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Explaining Evolution
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EvolutionBlog has a rant today about a NY Times article in which the writer berates scientists for using words like "berates" when explaining stuff.

The creationist stuff is easily digestable and scientific concepts are more difficult to explain. Yes, yes...this is true. But it's not an excuse.

I'm the ever-eternal optimist in that I believe most people, with minimal effort can see through bullshit and grasp obvious truths with equal likelihood, given clear, lucid explanations, including good, strong analogies.

For example, in the debate I went to recently here at UL between creationism and evolution, the creationist advocate had a slide in his powerpoint that showed a picture of a cat, with the word "CAT", a picture of a dog with the word "DOG", and then two arrows pointing down to a box with a question mark, with the words "DAT" underneath. "You can't have a dog mate with a cat," he said, "and get a DAT!" He was so enamored with this slide he used it several times.

Now I would hope most reasonable people would see this as idiotic bullshit, and not as some sort of reasoned response (although no doubt some people will nod their heads and think "By golly, he's right! I've never seen a dog hump a cat who gave birth to a DAT!" But I would hope most people (and maybe I'm wrong here), wouldn't actually consider this anything close to an actual argument.

Anyway, analogy is important in learning any novel concept, and when it comes to evolution, as a response to Paley's watch argument, my favorite analogy is snow.

Complexity doesn't just arise by chance, right? Well most people can intuitively grasp falling snow, and learn as a child that snowflakes are very intricate crystalline structures. Not only that, but they display vast variation. The myth that every snowflake is unique is readily debunked, but no one can deny that the millions of snowflakes in a given snowfall are highly variable in their shape and structure.

So does god come down from heaven and hand-craft every flake? Or is it reasonable that factors like temperature, the mass of a drop of water that turns into a snowflake, and the molecular properties of water combine to give a high degree of structure and variation in a system we're all familiar with?

It's not magic. It's not intentional design. This analogy extends to other crystals as, for example, which are just a bunch of carbon atoms. But under certain conditions, they line up just right so that they resulting crystals have a high degree of order. They appear...dare I say it, designed. But we all know they're not, don't we? We know they're a result of blind, mechanistic forces of pressure and time.

Beaches automatically sort grains of sand and pebbles according to size into neatly defined strata. Is god personally sculpting every inch of beachfront property or are these just the forces of gravity and fluid mechanics at work?

So the world is full of systems where order proceeds from disorder via non-intelligent physical forces. These aren't difficult to intuit, and they effectively punch a hole in the idea that complex things can't arise from less complex things via non-intelligent processes. And once you've made that link, beginning to understand the origins and evolution of life isn't quite so difficult.

So we don't need to dumb down the message to compete with creationists...we just need to work harder to keep the integrity of the message, but explain things in a way that the vast majority of people can easily understand.

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