Sep 14 2008 10:15pm

We Will Be Expecting an Apology From the Discovery Institute in 2208

Here’s one in the “better late than never” category: Church of England to apologize to Charles Darwin:

The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin’s ideas. It will call “anti-evolutionary fervour” an “indictment” on the Church...
“The statement will read: Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”

Darwin, as he has been dead 126 years, had no comment on the apology at this time. However, a descendent of Darwin thinks it’s kind of silly:

Andrew Darwin, a great-great grandson of the eminent scientist, said he was ‘bemused’ by the apology, which seemed ‘pointless’.
“Why bother?” he said. “When an apology is made after 200 years, it’s not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organisation making the apology feel better.”

Oh, I don’t know about that. Sure, wording the apology to Charles Darwin himself is a little goofy; Darwin’s well beyond caring about such things. But it’s not insignificant that a religious institution which had previously held scientific ideas in contempt steps forward and says “our bad.” Likewise, it’s always nice when a major religion can come around to acknowledging that science and the scienctific discovery of the natural world is not an inherent and inimical threat to everything that religion stands for. Whether this changes anything on this side of the Atlantic (other than the Archbishop of Canterbury’s season pass to the Creation Museum being unilaterally voided) is another thing entirely, of course. But one takes one’s victories where one may.

To celebrate this meeting of minds, I suggest a trip to Darwin Online, for the complete published and private writings of the no-longer-quite-so-heretical Charles Darwin. Enjoy.  And learn! Both Darwin and the Church of England would want it that way.

Pablo Defendini
1. pablodefendini
Hey, it took around 350 years for the catholic church to finally apologize to Galileo, and um, to concede that the Sun doesn't revolve around the Earth. So taking only 200 years to make right by Darwin is a step up, I suppose.

To paraphrase Bill Murray:

'Baby steps to rational thought, baby steps to rational thought...'
Stephen Uitti
2. suitti
While i thought the RC church's apology to Galileo to be a day (or so) late and a dollar (or two) short, at least there was language that suggested that they had some clue. And i gained some respect for the RC church.

It's the fundamentalists (of essentially every religion) that think that a literal interpretation of their scripture is best, because otherwise one sets up their own rational processes above the word of God. They state that they're irrational. But can you state you're irrational if you're irrational? It's a Catch 22.
Farah Mendlesohn
3. Farah Mendlesohn
It's a bit silly not because it's late, but because so much of the work leadng up to Darwin in botany, paleontology and geology was done by clergymen of the Church of England.
Alexander Gieg
5. alexgieg
The funny thing is that, if you're a scientific instrumentalist, i.e., if you think sensorially unobservable concepts in scientific theories ("atoms", "particles", "space-time", "DNA", "evolution" etc.) don't exist, that they are simply mnemonic aids that make very complex equations about observable phenomena (chairs, planets, stars, flowers etc.) easier to manage by breaking them up into smaller steps, then it doesn't matter either way.

Reality is technology, medicine, things you can access yourself with your five senses. Whatever you believe about what's "behind" these things is a myth. Both religious creationists with their irreducible complexity and intelligent design, and scientific realists (those with the utterly unfounded belief that "particles" etc. are real) who talk about how evolution in general or according this or that model is factual, are myth-makers. Religious myths on one side, scientific myths on the other, but myths nonetheless.

No more, no less.
Farah Mendlesohn
6. Dschnapp
DNA is real enough. I've spent a few years manipulating and sequencing it.

Ditto for the other stuff. It's observable.
Alexander Gieg
7. alexgieg
No. What you've observed is light on a screen reacting to the way other pieces of machinery behave. What you've manipulated are syringes attached to machinery (or not) messing around with fluids. Nowhere have you dealt with DNA. What you've dealt with are macroscopic things (fluids, syringes, keyboards, LCDs etc.) that mix and match well with the hypothesis that unobservable DNA molecules "are there", but in fact all you can say you actually did was to deal with such macroscopic things then obtaining those other macroscopic results. What's in between no one knows. We only suppose and assume.

Try not using hidden entities as a way to describe what you're doing and you'll see you're able to do it perfectly well.

By the way: technology isn't proof of the reality of any unobservable entities. We have tons of technology created under false theories, and they don't stop working just because the concepts (and the related unobservable entities) changed. You want reality, you look at engineering and scientific *equations*. You want myths, you look at religion and scientific *concepts*.
Taylor 514ce
9. Taylor514ce
@alexgieg: wrong. All those lights, machines, fluids and so forth are really nerve impulses in your brain. You have no proof they really exist. They are a myth your mind creates in order to provide meaning to the nerve impulses.

In fact, you are a brain in a jar.
John Scalzi
10. Scalzi
And, in fact, I own the jar.

I own ALL the jars with brains in them.

rick gregory
11. rickg
Maybe john... but *I* own the lids!!
Alexander Gieg
12. alexgieg
@Taylor514ce: Actually, you're almost correct. We don't know at all what thing are, we only know that we have certain sensory perceptions. The technical term for the perception of a thing is, at least in Kantian philosophy, "phenomenon". Thus, what "all those lights, machines, fluids and so forth" really are, is phenomena. And while I don't have proof lights etc. exist as such, I have more than enough proof of their phenomenological character. In short: any intellectual discipline, be it a science, a philosophy, mathematics or whatever, that purports talking about what "things" are, is naive and lacking in rigor, as all it's doing then is jumping to the conclusion that phenomena and things are one and the same, when nothing suggests they are. We can only talk rigorously about what phenomena seem to be, never about what they are or what their source is.

And yes, this includes the notion that phenomena arise from a brain dealing with nerve impulses. "Brains" and "nerves" are themselves phenomena, like everything else.
Torie Atkinson
13. Torie
@12 alexgieg

Can we please save the philosophical debates on the nature of reality for another time? I certainly think Darwin would frown upon such idle, unscientific chatter. He may even demand an apology 200 years from now.
Alexander Gieg
14. alexgieg
@Torie: This isn't about the nature of reality, it's about the nature of scientific knowledge.

For instance, did you know that since evolution isn't testable, much less falsifiable, it isn't a scientific theory? That doesn't mean it isn't scientific, or that it's useless. In fact, evolution is a meta-theoretical framework. It's a set of methodological principles one can use to develop scientific theories. Its role in biology is pretty much like that of mathematics in physics: I use math to construct physical theories that I then test. Math itself, however, is neither a physical theory, nor testable.

An example: suppose I have two fossils, A and B, and I want to study their relationship. I can take the corpus of evolutionary concepts and with them construct a theory on how A evolved into B. *This* theory is testable, and falsifiable, and thus scientific. If it doesn't work, I can use the evolutionary concepts to construct another. And another. And another. Until I find one that fits the data and resists the test of time, or I give up and conclude B didn't evolve from A. In either case, no matter what happens, evolution itself stands aside, untouched, as a perpetually available source of tools and inspiration for the construction of newer and newer theories.

Now, the problem I see in the whole of the evolution vs. creationism debate is that both sides are utterly clueless when it comes to describing what they're doing. It's like two writers without knowledge of semantics, syntax, morphology, rhetorics etc., i.e., who know how to write because they're used to it, but who don't know how to talk about the act of writing, trying to discuss each other's texts. Nothing useful comes from it.

Scientists are good at what they do. The problem is they don't know the meaning of what they're doing.
Torie Atkinson
15. Torie
@ 14

I'm not going to debate the value of your philosophy; but I am, as moderator, asking you not to hijack the conversation with it. Feel free to start a conversation, but let's keep this post on topic.
Alexander Gieg
16. alexgieg
@Torie: If this topic isn't about faith vs. reason, unfounded beliefs vs. methodical investigation, evolution vs. creationism, dogmatism vs. free-thinking, or something along these lines, what's it about?

Maybe I'm overthinking this, but I really don't see what you mean by hijacking, or in which way what I wrote might be considered off topic. Too long, maybe. But... off topic?
Torie Atkinson
17. Torie

If this topic isn't about faith vs. reason, unfounded beliefs vs. methodical investigation, evolution vs. creationism, dogmatism vs. free-thinking, or something along these lines, what's it about?

All of those things are valid, but none of those things are what you're addressing. I'm asking you to drop the armchair philosophy--feel free to engage the questions you mention above. If you have to invoke Kant to do so, you're doing it wrong.
Alexander Gieg
18. alexgieg
@Torie: Presupposing that meaningful discourse requires restricting the field under analysis by excluding anything deemed non-relevant is a Kantian posture. You yourself uses him without realizing. :-)

But as you asked, I won't add more to the thread. I'm pretty confident I was addressing those issues, but it's clear my doing so isn't being perceived as such, maybe because I'm in that fringe "3rd side" of a discussion the participants believe having only two. No wonder it sounds strange.
Debra Ketchner
19. loveistheonlyway
Yay! Darwin got an apology!!!
I think it's important that the church come out and say they were wrong, because (as not-so-distant American history teaches) there are still people fighting that same war against science the church began ohso long ago.
Steven Newton
20. slnewton628
I understand what you are saying, but if I may, the blog topic is about the C of E issuing an "apology" to Charles Darwin for "over-reacting" 200 years after his birth, and more than 100 after his death. The questions that come to mind under this topic include:
1. Is this an "apology" or a "PR Stunt"?
IMHO - A PR Stunt
2. Is the charge that the C of E over-reacted accurate?
IMHO - Probably, but not proven by what was in the blog entry
3. Is the announcement, whether an "apology" or a "PR Stunt" commendable, reprehensible, or irrelevant?
IMHO - commendable, since it provides some "cover" to those who have troglodyte neanderthal acquaintances espousing "creationism", "intelligent design", or "The Great God Zharquod" (thanks to D Adams), and want to reply that, although being religious believers, they find evolution through the mechanisms of mutation and natural selection to be a reasonable explanation of much of the world's diversity, at least until something better comes along.

I'd be interested in your response to those questions and my humble answers.

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