Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Here I Go Again

I think I managed to start myself out on an intellectually frustrating path again this week. I apparently didn't suffer enough when reading those books on biblical astronomy. Anyway, here is the story.

An Adventist co-worker and Walla Walla classmate, sent around a snarky email comment on a recent news article regarding the recent sequencing of the kangaroo genome. He is aware of my pro-science and pro-reality worldview, but copied me because he thought it would be hypocritical not to which I appreciate. I briefly replied, to question him on a few of the more egregious distortions. I was curious to see what he really thought and what was for the sake of humor. Turns out he has just watched a presentation by Shawn Boonstra called Out of Thin Air. I remember hearing about this when it came out as a satellite broadcast last fall. I remember wanting to avoid it then because I knew I'd get too riled up. I'd don't care for Boonstra's style and I was quite certain that the content would be hopelessly twisted if it even bothered to contain anything factual. Now my friend has kindly offered me the opportunity to borrow the video. I've accepted the offer because, I'd hope for similar open-mindedness should the opportunity arise to suggest some source of information to him. If not I at least have the high ground of looking at the opposite position, and knowing the dissenters will refuse to do so honestly.

From the little bit of a description I have of the program, it seems that one of the main points will be quotes from

early evolution scientists where they blatantly stated that the facts didn't support evolution, but the were choosing to not believe in God and thus had to come up with something else.
I'm not sure who this is attributed to and am skeptical about the authenticity. Fortunately, the who and what is completely irrelevant. The alleged "early evolution scientists" are not prophets. The theory of evolution stands on its own merits based on hard evidence. Science has moved on and improved on the research of the "early evolution scientists." Finding a few quotes that make creationists feel good won't change reality.

Anyway, that is the preview. Look for a report coming in next week or two.


Tim said...

Boonstra will probably take a year or two off of your life just from the increased stress hormones that will be circulating until you're done with him. Your uncle Steve has probably already taken five years.

To my mind, the best argument for your atheist position would be an ethical life and a network of beliefs that kept you productively engaged. A philosophy of life that works like a successful scientific theory by organizing your questions and leading to consistent and satisfying answers (Lakatosian model of science). It could be that your own position is so far from Boonstra that someone who takes him seriously would have a long way to go before your position became plausible. And if it isn't even plausible, then why would they bother to examine your position more closely? I'm not likely to examine Mormonism closely, for instance, because it has zero plausibility for me. What can you say to someone who feels God's presence in their life? That they don't?

I hope this doesn't seem too aggressive. I'm genuinely interested in your response.

Iron Soul said...

I'm ashamed to say that a lot of your philosophy goes over my head. Or maybe I'm just not thinking clearly this evening.

I am struggling to realize that what seems obvious to me is completely ridiculous others. I don't really expect to 'convert' any one. I just like the thought that someone would take me seriously.

Lori said...

I think I'll watch Boonstra with you. I have begun to be convinced by evolution and could use some re-grounding.

Tim, I don't know if I understood you either, but I think I understand about someone not being able to even comprehend the logic for evolution when they are so set against it with their beliefs. I was like that for so long. Now as my world view has slowly been changing, opening up my mind has been physically painful at times. I'm just now able to relate on middle grounds with at first I went from one side of the issue to the other.

Tim said...

Jeff, if you don't understand what I have written, then it is at best badly written. I do hope for coherence, though, so let me try again:

For Boonstra fans, the evolution/creation issue is about worldview, not just origins. Worldviews are accepted or rejected as wholes. Coherence matters more than correspondence beyond a certain point, especially if that coherent worldview has proved helpful. And, as i wrote last time, if they feel the presence of God in their lives, what can you say? If you want Boonstra fans to change worldviews, then you will have to present them with a replacement, made plausible and attractive by how well it has worked for you. This is especially true if the two woldviews are very different from each other. At least that is how it seems to me. I do have my doubts about the power of argument to effect such major change in the absence of a good example of the alternative worldview. In certain communities some positions just aren't psychologically plausible because they are so far removed from the local norm. Then you leave that community and those old beliefs start to look implausible themselves in the face of a new woldview, demonstrated effectively.

Also, I know debating Boonstra would feel so futile and frustrating to me given all the other fascinating questions I could be working on instead.

Tim said...

continuing on (after I thought of a couple more things in the shower this morning):

Worldviews are accepted or rejected as wholes because they are made of psychologically and logically reinforcing concepts so that if you take out one piece, like creation, the whole thing becomes unstable. I'm sure some people do persist for a while with a broken worldview, but there is a lot of resistance to that first step because people realize what is at stake, and change usually does follow relatively quickly. In my case, finally accepting evolution without reservations made it easy to go the rest of the way to accepting God's nonexistence. I had toyed with both ideas for years, but they kind of went as a chunk, accompanied by new attitudes towards ethics, among other things.

I don't think that an absolute dedication to Truth is always a positive thing. Or maybe not ever. So I approve of stressing coherence over correspondence beyond a certain point (you do have to get around in the world and avoid eating poisons, etc). Scientific theories even do this, especially at first. Theories are born refuted, but you have to protect the core of the theory from refutation for a time (by either ignoring things or by changing non-core pieces of your theory) while you see if it is able to generate a successful program of experiments that advances in a somewhat predictable way. Careful history of science has shown that this delayed respect for the Truth is a better model than Popper's, for sure, though scientists themselves are always behind the philosophers and historians of science in appreciating it (since those are the people who actually study what scientists do in that larger sense - just like psychology provides a lot of insights that go way beyond and sometimes contradict what you can get by introspection). And in worldviews it is even more virtuous to ignore Truth because Truth regarding some things like ethics is either very hard to come by or does not exist at all, and because worldviews are there to make your life better, not offer up sacrifices to Truth.

Herb said...

The reminds me of an old article from "The Onion" I read a couple years ago or so. They talked about the "Center for Faith-based Reasoning" or something along those lines that I found highly amusing.

Herb said...

Yeah, I just googled it. Here's the article:

Iron Soul said...

Thanks Tim. I like the idea of worldview as a package deal. It makes a lot of sense that rejecting your community and the outlook that has served you well for a long time would take a lot of courage. Especially with nothing to take its place. Now that you mention it, that was sort of my experience too. Once I understood and accepted evolution, the whole package came quickly.

Tim said...

That Onion piece was pretty funny. I really liked that bit about the paper published in God's Word For Teens!.

But check this out. It is serious as far as I can tell, and I know I've seen other websites treating the same subject.

Tim said...

Do not neglect the link at the bottom of the page to the special offer (only seven dollars plus tax!) for the "How Did Jesus Learn Algebra?" paper. There is an introduction/abstract that is awesome.

Herb said...

Oh man, that math page is awesome! I'm going to bookmark it. Here's another of my favorite pages that would perhaps go nicely with it.

The man clearly knows his stuff and I sense a huge breakthrough is tantalizingly close!

Tim said...

I think I read a paper by that guy in God's Word For Teens! - really compelling material.

As soon as you see colored type you know you've found a quality page. However, I worry that color alone may not be enough to really demonstrate the importance of his claims, and I would like to see more exclamation marks. Perhaps four or five at the end of every line, more for the really important points.

Iron Soul said...

Guys, I don't get it. The site is clearly professionally designed and therefore completely legitimate. I just don't know why it doesn't make any sense to me.

Herb said...

Jeff, it probably doesn't make sense to you because you've fallen behind on your study of both theoretical astrology as well as applied scripture. Time to get caught up on the latest literature in these cutting edge fields of TRUE science!