December 13, 2008

Flat Earth 101

I’d like to introduce you to a fellow I find very entertaining. His name is Pascal Boyer, a professor of Anthropology and Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, who holds the prestigious title of Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory.

Boyer is also a religious philosopher and the author of a book I enjoyed, titled Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Foundations of Religious Belief, published by Random House (UK) and Basic Books (USA), 2001. The main theme of this book is that we now have a better understanding of religious representations, their causes and their role in human cognition, simply because we have a better and more precise understanding of the mind-brain, its evolution, its structure and its specific dispositions.

From the book:
“…coalitional psychology is involved in the dynamics of public religious commitment. When people proclaim their adherence to a particular faith, they subscribe to claims for which there is no evidence, and that would be taken as obviously wrong or ridiculous in other religious groups. This signals a willingness to embrace the group’s particular norm for no other reason that that it is, precisely, the group’s norm.”

Professor Boyer strikes a resonate chord in this statement, and it may explain some of the irrational behavior I’ve witnessed here in Texas recently.

The October 16th Dallas Morning News reported the following:

“Social conservatives on the State Board of Education have appointed three evolution critics to a six-member committee that will review proposed curriculum standards for science courses in Texas schools. Two of the appointees are authors of a book that questions many of the tenets of Charles Darwin's theory of how humans and other life forms evolved. One of them, Stephen Meyer, is also vice president of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group that promotes an explanation of the origin of life similar to creationism.” The other author is Ralph Seelke, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Also on the panel is Baylor University chemistry professor Charles Garner, who, like the other two, signed the Discovery Institute's "Dissent from Darwinism" statement that sharply questions key aspects of the theory of evolution. "

The "Dissent from Darwinism" document states:

"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

So, we in Texas get to look forward to anti-evolutionists (flat-earthers) developing the science curriculum that will be taught to school children in our state. Lovely.




Recovering Grady Addict said...

Despite Georgia being on the lower ratings of "educational excellence", our school system utilized textbooks that taught evolution. This was nearly 20 years ago. We only have a couple of county school systems who have raised even a slight a fuss about the debate of Creationism vs. Evolution.
My personal out look is teach both - in a way.

To me, Evolution is scientifically based, and certainly far more tangible. I can see evolution at work right now, and can see it's past history in fossils, as well as the current diversity in the animal kindom.

In my opinion, Creationism is far more of a "theory" than Darwinism. But introduce it just the same: "Some cultures believe..... blah blah blah". Then it has a fair chance to be discussed and debated.


Rogue Medic said...

OK, OK, I have been procrastinating on a similar post. Win Ben Stein's Mind - Roger Ebert Review. Part of a short series of related posts.

The problem is not a scientific controversy, any more than vaccination is a scientific controversy.

The problem is people who have put belief in Genesis ahead of belief in God. How can God be worthy of worship, if He is limited by what is written in a book?

They do not appear to understand the meaning of omnipotent.

Perhaps they do not believe what they read in the dictionary.

Mule Breath... said...

If it were as simple as creationism vs Darwinism this might be a different debate, but unfortunately the “creation science” movement is just a stalking horse for Christian religionists wanting to weasel their particular worldview into the schools.

The real debate is Christianity vs anything not Christianity. The same folks attempting to justify the creation science curriculum would have a cow if there were any sustained movement advocating inclusion of Aztec creationist myth in science texts, or that of the Norse myth that Odin slew Ymir and subsequently used his body parts to create heaven and Earth.

If any myth can be called science, then all must be called science. Anything else violates the establishment clause of the 1st amendment.

Recovering Grady Addict said...

I totally agree. Just on a side note... we were also taught various other creation stories as we studied various ancient pantheons. And we were able to see them for what they were... the understanding of the world by a society during those times.

Over time, the belief that thunder came from wars between gods was proven wrong, just as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were not the mark of angry or displeased dieties.

While this may totally piss off some folks... die-hard creationists are just another bunch of folks clinging to an ancient belief that they don't want disproven, out of fear that this will diminish the portions of their faith that remain.

Mrs. Who said...

I'm a practicing Catholic...and see absolutely nothing wrong with the theory of evolution. (FWIW, a Catholic priest introduced the Big Bang theory). I really can't understand fundies who believe in an all-powerful God, yet can't believe in a God who could start an evolutionary process. That would make Him the greatest programmer of all time.

Anonymous said...

Just another nail in the coffin of what used to be my republican party, but I'm still here swingin' my crow bar as fast as I can. Totalitarians to the left, and to the right. Into the valleys of ignorance we go...

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like all you believers that God is driving Evolution actually believe in Intellegent Design. Evolution is NOT defended in the fossil records, it does not show slow, gradual progression from one species to another. Dinosaurs died out, mammals arrived. No similarities. No "transitionsal creatures". The Garden of Eden may not belong in schools but evolution needs a hell of alot more exploration before it ought to be the ONLY explanation taught in our schools.

Mule Breath... said...

JKosprey makes a very interesting comment. I can't tell what the heck it is saying, but it is certainly interesting.

Evolution = Theory = based on observation = science

ID = Religion = based on faith = myth

Rogue Medic said...


Evolution is NOT defended in the fossil records, it does not show slow, gradual progression from one species to another.

That is not the way that evolution works. There are many large jumps in evolution. There is no requirement that mutations be tiny and insignificant. The opposite is true. By being large and significant, evolutionary changes provide a benefit to the creature in the specific set of circumstances, but not for all time.

Mammals did not evolve from dinosaurs, but mostly evolved in parallel. Just as gorillas and chimpanzees mostly evolved in parallel with humans. We are different creatures with a common ancestry. The transitional creatures you seek would be where the branches of a phylogenic tree has a common root.

Mammals did not arrive after dinosaurs. There were mammals concurrently. After the extinction of dinosaurs, the mammals were better suited to survive in the then current conditions.

The difference between evolution and other explanations of the development of life, is that evolution is a science. Where there are mistakes made, the scientists will modify the theory to conform with the research. This happens in physics - Newtonian physics was not completely overturned by Einstein. The scientific advances of Einstein modified those of Newton. The same is true of quantum physics modifying both the physics of Einstein and Newton.

Science is itself a form of evolution. At times slow and gradual, but there are periods of revolutionary change, such as when Newton comes along with his Principia or Einstein with his Relativity. Science adapts. Science is self organizing, as is life.