Recently, a television show has returned to our viewing screens. The original Cosmos was before my time and I can't speak to the quality of the Neil deGrasse Tyson version - though if his time on the Daily Show is any indication he's fun to watch. Whatever the quality of that show, I can't help but be happy that in this day and age where people in positions of power deny reality when it doesn't agree with their preconceptions of how the world works, that a show attempts to glorify fact-based science. You could do an entire diary on its own about such people. Fox News and Obamacare. Darrel Issa and Benghazi. Scott Walker and unions. Senator Inhofe and his never-ending crusader against climate change.
But today I want to talk about one facet of denialism, one that reaches back to the return of Cosmos. Evolution, and how people freak out when you talk about it.
Over at the pro-"intelligent design" Discovery Institute, they're not happy. Senior fellow David Klinghoffer writes that the latest Cosmos episode "[extrapolated] shamelessly, promiscuously from artificial selection (dogs from wolves) to minor stuff like the color of a polar bear's fur to the development of the human eye." In a much more elaborate attempted takedown, meanwhile, the institute's Casey Luskin accuses Tyson and Cosmos of engaging in "attempts to persuade people of both evolutionary scientific views and larger materialistic evolutionary beliefs, not just by the force of the evidence, but by rhetoric and emotion, and especially by leaving out important contrary arguments and evidence." Luskin goes on to contend that there is something wrong with the idea of the "tree of life." Tell that to the scientists involved in the Open Tree of Life project, which plans to produce "the first online, comprehensive first-draft tree of all 1.8 million named species, accessible to both the public and scientific communities." Precisely how to reconstruct every last evolutionary relationship may still be an open scientific question, but the idea of common ancestry, the core of evolution (represented conceptually by a tree of life), is not.Join me below the undulating orange ouroboros of life.
It's been in vogue to 'teach the controversy' over evolution in the United States these days because evolution has always been an odd issue. Maybe it's because the United States - while not officially a religious nation - is filled with people who overall are more religious than our European brethren. Or maybe it's connected to the erroneous belief that we were split from the British Empire by devout Christians and not deists.
Whatever their reasons, I assume evolution is a direct challenge to the most espoused interpretations of the Bible, a challenge to the 30% of people that claim to interpret it literally. I assume it directly challenges the idea that God created the Earth in seven days. That the Earth and the universe are far older than a few thousand years.
Creationism has many flavors and forms. Intelligent design seems to be the one favored today, and while 'standard' creationism is also popular (that animals are the same as they were when God created them) other versions exist as well. Versions where the seven 'days' are actually the eons of time accepted by scientists, or where life just popped into being on a whim. Whatever the type of theory, it relies on the following:
>I believe in a higher power for whatever reason.
>I believe that the world is so complex that I cannot imagine a world where it was not created by someone with a plan.
>Because I cannot imagine such a world, God exists.
Science relies on theories being observable or at least provable. I could claim that fairies exist, that they're invisible, and that if I clap my hands loud enough they come to life but that doesn't make it science. A lack of evidence does not prove a scientific theory, it just allows the ones currently accepted to remain in place.
Creationists ask evolutionists where their proof is that evolution is 'the answer'. They look at the bones in the ground and charts and say that it's a lie from the pit of hell. Then when the evolutionists ask for the creationists' proof, they pull out a Bible and claim that their faith is being attacked. Faith can do wonderful things for our motivation, and can help some people make sense of a great many crazy things.
But as a guy who grew up going to Sunday School, let me say this. I thought of the idea behind gap creationism when I was in elementary school and thought I was clever!. I had to come to terms with the inherent conflict between what the Bible says the world is and what scientific proof shows it to be.
I still continue to struggle with my faith and its place in the world, and trying to force it upon scientific progress doesn't help. So please, let religion be religion and science be science.