Reframing the evolution debate

I firmly believe that given the way our brains work, some arguments can never be resolved. This includes political and economic issues (e.g. efficient markets) and also the debate between evolution and creationism.  I think many scientists feel that the way to fight creationists is to challenge them at every level and try to win the debate using reason and overwhelming evidence.  If that doesn’t work then creationists should be shut down by legal and other means because they might take over and send us back to the Dark Ages. Unfortunately, if a creationist has a prior with zero support over the possibility that the earth is 4.5 billion years old then no amount of evidence can ever change their opinion.  That is why I think the Richard Dawkins strategy of equating science with atheism may not be a winning one.  I think there is a different approach that may even get creationists interested in modern biology and science as a way for them to get closer to God.

What I think we should do is to sell evolution as an organizational scheme for life.  We should move the debate away from whether or not we share an ancestor with chimpanzees to one about where the evolutionary events take place.  The scientific view would then be a literal one (how’s that for irony) where the earth really is 4.5 billion years old and evolution actually takes place in real time, whereas creationists would believe that evolution only takes place metaphorically, or more colourfully in “God’s mind”.  So they could believe that God in his infinite wisdom and generosity decided to use evolution as a guideline for organizing life so that it could be discoverable by humans someday and allow them to be able peer ever so slightly into his mind.  It is also a practical gift  because it gives humankind a better chance to cure diseases since genes discovered in fruit flies and chimpanzees have analogues in humans.  We should even  allow a sentence to be added to biology text books that says that an alternative explanation to the scientific one for the origin of life is that the earth is much younger (i.e.  six to ten thousand years old) and was created all at once with all the living creatures aboard, fossils buried in various layers of the earth, planets, stars and galaxies in the heavens with photons from them streaming towards earth, and so forth.  After all, if  the universe is a dynamical system then the initial condition could be at any time.  We, as scientists, only believe it to have started with the big bang 14 billion years ago because of Occam’s Razor.  It could have started much later with initial conditions consistent with the Big Bang.

This approach will not win over all creationists but it may win over just enough so that the current animosity between science and religion is mollified.  It could diminish the need for creation science and alternative museums trying to debunk evolution.  Intelligent Design would be evolution.  This is actually true at a practical level since one of the more popular methods for solving optimization  problems is to use  genetic algorithms. (I actually prefer the Markov Chain Monte Carlo method, but it is still probabilistic).  All kids could then enjoy natural history museums equally.  Instead of trying to prove that Dinosaurs roamed the earth 4000 years ago, creationists could take comfort that God put the fossils there for our enjoyment.  (He also gave us fossil fuels to burn).  Instead of fighting against modern biology, geology and cosmology, creationism could embrace it as a way of being closer to God.

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8 thoughts on “Reframing the evolution debate

  1. Do you believe in Intelligent Design?.I do not.Evolution makes proper sense to me.
    Oscar Wilde once said that Religions die when they are proven to be true.Science is a record of dead religions.I have always been a fan of Dawkins.His views make sense to me.

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  2. This was not a scientific post but a marketing one. My point was that I don’t think the current approach towards creationism is working, especially in the US. I like Dawkins too but has he changed the minds of any creationists? I was suggesting that different marketing may be a way to finesse the problem. The ad line would be “Evolution is Intelligent Design!”.

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  3. I think we were all created a second ago, you with the memory of writing this post and me with the memory of reading it. How can we know if I am right? How does my being right or wrong effect what we do next?

    I like this marketing idea, partly because it allows a valuable alternative to destructive arguments and wars over who’s god can beat up who’s. And also because I don’t think we lose anything valuable along the way.

    But, I think you underestimate to role of projections out of the current moment in religious thinking and motivation. Your idea that we can live and act now in useful and constructive ways be reconciling the “where” of evolution is very threatening. If you can’t definitely project reality out of time into the past, you cannot reliably project reality forward either.

    The projections forward in time (e.g. hell, damnation, apocalypse, persecution for being right, martyrdom, etc.) upon which religious motivation for being good or feeling guilty depends loses its punch if we give up the ability to know the past was real. Fundamentalism seems to have a symmetry principle and is quite literal and materialistic in this way. Fundamentalists probably aren’t going to buy this zen-of-now approach to integrating evolution because it runs up against their habit of knowing the truth that was and using it as evidence for the truth that will be.

    But I still think it is useful to try…

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  4. What you advise looks like a (huge) step backwards in history. The naturalists of the first half of the 19th century were roughly saying what you think would be good to tell the creationists now.
    They were basically saying that species were evolving according to the “conditions of life”, but at the same time kept fixed a few things such as the permanence of some species or the fact that God was responsible for the creation at a given time of a few species that were already fitted to their environment.

    So, now, I guess you are trying to trick the creationists by making them accept the views of those naturalists. When this is done, there is not much to do to convince them that Darwin is also right…

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  5. I suppose I want to try to change the game so that Darwin is right doesn’t mean that they are wrong. In this way, one can believe in a creator while also accepting modern science. I think the most we should try to achieve is to ensure that scientific progress is not impeded. I think it we should just try to reach a point where a creationist could accept that evolution is a useful and important theoretical tool to look at biology without them having to give up their religious beliefs.

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  6. NOW look here….if yall too down wit’ the religious side, hey I’m hoping you’re not going to get offended but let’s put it this way. This world is moving foward not backward. Let’s just get something straight…If we believe that God created a human being within a three days or a day even, how is it not possible that we should be created the same amount of time, except for a whole 12 months….Come on, just think about it. I’m not saying you’re wrong or what but if we really take the time to set things straight, I think you’ll understand. Even I go to church and of course my pastor disagrees with me

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  7. Thank you Zimmskii and I really appreciate your point….You saved me from the debate not a long time ago….

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