Friday, 4 January 2013

Creationists. Relatively Wrong.

I just came across this 1989 article by the late, great Isaac Asimov entitled The Relativity of Wrong. You really should read it.
...when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together....

In the early days of civilization, the general feeling was that the earth was flat. This was not because people were stupid, or because they were intent on believing silly things. They felt it was flat on the basis of sound evidence. It was not just a matter of "That's how it looks," because the earth does not look flat. It looks chaotically bumpy, with hills, valleys, ravines, cliffs, and so on.

Of course there are plains where, over limited areas, the earth's surface does look fairly flat. One of those plains is in the Tigris-Euphrates area, where the first historical civilization (one with writing) developed, that of the Sumerians.

Perhaps it was the appearance of the plain that persuaded the clever Sumerians to accept the generalization that the earth was flat; that if you somehow evened out all the elevations and depressions, you would be left with flatness. Contributing to the notion may have been the fact that stretches of water (ponds and lakes) looked pretty flat on quiet days.

Another way of looking at it is to ask what is the "curvature" of the earth's surface Over a considerable length, how much does the surface deviate (on the average) from perfect flatness. The flat-earth theory would make it seem that the surface doesn't deviate from flatness at all, that its curvature is 0 to the mile.

Nowadays, of course, we are taught that the flat-earth theory is wrong; that it is all wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely. But it isn't. The curvature of the earth is nearly 0 per mile, so that although the flat-earth theory is wrong, it happens to be nearly right. That's why the theory lasted so long...

The curvature of such a sphere is about 0.000126 per mile, a quantity very close to 0 per mile, as you can see, and one not easily measured by the techniques at the disposal of the ancients. The tiny difference between 0 and 0.000126 accounts for the fact that it took so long to pass from the flat earth to the spherical earth.

Mind you, even a tiny difference, such as that between 0 and 0.000126, can be extremely important. That difference mounts up. The earth cannot be mapped over large areas with any accuracy at all if the difference isn't taken into account and if the earth isn't considered a sphere rather than a flat surface. Long ocean voyages can't be undertaken with any reasonable way of locating one's own position in the ocean unless the earth is considered spherical rather than flat. [My emphasis]
This, of course, is an almost perfect analogy for the level of understanding Creationists still have vis á vis evolution. is because the geological formations of the earth change so slowly and the living things upon it evolve so slowly that it seemed reasonable at first to suppose that there was no change and that the earth and life always existed as they do today. If that were so, it would make no difference whether the earth and life were billions of years old or thousands. Thousands were easier to grasp.

But when careful observation showed that the earth and life were changing at a rate that was very tiny but not zero, then it became clear that the earth and life had to be very old. Modern geology came into being, and so did the notion of biological evolution.

If the rate of change were more rapid, geology and evolution would have reached their modern state in ancient times. It is only because the difference between the rate of change in a static universe and the rate of change in an evolutionary one is that between zero and very nearly zero that the creationists can continue propagating their folly.

Isaac Asimov
They, like the flat-earthers before them, look too closely and fail to see the small differences. Just as flat-earthers expected to see the earth curving if it was sperical, yet what they saw was no discernible curvature because it was masked by the 'noise' of a lumpy surface, and concluded that it must be flat, no matter that the evidence of shadows on the moon, ships disappearing over horizons, etc suggested otherwise. These must be wrong because they could see the earth was flat.

But Evolutionists know that the small differences are what matter even though they can be missed in the general 'noise' of inherent variation and that we need to take a long view to see the differences adding up.

Just as the earth's owes it near-spherical shape to accumulated small differences in the average curvature of its surface, so all living things owe their current form to accumulated small differences as does the current diversity of life on earth.

Just as gravity is the single directional natural force involved in pulling earth into its current shape, so Natural Selection is the single directional 'force' responsible for the current form of all living things.

And of course, Creationists continuing to probe and scrape around for small areas of imperfect understanding with the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is the equivalent of flat-earthers continuing to point at hills and valleys and places where the curvature of the earth deviates slightly from the average needed to form a perfect sphere and rubbishing the entire spherical earth theory because earth isn't a perfect sphere.

As Isaac Asimov put it, "...if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together".

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