Thursday, February 18, 2010

Creating evolution.

The creation/evolution fight is firing up in the UK again. Should creationism be taught in schools? It's about time something was! They get precious little science education these days.

I've thought about this a lot over the years and my conclusion is... I don't care.

I don't care if this planet is six billion years old, six thousand years old, or was created as an illusion just before I was born simply to annoy me. Which it does. Every day. I don't care if dinosaurs roamed the earth. They don't now and that's good enough for me. Being stepped on by a careless brachiosaur is one risk I'm happy to lose from my daily routine. If I was a palaeontologist I would care, but I'm not, so I don't.

Was it deliberately created or was it formed through random physical accumulation of bits of stone? Doesn't matter. It's here now and it'll still be here long after I'm finished with it. Long after everyone has finished with it.

Then again, as a scientist, shouldn't I be violently and religiously opposed to teaching children creationism?

I would be opposed to teaching it in science class because science isn't taught in church. That's a matter of being fair about it. I would have no objection whatsoever to teaching it in schools, whether it was in religion class or in a new class entitled 'alternative science' where they could also learn about things like homeopathy and feng shui and make up their own minds about it all.

That 'making up their own minds' part is the reason I don't oppose it. I oppose any attempt - by anyone - to force their own view of the world on others. Especially in schools. Schools should be places of learning and should include things I don't believe are right as well as things I do. What if I'm wrong? What if I were to spend my life forcing schools to teach only those things I believe are important, and then find out I was wrong?

When you get right down to it, we have religion saying 'God made the universe' and science saying 'It just sort of happened'. Not much to choose, really. A big bang, or 'let there be light', which are the same thing in the end.

For almost everyone on the planet it simply doesn't matter. A bricklayer isn't going to be affected one jot if the big bang is right and religion is wrong, or vice versa. An accountant won't find his numbers suddenly change from base 10 to base 13 if the story of the flood is finally proven or disproven. The reality is, the entire issue matters at all to very few people. It affects a few very specific scientific disciplines and it affects a few religious doctrines which aren't going to change anyway.

Which is right, science or religion? Sometimes it matters. If I ever get cancer I'd put my trust in chemotherapy over prayer, but would I refuse to let people pray for me? No I wouldn't. I don't believe it would work but I don't have proof that it won't. It won't harm me to try. Even so, I wouldn't refuse the chemotherapy and rely entirely on prayer.

With creation, it really doesn't matter which is right. Don't we all have enough problems without arguing about where we came from? I'm more interested in where we're going because with the current state of the world, it doesn't look like it's going to be Disneyland.

In schools, children should have the opportunity to learn everything. Everything. Even stuff I personally think is complete nonsense which can't possibly be true, like Marxism and Belgium. Armed with all the information they can hold, they can then decide which to trust and which to discard. For themselves. Like people used to do in the old days before they all decided to let someone else tell them what to think.

Few of those children will become priests and few will become scientists who study evolution. For them, the argument matters.

For the others, the ones who become architects and plumbers and bankers and electricians and even those who become chemists and most other kinds of scientist, it really doesn't matter at all. There is no conflict in being a chemist who believes in God. Not even a biochemist. The two mindsets are not mutualy exclusive at all.

Although I would caution against any scientist, faced with inexplicable results, writing a paper that concludes 'God did it'. Most scientific journals need a little more detail.

Teach those kids everything. Let them decide.

Although, looking at education in the UK at the moment, perhaps that should be 'Teach them something'.


Regina Richards said...

I believe in both creation and evolution. When I bake a cake I gather ingredients, combine ingredients, bake ingredients, cool and frost the result. Then I have cake.

The pleasure of cake isn't just in the eating. It is also in the process. If the creator lingered over and enjoyed the process that produced mankind, that's no problem for me.

Romulus Crowe said...

I've had the argument before. It's not actually about evolution but about time.

For those who insist on 6000 years, evolution can't be accepted because there hasn't been enough time. It all hinges on Adam's age.

If he started counting age from when he was ejected from Eden, then he could have been in there for millions of years while evolution happened outside.

If he started counting from when he was created - but why would he? Immortals don't age so have no need to count. He didn't change. Nothing around him changed. What's to count?

I don't think evolution and religion are mutually exclusive and won't be unless science actually proves human evolution beyond question. I think it has proved animal evolution in many cases but that missing link is still missing for humans.

For the moment, I'm hedging my bets.

Regina Richards said...

Even if evolution for humans is proved that won't exclude or devalue creation. God does what God does how God does it. That's good enough for me. I don't need to feel human beings are His exclusive focus to feel loved and important.

Southern Writer said...

What a thought-provoking post. Bravo. Well said, Rom. I love reading things that make me see things in a new way, such as "I would be opposed to teaching it in science class because science isn't taught in church." I never thought about that before, but it's spot on.

Also, "Teach those kids everything. Let them decide. Although, looking at education in the UK at the moment, perhaps that should be 'Teach them something'." It's the same here. Every time I read something written by a professional in a given field that is full of bad grammar, typos, etc. I cringe and shake my head and wonder how the hell they ever got to their position. But that's a rant for another day, heh?

Romulus Crowe said...

Further stuff (this could be a whole book, if I wasn't so sure I'd get death threats from both science and religion for it!) -

If there's a God, he'd have to build the universe in a way that does not prove his existence. Proof would make faith irrelevant, and faith is important to this God.

So the sun has to be explainable as a nuclear reaction. But the radiation would kill all life on Earth. So the Earth has to have a magnetic field to shield it from radiation. That has to be explainable, so the planet needs a molten interior and a rotating iron core.

But that means the planet will change with time - land masses will slide around and weather will change.

So life has to be adaptable. It has to change according to the changes in the planet. Humans are the only exception to this. We live in Alaska and in the Sahara and we are the same species. Polar bears and grizzly bears are not. Penguins and pigeons are not. Odd, eh?

In short, if a God wanted to build a universe but hide his own hand in it, so that faith is possible, then he has to make it explainable by science. That makes faith a choice. If the creator's signature was clear then faith would be irrelevant and the whole point of the experiment is blown.

Experiment - sorry. I think in those terms. For me, God set this up as an experiment along the lines of 'Will they believe in me if there is no proof at all that I exist?'

Science cannot prove or disprove God. Science cannot even investigate the possibility of God because there is not even a theoretical method for doing it.

Is that because there's no God or because a God designed the universe in such a way as to make it impossible for science to find him? He might leave clues, as in astrology and acupuncture but he'd never sign anything.

One science argument is that there has not been enough time in the whole history of the universe for a being of God-like powers to have developed. It's an argument that misses the point. If there is a God, he was the one who started the universe. He was there before time began for us. How long was time before our time began?

The omnipresent part works within this scale too. For perfectly scientific astrophysical reasons which I'll go into another time.

Damn, I think I'll just write the book and worry about the death threats later. I'd make enough money to have my own army anyway!

Regina Richards said...

"If the creator's signature was clear then faith would be irrelevant and the whole point of the experiment is blown."

Perhaps faith wouldn't be entirely irrelevant in that case. A person who no longer needed to have faith that God exists might still need faith that His creation is good, that He knows what He's doing and is doing it out of love and not random whim or malice.

But you're right. Something very valuable would be lost.

Sandra Ferguson said...

What a great topic. Having taught for a bit (a short bit) in the public school system, I can give a hardy 'AMEN' to how little science is actually explored in schools these days. 4th grade in Texas, science has all but disappeared. Why? The all-important TAKS test, but I digress and no one but Texas moms and dads care about that subject. What I did learn? Kids are thirsty -- dying from it -- to absorb every drop of knowledge the schools can prove. Right or wrong? Folks thought the world was flat for a long time -- scientific folks thought that. Point? What's right today, could be wrong tomorrow and vice versa. Teach it all. Time will tell. And let's pretend we really want our youngsters to stretch their minds and explore the possibilities of even the most impossible.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I love reading people's take on this topic. I'm a huge fan of teaching the spectrum and letting the students decide. There is so little thinking for ourselves these days..I'm afraid it's a muscle gone weak.

tom sheepandgoats said...

It's not easy to 'know' things, is it? We're finite beings, and we only have so much time available for research and study and pondering. So we become really knowledgeable in one, two, maybe three areas, and are forced to rely on the summation of others for the remainder. Only they can't be depended upon. Ideology, politics, money, self-interest, religion are factors just as potent as honesty, integrity, and unbiased research, so that without becoming experts ourselves (whcih time prohibits) it's hard to sort it all out.

Romulus Crowe said...

I think that's a good point, Tom. I hear so many people telling me how science 'should be done', and they then turn out to not be scientists at all.

Nothing wrong with being interested in something you don't specialise in. I am fascinated by astronomy and quantum physics and understand probably one word in ten on a good day, but would never think to tell one of those people 'how it should be done'.

Most of Dawkins' Disciples are not scientists but see science as a weapon to use against religion. Science is not a weapon, it's not even a tool. It's a thought process which might or might not be valid at any point in time. There are things it can't be applied to at all. Science has no morals, but is not immoral either. It's just a matter of having an idea and then testing it to see if it works.

When Einstein came up with his theories, it never occurred to him that they would end up destroying Japanese cities and starting a cold war. They were just an idea. He had no definite aim, and certainly no warlike aim for them.

There is even a danger in what I'm doing. What happens if I prove, once and for all, that the spirit survives death? That nobody really dies?

Well, then the death penalty is just an inconvenience, right? They're not really being killed. Wiping out a whole country? Well, nobody is really killed.

If I ever get that proof, I'll have to consider what politicians will do with it before I make it public.

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