Biochemical Soul Musings on Nature, Science, Evolution, Biology, and Education

7Sep/08Off

Scathing Remarks on the Carnival of Evolution

Miguel over at No Answers in Genesis Discussion Board recently posted a link to the new Carnival of Evolution blog carnival (which I much appreciate).

One of the commentators, however, had some fairly scathing remarks on the existence of this blog carnival and the subtitle and description. I respond to them here, because he paints an accurate picture of some of the misconceptions of the nature of science as an epistemological framework for understanding reality.

John Snowden said:

Your link leads to a choice piece of rubbish in the very first sentence of the page:

"hoping that soon science and intellectualism will once again take strong root within our government and culture."

Once again? When did science and intellectualism previously take strong root in his government and culture? Intellectualism is the inordinate emphasis on abstract reasoning at the expense of feeling or emotion. The word has a negative connotation. Intellectualism can be a vice. Is that what he wants?

The blurb at the top reads "Carnival of Evolution - 3.7 billion years of molecular changes culminating in the emergence of matter inspecting its own origins and existence."

That is not a scientific proposition but a dogmatic philosophical claim. To be specific, it's the sort of very simplistic claim in reductive materialist metaphysics that has been given such a hard time in current philosophy. It's probably untenable. It's not matter but mind that contemplates its origins. Matter and mind are not equivalent terms.

As for "carnival", a carnival is a touring entertainment of circus acts and sideshows. No one would accuse a carnival of engaging in intellectualism and promoting science. Of course if the site owner wants intellectual clowns for his show he should hire some of this board's performers. We have a science graduate who thinks that the Sumatran tsunami could have been caused by his gawd, and maybe a "good quick flood" would preserve dainty insect tracks left in sand. And we have a science librarian who believes that Man arose from the impersonal natural forces of evolution but nevertheless Man was created in the image of God who wouldn't have dared indulge in Intelligent Design, no sir.

Some good material may well appear at the site in question. On the other hand its "carnival" title may well attract the wrong sort of talent, as does the "axe to grind with Fundies" mood of Stear's discussion boards.

My reply: I would agree with your implication that science and intellectualism have never been strong backbones within our culture or society. However, I would argue that the past eight years have seen a marked rejection of anything having to do with critical thinking. Instead, pseudoscience and a complete disregard for science have defined this administrations policies, ranging from energy and the environment to health.

This is why I said "once again". There is very little doubt (in my own mind) that science was held in higher regard by previous incarnations of our government, though the difference is relatively slight.

If you think "3.7 billion years of molecular changes culminating in the emergence of matter inspecting its own origins and existence" is dogmatic, you have vastly misunderstood the nature of science. As I teach my own students, all scientific knowledge comes from a convergence of evidence that paints a picture of how our reality works. There is nothing dogmatic about it. An inherent acknowledgment within scientific epistemology is the fact that all scientific knowledge is tenuous. At any point it may be subverted by further evidence. However, theories such as evolution now have amassed such a preponderance of evidence that we scientists view it highly unlikely that it will be overturned.

This is not dogma, by simple definition. By claiming that it is, you are simply creating a straw man argument and ignoring the philosophical nuances of using science as a way of knowing.

Your "mind versus matter" is obviously a valid philosophical point. The point of my subtitle, however, was to have a pithy line that shows how modern science views our world. There's not much room for deep philosophical debates on the nature of consciousness in a blog subtitle. It sounds a bit like you're trolling here.

As for the word "carnival", you must not be very familiar with the blogging world. Blog Carnivals are a phenomenon within the blogging community, wherein a blogger collects links related to a specific field or topic. The word "Carnival" in carnival of evolution is simply a reflection of the fact that it is one (among 100s or thousands) of other "Blog Carnivals".

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  1. “3.7 billion years of molecular changes culminating in the emergence of matter inspecting its own origins and existence.”

    Aside from the evolutionary significance, that line succintly describes the wonder and fascination of the phenomenon of consciousness itself, the fact that evolution has provided organisms the capability of contemplating its own origins. What a great paradox, the brain evolved to an extent that it became capable of understanding brain function!

  2. wait!
    but…if the brain can understand itself…then that means that it can understand itself understanding itself…which means that it can understand itself understand itself understanding itself…crap!…infinite loop of understanding…help!

    seriously though – I totally agree with you and thanks for the comment, Hesitant Iconoclast. I need to get back over to your blog.


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