[personal profile] wingedbeast
At the end of the Nye/Ham debate, a few years ago, when the moderator was presenting audience questions, one telling question came up. What would it take to convince you that the other side was correct? In this debate, the question wasn't God versus not, but evolution versus Young Earth Creationism.

Nye, the proponent of evolution, gave a quick list of potential evidences that would contradict the evolutionary model of Earth's history. Ham, the proponent of Creationism, insisted that, being a Christian, nothing could sway him.

In many a conservative Christian circle, there is a presumed moral value of certainty. The more confidence you place in your faith, the more praise you receive within that circle. This is often-times framed as strength of conviction, the extent to which you will hold onto your faith in the face of a world that might look to falsify it. This extends to such a degree that some have stated readiness to believe that would be unreasonable in other contexts.

It seems like exaggeration when, in the movie Inherit the Wind, the fictionalization of the Scopes Monkey Trial, the anti-evolution character stated that if the Bible said that Jonah had swallowed the whale, he would believe it. Yet, others have stated that, if the Bible said that two plus two equals five, they would believe it. Whether or not that was an intentional reference to 1984 remains, to me, a mystery.

Outside that particular circle (for fairness sake, I should note that this is not a circle that encompasses all Christianity, many a Christian takes doubt as a key element of faith), confidence of position is not given the same weight.

That means, among other things, that, when the question comes to us, could we be wrong, we don't surrender anything to say "Yes." It is simply an acknowledgement that we are fallible beings of limited perspective in a world that could, just beyond our scope of knowledge, show something completely different than we thought before.

The reason this isn't a surrender is that you're in the same boat. I realize that, these days, there's a fairly popular apologetic built around finding a means of denying that reality. Yet, you remain a fallible being of limited perspective and the capacity to mistake for absolute that which is not. To change the metaphor, you're building a house on the same sand as us, but you've imported looser sand than that, in order to pretend that you have a solid foundation.

Claiming absolute certainty does not earn you or your faith any points. It doesn't make your faith look any more true than before. All it does is show us that, where you are wrong, you have a worldview that won't require that you ever have to acknowledge that. I'm sure that's tempting from within. From without, it looks like a trap in a world that only brings you to war with yourself.

Date: 2017-05-06 06:45 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
To me, that position says that your faith is actually very brittle -- that the least little crack will bring the whole edifice tumbling down, so you HAVE to deny any possibility that you could be wrong. If your faith will crumble upon facing the slightest test, that's an extremely weak position to be arguing from.

Date: 2017-05-08 09:50 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I learned a lot by meeting a creationist's challenge to say "What evidence would convince you that evolution was wrong?" It's actually a very hard question, because I'm an evolutionary biologist, so I'm aware of a *lot* of stuff that evolution explains well. It's hard to think of a finding that would actually cast doubt on all those explanations, rather than generating a one-off explanation such as "everything else evolved, but *that* was designed, perhaps by aliens." I mean, if you showed me an organism whose genome contains a longish stretch of encoded English text, I wouldn't think that evolved, but I wouldn't question that organisms in general evolve--I'd just blame Celera. (Correctly; they are the ones who did that.)

It was easier to think in terms of an alternative hypothesis. The one I came up with was that if there is a hard line between created kinds, such that they are genetically unrelated, I would expect this to be apparent in the DNA. We have a ton of comparative data and love to compare creatures on all levels from within-species to different kingdoms. There should be a line somewhere, and by now we should have bumped up against that line in a myriad different ways. If that had happened, it would cause me to question that different taxa were actually related to each other.

In particular, if I use within-population data to train a mutational model, that model should not *work* on between-kinds data, as the variation between kinds was not produced by the same mechanism (on hypothesis) as the variation within a population.

At this point, alas, the creationist bailed from the conversation; but at least I learned something.

Date: 2017-05-10 03:58 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Many years ago my graduate class went to a talk by a speaker who had done an experiment with unexpected results. It involved making E. coli cells which needed two separate mutations in order to use an alternative food source, then starving the coli of everything but that food source and waiting for a strain to evolve that could eat it.

You could measure the frequency of the two separate mutations, and calculate their product, and conclude that you weren't going to get anything. But he did, every time he ran the experiment.

He proposed an explanation that involved the cell "trying out" potential mutations by making mutant RNA molecules, then systematically back-copying into DNA the ones that worked.

Current thinking is that these findings were due to mutator loci--loci at which mutations can raise the mutation rate, throwing off your math. But if instead it had turned out to be systematic mutation to favorable states, it would have radically changed our view of how evolution works.

As I recall, the talk got a "radical claims require radical evidence" response from my classmates and I, but not outright rejection; we agreed that if true it was terrifically important.

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