Monday, February 14, 2005

In a typically interesting post over at Left2Right, David Velleman notes that while scientists are always skeptical of new hypotheses, especially coming from outsiders, theories that consistently made correct predictions have always won the day. Velleman takes issue with the complaints of skepticism from scientific establishment, made by intelligent design proponents, and with the attempt of ID theorists to sneak into science "through the back door" (i.e. through actions by legislatures, school boards, etc). My one quibble is with the following bit: Velleman is using Wegener's Continental Drift as an example,
the hypothesis of a single primordial continent, dubbed Pangaea by Wegener, bears a striking resemblance to the creation story in Genesis, which tells us that God began by making a single division between land and water. The website's author complains that Wegner has been given credit for a "discovery" that wasn't his. But the history of science is full of misattributed discoveries. What's important about this case is that a Biblical hypothesis, though vigorously rejected by scientific authorities for decades, gradually won their adherence by explaining and predicting more phenomena than competing hypotheses.
Is Continental Drift really a "biblical" theory? This assertion reminds me of some of the stuff my great-grandmother often says.

You see, in 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the two or three days before the start of the invasion were marked by a large number of planes flying overhead (at least as my great-grandmother tells it). Since that day, my great-grandmother has taken to attributing a near mythic significance to planes. Often she will remark on the number of planes she saw flying in a given day, and if that number happens to be large enough, she is often in a a speculative frenzy over what could possibly have gone wrong.

She also claims that she has predicted events by counting planes. For example, the Asian tsunami, and the invasion of Iraq, were supposedly likewise accompanied by large numbers of planes overhead.

The thing about her predictions, though, is that they always occur after the fact. If she were able to perceive that something terrible was going to happen right before the tsunami, well, that would be really something wouldn't it?

Those who claim Pangea was predicted by the bible - or those who claim that the bible says the earth is round - are doing the same. I'm glad that there exist biblical verses that sound like they imply these theories, but where were you before scientists figured them out? The fact is that no one had even thought of interpreting Genesis to support continental drift until 19th century geographers noted how well South America & Africa fit together.

Similarly, Christians did not interpret the bible to say that the earth is round until it became scientifically confirmed. On the contrary, the Catholic church persecuted all who said so, and only now do we get all this bullshit about the verse in Isiah that refers to "the circle of the earth."


At 3:18 PM, Blogger angela said...

my cousins nonna also flips out over planes cos of the war. when she moved to vancouver from rural bc, she was totally neurotic the first little while


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