Archive for August, 2012

Bill Nye The Science Guy recently posted an impassioned plea on YouTube, entitled “Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children“, in which he says that belief in evolution is fundamental to human progress.  He goes on to say, ” [if grownups want to] deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them.” 

This statement is astounding to me because evolution is not consistent with everything we observe in the universe; evolution is a theory based on a philosophical position which trys to explain what we observe in the universe.  From that standpoint, evolution is no more or less plausible than belief in an intelligent designer is plausible.  In fact, I have a hard time processing how many intellectuals – people who are smart and well-meaning – don’t make the connection that faith in evolution is just like other type of religious faith.

OK, before you stop reading because you think I’m nuts, let me explain where I’m coming from. 

The scientific method is to formulate a hypothesis, test it several times in a controlled environment, record data and then draw a conclusion. With historical events this isn’t possible and so one must approach things evidentially. Some things we can know directly – there is a trilobite. It’s encased in sandstone. To go too much further though one must start making logical assumptions in order to extrapolate more data. The rub in in which assumptions are considered “scientific”. Remember, science only deals with the known, the observable, the factual. From that standpoint we really concretely have no idea how things happened with the origin of life. All we know is that DNA based life forms have an incredible similarity. What is the origin of the similarity? Frankly any speculation on that point is purely philosophical and not scientific. Again, I would argue that arbitrary faith in no God, or in no intelligent influence on the origin of life or of the universe, is at this point in our understanding just as philosophical of a proposition as the assertion that there is a God or an intelligent designer.  Science should not be concerned with either possibility, period. So as a person of faith it is maddening to hear people call the one assumption “scientific” and the other “not scientific.”

Why do many intellectuals arbitrarily assume no intelligence is at play in cosmology and ontology? I’ve heard two things consistently. One is that with so many theories regarding the nature of God, several of which are mutually exclusive, that therefore none can be true. The other is that we supposedly see no direct evidence of God or intelligence in the universe. On the first point, it is an instance of the logic fallacy “argumentum ad logicam” or “argument to logic” – the assumption that just because one argument put in place for a theory is incorrect, that therefore the theory itself is incorrect. On the second point, it is an instance of the logic fallacy “petition principia” or “begging the question” – assuming that one’s thesis is true as part of the evidence in support of the thesis itself. To know there is no God one would have to know everything in the universe and be in all places at once – omniscient and omnipresent – which would make one’s-self God. But more than this, the assumption is questionable because it is applied so arbitrarily. For example, SETI is searching the skies for a binary radio signal from space as a sign of intelligence. What if I told you I could point towards a quaternary programming language that can be used to program a living organism? If the first is indicative of intelligence, how much more should the second be?

Again, all of this to say that science does not enter into the equation of any proposition based on assumptions about universe that can’t be tested.

And yet the modern scientific community is predisposed towards several unproveable theories that only exist to try to explain away the order we observe in the cosmos. If the ratios of the mass of protons to electrons, or the ratios of strong and weak nuclear forces to themselves and to electro-magnetism, or the rate of expansion of the universe, or the seemingly finely-tuned unevenness of the distribution of matter from the big bang as indicated by cosmic background microwave radiation – if any one of these factors was off by 5% or even less we would not have galaxies and stars to bake heavier elements necessary for life. And so theories considered “scientific” to address these observations include anthropomorphic principle (man will one day be intelligent enough to go back in time and create himself), panspermia (the seeds of life are literally ‘wafted across the cosmos’ by an older and wiser race – never mind the time it would take for two generations of galaxies in order to bake heavier elements), multiverse theory (there are so many random unverses we simply won the lottery with ours), etc.  These theories don’t come across to me as examples of scientific objectivity.  Instead they appear to be philosophical attempts to explain away – not buttress – what we observe in the cosmos.

On a final note, if someone watches Carl Sagan or reads Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear, and feels a deep wonder and mystery at being a part of so great and long a process of the cosmos – a literal bit of stardust become self-aware in the universe – then I would argue that the experience they are having, given our limitations of knowledge at this time, is innately religious, not scientific or objective. And I think if they are a person dedicated to reason and knowledge, they need to consider this seriously.

As for Bill Nye’s assertion that creationism is not appropriate for children?  Considering  the fact that both creationism and evolution are faith-based propositions, if we ban creationism then we must equally say that evolution is not appropriate for children.

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