Johnson’s burning scientific issue

| 28 Comments

At a recent ID conference, Phillip Johnson was awarded the "Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth" (I know, creationists, irony, yadda yadda yadda). He spoke, and this is the subject he chose to bring up:

In accepting the award, Johnson noted the pending U.S. Supreme Court case over the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and said that the next burning issue in our culture will be the fundamental question of whether or not God exists. In fact, he said the ultimate question of whether God is real or imaginary—and whether God's moral authority has any standing in American society—"is the most important issue since slavery."

"It is the issue that divides our culture and it needs to be addressed," he said. "Every politician should address the issue of the existence of a Creator.

Ah, but of course Intelligent Design is an entirely secular, non-religious, scientific program of research.

I will address the issue, though. Every individual is free to decide whether god is real or imaginary. Personally, I've decided that he's a worthless fantasy, but I don't get to try and compel others to think likewise. Similarly, some may believe otherwise, but they don't get to tell me that I'm fired from my job or should be thrown in jail or should suffer some quaintly evil Old Testament torture for my beliefs—it's that "liberty and freedom" thing, Phil. And because we are a pluralist society that supports diverse religious beliefs, "God's" moral authority has no standing in American society. None at all. It can be a matter of private conscience, but not public policy.

Don't expect the theocrats at the Discovery Institute to grasp that concept any time soon, though. Making their interpretation of Biblical law the ruling principle of the United States legal system is their goal.

28 Comments

Every politician should address the issue of the existence of a Creator.

I think this would be an important step forward. An atheist president who had arrived at that stance after carefully - and objectively - addressing the issue raised by Johnson would likely be in a far better position to steer the country than one who thinks himself appointed (or is it anointed) by God.

But am I being naive in thinking that folks like Johnson would actually welcome the debate for which they calling? Ae they prepared to let the chips fall where they may or does their “issue” only have a single answer?

On another note - doesn’t the Bible say that “By their works ye shall know them?” The ID people, are just like many creationists in that they resort to citing the credentials of their supporters as if that alone were evidence for the legitimacy of their views. Fritz Schaeffer is indeed a well known quantum chemist. But would I go to my dentist for a heart transplant? Now, Schaeffer may or may not have something interesting to say, but until he gets something published in a peer reviewed journal on ID, then his views on ID are not made legitimate by his many publications in a different area of science.

hsmew wrote:

…but until he gets something published in a peer reviewed journal on ID, then his views on ID are not made legitimate by his many publications in a different area of science.

Please tell me you meant a peer reviewed journal on biology and not ID. Although imagining a peer review panel of all stripes of ID creationists is actually kind of hilarious.

Yes, it was worded ambiguously - I certainly meant biology.

So they invented an award, named it after him, and then they awarded it to him? Man, there must have been some serious nail-biting right before they announced the winner.

While we’re at it, I hereby award myself the Steven N. Reuland award for Good Vibe and Groove. The Philip E. Johnson award’s got nothing on that. I totally rule.

Irony aside, I find it morally repugnant that Johnson compares his silly crusade with the abolition of slavery. Have they no shame?

stumbled upon your page a few days ago .. thought i’d comment on this one … and eagerly await the roasting that will soon follow.

Ah, but of course Intelligent Design is an entirely secular, non-religious, scientific program of research.

Of course it isn’t, they’re not trying to hide what they are. What is your beef with that?

Every individual is free to decide whether god is real or imaginary.

duh.

Similarly, some may believe otherwise, but they don’t get to tell me that I’m fired from my job or should be thrown in jail or should suffer some quaintly evil Old Testament torture for my beliefs—it’s that “liberty and freedom” thing, Phil.

uh .. he knows that, duuude! “Fired from your job”, “OT torture for your beliefs”? Please!! That’s quite a leap from what he is talking about! Perhaps you should lay down on the couch while we discuss your issues.

And because we are a pluralist society that supports diverse religious beliefs, “God’s” moral authority has no standing in American society. None at all.

Yes, we are a pluralist society that supports diverse religious beliefs .. but “God’s moral authority” has had standing in american society. That standing has been waining in the last few years. That is what Phil is lamenting and trying to get back.

It can be a matter of private conscience, but not public policy.

What do you do when those 2 overlap?!! You can’t have 1 without the other!!! What do you do, let’s say, when 51% of america believes in God’s moral authority? That 51% can then, legally, vote to get lawmakers, prsidents, supreme courts justices … etc, to preside over the country they way they see fit. You have the same right. He’s not trying to get the crusades going again!!

Making their interpretation of Biblical law the ruling principle of the United States legal system is their goal.

It already is and has been for over 200 years.

let the roasting commence.

dig

It already is and has been for over 200 years.

It is? Really?

Can you please elaborate on this? Or are you basing this statement on the fact that our currency has the word “God” on it, and that the Bill of Rights has ten amendments (and that the word “amendments” sounds kinda like “commandments”)?

Yeah, I think I’d like to see the reasoning behind the ‘it is and has been for over 200 years’ bit also. I barely know enough about law to get myself in serious trouble. But my understanding is that the folks who do seem to know a lot about it claim that US Law is not based on ancient Hebrew Law.

~DS~

You might want to look into the background of Christian Reconstructionism, which is the philosophy of at least some of the major backers of the Discovery Institute. Yes, they want to make atheism illegal, among many other peculiar requirements they’d like to institutionalize.

A thoroughly secular legal and political system can protect the rights of both diverse theists and atheists (and all shades of belief in between); you certainly can have ethical and moral behavior with none of this “God’s authority” nonsense. The imposition of a religious dogma on our institutions would strip a subset of the population of representation.

You might want to look into the background of Christian Reconstructionism, which is the philosophy of at least some of the major backers of the Discovery Institute. Yes, they want to make atheism illegal, among many other peculiar requirements they’d like to institutionalize.

i will look into this. doubtful that they want to make atheism illegal .. but also afraid of what i may find. :)

The imposition of a religious dogma on our institutions would strip a subset of the population of representation.

that was my point before, how can you have lawmakers of any ilk that don’t impose their religious dogma? no matter what you believe, even if it’s nothing (which is impossible), makes up your religious dogma. it’s what happens today from both the elephants and donkeys from our system. you can’t keep it separate.

dig

“What do you do, let’s say, when 51% of america believes in God’s moral authority? “

What do I do?? I throw a huge party called “Only 2% To Go!!!”

My guess is that upwards of 75% of America believes in God’s moral authority, and upwards of 90% of Congress believes in God’s moral authority and probably 100% of the Bush Administration believes in God’s moral authority.

So when I hear about Phil “lamenting” the “waining” standing of God’s moral authority in America, I think he is smoking crack. What Phil wants is to amend the Constitution to remove or gut the Establishment Clause.

What he doesn’t appreciate is that, as the United States grows more diverse, that Clause becomes more important than ever. What Phil is “lamenting” is the ever diminishing possibility that the United States will OFFICIALLY become a Christian nation, with crosses back in our public school classrooms and everybody praying for Darwin’s tortured soul.

Fortunately, Phil’s big mouth only hastens the rate at which his dream recedes into obvlivion. How does the man sleep at night???

i will look into this. doubtful that they want to make atheism illegal .. but also afraid of what i may find. :)

Actually, the Reconstructionists want to have atheists put to death. Them along with adulterers, homosexuals, children who backtalk to their parents, and just about every other group they hate. The Bible says that these people “shall surely be put to death”, and who’s going to doubt the word of the Bible?

However, I don’t think it’s fair to tar the DI with the brush of Reconstructionism, at least not without solid evidence. As far as I know, the only link between them is Howard Ahmanson, the heir of a vast fortune who has been the DI’s biggest financial backer. He was a disciple of Rushdoony, who if I’m not mistaken was the originator of Reconstructionist thinking. Ahmanson was a long time board member of the Chalcedon Foundation, which is the main organization dedicated to promoting Reconstructionism. Philp E. Johnson (the recent winner of the Philip E. Johnson award – congratulations Phil) dedicated one of his books to Ahmanson.

However, Ahmanson claims to have backed off from the extremes of Reconstructionism and to have disowned Rushdoony’s ideology. And as far as I know, the DI has no other links to Reconstructionism. It’s enough in my book that they’re a front in the religious right’s “culture war”; they don’t need to advocate mass murder as well.

DigHazuse said

“how can you have lawmakers of any ilk that don’t impose their religious dogma”

Ask John Kerry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Governor Pataki, all of whom are (to the best of my knowledge) pro-choice Catholics.

Bottom line: not every religious person has to be a freaking zealot with no respect for the Constitutional rights of others.

From an atheistical point of view, the creationists and ID folks are, so to speak, doing the work of the Lord, though, to invoke another Biblical phrase, they know not what they do. Evolutionary thinking may have unfavorable implications for theism, but biologists are not in the business of drawing these conclusiions. Left to themselves, scientists would occupy their time trying to figure out nature because you can get grants to do that. Culture warriors like Philip E. Johnson make it nearly impossible for scientists to retain their preferred stance, which is neutrality based on indifference. It is the faithful that have made evolution a menace to traditional belief. They have nobody to blame but themselves.

I must go into detail here to refute the theory that the US Constitution is derived from the Bible, since that is a very common misconception, one that American theocrats are very fond of.

There’s an interesting book now out, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, which shows that the US Constitution is NOT based on the Bible.

Its Preamble ought to be a giveaway; it credits “we, the people”, and not God, with being the source of governmental authority. Which is totally contrary to the theory that governments are God’s lieutenants, the only theory of government to be found in all of the Bible. And the theory that King George III had believed.

Also, the Bible has no mention of: Elected leaders Legislative bodies Freedom of speech Freedom of religion Jury trials

Except, perhaps, if one counts the “right” to believe in the One True Religion.

A hint as to a more likely source of inspiration can be found in the name of the Senate – why the Senate and not the Sanhedrin? Our Founding Fathers knew their Greco-Roman history; they showed interest in historians like Polybius, as descrbed in Polybius and the Founding Fathers: the separation of powers.

Also, words like “democracy” and “republic” are nowhere to be found in the Bible, meaning that they could not have come from the Bible.

(sigh) … where to start .…

“What do you do, let’s say, when 51% of america believes in God’s moral authority? “ What do I do?? I throw a huge party called “Only 2% To Go!!!”

that’s funny. truly.

So when I hear about Phil “lamenting” the “waining” standing of God’s moral authority in America, I think he is smoking crack.

it’s diminshed rapidly in the last 30 years .. with no signs of stopping.

Actually, the Reconstructionists want to have atheists put to death. Them along with adulterers, homosexuals, children who backtalk to their parents, and just about every other group they hate. The Bible says that these people “shall surely be put to death”, and who’s going to doubt the word of the Bible?

wow. bitter eh? now granted, i have not read any of this reconstructionist literature that you are touting … but ‘c’mon, listen to yourself. You sound exactly like one of those religious fundamentalists.

It’s enough in my book that they’re a front in the religious right’s “culture war”; they don’t need to advocate mass murder as well.

who again .. is advocating mass murder? a front for the culture war? am i also part o this conspiracy?

Ask John Kerry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Governor Pataki, all of whom are (to the best of my knowledge) pro-choice Catholics.

you’re just proving my point.

Bottom line: not every religious person has to be a freaking zealot with no respect for the Constitutional rights of others.

bottom-er :) line: not every religious person is a non-thinking dis-respectful zealot as it seems that you believe.

Culture warriors like Philip E. Johnson make it nearly impossible for scientists to retain their preferred stance, which is neutrality based on indifference.

how is johson making it impossible for scientists to retain their stance? you have given him more power than when he has or deserves.

It is the faithful that have made evolution a menace to traditional belief. They have nobody to blame but themselves.

may I ask how? and what is traditional belief to you?

Fortunately, Phil’s big mouth only hastens the rate at which his dream recedes into obvlivion.

now, this one i want to pick apart a little more .. but also follow it up with a question. I actually agree with you, to some extent, that johnson and some like him open their mouth up and with good intentions, do more harm than good. But also realize that most of what they do are “singing to the choir”. You guys then sit on the sidelines and then pick apart his every word that was not really intended for you. Which is how this post started. You have every right to do that .. but realize that the strawmen are starting to pile up. If he were to talk to you (collective) his words would be quite different than the words he used to a group of ID at a Christian college. blah blah blah .…

question: i’ve been perusing the site for a couple of days and have found some hostility to the moniker Intelligent Design. May I ask why this is? My reason for asking this is that while I don’t sit in the same camp as some of the more fundamental people who believe that the earth’s age is in the thousands, I would agree with them that everything has a design and that design clearly has the fingerprints of intelligence. Even if evolution is the real deal and tomorrow someone proves it … there is still intelligence behind it and that intelligence has to lead somewhere. In my opinion, an intelligent creator.

blah blah blah … now wanting to go there .. just showing where i sit as i tell you where i stand. your turn.

dig

Dig

Nobody likes a smart-ass as much as I do so please feel free to behave like an obnoxious twit or a horny professor in your posts, or anything in between. Just don’t put words in my mouth.

You said that the “[standing of God’s moral authority in America] diminshed rapidly in the last 30 years .. with no signs of stopping.”

Could you provide some evidence for that? You might want to explain first what YOU mean by “God’s moral authority in America,” and how you choose to measure the degree of that moral authority. Without any support, I’m inclined to believe that you are just whining about what Phil Johnson is whining about: the failure of the United States to officially acknowledge Christianity in the Constitution and remove the Establishment Clause (at least with respect to Christianity).

You said I was “proving your point.” What point of yours have I proven by demonstrating the existence of a few elected leaders who don’t shove their religions down the throats of their constituents?

“not every religious person is a non-thinking dis-respectful zealot as it seems that you believe.”

Oops, there you go! You couldn’t resist. Please please tell me how you got the impression that I believe that “every religious person is a non-thinking dis-respectful zealot.” I’m really quite curious, especially in light of my statement that “not every religious person has to be a freaking zealot with no respect for the Constitutional rights of others.”

“I actually agree with you, to some extent, that johnson and some like him open their mouth up and with good intentions, do more harm than good. But also realize that most of what they do are “singing to the choir””

I’m glad that you agree, DigHazuse, even though I don’t have much respect for your opinion in light of your idiotic comment above. Of course we realize that Phil is “singing to the choir.” Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

“realize that the strawmen are starting to pile up.”

Huh? Sounds vaguely ominous but for some reason those Fifth Symphony chords are still too faint for me to hear. Please identify a couple of these strawmen and tell me why I should “realize” that they are “piling up.”

“everything has a design and that design clearly has the fingerprints of intelligence”

Just out of curiosity, where do you see the fingerprints of intelligence in the design of a sightless eyeball?

not every religious person is a non-thinking dis-respectful zealot as it seems that you believe.

You do realize that while some of us here are atheists, others are not, right? And among those of us who are atheists, I know that at least some of us have close family who are religious. So, please, keep your religious bigotry to yourself–atheists don’t fit your stereotype.

If he were to talk to you (collective) his words would be quite different than the words he used to a group of ID at a Christian college.

That’s interesting. What do you think he would say that would be different?

Dig,

i’ve been perusing the site for a couple of days and have found some hostility to the moniker Intelligent Design. May I ask why this is?

The hostility towards ID you see here is not directed at the name ID so much as at the program of ID. ID as a movement attempts to provide a “scientific” cover for creationism, so as to allow it to be taught in science classes as an alternative to evolution. Unfortunately, there is no backing for this claim. ID has failed to produce any testable hypotheses, peer-reviewed journal articles, or anything else which would legitimize it’s claims to be a “theory” of anything. ID proponents like to capitalize on public misunderstanding of the meaning of the word theory in the context of science. (It’s just a theory, it hasn’t been proven! So our unproven theory is just as good! And so on.) Many of the posters and commenters here are scientists, and we get pissed off when creationists try to hijack scientific terminology and pervert it to their own ends. If you choose to believe that the universe shows evidence of design, that is of course your right. Just don’t try to claim your belief has any epistemological basis. The hostility here is to the methods of IDers more than to their beliefs.

I would agree with them that everything has a design and that design clearly has the fingerprints of intelligence. Even if evolution is the real deal and tomorrow someone proves it … there is still intelligence behind it and that intelligence has to lead somewhere. In my opinion, an intelligent creator.

I don’t know how much you know about evolutionary theory, but I’m guessing not much. The explanation of apparent design is the prime theoretical utility of Darwin’s (dangerous) idea. It allows us to explain the emergence of complex systems and behaviors without resorting to teleological concepts such as design. Again, if you want to believe that an intelligent creator started the process, go ahead. Believe away. But do you have any reasons for believing this? Any examples of systems which are unexplainable by Darwinian mechanisms?

 

wow.  bitter eh? now granted, i have not read any of this reconstructionist literature that you are touting … but ‘c’mon, listen to yourself. You sound exactly like one of those religious fundamentalists.

Say what? I merely relayed the facts about the Christian Reconstructionist movement. I can’t possibly sound like a fundamentalist if all I’m doing is relaying simple facts (unless I’m bungling them badly.) The fact that you don’t know anything about Reconstructionism is a testament to your own ignorance, and not some wild-eyed fantasy on my part.

who again .. is advocating mass murder? 

The Reconstructionists. Did you forget the topic of conversation that quickly? You can’t exactly put all homosexuals, pagans, blasphemers, etc. to death without killing millions of people.

…a front for the culture war?

That would be the ID movement. You even said that they don’t hide it (which is largely true – they don’t hide it, they just lie about it in front of non-receptive audiences), so you should already be up to speed on this one. Give yourself a gold star.

 

am i also part o this conspiracy?

How the hell should I know? Go and ask your mom, she would be in a better position to know who you hang out with than I would.

 

Also, Dig, your understanding of constitutional democracy seems to be on a par with your understanding of evolution. You say:

What do you do, let’s say, when 51% of america believes in God’s moral authority? That 51% can then, legally, vote to get lawmakers, prsidents, supreme courts justices … etc, to preside over the country they way they see fit. You have the same right.

If you mean that they can elect representatives to make the US into a theocracy if they see fit, well, no they can’t. That’s why we have that constitution thingy. You seem to be equating democracy with simple mob rule. Ever hear the phrase “the tyranny of the majority”? The majority can only exercise their preferences to the degree that they do not interfere with the exercise of the rights of the minority. You know, little things like freedom of religion and such. By taking an official position on the existence of God, the government would be interfering with religious freedom, namely the freedom of atheists not to believe. That would, of course, be an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

A quote came to mind about the tyranny of the majority..

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

- Benjamin Franklin

Furthermore,there is the whole question of what Mr. G. is really like, and what laws this entity has decreed, since different people often claim drastically different things about this entity.

And how does one decide? One nice old-fashioned way is with Wars of Religion…

I think that our Founding Fathers had taken a radical step by having our naiton’s government be independent of religion, while allowing people to believe whatever religion they wanted. In Europe at the time, every nation had an officially-supported state church, and if the US had followed that tradition, we’d have something like the Episcopal church be our state church.

And because we are a pluralist society that supports diverse religious beliefs, “God’s” moral authority has no standing in American society. None at all. It can be a matter of private conscience, but not public policy.

Well, yes, no “official standing”, but.… there are a bunch who are moving us in that direction, who passionately want to make it a matter of public policy, and in fact do succeed in insinuating and modifying where they can (similar to the Alabama Judge Roy Bean Moore’s attempt to have the 10 commandments on display – there are probably a number of judges who do this without fanfare). Fact is, no professed atheist could get elected to public office in the US, where closet atheists and hypocrites abound.

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb and an ACLU lawyer voting on what to have for lunch, with a security force standing by prepared to enforce constitutional guarantees. And a bunch of other lawyers fiercely debating those guarantees.

DigHazuse said

“That standing has been waining in the last few years. That is what Phil is lamenting and trying to get back.”

Does Phil acknowledge the recent creation of a national holiday for religious people when he whines about the “waining”?

National Day of Prayer (May 6): We are most likely going to be in session this day, so have your member release a statement on the importance of praying for the country, praying for our troops and praying for each other. The National Day of Prayer Task Force asks everyone to say a prayer at noon, wherever they are. Your member can echo that request.

[above taken from recent letter from Chris Paulitz, Press Secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee]

I like your site and I certainly don’t respect Philip Johnson. I’m distressed by the constant fencing with intelligent design people and the background hum that religion is a bad thing. I wonder if you would do better by taking a different approach. I think that the ID people want constant media coverage and feel that anything being said about them is better than nothing. You can’t knock them out; I don’t see that you have swayed any of the general public. I’m an old goat, a university professor with multiple degrees who remembers a time when many good students in public high school were interested in science and math. Why not focus on improving the scientific knowledge of all US high school graduates? I’m appalled at how little most of them understand; how many have trouble multiplying or dividing by one thousand if they don’t have paper or a calculator. Few of them take any science in college, and yet they will be asked to decide about pollution and global warming – is it real, a communist plot or what? How much expenditure is wise to reduce pollution or global warming, etc.

How about this for starters? Every HS graduate should be able to answer these seven questions: 1. What are the first two laws of thermodynamics? 2. What is the difference between cloning and parthenogenesis (how many HS grads have a clue what parthenogenesis is?)? 3. How do soap, boiling water and ultraviolet light kill bacteria? What are limitations of each method? 4. What is the evidence that such things as electrons really exist? 5. How does sunlight bleach a colored shirt? 6. What is the chemical we call “bleach” and how does it work at the molecular level? 7. Why are pressure cookers useful?

You can see my prejudices. Maybe you don’t want to change your emphasis- it’s your privilege, and evolution is important. Others would choose different questions. How can we improve the morale & teaching skills of high school science teachers? I think that all HS students should have to take at least one year of science- it’s tough to get and keep the attention of kids who think that science is boring and beyond their comprehension. I really don’t care if the kids take religious courses so long as they aren’t disguised as science or take up science time. I admire the Off the shelf chemistry experiments of Robert Farber and the Hands On Biology teaching of Ingrid Waldron, both of which are found at the Serendip web site. We Americans should be embarrassed by the pathetic ignorance of science and world affairs that 90% of our HS graduates show, and I’m not speaking only of minorities. Evolution is important, but our science deficiencies go far beyond evolution. We sure won’t get a scientific approach from any of our national politicians.

Professor Anciano,

I admire the concept but I don’t think your proposal is realistic. I would be happy if the average HS student merely appreciated the fact that science is useful and that DNA, atoms, and stars are “real.”

“We Americans should be embarrassed by the pathetic ignorance of science and world affairs that 90% of our HS graduates show, and I’m not speaking only of minorities.”

It’s awesome to know that your embarassment is colorblind!

Btw, you seem to have an inordinate preference for teaching topics relating to cleanliness. Why that particular focus?

Why not do a lot of comparative anatomy in biology classes? IMO, that’s an excellent illustration of evolution. One could compare human, dog, and cat skeletons and X-rays…

I finished high school in an African town. We didn’t have labs. We didn’t have a lot of books. The HS program was split into two: business oriented and (natural) science oriented. I was part of the science oriented. We did a lot of theory work (no labs). I took 4 years of the basic sciences (Physics, Chemistry and Biology). We started from the basic fundamentals (such as Physics) and keep building on it (may be this is the reason I ended up a reductionist and materialist). I have a great respect for that approach. So my point is let the students’ vision of the world (universe) change because of science – teach them a lot of fundamental theory from the grounds up.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on April 27, 2004 6:52 AM.

Living Words: the politics of taxonomic objects was the previous entry in this blog.

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