Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brownback and evolution

In the NY Times today, presidential candidate Sam Brownback has published an op-ed describing his feelings on evolution. I'm sure many of you will recall that during the Republican presidential debate, he was one of three candidates that raised his hand saying he didn't believe in evolution. Looks like now he wants to clarify.

He states, "we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two."

That's a cute, rosy little picture. Too bad it's quite divorced from reality. While the two need not be completely at odds, it's inevitable that one of the two will occasionally get things wrong, and upon discovery, can and should be expected to yield. With the matter of evolution, it is well supported. Yet the faithful refuse to yield.

Somehow though, I think Brownback sees it the exact other way around. He says, "the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God."

This presupposes the conclusion that God exists. If you've already made your mind up on that, there's no way to honestly or rationally flex your position. Thus, we can see why Brownback doesn't believe in evolution. God's there. He did it. Bible tells the story. The end.

The irony comes in his next sentence in which he says, "People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us."

Funny that he should pretend to use logic when he's already made his entire conclusion with the initial supposition. Everything from there is merely a puppet show for the masses.

Brownback also shows he's just kidding about the use of rationality and logic when he trots out a favourite creationist strawman calling evolution, "an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence."

Of course, this ignores the religious scientists who have no problem accepting that evolution was God's method of creation as well as the millions elsewhere in America that aren't scientists. And Brownback, like all creationists, expect us to take him seriously as he blatantly ignores large amounts of statistically important segments of the population. Not happening here pal.

But this is the justification for his dismissal. He says that if evolution is this strawman, "then I reject it." In other words, he doesn't care if it's right or not. He's made his conclusion already, and if his strawman version of evolution doesn't bow to it, then he rejects it. Part and parcel.

He restates this later, saying:
The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.
Again, doesn't matter if it's right. Or even if it's what evolution really says. If people like Dawkins say it's divorced from the possibility of compatibility with theism, Brownback must run himself blindly to the other extreme. Are knee-jerk leaps to extremes what we really look for in a president? Regardless, with this statement Brownback reveals the farce of rationality at which he pretends.

Later, Brownback says,
Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion.
This is another statement I agree with in part. Both faith and science have a large amount to bring to the table. Faith has rendered some of the most amazing architecture throughout history. It has driven charities, relief efforts, and more. Science has given the power to make diseases such as smallpox disappear completely. It has lifted us to the stars.

The trouble is that that which faith brings to the table, doesn't require faith. Those of us who are atheists contribute to charities as well, although not typically as publicly given that we don't have a pre-organized infrastructure through which to do so. Meanwhile, no matter how much faith has had, it has never stopped a plague, or even regenerated a lost limb.

But for the time being, I agree that each does have a place at the table. However, when it comes to the matters that science does best, like curing illnesses, or looking at the evidence to see where we came from, faith really doesn't have anything to bring to the table besides good intentions.

One idiot believing crap like that is bad enough. When he's running for president, you'd expect him to be better informed and at least come up with some novel strawmen. I should know not to expect anything better from the creationists by now.

3 comments:

TheBrummell said...

Are knee-jerk leaps to extremes what we really look for in a president?

If "we" is the American electorate, then the answer to that question is... unclear at this time. N = 43 is probably insufficient sample size.

The rest of the world* hopes the answer is "no".


* obviously, I'm being rather facietious here. Sorry about that.

viggen said...

Science has given the power to make diseases such as smallpox disappear completely. It has lifted us to the stars.

I am hesitant to voice my opinion about this because it is inflammatory, but I feel it is important. There is a real problem pre-supposing that smallpox should disappear. There is no moral compass in science and neither should there be, unfortunately. The impulse of humanity is to "do good" with tools like science. Doing "good" is a platitude formulated by faith driven moralism which only sees superficial truths.

My meaning is merely this: by removing disease and by lengthening human lifespans ad infinitum, we have opened up the possibility for the outcome to render us extinct. With constantly positive population growth, we are forced into a place where we will need to decide whether governments must sterilize parts of their populations, where "environmental conservation" must give way for us to feed and house ourselves. If other species are not pushed out of the wild and allowed to die because they can't coexist in a world of wall-to-wall humans, we will inevitably push them out and they will become extinct. This is place where children become a curse rather than a benefit and where war and genocide become useful for the preservation of us all. In this place, all the "good" things hurt us, while the "bad" things will actually act to make certain the species has a tomorrow.

The problem is that is it not "morally right" to think about how the good things might become bad someday and that the bad things might save us from the dust bin of evolution. By this means, we blind ourselves to the truth. Can we selectively decide which data points are "good" and "evil" without potentially excluding a truth from the model? We are inclined to do just that when we hurt. With our tools, like science, we half-rationalize problems and build levies without ever understanding that the river has already moved and should be allowed to move.

The ingrained programming of religious, faith-driven thought, the very notion of good and evil, inevitably blinds our society to the truth at some level. The only place moralism should exist is in the mundane day-to-day business of allowing humans to coexist. This is why it exists. If it is extended out into nature, where moralism has no meaning, the result can kill us.

For the record, I am not a nihilist, nor am I a pessimist. I help my fellow man and I do what I can to smooth the way for people around me... the truth is that this smooths my way too. And this is why "morality" exists. The only thing I'm bringing to the table is that "bad" things have the same importance to our world as "good" and that we cannot run away from them without running toward them.

viggen said...

Science has given the power to make diseases such as smallpox disappear completely. It has lifted us to the stars.

I am hesitant to voice my opinion about this because it is inflammatory, but I feel it is important. There is a real problem pre-supposing that smallpox should disappear. There is no moral compass in science and neither should there be, unfortunately. The impulse of humanity is to "do good" with tools like science. Doing "good" is a platitude formulated by faith driven moralism which only sees superficial truths.

My meaning is merely this: by removing disease and by lengthening human lifespans ad infinitum, we have opened up the possibility for the outcome to render us extinct. With constantly positive population growth, we are forced into a place where we will need to decide whether governments must sterilize parts of their populations, where "environmental conservation" must give way for us to feed and house ourselves. If other species are not pushed out of the wild and allowed to die because they can't coexist in a world of wall-to-wall humans, we will inevitably push them out and they will become extinct. This is place where children become a curse rather than a benefit and where war and genocide become useful for the preservation of us all. In this place, all the "good" things hurt us, while the "bad" things will actually act to make certain the species has a tomorrow.

The problem is that is it not "morally right" to think about how the good things might become bad someday and that the bad things might save us from the dust bin of evolution. By this means, we blind ourselves to the truth. Can we selectively decide which data points are "good" and "evil" without potentially excluding a truth from the model? We are inclined to do just that when we hurt. With our tools, like science, we half-rationalize problems and build levies without ever understanding that the river has already moved and should be allowed to move.

The ingrained programming of religious, faith-driven thought, the very notion of good and evil, inevitably blinds our society to the truth at some level. The only place moralism should exist is in the mundane day-to-day business of allowing humans to coexist. This is why it exists. If it is extended out into nature, where moralism has no meaning, the result can kill us.

For the record, I am not a nihilist, nor am I a pessimist. I help my fellow man and I do what I can to smooth the way for people around me... the truth is that this smooths my way too. And this is why "morality" exists. The only thing I'm bringing to the table is that "bad" things have the same importance to our world as "good" and that we cannot run away from them without running toward them.