trying to deny carpentry by constantly going on about self-generating woodworking tools. If Dawkins wants people to accept evolution, he should go about without trying to deny God. It isn’t just a question of belief; for most Christians, God is a family member. Some of us can have an intellectual argument about his existence, but for most this is akin to having someone show up and say unpleasant things about our mother. Nor do we particularly like it when our less than bright little brothers get picked on, which is what making fun of creationists often comes down to.

    Dawkins seem to me to be just another statist, and as such, primarily interested in trashing any source of authority not found in his imaginary scientist run utopia.

  • Hmm

    Things change.

    Evolution is a theory that seeks to describe a small part of the “how” of change within the subset of biology.

    That’s all it does….. The vast majority of educated Christians know this and accept it as is.

    So why all the fuss? Because maintaining the fuss is necessary to block out real thinking and maintain a certain narrative agenda.

    Brian, you say:

    …He points out that central to demoralising the Muslims is pointing out that their God is imaginary nonsense. But so too, he adds (and I agree), is the Christian version of God…

    There is a blindingly obvious drawback to such thinking – and its this: Merely because you can make no sense of a thing does not make the thing either nonsense or sensless.

    A lack of comprehension is not the equivalent of having knowledge

    Your argument/opinion consists of imagining that you have knowledge that you logically can not have, and then stating that your opponent is a fool for imagining knowledge that you “logically” know he cannot have. –Whoops!– Is that sense or another form of nonsense?

    Atheism (as we commonly see it – in its usual fundamentalist evangelistic form) has a major problem with regard to thinking.

    Atheism bases the bulk if its logic on a singular logical fallacy, bolstered by an appeal to authority, then turned into a circular argument.

    The logical fallacy is that “The Atheist scientifically knows that God cannot exist”. But science cannot by its own rules either prove or disprove such a theory. So it backs its theory up with an appeal to authority.
    Whose authority? From such as Dawkins et al? Where does he/they get his/their authority? By reference to other authorities within Science- Ta Da! Sheer genius.
    If you don’t think about it too much.

    But just like magic, you don’t have to think about it if you just are faithful and “Follow the narrative”.

    It takes an awful lot of faith to believe in the non existence of anything. Its even worse than continually telling yourself that you are not thinking about pink elephants. Such faith is more hard to come by if you put it to any sort of test. So to be a good atheist you have to avoid putting your beliefs to the test. Follow the narrative.

    Turn your thoughts outwards: Test other people’s beliefs against the authority you have been given by the great gods of atheism. “Dawkins be praised!”

    Remember that all religions are the equivalent. God = Allah = Brahma = Cheese dreams.

    Remember, only the foolish question atheism….”We are scientific – they are redundant, we know,- they merely imagine, we are scientific – they are foolish believers, we are modern intelligent thinkers – they are dinosaurs (haha), etc…

    Keep ye the faith…There is no God… THEY say that there is no God – Therefore there is no god. Case closed. Believers are nutters. Faithful atheists are scientists; never believers. It’s written down chapter and verse in the holy books of St Darwin and St Dawkins. We know it is because they are, and they are because they say they are. Yep. That’s it all settled. It is because it has been said. The narrative says so. That is the Hol(e)y truth. Amen. :)

  • Ham

    It would be nice if the Tea-Party-ers weren’t creationist, though, wouldn’t it? It does give everything else they do a little undeserved tinge of foolishness.

  • What Hmm said.

    It takes an awful lot of faith to believe in the non existence of anything.

    Brilliant, I’ll use it.

  • Dom

    “The logical fallacy is that “The Atheist scientifically knows that God cannot exist”. But science cannot by its own rules either prove or disprove such a theory.”

    To borrow from South Park, I can’t disprove that the Spaghetti Monster exists either. But I have no need for a Spaghetti Monster, and Dawkins’ point is that we have no need for a god, either. There are no questions that need to be answered with the concept of a god. We know why planets stay on course, we know why and how life develops, and so on. Such questions as “how did life begin” or “why is there something and not nothing” are not answered (yet), but an appeal to god does no good.

  • ‘We have no need’ and ‘we know’…Who is this ‘we’ you speak of, paleface?:-)

  • Dom

    Alisa, can you frame a question that requires the answer “Because there is a god”?

    I don’t mean a question like, “how did life begin”. If you answer that question by saying “Because there is a god who created life”, well, you are just putting the question aside until a real answer comes along.

  • Hmm

    Ham said:

    It would be nice if the Tea-Party-ers weren’t creationist

    Cough! cough! ..And you’d like them to stop beating their wives too! Yes?

  • Hmm

    Dom:

    I can’t disprove that the Spaghetti Monster exists either. But I have no need for a Spaghetti Monster, and Dawkins’ point is that we have no need for a god, either.

    Like Alisa says: “We”?

    Dawkins claims authority – the royal “we”

    Which just goes to show – It’s kind of ironic that one of the benefits of belief in God is that it stops us imagining that we are the ultimate authority.

  • Antoine Clarke

    I found the Blind Watchmaker a very interesting read.

    But Richard Dawkins is the sort of atheist that makes me hope for the existence of Heaven and Hell, if only for the moment in Rowan Atkinson’s Welcome to Hell sketch: “You lot must be feeling a right bunch of nitwits right now!”

    I include this link to illustrate what is being lost by the modern US atheist drive to ban soldiers from relgious expression. I think the actions of the four chaplains on the USS Dorchester firmly falls under the God telling people to be nice.

  • Dale Amon

    Interesting conversation. However I am among the hardest of hard scientists you will ever meet. I do not believe in the existence of things that are not provable by replicatable experiment or at the very least a large body of supporting data which alternative explanations fail to answer.

    I accept that many things are possible and many people believe many things. Most of them are false; some of them are unknowable (ie Godel has something to say about that); and a small number are true things which we simply have not got around to explaining yet.

    I happen to like Dawkins writings; I have read a bunch of his books over the last 30 years and have often used his work in my own thinking, particularly the thoughts on Iterated Prisoners Dilemma and on Evolutionarily Stable Strategies. These concepts have big applications to computer science… and to libertarianism and to understanding why there will always be criminals and slackers in any given society.

    So perhaps Dawkins himself has turned a bit Statist, but his thinking is deeply embedded in most of the libertarians I know who are also scientists.

    One might also note that even Noam Chomsky, a very different political animal, has done important scientific work. I learned Chomsky Deep Structure in my AI classes decades ago and his Psycholinguistics work is filled with great insights on how the brain processes language.

    So let us please separate the individuals politics from their value as scientists. The two are not always aligned.

  • Dale Amon,

    Yes, that’s true. I remember being as thrilled by the concept of an ESS as by the most exciting denoument of a detective story. In The Selfish Gene he comes close to grasping why welfare states will never work (quite apart from the moral issue of forced redistribution) but bullheadedly pulls away from admitting that what he has explained so clearly can ever have any application to human society, even though all the stuff about memes is about precisely that.

    I don’t know why he became so aggressively statist in recent years (a separate issue from being more aggressively atheist – particularly as I see people being non-aggressively atheist every day but I maintain it is philosophically impossible to be non-aggressively statist); unless it’s just that being lionised is often bad for people.

    It’s unfortunate for all sides that there is a current fad for atheism to be conflated with socialism. It doesn’t help anybody’s thinking to take your opinions as a package deal.

  • Dale, my reply to you has been smited. The short version: yes.

    (Smite that, foul robot!)

  • Paul Marks

    F.A. Hayek got it partly right when (in his “Constitution of Liberty” 1960) he said that people rejected evolution – not because of a basic reason against it, but because of the implications that were FALSELY taken from it.

    After all why should God not create a universe with evolution in it?

    That all the Bible was written by God has never been a majority Christian position (only certain small parts of the Bible, such as the Ten Commandments, are held to have been written by God).

    The Bible (including the New Testiment) is written by human beings (even the Gospels differ slightly) – and the further back one goes the more it is a matter of traditional stories (the Book of Genesis is such a story).

    The stories are written by human beings inspired by God and the stories have a moral purpose – but they remain stories. Human beings are not all from Adam and Eve – taken litterally the story does not even make sense in his own terms (Cain went and lived among the ….. – hang on, if all people are from Adam and Eve…..).

    Also the morality of the Bible is often NOT from God – it reflects that of the human beings.

    If anyone denies that – remember Joshua.

    Joshua attacks towns without cause (other than desire to take their land) and murders entire populations – down to the babies.

    Any Christian or Jew who claims such deeds were really commanded by God is saying that God is a murderer.

    The alternative is that Joshua was NOT doing God’s will.

    Sorry – but there are no other alternatives.

    People may think (with total sincerity) that they are serving God – but may not be at all.

    However, let us get back to the implications of evolution.

    Hayek does not help matters by (in the same 1960) work endorsing determinism – Hayek deines that determinism destroys moral responsiblity, but Hayek is just flat wrong on that.

    If “science” truly means that human beings do not make real choices (i.e. are not “beings” at all) then science is bunk (including evolution). However, (as Ayn Rand, Antony Flew and many others have pointed out) science does NOT have the determinist implications that turn of the 20th century Vienna (the Vienna of Hayek’s education) claimed it did.

    And evolution?

    Was it silly religious people who claimed that it had all sorts of evil implications?

    Not at all.

    The mainstream SUPPORTERS of evolution (falsely) claimed that evolution had all sorts of evil implications – for example that the “inferior” (races and individuals) should be exterminated or sterialized by government or private action.

    Such works as “Hunter’s Civic Biology” (the actual book in dispute [NOT whether the book should be allowed to be sold - but whether it should be used as school textbook] in the 1920s “Monkey Trial”, although the play and film never mention this, assumes that this is the right implication of evolution – it was a depraved doctrine that RIGHTLY horrified even the racists of Tennessee).

    The hostility to morality (as well as to religion) by the “scientific” mainstream was what led to the turning against evolution by so many Christians in the United States.

    And it was hostilty to moralty – to basic right and wrong.

    Read the account given in J. Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” or in Jack Cassell’s “Hoodwinked” – the people who took over the support of evolution in the United States were evil to the core.

    I say “took over” as (as late at the early 1900s) many leading evolution supporting scientists were Christians (real ones) – for example several of the people who wrote “The Fundementals” (the essays from which the term “fundementalist” comes – in opposition to the socialist “Social Gospel” and its “redefining” of religion, which was being done at the same time the Progressives were trying to “redefine” law and the Constitution) were natural scientists who believed in evolution.

    So it was not perversity.

    The ordinary religous people in the United States encountered people who justified evil (gut twisting horror) by the doctrine of evolution.

    So many of them came to see evolution as the enemy.

    They were wrong – but their error was a perfectly reasonable one.

    After all if your enemies are constantly quoting a doctrine (to justfy their wickedness) it is not unreasonable to assume it is a false doctrine.

    Even today Progressives in the United States cite evolution to justfiy both their moral releativism and their collectivism.

    So it is not unreasonable to make the ERROR of associating those doctrines with evolution (after all if the supporters of the doctrines say they are from evolution…..).

    How many people make this error (at least what pro evolution people would consider an error)?

    According to David Barton (the leading “fundementalist” educator) about half of American conservative Protestants do (and a rather lower percentage of conservative American Catholics).

    So – yes one is going to encounter people (all over the place) who reject evolution.

    Reject it NOT because they are committed to every word in the Bible being litterally true (including God telling Joshua to murder everyone in X, Y, Z, towns), or committed to the idea that God made Adam in 4004 BC and then made Eve from Adam rib and ……

    But hostile to evolution because of the moral implications of the doctrine that SUPPORTERS of the doctrine have told them that it has.

  • Hmm

    Reject it NOT because they are committed to every word in the Bible being litterally true (including God telling Joshua to murder everyone in X, Y, Z, towns), or committed to the idea that God made Adam in 4004 BC and then made Eve from Adam rib and ……

    But hostile to evolution because of the moral implications of the doctrine that SUPPORTERS of the doctrine have told them that it has.

    Very well said Paul.

  • Just a little background: Dawkins signed this petition to the government to “Abolish all faith schools and prohibit the teaching of creationism and other religious mythology in all UK schools.”.

    You can read his own comments on why he did so below the main post. He wrote, “The petition doesn’t call for the abolition of Religious Education, only of Faith Schools. It also calls for the cessation of the teaching of creationism. Both admirable aims, and both completely compatible with my comments.”

    He signed but then retracted his signature from another petition asking that the government “make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.”

    I couldn’t immediately find a link to the original of that, but it is extensively discussed here.

    So, he pulled back from endorsing the totalitarian implications of the second petition, which sought to ban the teaching of religion even in the home, but he does support the prohibition by law of schools teaching religion (i.e. with the aim of propagating it, not of teaching about it.) That’s quite a high degree of support for coercion.

    A pity. He is one of the great scientific popularizers of our age, a title of high honour in my book.

  • Smited twice. That “foul robot” crack was tempting fate.

  • revver

    It never ceases to amaze me the things people pick and use as shibboleths for class antagonism. The same old story given a new facelift: “ignorant uneducated rubes stand in the way of progress and enlightenment because they believe … “.

    I’m a creationist, and my convictions get put through regular testing from time to time. I’m not the least bit dogmatic against those with whom I disagree with, but always open to dialogue and discussion. The thing that irks me the most is the zeitgeistof atheism being some intellectual, default mode for the learned castes. The basis of modern science and math may come as a bit of a shock to them.

    Mathematicians who believed in a biblical God include: Carl Friedrich Gauss, Gottfried Leibniz, Leonhard Euler, Blaise Pascal, John Napier, Bernhard Riemann, John Venn, Thomas Bayes, William Edwards Deming, and Thomas Kirkman.
    Scientists believers include: Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Tycho Brahe, Christian Huygens, Robert Hooke, William Harvey, Johannes Kepler, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Robert Dunkin, Charles Stine, Max Planck, Georg Cantor, Lord Kelvin, Louis Pasteur, Charles Babbage, Carolus Linnaeus, Robert Boyle, William Turner, Thomas Young, Thomas Hodgkin,
    James Joule, William Herschel, Samuel Morse, Robert Stirling, John Brinkley,and Arthur Compton.

    Mutual cooperation and respect (agreeing to disagree) are key to advancing discovery. However, it seems to me that Dawkins et. al. spend more time proselytizing atheism than advancing actual scientific progress.

  • Dishman

    Science is a useful tool in sorting out what is real, but that’s all it is. It is not ‘The Answer’.

    Over the course of history, people have justified lots of wacky beliefs based on ‘science’. Worse, they have acted upon them, sometimes leaving millions dead.

    Brian Micklethwait wrote:
    If your God says that we should all be libertarians, as the God of several Christians of my acquaintance does say, I’ll regard you as a comrade.

    Indeed. If your beliefs lead you to coexist with me, I am not troubled by them. If you find some solace in them, all the better. If, on the other hand, your beliefs lead you to seek to shove a gun in my face or otherwise harm me, there will be trouble.

    Some of the zealous athiests are particularly troubling.

    (It currently amuses me to describe myself as Discordian.)

  • PersonFromPorlock

    God certainly isn’t needed in the machine Universe, but neither are you inside your machine body. And yet, you exist. That would seem to indicate that the question of God isn’t quite as open-and-shut as atheists think.

  • Rich Rostrom

    First comment: “wrong about causes of the financial crisis” is not comparable to “wrong about evolution”.

    The evidence for evolution is that it happened: the present state of life on Earth arose over billions of years. “Young Earth” Creationists deny this evidence – and the underlying evidence of the Earth’s multi-billion-year geological history. They refuse to accept the mountains of evidence that these events happened. (That is profoundly stupid. And wilful stupidity is always dangerous.)

    But even today, much is still unknown about the causes of these events. We know dinosaurs became extinct, but not why. It may have been the Chicxulub impact, or it may have been the Deccan Traps mega-eruption, or it may have been competition from early mammals – or some combination of all of these. We know when glacial periods began and ended, but not why. We know the Hawaiian island chain arose from the movement of the central Pacific crustal plate over an underlying “hot spot” in the mantle – but we don’t know what causes such “hot spots”.

    Likewise, we don’t know why the recent financial crises occurred. We know a lot about them, and some causative factors seem fairly clear, but others remain obscure. We don’t have complete data, and we haven’t had many years to analyze what we have. And we’re trying to determine underlying causes and mechanisms, which is much harder than documenting events.

    Which is not to say that some of the causes are clear enough that refusal to acknowledge them is profoundly stupid, and far more immediately dangerous than even Young Earth Creationism.

    Second comment: a lot of atheists want to use science as a stick to beat religion. Dawkins is obviously one of them. Religion invited this by early resistance to science, but it was always a temptation to the atheists. It is gratifying to atheists to imagine themselves as champions of science against superstition, especially when they can provoke some of the devout into rejecting science as anti-religious.

    And it is very gratifying to left-wing atheists of Dawkins’ ilk to mash all opposition to their social and political program into a blob of “right-wing Creationist boobs”. “Orgasmic relish”, as Natalie Solent put it, or perhaps the quintessence of smugness.

    Third comment: your atheist friends have persuaded themselves that Islamism and its associated terrorism are caused by the religion of Islam, which is bad and must be abolished. But they say further that Islam is bad because it is a religion – we should preach atheism to Moslems. But that is saying all religions are bad and should be abolished, so Christianity must be abolished for consistency.

    This is fairly obvious projection: the automatic answer to any current problem is whatever I’ve always wanted. Rather like the way the Global Warmists tell us “AGW” requires massive expansions of state power, massive subsidies to their pet technologies, and draconian restrictions on things they disapprove of.

  • Roue le Jour

    Pick up any creation myth and it will say something like “We are The People, our leader is a direct descendent of [insert deity here] and consequently those chaps over there are not people and it is OK to kill them.”

    Some people seem to draw exactly the same conclusion from evolution, which suggests that it’s the people, not the theory, which is to blame.

  • Jack Diederich

    No, it doesn’t matter – so long as it doesn’t have consequences. And I don’t mean consequences like people being annoying by talking about it at dinner parties – those people will just get invited to fewer dinner parties. I mean consequences like people with those beliefs trying to kill or jail me. That applies to so few creationists it isn’t worth mentioning.

    I know lots of people who carry around ideas I believe to be untrue: the moon landing was faked, we will be uploaded into robot bodies and live forever, we’re about to find the higgs boson, and a host of others that have no consequences in their daily lives.

    Well, other than that some of them bring up their pet subject a little too often, and get invited to fewer dinner parties.

  • Roue le Jour

    I hadn’t seen Rich’s comment when I posted, the similar conclusion is merely great minds thinking alike. ;)

  • I am a Catholic. That makes me a creationist. But this is not the sort of young earth creationist that atheist evolutionists love to smite. I believe that the universe happened as it happened, that God wants us to choose Him, and that he has set things up so that one will forever be able to set up an internally consistent explanation of how things happened and be both a believer or a nonbeliever. Proof denies faith and I believe in a God who very much wants us to have faith in Him.

    I do not think that the details of creation are very important. Sure, they’re useful as *any* knowledge is useful but not really important. This is because such knowledge is irrelevant to what *is* important.

    What is important, in my opinion, is to live your life in Christ and follow Him in an exemplary manner. This prepares one for the afterlife and generally makes you a decent human being who is not afraid of the mirror or waking up at 3AM. This is also the best preaching because to live that life is to live an extraordinary, beautiful life, one that others admire and will wish to imitate. In my personal case, I am very much a work in progress.

    I believe the vast majority of actual creationists have a similar belief. We find it annoying when some atheist dictates to God that He must fit within this or that rule set that the atheist has devised. We are concerned when they insist on the atheist position in the classroom when our children have yet to learn how to deal with an offensive blasphemer who holds power over you. The proper response of patience and prayer is a difficult one for a 7th grader. But ultimately, atheists can peacefully live in our world, but I do wonder if in the long term we can peacefully live in theirs or we will once again be thrust into the catacombs.

  • frak

    Brian Micklethwait,

    Everything in life now looks like it could have evolved.

    What would something that looks like it could not have evolved look like?

    Nothing in life now looks like it could only have been made by God.

    Huh? What would something look like that would suggest to you that God must have created it?

    Having been reading this book for a while, I am now more than ever entirely sure that evolution is a fact, for all the reasons that Dawkins says that it is a fact. I entirely agree with him that his creationist opponents are hopelessly and absurdly wrong about how life on earth came to be.

    Evolution is a self fulfilling prophecy. Evolution cannot be falsified. It cannot be tested.

    Lets say tomorrow God announces He exists and that to celebrate His coming out party He will destroy all life on earth except for 3,450 species of animals. Does this disprove evolution? The correct answer is no, it does not, even if God follows though on his promise. Whatever happens, happens. Whichever genes are passed on, get passed on. Period.

    This has nothing to do with the existence of God. And there is no evidence that can prove evolution is not true. It cannot not be true, by definition.

  • frak

    My last comment was smited. I really hope it gets through! Thanks.

  • frak

    Dom,

    But I have no need for a Spaghetti Monster, and Dawkins’ point is that we have no need for a god, either.

    Then how do you explain the majority of humans believing in God? Oh, you didn’t mean the word ‘need’.

    Humans are not rational. We like to think we choose our beliefs based on their logical merits, but this is generally not the case. In any case, though, I’m not aware of any religious folks who claim they believe in God because they “need” to, but there are probably some. What does it mean to need a belief anyway?

    Why would anyone need to believe anything that’s not true? Do you only believe that which is true? If so, please prove to yourself that the computer screen you are reading this on exists. If you can do this, please cite frak when you become the most famous philosopher in human history by doing so. Thanks.

  • frak

    Rich Rostrom,

    The evidence for evolution is that it happened: the present state of life on Earth arose over billions of years. “Young Earth” Creationists deny this evidence – and the underlying evidence of the Earth’s multi-billion-year geological history. They refuse to accept the mountains of evidence that these events happened. (That is profoundly stupid. And wilful stupidity is always dangerous.)

    Here’s your first problem. Lets say theoretically God created the universe. Whether this happened 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years ago or 500 years ago IS IRRELEVANT. Either way, evolution happened since, which is a way of saying that time passed since creation because there is no way for evolution to not happen once there IS time/space/earth/life/universe/etc.

    Your second problem is that you you actually said that the evidence for evolution is that it happened. Is this an argument or a cute phrase to make the religious feel badly about being religious? If the former, we may have a different understanding of the meaning of the term evidence. Moving on.

    Lets say IT/space/time/earth/life/whatever came into existence in a way that has nothing to do with God (oh, BTW, the argument for God is not that evolution is false but, rather, how does anything exist).

    Okay, so then how from that non-God starting point of life existing do genes get passed on while evolution does not hold? IT’S NOT POSSIBLE. EVOLUTION IS A SELF FULFILLING PROPHECY.

  • frak

    Another comment I just submitted has been smited! First one was for Brian Micklethwait. This one is for Rich Rostrom. Please, I hope both get through! Thanks a lot

  • frak

    revver,

    Mathematicians who believed in a biblical God include:[...]
    Scientists believers include[...]

    Irrelevant. You’re better off, especially at a place like Samizdata, to make the argument from logic and not from authority. Lucky for you, logic is on your side. Consider:

    Somehow, in a non-God causing way (I know, what silliness) the universe/life/earth/space/time exists. How can genes be passed on in violation of evolution? It is not possible. Thus, evolution is not falsifiable. There cannot be a creature or species whose existence either current or past proves that evolution cannot be true. The concept of evolution is basically meaningless because it is a self fulfilling prophecy. Evolution is not a theory and believing in it does not preclude the existence of God anyway.

    That atheists actually think that fossils and a billions-of-years old earth actually proves God does not exist just shows you how cloudy their thought process truly is.

  • frak

    A 3rd smited (idk why)! I am done with commenting now, sorry.. I truly hope it gets through.

  • Roy Lofquist

    I have come upon The Tower of Babel. Most everyone in this thread is using terminology that is ill defined, in many cases with malice aforethought – not by my friends here but by sundry zealots who seek to deceive.

    Okay, examples.

    Creationism is conflated with Biblical innerancy. Most all people through recorded history have believed that an unknown force, or forces, created the world. Christianity is not peculiar in this respect.

    There is the logically preposterous argument that since one believes one thing in error that they are wrong about everything else. “Your God is supposedly omnipotent and omniscient – how come He screwed the pooch vis a vis the appendix?”.

    Evolution (neo-Darwinism) is some kind of science. It is not. It is a “just so” story. It makes no predictions. It has no explanation of mechanism beyond pure random chance. Karl Popper would not approve. White coats do not a scientist make.

    Evolution presumes a “spontaneous order” resulting from random fluctuations. This is a phenomenon that has never been observed save in living matter – specifically DNA based organisms. Information Theory denies it.

    The crux of the problem, the acid test, for evolution is the explanation of the origin of DNA. The Darwinists say “Oh, we don’t address that niggling detail”. Cop Out.

    If anyone can offer an explanation of DNA within the known scientific laws of the universe then I will eat my heaping of crow. Until then I shall remain highly sceptical.

  • Roy Lofquist

    I have come upon The Tower of Babel. Most everyone in this thread is using terminology that is ill defined, in many cases with malice aforethought – not by my friends here but by sundry zealots who seek to deceive.

    Okay, examples.

    Creationism is conflated with Biblical innerancy. Most all people through recorded history have believed that an unknown force, or forces, created the world. Christianity is not peculiar in this respect.

    There is the logically preposterous argument that since one believes one thing in error that they are wrong about everything else. “Your God is supposedly omnipotent and omniscient – how come He screwed the pooch vis a vis the appendix?”.

    Evolution (neo-Darwinism) is some kind of science. It is not. It is a “just so” story. It makes no predictions. It has no explanation of mechanism beyond pure random chance. Karl Popper would not approve. White coats do not a scientist make.

    Evolution presumes a “spontaneous order” resulting from random fluctuations. This is a phenomenon that has never been observed save in living matter – specifically DNA based organisms. Information Theory denies it.

    The crux of the problem, the acid test, for evolution is the explanation of the origin of DNA. The Darwinists say “Oh, we don’t address that niggling detail”. Cop Out.

    If anyone can offer an explanation of DNA within the known scientific laws of the universe then I will eat my heaping of crow. Until then I shall remain highly sceptical.

  • Roy Lofquist

    I have come upon The Tower of Babel. Most everyone in this thread is using terminology that is ill defined, in many cases with malice aforethought – not by my friends here but by sundry zealots who seek to deceive.

    Okay, examples.

    Creationism is conflated with Biblical innerancy. Most all people through recorded history have believed that an unknown force, or forces, created the world. Christianity is not peculiar in this respect.

    There is the logically preposterous argument that since one believes one thing in error that they are wrong about everything else. “Your God is supposedly omnipotent and omniscient – how come He screwed the pooch vis a vis the appendix?”.

    Evolution (neo-Darwinism) is some kind of science. It is not. It is a “just so” story. It makes no predictions. It has no explanation of mechanism beyond pure random chance. Karl Popper would not approve. White coats do not a scientist make.

    Evolution presumes a “spontaneous order” resulting from random fluctuations. This is a phenomenon that has never been observed save in living matter – specifically DNA based organisms. Information Theory denies it.

    The crux of the problem, the acid test, for evolution is the explanation of the origin of DNA. The Darwinists say “Oh, we don’t address that niggling detail”. Cop Out.

    If anyone can offer an explanation of DNA within the known scientific laws of the universe then I will eat my heaping of crow. Until then I shall remain highly sceptical.

  • Roy Lofquist

    I’m with frak. Three smites and you’re out!

  • Roy Lofquist

    frak, I think I’ve got it. Their oh so noble review policy has a secret addendum – don’t attack the author with logic and/or reason.

  • bobby b

    The writer doesn’t know many creationists, I’m guessing.

    “Creationist” can be a misleading term, especially to those who are unfamiliar with Christian traditions and studies. The common image of things happening over the course of one described week (“and on the third day . . .”) with Adam appearing out of nowhere, shortly followed by one of his ribs floating out and turning into Eve, seems to be the favorite of the anti-religious cohort, for obvious reasons. It’s so arbitrary and literal that it’s easily dismissed and ridiculed.

    I think it’s more common for Christians to hold to a more diffuse view of creation. Most Christians do not insist on the complete literal undeniable truth of each word chosen in the Bible. Yes, some hold the Bible to be an infallible passing-down of the exact words chosen by God to be there, and thus humans must accept them exactly as they are read. But this is not the majority view.

    Most Christians see the Bible as a collection of works that were written over many ages by men who were inspired by God, but limited by their own limitations. Thus, coming from a tradition of patriarchy, the Bible seems to favor patriarchy. Having been written in a mostly desert environment, it contains religious rules that seem to be well-correlated with healthy food-handling rules for hot climes. In short, for most, the Bible contains great moral lessons and teachings, most of which are delivered as metaphor.

    The bulk of Christians will tell you that the creationism which they embrace has to do with an overall concept – that God created “the heavens and the earth” – i.e., everything – and then later got life started, and still later, that life, through God’s design, reached a point where humans – intelligent beings closer to God’s image than anything else had been to that point – sprang up.

    Notice that that idea of biblical creationism is entirely compatible with the theory of evolution. Evolution theory suggests life developing from small and simple to larger, more complex, more differentiated life forms, advancing from single cells to trilobites to dinosaurs to people (I skipped some steps, so don’t start ridiculing me as thinking we came directly from dinosaurs, please.)

    Creationism is based on metaphor more so than on literal description. When the Bible says “on the fifth day, . . “, the assumption that a “day” has the same meaning as we usually give it – a 24-hour period derived from the rotation of the earth – is too easy, and unsupported. But its important part – its core – holds that the actual life spark only began when God initiated it.

    Evolution skips that step. Evolution describes how life, once it’s here, develops and differentiates and dies out and lives and dominates and changes. But it has nothing to say about the instant a cold and lifeless rock suddenly had something on it that was alive. For that, Christians look to the biblical account of creation, in which God starts life.

    Personally, I’m an atheist, since I cannot intellectually believe something based only on how much it would comfort me if it were true. But when I review one of those internet lists of famous people who were religious believers, and see some of the towering intellects on those lists – people far, far brighter and more discerning and quicker than I – who also believed in the Christian religion, I find I can’t make the casually judgmental “it’s all hooey” sorts of dismissals of religion that seem so common these days, unless I become comfortable insisting that Einstein and Newton were idiots, and my ego hasn’t arrived there yet.

  • Rob H

    As an ex- atheist Dawkins disciple who has found God again (I lost him in my early teens, now in my early 30’s) I find this fascinating.

    Dawkins is unecessarily agressive towards mild religion. In fact he blames it for making the extremists acceptable.

    He is clearly a very intelligent man and many of his disciples do not see the subtlety of his points because they are over powered by the ones he makes to get press coverage and sell books.

    He is a patron of the King James Bible society and talks about the benefits of his christian upbringing and then is seemingly oblivious to the fact that if he had his way then many more children would not have the benefit of the same upbringing.

    Steve Baker MP lists “The Abolition of Man” as one of his all time great books and it was after seeing his recommendation that I read this and then the other C.S. Lewis signature Classics that brought me back to Christianity. I recommend them to any libertarian who will be pleasantly suprised by the very strong individualist and libertarian themes.

    Many Atheists, and I was one, like to think about morals in a “do unto others…” kind of way. But this is lazy and there is not enough proper moral philosophy in the growing athiest culture. Similarly when promoting a libertarian society many avoid the obvious need for individuals to make right, good and just decisions at every turn. Self interest is not enough, it is the big lie and much of the thought that has gone into moral philosophy within Christianity from Dante’s Divine comedy to Milton and then C.S. Lewis could provide a framework or support, without which many people do not want to be free.

    The whole creationism obsession is a distraction from the more important questions of living a good and just life, which Brians post refers to in his acceptance of religious people as long as they are good.

    If you choose to read the C.S. Lewis signatures I would start with Steve Bakers Recommendation, “The Abolition of Man” first and then I would read “The Screwtape Letters” which demonstrate the weakness in our minds when it comes to taking the easy moral option and why one choice is always better, more just or more good than another not just “different” as in sense of the modern liberal culture of justification.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    As I was with Brian in a very nice restaurant when he asked this question of me, I have several points:

    First, I agree with much of what Paul Marks and Dale Amon have said. In PM’s case, I agree that the aggressive stance taken by some atheists on the left has no doubt prompted many creationists to think that the cause of freedom lies on the religious side, so to speak. And the sheer smugness of some (not all) atheists does rub me the wrong way.

    A lot of what Dawkins writes is fine – when it is on the subject he is an expert on. But once he skis off the piste, so to speak, he makes a prize ass of himself. For instance, some of his comments on the inflluence of the Jewish lobby in the US leave a nasty taste.

    As for other very noisy atheists, such as Sam Harris, he seems to be an aggressive leftist and again, it is certain to encourage people to think that if this is what it means to be an atheist, then to hell – scuse the pun – with it. Christopher Hitchens can have the same effect on people, although he seems to have recanted some of his more noxious Marxism in his latter years, to the extent of even saying nice things about the late Milton Friedman in his campaign to end the military draft.

    Does it really matter? Up to a point, not really. The only general point is that anything that is seen to stand in the way of honest, scientific analysis of physical phenomena is bad, and as such, creationism, at least in the forms I have seen, seems to be a retrograde step. But I have met far too many Christians – such as my late, beloved mother – who were relaxed about evolution to feel that Dawkins, and some of his allies, get themselves unnecessarily worked up.

    Final point: it often surprises me how some conservatives, who can be moved by Edmund Burke’s insights about the slow evolution of customs and traditions, and are alive to the “creationism” of socialist central planning, suddenly switch to a different mindset when it comes to life itself. Odd.

  • Antoine Clarke

    If you want the most basic reason why a Christian will make a better defender of liberty than an atheist: one recognises a higher value than the state, the other might not.

  • Dishman

    Dom wrote:
    But I have no need for a Spaghetti Monster, and Dawkins’ point is that we have no need for a god, either.

    The Universe may have no need for a god. I believe that can be argued effectively, and Dawkins does so within the context of Evolution. The context of Physics is another matter, but I believe that reaches the same result. That does not preclude the existence of a god.

    Precluding the existence of a god is a far more difficult task, but may be possible within the context of Physics and Information Theory. That question could also come out with the opposite answer, or something even stranger. We’re also well short of being able to tackle it.

    frak wrote:
    Humans are not rational. We like to think we choose our beliefs based on their logical merits, but this is generally not the case.

    I suspect frak is closer to the point.

    Dawkins does not effectively argue the question in the context of psychology and human interaction.

    An even better question is, “Is it useful to have a belief in god?” That question is nearly as ugly as the Physics and Information Theory question above.

    Answering that requires a common metric.

    Libertarians can have a relaxed discussion on the subject because we share a common metric, that States running amok, oppressing and killing millions of people is “a very bad thing”. There are, unfortunately, people who believe it is “a good thing”.

  • hennesli

    Anyone who continues to hold the belief in a flat Earth despite an overwhelming mountain of evidence, both rational and empirical, which contradicts that belief, can be safely dismissed as someone not to be taken seriously.

    Same with creationism – a useful litmus test since as soon as I know someone holds creationist beliefs I know I don’t have to take anything they say seriously.

  • coniston

    Hennesli,

    Does your litmus test also apply to Homeopathy? Or organic food? Both of these have been scientifically proved to be useless. Does it also apply to history? How about those who believe (ah that word again) that the US Civil War was fought in any other decade but the 1860’s as in three quarters of the high school students in the US. (i.e. 75% could not identify the decade in which the Civil War was fought). Perhaps your litmus test is a bit silly.

  • I am a self described atheist, a ‘soft atheist’ like Brian, not because “God can be proven not to exist” (indeed anyone trying that is a fool) but because the Theory of God does not actually explain much… it just isn’t much of a theory… so I just get on with looking for better theories that actually do explain things and try to form critical preferences for the best of those.

    If someone comes up with a viable Quantum Theory of God that actually seems to explain things as opposed to being an explanatory dead end, I would be happy to consider that but generally “God” just seem like a distraction from serious attempts to explain the nature of reality… so I generally just avoid the subject. My favourite Godist is William of Ockham, and I find that God always seems to end up getting cut from all my theories with his razor.

  • frak, I think I’ve got it. Their oh so noble review policy has a secret addendum – don’t attack the author with logic and/or reason

    Actually mate the policy is the comments that the mean old smitebot has scooped up get reviewed between one and many times a day, depending on how much real life stuff intrudes, and unless it is spam or gratuitously rude or from a ‘Known Blogroach’, it nearly always gets approved.

    Insulting the management can also get you kicked, depending on the level of ambient irritation.

  • Not that it’s relevant to anything here, Dom, but I do not believe in god.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    @Dishman,

    A common metric? Such as:

    Number of people killed per religionist (ANY religion)
    vs
    Number of people killed per atheist

    What timespan? Throughout the entire of human history? The bloody 20th century? The likely-to-be-as-bloody 21st?

    I personally have no beef against Christians, and I happen to think the modern enlightened version of Christianity to be as fine an operating system for the common man – they don’t have to think too hard about what’s the right thing to do. Take it away, you’ll end up with a real mess, because like all things, a lack of belief is a vacuum… and nature abhors a vacuum.

    You can try replacing religion with logic and reason, but as Kohlberg found out, most people can’t and don’t get far with it. And merging Kohlberg’s thesis with Nietzsche explains that most people can’t effectively live by the highest abstraction of moral reasoning – to be one’s own judge and avenger of one’s own laws.

  • Russ

    As a Texan, I’m hip-deep in this discussion every time the Baptists and various fundy groups try to rewrite the public school textbooks (this is often). Nota bene, I am no friend to these morons. But the notion that “we” don’t need a God is boffo, as well, and prima-facie evidence that most *public* atheists are, to put it kindly, self-centered pricks.

    Let’s grant the public atheists all of their arguments: religion is a crutch whose only purpose is to reassure insignificant human beings that their lives really DO mean something all out of proportiont to their actual achievement, and is essentially a form of glue that helps emotionally-crippled people with poor social skills to build communities, and then regulate them in a primitive and stunted but vaguely pro-social sort of way.

    Well, if that’s the case, then what kind of flaming solipsistic jackass would run around INSISTING on kicking those crutches out from underneath the people who need them?

    As opposed to simply saying “this is nonsense, let’s keep religion out of propoer science, and move on; have a good day.”

  • TDK

    I’ll tell you the thing that troubles me about this debate

    When Origin of the Species was published the default position was a version of Creationism. Whilst some theories of evolution via acquired characteristics preceded it, none of them were robust enough to become widely accepted. Yet from this minority position The Theory of Evolution rose to become the accepted theory of the majority. It achieved this during a time when the church was far more dominant and powerful.

    Yet somehow, we now need to intervene to prevent anyone, anyone at all sending their kids to a school that might teach creationism.

    Why this panic by Dawkins et al? Do they really fear that Creationism could recover its previous mass acceptance amongst their peers.

  • Let’s grant the public atheists all of their arguments: religion is a crutch whose only purpose is to reassure insignificant human beings that their lives really DO mean something all out of proportiont to their actual achievement, and is essentially a form of glue that helps emotionally-crippled people with poor social skills to build communities, and then regulate them in a primitive and stunted but vaguely pro-social sort of way.

    Well, if that’s the case, then what kind of flaming solipsistic jackass would run around INSISTING on kicking those crutches out from underneath the people who need them?

    As opposed to simply saying “this is nonsense, let’s keep religion out of propoer science, and move on; have a good day.”

    Indeed.

  • Roy Lofquist

    Dear Mr. de Havilland,

    I apologize.

    I was a bit frustrated by a peculiarity in the comments processing. When I refreshed the page it notified me that the anti-spambot code I had entered was incorrect. This happened three times, thus the duplicate posts.

    A bit of gin and a touch of insomnia contributed to my intemperance.

    Again, my apologies sir.

    Roy

  • Dishman

    @The Wobbly Guy,

    I think we’re on pretty much the same page.

    @Russ

    I think your comment is worth repeating.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    @Russ,

    What kind of flaming solipsistic jackass, you say?

    Well, there’s a reason a lot of atheists happen to be strident commies and socialists… remove religion, and all the better for them to impose THEIR values, THEIR systems.

    And another significant number of deluded jackasses who assume all human beings possess the same capacity for learning and wisdom, and therefore would be able to live by the same rules they, the enlightened jackasses, live by. A sadly misplaced optimism, I think.

  • What is wrong with this sentence?

    No, what interests me is whether the fact that so many people now, still, deny the truth of evolution matters.

    Answer: the word deny. Brian insinuates that the evidence for evolution is readily available to all, or at least to virtually all people living in advanced societies, and the creationists willfully blind themselves to it.

    Truth is that a great many average folks can’t comprehend evolution, any more than they can fathom the Star Trek transporter. They know what it’s purported to do, but it cannot be observed in real time, and average folks cannot even faintly imagine the mechanics. It is not easy to convince people of ideas they can’t wrap their heads around.

    There’s another problem word in Brian’s quote: the word evolution itself. People often fail to notice when differing factions use the same terms to mean different things.

    For instance, some creationists confuse evolution (change from one species to another) with abiogenesis (change from inanimate matter to life form). Commenter Dom demonstrated another, stating that creationists believe that cell mutation is a type of evolution.

    Cell mutation involves a process unique to cells – cell contacts a foreign chemical (or bag of chemicals, i.e. a virus or another cell), reaction takes place, cell’s chemical makeup is changed, cell division preserves the change assuming the change wasn’t localized. Speciation of multicellular life forms assumes a process by which entire cells are generated in a single iteration. Creationists and evolution skeptics (and perhaps even some evolutionists) note the distinction and do not equate the two.

    One more thing: a lot of folks (on all sides of the debate) view the origins of multicellular species as a purely academic issue that has nothing to do with any decisions they ever have to make. Who’s to say they’re wrong?

  • ManikMonkee

    ermmm, I live in Africa and obviously we all know about IQ and belief in religion. The universe is infinite in space and time, energy can’t be created or destroyed, it just makes me laugh about their praise of some neolithic jewish god.

  • Dishman

    Alan K. Henderson wrote:

    Truth is that a great many average folks can’t comprehend evolution, any more than they can fathom the Star Trek transporter. They know what it’s purported to do, but it cannot be observed in real time, and average folks cannot even faintly imagine the mechanics. It is not easy to convince people of ideas they can’t wrap their heads around.

    The Peter Principle: “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”.

    That tends to suggest that nobody can actually fully process the information they have available to them.

  • Robert

    There are strong analogies between natural selection and free markets, between the invisible hand and the blind watchmaker, so accepting one makes it easier to accept the other. Similarly, there are strong parallels between the creationist arguments that only a designer can explain elaborating engineering of nature, and the statist argument that only a central planner can create a smoothly working economy.

    Further people who accept any one argument form authority are more likely to accept all the others, which is not desirable. Some people support evolution because the authorities declare it true, of course, but overall, belief in creationism is a reliable indicator of a willingness to accept what you’re told – not a 100% correlation, but good enough for a rule of thumb.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Frak: what I meant was that the evidence regarding evolution is evidence that it happened. Immense numbers of fossils showing extinct types and obvious chains of development. Genetic maps which show how species developed and differentiated. And so on.

    Evidence of the causes and mechanisms of evolutionary change is much scantier; must in fact be indirect and inferential. Brian’s original post compared evolution denial with error about the causes of recent economic crises.

    “What would something look like that would suggest to you that God must have created it?”

    Ever heard the term “irreducible complexity”? It is the basis of the “intelligent design” form of creationism. The claim is that there are traits found in living organisms (anatomical structures, metabolic systems, whatever) that cannot have arisen through evolution, because there is no viable preceding form.

    Evolution asserts that species change over time in small steps. These steps occur as a result of random mutations, and the favorable mutations are preserved through natural selection. What this means is that every step in the development of the current form of a species had to be an advantage over the previous step.

    Where “irreducible complexity” comes in is when a trait is too complex to arise in a single mutation, and none of the steps leading to the complete trait confers any advantage on the species, or might even be harmful.

    The argument is that such a trait can only have arisen by the action of some external power, which directed the evolutlon of that species to a desired end. IOW, the trait is the result of Intelligent Design.

    AFAIK, the proponents of this idea have yet to find such a trait. They have proposed several candidates, but all have been provided valid evolutionary paths.

    If such a trait could be definitely identified, that would falsify the present theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection.

  • That tends to suggest that nobody can actually fully process the information they have available to them.

    I’ve been talking about information that people don’t have available to them, so your remark makes no sense.

  • There are strong analogies between natural selection and free markets, between the invisible hand and the blind watchmaker, so accepting one makes it easier to accept the other. Similarly, there are strong parallels between the creationist arguments that only a designer can explain elaborating engineering of nature, and the statist argument that only a central planner can create a smoothly working economy.

    Using intelligently designed markets as a metaphor for markets is whacked. (I’ve seen that meme before.) The statist analogy to creationism is a new one on me. Problem with that one is that statists have far less control than they think they do – a deity has to push around nonintelligent atoms, whereas the statist has to push around intelligent subjects who, more often than not, don’t behave as expected.

    From a different angle, statists might be a tad analogous to the Greco-Roman mythos. Statists, like the pantheon of Olympus, are a bunch of backstabbing weasels who get in the way of each other’s plans.

  • Paul Marks

    As Natalie pointes out, Richard Dawkins is a totalitarian – to forbid religous schools is totalitiarian, and it is pointless to shy away from this fact.

    This is the difference between the most unscientific American politician and a totalitarian – like Dawkins.

    None of them (and I mean none) of the members of the House of Representatives of the Senate or the State Governors who disagree with evolution would forbid private athiest schools.

    Yet Dawkins would forbid private religous schools – he is, I repeat, a totalitarian.

    As recently as World War II American government schools (in most States) were not athiest at all – School prayer, Bible study (and so on) were not successfully challenged till well after World War II.

    Did this prevent the United States becoming the most economically advanced (and most powerful) nation on Earth? No.

    Did it prevent the United States from becomming number one in science? No.

    There is no empirical (“scientific”) evidence for even the idea that government religous schools (and remember American Catholics did not have their own schools because they thought the Public Schools were athiest – they, rightly, thought them PROTESTANT) holds back economic or scientific advance.

    Nor were American Catholic Schools backward – on the contrary their scientific education was first class.

    The world of the local School Board (controlled by local parents by direct election – and funded by local tax) is long ago and far away (School Board districts have been “consolidated” and much funding is now from State governments and the Federal governments) and the old religous nature of the American Public Schools is not only forgotten people are even taught that the Constitution forbids it (an interpretation unknown till after World War II).

    Perhaps one day totalitarians like Richard Dawkins really will get their way and private religous schools will also be closed – as they were both in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.

    At least this may happen in Britain (even if not in the United States).

    But the consequences of this will be far worse than a some people not beleveing in biological evolution.

    Worse politically, worse economically and (yes), in the end, worse SCIENTIFICALLY.

    “Paul, Richard Dawkins is not typical of the elite….”

    They why do they not denounce him?

    Why do they (instead) heap honours upon him?

    It certainly is not for his originial scientific research.

    Because he has not done any.

  • Robert

    Alan, an intelligently designed market isn’t free – rather than taking whatever shape it spontaneously would, it’s been forced into the designer mould.

    For the analogy with creationism, what matters is the way statists think the world works, not the way it actually does. They claim a central authority is needed to produce a functioning society, a claim structurally very similar to the creationist claim that an intelligent designer is needed to produce life; in both cases, the assumption is that order can only be imposed from the top down, that it can’t emerge from the bottom up.

  • They claim a central authority is needed to produce a functioning society, a claim structurally very similar to the creationist claim that an intelligent designer is needed to produce life

    They claim no such thing. What they do claim is that god created life and left it alone (the ‘moral agent’ thing) – very much unlike the statist’s central authority that is supposedly needed not to produce, but to run a functioning society.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Quite right, Alisa! even God rested on the seventh day, to see how things worked out. Statists never rest! god expects individuals to improve themselves- the statists will prod you to their goals, removing choice.