Home > philosophy, religion > The Road to Atheism XVII: Devolving on Evolution or Please Understand What “Theory” Means Before You Prove That You’re An Idiot

The Road to Atheism XVII: Devolving on Evolution or Please Understand What “Theory” Means Before You Prove That You’re An Idiot

Growing up as a Christian Catholic is somewhat different than growing up as one of the myriad sects of Christianity that exist. This is especially in terms of knowledge. I admit that there is a little bias on the subject, but that bias is well earned. The Catholic church, at least, and to their credit, does not reject the findings of science. Now, they may have issues of a moral basis with those findings, but they accept the scientific method and the concepts of experimentation and recreatibility. The pope has, and has had for a long time now, an astronomical observatory, a monk was the first person recording genetic inheritance (with peas I believe), and it was a monsignor who developed the initial hypothesis concerning the “big bang,” importantly, for this post Catholics are, at least as late as 1950 (although acceptance was normal but not formal) they accept the theory of evolution. Where myself and the Catholic church diverge is on matter relating to reproduction (or lack thereof depending on the case).

Accepting the evidence of evolution required zero effor growing up. Not to say that it was dogmatically driven into my head the way religion was, rather the evidence was briefly explained and then we moved to a different subject. It seemed conclusive, things adapt to their environment, why else do we need a new flu shot every year? I never really paid attention to it, I still don’t except when it becomes challenged by people with little to no understanding of it, or those in simple denial. It’s part of the effect of living in a homogenous culture. The idea that someone would challenge evidence was so completely foreign to me that I didn’t understand why my 9th grade biology teacher introduced the topic with a disclaimer. The first non-Catholic I knew was an Episcopalian (so that doesn’t really count), and he bought it as well. The only controversies I knew of were concerning the speed of evolution and what things evolved into. For instance whether a Smilodon became a Tiger or something stupid (it’s the latter).

Eventually I became aware of the controversy, but I thought it was silly, I mean it was settled. The science existed: chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor, some dinosaurs had feathers, most are related to birds and are really cool, etc. These are accepted theories, which are confirmed hypotheses. It seemed that the only reason I would pay attention to it was that every so often that there was another court case which had to reaffirm that the first amendment forbids forcibly indoctrinating religion in the public sphere, no matter if the attempt was in flat out teaching “Creation,” “Creationism,” so-called “equal time laws,” “intelligent design,” or putting a sticker on a text book so that morons could rest assured that school children were learning the false notion of the word “theory.” It was all the same attempt, an attempt to instruct people in the ways of bible literalism. As a young Catholic I was taught to accept two things: the bible isn’t meant to be taken literal and that evolution was god’s mechanism–those that felt otherwise were mistaken.

I was in my early twenties when I had my first confrontation with an Usherrist. My devotion to religion was gone, my belief in a personal god was ebbing away quickly. The culture war initiated by the religious arm of the American Right Wing had done the opposite of its intended goal on me. This was circa 2004, Ohio had just passed a law banning gay marriage (even though it wasn’t allowed and doing nothing would have kept homosexual marriage from being a thing with the added bonus of not making the population of the state seem like a bunch of d-bags) which was completely religiously motivated. That’s the setting, being an idiot was ok, as long as you were of the religious idiot variety you could say anything and back it up with some bible and people would nod their heads.

The Usherrist was explaining in the cigar shop something about how science required belief too (an issue I dealt with two posts ago–scroll down), which is true when you are speaking metaphysically…but that deals with assenting to something, such as “a triangle has three sides” not “although the evidence is to the contrary I still believe X.” A friend of mine asked the Usherrist why you needed faith-belief to accept evidence. The Usherrist ignored the question and focused on exactly the wrong point; he instead asked if we believed in evolution. My friend said sort of, I explained that I accepted the theory. He asked me about the lack of transitional fossils, and if I was ignoring that lack because of faith-belief.

A little background: an Usherrist is a bible literalist with respect to the historical “evidence” regarding time. Usher, a monk, took the bible and worked backwards from the independently established events in the bible (the reign of Augustus for example) through the genealogies to arrive at the birth of the universe. It’s quite an accomplishment and evidence of his supreme patience. It must have also been difficult to even begin with since the bible can’t even get the genealogy of Jesus correct, but nevertheless it is from Usher that we get the idea of a 6000 year old Earth. That’s the person I am talking to.

The whole deal with the alleged “war” between science and religion is that religion started it. Science is a way of explaining the way the world operates, just like religion does, the only difference is that scientific observations are recreatable, thus demonstrable to anyone. Want to make a can of diet coke explode? Throw a Mentos in it, and every time (as long as the pop is still carbonated) it will explode due to chemistry. Religion deals with personal revelation that only a handful of individulas, in the history of time, are privy too and we are supposed to take their word for it. Religion, if it were to stand in the way of science, would be swept away said the Catholic Philosopher Descartes. For instance, we think of illness as an infection because we understand anatomy, biology, and germ theory. We do not think of illness as a curse from god. To do so would be to run counter to what is now considered common sense…unless you are a Christian Scientist.

The way in which religion does this is through taboo. It is forbidden to talk about ideas contrary to the tenets of religion. So when faced with evidence that contradicts the teachings of a religion, it is the evidence that is denied. Sometimes there are legitimate questions, but when faced with answers the person acts as though the answers are insufficient. For example, when the Usherrist asked me about the lack of transitional fossils I supplied them: the archaeoptyryx (a half dinosaur-half bird), elasmosaurus (fish-dinosaur), the velociraptor (dinosaur with feathers). These are readily available but were immediately denied as not being enough to prove anything. What more was this guy looking for? The damn lizard has feathers!

What more could this person need, as he is being provided with, and this is utterly important–the exact thing that he is asking for. Ignorance of such a thing such as transitional fossils is, at this point, willful. In other words you must be either sheltered from the information by someone who doesn’t want you to know or, you are purposely not looking up the information because you don’t want to be proven wrong.

What this told me was that faith like his is utterly one sided. It wasn’t belief despite a lack of evidence in favor, it was belief in spite of secific evidence to the contrary. When an Usherrist (or oddly enough, any conspiracy theorist) ask for proof they are lying. Theirs is not a request, but a command to adopt their line of thinking. What I realize now, that I didn’t then, is the utter disparity in standard of proof.

The theory of evolution, for example, in order to be accepted by those like the Usherrist, has to meet the most illogical standard of evidence that it exists: that of happening directly in front of them at the exact time that they are asking for it. On the other hand, merely accepting the bible as literal truth seems to be something that is accepted without question, this despite the contradictions inherent within it, and despite that the King James Version has passages in it which were changed to fit a political agenda. The Bible, offers the exact same proof for its veracity that Homer offers in the Odyssey–none. The bible doesn’t even offer a remote proof of its central character’s existence any more than Hesiod did the Greek Pantheon.

The difference between them is that those on the science side of things, have the same standard of evidence for both scientific claims that they do for religious ones. If you can demonstrate the truth of the matter it’s accepted. It wouldn’t matter if the claim was the Higgs Boson, life on Mars, transubstantiation, or unicorns. If you could demonstrate the truth of the matter, and others could easily observe it the acceptance would naturally follow. The Usherrist’s claims run afoul of that.

He can claim that the Earth is only 6000 years old, but he only has one source of evidence whose veracity only exists by presupposing that you accept its veracity (i.e. the “the bible is god’s word because the bible says so” argument). That’s not evidence, and it does nothing to ruin all of the evidence in favor of the theory of evolution and natural selection. At least those are testable.

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