My headache

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.

My headache
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11 thoughts on “My headache

  1. 1

    I made a few tiny alterations — a clarification, a typo correction and a grammar fix.

    Mike, Zdenny makes this exact argument in the linked post in his attempt to say that the biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection was verifiable because so many people saw it — never mind that the guy that wrote it wasn’t him/herself there. Who knows if these people even existed, much less saw what the Bible’s authors said they saw? It’s ALL based on an unwavering belief in the Bible. And why do they believe in the Bible? Because it’s the word of God. How do they know it’s the word of God? Because the Bible says so! Why do they believe what the Bible says about its divinity? Because it’s the word of God! (etc, ad nauseum)

    I think you meant YEC (Young Earth Creationism) in your last paragraph, but your point stands. I just happen to think people like Ken Miller are a good deal more palatable than people like Zdenny, because they only shoehorn in a deity into the gaps we still actually have, rather than trying to override all the gaps that have since been filled by empirically derived knowledge.

  2. 3

    Great post, too.

    I read about a PhD toutin’ creationist lecturer at Harvard who on Sunday compared Evolution with the Bible and Genesis. One of the faults, he claimed with evolution is that there is no eyewitness testimony for it, while the account of Genesis is, in marked contrast an eyewitness account.

    Where do you even go with trying to argue with someone who has that particular starting point? And yet, even the theistic evolutionists have a gradient of the same starting point: That there was a Creator who set it all in motion and created the conditions for evolution to produce humanity. It’s all based on, based on WHAT?

    All creationism, no matter where it lands on the scale from strict YEC to Deism, is a matter of fitting a personal desire into science and demanding consideration of extraneous variables. Science really needs to be left alone to correct for extraneous variables. zDenny’s position, while indefensible intellectually is really no more ludicrous that Ken Miller’s.

  3. 5

    Now he’s showing his “one world government” conspiracy theory ideas. The guy is truly, honestly, very far off his rocker. His elevator does not go all the way to the top. He’s got toys in his attic. He’s several bricks shy of a load. He’s got bats in his belfry. If you converted a “Whack-a-Mole” game into a “Whack-a-Loon” game, it would have his picture at the top. He is five cans short of a six-pack. He’s playing with much less than a full deck. He does not have both oars in the water. His lights are on, but nobody’s home. He’s far from the sharpest knife in the drawer.

    I guess you know what I mean.

  4. 6

    No, Dan… please elaborate. And use metaphors where possible.

    I don’t know if it’s an actual “mental problem”, being so indoctrinated in magical thinking and so willing to accept spurious allegations and conspiracies and slander. It might just be a function of him being so girded in the Armor of God as he is. I mean, the Venn diagrams of Birthers, Deathers, Teabaggers and fundamentalist religious folks in the States seems like it would have some giant overlaps.

  5. 7

    Unfortunately, his thought process is employed by others that are not so loony. I mean, many of them are loony, certainly. But fairly normal people think this way.

    I think part of the problem is that we teach the process of science in (some of the better) high school. But the philosophy of science, the actual epistemology, is given short-shrift. So it’s easy to sabotage, to usurp, to lay claim.

    I think it’s easy for people to assume that the “effectiveness” of science is equal to the “effectiveness” of religion in their own life. It’s easy for some snake-oil salesman to say, “They are just two different ways of knowing,” withing specifying what it is you are knowing, or by which rubric you are judging knowledge or effectiveness.

    That, and I suspect they think that science is a matter of opinion. It’s as if they could make their version of reality the consensus, reality would be exactly as they claim. (That’s not even getting into the nightmare reality that would be.)


    I am terribly sick of people like Ken Ham, and rdenny, and the tens of thousands of other non-science-geeks trying to corrupt the epistemology of science.

    It’s like that guy in accounting who thinks he’s a real hacker because he can sum up a row in Excel. Woah. Awesome coding skillz, Neo.

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