Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When Evidence Doesn't Matter

I have a very dear friend of mine who is a devoutly religious Southern Baptist. She believes what to me are alot of goofy, unsupported things, such as a worldwide flood, an earth just over 6,000 years old, and that the human species, like all species was specially created by God, with man created in God's image and all other organisms put in place by God for God's divine purposes relating to his special creation, mankind. To me this is goofy, but in the real world I live in, I am perhaps the goofy one, asserting foolishly that based upon the best available evidence, the earth is around 4.5 billion years old, all animals and plants evolved through natural processes from a common ancestor, including humans. I base my thinking upon evidence that to me seems convincing. Evidence, catalogued by the best minds, in a systematic way, with an ability to falsify things that don't hold up to scrutiny. Everything I believe is based upon evidence as I see it, recognizing that evidence is fallable as is my interpretation of the evidence. Because of that fallibility, I am willing to entertain other ideas if additional evidence can make me rethink what I had concluded previously.

The other day, this friend of mine approached me with some piece of evidence for what she described as "intelligent design." It was a pretty lame piece of evidence relating to the complexity of the eye, but had a simple explanation. But I asked her, what level of evidence would I have to present to convince her that man evolved from common ancestors of other primates, mammals, etc. My dear friend told me, "that no amount of evidence could sway me from the truth that I know deep in my heart to be true."

I then said, "but you approached me with what you believed was evidence that evolution was false." "I could be convinced that evolution didn't happen." "Cambrian trilobyte fossils partially digested inside a icthyosaur would make me rethink some of what I currently think about the evolution of species. A homo erectus fossil amidst brachiosaur remains would do the same thing." I said in as nice a way as I could, that "why should I even consider any evidence you present to defend your case, when no degree of evidence would convince you to reconsider yours.

Recently, two excellent books were published outlining some of the best arguments for evolution since Douglas Futuyma tackled the issue in the 1980's with his book "Science on Trial, the Case for Evolution." Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution is True" and Richard Dawkin's (arguably my favorite author) "The Greatest Show on Earth" in slightly different manners tackle the issue with great eloquence, passion and insight. I'm currently drafting my book reviews of both of these excellent books. These books aren't written for my dear friend and her associates. Evidence doesn't matter to these individuals because it isn't the basis for which decisions are made in their personal paradigm for evaluating truth. But to those for whom evidence does matter, even in some aspect of your life, I recommend reading both of these books. Not only will you understand how convincing the evidence is for evolution, you come away with a new appreciation for just how awe-inspiring life is on this pale blue dot, in the far corners of an insignificant galaxy.