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."
(Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:09AM
Evolution as a concept is a statistical phenomenon. I studied it in my AI class from my computer science department. I have implemented evolution, and it worked. Evolution is can be proven mathematically to work. However this is not important.
What matters is that the application of evolution to biology is scientific: it makes useful predictions. Here useful means we have prior statistical evidence that said predictions are better than chance. Thus evolution is useful, regardless of its correctness. Correctness does not matter: what matters is the predictions are useful. That is what science is. Even if creationism is true, it does not meet that criteria and is not science: it would be history. The fact that even if creationism is known to be true, and evolution is known to be false, evolution should still be used in biology (its a science) and creationism should not. I don't see how there is even an issue here.
I think a lot of these religions people value "truth" a little too highly, and are getting it wrongly mixed into the science. Science isn't about truth: its about forming models that have we can statistically show correlate with observations. Let the religions deal with "truth": I don't care about it.
We still teach Newtonian mechanics which we know are wrong. It is a simple model that correlates with reality: its useful science. The same is the case for quantum mechanics and relativity: until quantum gravity is solved, none of it can possible be true. Truth is not the important thing here! What matters is evolution is useful, and creationism is useless. Thus in science we teach evolution. Its not complicated.
(Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:25AM
It's a truism that Man created God. But people involved with science often just dismiss that as an accident of ancient history. No. Societies have laws because societies need laws. Most societies have religion because most societies need religion. At least, they have until now. Maybe we're in a period of transition; if so, it'll last many generations, probably hundreds of years.
So when some people just dismiss religion as useless claptrap, well, why stop there. Why do we need manners and etiquette, respect for one another, personal property, laws, protecting the environment so we can pass on a healthy earth and rich culture to our descendants (since we'll be six feet under).
Because we're people, not machines.
(Score: 3, Informative) by hoochiecoochieman on Wednesday October 01 2014, @04:29PM
The Slippery Slope Fallacy. I don't need religion to respect others or to love my children and want to leave them a better world.
(Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:46AM
Science doesn't exist in a vacuum. Science already relates with the field of ethics; there's a whole list of experiments your department will not sign off on for you to "form models", because the scientific method must be subordinated to the wider values of society. Similarly, while science may have utility, it's perfectly reasonable for people to weigh findings of science against other values like their religious beliefs.
(Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @04:19AM
Science doesn't exist in a vacuum. Science already relates with the field of ethics; there's a whole list of experiments your department will not sign off on for you to "form models", because the scientific method must be subordinated to the wider values of society.
Are you objecting to my claim that creationism is not relevant to this? I don't see how that makes creationism relevant: its not an ethical or legal issue. Also forming models has never been an issue. I can make any theory I want: its the testing of them that traditionally has challenges. Yes, biology is hard: some things are hard or impossible to test, and there are often financial, temporal and ethical issues. So? That does't change what science is, it simple makes it harder. I have no idea what point you are trying to make here.
Creationism doesn't make any predictions: the difference is not in how hard (or ethical) it is to test, but rather that there is nothing that creationism predicts: even if you tested it (you can't), the result wouldn't matter because creationism is useless (it predicts nothing). It is not a model that makes useful predictions.
Similarly, while science may have utility, it's perfectly reasonable for people to weigh findings of science against other values like their religious beliefs.
If you want to make a religion based on science, and compare it to creationism, sure, that's fine, but it is not relevant to the issue of teaching about evolution. If you want to use science for engineering that's fine. If you want to use it for farming, parenting or art, thats fine. Science is useful: it makes predictions better than chance. Use it for things: that's the point. It's not an ideological value, its a practical one. Yes, you can use it's conclusions in your ideology, but that is not science, that is one use of it that is likely beyond the scope of a science class.
Don't scope science bigger than it is, just because it's useful. All your statements apply to math just as much as they apply to science. There is math in ethics and religion, but math class isn't distracted by the number of gods problem. You can cause massive ethical violations testing theories in math too (ex: use all your department money, CPU time and electricity and cause global warming trying to empirically find a non trivial 0 on the critical line of the Riemann zeta function). This does not mean one should consider teaching creationism in math.
(Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @04:41AM
Of course it's an ideological value. The choice of whether to "use it" or not involves beliefs and values outside of science itself. It may well be that if a scientific finding conflicts with a deeply held belief, so in spite of its apparent utility, pursuing it is not desirable.
That these things can happen is a reason to teach ethics alongside math, and indeed, at many universities, doing a degree in a math or science requires taking an ethics course as part of general requirements. And for many people, ethics is deeply intertwined with their religious beliefs. It's utterly understandable how a lecturer might want to explain to his new students what he is teaching in his particular class and how it may relate to themes outside the classroom.
(Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01 2014, @01:51PM
Are you saying it's only "science" if it makes useful predictions? A large part of biology is taxonomy: identifying and figuring out the relationships among species. Sometimes known as "butterfly collecting." In fact, there's an awful lot of stuff that people describe as observational science that really has no connection at all to predictions or models. In the case of chemistry, cataloging the known elements allowed the prediction of new elements based on gaps in the periodic table, but there's no theory in biology to predict the existence of duck-billed platypus.
(Score: 2) by fadrian on Wednesday October 01 2014, @03:47PM
I don't like your example. Taxonomies are very much judged by their usefulness, just as are theories - it's just that a taxonomies' usefulness are judged at the meta level based on their ability to act as epistemic generators. This is why we tolerate (nay, demand) many taxonomies, understanding that different views, each focused by the epistemological lens of its own organization and enriched by clues derived from analogous structures, can sometimes elucidate the world more quickly than hewing to a single viewpoint. But don't ever say that taxonomies are not judged by their usefulness.
That is all.