Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Getting at The Truth in Religion and Evolution

So there was this feature in USA Today recently dealing with the creationism vs. evolution debate, undoubtedly inspired by the trial over intelligent design that's going on in Pennsylvania. They did their usual good job of glossing over the complexities, of course, and honestly I thought the piece was biased against Creationism. But I'm always looking for good quotes, and it did get me thinking about the issue all over again. I've written a longer essay on this subject already, but I just want to reiterate one point here because it apparently can't be said often enough: Religion and Science have different definitions of truth, and different approaches to finding truth, and the scientific approach is reliable while the religious approach is not.

As Jeffrey Palmer, biologist from Indiana University Bloomington, put it, "Evolutionary biology is famously full of controversy, but evolution remains the central organizing concept. If indeed deep flaws in parts of evolutionary biology of the kind speculated upon [by creationists] existed, scientists would be the first to change course."

Why? Because everyone that understands science knows that scientists go where the evidence takes them. Charles Darwin didn't wake up one day convinced that Natural Selection was real, then set out to prove it. He already knew of Gregor Mendel's earlier work on heredity, and then observed genetic variations across single species, a subset of which were using these variations as a competitive advantage. In short, he came to a conclusion based on the evidence he had seen.

The religious worldview works in the opposite way. One starts with an unshakeable first cause for everything (God), then interprets all subsequent evidence in terms of this paradigm. This way of thinking gave us such brilliant ideas such as:

1. The Earth is at the center of the universe.
2. The universe is about 6,000 years old.
3. The stars in the sky are the souls of our ancestors.
4. The world is too complicated to have been created by a natural process.
5. If your house is struck by lightning, you must be living in sin.
6. Two individual humans can create a viable gene pool for future human generations.
7. There were no dinosaurs.
8. Sex is bad.

In fact, arguments for intelligent Design are all, at some level, based on simple human judgment: How complicated does the world have to be before it becomes clear that a "designer" was involved? That's a judgment call, since there's no objective standard for the words "simple" or "complex." They're entirely human constructs. It's all the more ironic that opponents usually attack evolution basically on claims that it's a subjective theory created to discredit religion (essentially a myth), while they're completely fine with their own theory based on an invisible, all powerful being for which there is no objective evidence.

So, which method has a better chance at getting to the truth? Looking at evidence then making a conclusion, or making a conclusion then trying to fit the evidence to it?


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