Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mythologies led to Creationism and Intelligent Design

reposted from:,1822,n,n
Chris Street comments are in bright green; highlights in blockquotes (yellow).

Creating controversy

by Barry Williams, The Australian

Thanks to Gordon Wong for the link.

Reposted from:,25197,22677083-11952,00.html

MYTHOLOGY can be a fascinating subject, consisting as it does of traditional stories emanating from a culture, largely concerned with how that culture began and how various matters progressed through time.

Much of what we know or believe about ancient civilisations has come to us through their cultural myths, but mythology is not confined to long-departed societies. For instance, it's not true that Don Bradman made a century every time he batted (on average it was one in three), nor has every Australian driven cattle from Tennant Creek to Cloncurry, but those are the sorts of things that remain part of our own cultural mythology.

However, while myths are worthwhile for reminding us of how we like to see ourselves, they are not to be confused with verifiable historical events.
For example, it is unlikely that anyone now believes that the sexually rampant premier deity of the Olympian pantheon, Zeus, actually fathered children with mortal women in the guise of, variously, a bull, a swan or a shower of gold. While the former two stories might possibly (at a stretch) be seen to refer to some early form of interspecies genetic manipulation, it's a bit hard to imagine anyone being impregnated by a shower of gold (well, certainly not directly impregnated by one).
Similarly, few readers living in regions subjected to storms over the past few nights would attribute the loud thunderclaps to Thor belting an anvil with his mighty hammer.

Historically it has not been at all uncommon for cultural myths to become formalised in concurrent religions and there is plenty of evidence for it in contemporary religious beliefs. An example of this can be seen in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. (as Christians refer to it), or Tanakh (as it is known to Jews). The stories in this book clearly reflect the cultural myths of a tribal people as they established their cosmology and theology as they established a relationship with their deity. In this it is not radically dissimilar to the creation myths of many other societies.

These days, to most believers, these stories are considered as apocryphal or metaphorical and are not meant to be taken literally. In a previous article we discussed how our understanding of the world in which we live has changed immeasurably over the last few centuries.
Archbishop Ussher's chronology, dating the age of the Earth at around 6000 years - though pretty good for the 17th Century - could not persist in the face of subsequent scientific discoveries which have now put the age at 4.5 billion years.
Most people have managed to accept the evidence, but there are some who insist that the Genesis creation stories are the absolute literal truth. These people are generically referred to as "creationists" or "biblical literalists", and while they (and anyone else) are entitled to believe anything they want to, they start to stretch the friendship when they insist that their views be treated as having some sort of privileged position.
In particular, they have problems when they claim that their religious views have some sort of scientific validity.

This first became problematic in the US, where biblical literalists, concerned that if their children were to study science in state schools they would be confronted with facts, particularly facts about evolution, that conflicted with their religious beliefs.
And in the US, a secular democracy which has a constitutional prohibition against the state promoting a religion, they were right. Not willing to give up, they decided to circumvent the constitutional barrier by trying to give a scientific patina to their cultural myths, and so was born creation science.

Their mistake was to regard science not as a powerful tool to enhance our understanding of the natural world but as a competing belief system. Rather than conducting experiments and seeking evidence of what really was happening in all sorts of natural systems, creationists began with their conclusion and then sought whatever bits and pieces of evidence that could be construed as supporting that conclusion. That this is the very antithesis of how science works should be obvious to all.

Among the more amusing "scientific" projects exercising creationists over recent years are explanations about how a massive flood could have covered the Earth after only a few weeks of rain (there is no evidence for any world-wide flood, ever); how two examples of every animal species could have been gathered together in a wooden boat, constructed by one family of eight amateur builders, fed and kept viable while afloat for the best part of a year, and then dispersed back to where they came from (it hardly needs saying that this is a ridiculous proposition).

Nevertheless, the creationists persisted in trying to have their beliefs labelled as science and to be included in school science texts as alternative explanations to what the evidence showed. Although they have had some local successes, in the end it was all in vain. Despite the best efforts of the creationists to paint their dogma as science, a number of court cases showed that the US legal system was not fooled for a minute. In every case creation "science" was demonstrated to be a religious belief and thus not suitable to be taught in state schools.

The story is not finished, and creationists in the US, Australia and elsewhere still persist in trying to perpetuate their myths as scientific explanations, with the latest iteration going under the soubriquet Intelligent Design in order to fool the judges. But that is a story for another post.

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