Creationism’s Trojan Horse: Barry Lynn’s interview with Barbara Forrest

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Barry Lynn interviewed Barbara Forrest on May 10, 2004. This is how Barry Lynn introduces the issues:

Not a single scientific article has been published in any recognized scientific scientific journal supporting the idea of “creation science” or its newest variant “intelligent design”. How’s that for a culture shock? Nevertheless, in spite of that absence of scientific information a prototype college class has actually been created to teach so called intelligent design and dismiss evolution. A seminar on the topic of intelligent design has actually been taught to members of Congress here in Washington and to their staff. And new religious groups are springing up all over the country spending milllions of dollars a year to promote pseudo-science or religion and diss the idea of evolution. We have got a problem and it’s called the ignorance of future generations. Our guest today has written a truely very very useful book for people who have a serious interest in looking at science, looking at issues of religion and where the two maybe shouldn’t be meeting. The book is called “creationism’s trojan horse”. It is written by my guest Barbara Forrest

Listen to the full interview here

6 Comments

Does anyone have a non-streaming version of this?

I will make one, and get back with you.

Thanks, Jack. I have a hatred of RealAudio :)

Here’s a transcript I did of part of this show, followed by some comments which take issue with the idea, proposed by Barry Lynn and agreed to by Barbara Forrest, that the existence of a designer isn’t a question answerable by science.

Barry Lynn: …That separate question of whether it’s possible that there was some divine purpose to the universe or some god involved at the very beginning is a really entirely separate question, one of religion, of theology - it’s important, but not a *scientific* question. Do you buy that?

Barbara Forrest: Yes, it’s not a scientific question, it’s a *theological* question and one that has to be kept separately from the study of science. Scientists use a particular methodology that applies to the study of the natural world, it does not take us beyond that. And we don’t happen to be lucky enough to have either a methodology or an epistemology (a theory of knowledge) which would enable us to reach any kind of consensus on the answers to the theological questions. That’s where religious faith comes in. If we had easy answers to those questions there would be no need for people to have religious faith; that shows where the need for faith comes in. Once you step beyond the boundaries of what the scientific data show you’ve moved outside of science, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as you realize that you’ve made that step and don’t try to claim, as the ID proponents do, that the handiwork of the designer, of the supernatural designer - I want to be very specific about that because he is in their minds supernatural, they’ve actually used the word. Once you claim that the handiwork of the supernatural designer is empirically detectable you have moved beyond the boundaries of science. And the irony is, if the handiwork of the designer is empirically detectable, that designer is not supernatural, it is some kind of natural entity that lies within the boundaries of science. That is not what they’re talking about.

Lynn: Are there any scientists who go one step beyond and say “Look, it is obvious to me, speaking as a scientist, (as scientists sometimes do on radio and television) that god is a fiction, god does not exist” and they kind of act as if they’ve got proof of that, instead of merely the absence of scientific support for the idea.

Forrest: Yes, there are some scientists who do that. Sometimes scientists are very strong in their convictions that science has pretty much negated the idea that there’s a god. But that’s a personal statement. You have to be very careful about that because strictly speaking science is neutral on that issue. Science neither has evidence for nor evidence against the existence of the supernatural. It’s outside the purview, it’s beyond the reach of any scientific methodology.

TC comments:

Lynn and Forrest seem to be taking Stephen J. Gould’s tack of defining two non-conflicting magesteria, one of science and one of religion, but it doesn’t wash. Very simply, whether or not there was a god involved at the beginning of the universe that designed it is an empirical question. To address this question, we must first choose a method of arriving at reliable knowledge. Science suggests itself as such a method. If you take science as your way of knowing about the world, you find that it discovers no evidence of a designer, so there are no good scientific grounds to believe in such an entity.

So science isn’t neutral on the existence of god, as Forrest claims, nor is the existence of god outside its purview. Scientific methodology can be applied to *any* empirical claim, whatever the proposed characteristics of the entity in question. Science isn’t, as Forrest suggests, a priori a methodology that applies only to the natural world, rather its application *defines* the natural world by discovering, according to its methods, what entities exist and their mutual relations. The scientific method assumes absolutely *nothing* about the natural/supernatural distinction in advance. It proceeds by constructing theories and explanations and by adjudicating existence claims in the light of empirical, intersubjective, reproducible evidence, and what’s left standing at the end of the day *is* what we call the natural world.

It’s unfortunate that Forrest and Lynn take the amicable line about the supposed non-conflict of religion and science, since in doing so they mischaracterize science as methodologically naturalistic. That of course opens the door for the IDers to come charging in and claim science needs “balancing” in classrooms by admitting supernatural causes.

IDers want the appearance of scientific backing for their claims because they understand the immense clout of science as *the* most reliable way of knowing. Unfortunately for them, science can’t get them to god, since as Forrest rightly says, any truly scientific evidence of a designer would perforce connect it with the rest of what science countenances, and thus the designer would instantly be understood as a natural, not supernatural phenomenon. This is the correct order of implication between science and naturalism: science unifies what it shows to exist into a single, causally interconnected whole.

Bottom line: once we explicitly drop the idea, touted by the creationist opposition, that science as it’s actually practiced makes use of the natural/supernatural distinction, we can make better headway against the IDers.

http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm

Very simply, whether or not there was a god involved at the beginning of the universe that designed it is an empirical question. To address this question, we must first choose a method of arriving at reliable knowledge. Science suggests itself as such a method. If you take science as your way of knowing about the world, you find that it discovers no evidence of a designer, so there are no good scientific grounds to believe in such an entity.

What you’re saying is that the epistemology used in science is the only known-good epistemology. Coherentists, which I’d say most scientists more or less are, tend to find this the best position. But your argument isn’t going to win many converts, because religious people tend to reject this for various reasons. The current fashion among religious intellectuals is to prefer Foundationalism, which says that there’s a small set of known truths which require no justification, such as that you know you exist, and then declare god one of those known truths.

If you think it’s sad so much cleverness is wasted sustaining some primitive, irrational beliefs, I wouldn’t disagree.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on August 11, 2004 8:32 PM.

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