Evolution, Religion and Science

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

220px-Charles_Darwin_seated_cropA topic that probably causes among the most heated discussions on this blog is the attempt to either displace evolution from Public School Curriculum, or to at least give “intelligent design” equal footing to evolution. My own opinion is that “intelligent design”, or “Creationism” as some call it, has no place in our public school system. Those who would force it on our schools would be destroying the Constitutional separation of Church and State. We saw a blog post by Professor Turley  a week ago discussing some crazy State Legislator in Missouri introducing a bill to teach “Creationism” as a scientific theory and to teach “Evolution” as a philosophy, almost all who commented were not only outraged, but some disparaged Missouri as a backward state. A few of the comments belittled religion in general. http://jonathanturley.org/2013/02/15/missouri-legislator-introduces-bill-to-teach-creationism-as-a-scientific-theory-and-to-teach-evolution-as-a-philosophy/ . Another blog post by Professor Turley in October 2012, about Missouri Senate Candidate Todd Akin brought a firestorm of angry comments, also disparaging Missouri. http://jonathanturley.org/2012/10/15/akin-disproves-evolution/#comments  Interestingly this Conservative State voted for Todd Akin’s opponent when Election Day came around.

Earlier on April 1st, 2012 David Drumm (Nal) did a guest blog titled “The Evolutionary Gorilla in the Room” http://jonathanturley.org/2012/04/01/the-evolutionary-gorilla-in-the-room/ and received almost 240 comments. Now in truth this was an excellent guest blog and certainly drew a lot of discussion. But as I perused the comments, all 238 of them, I noticed something that I think is worth discussing. More than half of the comments were between Gene Howington and Dredd as a continuance of their ongoing argument about Dredd’s microbial theories. I must admit that when it comes to the scientific aspects of biology, I tune out as quickly as Lawrence Rafferty does when Calculus is raised.  Another long time regular Bron did have more than a few comments as he tried to insinuate Ayn Rand into the discussion as usual. J  Now here is the interesting part, on all three of those blogs there was nary a voice raised in defending “intelligent design.” While here at the blog many of the usual suspects are hostile to organized religion, we do have more than a few “religious” people who drop by and comment. Given the tradition of contentious, yet “civil” discussion here how can that be? I think I have a possible answer to that coming from a study done at MIT, by a renowned Physicist and I must admit I found his answer surprising.

In a Huffington Post article dated 2/12/13 (Darwin’s birthday), Mark Tegmark,  MIT Physicist, wrote this to begin his article titled: “Celebrating Darwin: Religion and Science Are closer Than You Think”:

“He looked really uneasy. I’d just finished giving my first lecture of 8.282, MIT’s freshman astronomy course, but this one student stayed behind in my classroom. He nervously explained that although he liked the subject, he worried that my teaching conflicted with his religion. I asked him what his religion was, and when I told him that it had officially declared there to be no conflict with Big Bang cosmology, something amazing happened: his anxiety just melted away right in front of my eyes! Poof!

This gave me the idea to start the MIT Survey on Science, Religion and Origins, which we’re officially publishing today in honor of Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday. We found that only 11 percent of Americans belong to religions openly rejecting evolution or our Big Bang. So if someone you know has the same stressful predicament as my student, chances are that they can relax as well. To find out for sure, check out the infographic below.”

I frankly don’t know how I could present the “infographic” chart from the article because the technology is beyond me so I suggest you follow this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-tegmark/religion-and-science-distance-between-not-as-far-as-you-think_b_2664657.html and see it for yourself because I think it is of great interest to those, who like myself are nonplussed by the resurgence of religious Fundamentalism, The “infographic” is done as a circular chart that lists all the religions practiced in this country, their percentage of the population and each religious belief’s official view of Evolution. Only about 11% percent of the religious population of this country belong to faiths that are opposed to Evolution, For instance:

Catholics are 23.9% of the population and their official teachings see no conflict with Doctrine.

Methodists represent 6.1% of the population and feel evolution is “not inconsistent with religious doctrine.

Lutherans represent 4.6% of the population and of them only 1.4% (The Missouri Synod) are opposed to the theory of Evolution.

People with no Church affiliation represent 16.4% of the population and see no conflict.

Jews represent merely 1.7% of the population and 1.3% see no conflict with Evolution, while the other .4% have no official position on it.

There are conflicts between the various Baptist and Presbyterian Denominations, with some accepting Evolution and some rejecting it. Again please look at the chart at the link because I guarantee you will find it as absorbing as I did.

What are we to make of this data which demonstrates that of the various religious beliefs that make up our country, 89% seemingly have no religious conflict with Evolution? Yet Evolution has become a major issue. Professor Tegmark comments:

“So why is this small fundamentalist minority so influential? How can some politicians and school-board members get reelected even after claiming that our 14 billion-year-old universe might be only about 6,000 years old? “That’s like claiming that my 90-year-old aunt is only 20 minutes old. It’s tantamount to claiming that if you watch this video of a supernova explosion in the Centaurus A Galaxy about 10 million light-years away, you’re seeing something that never happened, because light from the explosion needs 10 million years to reach Earth. Why isn’t making such claims political suicide?

Part of the explanation may be a striking gap between Americans’ personal beliefs and the official views of the faiths to which they belong. Whereas only 11 percent belong to religions openly rejecting evolution, Gallup reports that 46 percent believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. Why is this “belief gap” so large? Interestingly, this isn’t the only belief gap surrounding a science-religion controversy: whereas 0 percent of Americans belong to religions arguing that the Sun revolves around Earth, Gallup reports that as many as 18 percent nonetheless believe in this theory that used to be popular during the Middle Ages. This suggests that the belief gaps may have less to do with intellectual disputes and more to do with an epic failure of science education.”

Professor Tegmark’s is of the opinion that scientific education in America has been a failure and thus we have the gap between religious belief and science. I think his explanation is a rather middle of the road one and to that extent I disagree with him. The science education I received in elementary and high school was excellent, even if I was too lazy a student to study much. How much I do know scientifically and how much those peers of my age know is quite adequate. There has been a two pronged attack on our educational system that began in the late 60’s. A conscious effort to “dumb down” the people of America has been in effect since then to make them more pliable and easier to fool. The first part has been cutting funding and the second part has been attacking the curriculum. If you add to it the evolving of the Internet and the changes that has wrought, we see that it is not that the scientific education has failed, but the political support for it.

Most of us assume when we are told by someone that they are deeply religious and know their “bible” front to back, that they are truthful. I believe that in their hearts most feel they are being truthful, but their truth falls far short of reality. Many people don’t read their entire holy documents, but instead rely on their religious leaders to guide them as to what is “true” and what is important. We know that some religious leaders focus on what THEY think is important like The Book of Revelations and they don’t “preach” the Jesus who gave The Sermon on the Mount” I think there are many, like Professor Tegmark’s first year student who didn’t know just what his denomination believed about the Cosmos. This is not just true for Christians, but I believe it is true for Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s and Buddhists.

Another problem is our mainstream media plays a role in religious ignorance. I addressed this in July 2011. I was writing about the many TV documentaries being produced on networks like The History Channel and even ABC’s Primetime-Nightline which ran a series titled “Battle With the Devil”, a show that “investigates the belief in satanic will or possession by a demon”. Because the Religious Right in this country is so well funded, they speak with a loud voice. Our media, corporate controlled, fears anything that might hurt the bottom line, so they cater to those with the loud voices and the money behind them. http://jonathanturley.org/2011/07/23/fundamentalist-religion-and-tv-documentaries-a-problem/ What we see then is that a population if 11% in our country, that is working to force their silly, medieval beliefs onto all of us.

Two days ago Professor Tegmark followed up with a second Huffington Post article relating his experiences after he posted his first article. Here are some snippets from it:

“I’d been warned. A friend cautioned me that if we went ahead and posted our MIT Survey on Science, Religion and Origins, I’d get inundated with hate-mail from religious fundamentalists who believe our universe to be less than 10,000 years old. We posted it anyway, and the vitriolic responses poured in as predicted. But to my amazement, most of them didn’t come from religious people, but from angry atheists! I found this particularly remarkable since I’m not religious myself. I have three criticisms of these angry atheists:

1)They help religious fundamentalists:
A key point I wanted to make with our survey is that there are two interesting science-religion controversies: a) Between religion & atheism b) Between religious groups who do & don’t attack science

2)They could use more modesty:
If I’ve learned anything as a physicist, it’s how little we know with certainty. In terms of the ultimate nature of reality, we scientists are ontologically ignorant. For example, many respected physicists believe in the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, according to which a fundamentally random process called “wavefunction collapse” occurs whenever you observe something. This interpretation has been criticized both for being anthropocentric (quantum godfather Niels Bohr famously argued that there’s no reality without observation) and for being vague (there’s no equation specifying when the purported collapse is supposed to happen, and there’s arguably no experimental evidence for it).

3)They should practice what they preach:
Most atheists advocate for replacing fundamentalism, superstition and intolerance by careful and thoughtful scientific discourse. Yet after we posted our survey report, ad hominem attacks abounded, and most of the caustic comments I got (including one from a fellow physics professor) revealed that their authors hadn’t even bothered reading the report they were criticizing. Just as it would be unfair to blame all religious people for what some fundamentalists do, I’m obviously not implying that all anti-religious people are mean-spirited or intolerant. However, I can’t help being struck by how some people on both the religious and anti-religious extremes of the spectrum share disturbing similarities in debating style.

Having watched the religious debates that go on here continually, I do think that Professor Tegmark has a valid point. Although I am a Deist, I have no affection for either organized religion, or for the “holy books” that make up their various canons. However, I have in my life experienced what I would call the ineffable, so I personally won’t preclude the fact that there is a “Creative Force” of some kind that drives this Universe. Please understand me in this, because as Tegmark saw even his peers criticized him far too quickly: Because I don’t preclude doesn’t mean I think there is one, I just won’t rule it out. From what I know of modern physics in its current fashion there is the belief that the Universe is a lot “weirder” than science at the beginning of the 20th Century imagined it to be.

While I understand that most of us are angry and fed up with those 11% who believe in something like Genesis, perhaps we should aim our fire directly at that group of benighted fools and accept that others might be more approachable. What do you think? As I finish this I have a vision in my head of having to duck, where do you think that comes from?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger








231 thoughts on “Evolution, Religion and Science”

  1. Dolphins are trying to do some oneupmanship on the Owls I guess.

    Some scientists are declaring that Dolphins have individual “names” which are used to tell them apart:

    Dolphins give themselves “names”—distinctive whistles that they use to identify each other, new research shows.

    Scientists say it’s the first time wild animals have been shown to call out their own names.

    (National Geographic).

  2. An article today indicates that Owls practice altruism and have a language:

    Researchers have discovered, for example, that young barn owls can be impressively generous toward one another, regularly donating portions of their food to smaller, hungrier siblings — a display of altruism that is thought to be rare among nonhuman animals, and one that many a small human sibling might envy.

    The scientists also discovered that barn owls express their needs and desires to each other through a complex, rule-based series of calls, trills, barks and hoots, a language the researchers are now seeking to decipher.

    “They talk all night long and make a huge noise,” said Alexandre Roulin of the University of Lausanne, who recently reported on barn owl altruism in the journal Animal Behaviour with his colleague Charlene A. Ruppli, and Arnaud Da Silva of the University of Burgundy.

    (NY Times). Their hearing is incredible too:

    Would that owls might lend us their ears. Species like the barn, barred, screech and horned have some of the keenest auditory systems known, able to hear potential prey stirring deep under leaves, snow or grass, identify the rodent species and even assess its relative plumpness or state of pregnancy, based on sound alone.

    (ibid). Should teachers be allowed to teach this as a design or as the result of naturally selected dynamics?

  3. pete9999:

    how long do they keep it up?

    that is a good idea though. in a thousand years I wonder if facebook will be around and if it is will they have the people on it now in an archive for future archaeologists to look at.

    Better than a mummy and not as stinky.

  4. want life after death


    they post any message you choose to prerecord on your facebook page.

    personally, i want one that says “help, i’m not really dead come get me i’m running out of air!!!”

  5. Bob Esq:

    never stopped us before, doubt it will in the future.

    A good deal of what is written here by Gene, Mespo, you, Mike and others is pretty good stuff.

    Although you havent been posting much lately. Which is too bad. I always used to like watching you and Mespo “discuss” various topics. He with his Greek and you with your German interpretation of various issues.

    “Man thats hubris and full speed ahead.”

    Murry, Bertrum and Stanley

  6. Gene, Thanks for the video, that’s what I’m talkng about baby! Great choice.


    RWL, LOL, If you think Mike can exercise any control over his thread- or any guest poster poster, or even the Professor, can exercise control over any thread they initiate on this blawg- you need to read more threads. Herding cats doesn’t even come close. 🙂

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