Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Mile in Different Shoes, or a Darwin Day Request

As you may know, today is Darwin Day (; held on the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday. This name has stirred a lot of minds and perhaps just as many emotions. His ideas helped to shape science as we know it, and their intellectual impact have raised plenty of questions for the religious. Darwin Day was cooked up to help raise awareness towards proper science education, and plenty of folks have events and parties to celebrate, but the original intent is the purpose for my writing today.

What I have for you is a request on this day- take a moment to learn something about "the other side;" read it, listen, or watch with the best open mind you can muster. I know it's hard to do, so here's the catch - today's focus is not to change minds, but to understand the motivations of those with whom you disagree, because the people you might write off as misguided, misled, wrong, stupid, or even evil are people, with whom you must share this ever-shrinking sphere. Read a little something, watch a little something, and know that a person who wants what is best for the world wrote it.

I know it's a little early in this blog to have a links roundup, but on this subject, there are plenty of people more qualified and thorough than me, so I'll give credit where it's due and link to more thorough treatments. I will address just a couple of arguments and provide links to more information, and maybe in comments here, or on my facebook page where this will be shared, we can discuss more points of contention, though I ask that if you make an assertion that you back it up somehow. Baseless assertions and ad hominem attacks will get you blocked, fair warning.

You'll often hear about the scientific theory of evolution, and you'll often hear people dismiss it as "just a theory." Of course, this is a gross mischaracterization of the role of theories in science. A theory isn't just a data point, it's not the result of one study. A theory is a unifying idea that links a large number of verified studies, suggests causation, and gives us a general idea of how things behave in order to help us ask and answer better questions about the world. To frame this, yes, there is easily as large a body of evidence to support the theory of evolution as there is for the theory of gravitation (See this for a snarky treatment).

One common argument against evolution is that it's impossible as argued poorly here. The first problem with this approach is that it doesn't address evolution, really, but abiogenesis. It's really a strawman argument. It's also fantastically unlikely that anyone reading this will win the lottery, but eventually someone does because very large sample size means outliers. The argument at is an argument from incredulity and relies on you thinking that the number required is limited to a small number of chemical reactions that happen perhaps just here on earth. The catch is that untold large numbers of chemical reactions happen just here on earth, and similar reactions have been happening on every celestial body in billions and billions of star systems each in billions of galaxies. Back to the first problem, though, we don't need to explain the origin of the Last Universal Common Ancestor to know that we evolved from it; in fact, the Catholic church states that evolution is compatible with their teachings. The simple reality is, though, that evolution has been demonstrated unequivocally in our lifetime.

A number of noted scientists and plenty of religious sects even consider them non-overlapping magisteria (often interpreted that science answers the question of how, and religion and philosophy answer the question of why), which brings me to the next item. Some say that there's no scientific consensus on evolution because there are a large number of dissenters. Well, not really. In a similar vein, some claim scientists don't have the authority to speak on questions of origin because they don't understand the theological underpinnings inherent in that discussion, but that's really not the case.

In the end, though, the big question of the day is the teaching of evolution. The reality is that it is observable science, and plenty of forces are at work trying to threaten the proper teaching of science. Thankfully there are also organizations like Americans United working to keep a wall of separation between church and state, and those like NCSE working to educate people on the issues, facts, and implications involved in disrupting real science education.

I didn't link much to anti-evolution sources, granted, because I have little patience for blind assertions without real evidence. The holy books I know of do not suggest a mechanism for the speciation we can observe in our time, so I don't tend to accept verses as explanations of how the world works scientifically. This type of thinking, to me, is certainly welcome in classes on philosophy and religion, but it just is not useful in decoding the naturalistic world in which we live. If you choose to then append "...because my God did it" to everything, you're welcome to do so, that's what the establishment clause of our first amendment protects for you. What it forbids for you, though, is for the government (or anyone acting as a government agent) to promote that idea.

Thanks for reading, and have a great Darwin Day! Feel free to share and fire up the discussion, but remember that this is a heated subject because everyone has our best interests in mind, we just have different ideas on how best to do that. For the record, mine goes something like this.

1 comment:

  1. Full disclosure - I've made a few edits when typos were pointed out.