I’ve sat on this for a while, as I’ve had quite a bit on my plate lately, and I don’t want to go out of my way to give Zdenny a bigger stage than he already has. Yet, I link to him because he quote-mined me here to make a larger point about science as dogma and Christ as science (no, seriously). He’s definitely right about one thing — this line of argumentation gives me a headache, one for which only a good long rant can serve as ibuprofen. Especially since they’re the ones who consistently conflate atheism with scientific naturalism.
You see, Zdenny and other theists are generally quite jealous of the status science has earned for itself by virtue of being testable, independently verifiable, repeatable, being derived from evidence, and making predictions that turn out to be true; and they are quite annoyed that atheism seems to be the de facto belief system of those who employ the scientific method. Zdenny in this post makes an effort to co-opt the scientific method as being fulfilled in the Christian dogma, and of accusing scientists and science-boosters of dogmatic belief or “faith”. This projection, this attempted judo, indicates to me that Christians see these facts as science’s strength; they are trying, as with judo, to use your opponent’s strength against them. Unfortunately for them, their attempts are so blatant as to be laughable.
Science does truly have strengths and weaknesses. Its weaknesses center around the fact that nature itself is not easily summed up; one cannot in a neat and tidy package explain evolution in a single sound-bite. One can make spurious claims about it in a sound-bite fashion, a method of argumentation that sways the easily swayed and those with short attention spans — one can simply say “we never find a crocoduck in the fossil record!” and sound like they’ve made a point against evolution. The fact that evolution actually doesn’t predict such a silly thing is irrelevant; the creationists win on this front because a real refutation requires explaining what evolution ACTUALLY predicts, which takes far more time and a lot of it will fly over the heads of the simple rubes for whom peanut butter or bananas or photoshopped images resonate. This is unfortunate, and it smacks heavily of the blogosphere “framing wars” of ages past.
The solution for this problem does not involve simplifying evolution to the point where we can out-sound-bite the creationists; it unfortunately involves improving children’s education such that they are CAPABLE of understanding complex concepts without being swayed by appeals to emotion or strawman arguments like the crocoduck one. Theists look at any attempt at improving children’s education as some form of “indoctrination” — as though we intend on making all children learn evolution by rote and as dogma. Another strawman, this accusation, as most of us science-boosters believe that the actual problem facing us is, indeed, dogmatic belief itself. We have no intent whatsoever to replace the dogmatic belief in Christianity’s or Islam’s or Judaism’s foundational texts with a dogmatic belief in the foundational texts of Charles Darwin (especially not considering three quarters of it was wrong or at the least inaccurate!). We do intend to teach kids how to think critically about things — all things, including everything adults proclaim as absolute truth. Dogma is as problematic in the field of science as it is in every other field, because as soon as an idea becomes immutable despite legitimate evidence to the contrary, then it erodes at the scientific method itself.
As long as you look at all the evidence, and the evidence points in a direction, and you accept that direction as the most probable and most thorough explanation of the evidence at the moment, then you will be kept in good stead through not only your scholastic career, but in making life decisions as a whole. Be open to alternate explanations that provide a more clear, useful or concise explanation of the facts, but always remember that the facts are IMMUTABLE — they are not open for debate. The FACT that there is a fossil record stretching back millions of years and the FACT that radiometric dating using a number of independent methods all match up independently to verify the age of these fossils and the FACT that our genetic code expresses similarities with other animals that had followed different evolutionary paths cannot be denied. The interpretation of all those facts is where the controversy lies.
Make no mistake, the only real controversy that Christians want to be taught is that their interpretation of the evidence differs significantly from science’s, and involves a good deal of outright refutation and attempts at muting facts. Creationism relies heavily on the acceptance of their foundational text as absolute truth and that all further interpretation or acceptance of evidence must therefore flow from the accepted “wisdom” that Yahweh created the Earth and the firmament in a geocentric universe with the cosmos being little more than a matte painting that serves as a background for Heaven; he did so in six literal days, literally six thousand years ago; and every piece of evidence that contradicts this must therefore be thrown out as either misleading attempts at swaying people from the true (dogmatic) path, or as misinterpretations due to our limited nature and our inability to comprehend the universe.
Either of these endpoints is unacceptable to a scientist. Nothing in this universe is utterly incomprehensible given enough time; and no facts are to be thrown out once they are verified and established as facts either through direct observation by reliable witnesses (and even these may later be thrown out should these reliable witnesses turn out to be less than reliable), or through physical evidence that can be verified as authentic through multiple independent methods and infinitely repeatable experimentation. Once you look at all the evidence as it is, and not as you wish it to be, then you can develop a theory that best fits all the evidence. This theory is not a mere hypothesis or wild guess — it is a framework through which you can attempt to comprehend the phenomena that give rise to the facts and evidence we see before us. Theories must be falsifiable (as in, they must make predictions that have the possibility of being wrong). You can then test these predictions, and if the predictions hold, then the theory stands and is strengthened. If the prediction does not hold, then, depending on the magnitude of the falsified results, either the whole theory must be thrown out because it is a foundational flaw, or the theory can be modified to accommodate the new results if the flaw is merely superficial or tangential to the original theory.
Thus far, through 150 years of predictions and whole new fields including genetics and thousands of transitional fossils that we had no idea about, Darwin’s theory of common descent and speciation via evolution has been borne out and reinforced at every turn. His theories of how animals inherit their genetics were totally disproven, and were scrapped, when genetics came along and showed how it could be done without any kind of “intention” or independent will or Lamarckian inheritance. This flaw was tangential to the theory that all life comes from the same genetic tree; it was replaced when DNA was discovered and inheritance explained in context of the new knowledge we’d gained. Thus, the scientific method self-corrected.
At that, even when hoaxes are perpetrated (e.g. the Piltdown Man, a favorite whipping horse of Creationists), they are discovered to be hoaxes through the application of the scientific method. There is not a single hoax in this world that has been proven so except through the scientific method.
And I haven’t even gotten into the text of his fallacious arguments yet! Honestly, the only part that really needs rebuttal (as it is the only part that is personal, and not a ham-fisted attempt at transposing science and religion), is this:
My friend Jason who is an atheist
While it’s amusing to be identified as an atheist in the same breath as your original identification every time you feel the need to link to me, it’s horrible grammar and useless information. Let my words stand on their own. However, please, feel free to keep linking me, the more of your readers that actually read my arguments, the more people are exposed to the greater world outside of your foundational dogmas!
And stop calling me your friend. You advocate nonsense and attempt to co-opt the scientific method for your own purposes, and therefore you and I are fundamentally opposed. We are adversaries, and whether you think your “universal love” means you can call me your friend, we are by no sense of the word actually friends. I have theist friends. They do not actively try to squelch scientific knowledge while claiming every scientific advance for their religion, and they do not contradict empirically derived processes wherever they intersect with their dogmas. They are nothing like you.
You are not my friend. You are my headache.