Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's Your Theory For? Or, Why It Matters


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Mt. St. Helens is, to put it mildly, cool. I personally appreciate the view from the still-devastated area southeast of the mountain, where the arrow is in the map above; below is a picture of it from that vantage point (and yes, that is smoke from the mountain).



The hike up to the crater rim is essentially a class 3 scramble most of the way, and dusty, and annoying. At the caldera rim you are rewarded with unpleasant hot fumes, and you wonder legitimately what got in your head to make you do this.

When you're driving back west toward I-5 on Route 504, if you're paying attention, you'll see that someone has helpfully placed at the end of their driveway some pamphlets showing how St. Helens proves that the world was made in six days. You see, in a single day, the mountain changed shape, and new valleys and lakes were formed. Proof!

This is interesting, because from creationists we typically don't hear a lot about mountains and plate tectonics. You might read this and think, wait a second - I thought finding a watch on a beach was proof that the watch was designed, because the dead mineral material the beach is made of was not designed?

Indeed, the question is why does the creationist insistence on design in nature stop with living things? Why do creationists have this obsession with clotting cascades and eyes, and with people? No one from this camp ever seems to be too interested in viral evolution, until it impacts human sexual behavior. So if the whole world was created, why isn't there evidence of design in the arrangement of every last damn one of those boulders you have to scramble up on Mt. St. Helens, or for that matter the bushes in the canyon behind my house? Okay, so those have changed since 4,004 BC; how about the rocks on yet-unclimbed peaks exposed above the glaciers in Greenland? Why isn't there evidence of design in every last grain of sand in its little proper place? Why is it always living things they're so worried about?

Creationists, I'm trying to help you here. If you took your own theory seriously, these are the kinds of questions you would be asking.

But let's agree to disagree, creationists. Let's have another discussion, one that's about the discussion. Let's ask each other why we each take the positions we do. I'll go first. I take increasing happiness and eliminating suffering to be an end in itself. This influences my decision to become professionally trained to specifically eliminate disease-based suffering. Treating disease means understanding biology, and I have encountered no principle in biology better evidence-supported or more unifying than evolution. So, yes, if a biology theory came along tomorrow that helps eliminate disease suffering more effectively than evolution, I'm out the evolution-door that minute.

To this end, there are two things that could help us understand your point of view:

1) What, exactly, are creationists worried would happen if tomorrow everyone in the world accepted evolution as the best account of how things got to be this way? Why the concern?

2) Looking at handful of creationists with academic science positions - where are the advances based on your theory? Where is the medicine? How is creation science making the world better? Why don't the pharmaceutical companies see past the (apparently) leftist propaganda brainwashing machine of academic science and build their research on creationism?

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