God save us from preachers fouling the waters of science

March 25, 2009

Waylon and Willie might have done a great service for the world had they sung, instead, “Mamas, don’t let your children grow up to be preachers./ . . . make ’em be biologists and teachers and such.”

I’m moving my response to a poster, lowerleavell, up from the depths of the thread on this old post, “Why intelligent design shouldn’t bully Texas high school kids.”

Among other things creationists do which I find destructive, they tell people stories about what evolution theory “says,” or what happens in nature, that simply are not true.  Very simply, creationists, especially preachers, paint such a vivid but false view of human nature “according to science,” that a lot of misbehavior can be blamed on the preachers’ convincing people, especially children, that they are supposed to misbehave.

I’ll just let the post speak for itself; Joe’s words are blockquoted, my response set without indentation:

Joe said:

Every presented “truth” has ramifications. If you tell people long enough and dogmatically enough that they are the result of some massive cosmic accident (Dawkins viewpoint) then eventually they’re going to start getting the picture.

We can hope. As Dawkins notes, the picture they should get is that we need to be human to one another, to treat each other well, to defend human rights, to cherish life while we live it. So far, I don’t see a lot of that happening, at least, not enough — and, as I’ve noted earlier, I think it’s because religion gets in the way.

You tell people that humans are simply evolved animals and are surprised when they act accordingly.

Actually, that’s what preachers say — you won’t find a scientist putting it that crudely, or that inaccurately.

We tell people that humans are evolved animals — a true statement, as any physician can tell you — and we tell them that we expect them to act as animals do. You seem to think that would be bad. But anyone who studies animal behavior will tell you that the bravery and altruism of the tiny sparrow defending her nest against marauding crows matches the bravery of any human, anywhere, any time. You seem to think that animals have no sense of morality, but that’s not what we see in nature. You seem to think that humans’ animal morality is bad, but as Darwin noted (in chapter 5 of Descent of Man), the foundation of our evolved morality is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s the principal that allowed us to survive as a species, and to thrive. Darwin even went so far as to lay out a scenario for how genes that produced the behaviors could be selected for in natural selection.

Make no mistake: “Animal behavior” is not immoral behavior. We didn’t thrive as a species by stabbing our friends in the back, at least, not until the invention of religion (the story of Cain and Able is a Bible story, remember — you don’t find siblings going after each other to the point of murder much in nature).

Joe, you’re preaching against the Golden Rule. Leave it to a creationist who claims not to be advocating creationism to preach against Christian morality and claim it’s evolution’s fault.

One of my concerns is that creationists — especially people who claim to have a ministry — get this animal morality thing exactly wrong. It only strengthens my feeling that we need to keep such people from innocent children.

It’s preachers who tell children that they’re animals, and that they can act evilly, Joe, not science. Preachers probably don’t even intend to do that, but they get the science dead wrong, they tell the kids that’s what science says . . . what’s a kid to think? Would a preacher lie to them?

I agree we shouldn’t teach immorality to children. Joe, will you join me in keeping Baptist ministers from doing that? You guys should stop telling children that evolution is untrue, that animals are immoral, and that our baser, animal instincts trend toward sin.

Incidentally, that’s not what the Bible says, either. It was Man who sinned, not animals. In your zeal to get evolution, you’ve departed a long ways from what the scriptures say. I’d say it’s time to rethink what you’re doing.

You tell people that they are the evolution of nature and are surprised when they act according to their natural impulses and emotions.

I wish they’d do it more often, rather than substituting the morality of organized religion.

Geese mate for life and look out for each other. Bonobos keep peace with an almost literal “make love, not war” ethic — it protects the children very well. Prairie dogs look out for one another, posting guards to keep everybody safe — they double the guards when their children are out foraging, to double the protection. Musk oxen, tiny things, really, defend their young with the entire herd, sacrificing an adult if necessary to protect the offspring. Gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, elephants, lions, whales and others protect and venerate their aged, the sages who can guide the herd/troupe/pride/pod/clan through difficult times. Throughout the animal kingdom, we find animals as exemplars of behavior, mostly.  Murder is extremely rare in most species.  War is even more rare.

What in the devil is wrong with that morality? Why wouldn’t we want our children to “act as animals?”

You know, if one studies the history of evolution in science, one is struck by the remarkable sterling character of most of the scientists involved. With very few exceptions — Haeckel’s dishonesty and rampant nationalism, Watson’s general unpleasantness — these scientists are paragons of moral behavior. Darwin was a giant of morality, an outstanding, faithful and loving husband, a caring and doting father. Wallace was a pillar, too — except for his dabblings in seances later, a function of his Christian beliefs. Dobzhansky, Wilson, the Grants, Simpson, Gould, Eldredge, Coyne, Myers, Majerus, Kettlewell, Mayr — these are people you would be happy to know, whose morality is generally beyond reproach.

Contrast that with the greats of religion — Calvin burned his friend Servetus at the stake. Luther was a rabid anti-semite. Various popes robbed, murdered and fornicated. Rasputin led the Russian court to debauchery and villiany. The occasional Billy Graham is an exception among preachers, it too often appears. We lost count of the famous preachers who were caught with their pants down and their hands on the wallets of their friends.

If evolution produced evil, wouldn’t we see that in its greatest exponents? Instead, we see the opposite — evolutionists living lives of saints, churchmen living lives of evil.

There’s a parable about the fruit of a poisoned tree. Do you know it?

You say that evolution is not immoral and in and of itself it may not be – but what is presented to people can contribute to dramatic ramifications, which is what I’m saying.

Evolution is immoral only when presented, inaccurately and basely, by preachers.

It’s not science, it’s not the study of evolution, and it’s not studying science in school that is the problem here.

You’re making a great case for licensing preachers, insisting on standards, and checking their work. I think I can see where the problem is, from your presentation.

How would you propose to fix it, without taking the pro-ignorance route?

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