Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Telegraph #fail on creation and evolution

Steve Borthwick highlights the risible attempt by the Daily Telegraph to name the top 5 arguments for evolution and creation.

I despair, I really do. I am bored witless with arguments about creationism, but it seems impossible to have a decent debate about science and God without the C-word being uttered in the first 3 minutes, and then everyone jumping up and down calling each other morons.

For the record.
- I'm a Christian, I believe God created the cosmos.

- I'm not a 'creationist' - I believe the universe is roughly as old as science says it is, until they get a better measurement. Last I heard it was about 15 billion years.

- I'm convinced that the thrust of the first three chapters of the Bible is not chronology but theology: what kind of world is this, what kind of God have we got, where do humans fit in, what's our relationship supposed to be to God, the world, and one another.

- I would love to hear more from the physicists, if the biologists could let them have a word in. There's lots of fascinating stuff about the origins of the universe, evidence of 'fine tuning' of the cosmos to make life possible etc. There's more to science than evolutionary biology, just as there's more to Christianity than how exactly God made the world. Not all physicists are theists, so it's clearly not a done deal, but there are some good debates to be had in that area.

- I don't know a great deal about evolution, but from what I have read it sounds like there's still some questions not settled, including the phenomenon of evolution happening in short bursts, followed by long periods of stability. It would be interesting to hear what someone better informed has to say about this, as I'm not expert enough to know what that's all about, or how much of a discussion is going on.


  1. Just read that article. What utter drivel. A fake, manufactured, stupid argument. I'm not sure whether I'm more annoyed as a Christian having my views distorted, or as a scientist being patronised.

  2. The Telegraph's I mean, not yours of course...

  3. Good post David, I agree, ignorance abounds! I'm a scientist and this is how I would see things,

    - The universe is not "fine tuned" for life, %99.99999 recurring of it is positively hostile to life (as are large parts of our own planet);a more rational way to look at this is the other way around, i.e. our planet happens to have an environment where the evolution of carbon based life was possible, all the other planets in our solar system don’t. However the probability of other planets out there being similar to ours is high so perhaps we are not alone; unfortunately the distances are so vast we’ll probably never know in our life-time.

    - Evolution is an over-arching theory; in 150 years it has never been falsified and yet it would be trivial to do so. Therefore in reality it is considered to be fact, like gravitational theory and the germ theory of disease etc. (lots of lay people get confused about the word “theory” and how we use it in science vs. it’s everyday meaning) The "short burst" you mention probably refers to the Cambrian explosion roughly 550 million years ago, it was at this point we find a myriad of complex mult-cellular animals appearing in the fossil record, however “short” is a relative term. Creationists like to point to this and exclaim “ah ha, creation!” i.e. the sudden appearance of life; but this is an argument from ignorance, we’re still talking about a span of 100 million years (hardly zippy!).

    - Not all scientists are atheists or agnostics (although most seem to be) and several famous physicists (like Einstein) were Deists which I suppose is more aligned to the “God exists but doesn’t interfere” line of reasoning. My experience is that science is corrosive to religious belief and is one of the reasons I’m an Atheist, however, if you ask can you be a good scientist and be religious then the answer is clearly yes, an interesting dichotomy, I reckon it must take some serious compartmentalisation of ones mind to pull it off.

    - Religion is just applied Psychology which is really just applied Biology, but Biology is just applied Chemistry and Chemistry is just applied Physics and then we have the Mathematicians, lets not go there! :)

  4. Steve, David may also have been thinking of the "punctuated equillibrium" theory of evolution. This is just a fine-tuning of Darwinianism, not a radically different theory.
    Evolution in quick bursts actually makes perfect sense in genetic terms in a world which is generally stable with occasional change events. A sudden change in environment will favour those creatures that happen to have appropriate mutations to survive, over those that don't. Over a relatively short period (in geological terms) of time, there is an evolutionary pressure. Then everything's relatively happy again and it all settles down. Or, presumably, a freak and successful mutant suddenly rules its domain, applying pressure on all those around it. Currently that freak and successful mutant is ourselves, applying pressure on dodos, whales, Galapagos tortioses and polar bears but strongly favouring rats.

    Evolution as applied Zoology, which is really just applied Biology etc. I have no problem with. It's evolution as politics that I have problems with -"Things can only get better"; "You've never had it so good"; "We are the Master Race". Because evolution isn't about some absolute rule of onwards and upwards - if the conditions of the world were most suited to primordial slime, then primordial slime is what would take over. Environmentally that's where we seem to be heading.

    But one other thought - maybe both Physics and Religion are really applied Philosophy.

  5. Hi G,

    Yes the SJ Gould view, it certainly has merits, I can see how events associated with plate tectonics like the splitting of land masses causing isolation, island formation etc. would lead to more rapid speciation and after all there is nothing special about stasis. Our species is certainly in a unique position, our big brains mean that we can bugger things up at unprecedented rates. I guess for most of history there was bacteria, we are really just colonies of bacteria and in the end the ones that will be left are bacteria, some would argue we haven't really progressed much at all! :) let's hope someone invents warp drive soon!

    I agree any science "as politics" is a problem; just like religion "as politics" or personality cults "as politics" etc. I think our ethics should be rationality derived, caring and with a human face but ultimately secular and certainly not Darwinian.

    As for Philosophy... give me Physics any day! :)