What do you call it when two different people can look at the same data set and come to two completely different and largely incompatible conclusions? Moreover, two conclusions that implicitly depend on the way they view the world around them, the path they have travelled, their experiences and attained knowlege, their upbringing, their highs and lows? For want of a better word, I would call it a collision of worldviews. And I believe I detect it in specific instances of the Creationism/ Evolution debate.
Let's explore this intellectual abstraction, bearing in mind it is a only a vehicle to
tune our minds for thinking in a particular way about this particular debate, and will,
like all analogies, fit some situations well and some situations ill.
I guess I would call these two worldviews Religious and Scientific. A religious worldview
holder looks over the wonder of the world around them, and sees the seemingly random
little choices they have made in their life that have turned out for the better, and
detects in them the hand of the divine, intervening in a million small miracles everyday
to shape the lives of friends, loved ones and him; or her;-self. There is magic in the
world that confounds or supplements the rational basis of God's creation.
A scientific worldview holds that the universe around him is shaped by rational laws set
down at the birth of the universe and varying only slightly since then, events in
someone's life are the result of a intricate network of interrelationships, the wonder of
the world is appreciated in the complex interplay of physical laws and condensations of
matter, and best understood by the aristotlean method of hierarchies, by division of
physical objects or forces into smaller and smaller atomies, catagorising, understanding
and aiding fine manipulation of these forces.
On the face of it, a Scientific and a Religious person could cohabit peacefully without
rancour, though both might pity the other for what they percieve as their narrow minded
and stunted appreciation of the world around them.
But in certain debates, data from the scientific community of individuals impacts on the
worldview of those who hold a religious way of looking at things. And it impacts on sub
categories of those who hold religious viewpoints differently depending on when
they believe divine intervention occurred.
For example, if one were to believe God created the Universe and set it spinning off into
the void with conditions carefully selected to produce these laws, this earth, and this
people, then essentially left it alone thereafter, evolution is a dead duck - it impacts
not at all on this belief system. These people are rare, but are over represented in
Most religious worldviews I am familiar with hold that God not only went through this
initial creation, but also intervened in key periods in human history, as outlined by one
of their holy books. Evolution impacts on these people depending on how holy they consider
their truth, how dogmatic they are about their scripture. There is a spectrum within the spectrum therefore, from
people who believe, say, the Bible IS Gods work, but transcribed through the faulty hand
of man, and full of metaphor which is often mistaken for literal truth. This group can
accept evolution, and explain away biblical conventions, though perhaps are not fully
comfortable in doing so.
At the other end of the spectrum is the fully dogmatic, who believe every literal word
of the Bible, that Methuslah lived to 720 years old, that the earth was created in 6 days
(nearly wrote 7), only a couple of thousand years ago, and it is with these people that
Scientific worldview holders have the greatest arguments with.
For one thing, science hates dogma. It continually attacks it, trying to find places where
an apparant fact or theory breaks down, looking for chinks in its armour, eroding away its
conclusions. Only the best dogma, that which corresponds closest to the truth, survives
this process, and it is embraced at the end of it as Fact, written in textbooks and taught
to the next generation. Thus holding to one particular set of facts without investigation
or critical thinking is especially galling to scientists.
For another, dogmatics appear to believe turnabout is fair play. If scientists are
attacking their beliefs, it is perfectly fair to take the battle to science on its own
scientific ground. Witness the plethora of sites attacking evolution on seemingly
rational, scientific bases. Sadly, there is little scientific evidence to counteract the
Theory of Evolution, so too often the arguments of the Sophist come into play,
misdirection, undue emphasis and outright lying. Again, this infuriates scientists, who
view it as a form of cheating, or intellectual dishonesty, which is not tolerated in
science (but sadly happens) because of the faith one scientist must hold in another. No
scientist can repeat every experiment or test every theory leading to their own work, they
must take it on faith that the scientist themselves was rigorous in their experiments,
truthfully reported what they found, and were evaluated correctly by the community at
large. Set against this background, no wonder science has a natural inbuilt hatred of charlatanism.
But this idea of worldviews shows just how futile the dogmatic / rationalist argument is - while scientists can
refute arguments based on science by the usual process of quoting evidence, or informed
opinion, arguments based on faith - "I believe it because I believe in God" for instance -
cannot be refuted by any sort of rational analysis. Any argument based on logic is also
based on the worldview of a rational universe with set laws and no 'magic', no 'god', no
incredible miracles or divinity. And this worldview is implicitly never accepted by the
very person you are trying to argue against.
So I would say, a large (or perhaps a small, but very vocal) part of the creationist / evolutionist argument is impossible to
resolve through debate.
So to the point of this essay. It is the worldviews in competition here, one version will
die out or transform and one will not. Therefore you must treat with the greatest
hostility and suspicion any attempt to impose a worldview on people by the control of teaching
to kids, because it is an attempt to perserve a rancourous debate, and to pass ones own
dogma to a new generation.
And here I hit the limits of my understanding. Because the way schools are, and have
always been set up, is to teach the rational view of the universe for example in the fields of physics,
mathematics and biology. Creationism can't be taught in this framework. So the dogmatics
appear doomed, and although from my own biases I would not be sorry to see them go, I
can't help but feel a sense of loss that something that people believe in and have faith
in should be inevitably steamrollered by a state institution, and a societal emphasis
since the 1950s on science and its transforming powers. Who could have forseen it?
I apologise for the mind-dump, I attempted to give it what structure I could. Also, I tried to eliminate bias towards a scientific viewpoint, apart from the meta-bias that is the whole essay itself; the division of the creationist / evolutionist argument into a hierarchy with defined and described subdivisions. I can't take out that bias, it's how I was taught to structure essays.
Just as a general note, I'd say its too easy for those with a scientific viewpoint to sneer at religious people. I try to remind myself that there is no way for me to tell if a more fufilling and enjoyable life is to be had through a spiritual or a rational life, which is all that matters in the end.
The topic icon is the worm in the apple.