Creationism And The Strain Of Civilisation
Bill Hicks got it right. When faced with Christian fundamentalists who believe that Earth is 12000 years old (or 6000 or whatever), the appropriate, single-word question is ‘Dinosaurs’. To which the fundies answer ‘Dinosaur fossils? God put those here to test our faith!’
Why do fundamentalists believe and say what they do? I think it’s to do with what Karl Popper called ‘the strain of civilisation’, mainly the confusion and fear felt when new situations are confronted, and when difficult, complex questions have to be faced. And there are subcultures in all societies, not just western society, which are intrinsically incapable of dealing with such predicaments. This is why the human race has evolved that intellectual construct known as democracy, which in ideal terms should be a system for dealing with change and allowing our critical and compassionate faculties to guide us through the problems that we face.
Creationism, and its new media-gloss variant Intelligent Design (doncha just love the verbal repackaging? I bet the same crowd could rebrand racism, maybe as New Pigmentism or somesuch), are manifestations of the fundamentalist reaction to the strain of civilisation. Now, many people who have a scintilla or ten of real intelligence, along with a mote or twenty of critical rationality, have opposed creationism/ID publically and vociferously, manning the barricades of Darwinian evolution against the invader. But evolution is not and cannot be the main target of the creationists, regardless of what they say or claim. Evolution is a theory, which means that it has to stand or fall according to the logical, rational consistency of its proposals and its correspondence to verifiable reality. It is entirely possible that another, more detailed evolutionary theory will come along in the future, thus superceding the Darwinian model, but for now it meets the requirements set down by the scientific method. And it is the scientific method which is the creatonists’ real target.
Evolution is a special case amongst the theoretical sciences because it deals with partial evidence of past events and long, drawn-out processes. Darwin’s theory of natural selection goes a long way to explaining the changes observed in the fossil record, whose stages are confirmed by verifiable dating methods. Intelligent Design asserts that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by the involvement of an intelligent designer, the implication being that the designer is God. Of course, why should we take their implication as being the only possible option? The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is an actually existing parodic church whose ‘followers’ argue against the God-o-centric subtext of the Intelligent Design believers. My own personal favourite for the role of Intelligent Designer are the Pink Lollipop Men From Venus; in fact, you could have a TV game show based on this, Intelligent Design Idol, or Intelligent Design Factor, or Strictly Intelligent Design…
Er, moving right along.
Speculating about the activities of unknown entities or deities at the dawn of creation falls outside the boundaries of verifiable science, and therefore cannot be admitted as having anything to do with the scientific method. The argument over the fossil record, they claim, is equally speculative, which is, frankly, bollocks. Speculation about unseen beings is like grappling with fog; speculation about fossils involves actual existing real-world objects which can be subjected to scientific testing. It’s not impossible that the Pink Lollipop Men from Venus (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or God) were involved in the inception of life, the universe and everything but there is no way to test that hypothesis. So until such incontrovertible ID evidence comes along (something like discovering the words God(™) buried in the depths of human DNA would be fairly conclusive), we stick to what can be verified, and what is rational.
And if anyone is still in two minds about it, consider this – when forensic scientists examine a body at the scene of a murder, do they ever consider the possibility that the victim was struck down by Pink Lollipop Men from Venus? Or do they follow the evidence?
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