Sunday, 17 April 2011

Viva l'Evolution

So, while I've been thinking of creating this space for a while, especially in the last few weeks, the tipping point came today, via a link from Atheist Central which, despite the deceptive name, is the blog of the very-very-Christian Ray Comfort. The link in that article leads to a YouTube video in which Richard Dawkins is interviewing Wendy Wright of CWFA.I had to take a break in the middle; I simply couldn't stand to watch any more. And now, of course, I'm going to have to watch it again, writing as I go, to talk about all the things she says that made me cringe.

My bias should be obvious; I'm as close to being an atheist as makes no difference, and I love the sciences to boot. Evolution, to me, is not a belief, or a controversy; it's a scientific theory, one with sufficient weight of evidence behind it that it's as close to being a fact as theories ever come. It's a theory in the same way that gravity and the atom are theories.

So let's delve right in. Quotes that I attribute to her here will be paraphrased, rather than direct quotes.

Right off the bat, at approximately forty-five seconds in, she states that those of us who believe that we were created out of love, by a loving creator, are more likely to treat other people with respect and dignity. THe implication, of course, is that atheists cannot possibly behave morally, because morals come from God. It's a crock; I say this as an atheist who treats other humans with respect and dignity all the time. I do so not because I believe any god wants me to, but because I believe that it's the right thing to do. I have looked at the world, I've seen joy, and pain, and suffering, and love, and I've made the conscious decision to contribute to the well-being of people, and to avoid contributing to their suffering. Those who make this argument choose to judge me not based on my actions, but rather on the fact, and ONLY on the fact, that I do not believe in their deity. Which is irrational. You can claim that my atheism makes me all kinds of things, but to claim that I am immoral when my behaviour is anything but makes no sense.
Additionally, a question always rises in my mind when I see this argument trotted out; Do these people really have so little faith in humanity? Do they truly think that without faith in a creator, we would all devolve into utterly amoral, animalistic behaviour, clawing and maiming each other for the simple joy of it? I prefer to think that we, as human beings, create our morals on our own, based on our own environments, beliefs, observations, etc. Some of us will choose to be good people, some bad, but faith or lack thereof is only one factor that's going to be taken into account.

At approx. one minute, ten seconds, she refers to an effort within the scientific community to censor out information that proves that evolution may not be 'fact'. It's an argument she makes repeatedly, but she expands on the argument later in the video; I'll rebut it at that point.

At one minute, thirty seconds, she observes that there have been times when evidence has been produced to bolster evolutionary theory which subsequently turned out to be incorrect, or even fraudulent. Well, yes. Scientists are human, and not immune to making mistakes. And fraudsters are everywhere. This isn't even really a point; saying that we've been wrong in the past does nothing to invalidate the theory as a whole.
I wish to point, however, that in bringing this up she's actually (to my mind) scoring a point for our team. That's the beauty of the scientific method; when we're wrong, we can admit it, and adjust our views accordingly. That's why a lot of science refers to 'theories' rather than laws. As new information is discovered, the theory may change to reflect it. A theory stays up to date (or attempts to, again I admit we're not perfect), where dogma does not. Dogma becomes set in stone, unalterable despite any amount of evidence to the contrary. This is the difference between science and faith.

This is getting long.

One minute, forty seconds, she refers to the" facts that go against evolution", such as the Pig's Tooth, where a bone that was held up as being from a prehistoric human turned out to be nothing but the tooth, yes, of a pig. I reiterate; we make mistakes, and the fact that we do is in no way evidence against evolution.

At about three minutes, she talks about the closed-mindedness of scientists, wherein we won't even allow the discussion of the 'controversy'. This one really amused me; she brings this point up while having exactly that discussion with a world-famous scientific atheist. She continues on that vein for a while, speaking about not being allowed to speak about what they're speaking about.

At three minutes, fifty seconds, she alludes to the idea of evolution being 'almost like a religion', again because only scientists are allowed to speak and teach on it, and everyone else is expected to 'just believe' what they have to say. Throughout the video she refuses to respond when Richard Dawkins points out the body of evidence, and where she can go to see it; this is the beginning of that trend.

Long discussion of hostilities and agendas and attack methods by both sides, which I'll skip, since they're not at all salient to the debate.

She again brings up evolutionary ideas that have been discredited, citing them as evidence against evolution. I've already talked about this.

Back to the idea that lack of faith leads inevitably to lack of morals. Been done.

About nine minutes, twenty seconds, Richard Dawkins asserts that if the scientific facts go against what [creationists] perception is, then they're going to distort the facts. I touched on this earlier, but this, for me, really highlights the differences between faith and science, and why creationism is not a science at all.
To pare it down to its simplest form, science has three steps:

1. Form a hypothesis
2. Observe and experiment
3. Reach a conclusion based on observations and experiments.

Using the same system, faith skips one step entirely and turns the other two upside down.

1. Reach a conclusion (often but not always based on the Bible)
2. Collection observations that support the conclusion.

This is exactly the opposite of what science is. That's why it can't be taught in science classes. Because it doesn't even attempt to try to follow the scientific method. Case closed.

Nine minutes, forty seconds, she again cites the fact that she doesn't believe there to be a sufficient body of evidence supporting evolution to be evidence against it. Fallacious, and getting repetitive. She brings up the supposed lack of intermediate, 'in-between' forms; this argument has been done to death elsewhere, and better than I can do it, so I'll just mention that just because she hasn't bothered to do her research doesn't mean they don't exist. Richard Dawkins offers her many examples, which she chooses to ignore.

Ten minutes, forty seconds, she claims that if slow speciation were true, the museums would be filled to the brim with examples of intermediate species. He brings up the idea that every animal in the chain is, in fact, an intermediate between something and something else; since she doesn't believe in the theory, and this claim is dependent on the theory being true, I can understand why she shrugs it off. He also makes the point that every time an intermediate species is found, it does nothing but create in the minds of her side two gaps, instead of just one. Which sets the whole thing up as an impossible exercise.
I also want to point out the sheer enormity of the numbers we're dealing with here. How many billions of animals are alive, right now this second? Multiply that by the billions of years that the Earth has existed, and you get a truly staggering number of animals that have been born and died on this planet. Even if we dig up every animal that has been fossilized and survived to this day, it would represent an infinitesimal fraction of the total animals and species that have lived. Why would we suppose that every single species would leave behind an example of itself to be found?

This has rapidly turned into a wall of text.

At twelve minutes, she refers to social Darwinism, which is a completely different thing, unrelated in any way to speciation.

Twelve minutes, forty seconds, she changes the subject away from evidence that he's presenting for evolution. She again brings up the supposed inherent immorality of [atheists], stating that the philosophies have grown out of evolution have been 'so horrific to our world'. She doesn't provide any examples of this, but Stalin springs to mind. Not that it matters. Atheists are no more immune to evil than theists are; see the Inquisition, the Crusades, the current situation in Ireland, and so on.

She states that the societies which are the most loving and caring and well functioning are the ones that have the greatest respect for human beings; this is self evident, and does not depend on faith or lack of faith.

She then talks about DNA, and how unique it is, and I'm honestly unsure of the point she's trying to make. I think this one is based purely on her own faith, and nothing else. She sees the complexity of DNA as proof of a creator. It's the irreductible complexity argument applied to DNA, and that argument has been so thoroughly debunked elsewhere that it barely even merits a mention.

At thirteen minutes, forty-five seconds he again, for the umpteenth time, presents examples of transitional forms of humanity and asks her again if she's actually examined them. When asked, directly, "Have you seen Homo Habilis?" she again changes the topic back to the supposed suppression of evidence against evolution.

When she finally deigns to answer, she claims that if the evidence was actually in the museums, she'd go see it, and then immediately changes the subject again. And we're back to how [atheists] are immoral. Repetitive.

And it happens again, immediately.

And again...

I think I'm done, they're going in circles, with him presenting evidence and her claiming it's not enough and changing the topic.

She then asks an actual question; she wonders why it is that we atheists are so militant about our atheism, why we seem so hell-bent that everyone believe as we do. I can't answer for every atheist, obviously, but I think that my answer will resound with a great many of us. The answer is that we, for the most part, don't care. You're utterly welcome to believe what you will. You're free to believe in your God, in creation, in a young Earth, if it suits you. Go for it. Have a ball. The point where we call a halt is when you want these ideas to be taken out of religion and put into government institutions; prayer in schools and courts, creationism on the required curriculum, 'In God We Trust' emblazoned in public offices. That's where the problem comes in. Because a lot of us don't believe in your God, or indeed in any god at all. That's why separation of church and state exists, in Canada and America both. Believe what you want, but until it's science, keep it out of science class.

Thor's beard, that got long. If I had any doubts before, I don't now; absolutely NOBODY is going to read that. Still, it feels good to wrap words around it.

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