Sunday, April 22, 2007

Creationism vs Evolution in the Economist

I like the Economist. It's a very rational magazine. It makes compelling arguments, even if I don't always agree with its conclusions. Its commentary is informed; its articles are thorough. It's also not completely immune to the little snarky puns that run rampant in all the other British media.

Also it's nice to see a publication that doesn't have any bylines.

This article (Evolution and religion | In the beginning | gives a good run-down of the spread of creationism in the rest of the world.

The article covers Adnan Oktar and his Atlas of Creation. I wonder if it's as bad and incoherent as "The
First Scientific Proof of God: Reveals God's Intelligent Design and a Modern Creation
Theory" (review here). Lord knows Oktar's reputation is of a similar vein:

In the more prosperous parts of the historically Christian world, Mr
Oktar's flamboyant style would be unappealing, even to religious
believers. Among mainstream Catholics and liberal Protestants, clerical
pronouncements on creation and evolution are often couched in
careful—and for many people, almost impenetrable—theological language.
For example, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of
the world's 80m Anglicans, has dismissed literal readings of the
Creation story in Genesis as a “category mistake”. But no such highbrow
reticence holds back the more zealous Christian movements in the
developing world, where the strongest religious medicine seems to go
down best.

(Don't ask why an atheist uses expressions like 'Lord knows;' it's a linguistic hiccup that betray my and my family's East Coast origins rather than any hidden piety.)

The latest from the Vatican can also be a bit worrying as it seems to be a step back from the precipice of reason:

A much more nuanced critique, not of Darwin himself but of secular
world-views based on Darwin's ideas, has been advanced by Pope Benedict
XVI, the conservative Bavarian who assumed the most powerful office in
the Christian world two years ago. The pope marked his 80th birthday
this week by publishing a book on Jesus Christ. But for
Vatican-watchers, an equally important event was the issue in German, a
few days earlier, of a book in which the pontiff and several key
advisers expound their views on the emergence of the universe and life.
While avoiding the cruder arguments that have been used to challenge
Darwin's theories, the pope asserts that evolution cannot be
conclusively proved; and that the manner in which life developed was
indicative of a “divine reason” which could not be discerned by
scientific methods alone.

Although I haven't boned up on everything the Vatican released, it seems that Benedict's latest hedges amount to another case of special pleading.

On another note: The pope is 80? Isn't that the age where you start thinking about revoking someone's driving licence, not giving them the reigns to the largest and most powerful Christian organization in the world. I mean, if he's not likely to make it to Country Kitchen Buffet without hitting a few farmers markets on the way do we really want him giving theological advice and guidance to two billion people?

Ultimately, there is a fundamental lack of self-confidence in people who can't accept that the universe isn't there simply for their benefit, and to revolve around them literally and metaphorically.

Last spring I blogged about problems that Brian Alters from Montreal was having getting funding. Speaking with our extension course lecturer on the ship, there didn't seem to be a lot of traction for evolution-denial in the UK although there are always some little eddies in the cultural current where it survives.

Vigilance.  Constant vigilance.

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