Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Evolution Debate - Science vs. Faith

The Debate about teaching Evolution in Science Classes and whether to include lessons about "alternative" theories has been a matter of science education contention forever, it seems. Feb 29, 2008 issue of Science magazine reported that Florida Standards Support Evolution--With a Twist.

One of the main counters to teaching evolution is a semantics issue. The word theory ties counters' panties in a knot. In lay terms, a theory is a guess, a whim. But in science, it is a firmly supported statement (hypothesis) that has withstood strong contests. A theory is a big deal, it pretty much set and that's it. For example, gravity is a theoretical concept (of physics), the Law of energy conservation is 'just a theory'. So when anti-evolution legislators in Florida wanted to undermine science education standards and dupe the public into thinking evolution was just sample fancy theory and tried to legally change the text books to say "evolution is a theory", suave scientists and science educators complied...Fully. They changed the language through out to make it parallel. They applied the phrase to every major, time-tested scientific concept. So not only is evolution explained to be a "scientific theory of evolution" but also things like "the scientific theory of photosynthesis".


But this matter is serious. Religious zealots are serious about undermining quality science education. Why? Many reasons, one of the best answers comes from a Florida legislator who tried to re-word the science standards for evolution, Donna Callaway. She says "People have asked me why I don't question math concepts or grammar," she explained to Science. "I tell them, 'Those things have nothing to do with life. Evolution is personal, and it affects our beliefs.' "

My response to that statement....WOW. That is naive. Plus, that's apple-picking. Even Nisbet commented on this issue in his blog posting Why the PZ Myers Affair is Really, Really Bad for Science. I completely share the sentiments of this blog. In fact I was having a great discussion with a friend about evolution distorting people's spiritual beliefs. I think it is crap to assume studying science makes one more likely to become atheist. I just don't buy that evolution affects our beliefs -- assuming one understands the concept. That's the problem. Too many people are guessing what they think it means. And what makes it right for some people to tell us what is right to impact out beliefs. I guess studying science is heresy -- leads to critical thinking, discernment, challenges to authority. Damn independent thinkers. Can't have that. Let's protect them from themselves...Change the science standards.

But for many people (outside of science) it seems a plausible correlation. Many of my peers are atheist, agnostic, or spiritually neutral. But none that I know are that way because of studying science. They were that way long before studying science. And I also know scientists of faith, who were also that way before studying science. Go figure.

Is there a relationship between science and atheism? Perhaps. But you can't automatically conclude it is causal.


B H said...

I just don't buy that evolution affects our beliefs -- assuming one understands the concept.

Of course studying/doing science doesn't necessarily lead to atheism, but in the other direction, accepting the outcomes of scientific processes does undermine many specific religious beliefs: special creation of man, distinct biological kinds, a young earth, a global flood, the purity of Classical Arabic, the effectiveness of prayer, near death experiences, demonic possession or sinfulness as a cause of illness, etc. Even if science isn't capable of disproving all religious claims, our continued search for natural explanations has consistently decreased the number of phenomena for which supernatural causes seem the best explanations.

The evolution-deniers have a valid assessment of at least this situation. Evolution directly contradicts their beliefs even if it doesn't contradict all possible religious beliefs.

The Urban Scientist said...

I see your point. But why can't humankind still be special, anyway? If you beleive so? I learned that God is ultimate and capable of anything. Even with science's ability to explain mysteries with natural explanations, doesn't mean that God wasn't involved. According to my comprehension of my Sunday school lessons, it doesn't matter if the earth is young or old - God still did it. Right?

What concerns me is the insistence of some who are "demanding" that others accept supernautal explanations and ignore natural explantions. What's up with that? Ignore logic. Don't think critically. Reminds me of heresy trials. If you think independently and differently than the authorities, that's bad.

Now, with many atheist scientists taking the offensive, things are just getting ugly. Some are just as bull-headed and mean-sounding as fundy Christians. As both a scientist and Christian, I see no call for offense.

B H said...

Ack. I had written a reply yesterday, and I guess I managed to not post it.

While moderate/liberal religious positions make a certain sense, that's not what these creationist groups believe. If you read their literature, they're quite adamant about rejecting such compromises.

Far be it for me to tell theists what to do or believe, but personally, I'd like to see more theists out there countering the claims of the more extreme groups. That's part of why atheists have become so vocal: we see a supernaturalist culture that has taboos against public discussion of where its beliefs match evidence and whether some beliefs cause more harm than good.

In other words, a blog like this is a good start - I hope you manage to find an audience outside of "the converted."

The Urban Scientist said...

bh: Thanks again for the comments.
re: find an audience outside of "the converted."

wish me luck. I'm coming to the conclsuion that's exactly what blogs attract the "converted" or the "convicted". and my convicted I mean those who are zealous about the opposite of what you're saying. Middle ground - or space and time to think and discern - seems to be a bit lost.