googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Evolution: A Religion of Death

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Evolution: A Religion of Death

In the months after his debate with Ken Ham, Bill Nye wrote and has now published a new book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. A few weeks back, the NY Times Interviewed Nye about his book. You can read the entire interview here, but I found a few of his quotes especially interesting.

In one question, the NY Times asked, You say in the book that your concern is not so much for the deniers of evolution as it is for their children. Do you think the science stakes are higher now than when you started “Bill Nye, The Science Guy” show in 1993? Note the use of the words, “deniers of evolution.” The question is about the effect on children who are taught creation. Here is Nye's response:

Yes, because there are more people in the world — another billion people all trying to use the world’s resources. And the threat and consequences of climate change are more serious than ever, so we need as many people engaged in how we’re going to deal with that as possible. And we have an increasingly technologically sophisticated society. We are able to feed these 7.2 billion people because of our extraordinary agricultural technology. If we have a society that’s increasingly dependent on these technologies, with a smaller and smaller fraction of that society who actually understands how any of it works, that is a formula for disaster. So, I’m just trying to change the world here.

It's the same old stuff, I see. Nye conflates science and evolution by suggesting you deny evolution, then you deny all of science. You can see here that he's talking about things like technology, feeding the world's population, and combating global warming yet how critical is a belief in evolution to any of them? Exactly how does a belief in evolution, for example, help design a smart car? Or build clean burning coal plants? Nye's point is entirely non sequitor. A person's belief on origins has virtually no effect on his ability to be a scientist. I challenge Nye or any other evolutionist to produce an example of any life improving technology in the last 20 years whose invention hinged upon a belief in evolution. I don't believe such a thing exists.

To say that a belief in creation denies “science” and dumbs down society in general are tired criticisms of creation. I was more interested in the rest of the interview where Nye reveals his true agenda. When the NY Times asked, do you imagine a child in a creationist-friendly household managing to get his hands on the book and stealing away with it? Nye answered:

A man can dream! It would be great if the book is that influential. My biggest concern about creationist kids is that they’re compelled to suppress their common sense, to suppress their critical thinking skills at a time in human history when we need them more than ever. By the time you’re 18, you’ve made up your mind. It’s going to be really hard for you, as they say in the Mormon tradition, to “lose your testimony.” But if you’re 7 or 8, we got a shot.

It's because of attitudes like this that many Christians see evolutionism as a religion. Nye dreams of reaching kids early so that he has the best shot of rescuing them from “creationist-friendly households.” He doesn't just want every child to understand science in general and evolution in particular; he wants a belief in evolution to replace the religious teachings of the children's parents. He proselytizes like a zealot. Evolution is his dogma and creation is heresy.

Do you think I'm exaggerating? Read on!...

NY TIMES: It’s funny to talk about the idea of conversion, given the subject of the book. Is that something you’re after?

NYE: Well, that would be the best case. But the other thing, for the book, is that there are fundamentals of evolution.... There are just things about evolution that we should all be aware of, the way we’re aware of where electricity comes from, or that you have cells with mitochondria. I’ve just met a lot of people who have very little training in evolution.

Did I lie? Nye admits it; his goal is to “convert” kids. But read that section again carefully. Nye's “best case” scenario is conversion but “the other” goal of the book is to teach people about evolution. He speaks as though a belief in evolution is the priority – understanding can come later!

What alarms me the most about Nye's entire interview is the last few questions.  At one point, Nye said:

I think the fear of death figures prominently in creationist thought. That the promise of eternal life is reassuring to people who are deeply troubled by the troubling fact that we’re all going to die. And it bugs me, too. But I press forward rather than running in circles screaming.

So, tell me, what exactly “bugs” Mr. Nye about the promise of eternal life? Is it that he believes such a thing isn't real? Since when does “science” have an opinion on the matter? If his primary goal were to simply teach kids about science, then why concern himself at all with beliefs in the afterlife? It's that religious nature of evolution shining through again. 

In spite of his reputation as a scientist, Mr. Nye has no authority to speak on what happens after death. To the contrary, I will trust the words of the One who died and rose again. It seems obvious whose opinion is more credible.

It's no secret that Nye is an atheist and does not believe there is a life after death. You can see he has no problem at all with mixing his religion with his science. Evolutionism is the true psuedo-science. Consider this final exchange:

NY Times: And ultimately, death is a part of evolution.

NYE: It’s the key. The key is that you can pass on improvements by having kids. And there aren’t enough resources for any population to go completely unchecked, whether the population is humans or crickets. There isn’t enough for everybody, so you compete. And this is one of Darwin’s enormous insights.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25). According to Nye, death is “the key” of evolution. He cites the high priest of evolution, Charles Darwin, and describes this doctrine of death as an “enormous insight.” Rather than trusting in the One who promises eternal life, Nye would rather we be philosophical about death. We might fear it individually, but it keeps populations in check. It drives organisms to improve. In the bigger picture, death is good!

I see Nye as only a little bit removed from a witch doctor. He mixes a little bit of science with a lot of religious beliefs. He is a faithful apostle spreading a terrible gospel. Evolution is the religion of death.


Steven J. said...

I interpret Nye's remarks, as you report them, a bit differently from the way you do.

First, when Nye says "that bugs me too," I think he means that death bothers him, just as it bothers creationists, not that fear of death is another trait of creationists that annoys him. His point, I presume, is that how comforting a belief is does not correlate well with how likely to be true it is: that evolution does not promise us immortality is not a reason to suppose it is false.

Second, going a bit further out on a limb, I think his point is not so much "you can't believe the Earth is only 6000 years old and design perfectly good aircraft engines or solar panels." Rather, his point is that if you reject evidence (or insist that its interpretation depends on initial assumptions that are entirely faith-based), you can dismiss any scientific conclusion you find objectionable. The motto of the Royal Society, the oldest national scientific academy in the world, is Nullus in verba (roughly, "just 'cause it says so in some book, doesn't prove it's true"). It's less the specific conclusions of creationism as the basic premise -- that any scientific conclusion can be settled by seeing what the Bible says -- that rejects the scientific method itself.

Note his worry about kids "suppressing their critical thinking skills." I recall, many years ago, reading a church magazine article recommending open-mindedness, a willingness to consider that one's own opinions might be wrong and to change them if evidence warranted -- which then went on to note that of course this should never extend to anything taught in the Bible.

Third, I think you have Nye's "best case" backwards. His point is that at least children should learn what evolutionary theory says before they accept or reject it -- and of course he then says that the "best case" is if they actually accept it. But I take him to mean that even rejecting it, knowing what it says, is better than rejecting it because one thinks it says "evolution works by pure chance" or "evolution implies that monkeys should be turning into people in zoos right now." His goal is to sell books and explain his views to children, with "converting" them as an ideal that is unlikely to be attained in every case.

Side note: while I recognize that people who understand evolution and are more eminent than I think otherwise, I do not think that evolutionary theory, as such, prohibits eternal life. The problem with eternal life is more basic: as far as we can see, life and thought and consciousness depend intimately on chemical reactions and a physical substrate. When drugs and damage to the brain can alter our personality, one begins to suspect that complete destruction of that brain must mean complete destruction of us. It's not quite clear what an immortal personal component of ourselves -- a spirit or immortal soul -- is supposed to be doing that is separate from what our bodies do. But if you can reconcile eternal life with neuroscience, there should be no particular problem reconciling it with common descent with modification by natural selection.

Steven J. said...

Is death necessary for evolution? I think part of the problem is that young-Earth creationism treats death as an add-on to a nature that would could otherwise work without it, like Katy Perry music piped into the cell of some recalcitrant jihadi at Guantanamo. Indeed, the YEC "argument from population growth" (that if humans had really been around for 200,000 years, there'd be so many of us by now that we'd out-mass the planet) assumes implicitly that we can't starve to death -- that we can, in extremis, eat sand and molten lava and hard vacuum and still manage to breed. In any world that operates by the laws of physics we know, a world where we need constant inputs of food and air and where accessible resources are finite, death is inevitable: sooner or later something or other will happen to disrupt and discontinue the biochemical processes on which our lives depend. Evolutionary theory doesn't regard this as good; evolutionary theory simply takes this as a given and as an inevitable influence on evolution.

If we lived in a universe that afforded infinite accessible resources (so that, e.g. the fact that the water we needed was a billion light-years away wouldn't prevent us from getting it) and where nothing died and where immortal beings could still produce offspring (that differed in sometimes random ways from their parents), evolution would still occur. It would stop in many lineages, as mutations accumulated to the point where the organism was sterile (but never, in this scenario, to the point where it died). But this would be a world differing from ours because every deleterious or neutral mutation survived. The far rarer beneficial mutations would also still occur, and survive. No beneficial mutation would be halted at the start by bad luck (e.g. by occurring in the same organism as a seriously deleterious mutation, or just by the superior mutant being hit by lightning). On the other hand, bearers of "fitter" alleles would be surrounded by bearers of less fit alleles who hadn't died out, so combination of beneficial alleles due to mating of fitter survivors would be slowed down (but not stopped, because, again, in this scenario, everything lives forever). If we assume predators can't evolve because animals can't be eaten, evolution will be very different, but we should still see a wide variety of complex, functional animals (including types that could never evolve in the real world, because some of the intermediate steps would be unfit -- in this scenario, there is no organism too unfit to survive). They'd be crowded, cheek by jowl, with myriad trillions of less complex, less adapted organisms that still miraculously held on and often bred, but they'd exist.

It's just that in this world or any very much like it, with finite accessible resources and life dependent on processes that being stomped on hard enough will stop, evolution will incorporate death as a major factor. Again, keeping populations "in check" is not so much a virtue as a necessity dictated by physics.

Oh, and strictly speaking, we just know that the author of a gospel of unknown provenance and date said that Jesus claimed to be the resurrection and the life.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

I reread Nye's, “it bugs me, too” comment again in context and agree it doesn't quite intend exactly how I interpreted it. But I'm not as far off as you seem to think. When Nye said, “it bugs me, too. But I press forward rather than running in circles screaming,” doesn't it sound like he thinks he's making the rational decision unlike creationists? I might paraphrase he point this way: “I think people choose creationism because they fear death. I fear death, too. I just don't act crazy because of it.”

Even if Nye intended it exactly as you've said, it still doesn't make a lot of sense. If we have eternal life, then we shouldn't fear death. When Nye says he presses forward in spite of his fear of death, it reveals his unbelief in the afterlife. We already know he's an atheist. His belief (or unbelief) is not derived from observation or experimentation.

See my post asking what is the evidence for atheism.

Having said that, I think you're dead wrong in watering down Nye's stated objective in writing his book. Do you seriously expect me to believe Nye's primary objective was education rather than proselytizing? Did you happen to catch the title of the NY Times interview – A Fight of the Young Creationist Mind? Do you think Nye would be just as content if people understood evolution yet still didn't believe it?

A tired strawman of creationists is that they don't understand evolution. Nye seems to believe this caricature and hopes his book will help better explain evolution. It's not just so that people understand evolution, though, but rather that by understanding it, they will believe it. Thus, his PRIMARY objective is conversion, just like the Times reporter asked and Nye affirmed in the interview.

By the way, you've quite glossed over the religious tone of the interview. What about Nye when he said (paraphrasing), “It's hard to get a 17-18 year old to 'lose his testimony' but we have a shot at convincing kids when they're 7 or 8”? Or how “the best case” outcome of reading the book is “conversion.”

Your “creationists reject science” characterization of creationism is yet another strawman trotted out by anti-creationists. There's not a shred of truth to it. If I were to build an airplane, I might model a new kind of wing. I could experiment with it. I could test it, tweak it, and test it again. Repeatability and testability are the scientific method and it's used by creation-believing scientists all the time. We cannot observe dinos turning into birds. We cannot repeat it. We cannot test it. It's not even universally accepted by EVOLUTIONISTS! So you see a person's ability to conduct science is not contingent upon blindly accepting evolutionary explanations of origins

Finally, your cite of Nye's worry that creationism means suppressing critical-thinking is rather laughable. I know I've asked this before but I'll ask again because I've never received a straight answer from anybody. Why do “scientists” only seek a natural explanation for any phenomenon? There's no scientific evidence that supports such a world view. It's a religious dogma. You reject the supernatural not on scientific grounds but because of a stubborn refusal to acknowledge any possibility of a miracle. Such a lack of open-mindedness drove Crick, for example, to say, “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see is not designed, but rather evolved.” So when an evolutionary biologist sees a structure so marvelous that it gives him pause, he CANNOT say, “this could be evidence for design.” Instead, he must suppress that thought and remind himself, “I only look for evolutionary explanations.” Who, then, is suppressing critical-thinking?

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!


Steven J. said...

Okay, let me rephrase: creationists reject science only when they disagree with the results. I don't think there are any substantial sects that disagree with the fundamentals of aircraft engineering. On some other topics, though ....

I stipulate your point about Bill Nye's and the articles tone. I do not agree that his goal is not to educate. I don't agree, for that matter, that the idea that creationists generally do not understand evolution is a "strawman."

Anyway, an "explanation" is an account of why things are one way rather than some other conceivable way, as a consequence of causes that lead to these observed effects rather than those other, conceivable but unrealized effects. Causes that operate in entirely unknown ways and can produce any logically possible effects don't work as explanations, because they can't explain why we see this rather than that. "Creation" could account for (in the sense of "that's how God decided to make it") why we see identically-disabled GULO pseudogenes in humans and other old world simiiformes, but not in, e.g. guinea pigs -- or it could identically account for shared pseudogenes and endogenous retroviruses in humans and guinea pigs but not in chimps. Not being able to account for any conceivable observation is a merit in a theory.

Note that if you can perform a test on a cause, it is by definition a natural cause. A theory of intelligent design that predicted certain observations and forbade others, based on the theorized motives and methods of the Designer, would be as naturalistic as evolutionary theory. We might, e.g. suppose that a single Designer would not go to the trouble of creating keen-eyed predators and elegantly camouflaged prey, or both infectious organisms and immune systems, and test that hypothesis.

It is odd, and mildly annoying, that you insist that we cannot test the hypothesis that dinosaurs evolved from birds. Granted, the only practicable test is detailed anatomical comparisons of living and fossil birds and dinosaurs (DNA testing would show crocodilians as birds' closest relatives regardless of which subgroup of archosaurs they evolved from, since other archosaur subgroups are extinct). But I'm thinking that the repeated discoveries of feathered or downy theropods (some with traces of pigment bodies still in their feathers or down) is in fact a successful test of the hypothesis.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Let me repeat for the umpteenth time, creationists don't reject science. Neither do they deny a single shred of evidence. What we deny are the explanations of certain evidence theorized by evolutionists.

A fossil is a fossil is a fossil. There are some things about it that are objective – like its dimensions. There are other things that are subjective – like its age. I could perform certain tests on it, you could perform tests on it, and we can compare our results. Other people can repeat our tests. That's science. WE CANNOT REPEAT THE SUPPOSED MILLIONS OF YEARS. You can say you think the fossil is millions of years old because of X. I might say X was caused by other factors and the fossil is only thousands of years old. We can argue over the explanations but ultimately there's no way to go back in time thousands or millions of years to see when the fossil was actually formed. Just because someone disagrees with your assigned age, it doesn't mean he has denied “science” or the “evidence.”

And I believe that the average believer in creation understands evolution about as well as the average believer in evolution. After all, evolution has been taught exclusively in public schools for decades. Do you think that all creationists were either home schooled or received a Christian education? In most cases, lay people who are creationists sat in the same classrooms, hearing the same science lessons, as lay evolutionists. Can you cite any scientific surveys or studies that suggest creationists understand evolution less than the average population? You are engaging in a No True Scotsman argument where everyone who understands evolution believes in evolution and if someone doesn't believe in evolution, it's because he doesn't understand it.

As to your other points, you're starting to stray far from the subject of my post. I should just skip it but I'll make a few brief comments. I think the days of believing in “junk DNA” are past. We are realizing more and more that supposed “non-coding” DNA truly does have function. Similarities in the “mistakes” are more likely similarities in DNA that has some purpose. And if DNA codes for structure, then creatures that are the most similar should have the most similar DNA.

Humans are most like a chimp, less like a bird, and least like a tree. So I predict if we compare DNA, ours is most like a chimp's, less like a bird's, and least like a tree's. You could say our DNA is similar because we're related but I say we are only similar by design. By the way, isn't the human genome 12% longer than a chimp's (or is it vice versa)? If that's true, how can they possibly be 97% similar?

Thanks again for your comments. God bless!!


Steven J. said...

I keep reading that evolution is in fact de-emphasized in high school biology classes -- and in any case, lots of students don't really study biology. I know for my own part virtually everything I know about evolution came from outside reading, not formal education. And frankly, I think creationists might be more resistant to understanding and retaining what they are taught in high school about something they're taught in church not to believe.

I don't think we're straying from the subject of your post when you insist that evolution is not testable and I mention some respects in which it is.

On the subject of "junk DNA," on the one hand, we must keep in mind that when Charles Darwin first mentioned vestigial structures as evidence for common descent, he noted that a part might lose its primary function and retain various lesser functions -- an ostrich wing might do something, but it surely doesn't enable the ostrich to fly. Likewise, a GULO pseudogene might do something, but it doesn't help produce vitamin C, which is the obvious main function of the GULO gene in, e.g. dogs or mice or spider monkeys. Some endogenous retroviruses are known to be functional, and some others might be, but this does not alter the fact that they don't function as viruses, despite their resemblance to them -- their functions appear jury-rigged rather than designed from scratch.

On the other hand, I'll see the Discovery Institute's gloating over the ENCODE results (which show only that most of the genome is on occasion transcribed, not that the transcriptions actually do anything), and raise you Nóbrega, et al.s "Megabase deletions of gene deserts result in viable mice," from Nature 431, pp. 988-993, 21 October 2004. The authors found that that you could clip a couple of sections of roughly one million base pairs each out of the genome of mice without detectable effects on the mice's development (note that if cutting out a million base pairs results in a dead or deformed mouse, you only know that at least part of the missing element was necessary; if it has no effect, the entire sequence was probably "junk."

Note that while creationists would expect humans to be more genetically similar to chimps than to pine trees, would they expect chimps to be more similar to humans than to orangutans? Would the creationist expect humans to be more similar to chimpanzees than horses are to zebras? For that matter, would he expect crocodilians to be more similar to birds, genetically, than to lizards or snakes? An evolutionist would, based on shared derived features shared by birds and crocodilians, such as gizzards and the antorbital fenestra (a hole in the skull in front of the eyes). For the most part, crocodilians remained primitive after branching off from lizards, while the line that branched off them and led to birds evolved much more. And indeed, would creationists expect parts that serve the same function (e.g. the cytochrome-c gene) to be more similar between humans and monkeys than between humans and dogs (to say nothing of trees)?