15 February 2008

Prayer, Persuction, Slavery, Science, and Filters

Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a Christian friend about a commentary by Chuck Colson entitled "Pray for the Persecutors." The persecutors in question are the members of the Khmer Rouge, some of whom became Christians as a result of the faith of those they brutally murdered more than 25 years ago. That same friend recently sent me another Colson article about the horrors of sexual slavery in the U.S. entitled "Desparate for Love."

While I would like to heed Dr. Colson's words, other articles of his make that difficult. The subtitle of one, "From Darwin to Hitler" is self-explanatory. He quotes a historian who claims "Darwin's ideas about the origin of species helped create a culture that devalued human life. And in that culture, Nazism was able to thrive." This is a severe logical fallacy called the argument from adverse consequences; the perceived social consequences of a scientific hypothesis have no affect on its veracity. If evolution is true, it is true regardless what affect it has on any individual or culture.

The other article, "Does Mother Nature Tell?" is a collection of putative evidence against the current scientific understanding of Earth's age. I would like to rebut this supposed evidence, but the fine people at Talk Origins have done that for me. Colson claims that "scientists at the Hawaiian Institute of Geophysics tested volcanic lava" and "got ages ranging up to three billion years old" even though "the lava was from an eruption that happened only 200 years ago." Similar claims to this are rebutted as Creation Claims CD012 and CD013.

Colson's remaining claims are all concered with fossils. Since I am not a paleontologist, I cannot adress this claims from personal expertise; however, the people at Talk Origins have done that for me. I do not garantuee their credibility, but most of the articles, unlike Colson's, cite their sources. The first fossil claim is that "Evolutionists believe each rock layer represents several million years." To my surprise, I learned that this is not true, as Dave Matson explains in point G4a rebutting Dr. Kent Hovind. Colson uses this false claim to argue that fossil trees, which cut through multiple rock strata, are evidence of a young Earth. This agrument is refued in G4a and was refuted more than a century ago.

Continuing with the fossil theme, Colson claims that a large fossil beds prove that the fosslized "animals were swept up in some violent flood and deposited all at one time." This is rebutted as claim CC362. The most interesting point in this rebuttal is that the sheer number of fossils implies an old Earth. Fossil densitys in these beds are far greater than population densitys today. This means that all of the fossilized animals could not have lived at the same time; they must have lived and died throughout a long span of history.

Finally, Colson claims that the existence of fossils is evidence for a young earth becas an animal "becomes a fossil only in those rare cases when it is covered up by sediment quickly." This claim is disucssed as number CC363 and in "Fish Fossils." Soft tissue does require rapid burial, but such fossils are rare. This article is mainly a collection of Young-Earth Creationist claims that have been refuted for decades; almost every sentence is wrong.

So, why does any of this matter? It matters because science is what I know best; this is the arena in which I am at my best and where I am most confident in my abilities. It is the arena where I can most effectively asses someone else's credibility. If Dr. Colson is wrong about the age of the Earth, a subject I know well, by a factor of 1,000,000; how can I give credibility to his claim that 300,000 girls are in sexual slavery in the US?

More practically, in this information age, we all have access to huge amounds of information, propoganda, and advertising. The realities of finite brains and finite days force me to develop filters that remove vast swaths of the media and leave only what I have time to effectively process. For me, one very effective filter has been ignoring (or holding in high suspicion) any sources that makes incorrect or ignorant statments regarding the fields of science I know best. As you can see, this filter catches Dr. Colson.


Darius said...

So you're saying if someone is wrong about one thing, they are always wrong about all things?

I'm not sure how mentioning the obvious connections between Hitler (and the current death culture) and the evolutionary theory that makes us out to be no different from a mosquito is a "severe logical fallacy." The statement you quoted didn't claim anything about the veracity of evolution. You seem quick to read other meanings into people's words when you know that you disagree with them on some scientific level, rather than letting their words speak for themselves. Now, Colson later in his column does make note that he thinks evolutionary theory is hogwash, but he's not saying that it is hogwash because Hitler used it to kill millions of people, but because it's hogwash on the face of it. That it has lead to the murder of millions and millions of people (from Hitler to Marx to the modern-day abortion epidemic) just tells us that there are some inherent dangers in believing a theory that posits that life is meaningless.

Darius said...

The federal prison link to Hovind is interesting, I hadn't heard that he went to prison. I remember seeing one or two of his films back in my dorm a few years ago.

Luke C. said...

Yes, Kent Hovind (a.k.a. Dr. Dino) went to prison for financial crimes related to his ministry.

To respond to your other comments:

"So you're saying if someone is wrong about one thing, they are always wrong about all things?"

You seem quick to read other meanings into my words rather than letting my words speak for themselves. I wrote that is someone says something extremely incorrect in my field (i.e. science), I have difficulty trusting them in other fields, where I am less knowledgeable.

As a mechanical engineer, how would you react if Anthony Daniels (a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple) stated blatant fallacies about the proper sulfur content of the girders in the Lucas Oil Stadium? As a astute observer of politics, how would you have reacted if the Che Guevara flag had appeared in the office of a supporter of Fred Thompson?

More generally, how would you suggest I filter the trustworthy from untrustworthy information on the web?

How does evolution say we are "no different from a mosquito?" Mosquitoes are small parasitic insects; we are medium-sized omnivorous primates.

How does evolutionary theory posit "that life is meaningless?"

Let us suppose for a moment that evolutionary theory is correct. Why do its alleged social consequences matter? Can the alleged negative consequences of heliocentrism put Earth at the center of the Universe?

If evolution is hogwash, why do its social consequences matter; if the evidence obviously contradicts this theory, shouldn't we reject it regardless of the social consequences? Also, if evolution is hogwash, what is the correct scientific explanation for the development and history of life on Earth

Darius said...

Perhaps Colson should have said it this way:


Darius said...

If Dalrymple said something incorrect about engineering, I would simply chalk that up to the fact that engineering is not his area of expertise (much like I would suggest you do with Colson). Colson's "expertise" is Christianity, politics, and serving humanity (especially in prisons), it's NOT science. So if he errs in making a scientific point about evolution, that's understandable. (Personally, I believe evolution, like ID, is a religious belief that requires faith, since there is no CONCRETE evidence for either. So Colson attempting to fight evolution on scientific grounds is sort of pointless. Any evidence for ID would be ignored by most scientists just like any evidence for evolution would be ignored by creationists. We're dealing with religions.)

The worldview promoted by secular evolutionary theory (I'm sure the majority of your scientific peers believe in a godless form of evolution; I assume you believe in some form of theistic evolution) is one that by its very nature describes life as an accident and that we are no different from a mosquito (in that we are more biologically advanced, but come from the same random mess of cells). The logical end to the thinking that all life is an accident is a nihilism, the belief that our existence is without meaning or purpose.

As for your last questions... As Christians, we know that there are only two options for how the world came into existence. One, creationism/ID. Two, theistic evolution. Secular godless evolution is not an option. The first two by their very nature are impossible to "prove" scientifically, but all the proves is that science has its limits when dealing with the metaphysical. Empirical science is like all other areas of study in that it can only account for truth that can be found according to its rules (in this case, that which detected with the senses). What today's scientists seem to forget is that there is truth that the natural sciences can not know. And any "truth" that science appears to support needs to be understood in how it will impact society. For example, suppose scientific studies "determined" that unborn babies can't feel pain until they're 30 weeks along. Wouldn't that "evidence" help increase the likelihood of abortion? This study has actually already happened a couple of years ago (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9053416/). The study contradicts what almost all OB doctors can report from their own experience and common sense: that they've seen fetuses react to discomfort and pain at much earlier stages in the pregnancy than 28 weeks. So, until there is definitive proof (not some stupid "I think they don't feel pain" study), wouldn't it be wise to shy away from making any scientific assertions? And tying this back to the evolution debate, wouldn't it be wise to back off the absolute "evolution is the only way" ideology that currently grips most of the scientific community? Especially when considering what awful evil it has wrought?

Paul Rimmer said...


A very interesting post, with a few things to think about more deeply. I am disturbed by your conclusion, in a manner similar to Darius.

My solution to such dilemmas is often, when they are numerical, to see if I can rederive the results, or if someone else has, if I am doubtful of a prior result.

I referenced the FBI article http://miami.fbi.gov/servitude.htm

The results of recent US estimates of human trafficking are that 18,000 to 20,000 children are imported into the US each year. If we assume half that are imported are again exported the year after, and stretch our study to 20 years, we get that there are about 200,000 sex slaves within the US at this time. This is not that far from what Colson claims. Naturally, someone may question the initial value (though beyond the FBI, it is nebulous how a better value may be able to be achieved), or my argument, as it makes some bad assumptions. The maximum value is exceptional (assume this has been going on for the past 50 years with no exports), but the minimum value is still 18,000 children. Even the minimum is greater by factors than the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq, and on the order of some estimates of the number of civilians killed in Iraq as a direct result of US involvement. If the war is a serious problem, then so is this. If this is not a serious problem, then the war in Iraq is simply a joke.

I think the filter you impose is very good at determining when people are more or less trustworthy in their results when there exists no extra-scientific bias. It is not useful in determining a course of action, but probably rather in finding out who is more reliable within the confines of your filter, and finding out what they say, and how what they say compares to the less reliable, in other topics.

I suppose, maybe, that your filter could be applied to a series of people, finding that a fairly large group is trustworthy. But when cross-referencing other issues between the trustworthy and untrustworthy sources, finding that every trustworthy source agrees with at least one thing an untrustworthy source states, we end up with the common-sense fact: no one is truly and completely trustworthy this side of heaven. Some people may just be better at keeping their mouths shut than others, about things they understand less.