Tag Archives: Creationism

The Young Earth creationist argumentative strategy is also used by Old Earth creationists?

Mano Singham has posted an interesting piece, Young Earth creationist argumentative strategy. Mano is pointing to an ex-creationist post explaining how creationists were trained to argue against evolution: How to Argue for Young Earth Creationism.

The fundamental point is that it’s easy to be calm and confident when you “know” you are right. As I was reading (both Mano’s extracts and the original) I found myself thinking that the same techniques are used by others who are in positions of authority or prestige, although these groups may not always consciously think of what they are doing as a “method” they need practice to apply. If some of those in authority find themselves addressing an idea that is potentially threatening to all they have invested in, it is probably a good idea not to take the challengers’ arguments too seriously. Simply extracting a few points at a superficial level will do, and then have fun with them.

That is, play with logic. Let the underdog get flustered, impatient, angry, that you are not being serious or are distorting what they are trying to express.

The real audience is not the person argued with but onlookers, your fans, your public in whose eyes you are the esteemed authority. Let the minor party lose patience with you and you’ve scored a great victory. You have demonstrated you are the rational one and the challenger is a fool.

On top of that, we were trained to always be calm, cool, and collected. There was a dialectic, after all, and there were bystanders. If we were arguing with someone, we had the obligation to be dispassionate and stereotypically “scientific”. Let the people we were arguing with get upset. Let the people we were arguing with display how attached they are to their narrative. Let them rage and rant. It is our job to stand there and be calm and have tons of facts at our fingertips. It was their job to say “I don’t know” and get frustrated.

Over and over again, it was reiterated to us that it wasn’t just about the person with whom we were arguing. There would be people watching and it was our job to present identically to how stereotypical scientists: calm, cool, collected, tons of information at our immediate recall, and the ability to withstand some angry person yelling about how they were told something different by people they trusted implicitly. . . .

We were not only communicating with the person we were arguing with. We were communicating with the audience.

Theistic evolutionists are creationists

From Jerry Coyne’s comments on responses to Bill Nye’s attack on creationism (reformatted), posted on his blog, Why Evolution Is True:

Theistic evolutionists are creationists, pure and simple; they differ from straight fundamentalist creationists only in how much of life God was involved in creating, ranging from

  • those who think God set the whole plan in motion, knowing it would culminate in that most awesome of species, US,
  • to those who think that God tinkered with mutations to create the right species (see the philosophical work of Elliott Sober),
  • to those who think that humans are set apart from other species because God inserted a soul in our lineage (that’s the official view of the Vatican). 

That is being anti-evolution as scientists understand it, since we see evolution as a naturalistic process that has nothing to do with deities.

Sadly, far more Americans are theistic evolutionists than naturalistic evolutionists: the proportions among all Americans are 38% to 16% respectively (40% are straight creationists, 6% are unsure). We have a long way to go.

Are Mythicist Sceptics Hypocritical for Attacking Creationists?

This is a small snippet from the latest blog post by David Fitzgerald, Flame War On . . .

Cameron rightly notes that skeptics like me freely attack creationists for denying scientific consensus. But when it comes to the Christ myth, he declares “snubbing the consensus is problematic,” and feels it’s blatantly hypocritical:

“They don’t hesitate to throw around the consensus argument in that context. But when it comes to biblical history, tossing aside the consensus point of view is acceptable, because (conveniently) the evidence is on their side.”

But Cameron has just answered his own dilemma: it’s precisely because Mythicists have evidence that we challenge the current majority opinion – just as the evidence for natural selection challenged the dominant paradigm in Darwin’s time. Creationism isn’t wrong simply because it’s in the minority, and Evolution isn’t true just because the overwhelming majority of scientists say so; it’s true because it’s multiply attested by strong and compelling lines of evidence and has withstood, and continues to withstand, all rival theories. By contrast, there is nothing in Biblical studies that stands confirmed on anywhere near the level of certainty we get in any other branch of science. . . . . read more »

The deception of the creationist’s God; the cruelty of the God who guided evolution

It’s a silly question but it’s raining cats and poodles outside so here’s my filler till I can get off to work.

One learned scholar has chastised creationists or ID Christians for implying that their God is a deceiver:

Why is it that some Christians consider it more important to argue that God did not create by means of evolution than to maintain that God is loving and truthful? To engage in denial of mainstream science sooner or later leads one to accuse God of deception or at least ambiguity . . .

But the many liberal Christians who so chastise their “weaker brethren” must necessarily believe that at some level God has guided evolution to produce a being “like him” in some sense. I would have thought that their God is far more reprehensible than a trickster or master of ambiguity. I kind of like watching clever illusionists. But my stomach turns whenever I read of, or worse still witness, cruelty. And the vile cruelties of “nature” (what an anaesthetizing word “nature” is!) that are happening every day and have been for the millions of years of sentient life-forms are simply too unspeakable to dwell upon — or to associate in any way with a God worthy of respect.

Creationists may embarrass their more learned liberal believers. But it is the other God most nonbelievers find repulsive.

(At least the Creationist’s god was loving enough to create all life forms in a nonviolent paradise.)

 

Let Christian ID’ers join forces with their Moslem counterparts and prove BOTH the Bible and the Qur’an

In following up why there has been a sudden strange peak of hits on my post about Adam’s rib really being a penis bone I find that the post was linked in the course of a creationist or ID discussion. However, the focus was not on the usual Christian fundamentalists, but on a Moslem scientist having articles arguing that the failure of geneticists to resurrect dead cells or create life proves that the Qur’an (why don’t we spell it Koran anymore?) is inspired by God or Allah.

The first post, the one worth reading, is Genomics is All Wrong. At least here in the post and additionally in the comments one learns what the actual arguments of geneticists are.

The second post (and the one including a link to my Adam’s rib post) is less savory in its tone (Wahid is Back).

I wonder what Christian fundamentalists think of Moslem fundamentalists using much the same pseudo-scientific arguments to prove their respective holy books.

Evolution and God go together like Newtonian physics and Hobgoblins

I tried to explain a technical computer fix to someone once over the phone. I ended up saying something like, “Press the X and Y keys, and a little man inside the computer will do ABC for you.”

Isn’t that the sort of fantasy nonsense that is required to reconcile evolution with a belief in a personal God who has a special thing for humans?

How does evolution work?

The combined effects of mutation, natural selection and the random processes of genetic drift cause changes in the composition of a population. Over a sufficiently long period of time, these cumulative effects alter the population’s genetic make-up, and can thus greatly change the species’ characteristics from those of its ancestors.

That’s from Evolution: A Very Short Introduction by Brian and Deborah Charlesworth. The back cover blurb contains a panegyric by Richard Dawkins.

Now that makes humans no more unique, or pre-ordained, than sponges. There is no room for supernatural intervention in the terms “natural selection” or “random processes.”

If we like to think we can believe in evolution BUT God somehow guided it to make sure it produced us for Jesus Christ or Jehovah or Allah, then aren’t we kind of copping out, kidding ourselves, and really no different from the person who believes a computer works because there is a little man inside the thing making it work just right?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
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Evolution, creationism, civil discourse and “you know what”

Yesterday I was browsing in a bookshop the many shelves of books about evolution (or “life sciences” — but most books were about evolution). I was slightly amazed how many of those books were scholarly publications that their cover blurbs explained were addressing Creationists or Intelligent Design proponents. Every one of those that I opened up was a serious, respectful, direct and fact-based book explaining the evidence for evolution and addressing Creationist’s objections and arguments. All were written by scientists.

Not one was a ridiculing or derisively putting down Creationists or their arguments.

Now I believe that Creationist arguments should not be taught in public schools. I am sure most of those scientist authors would believe the same. But it was obvious that they also believed that those arguments “deserved to be heard”. Why else would they write respectful books about them?

It is one thing to exclude certain arguments and speech from forums marked off for certain purposes that exclude that form of speech for justifiable reasons. It is quite another to say someone who is not inciting harm or invading privacy and such does not deserve to be heard. (It is also obviously legitimate to speak out strongly against ideas that we do believe to be harmful.)

Having just caught up with McGrath’s recent post, I should be clear and let it be known that I am very sure that not all scientists are always so tolerant and civil in their approach to Creationism. But fortunately in the “free market of books and ideas”, the jerks were not published and on the shelf for sale. At least not in Borders’ Singapore’s Orchard Road branch.

At the same time I have no reason to think that even those who publish respectful books are always the model of decorum, even in private company, when the topic is raised. But that’s fine. Farting is always best kept private.

I can’t speak for others, but one reason I think that even arguments, for example, about alien abductions and Atlantis and even Christianity “deserve to be heard” is because they are very often sincerely entertained by my brothers and sisters, fellow humans. It’s about respect and simply trying to be a decent human getting along with others as vulnerable as myself. I was introduced to Enlightenment literature when quite young and I still feel attached to the idea of hearing people out and sharing what I can with them and respecting them enough to continue with their own journey. And always — literally always — in the back of my mind is how wrong I have been before when I was so sure I was right, and how tentative human knowledge and understanding have always been.

Thus when people bring up the topic of alien abductions I am able to share with them my experience with sleep paralysis, and how during those years, being religious, I then understood the experience described today by some “alien abductees” to be demonic. In the case of the talk of Atlantis, I am able to share my knowledge of the history of the idea itself and origin as a myth.

Probably most of us who have had the benefit of more education than others, or some experiences that have enabled insights from uncommon perspectives, feel our lives are more worthwhile if we can give back to the community, to others, something of what we have gained. It’s all about sharing experiences and ideas and trusting enough people to make the more justifiable choices and responses.

I tend to think of creationists as being the ones who do the ridiculing and play the avoidance games and latch on to side-irrelevancies (sophistry), and of the scientists being the ones who engage in a serious, direct, respectful, evidence-based argument.

 

Street sign for Orchard Road in Singapore.
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What sort of God is compatible with evolution?

Phylogenetic Tree of Life
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The fact of evolution means that humans are not some sort of distinctive “end product” any more than elephant grass or grasshoppers or lichen are “end products”. The fact that we have evolved language makes us no more unique in the grand evolutionary scheme of things than elephants that have evolved trunks. Humans have not been here very long, and given the nature of evolution, there is no reason to assume they will be around forever. Self-conscious life with our level of intelligence may even prove not to be such a good idea in evolutionary terms if it ends up wiping out most other species and even ends up extinct through destroying its own environment or through advanced technological warfare. Or if it does survive, it may find it does so in something no longer human as we understand human — in another species yet again. Evolutionary history surely guarantees it.

Yet most religions as I understand them, at least those big 3 “of the Book”, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, give a special place to humans above all other species. The more enlightened adherents of these religions claim to believe in evolution, but I try not to think too much about how they can do that. If they are thinking that there is nothing really random about the mutations or anything truly natural about the conditions that affect survival, that God somehow did pull a few strings here and there along the way, or started it in a way so that it would turn out just so, then they are no longer evolutionists but closet supernaturalists, creationists, or Intelligent Designers — only trying to be less “in your face” about it.

Or if they say that mankind is made in the image of God then they are declaring evolution has somehow come to an end with us, and they are not evolutionists at all. They are creationists who try to keep the little angels tinkering with things along the way hidden from view. Will Abraham or Jesus be relevant once a new species replaces humans as the dominant one on the planet?

The problem of evil multiplies, too. The unspeakable evil inflicted by some humans on their own kind and other animals is bad enough. But evolution has bred evils of terror and suffering too painful to contemplate among so many species, not only humans. What sort of God is opting to tinker this but not that along the way?

I can understand the need for God. Religion is one of those “human universals” I think humans by nature will always have to live with. Some religions had a hard time adjusting to relocating the Earth to a lower place in the heavens, and today the “religions of the book” are continuing to be challenged by new understandings in genetics and human nature.

If human cultures by nature are destined to always have religion of some kind, a religion that is genuinely compatible with the facts of evolution, and what we know of genetics today, will have to discard any holy book that implies homo sapiens is somehow the ‘end’ (in both the sense of finality and goal) of evolution.

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A Creationist Method of Argument (and exposing the lie of those who compare mythicism to creationism)

A dome-shelled Galápagos giant tortoise, Geoch...
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A good friend who is a creationist recently offered me a creationist article to read (“or refute”). The article’s arguments against evolution are based on:

  1. a misstatement of, or failure to understand, the arguments for evolution itself
  2. a glossing over of arguments for evolution by misleading oversimplifications
  3. a failure to address the counter-evidence for evolution cited by evolutionary scientists
  4. “bait and switch” — “sloppy language leading to sloppy thinking”

The article my friend gave me is Tortoises of the Galapagos by Lita Cosner and Jonathan Sarfati, apparently found in creation.com.

Here is the critical passage:

Evolution from goo to you via the zoo would require new genes encoding encyclopedic amounts of new information. But the tortoises’ adaptation to various island environments can be explained by the sorting out of already existing genes with some of these then eliminated by natural selection. . . .

The two sentences here do not logically follow one another. The authors have created a false argument against evolution by juxtaposing two sentences that in fact address different questions: by placing them together they confuse the question and lead the uninformed reader to think the authors have cleverly rebutted the foundation of evolution’s case. read more »

Comedy on religion, Bible, creationism and reality

I once posted links here on Eddie Izzard — and have just this evening discovered Lewis Black

on religion . . . .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWqtpqQjNug

and then on

Bush, Bible, Fossils, Evolution, and Reality

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0gAcbAGPH4&feature

Okay, I see internet stats that inform me 85% of readers of this blog are in the U.S.A. — so maybe 85% of you already know about Lewis Black videos.

But for the rest, enjoy!

Appealing to Faith in a Search for Truth, Playing Tennis Without a Net

Before you appeal to faith when reason has backed you into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.

(This quote and the following post are largely taken from page 154 of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Dennett.)

Many believers in God claim that their faith is something beyond reason and cannot validly be tested by the standards of science and rational thought. This is fine on a personal comfort level, but many believers also insist that it must apply just as meaningfully when they bring their faith into arguments about evolution, origins of life and the universe, and other pursuits for truth.

Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett has a beautiful response to this faith claim. He begins by referring to philosopher Ronald de Sousa who described philosophical theology as “intellectual tennis without a net“, with the net being a metaphor for rational judgment.

Let the believer who insists that the rigour of scientific method or rational argument not be allowed to touch his faith have the first serve, Dennett begins. Whatever the believer serves, suppose the nonbeliever replies:

What you say implies that God is a ham sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. That’s not much of a God to worship!

The believer volleys back demanding to know how the nonbeliever can logically make such a claim that his (the believer’s) opening serve has such a preposterous implication. So the nonbeliever replies:

Oh, do you want the net up for my returns, but not for your serves? Either the net stays up, or it stays down. If the net is down, there are no rules and anybody can say anything, a mug’s game if there ever was one. I have been giving you the benefit of the assumption that you would not waste your time or mine by playing with the net down.

Not that Dennett is opposed to faith per se. What he wants to see “is a reasoned ground for taking faith seriously as a way of getting to the truth . . .”

Before you appeal to faith when reason has backed you into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.

Dennett assists the reader in answering this question with a few thought experiments:

1. You and your loved one are touring a foreign land when your loved one is brutally murdered before you eyes. Now in this land the legal system allows friends of the accused to testify their faith in his innocence. The judge listens to friend after friend tearfully, sincerely, movingly testify to their complete faith in the accused’s innocence, and by the end of the hearing this judge is far more swayed by their faith claims than the evidence of the prosecution. Would you be willing to live in such a place?

2. You are about to be operated on by a surgeon who tells you that whenever he hears a little voice telling him to disregard his medical training and do something different, he listens to and follows that still small voice. . . . .

Dennett concludes:

I know it passes in polite company to let people have it both ways, and under most circumstances I wholeheartedly cooperate with this benign arrangement. But we’re seriously trying to get at the truth here, and if you think that this common but unspoken understanding about faith is anything better than socially useful obfuscation to avoid mutual embarrassment and loss of face, you have either seen much more deeply into this issue than any philosopher ever has (for none has ever come up with a good defense of this) or you are kidding yourself. (The ball is now in your court.)

From http://gssq.blogspot.com/2008_02_01_archive.html

Response to creationist Jonathan Sarfati

I will not be accepting an invitation I recently received to attend a lecture by creationist Jonathan Sarfati. I looked at Creation Ministries website and found an online book of his there, and dashed off my responses to it chapter by chapter and pasted it in Google Docs: http://tinyurl.com/jsarfati. Will respond to my invitation by directing my inviter to this page.

I’m sure someone more knowledgeable could write a better response, and I’m willing to take suggestions for improvement on board. But I had to start somewhere.

Our Unintelligent Design

Robyn Williams is a widely recognized and highly honoured (United Nations Media Peace Prize, Australian Humanist of the Year, various honorary doctorates, etc etc) science journalist in Australia. I can never resist his radio programs and nor could I resist a book title of his I stumbled across, Unintelligent Design: Why God isn’t as smart as she thinks she is.

I’d rather quote a few passages than ditch his style with my own summaries.

Guts

Take guts. The plan in mammals was to have a table-like arrangement: four legs set at each corner, with the belly horizontal to the ground. The digestive system — long for herbivores, shorter for meat eaters — is then slung from the spine. Works well. But then our ancestors, for some daft reason best known to themselves, decided to stand up. Horrors: the peritoneum, the bag of membrane containing our guts and reproductive organs is now hanging from a vertical broomstick, with pressures at the lower end, where there are too many exits and entrances and they are compromised by gravity. Result: piles, hernias, prolapses and squashed babies. (p.60)

The female pelvic girdle

Take the female pelvic girdle, which needs to be narrow enough for walking and to excite the admiration of men, but wide enough to allow a baby’s melon-sized head through. A system for inducing pliability via hormones is the compromise, and it works quite well, but it also fails rather often. Fistulas, caused by rips during childbirth, lead to leaks from the bowel into the vagina. They may last for years. Not nice. (p.60)

Sinuses

Here Robyn Williams cites another quoting Gray’s Anatomy. “The normal opening of the maxillary sinus is high above its floor and is poorly placed for natural drainage.” Sinuses give so many so much trouble because the drainage outlet is at the top! Gravity can’t do much to help compensate for that design.

Bad backs

Then there are bad backs. You and I are supposed to have been created in the image of God, so I presume He’s got one. I hope He’s a little better at looking after His than the vast number of us mortals happen to be. When mine is really bad it takes me twenty minutes to get out of bed, so severe are the muscle spasms. According to different accounts, we originally stood up: to peer over the tall grass, as meercats do; or to be able to wade through streams; or, the latest theory, to provide a smaller target for huge predatory eagles hunting for our ancestors. I suspect God did not have to go through the standing-up process and so has a back designed for upright living . . . . Backs can’t be an example of ID. They must, like Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister, be a triumph of compromise. (pp. 61-62)

And finally

Halitosis, farting, vaginal discharge, reflux, snoring, rheumatism, warts, smelly armpits, varicose veins, menopause, brewer’s droop . . . these are not the marks of a designer at the top of his game. They are the trademarks of a natural process giving us only as much as we need to stay alive. (p. 71)

The compromised koala

Williams writes that his favourite example of compromise is the koala — with the female’s pouch for its young placed upside down! The explanation is that the koala evolved from a wombat like marsupial ancestor. Wombats are built to dig underground tunnels furiously. The flick dirt backwards with their front paws. An open pouch facing frontwards would be inviting the mothers to bury their young with dirt.

So backwards it was and, when one day the creature moved up a tree, perhaps to exploit a fresh food source, the ‘design’ came with it, too complicated to change. Yet in a few squillion years’ time adjustments may be forthcoming, if they are important enough. I suspect koala pouches may well stay as they are: as humans do with piles and hernias, koalas simply put up with the inconveniences and get on with life. (p. 63)

Koala Pouch - photo from https://www.savethekoala.com
Koala Pouch - photo from https://www.savethekoala.com

Why people do not accept evolution

The simple answer is “Fear”. Creationist arguments are very often bracketed with gospel messages, and ever since Darwin’s day the lines have been starkly drawn. Religious fundamentalists fear that “belief in” evolution leads to a rejection of God, a rejection of godly values, a loss of any higher meaning or purpose for human existence, an ethic of bullying and of a “me-first” struggling for survival. The scientific arguments are secondary, if they matter at all. Hence popular fallacies about evolutionary theory are still proclaimed as facts by Creationists regardless of their having been established as fallacies ever since the days of Darwin himself. What really is at stake is the fear that evolution means there is no need for God or biblically prescribed morality, and that faith and purpose are all lost.

Michael Shermer in Why Darwin Matters quotes extensively from William Jennings Bryan of Scopes trial fame in support. One example:

The real attack of evolution, it will be seen, is not upon orthodox Christianity or even upon Christianity, but upon religion — the most basic fact in man’s existence and the most practical thing in life. If taken seriously and made the basis of a philosophy of life, it would eliminate love and carry man back to the struggle of tooth and claw. [Closing statement of WJB in Scopes trial, 1925 — p. 23 of Why Darwin Matters]

Shermer cites the syllogistic reasoning thus (p. 24):

Evolution implies that there is no God, therefore . . .

Belief in the theory of evolution leads to atheism, therefore . . .

Without a belief in God there can be no morality or meaning, therefore . . .

Without morality and meaning there is no basis for a civil society, therefore . . .

Without a civil society we will be reduced to living like brute animals.

This is what bothers people about evolutionary theory, not the technical details of science. Most folks don’t give one whit about adaptive radiation, allopatric speciation, phenotypic variation, assortative mating, allometry and heterochrony, adaptation and exaptation, gradualism and punctuated equilibrium, and the like. What they do care about is whether teaching evolution will make their kids reject God, allow criminals and sinners to blame their genes for their actions, and generally cause society to fall apart.

Where did they get such an idea?

The fact is, of course, that belief in God and the Bible or Koran or any other religion does not guarantee moral behaviour, and “accepting evolution does not force us to jettison our morals and ethics” (p.29). The Bible Belt of America is notorious for its violent crime rate and premarital pregnancy statistics. International crime statistics do not show special favours for Christian nations. I lived many years in country town Toowoomba which is dominated by very conservative Christian stakeholders, yet is also the unfortunate recorder of child abuse and domestic violence statistics among the worst nationally.

Believe in God, but Accept Gravity . . .

Michael Shermer suggests that one of the obstacles to accepting evolution for some people is that they feel they are being asked to make a choice between “believing in” God or evolution. Shermer comments:

evolution is not a religious tenet, to which one swears allegiance or belief as a matter of faith. It is a factual reality of the empirical world. Just as one would not say, “I believe in gravity,” one should not proclaim, “I believe in evolution.” But getting hung up on the idea that one is supposed to “believe in” evolution just as you “believe in” God is just one brand of resistance to evolution. (p. 30)

Shermer lists five specific reasons he believes people resist the theory of evolution (pp.30-32) — the comments are a mix of Shermer’s and my own:

1. A general resistance to science

People generally choose their religion over science, especially if they think they must opt to “believe in” one or the other. If they generally use the findings of science as supports for their religious beliefs, many religious opt to reject any scientific finding that does not support their beliefs.

2. Belief that evolution is a threat to specific religious tenets

Many religionists dismiss the geological evidence that the earth is 4.6 billion years old and reinterpret other evidence to support their belief that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

3. Fear that evolution degrades our humanity

Shermer observes that it is one thing for science to discover that the earth is not the centre of the universe and that is one of many planets orbiting countless suns,  but it is quite another order of consciousness to think that humans might be subject to the same natural laws and natural history as other animals.

4. Equation of evolution with ethical nihilism and moral degeneration

Some people who rely on hope and revelation from higher beings for a sense of purpose and moral direction cannot imagine a meaningful and ethical life unless without a belief in God.

Comment: On the other hand many find a deep sense of purpose and basis for moral behaviour by seeing themselves as part of humanity alone. The fact that life is so temporary and unpredictable is strong incentive to make the most of our time here and now, and that includes finding a rewarding and worthwhile life through promoting and doing whatever might enhance the well-being of our fellow-beings. By identifying ourselves with our species lifts us out of more parochial self-identities based on race or any other narrow grouping. Species-identity (or what was once in less politically correct days called “the brotherhood of man” idea) gives us a higher view of our place in the world, and encourages a life in pursuit of humane causes and actions.

Evolution also explains good and evil, and offers sure foundations of ethical behaviour. People are both selfish and unselfish as a result of how each attribute has equipped us for survival as a species. Selfishness has enabled us to protect ourselves and our families or groups to survive against enemies and competitors, while unselfish acts have enabled us to cooperate as larger social units, from families to village communities. And we also have the ability to reflect on our behaviours and work at modifying or controlling them. All societies have prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing and lying. This is because no society would be possible otherwise. And humans are among the most social of animal species. Murder obviously cannot be tolerated if people are to live together; and trust must be established between people for communities to thrive. Religions may have codified such innate views of right and wrong behaviour, but the fact that such ethics are found across all societies shows that no particular religion is necessary to inform people that such things are right or wrong.

Fundamentalists will generally point to all the negative news and behaviours in our midst, often as a sign that we are now in “the last days”. Yes there is much evil in the world, but the fact that we can view the world from within stable communities demonstrates that evil is not the whole story. For every rude person on a train who does not give up his seat for an elderly or other needy person, I have seen dozens who do give up their seats. For every time I have been spoken to rudely by strangers or colleagues, there are scores of times I have been treated with friendliness. Most people really do like to help others when given an opportunity. And it has nothing to do with their religious or nonreligious beliefs. Or at least the same is found among people whether they be Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, or “Other”.

5. Fear that evolutionary theory implies we have a fixed human nature

There is also a common fear that acceptance of evolution will mean that criminals can plead responsibility lay with “their genes” for their actions. Personal responsibility will be a thing of the past.

Comment: But people will always be held responsible for their actions, and this is a basic fact of all societies. (See “why oppose . . .“). Science may well discover certain inherited conditions that predispose a person to a certain type of behaviour (e.g. to be quick to lose one’s temper) but societies always hold each member responsible for their actions. Awareness of predispositions enables both individuals and a society to assist in treating such conditions and avoiding catalyst situations, as well as in deciding the most appropriate punishment or other response to intolerable behaviours.

The urge to rape may in our distant past have had some value to enhance the survival of our species, but we have — through our social natures — reached a point where we have been able to reflect on our actions and their consequences, and learn to control our feelings and build up social fences that encourage (or threaten) members of our community to fall into line, too.

(Related post The Voyage That Shook the World)