Our Knowledge vs. Their Knowledge

A day when certain quotes line up. From Slacktivist, here’s Fred talking about the Creationist facing counter-evidence and recieving advice from a creationsim proponent:

They will tell you that all of these others — these outsiders with their “evidence,” these people who claim to “know” things — are evil liars. They will explain to you that these others are part of a conspiracy. It is a huge, vast, global conspiracy of wicked people that encompasses everyone — everyone except, of course, them. And they will invite you to join them in opposing this conspiracy. They will invite you to join them in believing — without basis or evidence — the very worst things you can imagine about millions of people whom you have never met. They will invite you to join them in celebrating yourselves as uniquely righteous and as better than everyone else — the sole remnant of innocence in an irredeemably wicked world.

From Everyday Nature, Sarah Gronim’s history of the diffusion of scientific knowledge in colonial New York:

In the long run, matters of truth are always functions of social relations. People are moved to change their minds—or to refuse to do so—depending upon the social resonance of what they are being asked to change. Who advocates or adopts the change is as important as what the change itself is. [...] Whose claim to enhanced social authority was strengthened if the new claim was accepted’? Whose beliefs and practices would now be denigrated as foolish or superstitious? Whose assertion about the nature of God would be affirmed or denied?

One of the ways that Creationists can hold out against an overwhelming scientific consensus against them is by turning the argument from a “fact vs. fiction” debate to an “us vs. them” debate. The argument becomes less a matter of evidence and reason and more of a matter of competing authorities and personal identities.

Our Daily Bread
Historical vs. Observational Science
Creation Today: Pat Robertson Not Crazy Enough
So Long, And Thanks For All The Memories (From Dan)
  • FO

    Sarah Gronim makes an excellent point, however.
    Being a loved person is the best way to propose your ideas.

  • vasaroti

    I have been putting Sarah Gronim’s ideas in a more crass fashion” “Follow the money.”

  • Rich

    “Just one proof” of evolution. Interesting , given that the scientific theory of evolution, like all theories, is only a supposition or system of ideas intended to explain something, and I would suggest it is foolish not to leave room for an alternative explanation of the origin of man.

    • Keith Collyer

      You don’t need to “leave room”, that implies that there is a defined space into which ideas fit and there is not. If there is a credible alternative, it becomes a hypothesis. In scientific terms, a theory is more than just a “supposition or system of ideas intended to explain something”, a system of ideas becomes a theory when it is accepted as the best system of ideas to explain known facts and to be able to be used to predict facts, in both cases in a testable way. So, if you have an alternative explanation of the origin of man that better fits the facts, then that would become (eventually) the accepted theory. Evolution both fits all the known facts and provides predictions that have been tested and found to be true. No alternative that does so exists. Therefore evolution is the accepted theory.

    • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com Matt E

      The phrase “just on proof” was in quotes because it is a phrase used by creationists when arguing against evolution, “proof” being a term used by mathematicians, not scientists. Your phrase “the scientific theory of evolution, like all theories, is only a supposition or system of ideas intended to explain something” is inaccurate, or rather, incomplete. It should read “the scientific theory of evolution, like all theories, is only a supposition or system of ideas, supported by profound amount of empirical evidence, intended to explain something”. It would indeed be foolish not to leave room for an alternative explanation of the origin of man, provided it was supported by empirical evidence; however, to date, there is no such alternative.

    • Troutbane

      Heres the deal. If ANY other testable and explainable theory were to come out, that would be a good cause for an alternate theory to evolution. There is no OTHER testable and explainable theory. “Goddit” is not a testable idea.
      So you understand this, I encourage people that debate this issue to look at how the theory for plate tectonics emerged in the early/mid 20th century. At that time, the theory was that the planet was shrinkng (I shit you not) and was the accepted theory by many geologists of the day. And, one the surface (bad pun) the evidence supported this. But as new data (from different fields) emerged, the shift away from shrinking planet to one of plate tectonics was accepted by the scientific community.
      Evolution is the current accepted theory for the origin and development of life because it has so much evidence (from multiple sources) to back it up. If more and more data came out that seemed to disprove evolution, then gradually, the theory would adjust to the new data. Thats science!
      Religi0us explanations will NEVER do this. A religious explanation never shifts origin, it only tries to rexplain new data to fit its preconceived notion depite the the idiocy of the explanations.

    • plutosdad

      Actually there are competing theories as to how certain things changed, and events occurred, and the hypothesis with the most evidence wins out. Darwin is not worshipped or infallible, and we know there are things he got wrong. Things we’ve learned and understand better. I remember when I was a child I read crocodiles were the closest living relatives to dinosaurs. But we know many of our ideas were wrong now, and they are really just ancient birds, and many had feathers that we never imagined.

      So yes, there is room, and new ideas are explored and tested, and the bad ideas are thrown out. I assume that’s what you mean and want to see happening. Isn’t it?

    • FO

      Do you leave room for alternative explanations to germ theory, thermodynamics, quantum physics and general relativity?

  • Sue Blue

    I’ve had the debate about the “us vs. them” and scientific “conspiracies” with some creationists lately. They seem utterly convinced that not only is it possible for thousands of scientists from vastly different political, ethnic, social and national backgrounds and scientific fields to come together and “cook the books” to Satanically dupe the public, then to cover their tracks and keep the secret for more than a hundred years – it is probable! I mock them. I mock them loudly, repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms. I say something like this:
    “Oh, shit – you’re on to us! You’re absolutely right! I guess I’ll just have to admit it… Thousands of scientists from around the world gather annually in Beelzebub’s Secret Antarctic Lair to receive a new batch of fake fossils, phony deep-space imagery, trumped-up climate data, whacky names for tiny things that, conveniently, are really hard to see; and ever-more-damning DNA discoveries. Next on the agenda – hatching nefarious new plots for evolution-based atheistic mind-control. Better glue your tinfoil hat on tightly, board up your windows and doors, and clutch your Bibles – the atheist alien sasquatch mad scientist men-in-black Illuminati are in cahoots with The Guvmint and your local public schools…they’re coming for you and your kids!!!”

    • plutosdad

      “Beelzebub’s Secret Antarctic Lair ”
      Hell has indeed frozen over

      • Mogg

        Isn’t Hell a town in Norway? I expect it would freeze over regularly.

        • ORAXX

          There’s a Hell on Grand Cayman Island as well. It would be even more amazing if it froze over. lol


    The creationist crowd could make the argument disappear over night by simply proving their own point. As it is, they seem to have the idea that as long as they can concoct super natural arguments to make genuine evidence go away, they win by default.

  • smrnda

    Once you bring in the supernatural, with God, the Devil, angels and demons battling it out the notion of some worldwide conspiracy where scientists are all deliberately misleading people or have been possessed becomes a fairly credible idea. It’s kind of how about any sort of government regulation, no matter how benign or mundane can be seen as some Trojan Horse to bring in a one world government and the reign of the anti Christ.

    I wouldn’t say there have never been vile conspiracies (the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment comes to mind) , but you have to look into the magnitude of who would have to be in on the conspiracy. There are way too many people in the life sciences doing productive and useful research regarding evolution for them all to be dupes or evil masterminds.

    But on the issue of proof, I’m a mathematician and I would say that the mathematical notion of ‘proof’ doesn’t apply to empirical sciences the way that I can’t do experiments and then ‘prove’ something mathematically. Theories are tentative, and they are changed over time when we get new information. Plus, old theories aren’t necessarily totally false and then rejected. Newton’s equations work well enough for most engineering applications, just there were some cases when they end up being wrong. The thing with science is that we work with the best theory we have right now – we might fix it up a little bit, or we might have to scrap it later, but it makes sense to stick with a theory if it’s out there rather than just going ‘well, no theory can be proven so it might as well have been god.”

  • Brad P.

    Finally, I see someone that get the difference between the two sides but it sounds like you are bothered by it:
    “The argument becomes less a matter of evidence and reason and more of a matter of competing authorities and personal identities.”

    Science is committed to evidence, reason, and naturalism because they are dealing with the measurable and repeatable nature of our world – stuff we experience with our senses.
    Christians/Creationists hold to a “higher” authority than nature itself. Nature does obey laws and they can be discovered. God, on the other hand, is above nature and, at times, intervenes in this world.

    Both sides look at the same “evidence” and have different understandings of it based upon their different starting points. Yes, Creationists at times, take the easy way out by saying “we don’t understand so it must be God.” On the other hand, Evolutionists step outside of their realm when they start talking about how the world began (remember measurable and repeatable). Thus, neither side can “prove” their view. The bigger question (dare I say “higher” question?) is “Is there a God and if so, how would he interact with this world we live in?” That is where the real argument resides.

    • Sunny Day

      I guess dog whistles can work both ways. Thanks for using the word Evolutionists, it lets us know you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.

      At least “evolutionists” have evidence that the world exists and can actually produce results.

      • Brad P.

        You are right in that I am new to this blog. I guess I did not realize the term “evolutonists” was an incorrect term. Please help me understand the terms I should be using.

        • Brad P.

          Except, of course, when I spell it wrong. Sorry about that.

    • Yoav

      Both sides look at the same “evidence” and have different understandings of it based upon their different starting points.

      The only way you can look at the evidence (without scarequotes) and reach a conclusion other the common decedent and change over time produced by natural selection acting on existing variability in a population, is by not looking at the evidence.

      On the other hand, Evolutionists step outside of their realm when they start talking about how the world began (remember measurable and repeatable).

      The theory of evolution doesn’t deal with how the world began or even with how life began, it is also completely useless if you want to calculate the orbit of Jupiter or figure out how do these fu*king magnets work, so this is a BS point.

      The bigger question (dare I say “higher” question?) is “Is there a God and if so, how would he interact with this world we live in?” That is where the real argument resides.

      Go on, prove your favorite flavor of god exist.

      • Brad P.

        You are right that the theory of evolution does not deal with how the world or life began. Can I ask you for your explaination of how the world and life began? If you have done so on another post, please forgive me and point me to the spot. If not, I am interested in hearing other views. I do admit, I have been a bit sheltered in this area and I do not know many views.

        • Yoav

          When you say the world do you mean the universe or the earth? If it’s the universe then there were several books published recently by physicists, including one by Stephan Hawking, where they present several, physically possible, models for the universe to begin without requiring an external intervention, you should check them up. If you mean the earth then here science is on a much more solid footing since we understand the formation of planets a lot better, once again I’m sure you wouldn’t have too many problem finding books (or even websites) that would explain the process in a way a non-expert can understand.
          As for the beginning of life, we have several models but so far none is well established so there is much more research that need to be done but as Ursa pointed below there is a very large distance between ‘we can’t explain it fully yet’ and godidit and even a bigger jump to Brad P’s chosen version of jesus flavored YHVE didit.

    • vorjack

      If you have spent more time on the blog, you’d realize that I work in history, a discipline which is not “measurable and repeatable,” yet still considers itself to be a science concerned with the world we inhabit and experience.

      • Brad P.

        Point taken. I have added this to my blog role so I can spend more time reading here in the future.

        My point was that most people that support evolution hold to naturalism where Creationists believe in something outside of nature (Yes, you are correct. That cannot be proven directly). My degree is in math where we had premises which is what we use to start our proofs. After that, we need to use solid logic to prove our point. In Creation vs. Evolution, we are arguing about each others logic (insert snide comments about Creationists’ logic) but we tend to forget that we have different premises with which we start. Thus, your last statement is exactly why each side talks past each other instead of actually engaging each other in the real crux of the disagreement.

        • Kodie

          If you start with the premise that 5 is the same as 4, then 5+5=8, right?

          Do you see what’s wrong with that, math major?

  • Brad P.

    Yes, I do understand that you can assume your way to any conclusion and that is what you think Creationists are doing. Which means there needs to be a good reason why such a strong assumption is used. Since I have not heard a convincing argument how the world got here or how life began, I chose to start with the assumption that God exists. As I walked through the argument, there were difficult parts, e.g. carbon dating and the distance of starts, but nothing that was irrefutable. Looking at the other side, assuming that there is no God, there were some difficult parts there as well, e.g. our presence and the lack of solid connective links through the fossil record. Where many readers would side with the argument (not proof, mind you) against the presence of God, I think the case for God is more compelling.

    The original article was making fun of Creationists for acting like Sgt. Schultz on Hogan’s Heros: I see nothing; I hear nothing. Granted, there are people that do hold to it that way. But, there are others where there is much more to it than just that they do not want to be wrong.

    • Brad P.

      Sorry, this was supposed to be a response to Kodie.

    • Kodie

      Evolution does not prove there isn’t a god. It proves evolution. Why do you believe all that garbage you are reading that denies evolution? Because you started with a premise of 5 is the same as 4, you accepted that premise without any apparent question, and proceeded upon it to a place where you find it easy to deny evolution and who knows what other wrong things you think only because they agree with your premise. You don’t really get this article at all. You can only get so far before something doesn’t match up with reality, or you are denying it altogether.

      • Brad P.

        I get the article but you do not get my point. To the Creationist, this argument is not just about evolution. To the scientist, it is only about evolution. Thus, we talk past each other, make fun of each other, and erect strawmen of the other side so that we can easily defeat “the other side”.

        • vorjack

          1. We get your point. In apologetics it’s called “presuppositionalism,” and it’s fairly common in neo-orthodox circles.

          2. I don’t think you get the article. It’s not about world-view, presuppositions, premises or whatever words you choose to use. It’s about personal identity and the way people construct beliefs based less on what their told and more on who does the telling. It’s about the way that creationists reject global warming even though the topic is religious neutral because scientists tell them its real. It’s about the way evangelicals might believe in “creeping shari’a” despite a complete lack of evidence because someone at church told them it was happening.

        • Kodie

          If you take a premise like 5 is the same as 4, the creationist sticks with it and builds mountains of lies to protect it, such as inventing Intelligent Design as a concept and pretending it has scientific validity. It has not. It relies on a premise and its job is to reach that premise as its conclusion also. Facts don’t matter when you already know 5 is the same as 4.

          If you are a scientist going by 5 is the same as 4, you quickly reach a point where that does not match the observation. 5 is (|||||) and 4 is (||||), and discard that premise as false to begin with. It was only a hypothesis, they’re not married to it. Creationists speak about 5 being the same as 4 as if it’s everyone else who is crazy, off course, fooled by propaganda. If you want to start anything with the premise that 5 is the same as 4, we can’t move forward until you have shown the work involved in arriving at that premise, and not just so I can laugh at how stupid you are, but you’re obviously mistaken – and I don’t think that just because I have to believe 5 is not the same as 4, it’s because I can count that high and everyone can past the age of 3. It’s not arrived at by consensus of story-tellers. It’s a fact with evidence of how many is 4 and how many is 5. Any logic following a false premise is irrelevant.

          The cartoon and the article describe a phenomenon where a person will defy facts that do not support 5 being the same as 4 and actually conjure material that proves 5 is the same as 4 by starting with 5 is the same as 4 as its premise. If 5 is the same as 4, you have to show me why you think so and what convinced you because I don’t believe you and I can’t start with that as a premise to anything else until I’m also convinced. I don’t expect you to believe evolution if you are starting with the premise that creation is true. I expect you to follow the logic of your premise which involves denying things that contradict it, which is what the cartoon says. You don’t seem to have read anything about evolution except what is a liberally misunderstood version created to increase your doubt of evolution. Here’s the key: if the people who start with the premise that creation is true say there are a lot of flaws and holes and questions unanswered by evolution, and you believe them without reading about it yourself, you are doing so out of an attachment to your premise and not to discovering what’s actually true. You have a built in bias against facts that destroy your faulty premise – and if you want to defend your premise, you ought better to do it by proving it and not coming over to talk shit about evolution or “evolutionists,” since you don’t actually know what you’re talking about and you don’t seem to know enough to know why what you’ve learned about evolution from a creationist point of view might be biased information and beginning with a faulty premise. You say you choose to believe there’s a god. That doesn’t impress me.

        • Nox

          If you want to pursue that line of reasoning, I would suggest a more healthy question might be “is there a god, and does he interact with our world?”. Aside from the god question, the origin of the Universe, the origin of Earth, the origin of the first life on Earth, and the origin of humans, are very different questions (and the answers might not be as closely related as one might assume).

          Evolution is not the theory that there is no god.

          You seem to be viewing this as a direct conflict between common descent and the existence of a god or gods. Many theists see no such conflict. There is no inherent conflict between those concepts. Evolution by natural selection renders design unneccessary, even irrelevant, but it does not rule out design. Nor do carbon dating or the distance of stars or the state of the fossil record say anything for or against the general question of a god. If you’re just starting with the assumption that there is a god, there’s no reason to reject evolution. Because there’s no reason to be threatened by evolution. The conflict is with those other assumptions people make on top of the initial assumption of god.

          What evolution conflicts with is not design, but Genesis. The bible makes several specific statements relating to those origin questions. That is how the origin of matter got conflated with the origin of life in the first place. Most are consistent with what would be the preponderance of evidence three thousand years ago. But at this point nearly everything it says is in conflict with the current preponderance of evidence. And several key parts are definitely wrong and/or definitely plagiarized from earlier myths. The creation story in Genesis is quite simply, not possibly true.

          But because several people are committed to thinking the creation story in Genesis is true (Genesis is untrue on many subjects besides creation), they can not accept any explanation that puts humans any more than 6 days from the formation of Earth, or potentially implies we are not the center of the garden. When various branches of science put forward logical explanations which render the claims of Genesis laughable, it is seen as an attack on god. ‘There must be a god and it must be our particular god, and he must be exactly as we believe him to be, and anyone who says otherwise just doesn’t understand what god has revealed to us’ (in taking this approach the church has not only taken sides against evolution but heliocentrism). It kind of is seen as an “us vs them” thing.

          It may seem inconceivable that scientists are just looking at the evidence and coming to the obvious inescapable conclusions, but in this case that is what’s happening. There is no logical path from observing the evidence to concluding god. There is no actual debate between biocosmogeology and creationism. There is just unwillingness among certain branches of theists to consider that their book could be wrong.

          To fundamentalist christians, the Earth can’t be more than six thousand years old, because then Genesis would be wrong about the age of the patriarchs. The Universe can’t be billions of years older than Earth, because then Genesis would be wrong about day one. Humans can’t share common ancestry, because then Genesis would be wrong about humans being created ex nihilo in their current form (in the image of god). The first humans couldn’t have evolved gradually from earlier hominids, because then Genesis would be wrong about Adam and Eve (and no fruit means no original sin and no christianity). Plants and sunlight must be older than the Sun because otherwise Genesis would be wrong about that.

          If god didn’t want science disproving him, he should have been more careful making incorrect statements on scientific matters. But it’s too late for that now. Those statements are on the books, corroding the credibility of the statements which follow. And so a portion of christianity actively rebels against science. Sometimes it puts on a lab coat and tries to pretend the bible is a scientific document, but creationism in all it’s forms is an attempt to unknow. It must unknow what is already known, so as to continue believing what is already believed. Creationism is first and always, a rebellion against the knowledge that caused christianity to lose its credibility.

          Creationists and scientists are not just looking at the same evidence and interpreting it differently. They are looking at radically different evidence, and then interpreting it differently. The only evidence creationists are really looking at is Genesis (or in some cases the Qu’ran), and they are interpreting it by assuming it is literally true, ignoring abundant evidence that it is not true, and treating any real or imagined gap in human knowledge as evidence of their god.

          While the “evidence” that is put forward to defend creation is pretty much all of the “we don’t understand so it must be god” variety, that isn’t really what creationists say between themselves. The central concept of creationism is “we do understand because god told us”. And that is about fifteen assumptions past assuming a god.

    • UrsaMinor

      Since I have not heard a convincing argument how the world got here or how life began, I chose to start with the assumption that God exists.

      There is no rational connection between the two clauses in that sentence. Why do theists always try to stuff their god into the unknown? It makes no more sense than to assume that because you don’t understand the origins of the universe, unicorns must exist. If your god exists, there should be positive evidence for it, and then you can begin speculating.

      Also, as a side note, you seem to be arbitrarily limiting the possibility to one specific god. There are thousands of documented historical alternatives, and an infinite number of theoretical ones.

    • Mogg

      Like Ursa said, it seems odd to assume “God” solely on the basis of “we don’t yet know how the universe started”. You haven’t actually stated which particular god you go for, but I’ll assume the Christian one. Did you ever go through the exercise of comparing the how God interacts with the material world as described in the Bible and comparing that to real-world evidence? Did you ever compare described actions of the biblical God with those of other gods to see whether they are uniquely plausible or sound similar to events described in other religious traditions? Have you ever taken yourself outside of your assumptions and thought about biblical accounts as if you were a non-believer, and pondered whether they sound believable or would need some strong proof before you would do anything other than shrug?