The ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics, part 1: anti-evolutionism

I don’t think I’m going to be able to get through writing this post if I try to feign politeness, so let me start by saying that it’s long been clear to me that, in spite of his moderate views on some issues (relative to his fellow evangelicals, anyway) Christian apologist Randal Rauser is not someone who it’s possible to have any sort of rational discussion about religion with.

I knew this before sending in my contribution to his “Why They Don’t Believe” on his blog, but sent it in anyway because he asked nicely. The ensuing conversation, though, almost made me regret doing so. In it, Randal absurdly likened my remark about “the ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics” to racial prejudice, but at the same time felt no scruples about calling me ignorant for daring to call self-described creationist William Dembski a creationist.

His response to my pointing out that, well, let me quote myself:

The “Intelligent Design” label really gained popularity only after a series of court decisions that came down against the teaching of creationism in public schools. Seriously, did you miss the whole Dover trial, and the saga of the cdesign proponentsists? Being told I’m ignorant for thinking Intelligent Design is rebranded creationism is a little like being told I’m ignorant for thinking Ted Kaczynski was the Unabomber. Maybe you think the court got a particular case wrong, but outside of really extraordinary miscarriages of justice, surely you can believe a court’s verdict without being ignorant, right?

His response was:

As for Dover, politics, blah blah blah, that’s all distinct from the question of whether or not it is ever legitimate to infer to intelligence as an explanation for natural structures or processes.

This totally misses the point I was making. I was not citing the Dover to argue that it is not legitimate to infer intelligence as an explanation; I was citing it to show that the IDers “we’re just saying you can infer intelligence” line is bullshit and ID is rebranded creationism. Randal’s inability to acknowledge such a basic fact served as further confirmation that he was not worth trying to engage with.

(Not that it will help, but here is the relevant section of the Dover decision.)

In spite of all this, it’s occurred to me that while the ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics is old news to me, it would be worth summarizing the case for people who are new to these debates. I’ll do at least a couple posts, this one on anti-evolutionism, the next one on New Testament scholarship, and after that maybe other installments.

The first thing I need to say here is that the reason I’ve put so much effort into documenting William Lane Craig’s dishonesty is because I actually do think showing that someone has been dishonest takes effort. You have to make some inferences about what’s going on inside their head, which can be tricky. In contrast, showing that someone is either ignorant or dishonest is comparatively easy: if they go around saying things that every informed person knows to be false, it has to be one or the other.

Second, let me respond to Randal’s absurd comparison of my comments about Christian apologetics to racial prejudice. In my previous reply to him, I cited Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, and Alvin Plantinga as examples of the ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics. His response:

To get a sense of how outrageous Chris is being at this point, imagine if Buzz replied to our concerns over his racial prejudice by pointing out three specific examples of Mexicans he believes to be ignorant and/or dishonest. Even if Juan, Julio and Mario are ignorant or dishonest, it doesn’t follow that generally Mexicans are ignorant or dishonest.

The crucial difference here is that Christian apologetics is an intellectual project, not an ethnic or racial group, and it is perfectly fair to judge an intellectual project by its leading proponents. And McDowell, Craig, and Plantinga are the farthest thing from random examples of Christian apologetics. McDowell has probably enjoyed more popular success than any other living Christian apologist, and has had an enormous impact on the style of Christian apologetics as it exists today. Plantinga is Christian apologetics’ leading academic star. And Craig has an almost unique combination of academic credentials and popular impact.

But let me expand on my remarks in my previous post, starting with Plantinga. Randal claims I merely noted Plantinga disagrees with me on evolution, which is true of my last reply to Randal, but there’s a reason that reply included a link to a summary of my previous writing on Plantinga and evolution. Allow me to quote myself:

Plantinga says he thinks the theory of evolution is probably false, and tries to argue that the evidence for it is weak. This section of the paper is by Plantinga’s own admission “hand waving,” and includes at least one howler: Plantinga complains of “the nearly complete absence, in the fossil record, of intermediates between such major divisions as, say, reptiles and birds, or fish and reptiles, or reptiles and mammals.”

This is an idea creationists seem to have gotten from a misunderstanding of Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of punctuated equilibria, and Gould has put a lot of energy into correcting this misunderstanding. One place he corrects it is his essay “Evolution as Fact and Theory,” which happens to be the one piece of Gould’s writing that appears in Plantinga’s bibliography. Gould explains that “Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.” Plantinga’s mistake is so big, and so avoidable, that it suggests he wasn’t really even trying to get his science right.

By the way, as I’ve noted recently, Gould was heavily criticized by some of his fellow evolutionary biologists, at least one of whom accused Gould of being a deeply confused thinker, but I’ve never seen Gould accused by anyone who knew what they were talking about of being the least bit unclear as to whether he thought there were intermediaries between reptiles and birds; he clearly thought there were. I suppose I should quote Gould’s essay at greater length here:

Faced with these facts of evolution and the philosophical bankruptcy of their own position, creationists rely upon distortion and innuendo to buttress their rhetorical claim. If I sound sharp or bitter, indeed I am—for I have become a major target of these practices.

I count myself among the evolutionists who argue for a jerky, or episodic, rather than a smoothly gradual, pace of change. In 1972 my colleague Niles Eldredge and I developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium. We argued that two outstanding facts of the fossil record—geologically “sudden” origin of new species and failure to change thereafter (stasis)—reflect the predictions of evolutionary theory, not the imperfections of the fossil record. In most theories, small isolated populations are the source of new species, and the process of speciation takes thousands or tens of thousands of years. This amount of time, so long when measured against our lives, is a geological microsecond. It represents much less than 1 per cent of the average life-span for a fossil invertebrate species—more than ten million years. Large, widespread, and well established species, on the other hand, are not expected to change very much. We believe that the inertia of large populations explains the stasis of most fossil species over millions of years.

We proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium largely to provide a different explanation for pervasive trends in the fossil record. Trends, we argued, cannot be attributed to gradual transformation within lineages, but must arise from the different success of certain kinds of species. A trend, we argued, is more like climbing a flight of stairs (punctuated and stasis) than rolling up an inclined plane.

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups. Yet a pamphlet entitled “Harvard Scientists Agree Evolution Is a Hoax” states: “The facts of punctuated equilibrium which Gould and Eldredge… are forcing Darwinists to swallow fit the picture that Bryan insisted on, and which God has revealed to us in the Bible.”

The paper by Plantinga I criticize in the quote above is now fairly old, but his latest book (which I was reviewing in the post linked above) is almost as bad in places. In the chapter on Behe, the criticism Behe has gotten by his fellow scientists is almost entirely ignored; Plantinga gives the impression that that criticism contained nothing of substance and therefore are “the sort of thing to which one can give an argumentative reply.” To anyone who’s actually familiar with the scientific response to Behe, Plantinga’s implication is absurd.

Furthermore, Plantinga’s misrepresentation of Gould is just repeating a canard that’s widespread among creationists and Christian apologists. Variations on it have been repeated by William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas (something I mention in the chapter on the Shroud of Turin in my book), and by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.

The fact that even Plantinga and Craig would repeat this well-known distortion I find extremely telling. By the standards of Christian apologetics, their anti-evolutionism is a pretty watered-down variety. Both have taken a pose of official agnosticism towards evolution. But apparently, that’s not enough to stop them from repeating one of the most thoroughly debunked creationist canards out there.

For my next example, let me quote a comment I left on Randal’s blog:

Maybe I shouldn’t focus on semantics here. Maybe I should focus on things like Dembski promoting the claim that evolution contradicts the laws of theremodynamics. That’s not an argument an informed, honest person makes. And by “informed,” I don’t mean Ph.D. here, I mean anyone who paid attention in freshmen chem… or did a damn Google search on the subject, if they didn’t take that class.

This is a mistake that’s also been made by Josh McDowell. By the way, if memory serves, McDowell is a young-earth creationist, though I don’t have my McDowell books with me at the moment so I can’t check. If I did have my McDowell books, it would probably be trivial to find a few more equally egregious mistakes by McDowell about evolution.

And then there is Jonathan Wells, who made a career out of, among many other mistakes, assuming the whole sum of the evidence for evolution was contained in a few well-known textbook diagrams. It’s instructive to compare Wells’ portrait of the evidence for evolution to one written by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. I mention Wells in part because he was the first interviewee for one of bestselling apologist Lee Strobel’s Case for… books; I remember being unable to finish that particular book after reading that chapter.

If you are not well-versed in the creation-evolution controversy, the mistakes I’ve been listing may seem like small errors. Trust me they are not. It’s difficult to find a good analogy to convey the level of ignorance involved here. To say that the apologists are “Obama is a secret Muslim”-level wrong is tempting, but for people who know something about the history of early Christianity, here, perhaps, is a better analogy:

Imagine if all the leading defenders of atheism and agnosticism–Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman, William Rowe, Paul Draper, Keith Parsons, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and PZ Myers–imagine if they all, without exception, advocated claims about the history of early Christianity that were literally straight out of The Da Vinci Code. Imagine them accusing the Catholic Church of conspiring to keep secret a copy of the Q document (which was written, they claim, by Jesus himself), claiming the New Testament was written by the Council of Nicaea, and so on.

If you can imagine that, and you know anything at all about actual early Christian history, you will have some idea of what it is like for me to read Christian apologists on the subject of evolution.

  • mudgeon

    Wow, this is heady stuff, covering as much ground topic-wise, chronology-wise, tactic-wise and otherwise as it does. There is literally no way that I can come up with to construct a coherent general comment. I guess I will focus on one point. If I concede the conflation of ID and creationism (which in reality I believe is ungenerous rhetoric yet agree that it is not your job to explicate the topography of “the other side”), I would simply like to propose that “creation” and “evolution” are taking different contexts for their arguments. The intersection would be “origin of life,” which creationism accepts without critical investigation and evolution presumes as a set of material processes. Darwin specifically (and wisely) skirted the question of origin–he made some speculations and expressed hopes of fruitful avenues of investigation. Orthodox evolution biology has looked at prebiotic conditions and made some hypotheses about some of the steps from organic chemistry to biology. But the picture is still mysterious.

    There are bulwarks all around various lines of evidence, lots of folks are making living in the battle zones and skirmishes–with more or less high stakes–are going on all around us. Unified fronts are for the most part illusions for the consumption of the public, and fortunately if one is willing to slog past the fighting and begin to dig, there is fortunately still plenty of wonder about about both origins and change.

    • eric

      I would simply like to propose that “creation” and “evolution” are taking different contexts for their arguments.

      Would you agree that the former is taking a theological context with little or no scientific merit while the latter is taking a scientific context?

      I do not know many scientists that object to creationism being taught in Sunday school or collegiate-level philosophy classes as creationism. The objection comes when creationists claim its science.

      • mudgeon

        Yes and no. Creation obviously invokes Genesis. Creationists generally put religion ahead of other sources for their authority to knowledge. So yes. Evolution was gelled as a scientific concept and given a rigorous theoretical framework by Darwin and his contemporaries. So yes.

        If you go back to, say, Newton, he studied mechanics and optics, and so on, firm in the belief that he was uncovering the order laid down by the Creator. To put words in your mouth, with apologies, I hear you saying, “Well that was before Darwin, Watson and Crick and so on gave a sufficient explanation for natural processes in biology and Maxwell, Einstein, Planck, Hoyle, Hubble and on and on filled in the sufficient explanation for natural processes in physics.”

        How to proceed? There are a million paths that flood into my head at this point. I personally am not persuaded of the “sufficiency.” In my case, this does not mean that I have answers at the ready, from religion or science or anywhere else. It just means that my curiosity and open mindedness take my imagination down paths that secular humanists I have read have dismissed. And much of my reading on “both sides” (secondary and tertiary stuff, not scientific literature) present me with lots of heat and little light.

        “The objection comes when creationists claim its science.”

        OK. Put starkly, creationism is not science. However, a scientist whom, say, Dawkins asserts is a creationist may in fact be a scientist doing good science. (Science is a method for apprehending truth, agreed?)

        • Verbose Stoic

          The issue here is this:

          What do you call an argument that doesn’t invoke Genesis, but puts forward a scientific argument that there must be an intelligent designer, and says that in their opinion that is the being commonly called one of the various gods? The latter part would be a specific hypothesis, and it isn’t a problem for science to do that, and the former part would be scientific. So wouldn’t this, then, actually BE science?

          Without general acceptance in the scientific community, trying to insist that it be taught in, say, grade and high schools would be a problem … but if it was being rejected only because of its religious implications, not allowing students to talk about it would violate the separation of Church and State.

          Which is the problem with the Dover conclusion: they claim that ID is an evolution from creationism and so still is creationism, but if ID evolved into a proper scientific theory that happens to mention God then it being science would, it seems to me, have to be conceded.

          • Hrafn

            I would question whether any argument for “an intelligent designer” that is framed in such a way that there is little doubt that said designer is in fact supernatural, and in fact a theistic conception of ‘God’, let alone claims to positively prove that he “must” exist is “scientific”, and particularly that it is genuinely falsifiable.

            As Dover demonstrated, and as all evidence since continues to demonstrate, ID has no solid scientific basis. It is not even potentially a “scientific theory” as a scientific theory is an explanation, and ID provides no explanation, merely the assertion that the designer-who-is-God-did-it. For ID to even potentially become such a theory it needs to provide some positive (and testable) explanation as to who/how/when/what/why it all happened.

          • mudgeon

            wrt your train of thought in your first paragraph, I would not call this argument science, no. I wouldn’t think you would either. At best it is inference from uncritically accepted givens. This person of yours, presumably standing for a creationist, may call themself a scientist, but they didn’t get to any firm scientific footing using this particular “thought experiment”. Proposing an intelligent designer is a perfectly legitimate hypothesis, but right at this point our argumenter is immediately in a bind. As Hrafn has correctly pointed out, they now have to live with a non-falsifiable hypothesis. Big problem, science-wise.

            I don’t think you get a different Dover result through this reasoning. But I do see this point a little different from @Hrafn. Dover ruling is not science and did not of itself demonstrate anything scientific. The plaintiffs simply out argued the defense. I think this is a good metaphor for the bulk of content of these discussions. We are not doing science. We are doing Aristotle-style argumentation. Imagine that Dover went the other way simply because lawyers blew their case. Would we then say “as Dover demonstrated?” No, it would put no scientific weight towards ID. Law is theater.

          • Hrafn

            mudgeon:

            1) The ID movement attempted to put their best foot forward at Dover in terms of their claims to having ‘scientific’ evidence, and were found entirely wanting. It was their put-up-or-shut-up moment in terms of establishing if they (through their expert witnesses) had any shred of a claim to scientific credibility — and they flubbed it.

            2) For the scientific community’s opinion of ID, I suggest you take a look at the opinions documented at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientific_societies_explicitly_rejecting_intelligent_design

            3) If you want the opinions of individual scientists, I would suggest Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism

            Finally, if “law is theatre”, what is ID’s posturing in front of legislatures, the media and laymen consumers of their popular-market books? Slapstick? At least in a court of law you’re subjected to Daubert criteria and cross-examination.

          • mudgeon

            Dover was not ID proponents’ chosen battleground. In fact, some within the movement requested the school board to capitulate because it was quite clear the movement would suffer a defeat. It may not be a point you are ready to accept, but the initiative was taken by the school board and not leading advocates of ID. (You can glimpse the discomfort in @Yoav’s recounting of Behe’s testimony above.) The scientists were put in the position of providing expert testimony and mounting a defensive press response.

            Let me quickly acknowledge that none of this has anything to do with the merits or demerits of ID, a point I will get back to. Briefly I want to address your other thoughts first. Bottom line, this discussion has little chance of being fruitful (creating fresh understandings) because the atmosphere immediately thickens with ghosts and rumors of old canards. For instance, your #2: regarding the scientific community’s opinion of ID, I am honestly not interested (I suspect) in the notion of a monolithic tertiary summary on Wikipedia that I suspect is dismissive and possibly even rests on thin rhetorical devices and may resort to some barbs. Oh, I will read it, and if it contains information, I will say my hunch was incorrect, and I’ll enjoy it. The resource I am excited about is the one @Selkirk provided after he tossed out a couple of good insults:

            Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions

            Powner, Gerlan & Sutherland, Nature 459, 239-242 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08013

            I just hope I can make sense of this paper.

            Please understand: I am not an IDer. Not a scientist. Not an apologist. We are having a very civil conversation under the headline “The ignorance and dishonesty of Christian apologetics, part 1 anti-evolution”. Slapstick, vaudeville, farce enough to go around. As I said, more heat than light. I will check out Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism, but judging from the title, it does not look too promising. I did look at The Creationists “From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design”, but it is 600 pages and starts in the 19th century. If I get the chance, I will read just the revised part on ID. Probably all theater.
            I do not consider ID a theory. All it means to me is that the sufficiency of natural processes has not been established. Gap would be a good word to use if it were not so charged. An analogy: CERN validated notions about the Higgs boson but also supported some theoretical constructs that there may be extraordinary unbalance in the universe. In turn, this encouragement for theorists who had suspected unbalance from their interpretation of previously available data also shined a new spotlight on multiverse theories. The point is discoveries have implications that are sometimes surprising, even to the extent that minority speculation can gain in plausibility. In the case of multiverse theory, hypotheses are far from falsifiable at this point. But there are two that gained plausibility. One is that our universe’s unbalance, while extremely improbable, could be rationionalized as sjmply one case among many (you will probably get heads 15 times in a row if you flip a coin 150,000 times). Another hypothesis is that a collision with another uni

          • Hrafn

            1) The ID crowd were actively looking for a battlefield, and only decided that Dover wasn’t the one they wanted very late in the day (leaving Dover in the lurch when a number of DI expert witnesses withdrew). They have not attempted to repeat the exercise since (which rather indicates that either they’ve given up on the idea of a legal test case, or cannot find a not-obviously-insane-and-thus-indefensible school board willing to take the risk).

            2) You stated courtroom wasn’t science, so I gave you the best summary of the opinions of scientific bodies that happens to be around. If you don’t trust Wikipedia (and having written for it, I quite frequently don’t), you can always check out the cited sources directly.

            2a) If you are interested in science rather than theatre, I’m surprised that you prefer The Creationists over Why Intelligent Design Fails. The former documents the history of the creationist movement and has little-to-no scientific content (it is very good, if often difficult to read, but is not intended as an evaluation of their arguments). The latter is the purely scientific critique. And you are unlikely to many (or any prominent) purely-scientific critiques that are much more ambivalent in its criticism, and thus more “promising”. ID is not well regarded in the scientific community.

            3) “Natural forces, undirected” has a long and consistent history of coming up with robust and useful explanations of the natural world. Supernatural intervention has consistently failed to stand up as an explanation.

          • mudgeon

            In 1) I suspect you and I saw different parts of the same elephant. You no doubt appreciate that the ID movement is not monolithic–it is not that they took a vote to shop for a confrontation venue. You and I both observe evidence that there was disunity and (whether or not IDers could have made a better case) it was clear that Dover, well before the ruling, was seen within the movement as a loss they wished to disassociate themselves from.

            In 2) I am attempting to highlight mistrust and hostility around the contemporary collisions between science and religion. That’s why I am guessing there is some “extra-curricular” argumentation. I generally like Wikipedia and use it a lot for cursory intros to topics.

            2a) I do not prefer The Creationists over Why Intelligent Design Fails. It is just that I haven’t gotten WIDF yet.

            3) Science has a confirmation bias. If you frame the principles of the scientific method, you are going to get to conclusions of a natural character: repeatable, laws uniformly applicable in every location of space, causal, rational and so on. Except when you don’t. Then you appeal to plausible speculation. Or you uncover a methodological error. Or you listen to a theorist who was considered on a fringe until orthodoxy was thrown in doubt. If possible you construct new experiments to sort out ambiguities or absurdities. You build larger cyclotrons (within budget). And so on. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this will to exploration. It is truly magnificent. Wonder and mystery abound.

          • Hrafn

            1) No, I most emphatically DO NOT “appreciate that the ID movement is not monolithic”. The IDM is almost entirely run from the Discovery Institute, to which arguably every prominent ID advocate belongs. The DI initially contributed the Director of their ID operation (their Center for Science and Culture), Stephen Meyer, and their two main ID theorists, William Dembski and Michael Behe (as well as lesser light Scott Minnich) as expert witnesses for Dover. This was hardly an equivocal expression of (initial) support.

            3) We can look to examples from before the scientific method was so tightly framed. Take for example Newton’s claim that God was needed to balance planetary motion. This was later proved to be entirely unnecessary. Can you provide a counterexample from the history of science where an invocation of supernatural intervention has not later been shown to be unnecessary (i.e. to be a ‘God of the Gaps’)? “Plausible speculation” to known forces and mechanisms is generally considered to be more rational than appeals to fundamentally unconfirmable and unfalsifiable forces. When I see a stage magician appear to read somebody’s mind, my mind leaps to plausible speculations such as cold reading, a confederate who has subtly interviewed the subject, etc, not to telepathy.

          • mudgeon

            Having studied the record far less than you have, I cannot cite affiliations nearly as well. I have run across mentions of college professors in many parts of the country who seem less oil-and-water in their convictions than you and as far as I know have no allegiance to DI. I am not knowledgeable enough to be prepared with the specificity of which you have command. I would be surprised to learn that the (legitimate) scientific community is void of theists without DI involvement yet with some commitment to the belief in teleological metaphysics.

            On 3) my argument was of a different character than the propositional challenge you are putting to me. Phenomena susceptible to the narrowly conceived scientific method are natural. At the same time, I am no spiritist. looking for a way to confirm supernatural intervention. There is no charm for me in bending spoons with the mind or trying to find the mass of the soul or the source of the white light of NDE. I cannot conceive of a god revealing their influence by a process of elimination of natural causes coupled with rigorous statistical analysis. At the same time, the way science works (the norm if we look over a period of, say, decades) is that a revolution shakes up some orthodoxy in very surprising ways. Right? At the end of the nineteenth century there was a smugness around classical mechanics, yet the model was of a universe with no beginning or end and unlimited in extent. This view was not primarily religious doctrine, but it wasn’t particularly scientific either. Interesting that the parallel postulate was never proved. Today we have the four forces. But it does not appear that they want to fall into a nice TOE. Isn’t that good?

          • Hrafn

            The existence of a more diffuse ‘cloud’ of sympathisers and fellow-travelers does not mean that ID is not monolithically framed and promoted by the DI, which has by far the biggest megaphone, and the political connections. Their members are also the originators of all of ID’s main claims, which also gives them considerable control over the message.

            The trend has been monotonically science replacing supernatural (hence the phrase ‘God of the Gaps’) or more sophisticated science replacing less sophisticated. Never has the supernatural displaced science, nor maintained more than a temporary toehold in areas that science had yet to fully investigate.

          • mudgeon

            No different from any other advocacy group, you are basically complimenting DI for getting their message out there efficiently given their resources. I like your choice of words “sympathisers and fellow-travelers” (not sarcasm). DI wantonly (sarcasm) uses rhetorical techniques in an attempt to be as persuasive as possible. Fortunately hypotheses are not derailed or proven by popular vote or by law courts.

            The advance of science is questions replacing questions. It is not an inexorable tide of truth flooding out ignorance. Answers to many of science’s questions provide invaluable new resources for beneficial projects in engineering, medicine and so on, and sociopolitical gatekeepers ought to do a much better job of listening to the implications of discovery! These benefits are side effects. They are not the motivation of science, nor should they be. And science also uncovers truths that we humans have yet to become mature enough to handle. The line between good and evil runs through every human heart. Again, by no means the fault of science. Power is another side effect of discovery.

          • Hrafn

            So are you now willing to admit that Dover was in fact ID’s chosen battleground (at least until they decided to abandon it)?

            And that “natural forces” offer us our most promising possibility of an explanation of the natural world?

          • mudgeon

            I answered your first question in a response to Reginald Selkirk‘s last post. I don’t see the reply up there for some reason. So I’ll summarize what I said. Anyhow basically I said my understanding is that DI (not ID, my position on that is it is a bigger subject with more history and less organization than the strategic initiative from DI) supplied Dover school board with supporting materials when they read news accounts of their campaign to introduce creationism into school science curricula. That accords with one of DI’s core missions, so they do this all over the place. This does not mean they were picking a fight.

            You may think I am dancing around wrt to your second question and so you are requesting that I be pinned down. But I am not dancing around. Gun to my head, yes or no, well I would say no. However, that being said is more misleading that characteristic of my belief. Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote a dissertation for his sponsor, Bertrand Russell. In his first proposition, he said, “The world is all that is the case.” and in the 7th (last) he said, “That which we can not talk about, we must pass over in silence.” Russell was impressed, and you might say Wittgenstein was expressing the scientific position: “‘Natural forces’ offer us our most promising possibility of an explanation of the natural world.” And he went further: when we are not appealing to verified facts, we are talking nonsense. We may as well be saying “blah, blah, blah.”

            Later, Wittgenstein spent a good chunk of his academic career investigating the question: “What is the meaning of a word?” Today Wittgenstein is largely passe, either slotted into a category of language analysis or dismissed as having done a largely fruitless project. I surmise most people in this blog believe that examinations of first principles in this day and age are tantamount to navel gazing, but this is where my curiosity takes me. The implication is that I know less about the world than I would guess you would be confident in.

            That also is a reasonably poor answer. This blog is very challenging and good for me because I am no used to expressing my thoughts carefully. I don’t live in a set of like-minded people so most of the dialog around epistemology takes place within my own head.

            I could go on and on, but you may consider what I have written mere blather. So I will stop. I am not skirting your question though.

          • Hrafn

            My point was that our argument was not about whether the DI is “no different from any other advocacy group” (a point that I don’t think you’ve substantiated), but rather whether it is a sufficiently “monolithic” force within the IDM that its going ‘all-in’ at Dover could be considered the IDM doing so.

            I also don’t think the DI’s monolithic influence is so much evidence of ‘efficiency’ as that anybody who really cares about ID tends to end up closely associated with, or joining, the DI. That ID is largely an sterile and artificial intellectual exercise, rather than one with any deep theological significance, or fertile scientific implications, probably in part explains why the circle of deeply-committed ID advocates remains fairly small.

          • mudgeon

            I’m not going to write anything uncharitable or repeat myself (too much). I would like to avoid clichés like “we’ll have to agree to disagree”. BTW I am enjoying your posts and my chance to compose considered responses a lot. There really is no likelihood of getting eye-to-eye on some of this stuff.

            One thing I enjoy attempting, and your engagement is by far the most patient I have experienced in my limited forays, is to explore contentious areas in a calm manner with no ulterior agenda on either side. I think it is fun and rare (these days).

            One of my strengths is I could be dead wrong. For instance I don’t know that DI did not plan this out in meticulous detail and then about face when the thing blew up. (To be honest, I am not willing to do the meticulous research to get past secondary and tertiary sources and folks with axes to grind. Not enough turns on the answer for me.) My take is simply they see that some YEC people are making some noise about affecting science curriculum and they do their thing (at least two things actually: they try to persuade the board members that YEC is not where its at and they wade in with their curriculum consulting and materials) and it turns into a mess that no one handles well.

            ID as a formal discipline is small, yes. The notion of intentionality in making and sustaining the universe (and Earth in particular) is not small, but it is vague. That’s OK. I would agree pretty strongly with you that there are no falsifiable hypotheses on intelligent basises for natural phenomena that we ought to run out and test.

            I also find that for whatever reason apologists for “science as secular humanism” project the notion that there are a few “i”s to dot and “t”s to cross in biology and physics in particular. Intellectuals have come to this posture before. I don’t think of the aftermath as simply “more sophisticated science” but stuff like, for example, cherished notions blown apart. (Yes this shock definitely applies to religious notions, and religious folks generally haven’t taken it well at all.)

          • Hrafn

            YEC tends to get promoted to the home-schooling community, rather than in school curricula — as it does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing constitutional muster.

            What gets promoted in school curricula post-Dover is usually a doubly-diluted form of ID (ID->’Teach the Controversy->’Strengths and Weaknesses of Evolution’).

            ID is not “a formal discipline” at all. It is mostly just a self-referential bunch of non-information-theorists making unsubstantiated claims about information theory, non-biologists making unsubstantiated claims about biology and non-scientists making unsubstantiated claims about science. For it to win any acceptance as a legitimate discipline it would need to demonstrate consilience with, and an ability to withstand peer-review by, established scientific principles.

            I stand by my “more sophisticated science” statement. The most radical innovation in the last century would have been the replacement of Newtonian Mechanics with Relativity. But, unless you are traveling at near the speed of light, or close to a black hole, or using extremely sensitive equipment, you are unlikely to be able to tell the difference between the two. Newtonian Mechanics continues to be taught in highschool physics and introductory university classes.

            Likewise evolutionary biologists will no doubt continue to argue about things like whether sexual selection is a form of natural selection, or a distinguishable form of selection, whether concepts like kin selection and group selection have explanatory power and oodles of other complicated ideas many of which I probably have never even heard of, let alone understand. The thing is, that even if this eventually leads to a radical rethink of the existing Theory of Evolution, whatever replaces it will still have to explain the same facts as the existing theory — so to 99% of the population the change is likely to be indistinguishable (just more math and bigger headaches for the specialists). The same is likely to apply to every other scientific revolution. For most of the population, it is just the replacement of one largely-incomprehensible theory with an even more incomprehensible one.

          • Reginald Selkirk

            Dover was not ID proponents’ chosen battleground. In fact, some within
            the movement requested the school board to capitulate because it was
            quite clear the movement would suffer a defeat…

            Wikipedia sez

            From 2002 William (Bill) Buckingham and Alan Bonsell, members of the Dover Area School District Board of Education who were young earth creationists, had made various statements supporting teaching creationism alongside evolution.
            At a board meeting on June 7, 2004, Buckingham mentioned creationism and raised objections to the proposed use of the textbook Biology written by Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph S. Levine, describing it as “laced with Darwinism” and saying it was “inexcusable to have a book that says man descended from apes with nothing to counterbalance it.”[10] This story made the York newspapers, and Buckingham was telephoned by Discovery Institute staff attorney Seth Cooper, whose tasks included “communicating with legislators, school board members, teachers, parents and students” to “address the topic of ID in a scientifically and educationally responsible way” in public schools. He later stated that he made the call to “steer the Dover Board away from trying to include intelligent design in the classroom or from trying to insert creationism into its
            cirriculum [sic]“, an account Buckingham has disputed. Cooper sent the book and DVD of Icons of Evolution
            to Buckingham, who required the Dover High School botany teachers to watch the DVD. They did not take up the opportunity to use it in their classes. Cooper advised that the Discovery Institute was not offering legal advice, and soon afterwards Buckingham contacted Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, who agreed to represent the Dover Board, and recommended the book Of Pandas and People.[11] On October 18, 2004, the school board voted 6–3 resolving that there were to be lectures on the subject, with Pandas as a reference book, and that the following statement was to be added to their biology curriculum:[2]

            If Wikipedia is not reliable enough for you, the full trial transcripts are available online, and will bear out the timeline in a much less compact form.

            Yes, there were local yahoos on the school board, but we find out in the above that The Discovery Institute initiated contact with the school board, unsolicited. The Thomas More Law Center, “Sword and Shield for People of Faith” offered free legal representation* (even though Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion, wink wink) and the Discovery Institute sent materials, and agreed to provide “expert” testimony during the trial. They later withdrew most of their experts, except Behe and Scott Minnich, allegedly because of a disagreement over legal representation, but there was widespread speculation that the DI could already smell this case as a loser, due to statements from and revelations about the school board members.
            So Hrafn is clearly correct that “The ID crowd was actively looking for a battlefield.” They were seeking out school boards nationwide to implement their policy.

            * Caution to any other school board members out there who might be considering similar actions: Your legal representation may be free, but if you lose the case you will still be charged with paying the opposition’s legal fees along with any fines.

          • mudgeon

            I am guessing that Discovery Institute reaches out to lots of school boards. In fact I would not be going out on a limb to say that that probably was one of the initiatives they had in mind when spending money to do highly produced materials like the DVD you mentioned. I have no idea what their financial policies are but my guess is they supplied their materials without charge. This does not constitute picking a fight. You are using hindsight.

          • mudgeon

            I wrote an answer to your position that DI chose the Dover case to test their intent to get ID into science curriculum in court. However my reply seems to have not been posted. Hrafn asked me this same question below and I have recreated my post down there.

          • Michael Fugate

            “The bottom line for me is that I am not convinced, not by a long shot, of the sufficiency of natural forces, undirected.”

            This is where you are misunderstanding current science – biological evolution is directed in part by selection and other natural actions. Molecular formation in chemistry is directed by simple rules involving such things as free energy, valence and electronegativity. These lead to an appearance of design, but they need not be directed by any intelligence.

          • Yoav

            but if ID evolved into a proper scientific theory that happens to
            mention God then it being science would, it seems to me, have to be
            conceded.

            During his testimony at the Dover trial Michael Behe conceded that ID can’t be considered as a scientific theory based on how a scientific theory is commonly defined and that if we accept his revised definition that allow ID in then astrology would also have to be considered a scientific theory.

            ID creationism is basically taking the old argument from design and repackaging it in some sciency sounding words with some god of the gaps thrown in under the label of “irreducible complexity”, so far all the examples for systems supposedly to complex to have been evolved presented by cdesign proponentsists, like the flagellum and the clotting mechanism, have been demonstrated to have a very clear evolutionary explanation which IDers just lied about, again in his testimony Behe admitted that he didn’t bother to read the relevant scientific literature before making the claim that no one have been studying the evolution of the immune system because they secretly knew that it couldn’t have evolved and there was a conspiracy to hush it up. In addition even if the dishonesty institute could come up with an example for a system for which we can’t, at this time, figure out an evolutionary pathway i doesn’t mean you can just say god (sorry, “intelligent designer”) didit and still be considered as providing a scientific explanation.

          • Nox

            But it hasn’t evolved into an actual scientific theory. It has just evolved into the realization that they need to call it science to get it into science classes. The intelligent design movement was started by creationists specifically in response to a court ruling that limited their ability to sneak religious teaching into science classes. Intelligent Design (the movement, as distinct from the concept of design) has never been anything other than an attempt to claim creationism is science.

            The closest they’ve ever had to a theory is “complexity requires design”. This theory produces no new information, has no predictive value, and can only be maintained by ignoring all the examples of complexity arising from natural processes. It’s also a ripoff of an explicitly religious argument. And again, it’s not that you can’t teach about religion in a religion or philosophy class, or even that scientists can’t have their own religious beliefs. It’s that you shouldn’t teach something as scientific just because it is claimed by a religion.

            “Without general acceptance in the scientific community, trying to insist that it be taught in, say, grade and high schools would be a problem.”

            They are trying to insist it be taught in grade and high schools. That is exactly the problem.

          • Reginald Selkirk

            What do you call an argument that doesn’t invoke Genesis, but puts forward a scientific argument…

            You lost me right there. What if, instead of putting forward a scientific argument, they put forward a “sciencey” argument? That is, one that is made to appear scientific, but ignores existing theory and data, etc. This more closely resembles what is actually happening.

            So wouldn’t this, then, actually BE science?

            Uh, no. An imposter is not the real deal.

            but if ID evolved into a proper scientific theory…

            1) There appears to be no danger of that happening. ID proponents are spending more time on lobbying to school boards and state legislatures than in the laboratory.
            2) I doubt that your definition of “proper scientific theory” is the same as mine, or you wouldn’t even be asking such a question.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Creation obviously invokes Genesis.

          Really? What about non-Judeo-Christian creationists? I met a Hindu creationist once.

          However, a scientist whom, say, Dawkins asserts is a creationist may in fact be a scientist doing good science

          I don’t know anyone who would argue that. Several atheist scientists and philosophers have made the “science and religion are not compatible” argument, and opponents of this view would do well to actually listen to and understand the argument being made instead of constructing strawmen.

          • mudgeon

            I submit a Hindu creationist is a re-creationist. (Humor.) (Sorry.)

            I didn’t really elaborate on the “creationist scientist” point. An aside first: Lots of atheists I have known are careful thinkers and seekers after truth. /aside I am going to look at my creationist scientist two ways, the point being quite simply that a full-blown new earth creationist is not necessarily disqualified from doing good science. Let’s pretend Newton was a new-earth creationist. (He wasn’t.) he still could (probably would) have gotten all his good science right. There was a Christian in the mid-90s who was given a job at Scientific American to do high-school level puzzlers in math and physics. His editors learned he did not believe in evolution and the job offer was withdrawn. If he was going to be reporting on developments in biology, I would agree with the decision. But his beliefs did not interfere with the job for which they had decided he was the most qualified.

    • Hrafn

      mudgeon:

      I think the problem is not “the conflation of ID and creationism” but rather Rauser’s conflation of creationism with Young Earth creationism (and the unsubstantiated assertion that Numbers supports this conflation).

      It does not require “the conflation of ID and creationism” to assert that Dembski (an ID advocate) is a creationist. This assertion merely requires the (widely held) claim that ID is a subset of creationism, not that the two are identical. Given that Numbers subtitled his work The Creationists “From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design”, it is clear at least that Numbers agrees that ID advocates are numbered among these “Creationists”.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        (and the unsubstantiated assertion that Numbers supports this conflation).

        After the lengthy quotes I took from the introduction to Numbers’ book, I think you should substitute “discredited” for “unsubstantiated.”

      • mudgeon

        In order to give you a targeted response, I will need to read “From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design.” I have dived into these waters without much preparation. My hunch, let me just say, is that those who take issue with my simple point probably will parse my more informed responses as well.

        To boil down my position: There’s a qualitative difference between origin and change–evolution concepts such as speciation, graduated equilibrium and so on take up the story beyond origin biology. (I get that pre-biotic to biotic transitions can be taken as evolutionary.) Lumping opponents’ positions together, especially when there are reasoned distinctions published among proponents of that opposition, is for the most part convenient rhetorical technique. Debate that gets beyond creative forms of ad hominem normally respects the opposition’s framing or, if warranted, attacks directly on logical ground.

        One new point. Creationism and ID are quite old lines of reasoning, predating mass quantities of discovery and solid science. There is tons of nuance and speculative theoretical structure on that side of the fence, hence many sources of controversy with ancient roots. There is also complexity on the evolutionary biology side, both from varying (and conflicting) schools of thought and also from empirical and theoretical investigations not being synchronized. Rhetorical strikes and counterstrikes tend to oversimplify not only the opposition but also the breadth of one’s own side.

  • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser
    • Nox

      The difference is that christian apologetics is by definition a dishonest enterprise. Anyone engaging in it is engaging (knowingly or otherwise) in an attempt to spread bad information. There is no trait inherent to mexicans (outside the imaginary traits assigned to them by racists) which leads to ignorance and dishonesty. Skin color and ancestry don’t directly affect a person’s thinking. The ideas someone holds do directly affect their thinking.

      The primary job of christian apologists is to say whatever they can think of that supports christianity, regardless of whether what they are saying is true. If any of the clubs you mentioned as examples were
      entirely built around belief in demonstrably false tenets, and they
      required all members to state and defend belief in these tenets even to
      the point of lying in support of the club, and everyone who did offer
      any defense of this club’s tenets lied rampantly, and anyone could look
      at the club’s charter and see the mistakes and lies right there on the
      page, then yes, it absolutely would be justified to say “all X are
      ignorant or dishonest” (keeping in mind that ignorance is not always a
      choice, and is not the same thing as being unintelligent).

      If Craig, Plantinga and McDowell are not accurate samples of
      christian apologetics, and Hallquist is wrong to refer them as
      representative, can you give me one example of an apologist or argument that does not suffer from the same ignorance and dishonesty as McDowell, Plantinga and Craig?

      • MNb

        Ah, you beat me with this question.
        The best answer I ever got was “you shouldn’t consult internet, you should read books.”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    mudgeon: The intersection would be “origin of life,” which creationism accepts
    without critical investigation and evolution presumes as a set of
    material processes

    “Presumes” my @$$. One of the most frequent creationist arguments on the origin of life is the “tornado in a junkyard” improbability of a protein strand assembling itself randomly. But proteins in living organisms are not made by random assembly, they are produced from ribosomes translating the genetic code; which makes this argument a complete strawman. Meanwhile, you will never see a creationist give more than a brief hand-waving dismissal to the theory which dominates current origin of life thinking among biologists, the RNA World Theory.

    Darwin specifically (and wisely) skirted the question of origin–he made
    some speculations and expressed hopes of fruitful avenues of
    investigation.

    Well guess what? From Darwin’s perspective, we are living in the future, and his original theory has been followed up with a century and a half of research which has been vastly more successful than you let on.

    There is still work to do on getting from primitive molecules to the RNA World, but there has been considerable progress. A new pathway for the production of RNA building blocks made some big waves in 2009.

    Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions

    Powner, Gerlan & Sutherland, Nature 459, 239-242 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08013

    • mudgeon

      I see you punching my effigy and sticking pins in a cupie doll you seem to have gotten somewhere. Those animist methodologies have been thoroughly discredited. So lets try arguing the case, which you obviously are very good at, and leave it there.

      You have given me so very good resources, particularly Powner, Gerlan & Sutherland (2009), and I am grateful and will follow up.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    … but at the same time felt no scruples about calling me ignorant for daring to call self-described creationist William Dembski a creationist

    Rauser’s misinterpretation of Ronald Numbers on that point was completely bizarro. I see he has not deleted my comment on that, but neither has he responded nor acknowledged the point.

  • eric

    The crucial difference here is that Christian apologetics is an
    intellectual project, not an ethnic or racial group, and it is perfectly
    fair to judge an intellectual project by its leading proponents.

    If he is really only taking offense at your generalization, then he should be happy to agree with your more specific point that Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, and Alvin Plantinga are ignorant about the things you claim they are ignorant.

    But I doubt that’s the case; taking offense at the generalization was simply an easy way to attack your point without actually having to defense those theologian’s arguments, which he may be unwilling to do.

    • Verbose Stoic

      He might not, but I’d be willing to concede the Gould argument was wrong. But while Chris may say that those are serious, the main issue is whether or not that misunderstanding is actually important for the arguments that they are trying to make. As already conceded in this post, Plantinga no longer uses that argument, and from having read the Plantinga book in question that quote is taken out of context, and he considers that there are better arguments than those. A longer quote is this:

      One is reminded of the medieval philosopher Peter Damain, who said that those who held a certain position (oddly enough, one different from is own) are contemptible, not worthy of a reply, and should instead be branded. Many of those who comment on Behe seem to think along similar lines. These screeds are not of course the sort of thing to which one can give an argumentative reply: they aren’t so much arguments as brickbats.

      Fortunately there are less hysterical replies to Behe’s arguments.

      Which he then starts with Draper. This is a minor section in a relatively minor part of the work, which is aimed at showing that you CAN make ID solutions compatible with science a lot of the time. Chris can call him out for not addressing better counters, and that I’ll concede as well.

      So, at best, Chris can call him out for being wrong. That doesn’t even prove him ignorant or lying in any meaningful sense — the sense of ignorant here might be nothing more that “hasn’t read that book”, which is surely not something to really castigate someone for — but even if I conceded that weak ignorance it would not seem to be problematic for apologetics at all.

      I disagree, BTW, with a lot of Plantinga’s arguments, but wouldn’t think of calling him ignorant or lying for getting it wrong. And I can run off a list of rather poor atheist attempts at arguments that by Chris’ standards would fit that list as well — and worse, since they seem to be habitual failures to read the actual text being criticized — but don’t accuse them of lying or being dishonest either (and often I refuse to call them out on ignorance as I point out that they really should know what they get wrong).

      • eric

        I disagree, BTW, with a lot of Plantinga’s arguments, but wouldn’t think
        of calling him ignorant or lying for getting it wrong.

        For me, to get the ‘ignorant’ label you have to be claiming (either explicitly or implicitly) to know the subject you’re talking about, and then get it wrong. Merely the latter does not qualify.

        However, when Plantinga takes on the theory of evolution as a specific subject that he wants to argue against, then I think he’s implicitly claiming that he knows the theory of evolution. Likewise Dembski and the 2LOT – it is really hard to believe that ID’s prince of the ‘no free lunch’ argument is making no claim to understand the 2LOT, he’s just giving a personal opinion on it. So they both qualify for the label, at least when it comes to these arguments. BUt for me, ‘ignorant’ is a subject-specific label. To give a contrasting case, if Dembski or Plantinga say something utterly boneheaded about death metal, I would be right there with you agreeing that this (probably) merely makes them uninformed on that subject, not ignorant.

  • Rain

    That’s a lot of fancy talk over there on Randal’s page, but he’s still “left holding the myth bag”, to coin a phrase. He’s still “a few bricks short of a Jesus” to coin another. Nope, no “Happy Meal” yet. Keep trying I guess. Maybe a brief summary from Randal of the best “Jesus proofs” would suffice, so that we can laugh our tails off at all of the big talk that amounts to nothing. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to buy some fancy stuff from him, where he makes a living off of exploiting the Creator Of The Universe™ that Died For Our Sins®. Jesus dies and Randal gets the profits. It’s almost like he left Randal in his “will”, to coin a pun. Make sure to click on the ads too.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Why don’t you engage my critique of Chris? Did you not understand the “fancy talk”?

      And I don’t have any ads to click on and I get no ad revenue from my site, unlike the ads that crowd Chris’ blog.

      • Rain

        Sorry about the ads thing. I had my ad blocker on. I went in there completely blind! My bad! Sorry about that.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Okay, I appreciate that.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Why don’t you engage my critique of Chris?

        Why don’t you engage my thorough debunking of your claim that Ronald Numbers does not authoritatively insist that creationist = young earth creationist?
        Why is it that every time someone pins you down with a question, instead of answering it you try to expand the question to include other things not asked?
        Why is it that you childishly whine “I’m not going to answer X’s question until he answers mine”?
        Are you capable of admitting that you were wrong about something?

  • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

    Chris, you said it isn’t possible to have a rational discussion with me about religion. How do you explain the fact that I have many highly intelligent atheist readers like Jeff Lowder and Jason Thibodeau who believe otherwise? Are they really as deluded as you are suggesting?

    And one would have thought that if it were really true that it is not possible to have a rational discussion with me about religion, you would have figured that out before you published your review of “God or Godless” two weeks ago!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      Re: your second paragraph: you may have noticed that, in my review, I mentioned expecting to be frustrated by the poor quality of your arguments.

  • AdamHazzard

    Thanks for this, Chris. Randal would clearly prefer to have a discussion about what constitutes a rational discussion — which is the kind of verbal smokescreen I see all too often at his blog — but you’ve done an admirable job of sticking to the point and insisting on the facts. Well said.

  • MNb

    I have similar experiences with some Dutch counterparts. That’s not the result of my atheist bias. The very first christian theologian I happened to learn to know, a Dutch catholic, is someone I respect very much. Alas he doesn’t have his own website and only comments on others. There is another Dutch apologist (not a theologian) who devotes a website on spirituality and searching for the meaning of life. At least he’s susceptible for hard facts, so it is possible for me to influence him. But all the others only look for information that confirms the conclusions they want to arrive at. I blame it on the teleological element that was reintroduced by Thomas of Aquino in christian thinking; my hypothesis is that it never left the thinking of theologians, apologetes and philosophers of religion. I have literally read that a Dutch philosopher of religion, chooses christianity as the right religion “because most historians accept the empty tomb as a historical fact”. He also has a grade in mathematics (so he is better educated than I am); still thinks fine tuning a valid argument. I simply don’t get that.
    It’s obvious to me that those people suffer from confirmation bias. Now I will be the last to say that atheists etc. are free from it, including me. But at least most of us recognize it’s a bad habit and try to do something against it. The example concerning RR you give here is very recognizable for me.
    The result afaIc is predictable: last five years I have become much more radical. I won’t underestimate the intelligence of those christian thinkers, but I have learned to suspect their intellectual honesty.

    “Even if Juan, Julio and Mario are ignorant or dishonest, it doesn’t follow that generally Mexicans are ignorant or dishonest.”
    Sure. So could RR be so nice to provide some websites which provide sound, thorough and honest christian thinking instead of the usual lame excuses? RR typically doesn’t.

    “Plantinga’s misrepresentation”
    Honestly, I don’t mind. This happens all the time and to me as well. What I simply can’t tolerate is if you point it out to Plantinga (or, as in my case, to their Dutch counterparts) and they simply refuse to correct their mistake. That’s simply bigottery. So no, I can’t take McDowell seriously anymore.

    “And then there is Jonathan Wells”
    Yeah, I have heard of this guy as well. He seems to be a Moonie:

    http://www.tparents.org/library/unification/talks/wells/DARWIN.htm

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I saw that latest over on Rauser’s blog. It appears he will not answer a question damaging to his position unless he can turn it into a counter-attack. Not the sort of thing that would cause me to believe he could be engaged in honest dialogue.

    • Phasespace

      Yeah, if you look at the back and forth that Rauser has had with Jon Loftus, you see a lot of the same thing.

  • Teilhard

    Nice blogpost, although you are assuming that a small minority of Christians on evolution speak for mainstream Christianity. Mainstream Christianity acknowledges biological evolution (because it is good science). The main expert testimony against intelligent design was a Catholic theologian.

    http://tinyurl.com/pcjn3xu

    Moreover, according to a recently study by M.I.T., the vast majority of Christian doctrine in the U.S. agrees with biological evolution (again, because it is good science).

    http://wp.me/p3pJsV-9h

    Peace,
    W. Ockham
    http://www.teilhard.com

    • Nox

      Where do you suppose those christians who do oppose evolution got the idea that it is in conflict with christianity?

      • Teilhard

        @Nox: Ignorance on science and theology. As St. Augustine said over 1,500 years ago:

        “It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an unbeliever to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics [the literal interpretation of Genesis] and we should take all means to present such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up a Christian’s vast ignorance and laugh it to scorn”.

        • Nox

          “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
          -Genesis 2:7

          The answer I was kind of trying to hint at there was ‘because the book their church has taught them to consider always true explicitly says man was created from the dust of the ground only a few days after the first life appeared on Earth’.

          “It is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost.”
          -Pope Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus

          When the catholic church changes its doctrines to grudgingly reflect scientific advancements it often creates the impression among catholics that the new doctrine has always been believed by the church (which if unchecked can lead quite logically to the false impression that the church was on the forefront of these advances).

          In recent years the catholic leaders have approved an answer that allows catholics to say the church approves of evolution if it comes up. But they put forward this answer while still saying we literally inherited sin from this character who is sometimes an allegory when he needs to be to keep the church from looking too foolish.

          In most christian/catholic churches around the world, it is still taught that Genesis is true (true as in accurately describing events that really happened). It is taught that the reason you are in need of being saved by Jesus in the first place is because Adam ate an actual physical piece of fruit in the real world. It has not stopped propagating this teaching which is incompatible with evolution, it just hopes you don’t notice the incompatibility.

          With the benefit of 21st Century science, it’s easy enough for any educated believer to pick out the parts of scripture which are just patently unbelievable and say those parts are all symbolic. Any modern reader who reads Genesis 1 is going to see it says some things which they know are not true. Many modern (and some ancient) readers have proposed ways to pretend it doesn’t say these things while still saying the story itself is true.

          But if you’re still referring to the source as perfect and ignoring the fact that it contained all these ridiculous details in the first place, you’re overlooking the obvious lesson (this book contains sh*t that is noticably not true, following it has led us astray many times in the past, and there is no indication the people who wrote it had any special access to spiritual truth of any kind or any special insight into the origin of our species).

          Like Augustine, the catholic church has always maintained that there was a literal Adam and Eve, a literal serpent, a literal tree, a literal piece of fruit, a literal sin, and a literal Jesus. They still maintain all of this. But after the evidence for evolution became so well known that they had to say something, they made a couple noncommittal statements that it’s okay for catholics to accept evolution as long as they still believe god made everything.

          “We have already stated in the preceding books that God, desiring not only that the human race might be able by their similarity of nature to associate with one another, but also that they might be bound together in harmony and peace by the ties of relationship, was pleased to derive all men from one individual, and created man with such a nature that the members of the race should not have died, had not the two first (of whom the one was created out of nothing, and the other out of him) merited this by their disobedience; for by them so great a sin was committed, that by it the human nature was altered for the worse, and was transmitted also to their posterity, liable to sin and subject to death.”
          -Saint Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book 13, Chapter 1

          Augustine wasn’t talking about evolution. He wouldn’t have been aware of the concept of evolution, and if he were he undoubtedly would have noticed it didn’t mesh with his stated positions on other issues.

          You are talking about the guy that codified the concept of original sin. Surely you don’t think he was taking issue with Genesis’ claim that all humans are descended from one spontaneously created couple in a garden.

          The only place he argues for metaphor are where it allowed him to interpret things from the text that are not present in the text (you can’t really get the augustinian concepts of original sin or the earthly and heavenly cities from Genesis without adding details which are not in Genesis).

          By the time of Augustine the science of the greeks and romans had reached the point where much of the science of Second Temple Era jews had been long since discredited (even among the jews, many of whom were already finding their own rationalizations for adopting advances in knowledge by creatively interpreting the Torah). The early christians needed to keep the jewish prophets in their canon (and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this). The christian scriptures already presented themselves as a sequel to the jewish scriptures. They can barely go two verses without appealing to the authority of jewish prophets. So they had to keep parts of the book that would already be an embarrassment even some twelve hundred years before the concept of evolution by natural selection was suggested by anyone.

          In fact, by codifying original sin (the concept is present in the writings of Paul but never spelled out until Augustine) it was Augustine himself who closed the lock on christianity always being bound to Genesis.

          The teachings of Augustine directly inspired the church to discredit itself. Which comes with an extra bit of humor when you look closer at what Augustine was saying in that quote you mentioned.

          Augustine’s words show that his concern there was not for rigorous theology, but for church PR.

          He was concerned that his entirely-literal-about-Adam-and-Eve reading of Genesis would be undermined if potential converts were exposed to the parts of the story that they would recognize as obsolete science. He didn’t ever suggest that those parts which were known, even in his time, to be bullsh*t, should not be treated as infallible. He just said people should be careful about calling attention to the more ridiculous parts of the christian faith so as to avoid discrediting the church.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Or, it could be from reading the Bible. Which is pretty much the opposite of “ignorance on theology.” They may actually know what it says, and can clearly discern that it is not compatible with evolution. Quite probably they are “ignorant of science,” I won’t argue that one.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Nice blogpost, although you are assuming that a small minority of Christians on evolution speak for mainstream Christianity.

      It is quite clear to me that he is referring to Christian apologetics. Do you deny that the examples named are among the most prominent Christian apologists? Is there a brand of evolution-friendly Christian apologetics out there that has not come to our attention?

      Moreover, according to a recently study by M.I.T., the vast majority of
      Christian doctrine in the U.S. agrees with biological evolution (again,
      because it is good science).

      That survey has some very curious results. “According to the MIT survey, only 11% of the U.S. population belong to religions openly rejecting evolution.” And yet, surveys consistently show 40+ % of Americans accept Young Earth Creationism. It appears some very careful framing is going on here. That means that a sizable number of members of churches without an official doctrine claiming conflict nonetheless reject science. Consider the Holy Roman Catholic Church as an example. The graphic at your link shows 100% (as judged by a pie chart) of Catholicism as claiming “no conflict between faith and origins science.” Does that mean that the HRCC officially accepts evolution? No, it means that the HRCC officially does not oppose evolution. Does it mean that no members of the HRCC are creationist? Of course not. According to Wikipedia, only 58% of Catholics “agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth.”
      I would categorize your linked article as “lying with numbers.”

      • Teilhard

        ["It is quite clear to me that he is referring to Christian apologetics. Do you deny that the examples named are among the most prominent Christian apologists? Is there a brand of evolution-friendly Christian apologetics out there that has not come to our attention?"]

        Yes, I deny that the examples cited in the article are representative of mainstream Christianity any more than persons such as Richard Dawkins are representative of atheism. These individuals happen to get a lot of publicity because they are controversial and make for good stories, despite their lack of substance (although I believe all of them are acting in good faith).

        ["Consider the Holy Roman Catholic Church as an example. The graphic at your link shows 100% (as judged by a pie chart) of Catholicism as claiming "no conflict between faith and origins science." Does that mean that the HRCC officially accepts evolution?"]

        Yes, the Roman Catholic Church accepts biological evolution as a scientific fact just like they accept any other valid scientific theory. As Pope Benedict said in 2007:

        “This clash [between evolution and faith] is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.”

        I am critical of the Church for being slow to incorporate the theological implications of evolution (hence my username and blog after the Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). However, the Church certainly accepts biological evolution as a valid scientific theory that best explains the natural world.

        Peace,

        W. Ockham

        • Reginald Selkirk

          As Pope Benedict said in 2007:…

          Is that the same Pope Benedict who in 2005 said

          “With the sacred Scripture, the Lord awakens the reason that sleeps and tells us: In the beginning, there was the creative word. In the beginning, the creative word _ this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos _ is also love.”

          His comments were immediately hailed by advocates of intelligent design, who hold that the universe is so complex it must have been created by a higher power.

          Questions about the Vatican’s position on evolution were raised in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.
          In a New York Times op-ed piece, Schoenborn seemed to back intelligent design and dismissed a 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II that evolution was “more than just a hypothesis.” Schoenborn said the late pope’s statement was “rather vague and unimportant.”

          So the clarity of the Holy Roman Catholic Church on the issue of evolution seems to be a bit less than absolute. It’s a tough job running the biggest of big tents, trying to be inclusive of everyone from academic Jesuits to peasants who see Jesus and his mom in tortillas and sewer stains. I won’t even delve into the sad story of St. George Jackson Mitvart.

          And, as a gatuitous jab at pre-Pope Benedict and his scientific bona fides, here are some some remarks by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on Galileo in 1990

          • Teilhard

            We are getting into cultural and linguistic difficulties here. The phrase “Intelligent Design” has distinct connotations in the United States that are not present elsewhere. In the United States, proponents of teaching Intelligent Design in classrooms as science is confusing theology and science and is doing a disservice to both disciplines. That is one of the reasons on why the plaintiffs in the Dover case called on a Catholic theologian (John Haight) in the Dover case to argue against intelligent design.

            The Church absolutely does believe in theistic evolution and is absolutely clear on two points. First, there is an intelligent Mind behind all of creation. Second, the mechanics of the creation of the physical world are the domain of science, not theology. The Church will follow the science, in the realm that is appropriate for science, wherever it leads, including biological evolution.

            Indeed when Pierre Teilhard de Chardin got cross-ways with the conservative Church hierarchy in the 1920s for his theological interpretations of evolution, the Church sent him off to China to dig for evidence of pre-humans. Teilhard was part of the team that discovered “Peking Man” later identified as Homo Erectus.

            Peace,
            W. Ockham

      • Tony Hoffman

        Yes. Witness the Catholic Scalia’s need to point out that he could not endorse a description of genetics in the recent gene patent case.

        New earth. Young earth. Special. The are all varieties of, ta dah! – Creationism!

  • eric

    Rauser has now published a second response, titled Why atheistic apologists are generally ignorant and/or dishonest according to Chris Hallquist’s methodology
    I haven’t had a chance to read it (and may not get the chance today), but just from the title, it appears he remains focused on complaining about the generalization you made vs. addressing the validity of ID arguments themselves.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Yes, that’s exactly the piece I was referring to when I said he will not answer a damaging question unless he can turn it into a counterattack.

  • mudgeon

    Everything you say I am in agreement with so I am not sure which statement of mine you were responding to. I’m not used to eliminating all potentially misleading connotations. This is a good exercise for me. You actually made a couple of good examples of what I was attempting to say.


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