Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Evolution Debate

I had an interesting argument about evolution with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. Principally interesting because I think that she was shocked by the relatively left-wingedness of my position. I think that because I wear skirts and, until recently, socks, she is under the impression that I am far more Beis Yaakov than I am. But I have always been more of an intellectual rebel than a behavioral one.

Anyhoo, not the point of this post. The point is that in the middle of the discussion, I got set off on one of my favorite rants, so set off, in fact, that I am still fuming enough to be motivated to actually post several days later. It goes like this:

I do not care if you do not believe in evolution. I do not care if you hold that it's a crime to believe in it. I do not even, intellectually speaking, care if you think that I am evil for believing in it. But please, please do not come to me with three hand-picked, heavily ellipsed scientists, your layman's understanding of advanced scientific theories and some moth-ridden arguments that you heard at a kiruv shabbaton and try to tell me that your opposition to evolution is scientifically based.

I mean, honestly. If I hear the phrase 'evolution is only a theory' one more time, I think I am going to break something. Something expensive. And to save myself time in the comments, yes, I know that evolution is only a theory. Not unlike gravity. And yet I don't go throwing myself off of buildings because I don't buy into the gravity myth. True, evolution has never been proven. It is almost impossible to prove it absolutely, especially when one of the opposite arguments is that an Omnipotent and Omniscient Being has purposely planted misleading evidence that would lead us to believe in evolution. But it has repeatedly failed to be mislead and produced more and more evidence that supports the conclusion that it is true.

Look, I'm not claiming to be an expert scientist and I can hardly argue against more knowledgable people who do not believe that evolution is scientifically supported. But nor is it possible to deny, with intellectual honesty, the fact that an overwhelming of expert scientists do believe that it is accurate. And even if you can find one or two who do doubt the theory- for whatever ideological or scientific reasons of their own- please do not attempt to deny the fact that they are the majority.

Which is not to say that you have to believe in evolution. If you believe that the Bible account is literally true, then by all means, you have every right to go with far less likely or provable, but nonetheless logical explanations, which ever ones you find. If, on the other hand, you believe that evolution is inherently illogical and unscientific, maybe, just maybe, you should ask yourself what factors are motivating that opinion and why, exactly, a whole bunch of perfectly intelligent scientists haven't seemed to catch on?

By the same token, I think that it would be intellectually dishonest for me to pretend that my evolution-influenced reading of B'reishit is the most obvious p'shat that would leap to the eye, or that my willingness to read the Torah as metaphorical or inexact is necessarily most in keeping with the most conservative (small c) religious opinions. I, personally, am fond of the whole Big Bang/Evolution picture of creation not only for scientific reasons, but also because it seems to me to paint a more cogent and more awesome God than pure ex nihilo understandings. But that's my personal opinion, and I attempt, in the spirit of intellectual honesty, to be aware of all of the factors that motivate that decision and not to pretend that the decisions I make are a synthesis of all possible factors rather than a mediation between them.

Of course, true intellectual honesty means that I am also aware of the fact that I am probably not really completely intellectually honest even with myself, but at that point, we start to get into eddying circles of self-knowledge, and then I get a head-ache. So we shall stop here.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

first of all, a correction: you're missing a negation in "And even if you can find one or two who do doubt the theory- for whatever ideological or scientific reasons of their own- please do not attempt to deny the fact that they [NOT] are the majority."

I was just having part of this conversation last week. Gravity is "just" a theory, and is not proven true. Just because we expect something to happen because that thing has always happened (like, things fall when we drop them), is not sufficient proof to say that it will always happen.

A scientific theory comes from several steps:
1. observing
2. making a FALSIFIABLE hypothesis
3. devising and conducting an experiment to try to falsify the hypothesis
4. analysing results to determine whether your hypothesis is false, or if it lives to be tested again later.

Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, and the theory of evolution has survived since. In 150 years, it has failed to be proven false, despite some very concerted efforts. It is therefore a robust theory and seems to be true.

Anonymous said...

I forgot a step in making a theory: showing your results to your peers, so that they can review what you did and help you decide whether your results are actually what you think they are.

mike said...

Tobie- I hear exactly what you're thinking considering that I go to Yeshiva. Every person who says that because intelligence can't arise naturally evolution is impossible assume that not G-d equals randomness. Also the most annoying thing is that they quote the Neo-Darwinists as on their side of evolution.

dbs said...

Of course, true intellectual honesty means that I am also aware of the fact that I am probably not really completely intellectually honest even with myself, but at that point, we start to get into eddying circles of self-knowledge, and then I get a head-ache. So we shall stop here.

Please don't go there. It's alwas the most honest who undermind the power of their experiances with thoughts like that. (and yes, I do blame religous traing for reinforcing that type of self-doubt.) It's the dogmatic fundamentalists who never need to qualify their statements.

Fantastic post. (And not just because I happen to agree with you.)

Tobie said...

It's the dogmatic fundamentalists who never need to qualify their statements.

Never need to because they never think they should. It's rather the catch 22 of honesty.
But thanks!

Rachel said...

A few months ago I got into a debate whereby the other person argued:

1)Not only was evolution false, but it was heresy to argue that evolution was a logically consistent explanation for how the world arose.

She wasn't just anti-science.

2) She also believed that it was heresy to argue that military weakness was a logically consistent explanation for why Jerusalem fell to the Romans.