Darwin on the argument from Ignorance

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Charles Darwin, seems to have “predicted” Intelligent Design’s, vacuous approaches to science when he commented:

Darwin Wrote:

Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume under the form of an abstract, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the “plan of creation” or “unity of design,” etc., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact. Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject the theory

But it deserves especial notice that the more important objections relate to questions on which we are confessedly ignorant; nor do we know how ignorant we are. We do not know all the possible transitional gradations between the simplest and the most perfect organs; it cannot be pretended that we know all the varied means of Distribution during the long lapse of years, or that we know how imperfect is the Geological Record. Serious as these several objections are, in my judgment they are by no means sufficient to overthrow the theory of descent with subsequent modification.

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species CHAPTER XV: RECAPITULATION AND CONCLUSION

And especially relevant were his words about ignorance which describe ID so accurately.

Darwin Wrote:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science”

Descent of Man

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Organic life beneath the shoreless waves Was born and nurs’d in ocean’s pearly caves; First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass, Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass; These, as successive generations bloom, New powers acquire and larger limbs assume; Whence countless groups of vegetation spring, And breathing realms of fin and feet and wing.

Erasmus Darwin. The Temple of Nature. 1802.

“Don’t laugh at me– this is no joke! Replace all that science with a puff of smoke!”

-Mike Behe

I made quite a lot on Darwin’s “restatement of fact” in my essay in Ruse and Dembski (eds) Debating Design CUP 2004 p 284ff.

From the introductory essay one of the editors did not like my chapter! I wonder which one?

BTW my favourite design theologian is the geologist William Buckland. He is wonderful on megatherium and gave a lecture on it at the British Ass in 1831, but it was never published. A mss version exists but is legible thus not written by Buckland - probably by his wife .

I published a comparison of Buckland and Behe in the PSCF of Dec 1999. (on www.asa3.org - look up Roberts) Score Buckland 5 Behe nil!

Speaking of ignorance, Paul Flocken writes, on my criticism of religious belief and the application of science and reason to undermine it (which is not at all the same as claiming that science “disproves” religion):

I see what ts and Don P are doing as very intolerant for reasons that I don’t have time to go into right now.

You say that as if it were a *bad* thing. The ID plea is that ID be tolerated, and it is because it is tolerated by the mainstream that it can flourish. I see no reason whatsoever to tolerate error, irrationality, or stupidity, and to say that we should tolerate irrational religious claims but not tolerate irrational ID claims is a double standard. Of course we are talking about *personal* tolerance, as expressed in dialog, since that’s all that was going on. Paul can’t possibly charge me with intolerance of religion in the sense of persecution by the state, oppressive laws, denial of the right to speak, etc. – not honestly.

However, I don’t accept the proposition that science and religion can coexist peacefully. For what little time Dr. Cartwright will grant us can you answer a question? Is it possible to separate the claims of a religion from the religion itself? And if so, how? I would expect that a religion is only the sum of its claims and if you discredit them then you discredit the religion. The Christian Bible (the basis of your religion) make very specific claims about physical reality. How can it be taken seriously if those claims are demolished?

Quite so, and this is sort of argument is no different from the sort of intolerance I express – by challenging logical and factual errors made in support of religion.

Adam, please comment too, if you are lurking. Flint and Lenny as well, but ts and Don P stay out.

Looks rather intolerant – in the sense of denial of the right to speak – to me.

William Buckland…is wonderful on megatherium and gave a lecture on it at the British Ass in 1831

Michael, I’m planning a trip to England next year, and obviously my guidebooks are holding out on me about things to see while visiting. That must be some Ass, to hold lectures there! :)

on my criticism of religious belief and the application of science and reason to undermine it (which is not at all the same as claiming that science “disproves” religion)

So you keep saying. (shrug)

In all your blithering about “science”, though, you’ve yet to use the scientific method to demonstrate the validity of any of your religious opinions.

Why is that?

The Christian Bible (the basis of your religion)

This wasn’t directed at me, but let me say up front, nevertheless, that the Christian Bible is not the basis of my religion — nor is any other “sacred” writing. The essence of Tantra is direct experience of the world around us. One learns about life by living, not by reading about it; one learns about the universe by interacting with it, not by talking about it. So I don’t view the Christian Bible (or the Koran, or the Baghavad Gita, or the collected works of William Shakespeare) as being any more (or less) “holy” or “divine” than any other part of reality. It’s one reason why Tantra cannot be taught; it can only be learned. It’s also why I don’t make any claim that my religious opinions are better than anyone else’s – I can only speak from my own experiences, and my experiences do not apply to you, therefore my religious opinions do not apply to you either.

make very specific claims about physical reality. How can it be taken seriously if those claims are demolished?

The story of the tortoise and the hare also makes specific claims about physical reality, that have been demolished. I don’t think that lessens the value of that story by one whit.

I view the Bible (and all other religious texts) as “stories with a point”. So, to me, it simply makes no difference at all what “claims about the physical world” the Bible or the Koran or the Baghavad Gita or the Tao te Ching or whatever, makes – or whether indeed they make any statements about physical reality at all. It doesn’t even matter to me whether there really is a God or Allah or Wakan Tanka or not. That is simply not the point. Just as it makes utterly no difference to me if rabbits can’t really talk and tortoises can’t really outrun them. That simply is not the point. Nor does it make any difference to me if the earth doesn’t really sit on the back of a turtle, or if Mohammed did not really ride into heaven on a white horse, or if humans were not really made out of clay on the sixth day, or if Buddha did not really sit under a tree for years. All of that is, simply, not the point.

If you want to view the Bible as a description of physical reality, then yes, showing that description to be wrong undermines it. If, on the other hand, you want to view the Bible as Aesop’s Fables writ large, as a book about ethics and morality instead of a mere description of physical reality, then demonstrating that its descriptions and symbolism are fanciful or physically impossible (such as talking snakes/talking rabbits), simply makes no difference. It is utterly beside the point.

Oddly, it is both the militant fundies and the militant atheists who want to argue over the correctness of the story. The big blob of us in the middle, see religious writings as … well . . religious writings, not as science textbooks. Oddly, neither the fundamentalist Bible-worshippers nor the fundamentalist atheists seem able to grasp that. And therefore both, I think, miss the whole point.

Charles Darwin, seems to have “predicted” Intelligent Design’s, vacuous approaches to science

Every time I re-read “Origin of Species”, I am once again struck by how thoroughly penetrating Darwin’s mind was. There has not been any insight into biology in the past 100 years that cannot be found, at least in embryo, somewhere within Darwin’s writings. Truly, he can be said to have single-handedly founded the science of biology. An amazing man.

However, I don’t accept the proposition that science and religion can coexist peacefully.

Which religion.

Or, like the fundie Christians, do you simply assume there is only one.

Looks rather intolerant – in the sense of denial of the right to speak – to me.

“I’M BEING CENSORED !!!!!!”, he loudly shouted in front of everybody…

You whine like an IDer.

Michael, I’m planning a trip to England next year

Don’t miss the Guinness brewery.

I face it three times every day to bow down and pray. :>

I view the Bible (and all other religious texts) as “stories with a point”. So, to me, it simply makes no difference at all what “claims about the physical world” the Bible or the Koran or the Baghavad Gita or the Tao te Ching or whatever, makes – or whether indeed they make any statements about physical reality at all. It doesn’t even matter to me whether there really is a God or Allah or Wakan Tanka or not. That is simply not the point. Just as it makes utterly no difference to me if rabbits can’t really talk and tortoises can’t really outrun them. That simply is not the point. Nor does it make any difference to me if the earth doesn’t really sit on the back of a turtle, or if Mohammed did not really ride into heaven on a white horse, or if humans were not really made out of clay on the sixth day, or if Buddha did not really sit under a tree for years. All of that is, simply, not the point.

If you want to view the Bible as a description of physical reality, then yes, showing that description to be wrong undermines it. If, on the other hand, you want to view the Bible as Aesop’s Fables writ large, as a book about ethics and morality instead of a mere description of physical reality, then demonstrating that its descriptions and symbolism are fanciful or physically impossible (such as talking snakes/talking rabbits), simply makes no difference. It is utterly beside the point.

As I write this, oddly enough, it strikes me that it would be entirely proper, from the viewpoint of many, to argue that Tantra is not, in fact, a “religion” at all . .

But then, that, too, wouldn’t matter a bit. (shrug)

You whine like an IDer.

You lie like a liar and blow hot air like a gasbag.

Dr Flank said:

Don’t miss the Guiness Brewery

THE brewery is, of course, in a different country to the one he’s going to.

You lie like a liar and blow hot air like a gasbag.

(puts thumbs in ears and wiggles fingers)

Nyah nyah nyah.

So THERE.

Yo, guys, can the spam. You had a couple hundred posts to debate this in the now-closed thread. The rest of us are tired of the routine.

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank:

“Don’t miss the Guinness brewery. “

The Guinness brewery is in Ireland, not England, ya bloody wanker! :)

“I face it three times every day to bow down and pray”

What, you don’t toast it?!?

Talk about heresy!

The British Ass meets every september but I dont know where next year.

On Darwin there are lots of places to go including Snowdonia where he did much geology and natural history and went to in 1842 to see if Buckland had got it right on glaciation -which he had even if he still beleived in a global flood!

Now for Lenny is the bible just stories with a point or do any have historical content? Did Jesus ever live and what about Moses david etc?

Dont you genuflect in the direction of Ussher’s alma mater too!!!

Now for Lenny is the bible just stories with a point or do any have historical content? Did Jesus ever live and what about Moses david etc?

Whaddya asking ME for – I didn’t write it. (grin)

I can do no more than give my opinion. I preface that by pointing out, clearly and unequivocably, that my religious opinions are just that, my opinions. They are no more holy or divine or infallible or authoritative than anyone else’s religious opinions. No one is obligated in any way, shape, or form to follow my religious opinions, to accept them, or even to pay any attention at all to them. My religious opinions are right for *me*. Whether they are right for *you*, I neither know nor care.

OK.

I think the Bible is probably “historical” in the same sense that the Koran is and the Tao te Ching is. After all, we know from history that there really was a Mohammed, there really was a city of Mecca, and there really was a city of Medina. Just as we know, from archeology, that most of the cities (and probably most of the wars and other events described in the Bible) really did happen. So I see no reason to doubt that the historical events referred to in the Bible are probably just as accurate, historically, as those referred to in the Koran or any other set of ancient writings (although they have probably been edited, censored and re-written to please whoever wrote it, just like other ancient writings).

Which then raises the question, are events such as the Creation and the Flood “historical”. And I think not only are they not, but were not intended to be. They are symbolic, allegorical and mythological. But their content and form is almost certainly the product of “historical” factors, specifically, to serve as a way of distinguishing the Israelis (culturally, religiously, and politically) from the surrounding empires of which they were forcibly made a part. These storiest saved the Jewish culture from being lost through assimilation into conquering powers – a goal which they still accomplish today. So, while the “mythological” stories are not “historical” in the sense of “really happened”, they are “historical” in the sense that they gave the Jewish people a shared set of cultural icons illustrating “where we came from”, through which they could maintain their cultural identity in the face of conquest and potential assimilation and extinction. So, while the Biblical stories of Moses and the Prophets are for the most part not “real” history (although I’m sure they probably include references to “real” events and people), they are a *cultural* history.

Keep in mind that we are viewing these writings in terms of our own standards, under which “histories” are limited strictly to “that which actually happened”. Ancient writers (of many cultures, not just the Jewish) were under no such restrictions. “What really happened” simply was not as important to them as “what our shared past means for us”. If God did not really historically create stars on the fourth day, that simply isn’t the point —- the point is that within the Jewish culture God created the stars, unlike in the Babylonian culture, where stars ARE gods. It is not at all the point what day God created stars or whatever – the point is that it was JEWISH god, not a Babylonian one. By accepting the Genesis account (whether it is “historical” or not), one is affirming one’s own separate cultural identity as opposed to that of the conquering Babylonians, allowing the Jewish culture to survive the conquest. THAT is the point of it, not whether or not God actually historically made stars on the fourth day.

A similar example is found in American mythology. We all are told, as kids, that George Washignton chopped down the cherry tree and ‘fessed up because “I cannot tell a lie”. Asking “is the Genesis account historical?” is like asking “did Washington really chop down a cherry tree?” The answer is, of course, that it DOESN’T MATTER. The point of the Washington story is not that there was an actual historical event where he chopped down a tree – the point is “we are an honest people and we shoudln’t lie”. Whether the story is true or not, the point remains. Similarly, the point of the Genesis story is not that there was an actual historical event during which God created the world – the point was that “the Jewish God is different from the Babylonian Gods, and therefore the Jewish people are different from the Babylonain people. So don’t lose our culture to the conquerors”. Again, whether the story is true or not, the point remains. In both cases, whether or not the event described “really happened” is utterly and completely beside the point. It simply makes no difference.

Of course, this process of attempting to prevent assimilation did not work completely, and inevitably many parts of the surrounding Babylonians mythologies were indeed adopted by the Jews and incorporated into their own “national narrative” (keep in mind, again, that Yahweh was, above all, a *Jewish tribal God*, and was not expected or intended to be anyone ELSE’S God —- that was all added later by the Christians, who were pretty much forced into it by their historical inability to convert many Jews to their new religion and their resulting necessity of focusing on converting non-Jews instead if they wanted the new religion to survive). The Flood story, for instance, is cribbed almost intact from the Babylonian and Sumerian epics, as are portions of the creation story. Obviously, since these came from non-Jewish sources, they were not intended as actual literal Jewish “history”. They were, however, edited and re-written to make it mesh better with the Jewish stories.

I think that if one goes through the Bible, one can mark out these “mythological” and “symbolic” stories (and there are lots of them – nearly the whole book, in fact), and by examining them in the light of the times within which they were written (it is impossible to understand the various laws of Leviticus, for instance, without understanding the very real political conflicts between the Israeli king and the priests which were raging at the time the written book was, uh, “found”), one can make a pretty good determination of the “point” they were intended to make. At root, I think, the “point” was to do what the Israeli priests wanted you to. After all, ancient Israel was a theocracy, with a king who claimed direct divine authority (just like gazillions of other kings throughout ancient history). Thus, the religious laws and practices laid out in the Bible (and other religious writings) had profound and unmistakable *political* aims as well. In the absence of a written code of laws and a workable method for the state to enforce obedience to them, religious laws (backed by the threat of other-worldly punishment if they were broken) played a profound role in keeping these societies intact. The Bible, quite literally, had an important role to play in keeping “law and order”. (As did also the Koran and the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the various Aztec religious laws and rituals.) This was especially important in the case of the Jews, who had a long history of internecine warfare between related tribes. It took a king to unify these tribes into one nation, and it took a shared cultural, legal and religious identity to keep the tribes from once again falling into disunity —- and that shared identify needed, as a matter of political necessity, to be enforced upon everyone. Disobeying or rebelling against a king is one thing; disobeying or rebelling against a representative of God Himself, though, is quite a different matter. Or at least it was back in those days.

As for whether the “historical” figures of Jesus, Moses, etc were “real”, I think that, as in the case of other “historical” figures such as Hercules, Romulus/Remus, Lao Tzu or Amaterasu Omikami, they were probably *based* on a real person (or an amalgamation of several real people) — but, within the context of the “stories with a point”, it simply made no difference whether they were “real” or not. The story of Romulus and Remus, for instance, gave Rome a shared cultural icon under which it united itself and conquered a continent. And it makes not the slightest difference to that whether Romulus and Remus actually ever existed. That is simply not the point of the story. I think it’s the same with the “historical figures” in the Bible. The point of the stories is what those people did and said and what that means to us now, not who they are. Even Christ never directly claimed to be the only Son of God — those words were put in his mouth by later writers. Indeed, Christ seemed to make it pretty clear that EVERYONE is a part of “the divine”; after all, the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer are “OUR Father”, not “MY Father”. It seems an unfortunate certainty that nearly every great ethical/moral teacher will, after his death, become “deified” by SOMEBODY or another, whether they wanted it or not. Heck, even Alexander the Great was deified after his death. But I digress . …

So the answer to your question “is the Bible historical” is “sort of, in parts”. But then, it wasn’t INTENDED to be “historical” in the modern sense of the word, any more than the tale of Romulus and Remus was. Or Aesop’s fables. Indeed, the Bible can best be viewed, I think, as a sort of melding of these two outlooks. There are the “fable” sections, which told the ancient Jews “how one should behave” (all of this, of course, can be boiled down to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — a conclusion that is also found in nearly every other religious or ethical system). Then there are the “mythology” sections, which narrate the Romulus/Remus-like tales which maintained the cultural identity of the Jewish people, unified that culture under the rule of its own priest-kings, and then protected the privileged position of the priests and king within that culture (a use to which various rulers STILL put it). The two distinct forms have nothing to do with each other, and are together in this one book simply because they appeared in a theocratic state where religion and ethics (and everything else) were inseparable. Non-theocratic states, like Greece and Rome, preferred to keep their ethics separate from their unifying religious mythology (although many of the Greek myths, such as the story of Narcissus, do have ethical or moral points behind them). The Bible itself is, therefore, the product of a specific set of historical circumstances, without which it would not exist today.

But alas I fear that this discussion should be going on in the bathroom wall, instead of here in our nice shiny science forum.

Talk about heresy!

I confess — I brew my own beer. Porter.

And it’s better than Guinness, dammit. ;>

Re “But alas I fear that this discussion should be going on in the bathroom wall,”

But has the plumber been around to fix it yet?

Henry

Re “But has the plumber been around to fix it yet?”

Yep.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on July 14, 2005 2:47 PM.

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