Thinking as a Hobby

Get Email Updates
Email Me

Admin Password

Remember Me

3478118 Curiosities served
Share on Facebook

Lileks on Evolution and ID
Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Read/Post Comments (10)

James Lileks has a pretty strange entry on evolution here, but it points out some of the central modes of thinking on the subject, so it's worth a look.

Early on he says:

I have never found religion and cosmology to be in conflict, which is why the ID debate is boring. It’s like a debate that seeks to prove whether cats or forklifts exist.

Couple of things here...throughout the entry he conflates the origin of the universe with the origin and continuing evolution of life. Big friggin' difference, and it's very useful to keep a distinction between the two. Of course, if you're religious, the same answer fills in the slot for both: god.

And while Lileks personally doesn't see any conflict between religion and cosmology (and presumably religion and the origin of life and evolution) many people do. That would be all fine and dandy if this difference in beliefs didn't have any ramifications. But guess what? It does. It matters in what students are taught in schools and what the general level of scientific literacy is of our population, which impacts political decisions and has a real impact on economics. (As an aside, I just read an article in Texas Monthly talking about how woeful Texas' scientific literacy is, and how in a recent study the quality of the teaching of evolution is directly linked to general scientific literacy in a state. The author made the point that Texas did well in the IT boom, and if it wants to remain an economic power player it will have to do well in the next big boom, namely biotech. And Texas is gonna suck at biotech if most of the people in the state are biologically illiterate.)

Anyway, back to Lileks, who starts the next paragraph with:

I have no doubt about evolution...

And then he cites a Washington Times article describing an example from the fossil record. Okay, great.

But then:

I think any class could profit from philosophical exploration of the origins of life. And that’s all ID is to me, really: the possibility that the universe as a cause, that it was, for lack of better terms, summoned by volition. I know, I know – analogies are always imperfect, flattering to the believers and annoying to the disputers, but the world is like a newspaper: you either think that someone put it together, or you think that letters were thrown into a building and somehow they all arranged themselves in the form of editorials and recipes.

Say what? Here's a good example of his conflating the origins of life with those of the universe. And then we get a retread of Paley's watch argument. If you found a watch on the beach, you wouldn't think it was randomly thrown together, but designed. Same with a newspaper, right?

So let's stick to life for a second. Does Lileks believe that organisms originated and evolved through forces such as mutation and natural selection, or doesn't he? These forces are blind. God could have created them, but Lileks is mixing the message with his newspaper analogy. Does he think god created giraffes, or that they arose via the blind forces of evolution? I honestly can't tell...his writing on the subject is frankly a mess.

All I know is that I do not exactly tremble at the idea that students should set aside a class period to question the origins of the universe. Pens down, notebooks away, drop your cynical carapaces, and ask: this, from what? And why?

Here at least we agree. I've blogged several times on the idea that high school students should take an introduction to philosophy. And that's what it is. Not science. When you leave the realm of what is emperical and falsifiable, and you stop asking questions like "How do iguanas mate?" and start asking questions like "Why do iguanas, or anything for that matter, exist at all?" then you've left science. What, where, and how questions are the realm of science. Why is the realm of philosophy.

Just one more note on something Lileks wrote:

I just hesitate to say that we have it all figured out, and everything above and around and below is simply clockwork crafted by the hand of chance.

Man, I'm so sick of this characterization. I mean sick of it.

Someone thinking religiously thinks they "have it all figured out". The answer to any question is "god". Go ahead, ask any "why" question, and if you're a believer you can answer it with "god".

Someone thinking scientifically, on the other hand, is honest about the areas where science has reached it limits, and openly plead ignorance on the rest. How did the universe begin? Don't really know. What was "before" the universe? Don't really know. How did life begin? There are some interested hypotheses, but we don't really know. Ask any respectable scientist about what is unknown in their field, and they'll keep you busy for hours with stuff they wish they knew how it worked. This isn't arrogance. This is intellectual honesty.

On the other hand, it is the height of hubris, the very fucking pinnacle of arrogance, to say you do have everything figured out. It was god.

I'm so sick of the characterizations being reversed. Science is not arrogant. It does not claim to know everything, especially questions regarding ultimates. It just slowly, methodically chips away at the unknown, and catalogs into human knowledge what it's found so far (which is really very little).

Someone asked me a couple weeks ago what motivates and sustains someone who doesn't believe in a god. To a great extent it's all that unknown, a huge frontier out there. Basic curiosity. I'd turn the question around...what motivates a believer? You don't need to know how or why anything in the universe works, do you? What do you care? The only thing that matters is "god's plan", whatever that is. All you should probably care about is getting your golden ticket into heaven. This life doesn't matter much, does it? All those universal truths, great and small, don't really matter.

You've already got it all figured out, don't you?

Read/Post Comments (10)

Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Back to Top

Powered by JournalScape © 2001-2010 All rights reserved.
All content rights reserved by the author.