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posted by n1 on Wednesday October 01 2014, @02:24AM   Printer-friendly
from the mental-gymnatiscs-championship dept.

David P. Barash, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, writes in the NYT that every year he gives his students The Talk, not as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion. According to Barash many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science and just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of his students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material. "There are a couple of ways to talk about evolution and religion," says Barash. "The least controversial is to suggest that they are in fact compatible." Stephen Jay Gould called them "nonoverlapping magisteria," noma for short, with the former concerned with facts and the latter with values." But Barash says magisteria are not nearly as nonoverlapping as some of them might wish. "As evolutionary science has progressed, the available space for religious faith has narrowed: It has demolished two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God."

The twofold demolition begins by defeating what modern creationists call the argument from complexity - that just as the existence of a complex structure like a watch demands the existence of a watchmaker, the existence of complex organisms requires a supernatural creator. "Since Darwin, however, we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness. Living things are indeed wonderfully complex, but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon." Next to go is the illusion of centrality. "The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness. Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism." Finally there is a third consequence of evolutionary insights: a powerful critique of theodicy, the effort to reconcile belief in an omnipresent, omni-benevolent God with the fact of unmerited suffering. "But just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator."

Barash concludes The Talk by saying that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass his course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines. "And while I respect their beliefs, the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines."

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Lagg on Wednesday October 01 2014, @02:43AM

    by Lagg (105) on Wednesday October 01 2014, @02:43AM (#100249) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, don't. It doesn't matter how flowery or good your arguments are it merely reinforces their delusion. Unlike a lot of these types I've actually seen both sides of things and the fact that my teachers either said nothing about it or tried to force compatibility between the two (they aren't, period) was one reason I had to deprogram myself and way later than I'd have wanted. All it does it rip a bandaid off slowly or at worst not at all. You better just be blunt with them and get it over with.

    I know it seems no better than the bible thumpers to outright smack them in the face with the cluebat but the difference is that the cluebat is a cluebat and the bible is a cultbat. It's not merely a matter of getting them into your "fold" it's a matter of removing delusion. I would feel so much better about myself and not feel like I missed so much learning if someone would have cluebatted me when I was in school.

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  • (Score: 0, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:05AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:05AM (#100257)

    The recent Debian/systemd debacle illustrates what you're saying, but in a somewhat different context.

    Some people came to the Debian project with some obviously stupid ideas, namely that systemd has some redeeming qualities (it doesn't) and that it should be adopted by Debian (it shouldn't be).

    While these people should be allowed to speak their mind, Debian should never have tried to compromise with them when it came to actually infecting Debian with systemd.

    Now the Debian project and community will most likely splinter and die out, all because they compromised with a bunch of fools with foolish ideas.

    The same thing will happen to science if scientists give up their principles in some politically correct attempt to appease fools.

    Scientists need to stand for observation, hypothesizing and rigorously following the scientific method. Debian needs to stand up for robust, quality software that's open and follows the long-proven UNIX philosophies. Compromising on these principles leads to certain disaster.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:12AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:12AM (#100263)

      Can you please STFU? TFA has nothing to do with systemd or Debian, and it's not like we haven't hashed and rehashed the subject twenty times already.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:22AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:22AM (#100267)

        The GP's comment makes good points, I think. I don't use debian, but I see the parallels between these two situations. This submission's topic is all about compromising one's principles. Seeing how compromised principles can lead to problems in one case, like debian, is useful when it comes to seeing how they could lead to problems in another case, like teaching biology.

        • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:56AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:56AM (#100286)

          Exactly! Systemd is incompatible with evolution! Doesn't work well with Enlightenment, either. And systemd is so complex, no random collection of unix programs could have come together to form it, so the must be an intelligent designer! More intelligent than us! All hail Lennart!

          (And who says it's not a cult?)

    • (Score: 1, Offtopic) by Lagg on Wednesday October 01 2014, @04:03AM

      by Lagg (105) on Wednesday October 01 2014, @04:03AM (#100288) Homepage Journal

      Please. Stupid off topic posts like yours are no better than the people who unconditionally love systemd. Most of your type don't even have a clue what traditional unix philosophies are let alone what robust software is. Just like my original post I actually put my money where my mouth is and dig into it to find criticisms and also (because I'm not a fanatical moron) things I like about it. The first of which I actually documented myself doing [] and guess what, one of the things I like about it is the journal file format. Similarly, if you think it was a matter of being "politically correct" you can go fuck yourself. Also unlike your type I read the long mailing list thread and there were many arguments involving technical merit. Want to know the one guy who was being political? The asshole that threw a tantrum and tried to get people booted because their argument didn't match his.

      And you know what? If Debian dies (it won't) good! I'm sick of being hired to maintain machines their downstream-patched-to-shit all over it and I'm sick of people thinking that they are or ever were champions of the unix philosophy, which I say again isn't even what people like you think. Read the Unix Hater's Handbook if you want to know what traditional unix was. I'll give a hint: It wasn't a philosophy of clean, small and functional software. One would be lucky if the kernel itself didn't hang for fucks sake.

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      • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @06:59AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @06:59AM (#100331)

        Lagg, it is OK. There is nothing to worry about. Calm down and just admit that the systemd cult has gotten to you. As for you being who you are, well, maybe. I could be the actual Lagg, and you could be just an impostor! Not saying that is the case, but it is possible. And what kind of supreme being possessed of infinite power (lennart!!) would do such a thing as to create an impostor that is indistinguishable from the original? In a File Format????? Oh, that just oozes pure evil, the kind of pure evil that only Time Bandits or proponents of systemd could muster.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by monster on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:48PM

        by monster (1260) on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:48PM (#100504) Journal

        At the risk of continuing an offtopic thread, I'll point out that although you may like the binary log format, it was a no-problem: Almost never the size of logs are a problem in real systems. Instead, having a binary format that requires special tools just to be viewed, let alone sedded, grepped or sorted, that's a problem it creates where there wasn't one.

        Plain text has clear advantages once the inflation in size is not an issue. There's a reason why most Linux admins still prefer a group of text files to store their config instead of a big binary blob (aka registry).

      • (Score: 1) by fritsd on Wednesday October 01 2014, @08:56PM

        by fritsd (4586) on Wednesday October 01 2014, @08:56PM (#100655) Journal

        "The first of which I actually documented myself doing and guess what, one of the things I like about it is the journal file format."

        Where is the spec of the journal file format? And how can you tell which version one of those files is?

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:38AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:38AM (#100280)

    It depends on the religion. Not all of them are incompatible with evolution. It is not the job of the science teacher to tell someone what is or is not consistent with their religion.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Wednesday October 01 2014, @11:50AM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday October 01 2014, @11:50AM (#100403)

      This goes against their self promotional interests of insisting very loudly there is only a binary choice, Evangelical Christianity or agnosticism. Pushing that worldview is promotional to their specific religion.

      I am pretty certain from talking to international coworkers that they simply don't understand this aspect of the "debate"

      If you're old enough, think of old coke vs new coke soda. The coke company wasn't concerned about improving your corn syrup experience, they just wanted PR that the only choice is new or old coke forget about this pepsi and water stuff. The evolution/creationism thing at least in backwards parts of the USA is the same deal. The point of it is to limit your choices and thought to evang xtianity or some sciencey stuff you don't understand anyway. Buddhists? Native Americans? Hinduism? Islam? None of that exists in the debate therefore none of that exists.... at all.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @11:00AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @11:00AM (#100390)

    It doesn't matter how flowery or good your arguments are it merely reinforces their delusion.

    If you begin your discussion of the topic by telling the other party that they're deluded, you immediately lose any chance of 'converting' them. You can not de-religion a student anymore than you can remove their love of the Yankees or their confidence that mom's apple pie is the best, so you need to find a way for them to hold both thoughts in their head. That actually requires very little compromise. Mostly it requires that one accept the Bible's truths may have been worded to be comprehensible to mere mortals: the literal word of god, but not the literal truth. Much like you might use "holes" to explain a PNP gate.

    Omniscience and omnipotence are unfathomable concepts. It's consistent with omnipotence that the rules of the universe and its initial conditions resulted in the current state of the universe. In fact, that's more or less what science claims, too. Now, science won't admit a god that intervenes or changes the rules once set in motion, but reconciling the creation story with evolution really requires very little fundamental compromise.

    Science can not disprove God. It is not possible to disprove God. If your science depends critically on the nonexistence of God, then anyone who refuses to accept that assumption will, logically, not accept any dependent reasoning. If your science is based on the weaker claim that a god is not necessary for your results, then you alienate much less of the world.

    I'm not sure why this guy thinks "omni-benevolence" is a central tenet of [Christian] faiths. The bible makes pretty clear that dude is an angry, petty child, even if given to the occasional apologetic sacrifice.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by HiThere on Wednesday October 01 2014, @07:54PM

      by HiThere (866) on Wednesday October 01 2014, @07:54PM (#100621) Journal

      Science can not disprove God. It is not possible to disprove God.
      Here is where things get tricky. There are Gods that Science can disprove. There are interpretations of God that science *has* disproven. And there are concepts of God which are totally compatible with science without any problem. (Classical Buddhism, as conveyed by the document called "The Word" and purporting to be largely the words of Buddha is one, but you need to pay close attention where he talks about what it is that is reincarnated to realize this. He's quite vague, at least in the translation that I read.) Most Unitarians I've met worship a God that is compatible with science. Historical records show that this wasn't true 200 years ago. Etc,

      For that matter, some Wicca worship a goddess that's also easily compatible with science, though many, perhaps most, don't.

      A lot of the time the question boils down to what in the scripture you see as metaphor, what politics, and what intended to be strictly religiously obeyed.

      Personally, I ... worship is the wrong word, so ... believe in Gods that are totally compatible with far. Psychology will need to get a *LOT* more exact and precise before there's even the potential for a conflict.

      Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.