Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Evolution, huh! What is it good for?

This is the product of many thoughts on science and philosophy, having been brought to a head by the movie Expelled, conversations with professors, and, just today, a recent reading of a blog.

http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/10/atheists-and-an.html

In the blog, Greta Christina gives a laundry list of reasons why it’s okay for atheists to be vitriolic towards Christians. She answers the question, from her perspective, of why atheists are so angry. She answers, “Because anger is always necessary.”

Let me first say that this is a scary statement. And, if you read it, you will see I’m not quoting out of context. At the moment, such a statement can be shrugged off. But, just like when a Muslim cries “death to the infidel,” I take the person seriously. What I want to focus on here is evolution. Christina writes in the milieu of things in the world that she just doesn’t like and wants to blame on religion (some of it justified) that she is, “angry that almost half of Americans believe in creationism. And not a broad, ‘God had a hand in evolution’ creationism, but a strict, young-earth, ‘God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years’ creationism.”

Well gee, it’s really too bad not everyone agrees with you. Maybe half of America should change their beliefs so that you will stop your temper tantrum. Now, this may come as a surprise, but I am an evolutionist. I’m not, however, the kind that resounds in jihadist-like proclamations; I am, in fact, one of those “broad, ‘God had a hand in evolution’” people.

That being said, what difference does evolution really make? One biologist I spoke to, said the movie Expelled “[would] help us take another step back to the 17th century.” Really? Wow. Ben Stein has the power to Buellerize us into a scientific coma. (My definition is the theory, or overarching paradigm, which states that all biological life stems from a single, probably procellular, lifeform, that has propagated itself via heredity, variation, in an environment that directs this process via natural selection.)I’m on board with this, but I fail to see its necessity.

Most of scientific progress is made in very specialized fields that don’t even begin to touch a theory as big as evolution. Progress is being made because people are studying muons and how calcium works in muscle contraction and so on. Scientists can spend their whole lives studying one insect, one atom, one cluster of stars. And it seems, a bit like the space program, that this theory is somewhat superfluous.

What does this theory give us, that wouldn’t have been explored, discovered or created otherwise? To my understanding, and correct me if I’m wrong, it doesn’t give us cures for disease or ward off plague—medical science and microbiology does that. It doesn’t give us solar powered cars or iPods—the domain of engineering and Steve Jobs. It doesn’t appear to help us produce better, healthier crops or screen for phenylketonuria—this is what genetics can do. Organic farming, space flight, cryogenics, forensic pathology—all of these seem possible without the theory of evolution. To Darwin’s credit, evolution is, in a word, elegant. It’s a beautiful theory that seems to tie everything together. That’s probably why I like it. And, while not flawless, it seems to have a certain scientific sheen that ties up history, present and future with one big bow. But, unlike Newtonian theory, it's not predictive. It doesn't guide science or research; it only ties it together.

Imagine if somehow there were an evolution theory delete key, and we pushed it. If the De Lorean could take us back, what might that alternate parallel universe look like? There are two options that I see. Either we would continue to try to find a scientific theory, perhaps sticking with Lamarck, that would best explain biology; or, we would not focus so much on origins at all. Regardless, I can still imagine science continuing, since our curiosity would not be quenched even if we didn’t have biological origins nailed down.There is the issue of politics and education. Now, I’m not one of these people that think it’s the death of reason if a teacher brings up Creationism.

My theme is that it really doesn’t matter. Good science can thrive regardless of origin conceptions. That being said, I hold the same view as John West of the Discovery Institute. Evolution is the consensus, and we should teach the consensus. I also did not touch issues like conceptions of humanity because this is precisely where an atheist or evolutionist might need to qualify themselves. Evolution describes; it does not prescribe. It says what we are, but not how we should act. Therefore, there are very real and fair questions to hold up to the atheists’ faces: where is morality? Where is human dignity? What is beauty and humor? Evolution won’t necessarily lead us to destruction, but we have good reason to look at it’s implications with suspicion.

Lastly, what’s with the incessantness of proclaiming that if you don’t agree with evolution you are either a fool or simply uneducated? Why can’t people be allowed to disagree? Or at the very least question. Isn’t a little bit of skepticism in science a good idea? Your reply may be that to deny evolution is comparable to saying 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4. Perhaps. But isn’t that a person’s right? Perhaps a measure of indifference would be in order. I find Dan Brown’s writing hackneyed, but I don’t write international best sellers on the subject. I certainly don’t lose sleep on the subject or justify my anger because “it’s always necessary.” I find it interesting that the person who says we need to be open-minded about gay sex, smack-talking the President, fetishism, knee-jerk man-hating (she assumed that there is no male birth control pill because “the pharmaceutical industry are a bunch of sexist pigs"), godlessness and liberalism, is the same person who would bemoan any viewpoint, to the point of self-justified, unapologetic anger, that didn’t comply with her own. The only thing more close-minded than an ideology is an open-mindedness ideology.

Now I give it back to you. If you can make a compelling case, I will cede to your argumentation and admit that not only is the theory of evolution true but it is good.

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