JR'S Free Thought Pages
Two Letters Challenging Christian Ignorance
On Faith, Evolution and Christian Ignorance
(#1) The Editor, Chilliwack Progress
August 3, 2014
"It takes Faith to Believe in Evolution", August 1, 2014
Whenever Christians run out of ideas in their efforts to discredit scientific theories that conflict with scripture, they often resort to the ludicrous ploy that all claims are assertions of faith.
Unlike religion, science does not engage in claims to certainty or appeals to faith, but rather plausibility, probability and evidence. Do we appeal to faith in propositions such as 2 + 2 = 4, that water boils at 100 degrees C or that Newton's Laws of Motion and Universal Gravitation or Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion are valid theories?
H. L. Mencken, the renown American journalist, essayist and caustic critic of religion, was basically correct when he defined faith as "the illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable". Faith, I hesitate to say, is an intellectual vice, a form of epistemological anarchy. With evidence and cogency of argument, one has no need for the irrationality of "faith".
Many people, particularly the devout, rely on faith when they covet some comforting contention such as creationism but cannot produce evidence or rational argument to corroborate it. Moreover, intensity of belief and consolatory factors count for naught when considering the veracity of a claim. As Michel de Montaigne wrote in one of his essays, "Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known."
Faith is a convenient labour saving device, enabling anyone to form an opinion without the intellectual toil of having to dig up the facts, supply evidence and construct a cogent argument.
In the end, there is really nothing left for faith to do; all that remains is the grin of a vanishing Alice in Wonderland Cheshire cat. The religious repeatedly engage in existential angst about the apparent random contingencies of the universe, but their faith, if it can ever be right about anything, can only be right by accident.
Darwinian Evolution and Natural Selection is a 150 year old scientific theory accounting for the appearance and flourishing of life on earth. It has become, especially in light of the research and groundbreaking discoveries in genetics since the 1950s, the cornerstones of modern biology and medical science. The volume of supporting evidence has become enormous.
Astrophysicists inform us that the universe (which quite plausibly may have always existed) following the "Big Bang" is 14 billion years old. Our little speck in the cosmos called earth is about 4.5 billion years old, with abiogenesis, the emergence of living from inanimate matter, occurring about 3.5 billion years ago. Homo sapiens evolved about 200,000 years ago or about .0044 % of the time that the earth has existed.
Conceptual obstacles notwithstanding, the introduction of a creator to explain all this signifies nothing, merely superimposing a mystery on a pre-existing one. If the universe and everything else has a cause, then God has a cause, thus creating a vicious infinite regress argument. Hence, the Genesis account of creation and other biblical bedtime stories such as the Adam and Eve myth explain nothing, as do most other credulous accounts in the infamous 2000 plus year old book inundated with countless falsehoods and fables.
The claim by Mr. G that without a deity life is meaningless and morality rendered inert is ridiculous. Life has meaning to anyone who takes an interest in it and the idea there is some logical necessity between belief in a supreme being and ethics is equally inane. In fact the simple refutation of the latter can be traced back to Plato's Euthyphro.
Ethics is not based on authority, supernatural or otherwise, but rather by appeals to personal conscience and agreed upon societal norms. The notion that morality is grounded in some supreme authority, an invisible supernatural tyrant in the sky, complete with rewards and punishments, simply reduces ethical reflection and deliberation to prudence.
Finally, throughout history faith has been promoted by those in positions of power in order to ensure the docility and subservience of the subordinate masses in their charge. It's time for Christians to heed 1 Corinthians 13:11 and "put away childish things".
(#2) Editor, Chilliwack Progress
August 11, 2014
"Creationism and Evolution both Theories", Aug 8, 2014
Mr. A is clearly confused about the scientific conceptions of conjecture, hypothesis and theory. The various rhetorical word games many people play with these concepts has a long and infamous history.
Do not be fooled by these Orwellian word manipulations. Evolution in the broad sense – the spirit of what Darwin was trying to explain - can no longer be sensibly described as a theory in the rhetorical senses of conjecture or mere speculation, having long since progressed beyond the event horizon of reasonable doubt. Many people mistakenly think that the fossil record is the primary or even the only evidence for evolutionary theory. But despite the compelling case that can be made from fossils alone, they in fact provide only a small fraction of the total evidence, which amongst other things is drawn from molecular biology, DNA analysis, embryonic development, geology, biochemistry, the geographical distribution of plants and animals, detailed observation of species over time, artificial selection, and anatomical comparisons of living creatures. New pathogens such as SARS, HIV, Ebola and more virulent tuberculosis bacilli continue to evolve. Unfortunately for humans, it is their adaptive evolutionary capacity that causes some of these microbes to be resistant to the latest antibiotics.
Darwinian Evolution and Natural Selection is a bona fide scientific theory accounting for the appearance and flourishing of life on earth. It has become, especially in light of the research and groundbreaking discoveries in genetics since the mid twentieth century, the cornerstones of modern biology and medical science. The volume of supporting evidence has become enormous.
Creationism qualifies as anti-scientific conjecture at best. It is not amenable to scientific methodology and would certainly not qualify even as a viable scientific hypothesis worthy of consideration. Scientific inquiry restricts itself to the material and natural world, not opaque supernatural entities, mysticism and paranormal phenomena. In short, creationism is not science and belongs in studies of comparative religious mythology along with all the other creation fables that include the ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Norse and countless indigenous cultures. Do Christians who reject Allah, Vishnu and all other gods but their own ever ask themselves why the numerous deities of these antediluvian cultures such as Odin and Zeus are no longer with us?
In science, as any diligent high school student knows, anything worthy of investigation must be testable, open to evidential scrutiny and falsifiable. The notion that creationism qualifies as a competing candidate in the science classes has been summarily rejected in several superfluous supreme court decisions in the United States, the most religious country in the so called democratic world. A theory is an attempt to provide explanatory legitimacy for factual evidence. That mythologies such as the biblical account in the Book of Genesis are deemed by some as qualifying contenders for explaining origins of the universe and life on earth is a sad comment on the level of scientific understanding in an apparent enlightened world. Should we introduce the "stork theory" in the biology classes as a competing explanation for how human offspring are conceived?
Evolution is sometimes described as "both theory and fact", which is perfectly acceptable, and helps distinguish the two meanings. Evolution is a fact because it really did occur, and it’s a theory when we’re talking about explanations of how it occurred.
It's important to be reminded that proclaiming absolute certainty is a not what the scientific enterprise is about. The nature of scientific enterprise is such that that theories are always open to modification, even rejection, in light of new evidence. Consequently the fact of evolution continues to improve, occasionally tweaked and may even be dramatically changed. The role of viruses, group selection and horizontal gene transfer between species are currently being debated and tested against the evidence in order to try and determine their relative importance in evolutionary theory as a whole. Unlike religion, old ideas will be abandoned if they do not fit the evidence, and new ones will spring up to take their place.
Conceptual impediments notwithstanding, the introduction of a supernatural designer to explain all this signifies nothing, merely superimposing a mystery on a pre-existing one. If the universe and everything else has a cause, then God has a cause, thus creating an infinite regress argument. The Genesis account of creation and other biblical mythologies such as the Adam and Eve story explain nothing.
Once people’s logical compasses are set spinning by such chicanery, it is then easier to lead them towards the non sequitur that evolution is simply speculative, or worse, that alternative explanations, such as the supernatural, might be just as good, even when they are supported by a paucity of evidence or no evidence at all. The whole line of reasoning is seriously defective, and often deliberately designed to obfuscate and confuse. Evolution should only be doubted by someone who is prepared, on the basis of blind faith or effort of pure will, to reject any scientific fact about the material world whatsoever, no matter how high its stack of confirmatory physical evidence.
In recent polls, forty-three percent of people in the United States, and sixteen percent of people in the United Kingdom, believe that all life on earth was created by God in its current form. Creationism, I might add, is believed by both conservative Christians and Muslims with equal intensity. It is natural for such people to be on the front line of the "it’s just a theory" argument, but such reasoning is entirely specious and has been deviously smuggled into the debate under the cloak of equivocation.
The notion that the sort of trust that scientists place in physical evidence is no different from faith in the supernatural is intellectual dishonesty and duplicity. "Faith" in the evidence’ argument relies for its success on people refusing to consult their dictionaries while simultaneously taking leave of their senses. In the present use of the term, "faith" is belief that does not rest on reason, material evidence or cogency of argument, and so faith and rationality are nothing less than perpendicular metre sticks for the determination of truth. Yet they are not even remotely comparable in their reliability as standards for genuine knowledge. If they were, then a person claiming that "fire is hot" based on the evidence of thermometers or burned hands would be no more likely to be correct than someone claiming that "fire is cold" based on faith alone.
Cambridge professor of astrophysics Sir Martin Rees famously said that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and in its context – the search for extraterrestrial life – in that sense he was correct. But that reasoning is valid only in situations where we have not been able to examine a sufficient volume of evidence. In the case of evolution, the evidence is so massive and all-inclusive that the reverse argument comes into play. If I search every corner of my bedroom and find no evidence of a hippopotamus, then it is always possible I haven't looked hard enough; but the more likely conclusion is that there is no hippo in my bedroom. As each supposed "evolutionary mystery" is revealed to be the product of entirely natural processes, this is not only further evidence in support of evolution, but also evidence against facile supernatural explanations.
In closing, I highly recommend the magnificent remake of Carl Sagan's enlightening 1980s Cosmos television series hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.