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Why I Don't Believe in Intelligent Design

February 19th, 2009 (02:54 pm)

I was commenting on a Guardian thread which was locked down (not sure if it's a time thing or just that the debate was getting out of hand), which is a pity because there's an interesting comment I wanted to reply to from someone called Wice:

it's nice to meet someone, who, starting as an ID proponent, finally accepted evolution as a better explanation. all the ID proponents i've met up to now, seem to be completely unable (or unwilling) to understand even the most basic concepts of the theory of evolution. could you provide some information, what helped you understand the subject and change your mind?

I guess there's not a great deal of point in responding here - I mean, I suppose he might google himself, but I'm never going to be top entry - but the answer is kind of interesting so I thought I'd share. I'm slightly amused at (what I took) as his suggestion that he hasn't met an ID proponent who was willing or able to understand evolution - if you did they would kind of stop being ID proponents! More seriously, if his experience with IDer's is through debate, most people (and nearly all theists) go into a debate prepared to defend their ideas to the death and are really not open to other points of view.

With that in mind, the change in my opinion was marked (at least in the early stages) by a movement from ignorance to enlightenment in the field of genetics. I clearly remember the moment of realisation, and was immediately aware that the only way anyone can hold a belief in young earth creationism was ignorance*.

As for what helped me understand the subject, in broad sense it has to be taking a degree in biomedical science; although I was over halfway through my degree (year two, semester two) before I accepted it. I regret this profoundly, as I had avoided taking an elective in Evolutionary Biology (on the grounds that I didn't agree that it had happened) and took Psychology instead, and looking back, I know what I would have enjoyed more. Looking back, it was embaressingly arrogant of me, but throughout my biological education (from watching Attenborough videos as a kid, through secondary education and into university) I had carefully refused to accept any teaching on evolution. I didn't demand that my views were recognised, I just quietly resolved to take a different stance. In my defence, I had never been clearly and coherently presented with the evidence for evolution; it was just sort of assumed throughout my education, and my willful ignorance was left unaddressed.

As I mentioned, it wasn't enlightenment in the field of evolutionary biology that changed my mind - I would have approached that in a closed minded fashion, and refused to be educated. It was in fact a genetics class - developmental genetics, as it happens, a lecture by Tanya Whitfield (a course which also, incidentally, set me down my current career path). Of course the whole premise of developmental biology is that species are linked in a fundamental way that allows you to draw conclusions between humans and animals**. However, the fact that analogous functions in species as diverse as insects and humans are not only fulfilled by similar genes, but by the same genes (the example that did it for me was the Hox Cluster, but it doesn't really matter which one) was what finally broke through to me, like a road to Damascus experience.

Of course, that wasn't quite the end of the story. I had, in effect, gone from being a young earth creationist to a day age creationist. Although my religious views at the time were agnostic, I truly believed that the creation account in Genesis was defensible as an allegory for evolution - starting with a bright flash of light (the big bang), appearance of planet, and then the gradual appearance of species in a stepwise fashion ultimately ending with the appearance of people. I have yet to hear a real knock-down argument to this idea (the most convincing one being that the Genesis account could a whole lot more accurate, for one thing describing the emergeance of flowers before the appearance of insects to pollinate them). But key to my acceptance of this idea was the notion that of the creation accounts of ancient civilisations (cf. Egypt, ancient Greece and Rome etc.) this one best matched our modern theory of evolution.

Another embaressingly arrogant statement. In fact, it was only when I started investigating my own claim a little that I realised that the creation account in Genesis was actually copied, almost word for word (swapping the polytheistic creators for Yahweh) from the Babylonian creation myth. This marked another turning point in my belief, definitively leaving behind my agnosticism (and sympathy with Christianity) for atheism, and making up for lost time by learning in detail about the evolution-vs-creation debate. The fruit of my research has not been favourable to creationism (intelligent design or otherwise), or theism in general. As a result, I've developed a bit of a bee in my bonnet about creationism, and become a christian apostate to boot. But that's a different story.

...Well. That turned into a bit of a long post. Apologies for not putting it behind a cut, but I somehow felt I wanted it all out there. I was thinking of also responding to the (earnest, I think) comments of an ID creationist on the same thread, but this post is already getting a bit out of hand. It also has not escaped my notice that this article doesn't exactly live up to it's title - this is what led me to question ID, not why I ultimately discarded (except in briefest outline). Both stories for another time, perhaps.

* or at least, a tolerance for severe cognitive dissonance.
** as in any field of investigation which uses animal models of human disease, but developmental biology - where investigation in humans is extremely tightly restricted for ethical reasons - especially depends on comparison between species

Comments

Posted by: Confused (confuseddave)
Posted at: February 20th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)

Yes, I figured this out after I asked by scanning your user info. ^_^ I'm surprised I attracted any readers from neuroscience, given I think I don't convey my opinions particularily well there. I'm kind of convinced everyone rolls their eyes whenever I post. This may be a general self esteem thing, every time I get a comment notification on this post I think it'll be someone saying "actually, you're a dick", too.

I only asked where you're from because I wondered if the vaccination regimen might be different between countries. I had a feeling that at least some of them were grouped together, but I'm not sure that's true...

And incidentally, as a regular reader of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science and Orac's Respectful Insolence, I come down pretty firmly pro-vaccine in principle, although I usually try to keep in mind that there are two sides to most stories.

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