Good. Evil. Bratwurst.


Posted on by arlen

The Cat is bemoaning conversations with someone who doesn’t believe in evolution. It’s a topic I’ve grown tired of “debating” on the net, but I’ll visit it One More Time, in the hope that perhaps I can shed some light.

A big problem, as evidenced by the comment thread, is that both sides never tire of turning the opposition into a straw man, and both keep trying to win the argument by definition. A good case in point is the description of the “anthropomorphic all-God” in the comments. It’s a misstatement of Christian positions to say God is “man-like.” Man is, in fact, God-like. (“Let us make man in our image” — KJV) Is “theomorphic” a word? The point is God is the original, man the derivative being. Characterizing God as “anthropomorphic” is a good way to antagonize your respondent.

What’s my position?

1) I find many of the suppositions made following the theory to be suspicious, to say the least. They may be true, but they don’t make sense to me, and there really isn’t way to test them. They are assertions, which make a sincere (at least most of them do) attempt to cover/explain the currently known facts. But several explanations can manage that, so without being able to test the theories, I don’t see a compelling reason to select one over another.

2) Just because I find it unlikely, I’m not going to tell you that you can’t believe it (there’s another problem in terminology — one doesn’t believe in evolution, one believes evolution; there’s no person there to believe in, after all) and forbid you telling other people about it. This attitude, alas, sets off the howler monkeys on both sides of the question.

3) Also, simply because I don’t see it as true doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. I’ve learned long ago not to limit God’s behavior by my own understanding. I don’t have His brainpower; when I know more, I’ll understand more.

Just to explain more about my point #1 above: Let’s say you know nothing at all about the world. You see a video which shows someone entering rooms in a house and turning on lights. Without being able to set up an experiment to test, you can theorize:

1) There is pressure plate under the floor which turns on the light.
2) There is a motion sensor which turns on the light.
3) The house demands you scratch it on a sensitive area and the light is its pleasure response.
4) The beings in the house have an abundance of energy and they power the lights by touching a contact plate.

(I’m sure there are other theories possible, but that’s enough, I think, to make the point.)

There isn’t an experiment we can perform that will *prove* that life on this planet emerged and developed according to the current theories (I use the plural, because there’s not complete agreement among those who accept evolution — nor is there agreement among those who do not, for that matter) this side of time travel. At best we could demonstrate that it could have happened that way, but even that hasn’t been done, yet.

We look at old bones, and we build fleshy creatures that may only vaguely resemble the actual being in question. You would, for example, have a hard time reconstructing my fleshly body from just my bones. I’ve had the same bones all my adult life, yet my height varies by 5% or more routinely, and occasionally by more. My weight has varied by 60% and more. Now imagine you’ve never seen a human and explain where they carry their body fat. They’re just guesses. Do they hold tegether, yes (for the most part) they do, but so does the future histoy of Miles Vorkosigan, does that mean he’s real? Or the Tharks? How about the Puppeteers and the Kzinti?

You see what I mean? Evolutionary theory is largely guesswork and suppositions, unproven and unprovable. (I once ran in to someone who claimed a computer simulation could prove it. Try as I might, I couldn’t get him to see it was tautaulogical: You build a simulation that runs according to the rules of evolutionary theory and behold, the result supports evolutionary theory! Yah think? Computer simulations are useful tools when we understand the problem domain; we don’t know enough about this one. The problem is when you build the solution into the test, you never can learn anything.) It’s just a case of choosing the set you find yourself comfortable living with.

2 Responses to Evolution

  1. Well said! I basically hold the same position you do on all of this jazz. I think it’s one of those arguments that people should generally agree to disagree on. It should be discussed, but people easily wander outside of objectivity after only a short while of fairly tame conversation.

    I particularly enjoyed your last paragraph. Richard Dawkins, a fairly prominent scientist that advocates for evolution and has written quite a few books on the subject, was recently interviewed on NPR and declared creationism a complete myth and evolution a proven fact based on a computer simulation. One of the common evidences presented by creationists is the complexity of the eye (particularly the chemical processes behind sight). Dawkins described a recent computer simulation that was done to show how an eye could evolve (an attempt to refute the creationist point): they started the simulation at the point where an organism has a basic eye spot, and then allowed “nature to take its course” at the tissue level, and they ended up with something very similar to an eye.

    I found it hard to believe that someone with an advanced degree, and who is obviously what I’d generally consider an intelligent person, couldn’t see through the fault in the logic. Certainly I could set up a similar simulation to cause the organism to completely lose the original eye spot, explode after 5 minutes, or do absolutely nothing at all. As you said, if you provide the computer a theory on which to base the simulation, it’s naturally going to “prove” what the theory postulates.

  2. Brandon, first of all sorry about the delay in your comment’s posting. You got caught in a batch of comment spam for some reason (72 messages in total). My Google PageRank must be climbing, I’m starting to attract a lot of spam.

    I note also two spelling errors in my post. Sigh. Maybe someday.

    Both sides are blind to the problems of computer simulation; I received a copy of the old chestnut about NASA supposedly running a comupter simulation backwards and discovering that we’d lost a little over a day in the last few thousand years (proving that the Sun did, indeed, stand still in the sky for Joshua). Of course I emailed back “What did they check the simulation against to determine there was a discrepancy?” But I have no idea if even then they understood me.

    It’s a sad fact about human nature that no one questions very closely data which supports their pet theory. It’s one of the problems Charles Fort had with the scientists of his time, and I think part of the reason he enjoyed collecting information about unexplained (or unexplainable) phenomena.

    We are a species that has been hardwired to search for patterns in the world around us, and to reject anything that doesn’t fit the pattern. That’s the whole scientific basis for camoflage, after all. Sometimes those who are proudest of their “objectivity” are the most blind.

    There are very few places one can hold intelligent, questioning conversations about evolution, alas. The “howler monkeys” from both sides will quickly converge and destroy any attempt. It’s sad, but it’s a fundamental part of our species.

    I’ve never really been bitten by the “origins” bug. There are so many other questions to answer, it’s always seemed a bit futile to spend time on ones that clearly can’t be answered. Once I’ve run out of answerable questions, I might succumb, but so far I’ve managed over a half-century without being in any serious danger of running out of answerable questions.

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