Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Science and the Holy Books.

I stand in the middle ground on this, which means I get cat-calls from both sides. I’m quite used to choruses of ‘yah boo hiss resign’ so chorus away. I’ve had plenty of practice at acidic response.

See, I don’t care. I don’t care whether the air I breathe was put here by God, by trees, by bacteria, by algae, or whether it was farted over the planet by a passing space goblin. It’s there. I can breathe it. That’s enough for me. Where it all came from is the domain of physicists, chemists, botanists etc. I can’t study every scientific discipline and won’t try.

I don’t care whether there’s a God or not. If I do get to meet him one day, I have a few remarks to make about the logic of his creation and he won’t like it. If there isn’t one I’ll just have to find someone else to shout at. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me.

By now, there are religious folk with their fingers digging into the arms of their chairs. Don’t do that. You’ll hurt yourself. Those who are praying for me, stop it. It won’t help. Besides, he’s not going to let me die any time soon. I’m someone he can do without meeting just yet.

This is not to say I’m a Dawkinsite antireligious fanatic either. Those scientists are denying the existence of something because they just don’t want it to be so. They have done zero research on this subject and there’s no point anyway. Science cannot disprove the existence of God. Never could, and will never be able to. It’s a subject science should leave alone because it simply cannot be studied using the scientific way.

Over on Tom Sheepandgoats’ blog, he’s having a go at evolution, using the famous Piltdown Man fake as an example. True, the scientists involved should have known better. There was nothing to suggest any colonisation of the British Isles at the time Piltdown Man was supposed to be around. They should have smelled a rat straight away, but they didn’t. Or maybe they did but decided to go with it. Prestige is a powerful thing, and has led many a sensible man astray, both in science and religion.

Now, evolution happens. Has happened and is still happening. Can’t be helped, there it is. The development of many animals can be traced back through the fossil record – some well, some not so well. Except one.

Us.

All those early hominids, it turns out, were other species. As far as I’m aware (and I state now that evolution isn’t my field of research), the human species has not so far been definitively linked to a specific pre-human ancestor.

Science will say “Just because we haven’t found it yet, doesn’t mean it’s not there”.

True. But why apply that argument to one unknown and the opposite to another? Is that science?

Religion will say “God did it”.

Well, science can’t prove he didn’t at the moment, but science will continue to look for the link.

This is the ‘God of the Gaps’ argument. The term comes from science and is meant as a derisory comment on the ‘God did it’ statement – any gaps in scientific knowledge ‘must have been God’ by religious argument. Religion can’t prove God did it.

BUT science can’t prove he didn’t.

In that case, both arguments must be equally valid until one is disproved. Some scientists are purple-faced by now, I’m sure, and some are laughing and saying ‘Oh yes, the flying spaghetti monster did it’.

A ridiculous extension of the argument, but from which side? Is the flying spaghetti monster theory less valid than the other two?

Well, from the correct, strictly impersonal view of science, all theories are valid until they are knocked out one by one, or one is proven (PROVEN, not preferred) to be correct. You can just as well say ‘Aliens put us here’ or ‘We spontaneously generated from dust-bunnies’ or ‘Humans were the fruit of the Idiot Tree’ (certainly a viable argument in some cases).

Some theories can be disproven in minutes, of course, but when faced with an unknown then all theories that cannot be immediately discarded must be considered. In science, it’s not good enough to say ‘I prefer my theory so I’m just going to deride the other guy’s so mine gets accepted by default’. Religious fundamentalism does exactly this. So does scientific fundamentalism.

If science can prove beyond all doubt that humans evolved from a specific ancestor, does that utterly discredit religion? Does it prove there is no God? Does it really? How?

Evolution doesn’t prove there is no God. Neither does the Big Bang. Neither do all those dinosaur skeletons, carbon dating, the fact the human eye is wired the wrong way round and squid have better ones. Science has proved, to my satisfaction at least, that the Earth is far older than six thousand years. Does that prove there’s no God? Well, no. It proves that whoever worked out the biblical timeline wasn’t right. Or maybe he wasn't so wrong. It only goes back as far as Adam, remember, and humans are recent. He’s still out, but not ‘age of the Earth’ out. Only ‘first appearance of modern humans’ out and that’s not nearly so bad when you consider all he had to work with was one book.

If there are any still out there praying for my immortal soul, stop it now or when I die I’ll come visit and you don’t want that. Those who think I work for Satan can be assured that I don’t care about him either. He’s not all he’s cracked up to be, even if he exists.

Why doesn’t evolution disprove God? Well, the key is in the ‘intelligent designer’ label. A really intelligent designer would realise that his creations will have to live in wildly different and changing environments. They have to get through an Ice Age or two. They have to live in permanent snow, and in baking desert. They have to be able to adapt. So he’d give all his animals the chance to change, to develop, to keep life going in whatever way they can. He would allow, no, he would encourage evolution. So science can prove evolution, but religion can still claim ‘God did it’, even without the gap.

Humans, though? Did we appear here as we are now, unchanging in any serious way since the first human set foot on Earthly soil and promptly stubbed his toe on a rock? Who can say? Science can’t, not yet. Religion does, but can’t prove it. Stalemate.

Humans have a habit of changing the environment to suit them rather than the other way around. Human evolution is held in check by humans. Live somewhere with no water? Well, we could do it the hard way and evolve into a water-retaining species or we could just dig a well or lay a pipe. We don’t evolve because we don’t need to. Natural selection doesn’t work on a species capable of adjusting, removing or simply ignoring the selective pressures.

It’s still stalemate on whether humans evolved from an earlier species or whether God did it. That situation might change but until it does, science should shut up and work on it. Declaring the result before getting the data does not improve scientific credibility. And remember, there’s no detailed description of Adam in the Bible. He might not have looked exactly like us. Maybe God ‘adjusted’ him too.

In the meantime, the argument is no more than ‘Oh no he didn’t’ ‘Oh yes he did’ and has no conclusion in sight. Each side tries to shout down the other in this expanded playground fight.

For now, both arguments have equal validity from a pure science standpoint because neither are proven and neither are disproven.

Shouting won’t change that. Research might.

1 comment:

Southern Writer said...

I have it on good authority that "God will fix it." Just sayin', not prayin'.

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