Coleoptera cont’d.

"I'm not sure, but he seems to be inordinately fond of beetles."

— J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what the study of science taught him about "the creator"

In reference to Haldane's remark, this Australian ministry posts the following joke, which it credits to Ken Cox, about Adam naming the animals in Eden:

GOD: And here's the next species, one I'm particularly proud of …

ADAM: Beetle.

GOD: Excellent. Now here's another …

ADAM: Beetle.

GOD: No, you just named the last one "beetle." This one is quite different — look at the pattern on the wing cases, and the shape of the antennae …

ADAM: Beetle.

GOD: Well, OK, though they certainly look different to Me. Now, the next species is —

ADAM: Beetle.

One reason I believe Haldane's comment is excellent theology is his choice of the word "fond." That connotes both intimate familiarity and delight.

Fondness is exactly what God seems to be expressing in the final act of the book of Job. This ancient play begins as a dialogue between poor Job and four of his friends on the subject of human suffering. In the final act, God enters the scene and something unexpected happens. Instead of settling the debate and explaining the meaning of suffering, God launches an extended monologue about his fondness for creation, rhapsodizing about everything from ostriches to Orion.

Here's the bit on ostriches:

The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.
She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them.
She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain, for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense.
Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider.

God, as described in the Bible, is not always easy to understand, but this much is clear: God loves the way ostriches run.

The author of Job is perhaps a bit too harsh — ostriches are not completely "unmindful" as they watch over their eggs — but that's not the main point here. God is basically saying, "OK, how about those ostriches? I mean, brains aren't really their forte — but have you seen them run? Man can they run! It's something to see."

I like this portrait of God very much.

This highlights one particularly strange feature of so many of the "scientific creationists." Despite calling themselves "creationists," they seem to take little delight in creation itself. We can imagine another dialogue along the lines of the joke above:

GOD: How about those ostriches?

CREATIONIST: You made them on the fifth day, 6,000 years ago. Genesis 1:20, "And God said … let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky."

GOD: Yeah, well, they don't so much fly as run. They're flightless birds — ratites — kind of a fascinating evolutionary cul de sac, you know. But you've got to see these things run …

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  • Josh

    Regarding Kit Watson’s last post-
    I can’t really address your concerns over the general state of scientific ethics as I don’t know what issues you are specifically discussing or how they have been treated in the periodicals you mention. All I can say is that here in the US recent scandals have concerned the subversion and suppression of science for conservative political ends.
    Moving on, you cite glaring imbalances and fire that needs to be fought, but I’m not sure what exactly you object to in the actual teaching and communication of science, as opposed to the philosophical take that individual scientists may have. Atheistic materialists they may be, but I don’t see it running rampant in the practice of science itself. Firstly we must make the critical distinction between atheism and secularism. Atheism is the belief or teaching that there is no God or gods. Secularism makes no such assertion, it merely starts from a neutral position without assuming God. A secular topic may be one which cannot address questions of God or to which they are inappropriate. Science is I believe necessarily secular, explicitly not atheist. I’m not sure what you mean by materialistic. Science does not forbid non-material explanations but they must be susceptible to material tests and predictions to be scientifically meaningful. For example, if you want to say that something called a soul directs the mind and body and is completely different from the normal physical interactions of the world there is nothing inherently unscientific about this, but you must have some mechanism whereby this occurs; some rules which govern it based on which we can decide if your explanation is successful or not. ID, as pertains to science, is the idea that there is in fact evidence for a creator, i.e. a reason to judge the existence of said creator more likely than not and I don’t think it holds water in the least. ID in the broader philosophical sense as you seem to be using it is by definition not fit science.
    As far as schools go science classes should teach evolution unless actual scientific evidence gives us reason to think it is inadequate and even were that true should only teach something else which can stand up as a scientific explanation. I think it would be wonderful if high school students were required to take a seperate philosophy class, including theistic perspectives and philosophy of science, but I assure you that would raise an unholy outcry here from the religious right for exposing their precious children to other thoughts.
    Again, I don’t know what wide swaths of speculation you think are being taught to children as fact. Evolution is fact, natural selection is fact, the origin of life is speculation although not without interesting possibilities.
    I can’t comment on political attitudes in Australia of course. In America the practical situation is that no one can run for President without loudly proclaiming his Christianity and almost no one can hope for any office without a professed mainstream faith. (Not Muslim in the immediate future.) This does not stop various blowhards from fulminating anytime someone says that maybe this shouldn’t be the case, or that one’s faith should not dictate ones political positions in office, or that the role of an elected government gauranteeing freedom of belief is not to lead us in prayer but to act as a secular representative of all the people. This does not mean that those with faiths of whatever stripe should be prohibited from holding office, only that they should keep their personal and public lives appropriately seperated. Within government and public schools the attitude should not be one of hostility towards religion, but it should be a careful neutrality which protects the minority.
    I don’t live in a utopia but I’ll assume you don’t live in a dystopia. I also am not inclined to believe in the mythical golden past where everything was beautiful as long as people didn’t rock the boat. Always remember that traditional morality has embraced slavery, mysogyny, homophobia, ignorance and holy war each in its time. I look at the middle east and I don’t see Godlessness as part of the problem.

  • Kip Watson

    I’ve tried to explain the sincere motivations of one ID supporter (myself), because I thought the author of this Blog was – with an understandable but overzealous jocularity – was being a little harsh regarding other Christians with whom I would have thought he could find a lot in common.
    But you guys haven’t been fair dinkum at all. You haven’t engaged in honest dialogue on the things I said as much as the things you might assume I would have said. And I don’t think your assumptions about Christians are fair dinkum either – in fact they’re gross and insulting. I’m slightly surprised (not very, honestly), to have run across such harsh views in what I (mistakenly perhaps) took to be a Blog on Christian and related subjects.
    I agree that ID is Christian philosophy, and not really science, but I don’t really care. To me that’s not the point, because, as I already mentioned, so is atheistic materialism which is the philosophy that underpins science education. To see why this matters to us so much, let’s use the scientific method – an objective appraisal of the evidence – and contrast the two.
    First, atheistic materialism is currently being taught in schools under various guises, while ID, or Christian philosophy, is not. I know you don’t accept this point, but the barely controlled hostility from certain quarters that the discussion of theistic philosophies produces is eloquent evidence in my favour.
    Second, Christian philosophy has gifted Western civilisation a millenium of enlightenment and miraculous spiritual, artistic, intellectual, social and political progress. Atheistic materialism in it’s relatively brief period of dominance has given us Fascism and Socialism/Communism, scarcely equalled barbarity, and is in the process of ripping the guts out the beautiful culture that so many generations laboured to bequeath us.
    Even if you don’t accept the first point, and you should, isn’t the second reason enough to join us?
    I wonder that you don’t see this. I don’t wish to judge you personally, but the science community in general is often blinded by pride, seeing and knowing only what brings glory to itself, when with a little old fashioned Christian humility they would see the jewels of wisdom that lie all around.
    You’re passing harsh judgement upon ID proponents because they would like to teach a noble philosophy under the false pretences as pure science, yet you disregard the propagandising of a malign philosophy that is already being taught under the precise same false pretences. Motes and beams, motes and beams…
    This is why I support teaching ID. Not because I’m an ignorant hayseed, a deluded imbecile, a superstitious fanatic, a brainwashed dunderhead, or whatever else it is you may wish to persuade me I am. In fact – modesty aside – I’m a subtle and intelligent guy, and you will need to try a great deal harder than you have been to persuade me not even that you are right, but merely that though mistaken you have the best interests of me and mine at heart.

  • Ray

    Are you arguing for teaching ID in science classes, or for teaching religion in state schools? Part of the reason people get annoyed with ID is that its a blatantly dishonest attemmpt to teach religion under the guise of something else. Why don’t you start by coming clean, and then we can discuss the merits of your real proposal?

  • Kip Watson

    Nice one, Ray, that’s an obvious trick question.
    I’m being completely open here. Why can’t you be fair dinkum in return?

  • kipwatson

    I’ve changed my mind, I’ll answer that.
    Despite the fact that it constitutes an overwhelming part of our culture, our history, our civic values, our law, our art and music, the very ethos of our culture; and without the democratic support of the people; the teaching of Christianity or almost anything Christian-related in state schools has been made illegal in your country (and an equivalent situation exists in mine).
    Now, teaching anything that is even at all compatible with Christian belief is considered by atheistic materialists to be tantamount to an illegal act.
    Is it any wonder we regard atheistic materialists as the same in spirit to Communists and Fascists?

  • Ray

    First off, wrong country. I don’t live in the US or Australia. (Such atheistic materialism can only have come from behind the Iron Curtain, right?)
    Second, its not a trick question. I’m asking if you want the idea of Intelligent Design taught as science in science classes, or if you just want religion taught in schools. If the latter, say so.
    Third, many Christians (including the late Pope and our host) think evolution and Christian belief are perfectly compatible. So its obviously not the case that teaching anything compatible with christianity is illegal. There are two things that are ‘tantamount to illegal’ – teaching religion in state schools, and teaching not-science in science classes. Do you really object to both, or would you drop ID in exchange for Bible Studies?

  • Merlin Missy

    In addition to what Ray said, maybe also an explanation of your term “atheistic materialism.” (It’s one of those things where you’re saying words, and I know what the words mean individually, but they’re leaving me baffled as grouped together in the way you’re using them.) If you want us to be fair dinkum, start by telling us what you mean.
    Also keep in mind that you’re an Australian in a room of (primarily) Americans. In our country, militant atheists, as you call them, are murdered. There’s a vastly different social climate here.
    Finally, and back to the definition of terms, I admit to being highly confused at this statement:
    Second, Christian philosophy has gifted Western civilisation a millenium of enlightenment and miraculous spiritual, artistic, intellectual, social and political progress. Atheistic materialism in it’s relatively brief period of dominance has given us Fascism and Socialism/Communism, scarcely equalled barbarity, and is in the process of ripping the guts out the beautiful culture that so many generations laboured to bequeath us.
    I wasn’t a history major, but I’m familiar with the Crusades, the Inquisition, the enslavement and genocide of entire nations of people (including on your own continent), not to mention the systematic oppression of women, minorities and non-Christians, all done in the name of Christianity. Yes, some of these problems have continued into the modern age, but again, many of them were committed in the name of Christ. Whereas science has given us penicillin and magnetic resonance imaging, has given us electronics with which we’re communicating right now, and which allow common folks for the first time in history to carry on daily conversations with people across the world, and it has put us on the moon. As Ray put it, ID won’t help us ask the questions we haven’t considered yet, because the answer is always the same: because God desired it so. Science is the search for knowledge; Intelligent Design is a solid brick wall of a final answer. Evolutionary theory changes and evolves with every new datum; ID has to ignore data or spin explanations like “the dinosaurs were on the Ark” (cf. Creation Museum in Arkansas).
    Public schools in the US are supposed to educate the country’s children and hopefully make them literate, intelligent, productive members of society. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, and the general measure of success tends to be based on the economic level of the surrounding community more than any other factor (here, schools receive most of their funding from local property taxes). Money is the difference between areas with “crime and other social ills,” not religious beliefs; I live in Chicago, and the places with the highest crime rates also have the most dedicated Christian believers in the area. (With the possible exception of Wheaton.)
    Also, the teaching of anything Christian is not forbidden in US schools. It’s the teaching of Christianity as the only valid philosophy that raises the ire of groups dedicated to the separation of Church and state. My friend teaches English in a public high school and uses her Bible as a means to explain references in the literature the kids study (taking the “one of the foundations of Western culture” angle as opposed to the “if you don’t believe what I do, you’re getting a failing grade” angle). It’s presentation, not content.
    Is it any wonder we regard atheistic materialists as the same in spirit to Communists and Fascists?
    Royal “we,” perhaps?

  • kipwatson

    This thread is getting pretty strident. I’ve contributed to that and I apologise to the Blog author.
    Before I go, I would like to clarify one point though. While I do believe that atheistic materialists are philosophically akin to Communists and the other Socialists, I don’t for a moment suggest that you are all planning to set up Gulags and concentrations camps, or form gangs of brown shirts and make us wear yellow stars. No, that’s not my meaning at all.
    But, you see, all those idealistic little socialists never started out like that either, did they? They were going to re-shape the world according to scientific principles. It was going to be a glorious enlightened age.
    But science and the materialistic, atheistic philosophies as they existed then and exist today teach us so little really about human nature, especially in comparison to the vast store of wisdom and insight that can be found Christian teaching…
    …and it all ended in heartbreak.

  • Ray

    You know, I’m not really convinced by the rhetorical gambit “I don’t want to suggest you’re like these other nasty people, but you’re going down EXACTLY THE SAME ROAD!!!!”
    There was a thread on here a couple of months ago about persecution and ‘persecution’ of Christians in the US and around the world. I’m not particularly familiar with the Australian political scene, so perhaps you could give us some examples of the way atheist materialist Aussies are persecuting Christians? Fair warning – I don’t think “they won’t let us make Christianity the state religion” counts as persecution, and neither does “they won’t fund religious schools”. If they won’t let you set up private religious schools, prevent you from worshipping, or prevent members of your religion from holding public office, that is persecution.

  • MobiusKlein

    Studying evolution != “athiestic materialism”
    It started by folks looking at fossils and live animals, and trying to see if there was a natural explanation for it. Blaming it for Communism, Nazism, etc completely misses the mark. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and their ilk are responsibile for their perverted philosophies, not Darwin.
    If you could meet some of the botanists I know – such mild mannered, plant geeks. Always concerned about some little obscure species in some odd ecological niche. ( Grows on south facing serpentine rock, above 500 meters. Pollinated by certain insects with specialized mouth parts. Sounds like co-evolution to me. ) Not the kind of folk who round up Jews and slaughter them in concentration camps.
    Lumping them with mass murderers because of Evolution is absurd.

  • Ray

    Richard Dawkins has a great example of co-evolution in, I think, the Blin Watchmaker. Incredibly precarious and specialised linkages between figs and the insects that pollinate them. Incredible, and clearly evolved.

  • Beth

    I stopped buying both New Scientist and Scientific American because I got tired of wading through the politics.
    I can’t help thinking that the politics you were wading through was not the magazines’, but your own.
    On that basis I say science generally has an increasing problem upholding a suitably high standard of ethics.
    I don’t know about “increasing”, but certainly upholding a suitably high standard of ethics is an eternal struggle for science. Of course, the same could be said of religion as well.
    I would be delighted to find a school that both had a good science programme and incorporated some ID philosophy.
    I’m afraid you’ve set yourself an impossible task. A science program that incorporates some ID philosophy, is by definition, not a good science program. The idea that God was intimately involved in the creation of the world and its inhabitants is perfectly good religious philosophy, but ID is frankly junk science.
    And I don’t think your assumptions about Christians are fair dinkum either – in fact they’re gross and insulting.
    I think the general stridency of this discussion could be much reduced if we were all more careful about our definitions. When you say “Christians”, I assume you mean yourself and those who adhere to your beliefs. “Christian” seems like much too wide a term for such a narrow group. In any event, your accusations would carry more weight if you could provide specific examples.
    While I do believe that atheistic materialists are philosophically akin to Communists and the other Socialists, I don’t for a moment suggest that you are all planning to set up Gulags and concentrations camps, or form gangs of brown shirts and make us wear yellow stars. No, that’s not my meaning at all.
    That’s very kind of you, considering that brown shirt wearers and yellow star enforcers were not socialist at all. Nazism in its earliest incarnation did attempt to win converts from the socialist movements (hence the adoption of the name “National Socialists”), but they never had much luck. They were far more successful among the Christian churches. Some of the largest German Christian denominations warmly embraced Nazism. By the time the yellow stars appeared, the relationship between Nazism and socialism was clearly one of bitter enmity. Remember the words of Pastor Niemoeller? “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” Nazism never had any connection to atheism, and, despite an enthusiasm for paganism among some of the top brass of the Third Reich, pagan beliefs were never an integral part of the movement either. When the Nazis sought religious underpinnings for their movement, they inevitably turned to Christianity. Certainly, Nazi anti-Semitism was fed by the Christian variety which viewed Jews as “Christ-killers”. Hitler himself was a huge fan of the Oberammergau Passion Play.
    Don’t worry though, kipwatson. I’m very happy to extend the same courtesy to Christianity that you did to atheism, and so I don’t for a moment suggest that Christians are all planning to set up Gulags and concentrations camps, or form gangs of brown shirts and make us wear yellow stars. (I’ll even go further than that and say that Nazi Christianity was a warped and debased version of the real thing and that there’s nothing inherently Nazi-ish in Christian beliefs or practice.)