People Believe a LOT of Nonsense on Evolution, Creationism, Religion

I’m not talking about creationists, that goes without saying. I’m talking about the fact that a very high percentage of arguments by people who claim that evolution and religion are compatible are in fact nonsense. Via Jerry Coyne, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that made me lose my faith in humanity just a little more. In terms of both the article and the comments. It’s a microcosm of the kind of muddle-headed thinking that often comes up when evolution and religion are discussed together. Here we go:

The article is about a theory advanced by Dan McAdams (a professor of psych specialising in narrative psychology) about public acceptance of evolution is so low in the US. According to McAdams, humans make sense of their lives through narratives. We constructing them about ourselves and also respond to them when others advance them. Evolution may be a wonderful and elegant explanation, but it’s a bad narrative. No purpose, no quest, no protagonists/antagonists. “You can’t really feel anything for this character-natural selection,” McAdams says. Sounds like a great parody on the Onion but he’s serious! And according to this analysis, evolution will always be an uphill battle.

The biblical story of creation, in contrast, couldn’t be richer. Talk about drama! Characters who want things, surprising reversals, heroes, villains, nudity. There’s a reason it outsells On the Origin of Species, and it may be why scientists haven’t had more success at moving the needle of public opinion.

Without denigrating the field of narrative psychology, this is beyond ridiculous. Thankfully the whole article was succinctly demolished in the third comment so I don’t even have to do anything:

Surely the obvious comment is that the US is anomalous among developed (and relatively highly educated) countries in its high level of skepticism about evolution. This argues strongly against explanations grounded in universal human psychology, but supports religious explanations, since the US is also highly anomalous in its level of adherence to Biblical religions.

Of course the other obvious point is that plenty of other scientific theories are just as unnarrative without people having a problem accepting them. Again, a stray commenter’s few sentences are right on target.

Poppycock. Does gravity require a narrative? Do magnets require character development? Do people inquire about agency and plot development before taking medicine? The need for myths and legends may be powerful ““ but if it excludes the acceptance of science, it’s the culprit not the solution.

The whole approach is reminiscent of what Greta Christina described in her wonderful Skepticon talk as the huge-pile-of-elephant-shit-in-the-room scenario. People are contorting themselves beyond recognition to come up with any cause they can (from elephant handlers to greedy people) rather than the elephant. Cue the selection of ridiculous comments. You see the problem is the scientists. Especially those atheist scientists!

I find it very offensive the implication here that if one believes in evolution, one must reduce one’s belief in God. The reason why creationism is generally more accepted in America is because scientists do not understand how to tell the RIGHT story. God-directed evolution is every bit as interesting as creationism and far more consistent with the facts. When will scientists learn that just because they find God unnecessary and irrelevant, it doesn’t make Him a fairy tale.

Yes, we should be talking more about how YHWH might have mutated the C into a T back in 194,235BCE. That will certainly bring more people to science! Then there’s what I consider the last refuge of belief. As long as it’s logically possible for my belief to be consistent with the facts (ie. I can spin a story about how it is), then I’m justified in continuing in my belief. For more of this, check out an eminent philosopher of science making essentially the same argument with respect to YHWH directing evolution by interfering with mutations.

The next exhibit is to blame those clueless uncool teachers for being so boring.

The problem is not with the lack of a story, it’s the people telling the story. Most high school teachers are, let’s be honest, not socially with it. High school students see someone with weird glasses and funny shoes standing in front of a class rambling on about how turtles evolved and how it leads to”¦sorry, fell asleep trying to write about it.
If you want to drive home the point of WHY students should care about it, talk about something like this:

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/personalized-medicine-vs-evolution/

It is fascinating for anyone who has an interest in cancer. My guess is that a lot of people are interested in cancer. Certainly a lot more than are interested in the colors of turtle shells.
It’s impossible to deny the reality of evolution. The attacks on religion, debates about the origin of DNA, and all that jazz are just sideshows that distract from the relevant points. The childish attacks on religion do hurt the acceptance of evolution. Just look at some of the comments on this article. Would you trust someone like that to tell you about anything of a scientific nature?

Certainly science communication has huge amounts of room for improvement, and science education even more. But there’s a special irony about someone calling out people for “childish attacks on religion” (when cutting the nonsense away leaves religious fundamentalism as the main culprit) just after launching a childish attack on teachers. Not to mention using tired stereotypes and claiming personal preference (evolution apparently makes the author fall asleep) as if it’s universal. All without evidence or reference to other countries. Is evolution only boring south of the US-Canada border?

Where would our game of canard bingo be if not for Dawkins-blaming?

It’s the Dawkins effect. He is responsible for this turning ugly.

Yes, the God Delusion was so ignorantly militant that it travelled back in time to the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial and (contra-causally) made dozens of religious people send death threats to the plaintiff’s family for not wanting ID to be discusssed in school. If that doesn’t disprove atheistic Marxist materialism, I don’t know what will!

I urge you to browse through the rest of the comments to get a sense for the scale of the problem and the extent to which fuzzy thinking and trendy slogans pervade the discussion. The most disheartening thing is that this is the Chronicle of Higher Education. Of course you’d expect such comments from (say) a general newspaper website. Oh well.

I will leave you with the most amazing comment in the whole thread. Do not read too closely lest your brain explode.

And this is why “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins (and similar screeds by atheists who masquerade as scientists – not that they are not scientists by day but they certainly are not when the attack religion in the name of science) is not science either. The problem is when scientists insult religion by arguing that if God is unnecessary then He is also nonexistent (following from Occum’s Razor, which (a) ironically was devised by a priest and (b) is also not science but is rather philosophy). I would argue that from a scientific perspective humans are “unnecessary” for the universe to exist”“does that mean that we do not exist?

I would further argue that while there are many clues to the believer that God exists, these clues cannot ever be taken so far as to constitute scientific proof. Indeed, one of the better expositions of this problem is from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”“God can never be proven by science. After all, once you can “prove” God exists, you destroy faith (which, by definition, must come from belief rather than evidence).

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The thinly-veiled identity of lives and rants in Sydney. Views not his own, provided by hivemind. All my original work on this blog is licensed under a CC BY-NC License.

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