I know I’ve said I don’t deal with Creationism, I’ve even said that I won’t deal with Creationism as a point of personal policy. But I keep giving in. This time, I accidentally wrote a comment over at Midori Skies’ blog, on the post “Do you believe in evolution?” The point of the post is that this is a dumb question. Because of the way we normally use the word “believe”, and more importantly don’t use it with respect to scientific theories like gravity or atoms, it is a trap to ask it about evolution.
“I don’t believe in evolution. I understand why it is true.”
The post is very good, with one minor mistake. The mistake is that Midori Skies refers to “String Theory” as a theory. Despite its name, it is actually a very powerful and mathematically consistent hypothesis. But I thought that if I took the question “Do you believe in String Theory?” I could point something out about Creationists and evolution. Here is the comment I left, slightly embellished for the sake of being a post.
As a slight deviation, String Theory is not a theory in the same way evolution, atoms, quantum mechanics and gravity are. String theory is still a hypothesis. If true, it explains a lot and it is an excellent internally consistence hypothesis. But until we get some empirical results to support it (c’mon Large Hadron Collider!!) it is actually a hypothesis.
But it is a great analogy for when you ask a Creationist why they don’t believe in evolution; just like the average person with String Theory, the average Creationist doesn’t understand evolution. Obviously, if you ask a Creationist whether they believe in evolution, the polite ones will respond “no”, and the rest will just lose their minds with rage. But the honest answer would be “I don’t understand it”.
Creationists say we don’t one animal turning into another kind of animal. They say this as if the word “kind” means anything. But perhaps more revealing, they say this as if that is what evolution predicts. But it doesn’t, evolution predicts variation and specialisation within a taxonomic group, or, if you prefer, within a branch of the phylogenetic tree. We do not expect animals to jump across taxonomic groups, and have plant seeds grow into sea lions or humans give birth to whales.
Creationists say there aren’t enough fossils. But fossils won’t help them understand, or even stop them arguing. More fossils will simply give them more gaps in the fossil record to point at (if, indeed, you can find a Creationist that knows of a gap in the fossil record to point at).
1 -> 5. HA! That’s a massive gap!
1 -> 3 -> 5. HA! That’s 2 gaps!
1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 -> 5. OMG!! 4 gaps and you still believe it? That’s more faith than I have!
But again, demanding there are insufficient fossils betrays their own misunderstanding. They demand fossils as if fossils form easily and in most conditions. And they seem to believe there is no genetic or anatomical evidence. Think about why all mammals have forelimbs and hind-limbs; two eyes, a mouth and a nose; shoulder blades; analogous muscle groups. We have the same basic body plan as a whale; their blowhole is a nose (I learned this living with vets during my third year of university).
Their objections betray the fact they don’t understand it. It’s like objecting to String Theory on the grounds that we make string from cotton or wool.
In trying to make this my last post about Creationism, I shall also share a comment I left under RainCountryWriter’s post “Rebuttals to Atheism”. I’m not entirely following the drama that has unfolded in the comments section to that post, but I think she’s arguing with her atheist daughter (who seems to be a very intelligent girl, who disagrees with her normally-literalist Christian mother). Again, my comment has been slightly altered from this post, but the original should still be under the post.
“If you set up your religion against a scientific theory, you are going to lose”
So, you’re a literalist. If science could convince you of evolution you would be forced to throw away your religion. That is a dangerous position. You say that by evolution we are above the other animals by sheer chance. I disagree. We are not above them; why do you think we are? And if you believe God micro-managed evolution, nothing happened by chance. Random mutation and natural selection still accounts for everything, but there’s no evidence that every step wasn’t micromanaged by a God. Why won’t you let the science permeate your faith?
American law is not based on the 10 commandments. What is the American legal equal to “I am the Lord thy God, you shall have no other gods before me”? Or the equal to “honour thy mother and father”? In fact, I thought American law agreed that the child needed more protecting than the parents. I’m from the UK, and we don’t base our laws on most of the 10 Commandments either. In America, the right bear arms is actually a right to kill to defend yourself. Should we update the Bible to George Carlin’s commandment “Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anybody”? Or should it really be the case of “Thou shalt not kill”?
The moral intuition is evolutionarily evolved, which is why it is also culturally dependent i.e. slightly different ideas evolve in different places. This happens because we actually don’t evolve just as individuals. We evolve on every scale from cellular right up to interactions with other species.
“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment”
One of those scales is societal. As it happens, societies that allow murder and theft either die off or become non-viable respectively. And societal evolution is what gives us a moral intuition. Evolution is also an apt theory for explaining why we get some psychopaths and sociopaths: just like risky organs in an individual, a society can still survive when small amounts of detrimental things compose it. Psychopaths are the appendix of society.
But that doesn’t tell us what morality is. I have a few posts dedicated to that issue (the best are here and here). I challenge you to actually read Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. It is important that you read it, because religious criticism of it misrepresent the message and I think it’s important you see exactly what the message actually is.
Again, I have no objection to you saying that God is in our evolution. It’s unsubstantiated, and you can’t flip it on its head and call it evidence for God, but you can say that. It comes with its own challenges, but it’s more consistent with that is demonstrably true about the universe.