If You Can Prove It, It’s Science

An argument is an intellectual process; contradiction is the automatic gainsaying of whatever the other person says!

No, it isn’t.

And with that exchange, Michael Palin and John Cleese, of the comedy troupe Monty Python, are deep into the sketch entitled “Argument Clinic”.  While I’ve never seen anything from the Pythons about the intent of the sketch, I have no doubt part of the underlying message was about the ridiculous confrontations with people who simply don’t want to accept they may be wrong.  I am reminded of this sketch as I watch the nonsense that swirls around the argument over Evolution.  Especially since Neil DeGrasse Tyson has revived the very excellent Cosmos franchise, the biblical fundamentalists have renewed their scientific gainsaying.  Much like the Republicans, with whom they mostly politically align, the science-deniers gainsay what is put forth by their opponents but rarely, if at all, offer anything of substance as a counterargument.

The problem, as I have seen it for many years, is that so few seem willing to acknowledge that Creationism and Evolution are actually involved with two different questions: one with who created the universe, the other with how it works. (I find it rather amusing that the differentiation is distinguished by the rearrangement of the same three letters).  But where I find Creationism wanting is in the mandatory acceptance of a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament and the creation story contained therein.  I find Evolution wanting, as well, but in a scientific way – and that’s much better, because the science can change; religious fundamentalism is immutable.

Now this has nothing to do with Christianity, I’m an Episcopalian – you know, the good ol’ Church of England that caused a lot of problems itself.  But a literal reading of the Bible was not part of my upbringing and a whole other discussion.  From my point of view, the Bible still suffers from a “where did Cain’s wife come from” problem – it enumerates those things that are germane to the story, but not everything that was going on.  There were huge gaps of time that were glossed over in the telling in Genesis and all of a sudden, the world (or, at least that section of the world) is full of people!  Genesis is not a blow-by-blow account of everything that happened everywhere.  The inescapable fact about the Bible is that it is not a science book and trying to use it as such is no more valid than when the Catholic church taught Aristotle’s notions of the stars and planets as fact in Galileo’s time.  Of course, it was Galileo’s use of the telescope that really started to unravel the church’s didactic teaching of the natural world.

Galileo’s ability to chart the orbit of Venus and his observation of the moons of Jupiter through his telescope created questions that could not be answered by the church through biblical pronouncements.  When Galileo showed that not everything rotated around the Earth and the Heliocentric solar system proposed by Copernicus was correct, they didn’t have the option to say “no, it isn’t”.  The church had no counter to the science and they used the brutality of the Inquisition to gain the silence that would ensure only the very brave would challenge their authority with proof.

Tyson used the example of dog breeding to show how artificial selection works and with polar bears to explain natural selection with the understanding that individuals don’t evolve – generations do.  The greatest irony of this is that Gregor Mendel, the friar who is regarded as the “father of genetics” did his work at a monastery.  Even Mendel did not fully appreciate what he had discovered.  Still, the Bible does not account for genetics – it is a question of how not who.

And now we know so much more about the universe around us.  If we could go back in time and tell the medieval minds what we know, they would probably accuse us of witchcraft, heresy, blasphemy, and a whole host of other things that usually ends up with someone on the wrong side of a campfire.  Our minds have explored… learned… evolved.  The unknown has become known; old ways of thinking and believing have been cast aside when the facts have been uncovered.  We know about bacteria, germs, and many other things attributed to spirits and devils before.  We cannot go back to that old way of thinking because we know better now and to change our minds requires proof.  Creationism does not provide proof, just diversions.

Before Orson Scott Card went off the cliff on the right-wing short bus, he used to do a little performance called The Secular Humanist Revival which shot holes in a bunch of right-wing nonsense.  One part of his revival planted the stake in the heart of Creationism: (paraphrasing) Creationists have all the answers – God did it.  They have the answers before they ask the questions.  That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Creationism and why it will never be science.  They think they have the answers and they will never ask the questions… the hard questions… the questions whose answers could conflict with their preconceived notions about the universe.

Now this is not to say that I have never heard someone at least theorize about something in the Bible, the Flood, in particular.  The theory I heard put forth many years ago was that the waters of the Flood came from underground and there was such a quantity of water that shot forth like geysers, the entire world was flooded.  I don’t know how far this theory got in the scientific community, but I saw an interesting science article last week that brought this theory about the underground water to mind.  This is closer to anything resembling science than anything else I’ve seen that Creationists could use.  So why isn’t there more of this from Creationists than the standard “if it hasn’t been observed then it can’t be true” dismissal?  Science doesn’t get all the answers all at once and it certainly doesn’t have them before the questions are asked.

But I also said that I wasn’t totally convinced by Evolution and here’s why: how far away are the stars and galaxies?  No, I mean really!  You see, I am of the mind that if scientists could proof-positively show that the measurements to distant galaxies are really in the billions of light-years, then it’s game-over for the Creationists’ argument about the age of the universe.  I’ve even heard some nonsense from “young-Earth” Creationists about the variable speed of light to account for why we think the distances are so far!  You want to talk about trying to bend the rules just so something unproven fits your preconceived narrative, this is it!  I can accept that through polar ice cap cores and tree rings from old-growth forests, the age of the Earth can be determined to be older than the commonly held belief of 6,000 years from the literalist’s misuse of the Bible, but it also seems like all of a sudden, Evolutionists were pulling these speculations of millions and billions of years out of their asses to fit their own narrative.  What does a million years look like and how does anyone know?  Prove that and science will have shut up a lot of ill-informed mouths.

Ian Anderson, the flute-playing frontman for Jethro Tull, gave an appearance not too long ago where he said to his audience that, as a musician, he was always learning and that’s what made being a musician so much fun.  “You can’t be a doctor and think you have all the answers and not keep up with the latest discoveries of medicine, you might get someone killed!”  He said he believed this was true for all professions.  I agree and especially for those areas where there are so many questions that still have to be answered.

So we are left to continue the argument, but it has to be more than just “yes, it is”, “no, it isn’t”.  Science gives us the capability to answer a great many more questions, but we have to be willing to gain those answers honestly.  “The Bible tells me so” isn’t science and it never will be.  There may even come a day when events depicted in the Bible are confirmed by science, but it has to be done properly through the scientific method.

There are those who will never question their faith and that is unfortunate because a faith that isn’t challenged is just superstition.  For myself, I think we are too complex to just be a random chemical coincidence in a vast universe where we have yet to find anyone else.  But just like Cain’s wife, they may not be in the story just yet – we have to keep searching.


Evolution and How To Miss the Point

With all of the social issue nonsense being foisted on us by the Republicans, culminating in a vacuous creationism bill in Tennessee, I was compelled to revisit the Carl Sagan series, Cosmos.
I watched the second episode where Sagan boldly declares, “Evolution is not theory, it is fact.”  He then went on to explain the story of the Heike crab and the markings on its shell that resemble a human face.  Because of this visual interpretation, the local Japanese fishermen throw the crabs back out of remembrance of the warriors who lost an ancient battle in the area, according to Sagan.  He used the story to illustrate what is meant by “artificial selection” as opposed to “natural selection.”

So I tooled around the internet, looking for articles that continued the discussion of the Heike crabs.  What I found was an article on Brittanica.com that accused Sagan of ignoring the fact that because the crabs in question were “tiny” and “inedible,” Sagan’s recounting of the tale is just an example of “pareidolia” or the seeing of recognizable features in vague patterns.  What the blog seems to suffer is an inability to see the forest for the trees.  Sagan was demonstrating that, for whatever rationale we choose, we interfere in the survival of plants and animals in the same way that nature exerts its own influence on the survival of life on Earth.

I wanted to leave a comment on the blog and tell them what a half-assed effort they made on the overall topic discussion, but I ran into a situation I keep finding more and more on blogs and forums on the internet: I had to comment using an account that had nothing to do with the site I was reading.  In this instance, I could comment using Facebook, Twitter, AOL, or some other accounts I had no interest in ever patronizing.  What the hell is going on here?  I didn’t get a LinkedIn account so I could tell some sports blog that the Vikings are not going to build their offense around a wide receiver or use my WordPress account to tell people to lay off all the anthro and furry creepiness.  For some people, they aren’t going to care – I mean some people inexplicably see some value in Facebook and Twitter – but it is a nuisance that must have some kind of corporate consolidation money-motive behind it.  But, ironically, I also see it as a form of “artificial selection”: evolution on the internet in action.