Friday, December 5, 2008

Fallacies against Creationists

I enjoy reading Kelosophy, but I believe he, and many others miss the bigger picture when it comes to Creationists and why they are wrong. Creationism is a symptom of an underlying disease and to cure the disease, you need to get to the root of the problem. By pointing and laughing at the Creationists (because, lets face it, based on what we know - its an untenable position) we are actually playing into their persecution desires and thus further entrenching their beliefs.

Let me explain.

Of Premises and People

Creationism is based on a number of flawed premises.

The first premise is that God exists and He is/was Jesus. (Sometimes taken in faith, sometimes taken pseudo-rationally)
The second is that the Bible is the word of God and is without error.

Based on the second premise, if science concludes differently than (a certain reading of) the Bible, then clearly the conclusions of science are flawed.

This is a logical (but not rational) conclusion based on the flawed premises!

One of the things that stuck in my head when learning formal mathematical logic at the start of my university degree is the statement that goes something like this
a false premise can prove anything
This can be seen in the truth table for the implication operator.

So what does this mean?

Well to put simply, IF God exists and IF Jesus is God and IF the Bible is the inerrant word of God, then when science concludes that we share a common ancestor with all animals, science MUST be wrong. This fits well with those who proudly display their "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." bumper stickers.

Science Works, Bitches!

Science has convincingly chipped away many false beliefs which can be found in the Bible including a flat earth and an earth-centric universe. These conclusions are fairly uncontroversial only because the Bible can be read in such a way where these beliefs can be conveniently swept under the carpet (i.e. interpreted in another way).

Side note: I refer to these things as null arguments. They neither prove nor disprove the Bible. Arguments can be made on both sides ending in d├ętente.

This of course does not extend to all Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs. There are some Islamic "scholars" who will try to convince us that the Earth is indeed flat. (YouTube...) But I need not go into it here.

Evolution on the other hand is not an immediately realisable phenomenon. When Ian Plimer disgracefully requested a creationist touch live wires in a debate (can be found on YouTube) to show he believes the theory of electricity, the creationist reasonably rebuked this by pointing out how evolution is not repeatable in the same sense that electricity is. Although evolution is not repeatable in the classical sense, it still conforms to the scientific method and thus is science.

1. Form a hypothesis
2. Gather evidence
3. Analyse evidence/ revise hypothesis, etc

Evolution has a harder time with point 2. You can rarely do an experiment to gather the evidence and sometimes have to rely on digging, luck and pouring over previously discovered fossils to perform 3.

Science is a religion too!

I chuckle when people say that science is a religion. Mainly because they say it as if it being a religion is a bad thing.

Lay people do have a point that a majority of science needs to be taken (at least initially) on faith. I have a difficult time explaining to my parents what I do in the lab (how do I even know I am really dealing with electrons?) and even I as a scientist in training admit that there are areas of Physics which I am woefully equipped at evaluating (string theory, etc).

Any person of reasonable intelligence should be able to follow at least a rudimentary amount of science. If a person wishes to pursue how scientists arrived at their conclusions or wish to learn more about a particular subject, it is open to all and requires no statements of faith or presupposition about what the results need to show.

So here are the differences which make Science and Religion part ways.

Even if Quantum Mechanics is unfathomable to the lay person the results of it are not. We are all familiar with the results of Quantum Mechanics when we use computers and most modern technology. When a bunch of complicated mathematics can reproduce experimental values which are as accurate as measuring the distance between LA and New York to the width of a hair, you know you are onto something good! The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Given 2,000 years of religious thought - what has come of it? Do we even have a consistent message?

Faith or belief in science is irrelevant. Your TV will switch on whether you believe doped Silicon can become a conductor of "holes" or not (and if it doesn't, it means the TV is broken, not that you need to have more faith!). Faith and believe in religion on the other hand is (generally) a requirement for salvation or even to make prayer work.

Science at best can offer a more comfortable and perhaps longer life, but religion offers eternal life.

What is the lay person to do?

Professional Creationists

The job of professional creationists is to give the impression to the lay person that science agrees (or at least is starting to agree) with the Bible. Some even go as far as to claim that there is a conspiracy of "Big Science" to silence "the truth". In a previous blog entry I highlighted how there is a real creationist agenda to infiltrate science and change culture and that they have miserably failed.

Professional creationists truly believe in those false premises I outlined at the start and this clouds their ability to be objective. The lay person then has some "positions of authority" to appeal to and the waters get muddied.

Their PR campaign is working too. When I talk to Roman Catholics who do not believe in evolution, I smack my hand against my head. When a marginally and average religious person says science is starting to show creationism as true I start to lose hope. When the moderate religious do not speak out - or even bother investigating the claims, who can you turn to for a rational response? When the moderates are woefully out theologized...well you get the picture.


I must admit that when I first started studying Kitzmiller vs Dover I was stunned by the evidence there was for evolution. Stunned, not because there was substantial evidence, but because I didn't know of it!

How come I had never heard that our 2nd Chromosome is the result of a fusion of two ape chromosomes?
How come I have never heard of the hundreds of ERV's in our DNA?

I had always knows of the striking amount of DNA we hold in common with our nearest common ancestor (chimpanzee) and I knew of the various fossils that had been found (of course I didn't know there were thousands of times more than I thought existed). I had always found those to be relatively convincing, but I did not know of the recent advances which make evolution not merely convincing but damn near irrefutable.

Failure of education plays into the hands of those who benefit the most from misinformation. If the local nerd doesn't even know of it - how is the lay person supposed to even have an inkling. This in a country which has an education system free from the influence of the religious?

Full Circle

The lay person:
The lay person is the victim of a PR campaign by the professional creationists who have convinced them that the Bible is true (scientifically, etc) and therefore God exists. These are the reasonable people who are open minded but misinformed. It's not their fault they don't care about the intricacies, sometimes there's just too much to work out, and its hard to know who to trust.

The lay "Jesus freak":
Even though they are not an expert they will point to the professional creationists as proof of their position. No amount of evidence will ever convince them of evolution because they base their lives around the flawed premises. These people are not stupid but are the victims when the atheist talks about "dem dum creationists". We all know who these people are - they are the ones we are likely to encounter as apologists.

These people are stuck in an epistemological black hole and require deprogramming before they can join the rational majority. (Which includes the misinformed lay person)

The professional creationist:
They dedicate their lives to spreading rubbish and are bankrolled by rich stupid Christians. If God rewarded those who seek the truth, these people would be headed to hell.

I do not classify Behe as a professional creationist. He is merely a Christian who thought he found a way of proving, using science, that Intelligent Design was involved in the evolution process. If he dogmatically sticks to the bacterial flagellum as being Irreducibly Complex despite being proved wrong - then he can be lumped with the other professional creationists.

I do not have anything against those who believe that science will one day justify their beliefs, or even those who actually do the research to try to prove their beliefs correct - I do have a problem with those who believe that science already justifies their belief in creationism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

1 comment:

Kel said...

Interesting point there. If I could, I'd like to explain from where I am coming from.

In Greek mythology, one of the twelve labours of Heracles was to slay the mighty hydra - a multi-headed beast. Now when Heracles cut off one head, two grew back in it's place. Now arguing against creationism is a lot like that, for every argument you cut down two grow in it's place.

So simply countering each argument is not going to stop the beast that is creationism, but the heads still do need cutting off and the flesh seared so that the heads won't grow again. Pointing and laughing is not going to do that, in that I agree with you. My way of searing the wound so a new head won't grow is to show just how much they misunderstand the processes they are arguing against.