Category Archives: Evolution

The Pope’s Views on Science — So What?

This is a big topic, and we fear that we are woefully inadequate to deal with it — but we’ll attempt it anyway. Our question is: Why are Pope Francis’ remarks to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences about evolution and the Big Bang such big news?

Really, that’s our question. There are no biologists or astronomers who, upon hearing of the Pope’s statements, thought: “Ah, now I can go on with my work.” But the press is all aflutter. The implication is that the Pope has declared science to be valid. But we already knew that it was, so although it’s nice to hear that the Catholic Church will continue to be congenial to science, what’s the big deal? We think the press frenzy reflects only the thinking of journalists.

Most people don’t know what to think — about anything — so the Pope’s opinion is a big deal for them. They were born with the ability to think for themselves, but it was never developed. As a result, they adopt the conclusions of those they regard as their intellectual superiors — parents, teachers, politicians, preachers, and other pundits. They also accept the opinions of certain institutions they have been taught are worthy of respect: their church, their government — even the UN. A large number actually adopt the opinions of show business celebrities. Our point is that most people get their opinions from second-hand sources. It’s rare when someone is informed, reaches his own conclusions, and is entirely comfortable doing so.

The typical non-thinker lives in a fog of uncertainty about virtually everything, taking comfort in adopting the conclusions of others — which he will dogmatically defend with memorized phrases on every occasion. But that kind of certainty is an illusion. No one can learn about anything of importance by relying on the opinions of other people — and certainly not by relying on people like journalists or preachers. Those “authorities” may be opinionated, but what do they really know of the topics on which they expound?

If a big announcement is made by a noted science research lab, you could read their paper, review their data, and decide for yourself if their conclusions are justified. But if the Pope (or some other authority) makes an announcement about something, there’s nothing to review. It’s a done deal. And most people get their opinions from such sources.

Everyone understands that you can’t become an athlete by reading about it, or by hearing lectures. You need to actually do it. Yes, you need instructors, but only as a guide to your own active participation. It’s similar to the way a toddler is taught to walk. But what most people don’t understand is that, as with walking, so it is with thinking. You have to learn to actually do it. You can’t allow others to do your thinking for you, and then merely adopt their conclusions. That’s not thinking — it’s tribalism. You don’t really have an opinion, you’re only adopting one so you can blend in.

What’s required for people to learn how to do their own thinking? For the hard sciences (physics, astronomy, chemistry, etc.), and for subjects like engineering, math and logic, the topics themselves teach the student to follow the arguments and to arrive at the inevitable conclusions. The subject matter compels the student to do his own thinking. But what about other topics? That’s where second-hand opinions seem to abound.

Wikipedia describes the perceived differences between Hard science and soft science. The hard sciences produce solid, verifiable results, and routinely abandon discredited ideas. There’s no room for personal opinions that disagree with the data. But the soft sciences — often called the social sciences — are less rigorous. Nothing in the soft sciences ever really seems to be discredited. No matter how often certain political and economic ideas fail in practice, they never fade away. It’s all a matter of popular opinion.

So what’s to be done about the soft sciences? How do we teach people to think? All we can come up with is the Socratic method of instruction, which challenges a student to defend his answers. It’s an excellent technique, but it requires excellent teachers — an uncommon commodity.

But wait — the authoritarians (religious or otherwise) will complain: If there’s no authority, if everyone does his own thinking, the result will be chaos! Really? Is science chaotic? Mathematics? Engineering? No, they’re not. But in each of those activities, people are doing their own thinking. No authoritarian approval is required.

It seems to us that chaos reigns only in those areas where people don’t think for themselves, and defer to authority instead.

So how shall we end this essay? Our points are these: (1) We need to do a much better job than we’re doing of getting people to do their own thinking; and (2) while we appreciate the Pope’s remarks about science, we don’t think they’re worth all the fuss that’s being made over them.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Discovery Institute: Atheism Is a Religion

One of the silliest clunkers promoted by creationists is that atheism is a religion. When making that claim, they usually equate atheism with science, and specifically evolution. Further, atheism (or science, or evolution) is a false religion — compared to theirs, of course, which is The Truth. The issue is discussed in the TalkOrigins Index to Creationist Claims: Evolution is a religion because it encompasses views of values and ultimate meanings..

That duplicitous description of science is the message in a new post at the Discoveroids’ creationist blog: Sure, Atheism Is a Religion, to which Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos Seek Converts. It’s written by David Klinghoffer, their journalistic slasher and poo flinger.

Klinghoffer is still criticizing the TV series Cosmos, and he’s also promoting a book the Discoveroids are offering to present their side of things. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Tyson-style atheism counts as a religion. As I’m hardly the first to say, it has almost all the trimmings that religions commonly do: An account of origins (panspermia and Darwinian evolution), a philosophical commitment to a certain way of understanding of what the fundamental substrate of reality is (materialism), a conversionary agenda (the whole point of Cosmos, now launched into the public schools), warnings of an apocalyptic future for the unrepentant (see our chapters on Episodes 11 and 12 of Cosmos).

Wow! That was an ark-load. The principal concern the Discoveroids have is that episodes of Cosmos will be used in the public schools. That’s a fine idea, but they’re furious because creationist material — including theirs — isn’t allowed in government-run schools. That’s been firmly established for traditional (i.e., raw, primitive, bible-based) creationism, and it’s also been established for the Discoveroids’ thinly disguised “scientific” version — see Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

It’s a clean shutout. Science is in, and creationism is out. Well, except in a few places like Louisiana and Tennessee, which have enacted a version of the Discoveroids’ Academic Freedom bill. So now the Discoveroids are trying to say that genuine science is also a religion, and that shouldn’t be allowed in the schools either. Crazy, huh? Well, that’s the game Klinghoffer is playing here. Watch and learn:

A primary purpose behind the Cosmos series was to cast a rival faith, Christianity, in a bad light, as “anti-science.” One religion throwing dirt at another faith — you’ve never heard of such a thing before? Not least when it comes to science, atheists have increasingly assumed the role of censors and inquisitors — even as other religions in the West have learned to live tolerantly, even lovingly with fellow citizens who disagree with them.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Traditional religions have learned to be tolerant of each other. It’s only science that runs around slaughtering the unbelievers. Let’s read on:

Every religion tells a story that frames its worldview. So does atheism. Cosmos unspools that narrative over the course of its 13 episodes. What’s missing? A stand-in for God, a god, or gods? Not every religion has one. So again, what exactly qualifies atheism for an exemption here? That it’s proved by science?

Aaaargh!! Nobody claims that atheism is “proved by science.” It’s the other way around — the claims of creationists have been disproved by science — or at least shown to be: (a) unsupported by verifiable evidence; (b) untestable; (c) superseded by natural, comprehensible processes; and (d) irrelevant and unnecessary, because of Occam’s razor. Klinghoffer continues:

As Casey Luskin has shown in the past, courts have treated atheism as religion as well, and reasonably so [link to a Discoveroid post].

We briefly discussed Casey’s post in Slow Weekend Free Fire Zone, where we said:

To establish that atheism is a religion (and therefore the museum is somehow misbehaving), Casey cites several Supreme Court cases which — when properly read and understood — say no such thing.

After citing Casey’s brilliant legal thinking, Klinghoffer wraps it up with this:

Atheists who think their faith deserves the special treatment of being exempted from categorization among other faiths need to argue more persuasively for their insistence on that point.

So there you are. If the Discoveroids can’t get their junk taught in the public schools, then science has to be excluded too. Good luck with that one!

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Rev. David Rives: Atoms Mentioned in the Bible

The Drool-o-tron™ suddenly went into Extreme Mode and it wouldn’t calm down. The blaring sirens and flashing lights were more strident than we can remember, and the blinking letters of its wall display said WorldNetDaily (WND). Our computer was locked onto WND’s presentation of the latest video by the brilliant and articulate leader of David Rives Ministries.

WND’s headline is Bible speaks of atoms before science ever dreamed it. What a headline!

Wowie — atoms are mentioned in the bible! This is astounding news! We had thought that the first speculation about such things was by Democritus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who was born around around 460 BC. That shows you how little your Curmudgeon knows compared to the rev.

So we clicked on the video. The actual title for it is Bible Knows Best: Atoms, the Dust of the World? The rev reveals the place in the bible where atoms are mentioned. Should we spoil things by telling you where it is? Well, okay — it’s in Proverbs 8, verse 26, attributed to King Solomon. Here’s the text (King James version, of course):

While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.

That’s it — the dust of the world. The rev says it’s a reference to atoms! Isn’t that amazing? While all those sinful secularist scientists have been blundering around in their ignorance, the information they were seeking has always been in the bible — but they ignored it. The fools!

You gotta watch this video. It’s the usual 90-second presentation, followed by a commercial. The rev isn’t wearing his bible-boy suit this time. He wearing a blazer, without a tie. He seems almost too casually attired to be telling us news of this importance, but he gives a great performance. Go ahead, click on the video and take a look. He’s so gosh darned cute! You can’t resist.

As we always do with the rev’s videos, we dedicate the comments section for your use as an Intellectual Free Fire Zone. You know the rules. Okay, the comments are open. Go for it!

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Pope Francis, Evolution, & the Big Bang

Over the past few days we’ve seen literally hundreds of news stories headlining the Pope’s position on evolution and the Big Bang. Hint: he’s not opposed to science, as long as it’s understood that God is the ultimate creator.

We haven’t written about this (until now) because it isn’t news. What we’ve been waiting for is the inevitable creationist reaction, because that’s going to be fun. We’re expecting something along those lines soon, perhaps today. Meanwhile, we’ve finally found one news story that puts the Pope’s statements into the proper historical context, so that’s worth mentioning.

It’s also worth noting that it appears in the Times of Israel, an online newspaper based in Jerusalem. Their headline is Were Pope’s evolution remarks a break from Catholic teaching?, and there’s a comments section at the end. Their story says, with bold font added by us:

The Pope did indeed make comments about compatibility of evolution and the bible, but his comments continued Catholic teachings on science and God, a point missed by the coverage of his remarks. In a speech Monday before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Vatican City, Francis said that the theory of evolution is not incompatible with the account of creation as recorded in the Bible, and the Big Bang does not contradict divine intervention but rather requires it.

“We run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything,” he said, arguing against young earth creationism. “But that is not so.”

[...]

The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”

Those are the remarks that were headlined everywhere, but so far, only the Times of Israel seems capable of putting the Pope’s words in perspective. They tell us:

Francis’s remarks were covered breathlessly in the media, but the coverage has not reflected that they are solidly consistent with previous Church teachings.

[...]

The official position of the Catholic Church has been very clear, emphasized Murray Watson, cofounder of the Center for Jewish-Catholic-Muslim learning at Ontario’s Western University: Catholicism does not see an inherent contradiction between faith and any of the several leading theories of evolution, as long as those theories can allow room for a number of beliefs. First, that God is the ultimate source of evolution. Second, that God is ultimately guiding the process, even if indirectly through the laws of nature. And finally, that the human soul is God’s direct creation, not a random result of evolution.

In other words, Theistic evolution. Let’s read on:

Speeches and statements by leading Catholic clergy over the years has presented the same position regarding faith and science. In a 1996 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II said that “new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.”

Right. We’ve written about that before — see The Catholic Church and Evolution, and before that: The Catholic Church and Science — which is why we didn’t think the current Pope’s remarks were newsworthy. But it will certainly be upsetting to the Discoveroids — see Discovery Institute’s Advice to Pope Francis.

Then the Times of Israel asks the same question that occurred to us:

Why, then, did many media outlets perceive Francis’s speech as breaking new ground for the Catholic Church?

They quote Wheeling Jesuit University theologian Andrew Staron:

Staron posited that too many observers still see “a deep conflict between religious faith and scientific inquiry.”

“Both sides of this perceived conflict posit a God who interacts with the world from outside of it by rearranging the laws of nature when it suits the divine will. Belief in such a God — whether embraced or rejected — does not take seriously enough the possibility of coming to know the Creator in and through creation and, importantly, in and through human reason. To posit a God who is only accessible to an irrational faith is to believe that we can only come to know God by denying one of the key elements of what makes us human — our reason. Instead, the Catholic Church teaches that human reason, when properly formed, opens to the divine.

That’s how we understood their position. It seems to us that the Catholic Church is moving toward a hybrid position that resembles Deism in the beginning, and then morphs into a literal interpretation of the events in the New Testament, but with the “history” of Genesis as allegorical. To us, that’s unobjectionable, but we’re waiting to be entertained by the anguished creationist reactions.

See also: The Pope’s Views on Science — So What?

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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