a mistrust of the timescales involved

Since the last time I went to a lecture in Appleton Tower sometime in 1999 it's gone all digital and fancy though it was nice to visit it again this evening for a talk (previously delivered at Edinburgh Zoo) concerning some of the holes in the arguments of creationists and those who support the theory of Intelligent Design. The deeply ineffective tall and thin speakers were gone, the paint looks a lot fresher and the seats are all fancy though probably a lot less comfortable and more cramped for being padded. One thing which appeared completely unchanged was the blackboard complex; although the two upper-side-rear boards have been replaced by white screens for modern electronic computer-screen projection devices the central fifteen-feet-high continuous rotating belt chalkboard was immediately familiar. There was also a bloke in the row in front of me who I would swear on a copy of The God Delusion was in my year at uni though I'd be guessing to suggest any particular course though it was probably one based more at the King's Buildings than the George Square campus.

Someone a few rows ahead was holding one of the pamphlets being distributed by anti-evolutionists outside the Dawkins/Holloway discussion earlier in the year. They didn't ask any questions so it was impossible to tell whether they believed it or had just picked it up for a laugh after attending that or a similar event. There were definitely a couple of creationists and at least one ID proponent present but to their credit they did at least stay until the end though to make sure no credit is given where none is due they all tended to try and change the subject when questions were asked back at them after they'd asked the speaker (Stuart Ritchie) a question (which he answered more than sufficiently). I would add to the right-hand creationist who disappeared after speaking his piece that it's all very well saying how many different editions and copies of various religious texts there are which all say vaguely the same thing (give or take a few stories and differences though errors of translation and suchlike) but they are all texts written by people and text written by people is very easy to create and propagate. See. Dead easy. Fossils, on the other hand, are real physical things of often very great antiquity which cannot be easily fabricated nor buried in rock strata which are verifiably millions of years old.

One bloke who didn't state which particular flavour of non-evolution he favoured mentioned something about "lots of scientists now discredit the existence of Archaeopteryx" but couldn't support this claim and might even have been talking about the obviously-faked mash-up fossil a Chinese farmer put together from various bits to make a quick buck a few years ago. The ID proponent (evidently well-known to the speaker) similarly evaded return-questions and tried to change the subject to the non-religious basis of ID (the speaker had generally referred to creationism and ID as primarily religious in origin and support), claiming that the Wedge document was deliberately published rather than leaked (which sort of misses the point - it's still a document which cites the discouragement of fairly well-established science and the encouragement of "Christian and theistic convictions" amongst its aims) and that he was a former atheist who would now describe himself as a deist of no particular flavour and that ID was not particularly connected to the Christian church and so on, forgetting conveniently that of Pandas and People started as a (Christian) creationist text produced by a Christian organisation which underwent fairly obvious search-and-replace treatment to convert it to ID (for use in one of the underhand efforts to get religious-mythology-pretending-to-be-science into the American classroom).

Evolution has lots of fiddly details but the basic premise is simple to grasp. Humans seem to occasionally have difficulty really appreciating things on scales too different from those of our bodies or lifespans; really large cosmological or geological timescales or galactic distances or the attoscopic world of the subatom or the staggeringly quick durations needed to describe the processes occurring around and within very, very, very, very small things. Perhaps acceptance of evolution not only requires acceptance of the extremely lengthy (timescales of 4bn years and counting) but also of the vanishingly small and incredibly brief; our relative unimportance to the universe as an whole and the time for which we'll be around to speculate thereupon.

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