Belief vs. Science

Last night there was a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham about creationism. This morning on NPR, there was a story about it. One of the interesting things about this type of story is that when they interview people about creationism, it always comes back to belief. The people say that the bible says that the world was created 6,000 years ago and the bible is the Word of God, and therefore must be true. Science can not compete with the Word of God no matter how hard we try. There is no response that a scientist can make to a statement like “I just believe it to be true”.

In many ways, the debate between creationism and evolution doesn’t matter too much, since people can believe whatever they want. It is really only when people’s beliefs start affecting other people’s lives that it becomes dangerous. For example, if people stopped using genetics to create new forms of drugs to cure things, then we might have some issues. Or, if people argued that God put all of the oil in the ground so we can use it up in a couple of generations. Then it has a real effect on other people, and people should step in an argue the other “viewpoint” (even discussing creation vs evolution as different viewpoints make me frustrated… since one is a scientific theory and the other is easily disproved by digging a hole or looking up at the stars.)

I guess my main problem with stances like these are that they are completely inflexible, and I have a very hard time dealing with inflexibility. There are always two sides of an argument, and it is helpful to understand this. For example, if someone wanted to debate evolution with me, there are some clear unanswered questions, such as – what is the exact mechanism that causes an evolutionary change in a species. Take the example of a colony of brown squirrels that suddenly all become grey because the environment changes. What triggers that? Why don’t all of the squirrels just die off? As another example, what caused the step to homo sapiens? No one really knows. This doesn’t mean that evolution is wrong, it just means that there are parts that we don’t understand. To me, this is the interesting discussion.

How can we, as scientists and educators, convince people to take their heads out of the sand and realize that there are different viewpoints, and sometimes those viewpoints may be better than their current belief?

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About aaronridley

Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering.
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