We have access to information on every conceivable subject available either on-line or in books, tapes, discs and other media. People are relatively free to choose what information they retain and what to discard, what to believe and what to scoff at. However, given the availability of all this information, the levels of uncritical thought among people (even those one could describe as intelligent), is unbelievably appalling.
One can never believe anything with 100% certainty. There are ranges of probability always. And choosing what to believe is not so easy, but science, or more precisely The Scientific Method, through skeptical and critical thinking provides probably the only acceptable tool for making that choice with near certainty. Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon Haunted World – Science as a Candle in the Dark proposed a toolkit for skeptical thinking. Called the Baloney Detection Kit, it provides some basic tools for testing credulity (or detecting baloney according to Sagan).
I don’t want to re-invent the stunning work done by Carl Sagan, or by Michael Shermer in the video which the link above points to, but briefly the Baloney Detection Kit asks the following questions (the video provides a more detailed explanation with examples):
- How reliable is the source of the claim?
- Does the source make similar claims?
- Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
- Does this fit with the way the world works?
- Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
- Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
- Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
- Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
- Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
- Are personal beliefs driving the claim?
Now, if you’re still with me, I’ve just mentioned all these things because it is leading up to the question I posed in the title of this blog post. Over the last week or two, I’ve been receiving comments on some of my earlier posts which lead me to believe that either there are monumental gaps in religious thinking which causes them to articulate innocently or unknowingly. Or there is an effort by believers to obscure their beliefs either deliberately or collaboratively through premeditation [Chapter 12, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World].
Over the years, I have observed that the debate between the evolution and creation camps has become more than just a fight between science and religion; it has come to represent the difference between belief and non-belief, the god-fearing against the heathen. It’s no surprise then that believers usually resort to dragging up this old debate every time they are confronted by non-believers. In recent times, and with this being the Year of Darwin (the 200th anniversary of his birth on 12 February, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species on 24 November), Evolution is yet again under attack, and Creationism with its more fashionable alter-ego Intelligent Design, is defiantly being bandied about with renewed vigor, but with the same absence of credible evidence. Only these days, even though fewer people believe this creationist and intelligent design nonsense, those who still do, express their belief with the absolutist fervour that mainly religion provides.
It seems that the main problem creationists have with evolution is the gaps in the fossil record. They conveniently ignore the wealth of evidence that has been collected over the years in other areas and disciplines of science which overwhelmingly point to the validity of evolution, and natural selection. Ergo question 6 in the Baloney Detection Kit above. And at the risk of belaboring this point, consider this revelation from Richard Dawkins in his book, The Ancestor’s Tale :
In spite of the fascination of fossils, it is surprising how much we would know about our evolutionary past without them. If every fossil were magicked away, the comparative study of modern organisms, of how their patterns of resemblance, especially of their genetic sequences, are distributed among species, and of how species are distributed among continents, and islands, would still demonstrate, beyond all sane doubt, that our history is evolutionary, and that all living creatures are cousins. Fossils are a bonus. A welcome bonus, to be sure, but not an essential one. It is worth remembering this when creationists go on (as they tediously do) about “gaps” in the fossil record. The fossil record could be one big gap, and the evidence for evolution would still be overwhelmingly strong. At the same time, if we had only fossils and no other evidence, the fact of evolution would again be overwhelmingly supported. As things stand, we are blessed with both.
The other grossly dishonest practice by creationists is the constant referral to evolution as a belief system or just a theory. Invariably in my correspondence, I have also come across the veiled inference to Darwinism as a kind of belief-system or religion. It’s quite inexplicable why to date, creationists have not learned what a scientific theory really is, with all the information available on the subject. Have you ever heard them refer to the Theory of Gravity, as just a theory? Is it laziness or plain ignorance, or perhaps more sinister; wilful ignorance? And have you noticed this pathetic attempt by the creationist lobby to bring the whole debate down to the level of worship: do you worship Darwin or god? It leaves me filled with anger.
The other fundamental dishonesty I have come across is the attempt to pass religious texts off as containing profound truths about the secrets of the world, life and death, and even scientific facts. Most claims in this regard reference the bible, although I’m pretty sure that other religions make similar claims about their religious texts too. Consider the following from one of my commenters:
…things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
If you haven’t figured out what this scientific fact is, allow me to enlighten you: everything you see is made of invisible atoms. Although why the particular text does not state ” things which are seen are made of atoms” is beyond me. However, I’ve been cautioned not to question the word of god.
He…. hangs the earth upon nothing. (Job 26:7)
Supposedly it is a great leap forward from ancient mythology when the belief was that the earth sat on the back of some animal or other creature (common belief from Greek mythology is that it was the Titan Atlas, but it has been more accurately interpreted as him actually holding up the sky on his shoulders to prevent the earth and sky from embracing). The contention is that the bible revealed long before the advent of science that earth floated freely in space. Perhaps it has not occurred to believers that by the time the bible was being compiled, people had already figured out, just by observing the moon, that maybe the earth was also floating freely in space. But it still doesn’t explain why the wording is not plain, and why the earth should “hang” on anything, even if it was nothing.
He that made him can make his sword to approach unto him. (Job)
Apparently a reference to behemoths in the book of Job, describes the dinosaurs and how god made them go extinct. What the book doesn’t describe is why god would create dinosaurs in the first instance and then destroy them before the great flood that apparently wiped out his original creation of man.
There are off course other claimed references to scientific fact in the bible, but it’s not necessary to list them. I think the point is made. Some of these other references apparently point to the fields of medicine as well. Who knows, maybe there is the cure for AIDS in there somewhere, but we’re too dumb to find it. What also remains inexplicable is why the claimed scientific facts were not more clearly spelled out to enable man to use them and thus eliminate years of suffering and misery. Apparently god’s agenda encompasses a great deal of pain and suffering, then grovelling, before salvation is earned.
I have touched on a few aspects of flawed religious thinking here, but the question still remains: Is it naive ignorance, or a deliberate attempt to obfuscate? Or maybe a bit of both?