Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Interesting Article on ID vs Evolution

There's a flame war going on out at Tomorrow.. Something about some forum letter writer who was saying that evolution is not proven and therefore should not be shown on TV documentaries and such.

Most of the war is pretty silly, very lopsided arguments one way or the other, which is how these things normally go. One of the more balanced guys actually had an interesting link to an Times (UK) article on some Roman Catholic statement on compatibility of Darwinism and religion. That was pretty cool, and puts a context on this whole Intelligent Design debate as being something originating from the US.

I guess as an intellectual and a nominal Christian, I've always just kind of let the two slide along. Or, as my pastor Glen Davis at XA Stanford used to tell us, there are many many scientists who study science and revere God.. like the chap who led the Human Genome Project. These guys are intellectuals and they don't have a problem with either side, so there must be something there.

Most importantly, I think that there's this very strange thing going on with the whole ID debate. See, it's not really a matter of whether evolution is proven, it's more like a work in progress. It's just that many people think that what's taught in school is really 100% true, like 1+1 = 2. When actually, a lot of it is either simplified or still a very well thought-out, but nevertheless unproven theory. For instance, the idea of atoms being these solid balls of neutrons and protons and little electron balls flying around, when actually that's just the model of it. Or my personal favourite, from Glen's collection: "Someone who thinks the world is wrong, and someone who thinks the world is round is wrong, (it's more like an ovoid I think?) but someone who thinks that both are equally wrong is the wrongest of them all!" (Well, he said it much nicer, but he's a much better speaker and thinks these things through more thoroughly than me!)

So what's being in taught in schools (at least in Science) tends to be models or theories that help us think. But because we kids can't differentiate it properly, it's taught to us as 100% truth! I know I couldn't tell the difference for a very long time, possibly until I was in late university. And without being arrogant about it, I was probably one of the brighter kids, just not very independent-minded. It's not the teachers' fault -- try teaching your 3 year old niece the real reason why they shouldn't associate their feet with their food!

Unfortunately, most people go their whole lives without distinguishing the difference. I still mix it up regularly until I stop to think about it. And here's where I think the ID people are being either duplicitous or dumb. When they make all these arguments that evolution is not proven, they're basically saying it's not proven in mostly the same way that the Big Bang is not proven ( okay ) or the way that the earth is not round ( hmmmm... ) or (the biggest stretch but the most controversial too) that the link between smoking and cancer is not proven.

Yes, you can't prove that smoking causes cancer. Even though smokers disproportionately represent lung cancer victims, there could be a hidden third factor. In fact, there's an infinite number of possible hidden factors.

And that's what makes me just a little angry with the "Evolution is not proven" people. They're generally intellectuals of some kind or the other (else they're parroting some website, or someone they admire). And there are two broad possibilities.

1) They don't realise that lots and lots of stuff is not proven or is not stated rigourously. (possibly, more forgivably, because of their own built in biases) Some of this stuff is taught in school, some of it they say all the time ( smoking causes cancer, drugs make you addicted) for the good of their own children, and some of it they accept all the time without questioning it in the same way.

2) They actually realise this, and are taking advantage of everyone else.

And (2) is what really really makes me mad. If you want to present a "whole truth" argument, you'd better present it all the way.. I'd want to hear you tell your kid the next time you want them to take their rather bitter fever medicine, "Well, it's not proven that this medicine will cure your fever. It's likely to, but there's a lot of interactions that are still not understood, and in any case, if your fever is viral .." and so on. Not planning to do it? Then why force this degree of intellectual rigour on everyone else, even when they don't want it?

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