Relying on intuition leads nowhere

One of the biggest reasons that people have a hard time believing in evolution is that it doesn’t make intuitive sense. How could my great(X 1000) grandmother have been a monkey? Even given the vast timescale that such changes occurred, it just seems impossible.  In cases such as this, one has to disregard intuitive feelings.     

Why should we ignore our intuition?  The answer is that so much of what we think is reality, simply is not. In this post, I am going to give two examples that show why reality is not what it appears.

The first example comes from Einstein and his theories of relativity.  Although I am sure that most people are familiar with his ideas, it is worth reexamining.  Einstein’s theory of relativity has passed every test that has been thrown at it. However, it just being a theory means that it is subject to refutation. For the sake of argument, lets say that it is fact.

The theory of relativity, at its most simple, shows us that things we take for granted are not always constant. Mass, length, and time all change depending on the movement of the observer compared to other observers. Does this make intuitive sense? Absolutely not. Even having learned these ideas when I was a child, it really doesn’t make sense to me. This is undoubtedly due to humans having evolved to never need to know about or use the consequences of relativity. If we lived in a world where we regularly traveled at speeds close to the speed of light, it might be another story.

The second example of how our intuition does not reflect reality is illustrated by the double-slit experiment. If you are not familiar with this experiment, please take a minute to read about it, or watch the video below.

Just so that we are on the same page, here is short description of the experiment.  Photons act like both a wave and a particle. If you shoot a beam of light at a piece of paper that has two slits that are close together, you will get an interference pattern. This is the same type of interference that you can see with waves in water or hear with sound. Here is where it gets cool (and creepy).  If you shoot single photons (or electrons or protons) at the double slit, you still get an interference pattern. Even if these particles are shot at a rate that is so slow that they cannot possibly hit each other, you still get this interference pattern.

What do the results of this experiment tell us? It tells us that each individual particle is actually interfering with itself. In some sense, the particle is actually going through both slits at once. Therefore, what we think of as particles moving through space are really probability waves that only collapse into a particle when it interacts with something.

These two examples show us that we can’t trust our intuition.  It tells us that what we see is not what we get, but reality is much different. The results of double-slit experiment, like relativity, have no real implications for our daily lives. It is no surprise that our intuition would disagree with these results.  Intelligent design proponents should not trust their intuition in matters of science, but they do. In fact, this logical fallacy of argument from personal disbelief appears to be one of their biggest talking points. It is too bad they can’t ignore their intuition and rely on the evidence.

The Discovery Institute believes there is little value in science

Wesley Smith writes about an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Brian Greene. I had already read this piece previously and actually quoted it here. Greene writes about how science can be inspirational.  He starts out by referring to a letter from a soldier in Iraq.  In the letter, the soldier writes how Greene’s work has been a source of inspiration and has kept his moral up in the battlefield.  Smith takes this op-ed and twists it into Greene promoting the ‘religion’ of scientism.

Trying to make science a religion is not a new tactic and has been the source of many debates. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. Only the fundamentalist religions subscribe to that notion. As Abdu’l-Bahá once said:

There is no contradiction between true religion and science. When a religion is opposed to science it becomes mere superstition: that which is contrary to knowledge is ignorance

Smith’s biggest problem with the op-ed is that it seems to put science in a light that he doesn’t agree with:

As the piece reaches a crescendo, Greene urges that we teach our children that science can provide our lives with value, meaning, and purpose:

We must embark on a cultural shift that places science in its rightful place alongside music, art and literature as an indispensable part of what makes life worth living…It’s the birthright of every child, it’s a necessity for every adult, to look out on the world…and see that the wonder of the cosmos transcends everything that divides us.

Sorry, but that is more weight than science can carry and still be properly called science. Finding meaning and purpose in life, determining how we should live, what our values, principles, ethics should be–such as good literature can sometimes do–these matters lie in other human pursuits such as philosophy, religion, and the quest for truth with a capital T. Science can provide us knowledge that we can use in that quest–but it can’t provide transcendence. Scientism can because it is a subjective belief system. But transcendence isn’t what science does.

Talk about putting words in Greene’s mouth. Did Greene ever say anything about “value, meaning, and purpose.” No, but Smith did, twice. And what is this about transcendence? Greene says that “the wonder of the cosmos transcends everything that divides us.”  That is a huge difference.

One thing, of particular note, is that Smith removes any indication that Greene received a letter from a soldier in Iraq.  When he is quoting Greene, he even removes a reference to the soldier.  See the elipses above?  Those three periods were “as the soldier in Iraq did.”  The only reason I can see that Smith would remove any reference to the soldiers is because Greene is pointing to an example of someone who truly benefited from learning some science.

The underlying message here, is that Wesley Smith thinks that the only way you can find meaning is through his brand of religion. If scientism is trying to understand reality, whether it is in the classroom, the lab, the courtroom, or politics, then I guess I am a scientismist.

Allow me to leave you with Smith final quote about the ID movement:

Everyone who truly supports science–properly understood–must carefully distinguish the one thing from the other. To do otherwise is to sow divisiveness and confusion.

Ok, he wasn’t really taking about the ID movement, but it sure does fit with their mentality of abusing science.

Why don’t cars evolve?

On the May 30th post entitled “Do car engineers turn to Darwinian evolution or intelligent design?”, Casey Luskin writes:

Don’t read into this post too much.

I am sorry, but even with the disclaimer, there is plenty to read into this post. Casey Luskin thinks that the use of the term “intelligent design” and not evolution when designing cars somehow lends credence to ID. It doesn’t.

The comparison of human engineering to biology is ridiculous. Even so, it is a frequent tactic used by IDers. Taking Luskin’s analogy of automobiles provides an excellent example. First and foremost, cars are not biological. Cars do not have baby cars that are slightly different than their parent cars. Cars do not grow from a single cell, but instead are put together from thousands of different parts. Cars do not actively seek out food to survive. Cars do not compete with other cars to survive and reproduce. Enough differences yet? Whether you are talking about laptops, subway systems, or cars, IDers will try to use human design as a parallel to intelligent design. Don’t buy it.

If my body, like a car, was intelligently designed, I would be calling my body a lemon and trying to get my money back. I have allergies, asthma, and scoliosis, just to name a few problems. 75% of adults in the United States require glasses. 23% of people will succumb to a disease that is wholly self-inflicted on a biological level. How is that for intelligent design?

On a serious note, Luskin brings up the point that evolutionists say that intelligent design threatens to destroy science. There is a lot of truth to that statement. Science is based on testable hypotheses, mathematical calculations, experiments, and facts. Intelligent design, on the other hand, is based on no experimental evidence, a preconceived notion, and the denial of evolution. When people stoop to the level of accepting this sort of sloppy thinking, then science suffers. In a recent article in the New York Times, Brian Greene writes an excellent summary of why science is important:

Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

Update: The Skeptic’s Guide 5X5 podcast also covered this post.