February 19, 2005

Curious George: What to creationists believe about other scientific findings?

I'm curious what people who believe in evolution believe about other scientific information and how do they... I dunno how to put it... "draw the line," maybe? For instance, what do they think about life on other planets (if found, does it throw a wrench in the whole creationist theory?); dinosaurs becoming extinct by the impact of a meteor; tectonic plates and shifting (do they believe in this or are earthquakes and other disasters simply the work of God at that moment?); etc etc? I'm hoping to avoid snarks and other nonsense and am genuinely curious. I'm re-reading Billy Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything and these questions just occured to me. In short: if creationist discount evolution, do they discount the other findings of science (gravity, orbit of the planets, supernovas, etc.)? If not, how do they explain accepting some science and not evolution?

  • More relevantly, they have to disagree with almost all of geology. It's been twenty years since I studied creation in a comparative creationism versus evolution anthropology class. Then, however, they believed that dinosaurs and humans were contemporaneous (something mentioned in Genesis, I don't recall what) and that the dinosaurs were made extinct because of Noah's flood. In fact, they have an alternate geology built around Noah's flood. They deny it, but they did, and do, in fact start from a positive assumption of Genesis and a negative assumption of evolution, and then they try to kill evolution with the death of a thousand (tiny) cuts. My point is that it's not a coherent science. It's ad hoc, using only as much and whatever it takes to deny or cast doubt on evolution in particular. That's required that they also deny lots of geology, carbon-14 dating, creating a false distinction between what they call "microevolution" and "macroevolution". They pretty much just ignore all the cosmology and related physics that contradicts their beliefs. Bottom line: evolution is an idea they deeply don't like and refuse to believe. So they don't believe it. This is a common human behavior and it's rare that the disbeliever has a coherent disbelief with a consistent alternative. So if you're wondering how they can be so apparently irrational and contrary, well, just look at all the rest of us. We do it, too, about other things.
  • At university, I shared a house with one chap who believed that dinosaur skeletons were put there by God as a trick to test the faithful. There's not really much that one can say in reply. In my opinion, those who believe that have pretty much jumped the shark already when it comes to rational discourse. I don't think that it matters to them whether their beliefs are consistent or not; to believe the whole of the Bible to be literally true requires a certain theological sleight of hand, after all. On the other hand, if there are people out there who genuinely believe that earthquakes and other natural disasters are caused by an angry God, it's not surprising that they are so in awe. And this vengeful God must really hate Japan! For myself, I find plate tectonics and natural selection to be far more credible bases for understanding the world around me.
  • i never understood why creationism and evolution have to be distinctly different -- isn't it possible that god initiated the big bang, and created evolution? that god created dinosaurs *and* adam and eve? that adam and eve were the first full homosapiens? i'm not religious so i lean toward the scientific explanations. but it's always seemed to me that there's room for co-existence of both.
  • I was a creationist for the first 20-odd years of my life, so I can tell you a little bit about it. The first thing to realize is that creationists are not a unified "they." There's a wide variety of beliefs within the creationist camp, with plenty of disagreements and infighting. From Reason to Believe who accept the big bang and billions-old earth, to relatively mid-line Answers in Genesis, to genuine crackpots like Kent Hovind who most "serious" creationists dismiss. As for how they can dismiss evolution but accept other science, the most common answer would be some variant of "other areas of science don't contradict God's Word or lead to disbelief." From a creationist mindset, it is "obvious" that we are nothing like monkeys. Evolution, then, is evidence of the extreme lengths people will go to in order to avoid God. Also many creationists will, if pushed, confess that there is probably some sort of satanic influence in evolution. On several occasions I heard Darwin described as "a tool of the devil." Other areas like physics or chemistry don't have such anti-God and anti-Bible ramifications, so they are more trustworthy. You're right in guessing that disbelief in evolution will weaken belief in other scientific endeavors. For example, geocentrists feel that even Galileo got it wrong. And overall, science literacy is pretty low even among relatively smart people. A good friend of mine, a smart guy but also a creationist, argued with me all day about Mannatech (A pseudo-Christian MLM). My friend argued in all seriousness that it would be immoral for the company to perform double-blind experiments on the effectiveness of their pills because "the control group won't be getting the health benefits of the pills." (And I'm not joking when I say that the company sells nothing more than sugar-pills. This makes scientific validation tough in another way: what sort of placebo could they give the control group?!) Anyways, for all creation/evolution questions, the ultimate resource is talk.origins. (See their "other links" page for a listing of all pro/con sites.)
  • kmellis, the humans-contemporary-with-dinosaur idea actually does not come from Genesis, but from the dinosaur-like creatures described in Job (41) and Psalms (104:26).
  • isn't it possible that god initiated the big bang, and created evolution? Yes, SideDish, but it's not properly called creationism, the way my anthro professor taught it. As wanderingstan put it so well, there's a whole spectrum of beliefs on this issue, with atheistic evolutionism on one end and what's known as "fiat" creationism (the universe is six thousand years old, created in six calendar days) at the other. What you're describing is often referred to as "theistic evolutionism", which lies somewhere in the middle of that continuum. And it's pretty much as you describe. God created the singularity and set the wheels turning, but designed it in such a way that the process would be self-sustaining. Your liberal-to-moderate theists tend to prefer this model (or something very like it).
  • i never understood why creationism and evolution have to be distinctly different -- isn't it possible that god initiated the big bang, and created evolution? SideDish You're thinking about Intelligent Design, which basically says exactly what you jsut proposed, although it it doesn't neccesarily give credit to God.
  • On post - Damn you MCT, get out of my head!
  • Jesus told me you were going to do that.
  • Logic and science have been very useful in improving the human condition. What put those conditions into place seems not to be knowable, so it should not be the source of debate. Rather, science and logic should be pursued as long as they keep yielding answers that make sense and are useful to humanity. And I told middleclasstool no such thing.
  • He lies. A lot. A little too much water into wine, you know. But he's right about the logic and science thing. Krishna told me.
  • well all right then, *rolls up sleeves*, m.c.tool....here's the big question then, "if god created the universe, what created god?...." the way i see it is this (i'm a pantheist, btw...when i say that god is everything, i'm not kidding...basically you just take the gaia theory and extrapolate...for further reading, look into 'superorganisms.' anthills and behives are the obvious ones, but then you start seeing them everywhere...cities, corporations, economies, ecosystems, galactic clusters and etc.) the only thing that separates god from the lowly likes of us, animals, pebbles, what have you, is that we plebes have to be made up of something else...atoms for example...that have been here since the beginning, and god was, well, here from the very beginning. (an interesting side note from the physics camp for those that ask what was there before the big bang...there was no 'there' before the big bang and there was no 'before' before the big bang. huh? see, most people see the big bang of an explosion of material into space, but (and this is the hard part to get your brain around) there was no space before the big bang...it was an explosion of material AND space (and because the two are the same thing...see einstein) AND time. talking about going back in time to before the big bang is like asking someone who went to the north pole why they didn't then go further north...kooky,huh) anyway, the real feat that makes god so special is that god is SELF-CREATING. (try it...it's hard) AND...that appears to be ALL he's (sorry for the 'he', i was raised episcopalian...still can't shake the image of the old guy in the big chair) done. I know that SOUNDS cold and atheistic, but it's really the core of his total awesomeness and power. think about it this way, could YOU design a handful of basic subatomic particles (say...about twenty or so) that work together by a specific set of rules that never changes and generate them in enormous quantities (10^300 or so (i forget exactly how many)) and then just let them all go do their thing and have it make anything coherent (galaxies, stars, john lennon)? i didn't think so. so now for the crazy part. What does God ultimately want? well, believe it or not, we have the answer to that question. God wants space...lots of big empty space. everything in the universe is geared up to make more and more space...the current theories hold that eventually all matter will disintegrate and thin out (at a later stage they talk about such exotic entities as lonely subatomic particles orbiting one another at the harrowing distance of the current diameter of the entire universe...the universe at that point being much larger, of course) leaving us with a truly enormous volume of space, devoid of anything but the tiniest of energy fluctuations. fun, huh. discuss.
  • My mom was and is a Biblical literalist. A number of years ago, I asked her how she reconciles the existence of dinosaurs some 65 million years ago with a young earth. She gave me the same sort of story kmellis outlined, more or less. She said that the meteor is "just a theory." As for evolution in particular, she talked about "missing links" and the "inaccuracies of carbon dating" and how it, too, is "just a theory" -- that kind of thing. Most of all, though, she seemed to rely on an intuitive refusal to believe that humans ever could have evolved from anything. It just doesn't make sense to her. Other parts of science do, of course, because she can see the results of them (i.e. physics gives us electricity and magnetism, chemistry can be seen when you bake things, so they're on solid empirical ground). I don't know how she explains things like earthquakes and tsunamis given her belief in a "personal God," but I've always suspected that her explanations of those sorts of things boils down to something like the Job story, with the Devil allowed to "test" us. An Islamic cleric recently spoke at my university and this is how he explained the tsunami. As for life on other planets, she told me once that the idea was absurd since we humans are the center of the universe (so to speak). I don't know how she'd react when/if we actually find it. She could probably deal with tiny micro-organic life, but not evolved macro organisms.
  • In this way, water is the palace of the "true dragon"; it is not flowing away. If we regard it only as flowing, the word "flowing" is an insult to water: it is like imposing "not flowing". Water is nothing but water's "real form just as it is". Water is the virtue of water; it is not flowing. In the thorough study of the flowing or the not-flowing of a single [drop of] water, the entirety of the ten thousand things is instantly realized. Among mountains as well, there are mountains hidden in jewels; there are mountains hidden in marshes, mountains hidden in the sky; there are mountains hidden in mountains. There is a study of mountains hidden in hiddenness. An old buddha has said, "Mountains are mountains and waters are waters." These words do not say that mountains are mountains; they say that mountains are mountains. Therefore, we should thoroughly study these mountains. When we thoroughly study the mountains, this is the mountain training. Such mountains and waters themselves become wise men and sages.
  • "Fossil record"? That God is such a kidder!
  • If I were creationist, I think I'd choose to believe that dinosaur bones are from the dead bodies of Demons, maybe slain in some Prophecy-style war between Angels and Demons. Are maybe the're just lying dormant, waiting for the End of Days to return and start walking the Earth, imposing Hellish demands on us mortals.
  • SideDish, I used to belong to a church that both was insistant on teaching literal 6-day creation, and also has a pretty decent private education system up to the university level. The profs (physics, geology, archaelogy, for example) were mostly educated at good schools outside the church and pretty consistently believe both evolution and creation to varying degrees as you describe. They treat the biblical story as a metaphor, and debate whether creation was a long, never-ending process or whether got set up the clockwork and let it run, etc We were taught regular evolution in science class, with varying degrees of skepticism from the teachers, and creation junk-science in religion class (did you know that the flood would have laid down the geological record in layers just as it appears today in only 40days?!?).
  • Cool stuff, Abiezer_Coppe. Where'd you get it?
  • science and logic should be pursued as long as they keep yielding answers that make sense and are useful to humanity I disagree with our Lord and Saviour JC. Re: logic, G H Hardy is on my side. For science: Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg et al. John Paul II is on his side. Meet me at the cemetery gates!
  • f8x - it's linked from the last full stop (or period) - it's from Dogen Zenji's 'Eye of the True Dharma' (Shobogenzo)
  • science and logic should be pursued as long as they keep yielding answers that make sense and are useful to humanity Ummm..., as if, conversely, irrationality could yield answers that "make sense"?? Indeed, the foundation of religion -- faith -- implies belief & acceptance without logic or evidence. If I may restate the original question a bit more bluntly: Where do you apply your faith and where do you apply your logic? Why? / born again atheist // my entire immediate family is religious but well-educated (engineers, doctors, etc.) /// no, I don't try to have these conversations with them anymore
  • God wants space...lots of big empty space. who needs a whole universe? i would've just moved to the subburbs. ps- evolution is indeed a theory. so is gravity. go look the word up in a dictionary before throwing it around, fucker.
  • It's all I could find on short notice, but since gravity's "only a theory", I present The Intelligent Grappling FAQ.
  • omg. i've been educated stupid. IG for teh win.