Friday, March 17, 2006

Creationism

Being a member of the Psychology of the Paranormal Network - contact Chris French (c.french@gold.ac.uk) if you're interested - I receive some disturbing emails. The latest comes from Nick Pullar who seems to run an operation called Skeptics in the Pub - site here. He is worried that creationism - usually interpreted as the belief that an intelligent being created life - can be taught in science classes. "This is," he writes, "a shocking indictment on the education system!" Two points:
1)Is it really so awful if a few people believe in creationism when most people don't?
2)Creationism MUST be taught if anybody is ever going to understand what most people do believe - Darwinism or evolution through natural selection. This seems blindingly obvious to me; indeed, I even persuaded Richards Dawkins to agree. I don't say that creationism has to be taught as an alternative to science, but as a way of understanding its context. The impact of Darwinism on the Western imagination would be incomprehensible unless people understood the alternative.
The neo-Darwinian thought police get very jumpy about these ideas. In their Stalinist minds, anybody who does not subscribe fully to the idea that Darwinism answers any and every question must be a crazed religious nutter or new age fantasist. So here is a thought experiment.
We are a hundred years in the future and we have discovered a)that there is an intrinsic drive towards complexity in matter and b)that, as Stephen Jay Gould suggested, structural considerations play a large part in the design of organisms. This means that Darwinism is not the only organising system, it is still true as far as it goes, but it has become one aspect of a much larger system. How would people at this time look back on the saliva-flecked rantings of the neo-Darwinians of today? ("Saliva-flecked" probably gives away the fact that this is a rigged thought experiment.)

4 comments:

  1. Orthodox neo-Darwinians say that Darwin's theory is science, creationism is religion. But if neo-Darwinism--the view of Dawkins or Dennett, say--is a version of naturalism, then it is more than a theory; it is an entire view of the world. It is a religion, or something very like one. Maybe it's better supported by the evidence than creationism. But as part of a larger view of things it can't be a matter of evidence alone. So maybe both Darwinism and creationism should be taught as philosophies, or even as religions.

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  2. Whilst Bryan Appleyard may not propose that creationism is a viable alternative to scientific theories, the creationists propose that it is, and this is the crux of the issue. Creationism is not proposed as merely something which provides historical context, in the manner that, say, the geocentric Ptolemaic model of the solar system provides context for the heliocentric Copernican model of the solar system.

    Evolutionary biology and general relativistic cosmology have replaced nonsense with sense, and dogmatism with evidence and explanation. Do we need to present nonsense and dogmatism as a viable alternative to meaningful and verified theories, in order to understand those theories? I think not.

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