Educating Scientists

In comments to this post about the therizinasaurus that was in transtion from a meat eater to plant eater commenter Scott Dillard wrote,

See post above on Kansas. Really, if you want your kids to learn religion, then send them to religious schools, so the rest of us can go about educating scientists.

Now I don’t want to pick on Scott, but I do have to disagree with him here somewhat. I think it is entirely possible for one to be both religious and a scientist. The problem is that Intelligent Design (ID) and the proponents of ID (IDists) want to put limits on how the divine creator (DC)can…well…create. The DC must be restricted to using methods that can be detectable by man.1 An example of a scientist who is also religious is Kenneth Miller, and unless I am mistaken Prof. Miller is also a practicing Catholic.

By pointing to the process of making a flower as proof of the reality of God, Father Murphy was embracing the idea that God finds it necessary to cripple nature. In his view, the blooming of a daffodil requires not a self-sufficient material universe, but direct intervention by God. We can find God, therefore, in the things around us that lack material, scientific explanations. In nature, elusive and unexplored, we will find the Creator at work.

The creationist opponents of evolution make similar arguments. They claim that the existence of life, the appearance of new species, and, most especially, the origins of mankind have not and cannot be explained by evolution or any other natural process. By denying the self-sufficiency of nature, they look for God (or at least a “designer”) in the deficiencies of science. The trouble is that science, given enough time, generally explains even the most baffling things. As a matter of strategy, creationists would be well-advised to avoid telling scientists what they will never be able to figure out. History is against them. In a general way, we really do understand how nature works.

And evolution forms a critical part of that understanding. Evolution really does explain the very things that its critics say it does not. Claims disputing the antiquity of the earth, the validity of the fossil record, and the sufficiency of evolutionary mechanisms vanish upon close inspection. Even to the most fervent anti-evolutionists, the pattern should be clear – their favorite “gaps” are filling up: the molecular mechanisms of evolution are now well-understood, and the historical record of evolution becomes more compelling with each passing season. This means that science can answer their challenges to evolution in an obvious way. Show the historical record, provide the data, reveal the mechanism, and highlight the convergence of theory and fact.

There is, however, a deeper problem caused by the opponents of evolution, a problem for religion. Like our priest, they have based their search for God on the premise that nature is not self-sufficient. By such logic, only God can make a species, just as Father Murphy believed only God could make a flower. Both assertions support the existence of God only so long as these assertions are true, but serious problems for religion emerge when they are shown to be false.

If we accept a lack of scientific explanation as proof for God’s existence, simple logic would dictate that we would have to regard a successful scientific explanation as an argument against God. That’s why creationist reasoning, ultimately, is much more dangerous to religion than to science. Elliot Meyerowitz’s fine work on floral induction suddenly becomes a threat to the divine, even though common sense tells us it should be nothing of the sort. By arguing, as creationists do, that nature cannot be self-sufficient in the formation of new species, the creationists forge a logical link between the limits of natural processes to accomplish biological change and the existence of a designer (God). In other words, they show the proponents of atheism exactly how to disprove the existence of God – show that evolution works, and it’s time to tear down the temple. This is an offer that the enemies of religion are all too happy to accept.

And this highlights another danger of ID and Creationism. Namely the last part,

Elliot Meyerowitz’s fine work on floral induction suddenly becomes a threat to the divine, even though common sense tells us it should be nothing of the sort. By arguing, as creationists do, that nature cannot be self-sufficient in the formation of new species, the creationists forge a logical link between the limits of natural processes to accomplish biological change and the existence of a designer (God). In other words, they show the proponents of atheism exactly how to disprove the existence of God – show that evolution works, and it’s time to tear down the temple. This is an offer that the enemies of religion are all too happy to accept.

Prof. Miller sees this as bad in that it could lead to a rejection of religion by people and as a religious person he sees that as bad. And I don’t know, maybe he is right. But there is another way of looking at this that, perhaps is even worse. Suppose the Creationists actually succeed. They actually manage to get into positions of power and implement their veiws on science. Work such as that by Meyerowitz’s might actually be prohibitied since it would be seen as a threat to the Creationist world view. At its roots, Creationism, is anti-science. In this regard I agree with Scott. If you want to be a Creationist, fine by me, just don’t try to force that view on the rest of us please. And of those of us who don’t want to be Creationists is where you’ll find future scientists.
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1I don’t mean that to be insulting, this problem might not be the result of a concious thought process, but I still argue it is there none-the-less.

FILED UNDER: General
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. John Burgess says:

    I was once hauled up short for reading H.G. Wells’ “Science of Life” during recess at a Catholic parochial school. It wasn’t the subject matter so much as that the nuns thought my 3rd Grade peers would freak over some of the illustrations, particularly those showing embyonic similarities between humans, chickens, and fish.

  2. Sandra says:

    Creationists are desperate because church attendance, and in fact god belief too, is on the decline, the christians are in danger of losing their majority (to either atheists or muslims, both possibilities horrify them), and good science education is the best defense against religious brainwashing. They will ultimately fail.

  3. Joey C says:

    1st I’d like to say to all the “Rels & Sec” (religious and seculars” that evolution follows creation. What happened between verse 1 and verse 2 of the bible? the bible co-oberates science and vice versa. 2nd; in the famous words of American Statesman Will Rodgers..”One constant you can count on is the stupidity of the American people”..again..”We will send Marines to any country that can get 10 people to say they want us”..Once and for all..LBJ lied to the people by telling us we had an obligation in ‘Nam and McGovern told the truth, hence… we fought a losing war for Johnson’s ego! also..we Nuked Japan twice for less that 9/11 and another president GB 41 did not listen to his generals when told go for it…Patton got retired, McArthur got fired and Shwarzengager just got quiet..We do not fight wars on our soil…America brings the fight to those who are stupid enough to challenge and hurt us!
    Warriors do not want war…only those who do not understand want war…and picking a fight with U.S.A. is not a smart thing to do….GO GB 43…at least we got a president that got Balls…what would Gore have done…File a Lawsuit!!!!

  4. One Fine Jay says:

    Media bias?
    I’ve been railing about the Religious Right—so much so that I’m back to using the term—in the past three posts (here, here and here) but it just occured to me: does the media give these religious wingnuts a free pass to a lot of presstime so that…

  5. melvin toast says:

    Evolutionism isn’t science. The scientific method requires the ability to perform a repeatable experiment.

    I’m very religious and I went to Caltech and didn’t have any disagreement with any of the chemistry or
    physics that I learned there with the exception that
    the Bible says that the world is 5700 years old and
    astronomy suggests that it’s billions of years old.

    Now I can fully sympathize that the world appears to be billions of years old. However, you have to appreciate that it’s a much bigger leap of faith
    about the age of the world than it is to believe in quantum mechanics. And evidence-wise evolution is on flimsier ground.

    I believe that the world is 5700 years old because
    philosophically speaking, astronomy doesn’t disprove history. The Creator can create and intervene anyway It likes and if the world appears older than it is so be it. Same thing with evolution except that as I said before, evolution requires a lot more leaps.

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