No, not an attack on modular theories of mind. (If you don’t know what they are, don’t worry, it’s not relevant today)…
Instead I’m talking about a claim I often see levelled against Christians who believe in Evolution — that we are able to hold two incompatible beliefs by compartmentalising (I’m using the British English btw, as I live in England) our minds, keeping the ideas completely separate. Apparently Evolution (by Natural Selection) is utterly incompatible with Christian belief. Now long time readers will recall that I have said this was certainly NOT the view of most Christians in Darwin’s own time: perhaps because that battle had already been fought over Lyell and Buckland and geology, but rocks are unfashionable and biology is sexy today; regardless I have written on the myths that cluster around Darwin, you can find my essay here.
I will sometime describe how Christians have reconciled the two, and my own theological thinking on the issue, but to be honest it was not a problem for Darwin’s bulldog T.H.Huxley (himself not a Christian but an ‘agnostic’ – not in the modern sense of the word though) who wrote –
” The teleology which supposes that the eye, such as we see it in man or in the higher ver-
tebrata, was made with the precise structure which it exhibits, to make the animal which
possesses it to see, has undoubtedly received its death-blow. But it is necessary to remember
that there is a higher teleology, which is not touched by the doctrine of evolution, but is act-
ually based on the fundamental proposition of evolution. That proposition is, that the whole
world, living and not living, is the result of the mutual interaction, according to definite laws,
of forces possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulosity of the universe was
composed. If this be true, it is no less certain that the existing world lay potentially in the
cosmic vapour; and that a sufficient intelligence could, from a knowledge of the properties of
that vapour, have predicted, say, the state of fauna of Great Britain in 1869, with as much
certainty as one can say what will happen to the vapor of the breath on a cold winter’s
day.” Academy 1869
I think it’s too late at night to explore what Huxley meant by than now: again it’s not strictly relevant. My challenge is far more drastic: I don’t deny that minds well may well be compartmentalised, but I think such an attribute may actually be almost by definition a property of atheist not theistic thinkers. I am not saying atheists are wrong, or stupid: I am saying that some but not all atheists probably have stronger compartmentalisation of neural processes than religious believers, and that I believe if an experiment was conducted, it would show a tendency towards a theists having less compartmentalised mental processes. It’s a typically ironic CJ claim, but I think atheists actually really might have compartmentalised minds. I therefore as so often intend to up end a cliché and play with it till it squeaks…
So what do I mean by “compartmentalised minds”?
OK, firstly I am not sure if this works at mind level (Cognitive process) or brain level (neural connections) or perhaps most likely both, but clear if a mind is ot be compartmentalised then it suggests that parts work relatively autonomously of each other, or only interconnect occasionally. I think the cliché of Christians with “compartmentalisation” is probably meant to work at the level of beliefs, that is I guess heuristic structures ideas, concepts, whatever. I put my religion in Box A that lives here, and my Science in Box B that works there. And then I build a bloody great big garden wall in between the two!
There is only one thing wrong with this theory: it’s bollocks. Of course people can hold deeply contradictory ideas, and of course that can arise as a neural network develops and expands, if there is no checking process for consistency. No disagreement there at all: the whole history of humans on this planet shows it, and I could point out that cancer is caused by smoking, and a lot of people smoke. I know the odds of winning the lottery: I still might buy a ticket (though only about three times since it was launched). That people can hold contradictory ideas strikes me as uncontroversial. What strikes me as nonsensical though is the assertion that a deeply rational individual such as Prof Ken Miller does this, or I do, or most Christians do it more than atheists.
Now of course individuals brains vary somewhat in anatomical detail, individuals vary in the organisation of their neural networks and relationships to a small extent, and the mass of synaptic connections that are excited and inhibited and make us “us” are of course unique. Likewise we vary in our cognitive processes at a psychological level, though we presumably share, as with the neurology, massive overall similarity. Now I was reading a paper by Dr. Christine Simmonds-Moore, on Thin Boundaries, Transliminality and Positive Schizoptpyy – I’ll reference it at the end when it struck me – atheists should actually have less integrated neural and psychological constructs?
Simmonds-Moore describes the work of Hartmann, especially his 1991 Hartmann Boundary Questionnaire (HBQ). The HBQ examines the boundaries: the compartmentalisation if you like, in the human psyche.His work based on this scale has since been examined, and several predictions confirmed. You can search Google to find experiments and papers, or if you have access just type “hartmann +boundary” in to PSYCHINFO and see what comes up. I’m not making this up… I even found the scale on a website, so you can try the test yourself.
I was unsurprised to note I scored as having thin boundaries.
What does that mean?
I really suggest if you want a proper overview you read Dr Simmonds-Moore’s paper. I will summarise my understanding as follows -a boundary is the division between two ‘structures or processes'; with thinner boundaries, there is increased interaction between them. Those with thinner boundaries will integrate more structures and processes, resulting in a ‘”looser” associational thinking style’, a tendency to find ‘meaning’ in random noise, to integrate subliminal level information and a tendency to experience altered states while awake. In short we might expect believers to actually have thin, highly permeable conceptual boundaries – their mental structures might well be expected to be considerable less compartmentalised than that of an atheist, who might have a more focussed/linear method of thinking? SOME BUT NOT ALL: obviously believers and disbelievers might be found in either category, thick or thin boundaried, but thin boundaries appear to be correlated with unusual mental states, belief in psychism, and at high levels sometimes mental health issues. I would suggest from the evidence that believers are more likely to be on average thin boundaried than non-believers: that is their thinking is a ‘”looser” associational thinking style’, subject to Type II errors – seeing things that are not there in random noise, finding false positives, mistakenly rejecting the null hypothesis. (Simmonds-Moore notes Brugger has made exactly this connection with Type II errors).
And thick boundaried (highly compartmentalised) thinkers? They are subject to exactly the opposite problem: failing to recognise the falsification of the null hypothesis, they fail to see what is there, and make Type I errors. Believers would be subject to false positives: non-believers false negatives, but belief or non-belief may well be related to the structure and relationships in brain/mind.
Now this is not a stick to beat atheists with: I am sure some of my more acerbic mates on the forums will type “…therefore God.” in a cynical response. Far from it, I make no claim whatsoever that this gets us one iota nearer to the truth or falsehood of any theistic or atheistic hypothesis – it is possibly completely irrelevant. In this brief piece I just wanted to point out something i said last night – we adopt linguistic structures in our belief (or non-belief communities) and use them to view the world, often irrespectively of common sense – for it strikes me as fairly non-controversial that believers often show loose and associational styles of thinking, that bear no resemblance to reality, but which we repeat uncritically. Believers do it, non-believers do it, birds do it, bees do it, nice young men who sell antiques do it – we, no, sorry that’s a song. :) I was simply interested in debunking one common cliché used to dismiss scientifically minded Christians as somehow mentally split in two: it appears the reverse may be true?
Anyway next time someone tells you believers who hold to evolution and Christianity have “compartmentalised minds”; ask for the EVIDENCE. And if anyone wants to do a full study of boundary thinness and religious/spiritual belief, go for it I am aware of no paper, but Dr Simmonds-Moores interesting paper certainly made me think about this.
Hartmann, Ernest, (1991) Boundaries in the mind: A new psychology of personality. BasicBooks, NY.
Simmonds- Moore, Christine. ‘ Anomalous Experiences and Boundary Thinness in Mind and Brain’ in Smith, Matthew (2010) Anomalous Experiences, McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina
Welcome to Earth: Our Home — The Board Game!
For 2-4 players, ages 8+
For the contest this month I decided to do something a bit different, and so I have designed a board game. If you are brave enough you can print it out and play it, and if you do please tell me how it went! Feel free to modify or improve it as you see fit.
You can now download the components at (including much smaller and easier to printversions – read the text file first!)
You can see the board, counters and some of the cards here on this article, but if you want to print and play the game, and I really hope you will, then you will find it easier to download the printer friendly zip files and print the files in there which are configured for A4 card or paper.
What’s it about?
The game covers the development of life on Earth from the Cambrian era – c.500 million years ago, with the last turn representing he arrival of the first hominids – Homo Erectus and friends – about 1 million years ago. Even the most fanatical board game player will be pleased to hear that each turn is not a million years! Instead of 500 turns, game play is divided in to five EPOCHS – each epoch covering a lengthy period of Earth’s history.
So what do you do in it?
Well the problem with any game based on evolution is that the process is rather blind and to some extent random – and there is absolutely no guarantee that if we re-ran the tape of Earth’s history we would have human beings here now reading my writing, or indeed any recognisable species, or perhaps any life at all. So in this game we take the viewpoint in each epoch of a GENUS*, a set of beasties related to one another by descent, competing to adapt to and survive (and proliferate). Each turn you lay down 18 counters representing your current SPECIES on the map of the world, trying to control HABITATS. Of course its not just a matter of your species happily filling up these habitats. Other species probably want them too – each habitat can only support three counters (with one exception we will come to later). Given that other players are controlling the other species, and might well be fiercer, hungrier or just plain bigger than your species — well bad things will happen. If a habitat gets too popular, and hence overpopulated, bad things happen.
Only the species which is best adapted to life in that area is likely to survive, and many of your beasties will die: in the worst case some of your species may even go extinct, potentially removing you from the game, and certainly meaning you will have to explore other avenues of evolution. In fact given the constant struggle for resources, it may be that your species will have to kill off its relatives (from the same genus, but earlier epochs)just to find space to survive.
Survival of the Fittest
So how do your beasties take over habitats and make sure they don’t die out? By being better adapted to their habitats than their competitors, and that comes down to random luck to some extent – little bundles of chemical information called GENES. Each epoch your species gains new genes – and develops, becoming more effective at taking over territory. Unfortunately you don’t control what new abilities nature grants you – you just pick a gene card, and your new species counters get that added ability, as well as all the ones they have from their ancestors (your previous species).
As you add gene cards at random to your species however where they might prosper and the best strategy for which habitats to try an colonise will shift, causing you to make tough decisions. Not decisions about which genes you get – you can’t control that – but about how your beasties can make best use of the genetic heritage they have to prosper and survive.
You should firstly print off the big colourful game board. If you are short on ink, printing 16 pages of A4 (or whatever) and taping them together strikes you as hell, or you otherwise can’t print the map, it’s fine to just draw it on a big bit of card or a wall, so long as you get ti to look roughly the same in terms of areas. Take a look at the board: you will notice it shows two views of planet Earth from space.
The board for “Earth: Our Home” the game: a larger version is included in the zip file, you will need it to play.
Part of the globe is not shown: it’s the Pacific Ocean, and mainly sea, so in this game it’s represented by the little rectangular box labelled “Pacific Ocean”! As you can see the board is divided in to hexagons, some complete, some partial, which represent HABITATS. Some partial ‘hexes’ are too small to be bothered putting counters on so we ignore them, but most of them have one of three symbols – a water drop for a MARINE habitat (the sea!), a palm tree for a TROPICAL habitat and a pine tree for a TEMPERATE habitat. Temperate and Tropical habitats are LAND: marine habitats are, unsurprisingly enough, SEA.
Now take a closer look at the board. Earth is a funny old place, so to handle movement some zones are marked with a letter. A and A, see two of them? B and B? C and C? D & D? The two bits marked with the same letter are the same habitat: all the rules apply as normal (no more than three beasties in each, and so forth). Living on a globe plays hell with inventing rules for “movement”. The Pacific is a huge area where 11 counters can peacefully co-exist – enter from any region marked with a P adjacent.
The counters for Earth: Our Home board game: download the zip file to get printer friendly ones at the right scale.
Next up you should see counters: 100 for each genus, divided in to 5 species representing something about the type of life forms involved. Don’t take them literally – your creature in epoch one lives in the sea, and may well be a fish, but not a modern one, and the frog on the epoch two counter just means your species then is an amphibian, and can go on land. Epoch Three shows an Allosaur, but you might be anything, and Epoch 4 is just a mammoth for the age of mammals – but maybe on ‘your earth’ the dinosaurs never died out, and really it’s a big lizard. Use your imagination, and describe what your species looks like to the other players. That last little man is a Homo Erectus by the way. Still maybe your final species look like super-intelligent jellyfish, or lizardmen, or big birds, or… anyway you get the picture, it’s just an illustration. Now you will need to print the counters off: you use 18 of each species on the map, one is a spare, and one you place on your genes cards – more of which later. Stick them on coins, mount them on card, whatever works for you. You play them to the board by piling them in the appropriate habitat.
Finally there are 32 gene cards. There are four types of gene card, distinguished by the letters A, B, C, & D (in reality we would have the letters A, C, G & T for adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, but I was worried someone might take this too literally.) They are so important they get their own bit of the rules (see below).
At the beginning of each epoch comes the MUTATION PHASE. Random variations in offspring born have led to a development in your species: on turn one it will effect your little fishies. So shuffle the genes, and randomly deal each player a gene card, which they put face up in front of them with a spare counter of the current species on. So if it’s turn one, and you get an “A gene”, put the A card in front of you with your spare fish counter on it.
What do they do? Well an A card gives your beastie a +2 in SURVIVAL CONTESTS in temperate habitats, and represents some kind of adaptation (big teeth, camouflage, better brain, improved senses) which give it a big advantage in that type of habitat. A B card does exactly the same in Temperate climates. C & D cards do something similar – they reflect a new adaptation that works well in ANY environment, but if you happen to have the symbol in the corner, say you are playing blue square genus and you get the blue square C, well sheer random luck means it happens to be a very powerful adaptation, worth +2 in ay environment. (Really big teeth, or squirrelly reflexes – at first sign of danger you grab your nuts and run?) No having an A or B gene in Epoch One, when everyone is confined to Marine habitats is pretty useless.
However unlike in individuals today, genes can’t do you any harm: you are a species, only the members with good genes get to mate with the lady or gent beasties as much and have lots of little beasties, so no need to worry about poor genes.
Those fishy genes which only work on land areas (A or B cards) will come in to their own later, because when you take your new species, it draws new card, and adds that to the existing one. Any remaining members of the former species on the board don’t get the advantage of the new gene – only the latest species, but it gets both. So your Epoch 5 creatures will have the advantage of ALL 5 genes (assuming nothing terrible has happened along the way). So ok, they give you +1, or +2, in either certain habitats or anywhere.Why does this matter? Because you add up these bonuses to work out your species counters CONFLICT VALUE. A creature in a temperate environment with genes A, A, C (but no their symbol) gets 2 +2 +1 = 5. Their conflict value is 5. It’s not about fighting: it’s about how well adapted you are to your environment.
Gene cards: You need the A,D and B ones as well to play. Download or message me for a copy – it’s free
GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY
Firstly, if it’s not the first turn, choose one of your counters to mutate. Take it off the board, and replace it with a counter of your new species that has evolved out of the old one. In the first turn you just plonk your six counters down. Each turn after drawing your mutation each player plays counters to the board, representing their species going forth, multiplying, and slowly filling up habitats. In each turn someone is first player, and they MUST PLAY SIX COUNTERS (well five including the one that ‘evolved’ ) ONE AT A TIME to habitats adjacent to that species. You can put up to three counters in any one habitat, or spread out thinly, up to you, but each habitat you enter must be adjacent to, or the same as, a habitat you already have a counter of this species in.
Note species: if you are putting Mammoth counters down they must be adjacent to an existing Mammoth counter, not another older counter of your colour(they may be in the same habitat, and that’s fine, though) Once you have put six counters down, the player to you left plays six counters exactly the same way round their newly evolved species. .After there turn, the next player, and so on till it’s your turn again. You don’t start a new Epoch, you just play your second six counters, and when your turn comes round again your third six, so now hopefully (but not necessarily) you have 18 counters on the board.
In Epoch One your beasties must stay in the sea: In Epoch 2 they can go on sea or land, being amphibians, from Epoch 3 only land zones are used.
You have to play all your counters, and once played to the board they never move. Soon you will start to run out of space in habitats, as your giant horned bunnies or whatever eat all the Jurassic cabbage. No habitat (except the Pacific Ocean: it can hold 11) can ever have more than 3 counters of any colour in it.
If at any point, a fourth counter is placed there (or a 12th in the pacific) something has to give, and someone has to die. So who wins out? The better adapted species of course! Add up the CONFLICT VALUE based on your genes for the species counters in that habitat. Which ever species has the lowest value, remove one of their counters. Then continue: if you play another counter there (presumably because your opponents counter got removed not yours) you do it again immediately – remove on of theirs, add one of yours. If yours (or if two opponents are in the spare there) Survival Values are equal, then comes the tragic bit: both remove a counter; Still the habitat has space now for you to play another counter in., even if you lost one.
Note it is the absolute survival value: that matters: you DO NOT multiply the conflict value by the number of counters in that habitat, so if player A has SV 4 for their mammoth, and your hominid has SV 5, but they have two mammoths, doesn’t make any difference 5 beats 4. In human warfare God is on the side of the big battalions, but in this game it’s not really about warfare: it’s about outbreeding, out eating, out thinking and out living your opponents species.
Counters removed are out of the game: you don’t get to play them again.
As soon as you lay your 18th counter on each Epoch, but before the next player takes their go, you need to see how your species is doing. You DO NOT score any points for earlier species of your genus, so killing off your own counters is fine and dandy: eat your ancestors! For every habitat you have a counter of the current species in , even if shared with another players species, you gain points; 2 points for each Land habitat (tropical or temperate), one point for each Marine Habitat. Everyone can ask everyone’s scores at any point: it’s open information.
The first player card– Adam & Eve frightened by a blue butterfly.
If your former species from a previous Epoch vanishes it’s sad but has no game effect. If your current species fails to make it, that’s a bit more serious. The most likely scenario is that having played some of your species counters other players kill them off before you can get all 18 down: it’s no big deal. Flip over one of your predecessor species, discard your species gene and draw a new one, and lose 5 points off your score. It happens. Another form of your species evolves and continues, except you might not have many of them. If your species is completely wiped out, you do not get to evolve at the beginning of the new Epoch though. You play Mammoths (or whatever) again while the others move on to hominids. Your points are halved now.
WINNING THE GAME
At the VERY end of Epoch 5 everyone indulges in a last round of point scoring, in addition to the one at the end of their turn. Every habitat, land or sea, that they have their (hominid) species in grants 1 additional point. Add to existing scores, and the person with the most wins! If you never evolved to hominid counters you don’t get these bonus points.
* I tried to design a gene viewpoint game, but it was not as attractive visually sadly, nor as readily linked to “Earth Our Home”. It may well appear on the Richard Dawkins forum in the future though if I get it to work.
Back on January 2nd 2008, while the world was hung over still from New Years Eve, I was thinking about the way beliefs work, as I have been since the 80’s. Since then I have found a lot of serious academic work, but this was what led me to it. Thought might amuse some people, though if you did not find it hard going in places you are cleverer than me, and I may be talking tosh anyway. I’d best explain the idea I make of mental shortcuts. A classic example; if you place your hand on a flame, and get burned, you create an instinctive belief that placing your hand in flames is bad. You may generalize from this a rule that putting any part of your body in a fire is bad. Or if you eat squid one night, and then are up all night will bellyache, you may make a mental shortcut that says “squid is poisonous or bad for me” – even if it was not, and something else caused the problem. So the “shortcuts” I refer to, beliefs, may be true or false – but they are programmes in my analogy that you run on. Anyway see if you can follow my argument!
OK, I am getting interested in how beliefs work. Obviously, assuming we are not solipsists, we have two basic things – External Reality and the Person. The “compression” model suggests we create “mental shortcuts” or handy pieces of code based upon on our experience which allow us to deal efficiently with reality. So beliefs are in fact a sort of mental map imposed on the universe, a shorthand for understanding how things work.
That in itself is interesting – because obviously if you follow this model then the utility of a model is actually what matters, not its relationship to “external reality”. So I suspect Dennett might argue about religion? It’s provides survival/pay offs as a model, while being inherently “untrue”? That however immediately runs in to problems. While we might like HP Lovecraft conclude that the Universe is utterly indifferent to us, and indeed almost hostile in that indifference, and hold a somewhat nihilistic worldview (which HPL did not, seeking solace in “human level” beliefs), and assume therefore that people construct religious beliefs as a utility, many religious beliefs strike me as quite dysfunctional/survival negating at individual level. In short, if “survival of the fittest” works, then ideas that cause one to risk ones life, like patriotism, serving in the army, dangerous sports or persecuted religious practices are rather odd to say the least. Why would they survive?
Therefore we have to shift up to kin selection (Hamilton’s Rule – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kin_selection ) but I fail to see why individual belief structures would arise at kin level. Yet we have much evidence of altruism and religious structures operating at a much higher level than kin (gene) grouping -indeed many make claims about the whole of humanity – so we now have group selection?
That belief structures can pass beyond ethnic and kin identity groups strikes me as quite obvious – we can have say “American Mythologies” which tie together many of the citizens of the USA, regardless of genetic diversity? Let’s take a classic British line “Dulce et Decorum est, pro patria mori” – loosely, “it is right and proper to die for your country”. That belief took hold in the form of jingoistic patriotism – yet wherein lies the survival value?
I suppose if beliefs are “short cuts”, or programs if you like, there is no need for them to be logically compatible with each other. That makes perfect sense – two radically opposed beliefs may both be useful in different contexts. I need to think more on this bit.
However, beliefs can and do change, as the fact we have so many converts from one belief system to another shows.
So, just as I see that the evidence of our senses is not actually unconditioned, but that the data has a reflexive relationship with the model (belief system) held, and that theists interpret the data reflexively, so I guess atheists interpret likewise in line with their own existing personal models. I see no reason to exclude any belief system from this filtration/interpretation process. There is nothing new here at all – replace “sense data” with “thing in itself” or “noumena” and we are immediately in familiar territory, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Where I would differ from Kant is I do not think that means we have to stop and call limits to reason.
Our minds are capable of studying mind, including their own, so we begin by questioning every single assumption and dogma and belief we hold, and trying to understand if each is actually demonstrably true, and then by trying to falsify it and holding the conflicting position to see if that makes sense – decoding our own “mental shortcuts”.
This tends to render one severely uncompetitive i suspect, and quite possibly useless, but questioning every assumption has always seemed a good place to begin to me. So what I think occurs with beliefs is that they do represent a series of “shortcuts”, often expressed in language – and that those beliefs are based in evidence, but that the evidence is read through the filter of the belief system. If so, then when we “join” a recognizable belief system, we learn to interpret our experiences in the light of that system, creating a reflexive feedback loop. I think this applies to atheist members of the forum just as much as theists – the language and conceptual framework differs, but we all interpret our experience in line with beliefs, and those beliefs are then strengthened by the confirmation we are receiving.
Occasionally, the belief system breaks down through inherent contradiction, though probably not often – only when two radically opposed beliefs come to play on the same issue. Occasionally, we read or are exposed to ideas which allow us to look at the world through a different belief system, and then make a sudden shift in our viewpoint, and re-read the evidence creating new shortcuts. I have no idea if any of this makes any coherent sense, but I thought I’d post my vague thoughts and ask opinions! Anyone?
ADDENDUM: Writing this in 2009 I may as well add the philosophical problem that I know now Plantinga has been arguing for a good while, but which also occurred to me in my arguments. If our brains evolved through natural selection, for adaptive advantage, then we might not expect them to be designed to learn and comprehend objective truth – they are actually designed to allow us to survive and reproduce, not to understand things. So science, logic, mathematics is a perversion of our natural instincts, and in fact runs counter to how are brains have evolved to work. This may well be the root of many cognitive biases – such as confirmation bias, a very well known example.
In honour of Darwin 150, and those great men of Science the Young Earth Creationists – those who believe the world was created just a few thousand years ago in seven literal days by God – I thought it was the duty of an Evolutionist like me to join them this year in attempting to rip Evolutionary theory to shreds. :) This is not a game for Creationist types – it’s actually for the rest of us to set about trying to falsify the current Evolutionary hypothesis, which we hold true. After all, as Popper pointed out, falsification is the heart of the scientific method? So let’s try and falsify Darwin!
We can do this by either demonstrating that Darwinian Evolution is a nonsense (harder than it looks, Creationists have been trying for over a century, though for a good fifty years it did contravene the known laws of physics and was therefore “paranormal/perinormal” – ask if confused, though I will explain in a later post, or look up on Google, using search terms “+Kelvin +Darwin + Sun”) or by proposing another hypothesis that meets the evidence just as well (underdetermining Darwinian Evolution; an underdetermined hypothesis is one where another explanation can be used just as well by the same facts, or even different facts, brought as evidence.
If we are to be Creationists though rather than think up some other completely new explanation for the biological diversification of life on Earth, then hopefully we will follow the Atrahasis Epic, or the Pimander, Hindu myth or Inuit Creation stories, or something that has not been as rigorously examined as Biblical Seven Day Creation. I’m hoping most of us who reply to this are from a staid dull old Evolutionary mainstream position, as I am, but I’m looking for radical new perspectives. Aliens did it? Sure, if you can substantiate it. Evolution is caused by periods of Rapid Plate Tectonic movement combined with psychoactive mushrooms? OK – show us your argument! I don’t care if you believe a word of your outrageous theories – so long as they provide alternatives to Evolution, or are legitimate critiques of the Evolutionary consensus (but but NOT YEC – the Creationists are already doing sterling work in attempted falsification working hard to test the evolutionary hypothesis for us – sure we should give Henry M Morris a Nobel Prize for outstanding contribution to biology?)
We evolutionists are used to manning the defenses, waiting in our deep trenches, well armed with superb arguments, ready with the heavy ammunition of data and countless papers that show the strength of our walls. Tonight, let’s creep out, and rather than join the Creationist forces who assail us, let us mount our own offensive, and try to blow Darwinism sky high. It’s what Darwin would have wanted, and it’s the proper thing to do!
Science progresses through falsification, and if we can falsify our evolutionary hypotheses, we can all move on. it is kind of the Creationist bunch to take the scientific burden so hard upon their shoulders, and do so much sterling work attacking our positions, but they are not really to my mind making much of a dent. So it is our solemn duty to try and destroy it ourselves – let the YEC man the walls of our theories, if they desire – but let us hurl epistemological grenades amidst our friends, explore weaknesses in our battlements, and tear our own folk apart. I’m hoping our best evolutionists will earn their oak leaves as first through the breach of our shattered arguments!
Of course simply while the urge to destroy is a creative urge, in Science at least, we are not going to simply parrot Creationist stuff. We are going to as a group try to devise and test alternative theories that account for the diversification of life on Earth, and preferably the origin thereof as well, which is a weakness of the current theory. We are going to think outside of YEC/OEC/Natural Selection/Lamarckism, and invent whole new alternatives, and marshal interesting new evidences to support them. We will set about underdetermining our own walls, like pious Scientific Vandals, immolating our cherished beliefs in dynamite blasts of pure reason. :)
So who is with me for a bit of Punk science? Who has an alternative hypothesis to propose, a mortal blow to our evolutionary enemy to deliver, or some data that might show us a completely third way of addressing the issue? Let’s smash it up, and do some real science! :) Let’s chuck on The Sex Pistols and The Damned and set about some radical in-ya-face falsification attempts. Who is with me? :)
Note: I originally posted this on RichardDawkins.net in the “Debunking Creationism” section. Sadly I recieved very little response, from either side, though two noble posters did play – john and HAL. Cheers guys! Let’s hope the readers of my blog are more committed to real science, and join in. The orginal post was of course motivated at least partly by my reading Paul Feyrabends wonderful book on anarchism as theory of science, Against Method.
It’s the Year of Darwin, and boy am I bored with it. All the myths are being cranked out – and very little new (with some honourable exceptions — see below.) It’s also a year after I spent a lot of my energy examining Darwin and the Church, and reading around the subject. I thought it might amuse people to read some of it here – because most of “what we know” is wrong… This will be the first of a short series of posts on Dancing on Darwin’s Grave, as I lash out at the absurd hagiography surrounding the chap, and the modern myths that have grown up around the birth fo Evolutionary theory. And no, I am not a Creationist! I fully accept Evolution by Natural Selection – just making that clear, ok?
Everyone knows that Darwin was opposed by the Church right? Evolution was accepted by scientists, and mocked by evangelicals? Fundamentalists hated Darwin, and Soapy Sam and Wilberforce had a huge row over religion? Er, nope. It never happened like that.
I argue quite the opposite is true – at a time when the scientific community were still intensely sceptical of Evolution in the Darwinian model, many Evangelicals played an important role in supporting and accepting evolution, and few Evangelicals seem to have opposed it in the period 1850-1920… I suspect this will please almost no one, from Darwinians to Fundies!
I’m assuming most people are aware that what we call Young Earth Creationism, the belief the earth is a few thousand years old, is really only a North American Protestant belief and has only been prominent there since 1961. Sure, in recent years it has grown in the Islamic World, and in the rest of the Christian world following US example, but YEC is really quite a modern thing.
It was not the most common belief at all in the time of Darwin, even among conservatives. Age Gap, Framework and Age Day theories were the ideas common in the Evangelical mainstream before Darwin – a fact reflected in the massive contribution of Evangelicals and Anglican churchmen to the geological breakthroughs of the early 19th century.
Ah, some may cry, what are they? Wikipedia to the Rescue! You don’t really need to know this to get the main point, but hey–
Catastrophism and flood geology was an extreme minority position, and only one Evangelical newspaper, The Record, appears to have much time for it.
Evolution was pioneered in America by the devout Evangelical Asa Grey, writing Darwinia (1876) which reconciles his Evangelical beliefs with orthodox Darwinism, and indeed being the only non-British member of the Darwin circle who saw Origin of the Species (1859) prior to publication. He dedicated much of his life to publicising and popularising Darwinian Evolution. A good bibliography is here- http://www.huh.harvard.edu/libraries/asa/asabio.html So by Darwin’s time, a number of Evangelicals were already evolutionist.
Many of the objections raised like those of Soapy Sam Wilberforce were primarily scientific not theological — Kelvin pointed out Darwinian Evolution was completely impossible in terms of our understanding of the laws of physics and a theory not substantiated by the empirical evidence: indeed it ran contrary to much we knew until we understood stellar nucleosynthesis. It was of course correct,but that was not to be established for many decades to come.
Despite these problems, the Evangelicals response was generally positive. So who accepted evolution in those first years? It’s a Who’s Who of Evangelicals. Marston & Forster list BB Warfield, AH Strong, Van Dyke, Landey Patton, AA Hodge, WT Shedd, James McCosh — all hard core Evangelical leaders. ( They cite Livingstone, Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders, Scottish Academic Press, 1987).
Many historians of science and religion have already surveyed this territory and found that on both sides of the Atlantic works in favour of Darwin in Christian circles far outnumbered the minority opposition. Fundamentalism? Looking at The Fundamentals, I am immediately minded of Chapter 69 – The Passing of Evolution. (online here – kudos to the chap who undertook this herculean task! – http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/6528/fund69.htm ) As you can see, this limited acceptance of Darwinism and objections based upon scientific principle is not quite what one might be led to expect from the very founding document of Fundamentalism. Orr’s chapter 18 contains a resolute defence of evolution, though he was Lamarckian and here disparages Darwinism. You can read it for yourself here http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/6528/fund18.htm
Orr accepted Lamarckian evolution, or at least appears to. I could go on and on – I probably will, it’s what I do – but I suspect that the “meme” of Evangelical refusal of evolution has developed quite recently, and part of the “conflict between science and religion” woo one sees so much of these days. The popularity of the idea is simple — it appeals to both hard atheists wishing to disparage religion as an opponent of reason, and to devout Young Earth Creationist types who wish to claim this was always the Christian faith.
Few voices speak out against it – few people bother to check the facts, despite the mountains of printed material available, and modern studies like those of Marston and Livingstone.
My contention is that YEC only dates really from 1961 and Henry Morris – certainly OEC was common, but that looked at an earth many millions of years old (though limited by Kelvin’s calculations on the sun which gave the Earth an age of not more than 25 million years – http://www.me.rochester.edu/courses/ME201/webexamp/kelvin.pdf - which led to his and many other physicists rejection of Darwin as physically impossible.)
The debate between physicists and geologists over the age of the Earth was ongoing, until the understanding of the actual processes involved in the sun showed the geologists were right. Physicists however probably were greater opponents of Darwinism in the early years (as pseudo-science that defied our understanding of physical law) than Evangelicals? Dunno! The Creationists as we know them are very modern – the Seventh Day Adventists, who gave Americans many interesting doctrines almost unique to that continent did much to support the rise of OEC, and McCready Price in the 1920’s was the first major anti-evolutionist who went for seven literal days I can think of? Willliam Jennings Bryan for example (he of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial) favoured one of the two main Evangelical theories –, Age/Day, where a Day represented millions of years not a 24 hour period, and the famous Schofield Refence Bible of 1909went for the other – Gap theory, where there was a Gap of millions of years between Day 1, and Day2, and possibly between other Days. Both arguments preserve Biblical inerrancy.
The myths were already building fast even by then, indeed before the end of the 19th century, one of the most famous being about the debate between Huxley and Wilberforce over On the Origin of Species. Superb essay on the history of this by JR Lucas here, well worth reading (honestly it is!) — http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/legend.html As you can see, this encounter is one of the most common stories almost everyone knows, but the truth is shall we say a little more obscure? Legendary indeed! Inerrantists has long accepted Gap Theory, Framework Theory or Age/Day by Darwin’s period – many leading geologists were devout evangelicals, so the age fo the Earth was known to be exceedingly ancient, and as Augustine and Origen both accepted the reading of this passage as non-literal as did theologians all through the ages, it is not surprising really they had cheerfully gone with the new science. It was a reaction to be expected in light of the dominant Baconian “Two Books” paradigm? Anyway, one does not have to be stupid ot be a Christian, it’s entirely optional – then as now. A few of us still possess brains, and a cynical scepticism about how susceptible we are to modern myths, no matter how much we can see the problems with ancient ones… Hope my historical whitterings have not bored to death.
I wrote that brief summary last year, after conversations with Beast, then luckily John Van Wyhe (Historian of Science, Cambridge University, leader of the Darwin Online Project) published a very interesting article in BBC History magazine — January 2009 – Volume 10 – No 1 http://www.bbchistorymagazine.com/currentissue.asp in which he also exposes ye olde myth. :) Anyway, question all these myths! :) I f everyone knows something, it’s often nonsense!