Creationist Wisdom #608: Core Element Missing

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St Louis, Missouri. It’s titled Evolutionary theory lacks a core element of science. The newspaper has a comments feature.

Unless the letter-writer is a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. But today we’ve got a preacher — Brian Harrison. He’s a big deal, because Wikipedia has a write-up on him, which says: “Harrison is also one of the few young earth creationists among Catholics.” Excerpts from the rev’s letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

The coverage of science in Saturday’s edition is rather ironic. First, religion columnist Greg Weeks tells us to believe modern science when it “says we’ve evolved over millions of years” (“Christians can and should appreciate science”).

Here’s that column: FAITH AND SCIENCE: A Required Partnership. Then rev Harrison says:

On the editorial page, “Reproductive wrongs” begins by affirming, correctly, “It is a core element of science that any finding must be reproducible if it is to be valid. Someone must be able to do the same experiment and get the same results.”

We can’t find that editorial, but it doesn’t matter. Now the stage is set for rest of the rev’s letter, in which he tells us:

Well, since evolutionary theory plainly lacks that core element, it is not science. The supposed development of all different phyla (macroevolution) from a hypothetical original cell cannot be observed, much less experimentally reproduced.

[*Groan*] How often has it been pointed out that we don’t need to re-create the Earth’s biosphere in order to have confidence in the theory of evolution? Events in the past — whether astronomical, geological, or biological — can be reliably determined without literally reproducing them. We know what caused the meteor crater in Arizona. We know how the Hawaiian Islands formed. And we know a great deal about evolution — see The Lessons of Tiktaalik. But the rev thinks we know nothing. He declares:

One of evolution’s own core elements is the highly debatable philosophical assumption that all observable phenomena are to be explained by natural causes alone, i.e., excluding any appeal to divine intervention or revelation.

The rev is mistaken here too. That’s not a philosophical assumption of science. Rather, it’s an operational constraint, because science can’t observe or test supernatural phenomena — see Bring Me An Angel Detector! Having demonstrated that he knows nothing about the subject he’s discussing, the rev concludes his letter with this:

Rev. Weeks [who wrote the earlier column] says he “believe[s] in the goodness of creation” as well as in evolution. But how does he reconcile the two? His evolutionary scenario makes a supposedly loving God the author of great suffering (terror, bloodshed and painful disease) on the part of innocent animals for millions of years prior to the curse on the earth which, according to revelation (Genesis 3), followed Satan’s invasion of this planet and the consequent fall from grace of its first human custodians.

Does that myth excuse God for all the evil in the world? No, but evolution does. The rev should pay some attention to another Catholic theologian — Francisco Ayala — who explained it all beautifully. We wrote about it in Charles Darwin, Francisco Ayala, and the Problem of Evil.

So where does that leave us? The rev says there’s a core element missing. We agree. What’s missing is the rev’s understanding of science.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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10 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #608: Core Element Missing

  1. Apologies, off-topic of this specific thread, but a delightful read highly relevant to this blog: Richard Dawkin’s 2011 interview with Christopher Hitchens (in fact, Hitchen’s last interview) has just been published on-line: “Never be afraid of stridency”: Richard Dawkins’ interview with Christopher Hitchens

  2. But back to this post, I’m shocked, shocked to discover another creationist who has no clue about science. If anyone wants to believe in the tooth fairy, that’s their business. But if they claim scientists are wrong because they refuse to study the tooth fairy, that just demonstrates they are ignorant.

  3. The writer demonstrates again the silliness of creationists’ interpretation of the reproducibilty requirement. The “experiment” that must be reproduced is not evolution itself: the experiment is the observation of natural features, which are the data.

    What must be reproducible is that one scientist examines, say, a Tiktaalik specimen, records certain features, measurements, etc. Any other scientist must be able to reproduce those measurements and findings, on that specimen and on other Tiktaalik specimens. The observation of consistent changes in beaks of finches on separate islands must be reproducible, not the actual visual observation of finches’ beaks evolving as the finches radiate out to those islands. Somone must be able to radioactively date chunks of the Hawaiian islands and determine their ages, and someone else must be able to reproduce that finding, not the formation of the islands. It’s the data, which are observations of features of natural world, that must be reproducible from one study to the next, one experiment of observation and measurement to the next, not the event(s) that formed those natural features.

    I think that perhaps no other error might so much demonstrate creationists’ utter lack of understanding of how science works.

  4. The ignorance is shocking, I agree, but the false attribution and logical fallacies are worse, for mine. An “evolutionary scenario makes a supposedly loving God the author of great suffering (terror, bloodshed and painful disease) on the part of innocent animals,” says the rev.

    Well, of course, drowning everything bar two of each is better than that! Yeah, right.

    Then there’s the murrain on cattle, and then “festering boils on man and beast”, (the fifth and sixth plagues of Egypt). Sounds like “painful disease” to me, but God doesn’t seem to be bothered by being the “author of great suffering” to innocent animals. Why would evolution’s travails concern God, if, as in Egypt, he had a larger program in view?

    Not that God needed an actual program, other than to bring suffering for its own sake. Saul was commanded to slaughter every single animal owned by the Amelekites. (1 Samuel 15). Considerations of the innocence of animals did not seem to occur to God then.

    And I’d really like to know where the scripture mentions this revelation the Rev talks about: “Satan’s invasion of this planet”. Where does it say that?

    He’s like every fundy. It’s not only that he’s ignorant of science, and arrogant with it – but he brings that exact same knowledge and attitude to things he’s actually supposed to know something about.

  5. What Garnetstar said, +1.

  6. > “all observable phenomena are to be explained by natural
    > causes alone”
    —————-
    Yep. That’s the only option. There is no such thing as the supernatural. If it did exist, it would be part of reality. If it was part of reality, then it would be part of nature – “natural”. End of argument.

  7. Rev. Weeks [who wrote the earlier column] says he “believe[s] in the goodness of creation” as well as in evolution. But how does he reconcile the two? His evolutionary scenario makes a supposedly loving God the author of great suffering (terror, bloodshed and painful disease) on the part of innocent animals for millions of years prior to the curse on the earth which, according to revelation (Genesis 3), followed Satan’s invasion of this planet and the consequent fall from grace of its first human custodians.

    Er . . . about that “curse on the earth,” just why would God punish nature for what humans did? And why did God curse Adam, Eve and all the rest of God’s chillun right down to the present day for what only the First Pair did?

  8. “why did God curse Adam, Eve and all the rest of God’s chillun right down to the present day for what only the First Pair did?” If you examine the biblical writings thoroughly you will notice that they are consistently anti-knowledge.
    In the Adam and Eve fairytale they ate from the tree of knowledge, which is a big no-no among true believers. Knowledge rather habitually leads to unbelief – the exact opposite of what believers really want.

  9. If you examine the biblical writings thoroughly you will notice that they are consistently anti-knowledge.

    After a lifetime of academic studies in the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts of the Bible, I would surely have noticed this alleged “anti-knowledge” message if it were there. Perhaps you could cite the passages I somehow overlooked?

    I would recommend you visit the Dept. of Religious Studies at any top university in the world and talk with the Biblical Studies scholars. If you are concerned about bias, ask to see one of the professors who has no personal affiliation with any Christian or Jewish congregation or sect. (My department chair was an atheist but never missed his synagogue’s services. Not sure if he would be considered “biased” or not.) No matter who you ask, they will tell you what I’m telling you: “consistently anti-knowledge” is quite false as a generalization of the Bible.

    If such research would not convince you, I recommend you read the Book of Proverbs. It has much to say about wisdom and knowledge—and those who reject both.

    In the Adam and Eve fairytale they ate from the tree of knowledge, which is a big no-no among true believers.

    No. It was only forbidden to those Imago Dei (Image of God) humans in the garden. I’m not sure what you mean by “true believers” but you are making a connection between “true believers” and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil which doesn’t make any sense in the context. The prohibition God gave to Adam and Eve in the Eden pericope was not applicable to anyone outside of that context.

    Genesis text calls it “the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil” and not just “the Tree of Knowledge” because it did not in any way prohibit knowledge in general. As the name of it makes clear, it related to a very specific kind of knowledge: the personal knowledge which came through the experience of rebellion against God. Indeed, both Christian and Jewish scholars—as well as all the other kinds of scholars—have generally understood the text to have nothing to do with “factual knowledge” and only to “experiential knowledge”, that is, the personal knowledge of a situation or state by having lived it.

    Knowledge rather habitually leads to unbelief – the exact opposite of what believers really want.

    Countless scriptures would disagree with you on that. And plenty of individuals as well. Of course, the generalization naturally leads to the question of what knowledge and what kind of unbelief you are talking about. Many would not only disagree with you but assert that the more they learned, the more they believed.

    In both Christian and Judaic cultures throughout their history, generally speaking, focus on the Bible has been very highly associated with literacy and education in general. Indeed, the development of many public education systems was motivated by a determination to enable the literacy needed for reading and understanding the Bible, especially after the Reformation. A large number of the world’s universities began as training centers for Christian clergy and Jewish rabbis.

    Of course, there have been some relatively small Christians sects which have strongly discouraged education and the accumulation of written knowledge but they tend to be noticed precisely because of their atypical nature when compared to the general trend.

  10. Garnetstar wrote:
    I think that perhaps no other error might so much demonstrate creationists’ utter lack of understanding of how science works.

    Agreed! I suppose some might claim that YEC misunderstanding/obfuscation of the “repeatable/reproducible” nature of good science ties for first place with several other of their science blunders. It’s hard to rank and prioritize the many types of demonstrations of stupidity—or is it dishonesty? Either way, the results are quite damaging to science education in the USA and to our public policy decisions.