Sunday, June 03, 2007

Brownback on evolution

I'm sure we've all been dying to hear Senator, and potential GOP presidential candidate, Sam Brownback's informed take on evolution. Luckily we have the chance, since NY Times brought an op-ed by him a couple of days ago.

What I Think About Evolution

IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

Actually, the question gave the subject at hand every nuance or subtlety it needed. It was pretty straight-forward, and could be answered either as a 'yes' or 'no', and there was no need for any nuances at all. Much like questions about peoples' "belief" in a spheric Earth or a heliocentric solar system don't need any nuances.

Sure, there might be different opinions about the details involved when you answer 'yes' or 'no', but the overall concepts are pretty straightforward.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

No, the premise behind the question is wether you believe in a well-documentated, well-explained biological process, that explains how life on Earth has evovled to it's current state.
In other words, do you accept the scientific evidence and process that leads to conclude that evolution happens? Yes, or no?

No God, or other deity, is involved in that question at all.

It's true that most Americans who reject biology tend to be Creationists/neo-Creationists, but that's besides the point.

You, senator Brownback, was asked a specific question, in your role as a potential presidential candidate, and you aswered it in a way, that shows us that you reject evidence if it doesn't suit you, and indeed the entire scientific process.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

It's nice that you think that there cannot be any contradiction between faith and reason, and you are certainly not alone in feeling this, yet when asked to affirm your belief in reason, you rejected it.

There are numerous places where religious scriptures goes against science, and reasonable religious people understand that then the scriptures must be rejected. Yet, you, Senator Brownback, has not shown us that you are willing to do that - instead you claim that faith doesn't contradict reason, while at the same time rejecting reason. Not a good sign.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

Faith does not help us understand neither the "breadth of human suffering" nor the "depth of human love". If it did, religious people wouldn't commit the attrocities, in the name of religion, that they some times do. What helps us understand these things, is empathy. A quality several species show.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

Evolution means neither of those things. The focus on the destinction between micro- and macroevolution is a creationist contruct, and doesn't have anything to do with the theory of evolution. Instead, it's an attempt to explain away the many observed cases of evolution in daily life, such as the continiously evolution of the flu virus. However, there are also several observed cases of speciation.

Evolution, as a scientific theory, does not hold any place for a guiding intelligence, but it certainly does so as a process. As a matter of fact, humankind have through the ages often used, and guided, the evolutionary process. Yesterday, I heard that a company had located a cow that produces low fat milk - this cow will presumably be used for breeding more such cows.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

There is a overall theory of evolution, which is just about universally accepted by biologists world-wide. Then there are some debate about the exact mechanisms, and the importance of them, in the bigger picture, but that's like debating how commas should be used in sentences, when all other grammatical rules have been laid down.

The question of how Homo Sapiens evolved to it's current evolutionary stage, and to the uniqueness of that particular species' place in the world, in a biological sense, is not something that's better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology. Those questions are easily answered by the fossil evidence and the understanding of evolution we have, and should be answered by these things. To claim that these things should be answered by theology ("the study of God") or philosophy, is on par with claiming that the relative movement of the Earth and the Sun should be answered by those two disciplines - a claim that has a historical precedence, but which would, rightfully, be rejected by anyone of a sound mind.

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.

Once again, evolution is a observed fact and a scientific theory. None of these two things have anything to do with "the possibility of divine causality". Instead they deal with the physical world. Now, if you want to dismiss the real world, that's up to you, but don't claim that it's the facts that reject your belief.

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Yet, even though you are willing to let the facts speak for themselves, you still reject them. And don't think we didn't notice that you only focus on intra-species evolution, and seem to ignore, or reject, inter-species evolution.

Personally I find it quite amusing that anyone would claim that rejecting things with no empirical evidence, indeed things that by its very nature cannot have any such evidence, is stepping outside the real of empirical science. What the senator doesn't seem to understand, is that empirical science, indeed all science, only deals with falsible things. That's the very nature of how science is conducted!

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. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

Many religious people have brought a lot of things to the table - Mendel would be a very logical example. However, they can only do so, if they are actually willing to put aside their preconceived notions, and go where the evidence takes them. When we are in the realms of science, faith can take us no-where, which is something that every scientist (religious or otherwise) knows. Evidence, reason and the scientific process can, on the other hand, take us everywhere.

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

I think you misunderstand the meaning of the worth "truth". It means that something is based upon facts. Not on faith.

The theory of evolution doesn't seek to undermine anything. Instead, it explains the observable process of evolution to the best of our udnerstanding. It has hold remarkable well since Darwin first explained it, and though there are minor changes, the general concept still stands as it did when he first explained it.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

We could say that, and in your case, it is probably with conviction. But remember the part about being willing to go where the evidence leads us? Seems like you don't really understand what that actually means. It means, that we don't know for certainty anything.

Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.

Yet again demonstrating that you reject science, reason, the scientific process, evidence, and indeed any claim to be grounded in reality.

So, after this long and "nuanced" explanation, we reach the same conclusion about you.

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Blogger Kaethe said...

>Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Shorter Brownback: Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong and has been mislead by a false religion

Nice job, Kristjan.

June 04, 2007 6:06 PM  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Exactly. "I believe in X, and anything that 'undermines' X is atheism and therefore evil, no matter how well documented it is (and X is not)."

Or, more simply, "My religion is Right. Period."

Well done fisking.

June 09, 2007 3:06 PM  

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