At first glance the answer seems obvious: of course creationists can be birders! Everyone can be a birder regardless of what it is that they believe. So perhaps it would be better to phrase the question like this: “Can creationists possibly appreciate birds as much as non-creationists?” And then the answer gets a bit murky, or, at least, I think it does. But before we go further we might need to look momentarily into the world of creationist thought.
Creationists typically believe that a god or gods created the earth and everything else. And while creationists and creationism are mostly associated with the various and sundry christian religions they actually come from a variety of faiths – pretty much every religion or mythology has a creation myth. Some people who believe in creationism as part of their faith also believe in evolution and though one might think that the contradictory thoughts might make one’s head explode they seem to do just fine (and this blog post is not addressing them because such people recognize that evolution happens). Anyway, in the myths that creationists believe, a supernatural power or powers create everything, from order out of chaos to the earth itself; from the moon and sun to the oceans and sky; from the birds of the air to the beasts on land: all of it is credited to a god or gods. The fact that not one iota of evidence supports any one of these tales over another means not a whit to anyone who fervently believes in one particular creation myth. And don’t even get me started on young earth creationists…
But I digress and, worse yet, have brought my own bias as an atheist into this thought experiment, which was to determine if creationists can be birders (or something like that). With the genie out of the bottle I might as well go with my gut and answer my own question with an emphatic “No!” Creationists can’t be birders, or, as we rephrased it, creationists can’t appreciate birds as much as non-creationists. Why?
When a type 2 Red Crossbill successfully pries open a white pine cone to get at the seeds I see a marvel of not just evolution but coevolution, which, at the species level, happens when two or more species exert selective pressure on each other. In this case, crossbills with a properly-sized beak that is curved just right will get more energy from the seeds they manage to get from pine cones and will be better placed to pass their genes down through the years, and trees with enough cones that baffle crossbills will likewise be more likely to send their DNA to the next generation. When one understands that when one watches crossbills foraging on pine trees one is actually, in a way, watching evolution in action, one more fully appreciates the struggle that the birds (and the trees) have gone through each and every day for millions of years to survive and flourish and pass on their genes.
When a creationist, or anti-evolutionist, sees the same sight they see a static creation in which some higher power made the trees and the birds exactly as they are. They see birds prying open pine cones. Sure, they can marvel at how the beaks are curved and crossed-over each other but they have to give credit to some figment of their imagination and not to millions of years of coevolution and the struggle to survive. This cheapens the sight. Just like magic tricks lose much of their allure when one learns how the magician performs his tricks so too does the natural world when one credits an entity with creating it. Instead of trying to figure out how birds and trees ended up what they are, and following this line of inquiry as it leads in all kinds of unpredictable directions, one merely says, “Eh, God did it.” It is lazy, boring, and misses the point entirely.
Some creationists claim that they believe in microevolution but not macroevolution which, of course, is absurd. The two terms differ only in the timescales they define (click through the links for a better explanation). To say one believes in microevolution but not macroevolution is essentially a way to say that one does not believe in geologic time, which, well, see my comment above about not getting me started about young earth creationists…
The fact is, birders are better birders when they have an understanding of how speciation through evolution occurs because that is the main way one distinguishes between families of birds. If everything was created at once by a supernatural being what does it matter in what family one places a tanager, a grosbeak, a saltator? It doesn’t matter and relations between species cease to matter either! If everything sprang into existence at the whim of a deity then a jay is as related to a penguin as it is to a crow!
One last reason that creationists can’t be birders is that one of the most important aspects of birding is questioning. One questions others’ sightings, one questions the folks who put different birds in different families, one questions why their field guide is laid out the way it is, one questions virtually everything. In doing so, we birders (amateur ornithologists?) do something that approaches science. At the very least, our sightings add to the scientific record of what birds are where and when. But if one does not question, if one does not dare to wonder if perhaps some bit of received knowledge is wrong, well, how can one hope to identify a stray Cave Swallow when one thinks that only Tree Swallows are present this time of year? How can one dare correct a better birder when that better birder blows an identification? How can one learn without questioning facts that have no evidence to back them up?
And, yes, there will be creationists who will say that they are looking at birds only for the aesthetic value and the science doesn’t matter; they just like birds and reveling in the deity-of-their-choice’s creation. Fine. You can just like birds. But don’t expect to understand the feathered dinosaurs roaming your backyard because you never will if you are coming from a strictly creationist perspective…
Can of worms, but I’m looking forward to the comments so much.
The Wiki that you link to for this is woefully incomplete, saying only this:
That is a gross oversimplification of Mayr and the Modern Synthesis. For instance, beginning with influential 1942 book Systematics and the Origin of Species, he lays out his argument that sympatric speciation is a mere footnote to “macroevolution,” and not the main theme – that main theme being allopatric speciation.
In other words, Mayr’s most important contribution to the Modern Synthesis is the observation that Natural Selection (the main driver of “microevolution”) is insufficient to drive speciation – that you need geographical separation in most instances as well for speciation to occur. This is thought to be the main reason why speciation occurs most rapidly on remote (and especially volcanic) islands, where dispersal to and from the mainland continents are at their minimum.
“Darwin’s finches” are an excellent example of this in action – during harsh drought years you have “species” appear fixed in the Geospiza ground finches in the Galopagos, but during years of plentiful seeds you see hybrids of these species start to not only become common but thrive, and out reproduce the “pure” stocks.
For creationists though – the topic of this post – absolutely you cannot fully appreciate the birds you’re watching. There’s the symbiotic relationships that you note, but there’s also the biogeographical relationships, and the complex dynamics involving ring species, cryptic species, hybrids, etc.
As can be paraphrased from Richard Feynman:
Okay, I hope that didn’t go too long…
Thanks for an appropriate Sunday morning exercise.
First off, creationists are as various in their views as, oh, say, evolutionists…so any such sweeping generalization is bound to do injustice to many particular and individual birders…both creationists and evolutionists.
Then I would have to wonder just why it is that you care enough about this to write a blog post? What does it matter to you if some of your fellow birders attribute what you attribute to evolutionary forces to the intelligent design of a creator God? Your evolutionary views enrich your enjoyment of birding…good for you. Isn’t it just possible that others’ creationists views might enrich their enjoyment of birding just as much?
I am not a creationist in the “creation-science” sense…that is, I don’t attempt to replace evolutionary theory with creation theory (based on a one-time act of creation, literally as revealed in the Bible) as an explanation of how the natural world comes to be the way it is…but I am a creationist in the sense that I believe in a creator God, and in an intelligent, on-going, active, living creation.
When I look at your Red Crossbill with a white pine cone what I see may not be evidence of coevolution, based on a billion random acts by millions of individual Red Crossbills, over hundreds of thousands of years…most of which (both acts and individuals) were failures (only the fittest survive)…but it is evidence of cocreation…of the loving design lavished on the world around me by a creator who envisions just the exact bird, with exactly the right beak, needed to spread the seed of the white pine, and who envisions exactly the right kind of cone, grown by exactly the right kind of tree, in exactly the right kind of soil and climate, etc, etc, to grow the exact seed that bird needs to live.
To me that is a greater wonder than billions of random acts. And it releases more than wonder in me…it releases praise and love…it compounds my joy in birding by making birding an act of worship…an act of communion with a loving creator God.
Now, why would I trade that for the intellectual satisfaction of an understanding of coevolution? 🙂
I am conscious here of phrasing things in a way that is intended to get a rise out of you…that is just me being playful. In no way should you take it as an attack, and especially not as an attack on you or what you believe. This is not a fight, just a conversation, and we can both have some fun with it.
There are creationists who are also “literalists”…who question the right to question anything, and claim to base their lives on revealed truth, generally as they understand it from the written record (the Bible). I am not one of those.
I believe in a living creation and a living revelation. I believe in a living creator, who is in a loving relationship with his creation, actively creating it every second, and who I am privileged to know in a completely personal way. It is a relationship. Relationships are based on both trust and understanding…and both involve a growing knowledge of the other. Therefore, far from an unquestioning world-view, I am called to question everything. That is the only way I will get to know my living creator better.
My questions are always: What does this tell me about my creator? What does this reveal about my creator’s love? How does this help me to know better and trust more? These questions, by the way, apply as much to my reading of scripture as they do to my time in the field watching birds. They apply just as much to this conversation! I question everything.
And therefore everything…from Red Crossbills to White Pines…from interactions with friends and family to random responses to bloggers I have a passing acquaintance with…is a source of wonder. In everything I question. In everything I learn. And everything I learn brings me closer to my creator. What a great life!
This wonder in the world around me is, in fact, what I enjoy most about birding!
Why would I trade that for an understanding of coevolution?
Just to clarify. I do understand evolutionary theory. I don’t believe all of it, based on the evidence and my own self-chosen predisposition to see God in everything, but that does not mean that I do not understand it. Coevolotion is goes a long way toward explaining Red Crossbills and White Pines: it is just that, imho, it does not go far enough. I can’t escape the feeling, what amounts to the certainty, that there is more to it than that…forces at work that can not be (or at least, have not been) captured in numbers and equations and statistical probabilities of random acts. Evolution is not enough for me.
In the end science is not enough for me. I chose a world based in faith. I enjoy science, the way I enjoy good fiction, or a good argument, or, for instance, this…as play…as one more evidence of the children of the creator being creative with their minds and lives…but I live by faith. That means I see God in everything.
I most certainly see God in Red Crossbills and White Pines. I enjoy God in birding. And, sorry Corey, not all the bloggers, evolutionists birders…or atheist evolutionist blogging birders…in the universe will conspire to take that away from me…or to lessen my enjoyment of God in birding by one little bit!
So say I. 🙂
Have a great Sunday!
I think up to a certain point, creationists can absolutely enjoy birds and birding. On of the great things about this avocation is that our relationship with it is intensely personal.
But if you’re honest with yourself and interested enough about the “why” as opposed to the “what” (and most of us get to that point eventually), you’ll get to where you cannot deny what’s in front of you. Birds are such a great and accessible example of the truth of natural selection. They’re like some sort of trojan horse.
Maybe we should be encouraging creationists to take up birding…
Loved this post, Corey.
I think that the bit that will be missed by most of the commenters is that you’re not speaking to those who believe in one or more gods AND evolution, you’re speaking only to the pure creationists about that aspect of birding that is so meaningful to evolutionists that can’t possibly be appreciated by a creationist. I’m sure you’ll get all kinds of arguments for the tangential point, but I think that your essential point is beyond refutation.
“…the whim of a deity…” Silly Boy. It wasn’t a whim; it IS a plan. 🙂
@Alan: Well, enjoy!
@Dan: You did not go on too long…that was great. Thanks for the additional info.
@Stephen Ingraham: I hear where you are coming from but I just can’t understand it. We’re on opposite sides of an issue and I guess I am glad that we live in a more refined time and I’m not getting burnt at the stake or something…I must say that you nicely turn a phrase and make things sound so simple and sweet, until one realizes that you are referring to one of literally thousands of deities that people have made up and then your persuasion stops working so well. But thanks for coming by and civilly commenting.
@Nate: You know, you might be right!
@Deb: Thanks for bringing that to the fore…
@gcw: Oh, of course, I’ll just take your word for it then…
Very interesting post. However, we also need to recognize that there are various species of creationists (as Deb alluded to above). Your point is well taken if you mean Fiat Creationists (roughly, those who believe God created the world & its biodiversity much as it is sometime in the last 10,000 years), and also if you mean Special Creationists (those who believe God created this biodiversity through many miraculous interventions over a very long period of time). However, the point is not applicable for those of us that are Continuous Creationists (ie. we accept the theory of evolutionary science as one of the mechanisms God utilized to bring about his creation). So, to be precise, the title might be better phrased as “Can those who don’t accept evolutionary science fully appreciate birding?”.
I think Steve’s response is superb and I fully agree with him.
But how you can think creationists cannot fully enjoy or appreciate birds is astounding to me. Have our minds simply not evolved enough? 🙂
When I am out there in the field, or nearly anywhere else for that matter, I am not only deeply moved by the birds I see, but constantly questioning as you say you are. Are my thoughts and questions of less value or deep than yours because I believe in a creator God? I see no logic at all in you saying I do not have the ability to fully appreciate what I see, and that it is limited simply because of Who I believe in.
“At the very least, our sightings add to the scientific record of what birds are where and when.”
And mine don’t? Are you serious? Should I preface all my citizen science records of sightings with, “Observed by a creationist, therefore questionable”? Silly!
It takes way more faith than I have to believe that we, and this amazing earth and it’s creatures evolved from some amoeba or two particles that accidently collided, to an incredibly diverse, orderly system of life. I believe the system of families of birds and mammals and the like is quite intentional on God’s part. The more I study, observe and question, the more amazed I am.
Corey said: “one of literally thousands of deities that people have made up” ???
Maybe I refer to the creator by one of the thousands of names people have made up to name the creator…and maybe I relate to the Creator by one of the thousands of the ways the creator relates to the children of creation, and maybe, to our shame, we have spent way too much life energy disputing with those who do not use the same name or relate in the same way…but none of that dilutes my faith in the creator and the creator’s love…which is based on my own living, daily experience of the work of the creator in my life and in the world.
I could, of course, describe evolution as one of the thousands of theories people have made up over the generations to explain why there are so many different kinds of creatures and how they got to be the way they are…
There is certainly as much agreement among human beings that there is a creator, and that the world is created, as there is that evolution is the correct and only explanation of specieation.
So lets be careful how we throw that “made up” thing around.
Corey is not saying creationists cannot appreciate birds, or be deeply moved by them, or ponder fascinating questions about them. He is saying that creationists cannot have this *one particular profound experience*–the witnessing of the evolutionary process–that so moves and motivates birders who are evolutionists.
Nature is amazing, certainly. But to postulate a supernatural cause of nature seems to the pure evolutionist, who relies on the evidence we humans have accumulated, to be stepping outside of reason and evidence and into the realm of fancy.
Can you really look at the world around you and assure me that reason is superior to faith as a way of dealing with reality? If faith is fancy, then I choose fancy, and willingly!…but I, and generations of witnesses, can testify that faith is not fancy, that is as real as anything reason can define. If you choose to ignore that as evidence…and to continue to distinguish between natural and supernatural, then that is your choice. Creation is natural to me…
So I am off to church now…so I will leave this to other minds.
I would only add that, inasmuch as creationists think of species, or at least higher taxonomic orders, as handed down from on high, I can’t imagine what they must think of all the lumping and splitting that goes on in ornithology. Do they imagine that it’s just silly scientists being silly, fumbling around trying to find some fixed, final, Ultimate Plan by feel? How sad that would be! I have to object strongly to the comment that contrasts scientific appreciation of birds with a sense of wonder, above, because I can’t think of anything more wonderful than recognizing that life is a great river through time that creates and recreates itself daily, not just Someone’s side project.
A fascinating discussion and one I will comment on from a slightly different angle. When we talk about birders, there are just as many different varieties of birds as there are creationists, evolutionists, religions, or apples. Birders vary from the lady that sits in the park feeding pigeons to the millionare who jumps on the next flight around the world to catch that one single rare or vagrant bird. We are as varied as much as any other group of people.
NOTE! In this next paragraph, I am by no means calling creationists uneducated!!!!
So lets look at differences in birders and you could make the exact same argument as Corey has but would it hold water then? Take the example of a full time ornithologist. He sees the crossbills, recognizes the evolutionary theory, and marvels at it. That’s what he takes away from that experience. Take a high school drop out that never made it through his high school biology class but now has found an amazement and passion for birds. He has a vague idea of evolution but has never studied coevolution. Is his marvel and amazement at seeing a Red Crossbill feeding on a white pine any different than the veteran scientist? Sure, they marvel at different things, they appreciate different things, but they still draw an equal fascination from the birds and are equally excited to observe and experience this scene.
How is that different than a creationist seeing awe in the creator, a scientist seeing the effects of coevolution, or even a lister seeing the bird, making the check mark in his notebook and moving on to the next species without ever actually witnessing the bird feeding? Birding is a very personal experience for the observer.
Birding also has very little bearing on the actual bird. That bird is oblivious to weather we call it a Type 2 or Type 4. It knows it has to eat a particular cone and breed with other birds that eat the same particular cone. We can debate the classification of a species all we want, the bird just goes on with its life. It simply is a method for us to interpret and mentally catalog our own field experience. Some see Darwin, some see God, some see fascination and wonder, some see the possibility of a new tick.
Again, interesting discussion and I’ll check back later.
@Stephen- The evidence for any sort of faith-based revelation is entirely personal, and that’s fine. You just can’t expect someone else to accept that as objective reasoned evidence of anything. It’s not so much ignorance, as much as it is an appeal to something that that no other person can possibly experience. But that’s a deeper discussion that I think Corey is going for here. 😉
For me, the natural world in and of itself is more incredible and wonderful as anything I’ve experienced (or more likely not experienced) from any sort of faith experience. And birds and their diversity through natural selection is a big part of that. I don’t think I’d expect anyone else to share my personal interpretation of all that, but it’s certainly beyond the understanding of a young earth creationist who believes in a 6k year old planet or that god would do something so bizarre as to create 20 odd distinct nomadic Red Crossbill species around the world, which is the real dichotomy in this post.
Interesting post. Too bad I don’t have time for a longer reply since I’m on my way to CHURCH–off worship the God who created birds (and atheists). Do I appreciate either? Probably not well enough.
‘Silly Boy’? Hey, Corey, do you feel like a little lad in short pants back at school and you just had your head patted by a teacher who thinks you’re probably too dim to understand what he’s talking about. FWIW you look quite grown-up in your photos 🙂
Corey said “I’ll just take your word for it then…” I suspect you won’t, and you certainly shouldn’t. The point about “whim” vs “plan” being that with “whim” you are painting an untrue characterization of the perspective most of the creationists to whom you are addressing this post. Most do not believe that creation was a “whim” or a random act of a capricious god. It is part of His plan.
Steve Ingraham answers the question in your title much more eloquently than I can. But it seems to me to be a matter of perspective. As an atheist you see the vast diversity and intricate interrelationships, and marvel from the perspective of your faith in evolutionary theory. As a Christian, I see the vast diversity and intricate interrelationships from the perspective of my faith in a God whose “eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” – and marvel at His plan.
I apologize for the condescending attitue of the “Silly Boy” comment.
I suspect this is way outside the parameters of this post but I’d be really interested to know what Creationists in general think of conservation, or – to put it another way – the need (as I perceive it) for us to try to stop species going extinct?
If a Creator created Man and all other species then is our destroying entire eco-systems just part of the programme (or plan) as it was set up by him/her, or is it just a point on the learning curve that means we humans need to dismantle the systems we all depend on before we can appreciate how complex and wonderful they are (by which time, of course, most of us – humans, animals, and plants – will have been killed by that same dismantling process)?
Without going into hugely long-winded explanations (which are the constituency of atheists and deists alike), could any Creationists reading this thread let me know whether you think that: a)’everything will be okay in the end’ because God will intercede before humanity goes extinct; b) what happens happens, it’s all been planned, if we all die so be it; c) Of course, conservation matters and I’ll support any effort to save endangered species.
Because I cannot simply let GCW’s idea that scientists have just as much faith as religionists stand:
We do not have “faith” in evolution. Evolution is the aggregate description of the scientifically verifiable observations of the way the world is. We have direct evidence of the natural environment. We watch and record the evidence of how things happen, over time. We *see* the facts for ourselves, and we integrate them with other facts we know about the world. That’s science. Evolution IS science.
Scientists don’t need to call on some alternative, imagined explanation for the way the world is. We have explanations based on a certain amount of evidence, and our explanations change based on, and only on, additional evidence.
Where’s the faith?
Re: the original post:
This argument is very poor if intended to convince people of creationist bent because it assumes in its premises the very points that they contend. Which obviously is not convincing. Namely, since evolution is true, birds seen as items of evolution are more richly appreciated. But since evolution is not true (understood as blind mutation guided solely by natural selection), birds seen solely as items of evolution are actually more poorly appreciated. So nobody is convinced and nobody learns anything.
If as Deb says, the central point is that there is a kind of experience that evolutionists have while birding that Creationists cannot have, that point itself is not contentious. Creationists won’t be jealous to be missing out on that experience, just as Corey doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on the experiences of religious birders.
Finally, Corey, I think you misunderstand classical Christians (my own tradition, I can’t comment on others) in general. Just because Christians receive some items of knowledge by faith via revelation does not mean that we are un-inquiring people. In fact, there are many intelligent Christians who have asked many of the same questions you have – they’ve just come to believe a different answer.
Personally, I do think that the experience of birding is richer for Christians. I think that the experience of life is richer for Christians (because I think that we’re right). And, ultimately, I think we have more questions and inquiries available to us than your standard naturalist. We can ask not only “why” a Priranga Tanager is actually in Cardinalidae, we can ask why there is a Priranga Tanager in the first place – a question that, if pursued to its logical conclusion by an atheist is a source of meaningless nihilism, but for the Christian it is a font of endless joy and hope. There is a tanager for the same reason that there is any world for a tanager to live in – because God is love.
thainamu: God created atheists? An all-knowing, all-wise entity created another entity which specifically doesn’t believe in the creating entity?
Delete “squirrels!”, replace it with “birds!”, and you have perfection.
Jon: “There is a tanager for the same reason that there is any world for a tanager to live in – because God is love.” Which brings me to the question (again), which part of the loving plan allows us to destroy the very eco-systems that the tanager (and everything else) depends on?
And I’m sorry, but you’re wrong when you say, “we can ask why there is a Priranga Tanager in the first place – a question that, if pursued to its logical conclusion by an atheist is a source of meaningless nihilism”. I’m an atheist, I can ask why too, and I can attempt to work out the answer – evolution, because a niche came to exist, because the world is incredibly complex and every species fits into a web that has taken millions of years to exist in the way it does now. Where I don’t know the answer I know I have to study harder. It’s a challenge, but it’s interesting and it’s fun. What’s meaningless or nihilist about living and thinking within the boundaries of an observable, scientifically provable reality?
@Jon- If as Deb says, the central point is that there is a kind of experience that evolutionists have while birding that Creationists cannot have, that point itself is not contentious. Creationists won’t be jealous to be missing out on that experience, just as Corey doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on the experiences of religious birders. – Jon
I actually couldn’t agree more. Except that I’d point out that it’s not an experience creationists can’t have, but one they make a decision not to have. And that’s fine, even if I, personally, can’t understand it.
a question that, if pursued to its logical conclusion by an atheist is a source of meaningless nihilism
But this is just unnecessarily insulting.
Just because something’s “meaning” may not be immediately clear to an individual, doesn’t at all make it meaningless. “Meaning” is something we choose to bestow on an experience, not an innate characteristic of the experience itself.
@Everyone: Wow! I leave for a morning’s birding and come back and there is an amazing comment thread. I’ll stay out of it for now, other than to ask that everyone stay civil.
From a previous comment: “the loving design”
This person’s magic man really loves the creatures it makes out of nothing.
I never met a creationist who wasn’t an idiot.
Charlie said, “thainamu: God created atheists? An all-knowing, all-wise entity created another entity which specifically doesn’t believe in the creating entity?
By ‘create atheists,’ I mean that God created *humans* (just like he did birds) and in spite of–or more likely because of–him being all-knowing and all-wise, he gave humans the gift of choice, including the choice to become an atheist if he wants to. After all, God doesn’t want puppets to love him, he wants us to choose to love him.
And speaking of choosing to love, I choose to love (=respect, appreciate, admire, etc) God’s creation as an act of worship and service to the Creator. (In the same way I respect a painter and don’t take a knife to his creations that hang in the museum.)
Charlie said, “could any Creationists reading this thread let me know whether you think that: a)’everything will be okay in the end’ because God will intercede before humanity goes extinct; b) what happens happens, it’s all been planned, if we all die so be it; c) Of course, conservation matters and I’ll support any effort to save endangered species.”
I don’t think I agree with any of those three categories (I probably should say that I’m the kind of creationist Corey thinks whose head would explode :-)). a) I don’t know if God will intercede before humanity goes extinct or not. It is not for me to tell God what to do when. b) While I admit it could be viewed as paradoxical, I don’t believe that the all-knowing God actually *plans* our actions. As I said already, he has given us the gift of choice, and choices have repercussions. c) I view myself as a common-sense environmentalist/conservationist. I love and protect God’s good green earth because it is one of his gifts of love to me.
Wow. This has been fun to read.
And let me just say this, Corey: I knew what you meant in the post about what kind of creationist you were talking about. The ones that can’t see reason if it slapped them in the face. It took six days to create the world, there were never any dinosaurs, fossils aren’t real and the Earth is only about 6000 years old. Got it.
I was particularly interested to read this one because I am going to do a program next week at a local church (I’m the education director for a raptor rehab and take our permanently injured hawks, owls and falcons to schools, etc). This church told me in no uncertain terms that I was NOT to even mention the word Evolution, “with a capital E”. Hmmm. Okay. And they want me to brings nothing but OWLS.
This worried me, and I told them that I would be hard pressed to fully explain owls without explaining their adaptations. They said adaptations were fine. Huh? “Adaptation” is fine, but “Evolution” is not? As long as the adaptations only took about 6000 years to come about?
It’s a fine line, and I’m not looking forward to walking it. My job is to EDUCATE the public about these fascinating birds, not to blur over some rather important factors that bring our understanding and appreciation to a higher level. How do I bring these kids closer to Nature without showing them the facts behind it? Just sprinkle fairy dust and say “God created it all and don’t ask questions, just swallow the stuff we are feeding you”?
I lose patience with people who “believe” only what the Bible says and use their religion as a big blanket to stick their head under. They can do what they wish, but I have a job to do here.
Well I was kind of waiting for my mind to come back on-line after lunch to get back into this, but, despite a nice walk in a wood filled with mellowing oak leaves and golden beech, and a lone chickadee calling wee and far, that just is not happening, so…
Nate and Deb: evidence? objective reasoned evidence? Scientifically verifiable evidence? Evolution is Science!? It all comes down in the end to epistemology. It always does. How do we know what we know? What are our standards for evidence, and how do we assemble evidence into reasonable, working definitions of truth?
There are, of course, lots of religious people who “believe in God” or believe in creation, because of “received truth”…someone told them so, and they believed it either because it made sense to them or because it met a perceived need in their lives, and they hold to it because it is constantly reinforced by the community they are part of.They have not actually had a face to face encounter with the truth of God. Belief for them is not a deep seated experiential truth…but it is enough to get on with.
I would argue that there are some scientists, even evolutionary scientists, and an great abundance of “scientifically minded modern people” who believe in evolution on exactly the same grounds. They have no direct experience of evolution in action. They have not done a single experiment to verify the truth of the theory, nor do they know anyone who has. If pressed, they could not even tell you how it supposed to explain speciation. In fact they know little or nothing, really, about it. (And some of them are birders.)
There are, however, lots of people of faith who believe what they believe based on the fact that they have actually tired the experiment, and gotten, within a reasonable personal variation, exactly the predicted outcomes…that is the results, the experiences of a creator God, that those who have tired the experiment before them have recorded, and to which they testify. They have had their living encounter with a living creator God. For them the truth of faith is experiential, objective (since it shared by so many others, and available to anyone who is willing to try the experiment), and completely rational.
Oh there are those who try the experiment and get no results. To them I say what Edison is reputed to have said. “You now know one more way that does not work.” (or words to that effect). That does not alter the facts for those who have tried it and found the way that does work for them. (And some of them are birders too.)
The experiences I have had are not too “personal” for me to expect others to accept them as objective reasoned evidence…at least not by any reasonable definition of reason, evidence, or objectivity…clearly they are not since a vast number of others do in fact accept them as such. And what I believe is not an “alternative, imagined explanation” in contrast to the accepted scientific truth of evolution (saying it is, by the way, is at least mildly insulting…though understandable and forgivable)…it is a rational choice I have made based on my living experiences of a living God in a living creation.
And I still contend I can have just as much fun birding as any evolutionist. So there. Take that! No body gets to corner the fun around here! Not while I am around. 🙂
(And I think I did really well by not bringing up Heisenger even once!)
Oh…sorry…Heisenburg! of course.
Hay bobxxx, nice to hear your voice here too!
Of course, Stephen, you’re right, it all comes down to epistemology.
How DO we know what we know? (Remember, knowledge–THINKING something is true–is different from what people call FAITH. I don’t know what the epistemological mechanism of “faith” is, or how it is distinguished from “make believe,” but it certainly isn’t KNOWLEDGE. If it were, then you and others would simply call it “knowledge,” not faith.)
I will answer the question you are actually asking, then, here. Leaving aside questions of faith, how do we know what we know?
The answer is that the only way that human beings can know anything is by the evidence of our senses. Our senses give us the primary data that our minds test and organize. Everything we know all ultimately comes back to sense data, and to our cognitive processing–the noticing of similarities and differences to create abstract concepts–of that sense data. Is something true? We check the evidence of our senses, and we check to verify that others are having the same experience.
When I say to someone that a certain thing is TRUE, I can only pound my fist and declare that to be the case if I have the objective evidence to which I can refer the person…evidence to which they have access through their senses, and reasoning based on the evidence of their senses.
No reputable scientist says the following: “Well, I BELIEVE this is true, but I can’t demonstrate conclusive evidence that would satisfy YOU, Deb. You can’t replicate my experience. But believe it’s true anyway, Deb. And respect me for it.” No, to the contrary: Scientists who have become established as knowing what they’re talking about have generally gotten that reputation BECAUSE they welcome honest inquiry into the topic, and because they hold out their claims as independently verifiable. They welcome validation from others willing to test the conclusion, and they welcome information from others trying but failing to replicate their conclusions. And, if they are honest, they welcome evidence refuting their conclusions.
That is, the way to learn things that are true about the world is through honest investigation of the natural world: I employ my mind to process the evidence of my senses. I trust scientists who employ the proper scientific method for the same reason, because they are engaged in an objectively verifiable quest for the truth. I do not trust the claims of people who do not welcome independent investigation, who do not hold their claims up to scrutiny.
This is why it is different to have provisional trust for a scientist’s claim than to trust religionists. The scientist always seeks to refine his understanding of the natural world *by examining the facts*, and testing, testing, testing. Religionists may be questioning, but faith (which seems to be commonly defined as “holding something to be true in the absence of verifiable fact”) precludes testing, indeed, precludes the very idea of proof.
If I encounter contrary evidence to something I think is true, then, I investigate further. And what do I investigate? The facts. How do I encounter facts? By seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, or tasting them. What else are facts? Abstractions that are generated as a result of cognitive processing of things that are experienced with the senses.
Emotions are facts, too, in the sense that it is a fact that unthinking people irritate me. But facts do NOT come into being by humans imagining them, or wishing for them, or feeling them. My irritation at someone is not *evidence* that they’re wrong. (If someone said to me: “How do you know we’re not all molecules in the spit of a giant dragon, Deb?” I can’t say to them: “Because the idea irritates me.”) Similarly, Stephen’s deep desire for there to be a Spirit in the Sky with a Plan is not evidence that one exists. Nor does the conviction of millions of people that something is true constitute evidence. Ask Gallileo.
Deb, and all…
Those who live by faith (and I am not talking about the religions), contrary to your assertions, are constantly putting what they believe to the test…there is no other way to live if you live by faith. Faith, honest, experiential faith, says: I am willing to believe (my part). Prove yourself (God’s part). And God does. Over and over, every day, every second. God is good that way 🙂 All that is asked of us is the willingness to be convinced.
And it does amount to knowing. Faith itself may not be knowing, but it is, imho, the necessary prerequisite to any kind of real knowledge of how the world works. I did not always believe that. I was, after all, a physics major. But at one point in my life, I was brought to the point where I said, “okay, I am willing, provisionally, to believe…convince me.” And God did!
Faith is not belief without evidence. Faith is a growing, a living trust in living creator based on daily evidence. To me the evidence is as empirical as the length of the toenails on a Red Crossbill.
If you don’t want to believe that, that’s okay.
But this whole thing started because Corey said I, as one who believes in creation and a creator, could not be a real birder since I do not appreciate the nuances of evolution and the way birds, what, demonstrate? confirm? affirm? the theory. That is utter non-sense! Sorry Corey, I know you did not mean it that way…but it is.
All I have tried to do here is point out that there is something just as wonderful that I, as one who lives by faith in a living creator, can appreciate about birds. It may be different than what you appreciate, but it is, imho, just as valid. And honestly, who are you, any of you, to say otherwise?
In fact, by Corey’s test, I know very few real birders…since the majority of birders I know, unless they took a learning annex course I don’t know about, and are hiding their lights under bushels, know very little about evolutionary theory. No one has ever, in my hearing, exclaimed on sight of a Red Crossbill pealing seed out of a White Pine cone…”oh what a perfect proof of coevolution!” Maybe I just hang out with the wrong birders.
So, it is getting late on Sunday. I have spent way too much time on this today which I, maybe, might better have spent talking to my wife and kids, or out birding for that matter.
I am done. Nuff said. Or so I say.
I was thinking about how to reply, and then I read Stephen’s first post, and there was what I was thinking! Don’t know how you did that, Stephen 🙂
I am a creationist in that I believe that an almighty deity is ultimately responsible for this world’s existence. But if I’m reading Corey’s post right, I don’t think I’m the sort of creationist he’s addressing. I don’t know if this is the “correct” term, but I also do not understand the idea of a “Fixed Creation”. That is, God created everything exactly as we see it today, and that speciation does not occur. The evidence for speciation is certainly enough to convince me that it does, in fact, occur (I very much enjoyed The Beak of the Finch). The idea that there was, for example, a single type of Red Crossbill and that now, due to selection pressure, there are now XX different types, does not challenge my faith at all (although it certainly challenges me as a birder!).
In fact, I’ve come to discover that the whole concept of evolution doesn’t challenge my faith. I used to be a strict creationist, believing that things occurred just as recorded in Genesis. But now I don’t know. I’ve never questioned my belief in the Creator – it’s just the HOW that I’m not sure of. It may have happened as it says in Genesis. On the other hand, it could have been just as modern scientific theory suggests. Either way, it doesn’t affect my faith. If God chose to create this world through the processes described by science, then ok. It doesn’t make much sense to me why He would do it that way, but who says I have to understand everything that God does?
So I can appreciate both sides. When I see a male Painted Bunting, for instance, I am filled with wonder. I mean, who could have imagined such a creature? The one who created it did. Either He created it as-is, or He setup a universe where the laws of nature eventually led to the situation where sexual selection worked upon a bird such that it came to look like the bird we see today. Either way, I see it and marvel.
As to Charlie’s question regarding creationists and conservation: I think that conservation is not only necessary, Christians are called to take care of what God has created. There is a movement called “creation care” that teaches this.
@Deb: You are saying what I would be saying but better than I can…so, thanks for that. 🙂
@Stephen: You wrote: “But this whole thing started because Corey said I, as one who believes in creation and a creator, could not be a real birder since I do not appreciate the nuances of evolution and the way birds, what, demonstrate? confirm? affirm? the theory. That is utter non-sense! Sorry Corey, I know you did not mean it that way…but it is.”
But I DID mean it that way! To fully understand birds and their relationships to each other and their environment, or anything to do with biology, one must understand evolution. There is no biology without it! Though I did not study any of the sciences in college I do understand that evolution is the basis of modern biology and I am not sure how anyone who is at all familiar with biology could think otherwise (if any biologists out there want to correct me, well, please feel free, but I somehow don’t think that will happen).
@Susan Gets Native: I would go crazy trying to explain owls without using the word evolution.
@Grant: I’m glad you’re not a strict creationist, and it sounds to me like you are in the “watchmaker” camp (if that’s the term that is still used). Basically, my understanding of that creationist perspective is that a deity set the stage (wound the watch) and is letting it run now. I’m not sure what happens when it gets wound again!
@Everyone: I’m glad that folks have stayed (mostly) civil and hope that we might have some more people jump in with their two cents…and, just to throw something out there, you monotheists are on the right track, you just have one more to stop believing in! 😉
Wow… extensive thread and, predictably, the creationists are offended.
But seriously, for creationists who favor Special Creation over Speciation as an explanation for where the birds their watching, it seems that yes you accept the names of the birds, and their habitat preferences, and a few other details. But can you understand why we say that the best places for seeing a diverse group of new birds (for the observer) is on remote islands and archipelagos? Can you understand the variation of a species along its range if you deny that separate populations of a species diverge and, if divergence continues, could be speciation? Can you have any appreciation of the arguments underlying debates among ornithologists and taxonomists over “lumping” versus “splitting?”
I don’t see how if you deny the reality of speciation and cladogenesis (i.e. “macroevolution”).
@Nate – I didn’t mean to be insulting, I’ve heard several atheists proudly assert their meaningless nihilism, but I was obviously too glib. I apologize. Stephen is a more winning interlocutor, disregard my own interjections!
@Charlie – I meant the “why” in a teleological sense, which I assume you deny altogether. Simply, I think the question “why is there a universe full of marvelous detail and differentiation in the first place?” is a meaningful question with a meaningful answer. So, though we do to a small degree apply meaning via language, there is also meaning in the world itself. (To which the language we use correlates.) I do appreciate that you and I both are full of wonder in the world. I feel like we’re equivocating on meaning, but maybe I’m wrong. I’d welcome correction.
Also, I agree that conservation is important. So I’d fall into your (c) category. In fact, it’s one of the things God has commanded people to do. If we came down to brass tacks, though, we’d probably disagree on some of the ways it would be best worked out.
Knowledge is commonly defined by many epistemologists as justified true belief. Not all justification is sense-derived. One relevant example of this is implicit in your own argument: sense and its abstractions are not sufficient to justify the process of science. The scientific method is necessarily a priori to the science itself. If we used science to prove science, we would be arguing circularly and would not be proving anything.
The laws of reason are similarly necessarily not derived by our sense-experience, because they are inherent in our very comprehension of those experiences. (I admit it’s been a few years since I did any epistemology, so I’m curious to hear your responses on these points of view.)
So, I think Stephen’s experiences cannot be discounted as knowledge categorically because strict empiricism is false (forgive my too glib bluntness). 🙂 As a secondary note, it doesn’t seem obvious to me that justification that’s not universally available is not somehow true justification (that is, justification sufficient for belief to be knowledge). If the experience is real, only one person having it does not somehow make it less real, does it? It may not be convincing to you, but you cannot disbelieve him on those grounds alone. For example, as someone trained as a historian I find testimony an indispensable grounding for knowledge of the past.
Furthermore, I think Stephen is absolutely right that faith is necessary to know how the world works. (Stephen, are you a fellow Chesterton fan?) We must have faith, by which I mean certainty in an unproven belief, in those fundamental concepts necessary for any rational belief in order to come to any other conclusion through the processes of reason at all.
Finally, Deb, I applaud your dedication to truth. I also believe there is nothing else worth pursuing.
Thanks to the 10,000 Birds guys for graciously allowing this discussion to continue on the blog.
That’s a very oddly exaggerated relativist view – if what you’re saying is correct, then scientific progress is itself circular, or at least not improved at all from even 50 years ago, or far further back. While many thought that this implication of Kuhnsian epistemology was insightful, Kuhn himself and his students were quite uncomfortable having sparked the idea that scientific progress is circular, and while I don’t know about philosophers of science, most scientists themselves favor Deborah Mayo’s “New Experimentalism” described in her 1996 book Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge.
So don’t be absurd – empiricism is thriving and science works.
@Jon- No prob. 🙂
I have to wonder your motive in posting the original question..??? I also question how anyone can spend time enjoying nature and still be an atheist….only God knows.
@John: As to your first question, I don’t know, ask Jon above, who said, “Thanks to the 10,000 Birds guys for graciously allowing this discussion to continue on the blog.”
God has nothing to do with my enjoying nature, as I’m pretty sure my blog post serves to illustrate.
@Jon: No problem! Thanks for staying civil and contributing to the conversation.
@Dan: I am glad you came back again. Great comments!
@ John: I have found that the more I study nature the stronger my atheism grows. it seems to have the opposite effect on you.
@Corey: Thanks for the thought provoking post. I think some people are conflating young-earth creationism or strict creationism with the other views of others (theists who believe in evolution) but interesting none the less. Clearly a person who does not believe in evolution cannot appreciate birds in the same way you or I do. It seems equally clear though, that they appreciate birds in their own way that seems equally interesting to them. I think people derive satisfaction by feeling they are seeing the truth of things. In this respect, both camps can enjoy birds for the feeling they get from understanding the “truth” behind them. Birds are, in essence, a form a validation of worldview.
I’m not saying both “truths” are equally valid because I clearly feel they are not. I’m merely saying that the feeling of thinking you are seeing validation of your “truth” is probably the same for both groups.
I used to be a theist. I thought the world was a reflection of God’s hand but when I looked closer I realized I was simply misinformed. I find the testable and logical truth even more fascinating and amazing than the myth I was told as a child.
Wow, I’ll have to dedicate some time to read the small novel of comments above. Can of worms indeed, my friend. Has this set a record for most comments in the shortest time for the blog?
Corey, the original question I was referring to was yours – “Can creationists possibly appreciate birds as much as non-creationists?” I think it did just what it was intended to do….create a lot of posts.
I respect your view. God know, I don’t wear my pants high enough to articulate my view well. All I know is the appreciation I have for nature.
No doubt the bible isn’t referring specifically to appreciating birds here but I have to wonder if it could apply: In 1 Corinthians chapter 2, the familiar 14th verse says, “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. They’re foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
For the past few days during breaks at work and such I’ve actually been putting together a blog post of my own on the problem of speciation, birds and creationists that this post got me thinking about. I hope it will challenge some of the creationist birders to think about the origins and diversity of birds beyond what they read in their holy books.
Regarding “seeking validation,” perhaps we could explore the differences between the two sides a bit more. It seems to me that the one side (creationists) don’t necessarily seek validation but view the birds entirely through the lens of what they’re certain to be true, as they’ve read it in their scriptures. The other side (evolutionists) view the birds through the lens of what they’re told that scientists know. Or, if they’re very knowledgeable about biology and natural history topics, they may actually utilize some of the inferences from evolutionary biology (and in particular biogeographical aspects of it) to choose where to go to find new and interesting birds.
Of course using such biological knowledge and correcting it where needed requires a LOT of time spent in the field, again requiring the individual birder to rely on the reports of others… but that’s still utilizing collective knowledge by way of observation and not revelation-derived certainty about the origins of bird species.
Okay, I have a longer contribution up on my blog:
Creationists and Birding.
Stephen Ingraham expresses the views that I hold, for the most part. And I think that fact new species are still being discovered is wonderful, because to me, every creature and creation expresses the infinite Mind of the loving and creative God. I find joy and wonder in His creation.
However, many people of faith have pondered the question of HOW the Creator created the world. For my part, I just think it’s wonderful and amazing that He did do so – there was no compulsion for Him to do so. Life and Creation are gifts. My 2 cents.
Quite an interesting thread. I guess one could label my ancestors who were First Nations American Indians, as ‘creationists’. I learned the ‘medicines’ of birds long before I learned their taxonomic names. But to call these people idiots really does no one a service at all and accomplishes nothing. Why is there such an outcry to get people to believe in whatever one believes themselves? Why would anyones ‘faith’ or religious beliefs impact or hinder anything at all to do with sharing the joy of watching birds and appreciating them? Science will always be there. It always has been. We can use it to expand our knowledge or not. We have choices, thank goodness. Native peoples knew the benefits of placing purple martin housing out by making handmade gourds long before there was a ‘Purple Martin Society’. They knew the behaviors of birds and thought of them as sisters/brothers. They loved/revered/respected them. They held ceremony to honor them. They were falconers long before the word came into use. They probably knew equally as much about bird behavior and their adaptations, if not more so, than ‘Susan Gets Native’ who feels injustly hindered by ____ I’m not sure what? her own belief system colliding with another? I find it truly hard to believe she cannot ‘do her job’ within the parameters she was given. How many children even get to see an owl closeup, even if it’s an injured owl? Not many. Young minds don’t necessarily need a ton of ‘facts’ to gain respect and wonder for the creatures we share our world with. I didn’t, and I’ve been a naturalist for all of my days. All a child needs is to experience the beauty and wonder, to see that it is REAL, not just a picture on a computer or TV screen they are glued to, becoming interested enough to seek out those ‘facts’ on their own in time.
My elders shared their knowledge via their own traditional ways and by story telling. Stories that always held much meaning and usually a very factual lesson regarding the birds/animals that they spent much time with and observed in the wild on a daily basis in their normal habitats. There were no lines drawn between nature and man, and the gist was always we could learn from nature.. from animals.. from birds. That they have much to teach us. That has NOT changed in my way of thinking. If anything, we should be paying more attention now than ever because we’re destroying not only their habitat, but our own. But one should not negate the magic and wonder of storytelling, by whatever faith/culture/religion that uses it as a tool to pass down their traditions. Traditions that also spur young minds to seek out their own answers, their own truths, as it did my own.. so what if they weren’t based on hard science?? I have much respect for those traditions, although I reached an age long ago to have formed my own belief system, that certainly doesn’t negate their intent. It certainly didn’t warp my thoughts on evolution in any way. My thoughts/perceptions regarding the birds I enjoy daily certainly wasn’t warped. The bottom line is NO harm was done by being exposed to ‘creationists’ and their belief systems. At all. In fact, my childhood was very rich and full, and even today when I view a certain bird or animal, I not only have the benefit of years of field study/books/science under my belt, I also have many wonderful traditional stories that I hold dear in my heart. While I might not believe in those stories any longer, that does not take away their magic, nor the power they had when they were told. I find it odd that many folks would read their children fairy tales (again a tradition where a lesson was the intent) or wrap presents from ‘Santa’, or even tuck a tooth under a pillow for the tooth fairy, but they’re outraged when their own religious beliefs (or lack of) are challenged. Why so much fear if things aren’t always seen ‘our way’? What real damage is being done? I’m sorry, but I can’t find any, other than the damage caused by labelling certain groups of people and trying to fit everything into a nice neat slot to suit our own needs. I guess that makes one feel safer? Our society has long had a history of destroying that which it doesn’t understand, especially if it falls out of the realm of ‘what we believe to be true.’
I find that so incredibly sad.
In response to HT:
Yes, as a matter of fact I do feel hindered by their restrictions. I’m not bursting into their church, just salivating to sway the minds of their children.
They asked me to come and do a presentation. Not MY presentation, but a presentation of their own making. They get to make the rules because they are PAYING me to come? That rubs me the wrong way. But I have to do what they ask, no matter how much it goes against my belief system.
I knew that I wasn’t really adding much weight to the discussion….I just wanted to share. Jeez.
I’m going to get through it the best I can, and my best is pretty damn good.
HT: Why do you “not believe in those stories any longer”? Because you’ve discovered they weren’t true now that you “have the benefit of years of field study/books/science” perhaps? All Susan is saying – and I totally agree with her – is that she is being asked to ‘teach’ children, yet not being allowed to give them the ‘benefit of years of field study/books/science’ that has undoubtedly shaped her thinking. I have to be honest and say that if it were me in Susan’s place I wouldn’t bother going as I’d know that as soon as I left the room a discussion would begin ‘explaining’ the differences between ‘adaptation’ and ‘evolution’ from a very specific viewpoint and the children would be back to square one. Surely if the teachers were really interested in the subject they would at least allow Susan to present her views then have an intelligent, open discussion to allow the children to make up their own minds: at the moment they’re asking Susan to re-enforce their own views by not allowing that discussion to take place.
And as this thread is proving, discussion of a subject that can cause high emotion can actually take place without one ‘side’ being banned from inputting.
Thanks, Charlie. This post comes at a time when I have been disillusioned with the whole process of Internet discussions, wondering if any passionate dialogue could take place without people becoming nasty .
Live long and prosper, 10,000 Birds!
So. There were a couple of dinosaurs hanging out on a hill in the rain. There was a huge boat in the background. One dinosaur looks at the other and says, “Oh,Crap! Was that today?”
Darwin and a bear walks into a bar. The bear says, “I’d like a beer and . . . . a packet of peanuts. The barman says, why the big pause?”
As I’ve said before, some evolutionists believe in God, and some do not. Creationists definitely believe in God, but they don’t believe he has any imagination.
I find this thread fascinating because, in my view, Corey, as an atheist, is daring to cop an attitude of sanctimony and exclusion, rather than simply keeping his head down. On sanctimony and exclusion–bear with me while I set the scene.
I had a couple of very interesting discussions with a beloved aunt this summer. She came to visit our home and wildlife sanctuary in Appalachian Ohio, and her next stop was the Creation Museum in Kentucky. I have little doubt she enjoyed the birds all around her, and she was very much looking forward to learning at the Creation Museum, whose foyer boasts a diorama of a little girl feeding a carrot to a rabbit, while a couple of benevolent dinosaurs look down on the scene.
We had an interesting discussion about the kinds of dinosaurs Noah took on his ark. Apparently he took twenty or so, most of the ones we know about: Tyrannosaurus, Diplodocus, maybe a nice-looking duckbill.
I commented that that must have been SOME BOAT and made a mental note to ask her in another conversation if she’d ever seen Jurassic Park. I mean, that’s a neat trick, to get twenty pairs of dinosaurs on the same boat as all the giraffes and elephants, and oops, what about all those beetles, tenrecs, walaroos, phalangers…oh, I get exhausted just thinking about cleaning all their stalls on a pitching boat. And packing the food! Yikes. My hat’s off to Noah and the Mrs.
My aunt told me sadly that the entrance to the Creation Museum is protected by large concrete planters so no evolutionists can get in to destroy the museum, because “people who don’t believe in God do those things.” I pointed out that every public place built since 9/11 has those planters. Anyway, at the entrance is a plaque that states that whomever does not believe in the Gospel of Genesis; i.e. that the earth and all its wonders were created in six days, shall not attain the kingdom of heaven.
I let that one hang in the air when my aunt told me that. And finally asked, “So does that mean that because I believe in evolution, I’m going to hell?”
“That’s what the plaque says.”
“But do you believe that I’ll burn in hell because I don’t believe that Noah got all those animals, and dinosaurs that the fossil record says had been dead for 65 million years, onto a boat for 40 days and 40 nights?”
“Well, dearie, your old auntie believes in creation as the Bible tells it, and we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
She never answered my question. But the discussion haunts me to this day. And that, in the end, is what I don’t get, what disturbs me, about fundamentalism of any stripe. That notion that there are the Washed and the unwashed; the Chosen and the rest of those people out there. The Holy, the Believers, and the …whatevers. The undeserving, the infidels, the ones who must die for being nonbelievers…taken to its extreme, fundamentalism of that sort is dangerous, as has been proven again and again.
I’m happy that my aunt believes the creation legend. It works for her. It doesn’t work for me. I don’t think she’s going to burn in hell because she believes it. Nor do I believe for a moment that I will.
So there’s plenty of sanctimony and exclusion to go around. And Corey, that’s why I find this discussion interesting, because you dare to turn the tables. Thank you for that.
Hi Julie: I can SO relate to this. My 16 year old daughter from my previous marriage is quite a ‘mild’ Christian but – so she told me just last week – is worried I’ll go to hell because I don’t believe in her (or any other) God. She is very sad about it, loves me hugely (just as I love her), knows that I’m a ‘good person’, but says that it’s not her who makes the rules and that I will be going to hell when I die regardless unless I start believing. Okay, yes, we’re moving off the original topic, but I just thought I’d respond to what you said…
It’s interesting to me that you’d call Charlie’s question sanctimonious or exclusionary. On the contrary, I’d think it was simply asking whether denialism of the most fundamental concept in biology impairs one’s appreciation of that which biology studies (i.e. life). I think we can agree that it doesn’t impair ability to appreciate life, it just impairs the ability to understand life. That, to me, is no more exclusionary than the separation of teacher from the (unwilling) student.
I think it’s clear that I support my good friend Corey in posing this question. And I used “sanctimonious” and “exclusionary” as admittedly slightly incendiary words just to make a point. In the view of some ardent creationists, those of us who accept the evidence provided by the fossil record, who have trouble buying the stories of creation by an all-powerful being in six days, are infidels, doomed to burn in hell. It bugs me when people feel justified in predicting the fiery demise of those who disagree with their view of the world. To me, it’s the ultimate hubris. So I was amused to see Corey taking a tack like that–an unusual one, a bold one– for the sake of inspiring discussion, which he has!
@Dan and Julie: This might be the one and only time I appreciated being called “sanctimonious” and “exclusionary.”
I didn’t mean to criticize aside from pointing out what I already had. You’re right though, it’s not just the unwillingness to learn of creationists and their evangelical or fundamentalist brethren. It’s their insulting and arrogant tone. And they have the chutzpah to call us arrogant! Oh the irony. But still, playing their game isn’t the way to go – calmly attempting to educate is my way, and when that doesn’t work, ridicule them! 😉
Emboldened by Corey’s experience here, I may have to post about my experience with a proselytizing creationist at our county fair this fall. He had actual casts of a “human” footprint superimposed on a “dinosaur” footprint. They were truly amazing, and I was amazed, but not in the way he assumed I’d be.
The trick is striking the right tone in describing the exchange. I’m glad, as a human being, that there are people among us who can believe so fiercely, so literally, in something that appears to me to be an allegory, so unnecessary to interpret exactly as written. They can somehow find it necessary, in that literal framework, to believe that modern humans walked hand in hand with the Iguanodons in the garden of Eden. As long as they keep that world view out of our government and our kids’ schools, and let the amazing, incredible, copious and convincing fossil record, and the amazing, incredible, copious and convincing evidence of evolution unfolding right before our eyes every day speak eloquently for themselves. Is that not wonder enough; is that not evidence enough of a higher power, whatever form it may take? Why do we feel it so necessary to bend and fold the unspeakable glory of a vital, continuing natural process into some tidy, simplistic six-day fable, and be called infidels if we can’t?
Think simply, think literally, as I do. If you don’t, if you can’t accept my version, you’re going to hell.
Sez who? You?
Whose God? Yours?
Yes. And yours.
How can you presume to know who my God is?
There is only one God, and that’s my God.
Oh. I guess I’ll stick to mine. Thanks for your concern.
What percentage of a typical birding group IS creationist, out of curiosity? Would be a great question to pose to your friends via Survey Monkey or such? Could modify Gallup poll questions (on human origins) to relate to some famously evolved bird. I suspect it would show that most creationists are not true creationists — they SAY they don’t believe in evolution or natural selection, but I think most DO accept these concepts internally…though will defend God’s honor in public. That’s just a theory, though.
“Can you really look at the world around you and assure me that reason is superior to faith as a way of dealing with reality?” -Stephen Ingram
Stephen then goes on to choose faith over reason. Faith has no place in science. I am not saying ‘religious faith’ but ‘faith’. People swap those words around and confuse the conversation. Religious faith is your religion. Faith is believing something without proof, regardless of the motivation. Reason trumps faith every time. Take this example. A scientist creates a hypothesis and contemplate the following responses:
“Your hypothesis is unreasonable.”
“Your hypothesis is unfaithful.”
The latter means nothing. People get away with statements like Stephens because we are so accustomed to the word faith being used so often, certain ways… most of the time with a positive connotation. But, look what happens to stephen’s quote when we substitute the definitions for the words:
“Can you really look at the world around you and assure me that [sound judgment; good sense] is superior to [belief that is not based on proof] as a way of dealing with reality?” -Stephen Ingram
Reason is literally superior. Not only is it a superior way of dealing with reality, but it is the ONLY way of dealing with reality. If you are not using reason, you are not dealing with reality. Not only should people accept reality, but we should embrace it and live our VERY REAL lives to the fullest, because this one is the only one we are guaranteed, the only one we have reason to believe in, the only life we have proof of.
“Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its ways or live a lie.” -Miyamoto Musashi.
Sorry to dig up an old thread, but I just read this article and could not have agreed more with it. Great job Corey.
This article really nags me. As a undergraduate (Creationist) ornithologist, your comments are not only demeaning, but hard to understand. Your reasoning seems to be that because Creationists can’t enjoy birds in the way you do (meaning seeing every living this as a chance amalgamation of molecules that could happen anywhere in the universe), that they cannot be “birders”. Whatever that means. Creationists see nature as a work of art, as well as the scientific characteristics behind it. How can you see any beauty in a Van Gogh or Michelangelo, when you have to give credit to a creator? Pretty boring right? I don’t know how you can marvel at any human creation under this mindset.
And while you are right that it is impossible to deny microevolution, macroevolution is much harder to scientifically prove. How does an eye, for instance, become an eye without massive evolutionary jumps? A non-functional eye does you no good, and won’t evolve into a functioning eye through natural selection. Furthermore, there are Creationists that believe in macroevolution, but still believe that something created the evolutionary process. (Also, the Big Bang Theory, which states that something is created from nothing) is the least scientific theory in existence. The fundamental aspect of science is that you can’t destroy matter or energy. So either you believe that everything has somehow always existed, or you admit that science cannot answer everything about the universe. Please reconsider making posts like this, which have no value but to exclude bird lovers from enjoying what you enjoy. I love your website and find your posts intriguing (despite my creationist beliefs).
Noah, if you think that evolution is “a chance amalgamation of molecules ” then you don’t seem to understand the function of selection in the process of evolution. Evolution is not blind random chance. This is a common misconception amongst those who malign it. Since you are an undergrad you have a fabulous opportunity to take a class in evolution to learn what it really is. It seems you are misinformed since you’re also talking about the impossible complexity of the eye. Unfortunately, again, your understanding of what evolution is flawed if you think that it required a cully functional eye to pop into existence. the evolution of the eye is actually fascinating and a good example of how evolution actually works. This is the basic kind of thing covered in an introductory evolutionary biology class. If you are pursuing a degree in ornithology you should probably take such a course. You may choose to not believe it, that is your right, but you have to first understand it before you reject it. Your comments clearly show you don’t really understand what evolution is.