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A slight improvement

A recent debate among Muslims on evolution had a better outcome than most of the similar debates among Christians — they ended up laughing at the creationists.

The high quality of scientific and theological discussion exposed the shallowness of Islamic creationists, such as Harun Yahya. One of his acolytes, Oktar Babuna, presented his arguments from Istanbul, via the internet. He kept on pointing to fossils as evidence that species have never changed in history. He also discounted any historical changes in the DNA. Babuna’s arguments were countered earlier on by both Abouheif and Jackson. But he unintentionally served as a comic relief, when the audience realised that after several hours of discussion, almost all of his responses included the mention of “fossils”, irrespective of the topic of discussion.

Yeah, “fossils” is the only argument they’ve got, and it’s a bad one. Anyone who has browsed Yahya’s Atlas of Creation knows that that’s what it is: page after page of stolen photographs of fossils next to stolen photos of extant organisms, claiming that there has been no change at all in millions of years, therefore evolution is false.

So it’s actually good progress that they ended up finding Yahya absurd. In the US (the debate took place in London), we instead end up nominating the loons for high office.

But, not to be complacent…most of the discussion was about reconciling evolution with Islam, and they trotted out the usual tropes, from “God inserted Adam in the natural order” to “science only tells us ‘how’ things happen, and not ‘why'”, and claiming that “the miracle of Adam is preserved theologically” without recognizing that those positions are almost as laughable as Yahya’s and Babuna’s.

I also have to take exception to the editor’s summary of the article: “A high-quality debate of a sensitive topic did not disappoint, as all panellists bar one accepted the scientific consensus”. Nope. The scientific consensus is that there is no teleological imperative in evolution at all. The panelists accepted a phenomenological narrative of evolution, while implicitly rejecting the mechanistic underpinnings of the science.

It’s still progress, though. American fundamentalists aren’t even that far along yet.

Comments

  1. Draken says

    One of his acolytes, Oktar Babuna

    If man evolved from an ape, why is there still a Babuna?
    Checkmate, darwinists!

  2. says

    Anyone who has browsed Yahya’s Atlas of Creation knows that that’s what it is: page after page of stolen photographs of fossils next to stolen photos of extant organisms, claiming that there has been no change at all in millions of years, therefore evolution is false.

    And as you move backward in time there are fewer and fewer organisms even remotely akin to present species, and more and more organisms whose entire lines have died out. Sort of like, oh, expected of evolution–um, why again can’t the designer remake species? We know why evolution can’t.

    Archaeopteryx is just a weird bird, don’t you know. Just a coincidence (among many for creationists) that it appears transitional at the time when, roughly, we’d expect one for birds. Of course, the entire tree of life is a coincidence…

    Glen Davidson

  3. Chuck says

    Yes, a repeated answer of “fossils” is ridiculous, but not repeated variations of “God did it.”

  4. Ogvorbis says

    Except that the extant genus of coelacanth is highly derived and quite different from the coelacanths of the mesozoic. If I recall correctly, there is a coelacanth found in the Morrison formations of the interior US west that was two or three meters in length (or more?) and may have provided food for Allosaurs when larger land vertebrate prey was scarce. An old lineage, yes. Completely unchanged, no.

  5. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    The scientific consensus is that there is no teleological imperative in evolution at all. The panelists accepted a phenomenological narrative of evolution, while implicitly rejecting the mechanistic underpinnings of the science.

    Perhaps teleology is ‘built in’ to the way we think. Humans assume things happen for a purpose. Telological evolution was hypothesised long before Darwinian and a lot of people rejected Darwinian evolution because of what it implied about humanity and the universe. Unless we consciously think about it, we are teleologists by default- even Darwinian evolutionists sometimes speak of ‘design’.

  6. Ogvorbis says

    Shhhh!! Stop bringing facts into this matter!!!

    If you ignore the tippety-tap of keyboard keys, I made no noise making that post. I already was Shhhh!!!!-ing.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    “science only tells us ‘how’ things happen, and not ‘why’”

    Not sure what the objection to this statement is. It’s not science’s job to answer ‘why?’. Of course, objections arise when people try to answer ‘why?’ with any old sky fairy nonsense, but that’s another matter.

  8. =8)-DX says

    Oh shit, I heard some philosophy student in a bar ranting on about phenomenology some time ago. Now I’ll have to search out some philosophy books and properly look this up because next time I can turn to guys like that with a witty retort, or a well-researched and heartfelt “what a load of bullshit”.
    Wish me luck

  9. says

    “science only tells us ‘how’ things happen, and not ‘why’”

    Actually, science tells us “why,” basically it’s physics.

    The theists’ “point” is that there must be a “why” beyond physics, and science doesn’t get to that. True, just as a court doesn’t get to “why” God or Satan caused the crime to happen, thus absolving the perpetrator. That is to say, science doesn’t find a magical purpose behind observable events, most likely because there is none.

    At least there is none discernible.

    Glen Davidson

  10. says

    Now I’ll have to search out some philosophy books and properly look this up because next time I can turn to guys like that with a witty retort, or a well-researched and heartfelt “what a load of bullshit”.

    Well, it isn’t, actually. Husserl’s phenomenology (not very unlike that of his teacher, Brentano) is reasonable enough, although he tends to ignore issues of why we experience phenomena as we do (he ignores the psychology and cognitive structure/function that gives us the phenomena that we experience). Heidegger’s phenomenology, while corrective of some of what Husserl misses, is altogether too much a rehash of neo-Platonism and of theology, complete with the BS “reasons” for why we don’t actually have evidence of the “Being” that he posits.

    As PZ’s using the term “phenomenology,” apparently he just means that they admit the phenomena of evolution, while assuming that something much “deeper” is really going on. Husserlian phenomenology doesn’t do that (at least it need not, though some, like Heidegger, go off in that direction), it just works with the phenomena.

    Husserl and Heidegger hardly exhaust the versions of phenomenology that exist, of course.

  11. says

    Oh shit, I heard some philosophy student in a bar ranting on about phenomenology some time ago.

    I assume they were talking about philosophy and not particle physics because the later topic would be cool. Whenever I see the word phenomenology I have to remind myself that there is another definitions and it does not involve high energy particles.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    Glen @11: “Actually, science tells us “why,” basically it’s physics.”

    Physics doesn’t ask ‘why?’. It looks for models which fit as much data as possible, and those models have become more powerful. I suspect this is a semantic difference rather than a philosophical one. This lecture by Hawking talks about this, I think;

    http://www.hawking.org.uk/godel-and-the-end-of-physics.html

    By the way, does anyone else have trouble putting links in comments (the a href thing)? At least one of mine, and a couple of other commenters’ I’ve seen, don’t work. The text is highlighted, but the link isn’t there.

  13. David Marjanović says

    “science only tells us ‘how’ things happen, and not ‘why’”

    “Everything is the way it is because it got that way.”
    – J. B. S. Haldane, as cited by PZ long ago

    There are two ways to look at this: 1) all “why” questions have been solved, the answer is “it got that way”; 2) all “why” questions are “how” questions and thus in the purview of science.

    Of course, some people mean “what for” when they ask “why”. I think that question is wrong – at least there’s no reason to suppose otherwise.

    If I recall correctly, there is a coelacanth found in the Morrison formations of the interior US west that was two or three meters in length (or more?) and may have provided food for Allosaur[u]s when larger land vertebrate prey was scarce.

    All I know from the Morrison Formation (singular, uppercase) is a seriously big lungfish; but coelacanths have had an impressive diversity of sizes and shapes… start here and google for pictures.

    By the way, does anyone else have trouble putting links in comments (the a href thing)? At least one of mine, and a couple of other commenters’ I’ve seen, don’t work. The text is highlighted, but the link isn’t there.

    That happens when typos or other misspellings intervene. <a href=”complete URL with http and everything goes here”>text</a>

  14. Ogvorbis says

    All I know from the Morrison Formation (singular, uppercase) is a seriously big lungfish; but coelacanths have had an impressive diversity of sizes and shapes… start here and google for pictures.

    Damnit. You are, of course, correct. I was thinking of the lungfish. Sorry.

    But I did preface it with a qualifier, so I’m okay, right?

  15. says

    I think the reason that Muslims have an easier time reconciling evolution with their religion is that Mohammad doesn’t become irrelevant if there is not fall from grace. Jesus’s sacrifice has no meaning at all if Adam didn’t eat that apple. So Christians NEED Genesis to be true.

  16. Recreant says

    “science only tells us ‘how’ things happen, and not ‘why’”

    Not sure what the objection to this statement is. It’s not science’s job to answer ‘why?’. Of course, objections arise when people try to answer ‘why?’ with any old sky fairy nonsense, but that’s another matter.

    The problem is that, absent intent, how and why answer the same question. Saying that science does not answer the “why” implies that there is intent behind whatever is being addressed

  17. caveatimperator says

    Not only have I never seen a convincing example of a “why” question that religion can answer and science cannot, science answers plenty of “why” questions. Isn’t that the whole definition of a scientific theory? Basic statements, like scientific laws, simply state “this is what happens.” Scientific theories explain why and make predictions.
     
    Say, the Van der Waals gas equation describes the way a gas behaves under certain conditions. Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics are the theories that explain why.
     
    Some of the driving “why” questions behind all existence are things like, “why are the universal constants constant?” and “why does a universe even exist?” Science’s answer, right now, is “we’re working on that.” Even if science couldn’t answer those questions, that is hardly evidence that religion can.

  18. David Marjanović says

    But I did preface it with a qualifier, so I’m okay, right?

    :-) Just stop apologizing!

    Mawsonia and Megalocoelacanthus did reach at least 3 m.

    Jesus’s sacrifice has no meaning at all if Adam didn’t eat that apple. So Christians NEED Genesis to be true.

    Catholics don’t. See, because we’re descended from “mere beasts”, we have a “sinful nature” – and therefore we totally need a savior. Impeccable logic!

    (In other words, God doesn’t like apes.)

  19. says

    I wonder why evolution or any other scientific theory needs a “why”? What is with people that they have this need that everything has a reason?

  20. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Some of the driving “why” questions behind all existence are things like, “why are the universal constants constant?” and “why does a universe even exist?” Science’s answer, right now, is “we’re working on that.” Even if science couldn’t answer those questions, that is hardly evidence that religion can.

    Religious answers just move the ‘Why?’ back a stage, caveatimperator:
    ‘Why does the univers exist?’
    ‘God made it”
    ‘Why does god exist?’

    because we’re descended from “mere beasts”, we have a “sinful nature” – and therefore we totally need a savior. Impeccable logic!

    …except that human sinfulness depends on our free will, David Marjanović. According to RC doctrine, beasts do not have free will and so are not sinful. It’s the difference between us and ‘mere beasts’.

  21. Azuma Hazuki says

    And this still leaves out the omniscience paradox: how can free will and omniscience co-exist? We don’t mean “is capable of simulating and knowing the outcomes of any and all combinations of free willed choices,” we mean “knows everything, and always did.” (Though one might argue the first implies and is just a quantum-computational version of the second…)

    Calvinism is actually the most consistent, if the most batshit insane, version of Christianity. It is simply the result of taking all the assumptions the religion makes to their logical (?) conclusions, and this probably explains why so many otherwise intelligent believers tend to be Calvinists. It’s seductive nonsense, very appealing to the frightened and lazy mind, but it’s still nonsense.