Saturday, April 19, 2014

Enter Evolution

Evolution is true, it happens, it is the way the world is, and we too are one of its products. This does not mean that evolution does not have metaphysical implications;
I remain convinced this is the case. To deny, however the reality of evolution and more seriously to distort, deliberately, the scientific evidence in support of fundamentalist tenets is inadmissible. [i]
Part of me realizes that any fruit stand of beliefs I set up here will be overturned, cabbage leaves stuck in the windshield wipers of my life's Volkswagen minibus mocking my life as my audience laughs along. Another part of me accepts the inevitable wreckage but does not accept the mockery.

I should in humorously similar movie language call my belief system  "a willing suspension of disbelief." It is a willingness to believe in something, God or something higher that is beyond my reach, rather than another something of more or less equal likelihood but with far less viability for my life and family, and which goes opposite to my experience.

My parents, and a great deal of parents who believe they are doing the best thing for their children, encouraged their kids towards positivism in their actions. No matter how intimidating that bully seemed, no matter how insurmountable the problem, I was encouraged to attempt to overcome. 

Before I lead the reader down a winding primrose lane of blatantly unnecessary verbiage, which is my favorite thing outside of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, I should quickly weed out those casuals who might not want to be confronted by my disrespectful insolence. I would do this by simply saying that I have made a choice out of a range of possibilities and this judgment call leaves out atheism in its core form. At best, I give strict atheism a 50/50 chance of being correct given a perfect error free conception. At worst, I would guess that anyone’s specific conception of atheism has bad odds.  

As a proviso, let it be known that I loathe atheistic hero Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great, if not for the book itself, then definitely for one rabid moment of incomprehension in a Vanity Fair article. 

“In contrast with this clarity and purity, however, [Isaac] Newton spent much of his time dwelling in a self-generated fog of superstition and crankery. He believed in the lost art of alchemy, whereby base metals can be transmuted into gold, and the surviving locks of his hair show heavy traces of lead and mercury in his system, suggesting that he experimented upon himself in this fashion, too. (That would also help explain the fires in his room, since alchemists had to keep a furnace going at all times for their mad schemes.) Not content with the narrow views of the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life, he thought that there was a kind of universal semen in the cosmos, and that the glowing tails of the comets he tracked through the sky contained replenishing matter vital for life on Earth. He was a religious crackpot...." [ad nauseum]  [ii] 

Whether some, many, or all of the facts are correct or incorrect, any logical reader cannot help but wonder what Hitchens is on about here besides the utter character assassination of an icon of science from an age of turmoil and high danger, and more significantly one of the refiners of the highly lauded scientific method, (which I will defend in most all points.) Hitchens apparently has written the classics of all classics in his books which I will probably never read. He has elevated himself above the Newtons of earlier times. Even speculating that this quote is out of context, there is still a "Wow" factor that is amazingly non-journalistic if we drop ourselves down to that level of authority. 

As quickly as I can, I will attempt to refute this quote using my own limited knowledge on hand, and just move on. Taken out of historical context, one might learn in grade school that alchemy was only the search for transmuting elements into gold. We might compare this to modern day capitalistic pharmacology. Alchemy is, however, the precursor of chemistry, one of the most important sciences of our time. Even as a trial and error system, it helped develop the scientific method. Remember, historical figures were not born with Christopher Hitchens' grasp of modern 5th grade science; they were busy creating it as best they could. "Crankery" of course is merely character assassination by ad hominem. There is no true scientific definition or even unbiased journalistic definition of "crankery " as anything other than an epithet. Hitchens carefully words his next sentence to suggest that Newton was experimenting on himself rather than just experimenting in alchemy. Even if Newton was into self-experimentation for some medical reason, there is also a fine tradition of this in science.[iii] I suspect his chemistry experiments and the knowledge of poisons were less than modern and that is all. “Self harm” reminds one of Marie Curie, not a madman. The connection of fires in his room is used to further to assassinate his character. He could do equally well with my chemistry teacher had my teacher used ancient equipment instead of Bunsen burners in a controlled lab. "Philosopher's stone" and "elixir of life" [iv]  seem particularly relevant to modern physics, chemistry, and medicine if we merely take them out of the falsely modern historical context that Hitchens has invented for the past. Perhaps he was assuming his 5th grade science book could have been sent back in time for Newton to realize a more proper way to invent the stuff that is now in the 5th grade textbook. The final irony of this short quote is that Newton, while a "religious crackpot", manages to brilliantly come up with a modern scientific theory way ahead of its time with the comet idea.[v]  

I apologize for not reading the entirety of God is Not Good while still criticizing Christopher Hitchens and his views, but I have come to realize I am the better for less argument with atheists, fundamentalist Christians, or people who forward idiotic emails, for that matter. I will similarly apologize for not reading the entirety of the Holy Bible in one of its many contradictory translations. I am not equating things here but followers of each seem to have the same degree of elixir of brick wall.  

If Hitchens is as wildly loose with facts as it seems ... why read more? I loudly disagree with some nouveau methodology of science. The nouveau method encompasses the classic scientific method itself (in which logic prevails) and adds on later stages of satisfaction in a completeness of knowledge after some limited proof of a smaller part of the whole. This new methodology encourages views that seem to explain everything but have contradictions and a vast history of older “knowledge” being overturned by newer evidence.  

It is good to have an open mind. You must agree with this. But an open mind is not forcing beliefs on others based upon transient conclusions discovered by the correct "method." My belief is that so far science has not proven that there is no God because the jury is out forever.  Meanwhile, recent theories have actually turned the tide a bit towards some underlying intelligence which may exist. Science can disprove fundamentalist interpretations of text that was written far before even the science of writing history was established. I could do that when I was a pre-teen. It does not take science to do this. 

If you believe me to be loose with the facts or embarrassingly simple minded, please move on. There are lots of blogs out there.

Sometime when I finish all the books I have backlogged, I'll try to dip into God is Not Great but if you are reading this and have found better books to provide an argument for atheism, please let me know, because the last thing I want to do is read more of Hitchens, and what I would really like to do is understand how atheists think beyond what I already know from my own experience. I have studied Christianity extensively. I have studied science extensively, but I have never studied atheism.  

I guess if you have an open mind, and have not surfed away; it is possible you might want to put up with my humble blog. Keep in mind that casual perusers might especially dislike this blog if they enjoy using science as a cudgel against religion, be you atheist or undecided. Conversely, those to whom the Christian Holy Bible is a literally true account of historical facts should not read this blog either. The last thing I want to do is destroy someone's faith over what is essentially minutia to me. I do not see God in a this very narrow way.

[i] Conway Morris, Life’s Solution, pp.292-5. Simon Conway Morris is a Professor of Evolutionary Paleontology at Cambridge University’s Depart of Earth Science, and Fellow of the Royal Society.