Friday, February 24, 2006

Science vs Religion at UoGlasgow

The Wolfson Medical School hosted a 'Religion vs Science' seminar today with a talk by Mr Hugh Thomson. Apparantly it's been running all week and you'd think i'd have noticed since I walk past the front door every day for a coffee.
I really, really didn't want to go but then thought how could I say I was anti-creationism if I couldn't be bothered to walk 50 m and attend a seminar?
About 12 people were there, all 1-3rd year med students (a scary concept in and of itself). I was the only scientist (I asked for a show of hands) and proceeded to hound the speaker on every single point he raised during the talk (I've been burned before on having to listen to utter codswallop for 20 mins and then only having 1 min during question time. If the question is relevent, almost all scientific talks welcome questions/clarifications during the talk - the whole point is to communicate!).
It was all so depressingly cliche. I've paraphrased the speech quote and listed it under a standard talk.origins type heading:
  1. Performance Control - "Leave questions till the end"
  2. Entropy - "Physics tells us that things get disordered with time yet here we are"
  3. A watch implies a watchmaker - "If you find a beautiful rose garden in the middle of the jungle, you would assume something intelligent made it"
  4. Evolution is a belief system - "Naturalism is as much a belief as theism. The debate is between naturalism and theism"
  5. Morality - "If we are just random collections of atoms, there is no reason to behave morally" and atheism/naturalism is therefore immoral.
  6. Teach the Controversy - "Lot's of scientists can't question naturalism because they aren't allowed to"
  7. Pronouncement from authority - "I am an abdominal surgeon"
  8. Quotes out of context - Stephen Dawkins, Huxley, H G Wells. As well as atheists that converted on their death bed (nothing about atheists that didn't...).
  9. Irreducible Complexity - "Blood coagulation takes several steps, without any single step, there is no coagulation - how could this have evolved by chance?"
  10. Argument from Improbability - "The chances of people evolving by random chance is squillions to one"
  11. Debating Techniques 101 - Create false dichotomies, use good definitions of evolution and then proceed to ignore them, appeal to 'common sense', appeal to personal vanity, refuse to engage in a falsifiable statement (I hammered on about evolution requiring millions of years and all they needed to do was prove a young earth)
  12. It's only a theory - "Scientists make and break theories so it's not Truth they're looking for"
Very depressing. I'm sure it was just another random Xtian group on campus preaching to the converted and my efforts were completely wasted. I have to admit, it feels really surreal talking to these people: as Bacon said "you can't reason people out of something they didn't reason themselves into".
I'd like to think I fought the good fight and let 12 odd people know about talk.origins and how these arguments are completely specious and how real scientists are asking real questions every day and this apparant clash of ideals is such a non-event.
I won't hold my breath and for the record I'm with Dawkins: "Religion is Evil"

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