Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Peddling Lies

I was horrified to read this article in last Sunday's Observer, which I found via RichardDawkins.net. I was already aware of the appalling 'Creation Museum' in Kentucky, USA, where you can see such nonsense as scenes depicting prehistoric children playing alongside dinosaurs, but I hoped we would never see the like in England. Well, it seems that the AH Trust have other ideas. They want to build a 'Christian Theme Park' and television studio in Lancashire that "will champion the book of Genesis and make a multi-media case that God created the world in seven days".

Look, if you don't believe in the theory of evolution that's fine, but to teach children to believe myths such as that the world was created 6000 years ago in seven (or even six) days is just plain wrong. To teach them to believe in any theory for which there is no evidence, such as creationism, is also wrong. Fine, tell them about these stories, even tell them that some people believe they are true, but don't tell them that they are true. Don't also tell them, as the AH Trust does on their website, that evolution is a 'falsehood', when it supported by such an enormous body of evidence. On the other hand, please do teach them to be critical when considering any theory - and that certainly includes the theory of evolution.

OK, rant over. To end this post on a lighter note, I was amused when I read that the AH Trust "believe that this unique project will influence an end to binge drinking" in our young people. Yes, I can really see our youth giving up drink to stay at home and watch a bit of Christian TV!

[For a superb report upon the Creation Museum, and the delights that may soon be available to Lancastrians, see here.]

9 comments:

  1. Gosh! In Lancashire?

    In all seriousness, I'm troubled by the point Richard Dawkins makes in The God Delusion and that I've heard Steve Jones make in debate on TV, that children should not be lied to, or treated as belonging to a religion before they're Gillick-competent to choose (is that still the applicable legal concept?). I agree with them of course; but how can we act on that principle? Perhaps we can never snoop on what's taught at home, unless we want dictatorship, but I worry about the dodgy end of the academy system, and about faith schools.

    What to do, John?

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  2. Well, for a start we must stop this nonsense of teaching creationism/intelligent design and evolution in the alternative, which is prompted at best by relativism, and at worst by religious bias. Creationism and 'intelligent design' have no place in the science curriculum. We must then ensure that all schools, state or private, must follow a curriculum with no religious bias (which to me means banning all faith schools), regularly monitored by schools inspectors.

    Unfortunately, I can't see it happening any time soon.

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  3. I agree with the post and, from a religious (albeit non-Christian) perspective it seems to me to pose no problem. Religion should never set itself up as the enemy of fact, and the moment it has to do so it ceases to be credible.

    So we teach our children that the scientific evidence is that evolution has taken and is taking place, although some of the details are fuzzier round the edges than its more dedicated proponents will admit. We teach them, based on the original Hebrew, that the Bible is not saying that the world was created in 6 days (there is no definite article in front of the number of the day until the 6th day - which makes sense as only man counts days), but rather is trying to give an account of the things that happened by epoch.

    We also teach them that God is unlikely to have a sense of humour so juvenile that He shoves dinosaur bones in the earth to upset human beings, nor so unsophisticated and uncaring that He would make this a test of faith. Thus, our understanding of the biblical text may be defective and we should keept studying it in the belief that new interpretations will appear, as they have done for 3,000 years.

    We do also teach them that Dawkins' approach is no different to religious fundementalism. Both rely only on what they want to see, make cheap points at the expense of others beliefs, wilfully misinterpret the other position so as to exaggerate it and make a healthy profit on their own self-righteousness.

    PS. Whilst the report (which I read) about ending binge-drinking was silly I can say that the behaviour of the kids in my childrens' religious youth group is markedly different to the norm. Last year 2,000 people went to Wales to have a weekend with that group - parents and kids together. The age range was about 3 - 75. The kids fed everyone, every meal. On Friday night everyone was standing on their chairs singing and the meal lasted 4 hours. The Chief Constable of N Wales, who was present, said to me that it was the only time he had ever seen a scene like it which was not fuelled by alcohol. He added that, even though it involved weekend working on overtime, his sheet for volunteers amongst his officers was oversubscribed within 2 hours of being put up in the local cop-shot, because there wouldn't be a fight (and they'd get offered a meal). There is, I think, a lesson there.

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  4. Hi Simon,

    I'm glad that you agree with my post, but it escapes me why intelligent people should desperately try to re-interpret a 2000 year-old text every time science blows a hole in one of its myths.

    I see that you've bought in to the argument that Dawkins is a 'fundamentalist atheist'. Sorry, but this is complete nonsense. The true fundamentalist will stick to his/her beliefs in the face of any evidence to the contrary, as do religious fundamentalists. Dawkins may be passionate about his beliefs in a similar way to a fundamentalist, but his beliefs are based upon evidence. As he says, all available evidence (and there is a lot of it) favours the theory of evolution, but if all available evidence turns in favour of creationism then he, like any good scientist, will be the first to change his mind.

    As to your postscript, I have no doubt that what you say is true, but I'm also sure that the weekend would have been the no different if those same children had not suffered from an indoctrinated religious delusion. Wouldn't it be a sad indictment of humanity if we relied on a delusional belief system to achieve good behaviour? I agree completely with Dawkins (and others) that moral behaviour does not require religion.

    Best wishes,

    John.

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  5. It isn't Dawkins' belief in evolution that reminds me of fundementalism. It is his belief that because of evolution, God does not exist.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why God has to continually work supernaturally. That is to confine religion to a childlike belief in magic. Damwkins does this because, as I mentioned above, his argument depends on ascribing the most extreme position to his opposition. We are, I suspect, both familiar with this stance when taken in a courtroom - and, I suspect, neither of us are impressed by it there.

    700 years ago, Jewish philosophers were debating whether supernatural miracles were regular occurences or only arrived when there was no alternative. They didn't need to re-interpret their myth because science had blown a hole in it.

    On the contrary, they conceived the continued investigation of a living text as a religious obligation, no matter how uncomfortable the truths they discovered. Given that one of them was later accused of heresy they were engaged in a serious endeavour.

    Now, if you take that last paragraph and substitute 'religious' with 'scientific' you will see that what I have written is a perfectly good description of anyone going where their intelligence leads them.

    There is simply no need for science to prevent a belief in God. Quite the opposite: if God exists then he has set rules by which the Universe operates and is delighted when we discover them. When the discovery is made that a robot built a car, it is a pedestrian intelligence which stops there. Others will go on and ask whether anyone built or directed the robot.

    It is the 'I only believe what I can ascertain' which is so fundementalist and unscientific. On that basis, 600 years ago Dawkins would have believed in a fixed circle of stars. 120 years ago he would have believed that excessive masturbation caused blindness (there were 'studies' proving such things). The limitations of human beings ability to ascertain things have progressively lessened as we have discovered more. Our limitations to discern the truth have progressively increased as we discover more. Science has been actively promoted by every totalitarian regime you care to mention and, if Dawkins is going to moan on about religious conflict (without acknowledging religious good) then it's about time he asked why his beliefs were conveniently shared by Hitler and Stalin.

    Of course, you are right about the kids in theory. It's just I don't know a single example of a non-religious group who can say that such an event has ever taken place. On that basis I adopt an empircal scientific approach and conclude that it is the belief that makes the difference.

    Have a merry Christmas ;)

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  6. No, it is not just because of his belief in evolution that Dawkins believes God is extremely unlikely to exist - it is because of the complete lack of evidence.

    I'm not aware that Dawkins says God has to continually work supernaturally, but your allusion to a court is amusing - a lawyer postulating a position with absolutely no evidence to support it is unlikely to persuade a court!

    Evidence is once again the point you miss when comparing theology to science - theologians work without it, scientists work with it.

    Dawkins is not seeking to prevent a belief in God. For a full explanation of why he considers the need for atheists to be more vocal see Chapter 8 of The God Delusion. As to your argument about asking who built the robot, this of course ultimately fails to the question "who designed the designer?"

    Your proposition "It is the 'I only believe what I can ascertain' which is so fundementalist [sic] and unscientific" is a wonderful piece of reverse theistic thinking. Science is, of course, based upon theories tested by evidence - until such evidence becomes available, a theory will remain only that.

    Oh dear, oh dear, not the 'Hitler and Stalin were atheists' argument, please. I had expected better of you - this feeble argument has been thoroughly dealt with by Dawkins and Hitchens, among many others. Firstly, Hitler was a Catholic, and secondly neither did what they did in the name of atheism, but in the name of their own totalitarian ideology.

    You've not heard of non-religious gatherings behaving in a civilized manner? You need to get out more...

    Happy winter solstice! (See my post tomorrow.)

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  7. Sorry John, but Dawkins doesn't deal with the Hitler argument. He simply slides out of it by saying that Hitler acted out his own beliefs. That's no good given that he will not allow that argument regarding religious persecution. It's hypocrisy.

    Nor is this a question of evidence - more that you insist that some things don't qualify as evidence. For example, most people in the world believe in God. Almost every civilisation there has ever been has come to the independant conclusion that there is a deity. Those beliefs cannot be proved to be wrong. Your proposition rests on not being able to prove they are right.

    But science only proves the things it is able to prove at any given time - as I noted above (and I note no response to that argument). Hence science will always contend that its foremost proponants are correct at any particular time. The trouble is that what they say can vary by 180 degrees within 10 years.

    You do actually have to be immensely arrogant to believe that as of 2007 we know everything there is to know. You have to be immensely arrogant to believe that what you do not know or cannot prove must be dismissed. The blatant nonsense of that position is demonstrable within your own field. How often does a couple know what the other is thinking? Not very often. Therefore, scientifically each partner must conclude that the other is either thinking what they are thinking - or thinking nothing at all.

    In reality, most people (at least those in partnerships which survive) acknowledge that they do not know what their partner is thinking and cannot prove their own hypothesis without continually asking - a state of affairs which no sane person would contemplate for more than 1 minute. So they acknowledge their own ignorance and do the best they can.

    Science cannot even tell me that my wife is thinking, let alone about what. But it can tell me that God doesn't exist? Purleeease.

    For hundreds of thousands of years men have learned things. Only in the last 100 have they decided they know enough to dismiss the unknowable. And guess what - those generations have invented industrial murder, inspired totalitarianism, approved moral relativism and trashed the planet. All of those disasters have two things in common: first, they are the product of human beings believing that they are the be all and end all because of what they can prove. Second, they have made people deeply unhappy.

    So, having tried the scientific experiment for that period it seems to me to have ended in failure. Science has many answers to many things. But it doesn't have the answers to the big questions and it should stop pretending it does. Humility - a difficult concept but oh so worthwhile.

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  8. 1. No hypocrisy at all with the Hitler argument. The simple point is that atheism had nothing whatsoever to do with Hitler's actions.

    2. "Most people in the world believe in God" is, of course, not evidence for the proposition that God exists, just as the fact that at one time most people believed the world to be flat was no evidence for it being flat.

    3. Yes, science can 'change its mind' - that is its strength - unlike religion.

    4. When did I say we know everything there is to know? Quite the contrary. Dawkins does not say that God does not exist - just that there is no evidence, therefore it is extremely unlikely, just as it is extremely unlikely that fairies exist.

    5. The 'wrong' uses for science have nothing to do with atheism - no atheist will kill or threaten to kill in the name of atheism, unlike theists today, and throughout the ages.

    6. 'Science does not have the answer to the big questions' is a common argument that has regularly been proved wrong, but in any event why should it have to prove that something for which there is no evidence does not exist? Can you prove that the flying spaghetti monster does not exist?

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