Too much reading to do this summer…

23 04 2007

PZ posted a link to a quick and lite (but not especially insightful or interesting) review of recent books dealing with the evolution of religion/intersection of science & religion/falsification of religion/etc. I’ve only read a handful of them, and I’ll probably get around to the rest eventually, but overall I’m not that interested in the spate of recent books by Dawkins, Harris, etc. I actually picked up a copy of The God Delusion the last time I was in Baltimore, MD and I wasn’t that impressed with it.

I have read Roughgarden’s Evolution and Christian Faith and it wasn’t terribly impressive, the last section featuring Roughgarden trying to twist Scripture around to convince Christians that homosexuals are not living sinful lifestyle (I don’t think they are, but Roughgarden’s attempts to change the meanings of classic anti-homosexual passages isn’t effective). E.O. Wilson’s The Creation is also around the house, and while his attempt to convince Christians that stewardship (not dominion) of the planet is desperately needed, I don’t feel it’s really had the impact on evangelicals the author hoped for (plus, his solution of merely cataloging biodiversity is not the answer to our current ecological crisis). In fact, the only book on the list I actually enjoyed was Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience, in which Sagan quite effectively deconstructions notions like the “Anthropic Principle” and instills in the reader the notion that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I suppose I enjoyed it so much because it seemed that Sagan wanted to know where religion came from and why we believe what we believe rather than telling the reader that they have mental problems if they believe in certain doctrines, and the Q&A section has a very enlightening exchange between Sagan and a woman who claims that there’s some sort of psychic/spiritual world.

There’s been much debate lately over “framing” and some atheists being too harsh on religion and the people that adhere to different beliefs, but I don’t really have much to contribute to the arguments at the moment. I’m actually anxiously awaiting my copies of Gosse’s Omphalos and Paley’s Natural Theology because I really am curious about when science changed from something that was supposed to edify religion (God should be visible in nature, after all) to something that now seems eternally in conflict with religion. For my own part, I hope to follow the rule that Bob Bakker states near the beginning of The Dinosaur Heresies “Be kind to colleagues, ruthless with theories…”. In fact I’m speaking to a church small group on Thursday about evolution and intelligent design and I hope to be firm with my reasoning, yet sympathetic to the audience I’m talking to, otherwise I’ll likely be reinforcing the (incorrect) notion that all scientists are often opinionated, loud-mouthed people who won’t hesitate to tell everyone else how wrong they are. Perhaps the loudest and most controversial voices will always be heard, but I don’t see that as my place and I have so much left to learn; hopefully I’ll be able to accurately and firmly convey the wonderful notion that is evolution while still being able to understand that, for some, what I’m talking about conflicts with they’ve always held to be true.


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7 responses

23 04 2007
Chris Harrison

How did you manage to get your own evolution/ID discussion at a church? I’m jealous.

Anyway, if you’re interested in the the evolution of religion, then I would suggest a book that didn’t make it into that reviewer’s review. It’s Scott Atran’s “In Gods We Trust”. Atran works from the cognitive anthropologist realm, and his main conclusion is that religous belief stems from the ordinary workings of human cognition. Some people call this the byproduct (non-adaptive) explanation. Scott’s a very thorough scholar, as I think the bibliography went on for 20 pages. He’s a very wordy writer though, so you have to really be in your game when you sit down to read the book.

Anyway, it’s just a recommendation if you’re interested. He also has a few relevant papers online if you want to see what he’s all about. Here’s one:
http://www.bbsonline.org/Preprints/Atran-12172002/Referees/

I also found the full text of “The Varieties of Scientific Experience” online, so I’m going to get through that soon. But shhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I’m quite sure the copy I found is illegal.

You might consider recording your church presentation by the way, that would be sweet.

23 04 2007
RedMolly

Sign me up for the video/audio of your church presentation–what denomination is it?

Also, did you hear the sad news about one of the 34 surviving Amur leopards being killed? Here’s the story. People are such bastards, I swear…

24 04 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the recommendation Chris. I definitely am interested, but I should probably read that 10+ books I ordered first before getting any new ones (at least then I can use the excuse that I need to feed my brain, hah). I actually am going through a bit of a paleontology phase at the moment (as if you couldn’t tell), but when I through with Ompalos I’ll definitely check out Atran’s book.

As far as the church discussion, for a while I didn’t think it was going to happen. I used to lead a “Faith in Film” group at Millington Baptist Church, but I was a bit too liberal in my views (i.e. capital punishment is wrong) so attendance dried up. The coordinator for all the groups, however, suggested that I contact another group leader who discusses current issues that impact Christianity, so I got in touch with him. He seemed a little unsure after looking at my blog, but he figured it’d be good to do a point/counterpoint meeting, where I’ll speak after the group watches The Privileged Planet or something like that.

To tell you the truth I still have to plan out what I’m going to say, but other than a brief history of how natural theology changed into science as we know it (hitting Steno, Hutton, Buckland, Cuvier, Lamarck, Darwin, etc. along the way) and the infamous Wedge Document, I want to spend a good deal of time on mind-blowing evolutionary evidence, especially whale evolution (connecting paleontology, development, and atavisms & vestigial structures).

I don’t know if I’ll be able to tape it/record it, but you can fully expect the scoop on here after I get back from the meeting.

And thanks for the link Molly; that really is sad. I worry for the leopards, especially since they may have lost their genetic diversity so they might end up being exceptionally inbred like cheetahs. I know some zoos keep them (the Philly Zoo and I think the Central Park Zoo) but I don’t know of any breeding programs (although I hope there are). There’s no reason for what happened to that leopard; I can never understand when people are so cruel to such beautiful animals. I know you need to have certain requirements met to care about ecology, but I can’t understand why anyone would want to essentially murder a leopard.

24 04 2007
Chris Harrison

Your discussion sounds like it should turn out well. You’ve probably already read it, but Dr. Thewissen has a fantastic piece on whale evolution here:
http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/whales/evolution_of_whales/

Good luck.

24 04 2007
laelaps

Thanks Chris; I hope things turn out well. There’s just so much to go over that it’s hard to fit it all in (this blog is a testament to the fact that I could go on forever). What I’m more curious about is the Q&A session that’s supposed to follow my lecture.

Thanks for the link as well; I’ve had some correspondence with Dr. Thewissen in the past year and he pointed me to some good papers on the topic. I figured whales would be a good example for the lecture being that we can really see evolution in action and they speak to a variety of other issues like development and atavisms that might be hard to bring in otherwise. I’m not sure what else I’m going to include yet, but I’ll probably stick with what I’m familiar with (so lots of predatory tetrapods from the Devonian onward then, hah).

24 04 2007
Chris Harrison

If I could suggest another thing, it would be good to give the audience a straightforward definition of biological evolution “descent with modification”, and let them know that this covers everything from allele fluctuations in populations, to common descent. I’d start out with something easy, the evolution of antibiotic resistance, and then maybe step up to something a little more impressive, like the fact that genetic mutation that results in sickle cell anemia is undergoing *positive* selection in parts of sub-Saharan Africa because it confers some resistance to malaria. I think this example is a good expose of how selection pressures lead to evolution, and it also illustrates how mutations are either beneficial, neutral, or deleterious, depending entirely on the context (the mutation wouldn’t undergo selection here in the U.S., but since malaria is so damaging over there, the mutations’ slight disadvantage in terms of hemoglobins sticking together is overcome).

Thanks for the comment at my blog, by the way (I expect my creationist was the same guy that contacted you).

24 04 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the suggestions Chris. I definitely want to start off with a good explanation of what evolution is and is not (i.e. “just a theory”). I’ll likely mention antibiotic resistance and the malaria/sickle-cell anemia link, although probably not as in depth because I’m not as well versed in that area so I don’t want to reply “I don’t know” if people bring up questions about it. Still, you’re right in that it’s important to show evolution as THE unifying idea in biology, going over how complex things have become and that no one is a “Darwinist” these days.

As for the creationist that sent you the Sanford book, you should e-mail me about it. I actually met the person who sent me the book in person (he also signed me up for ICR’s quarterly CRSQ journal and Creation Matters bulletin) so it would be interesting if he found you through finding me on the web.

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