Richard Colling: religious brothers are telling falsehoods

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In a previous posting I reported how I had met with a Christian friend of mine who considered “Intelligent design” to be dishonest. It seems that he is not the only Christian who has reached this conclusion. As a concerned Christian myself, I find this comforting as it seems that fellow Christians have realized the potential cost of “Intelligent Design” for religious faith and science.

Nevertheless, there are still many ID supporters who remain unaware of the lack of much of any scientific support for Intelligent Design and who are fooled into believing that there is a controversy in science on the topic of evolution, relevant to the concept of Intelligent Design. Thus we see supporters take their crusades to local schoolboards, newspapers and senators unaware of the cost of their actions to religious faith and science alike.

Professor Richard Colling is the chairman of the of biological sciences at the Olivet Nazarene University who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1980. His professional interests are microbiology, immunology and biochemistry.

Professor Richard Colling, author of the book “Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with Creator” is quoted by Sharon Begley in Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists, Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2004; Page A15

Prof. Richard Colling Wrote:

In his new book, “Random Designer,” he writes: “It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods” when they say evolutionary theory is “in crisis” and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. “Such statements are blatantly untrue,” he argues; “evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny. [1]” Sharon Begley in Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists, Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2004; Page A15

Not only do we see Intelligent Design proponents argue time after time that ‘evolution is in crisis’ but we also see more and more bolder claims about what Intelligent Design has accomplished. And yet, time after time, when pushing for details, the intelligent design proponent comes up empty-handed. Where are the positive hypotheses of Intelligent Design? Where are the non-trivial applications of the Design Explanatory Filter to biological entities? How does Intelligent Design movement deal with the issue of the Explanatory Filter being unreliable and thus ‘useless’ in the words of Dembski? How does the Intelligent Design movement deal with Del Ratzsch observation that the filter is unable to detect ‘new design’? How does the Intelligent Design movement deal with the scientific evidence other than ignoring ?

Recently we witnessed a good example of the lack of relevance of the Design Explanatory Filter when Salvador commented somewhat recklessly that a particular approach which used pattern matching was evidence of a successful application of the Design Explanatory Filter. Supporting this claim with more than rhetoric proved however to be a bit trickier.

Similarly we see on ARN how ID’s Bulldog makes reckless claims about the Design Explanatory Filter being used in Archaeology, Criminology, SETI etc. Not only do such claims lack much supporting evidence, other than appealing to the unsupported assertions by Dembski, but they are also easily contradicted by observing HOW design is inferred in these cases.

In other words, Intelligent Design not only has to trivialize, ignore or misrepresent actual scientific knowledge but it also seems to be doomed to make reckless and unsupported claims about its own accomplishments.

Trojan Horse

Some ID proponents object to the characterization of the goals of the ID movement as being a ‘Trojan horse’. On ARN we see ‘Mike Gene’ complain about the impact of such characterizations on one’s ability to conduct a discussion on the scientific merrits or lack thereof of the ID movement. I would like to comment on this argument. 1) ‘Mike Gene’ is a relatively minor player in the ID movement and has distantiated himself from many of the ID movements approaches or claims. When referring to the ID movement it should thus be obvious that this refers to the larger movement spearheaded by the Discovery’s Institute for the renewal of Science and Culture and by the ARN website. Pro ID websites such as ISCID and ARN have become more and more hostile towards ID critics leading to banning of critiques, or tactics of deleting complete threads as witnessed recently on ARN. I can understand the increased hostilities towards ID critics since there is little else ID can do that ignore these well supported criticisms or when they become too visible to its supporters, to actually prevent such discussions. 2) For the larger ID movement, the characterization of ‘Trojan horse’ is very accurate as evidenced by its claims that a) there is a crisis in evolution b) that intelligent design is an alternative to evolution which has scientific support.

I am not the only one to notice how the ID movement is making exaggerated claims and many other critics have documented similar complaints. What I find hopeful is to see how Christians are standing up against Intelligent Design and its behavior as it impacts religious faith, science and scientific inquiry.

Can critics who consider the ID movement’s goals to be a ‘Trojan horse’ fairly criticize its claims? I argue that it can and that websites such as Talkorigins, Talkdesign, Talkreason and Pandasthumb are evidence of this. ‘Mike Gene’ may not like the criticism which often details the many problems with ID’s claims but rejecting these criticism based on the fact that its proponents may hold to a viewpoint of ID which is biased hardly seems logical.

Richard Colling is a conservative Christian who believes that “People should not feel they have to deny reality in order to experience their faith”. Joining the ranks of other Christians like Denis Lamoureux, Howard van Till, Kenneth Miller, Patrick Frank [2], Denis Lamoureaux, John Haught, and Ryan Nichols [3]. But not only Christians are speaking out, we also find people from other religions opposing the claims of Intelligent Design. From the Jewish religion we have for instance Scott Gilbert, a professor at Swarthmore College [4].

On ARN, Salvador is calling for the ex-communication of Denis Lamoureux for what he sees as ‘compromising’

Salvador Wrote:

If Lamoureux were in my denomination I would re-commend his ex-communication and barring from the communion table. If he wants to align himself with the Darwinists leadership rather than the evangelicals FINE, but he should label himself as such : an NCSE Darwinist who rejected a central claim of the evangelical faith. He can call himself a liberal compromiser, a die-hard Darwinist, but he has no right to say he’s an evangelical.

Professor Colling bravely continues to express his strong sentiments towards “intelligent design”.

Intelligent-design advocates look at these sophisticated components of living things, can’t imagine how evolution could have produced them, and conclude that only God could have.

That makes Prof. Colling see red. “When Christians insert God into the gaps that science cannot explain – in this case how wondrous structures and forms of life came to be – they set themselves up for failure and even ridicule,” he told me. “Soon – and it’s already happening with the flagellum – science is going to come along and explain” how a seemingly miraculous bit of biological engineering in fact could have evolved by Darwinian mechanisms. And that will leave intelligent design backed into an ever-shrinking corner

Colling’s comments mirror my concerns and those of Lamoureux that by relying on poor scientific arguments which amount to nothing more than an argument from ignorance or “God of the Gap” argument, that Intelligent Design may become the worst enemy to religious faith and science alike.

It is obvious time after time that Intelligent Design

1. Has to ignore or misrepresent scientific knowledge or rely on old references (several of the recent papers by ID proponents seem to support these observations) 2. Has no positive theory(ies) of intelligent design beyond the appeal to ignorance or “God of the Gaps” approach

And as a Christian scientist, I find it encouraging to hear and see more and more Christians and scientists speak out against the Intelligent Design movement.


Footnotes

  • Not surprisingly this is the chosen approach of many ID proponents such as William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and other Discovery Institute fellows. Some good examples involve how ID proponents and the Discovery Institute in particular presents the research of fellow ID proponents. Some examples include: Dembski’s announced presentation at Seattle’s Discovery Institute on January 17th titled Darwinism’s Berlin Wall

    Discovery Institute is pleased to welcome our esteemed Senior Fellow Bill Dembski to Seattle. Dr. Dembski is the author and editor of Uncommon Dissent and Debating Design and numerous other books and articles. He will discuss the growing number of scientific challenges to Darwinian theory

    Jonathan Wells, Icons of evolution

    And while some ID proponents are pushing Icons of Evolution as a curriculum in public schools, the reality is that the book is full of problems. See the many links of Don Lindsay’s website. The potential cost to both science and religion of using this book in schools, home schooling or even private schools can be quite hight.

    Stephen C. Meyer The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, September 29, 2004. And the Discovery Institute’s ‘response: Discovery Institute Fellows Neo-Darwinism’s Unsolved Problem of the Origin of Morphological Novelty October 11, 2004

    These were discussed in the many links in The “Meyer 2004” Medley

    Pennock observed and predicted that once again ID does not propose any alternative hypotheses:

    Pennock Wrote:

    ID theorists, by contrast, are very close-mouthed about their own views. If evolution really cannot hope to explain the Cambrian explosion, and ID theorists can do better, one would expect them to show how. However, no “alternative theory” is forthcoming. ID leaders who are Young-Earth creationists, such as Paul Nelson, Percival Davis, and others, do not even accept the scientific dating of the Cambrian. However, even the Old-Earthers, such as Behe and presumably Meyer, have offered no positive account. Rober Pennock], DNA by Design? Stephen Meyer and the Return of the God Hypothesis, in Debating Design: from Darwin to DNA, a volume edited by Michael Ruse and William Dembski, Cambridge University Press 2004

    And makes the prediction which was actually fullfilled by Meyer in subsequent articles:

    I have not seen the chapter that Meyer is writing on the Cambrian explosion for the present volume, but I encourage readers to check whether he departs from the pattern and offers any specific positive account. If ID is to have even a shot at being a real scientific alternative, one should expect to see some precise testable (and eventually tested) hypotheses that answer the obvious questions: what was designed and what wasn’t; and when, where, how, and by whom was design information supposedly inserted. Rober Pennock], DNA by Design? Stephen Meyer and the Return of the God Hypothesis, in Debating Design: from Darwin to DNA, a volume edited by Michael Ruse and William Dembski, Cambridge University Press 2004

    Then there is the paper by Michael J. Behe and David W. Snoke, Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues, Protein Science, The Protein Society, September 2, 2004

    This paper was extensively reviewed and critiqued in Theory is as Theory Does. by PandaThumb’s contributors Ian F. Musgrave, Steve Reuland, and Reed A. Cartwright.

    and the paper by Scott A. Minnich & Stephen C. Meyer Genetic Analysis of Coordinate Flagellar and Type III Regulatory Circuits in Pathogenic Bacteria in Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece. September 1, 2004

    which is reviewed and critiqued by Bacterial Flagella expert Nick Matzke in Deja vu again. Again. Nick Matzke also provided an indepth analysis of plausible evolutionary pathways in Evolution in Brownian space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum

    So far the response of ID has been to ignore these contributions despite the fact that ID’s explanatory filter depends critically on evaluating the probabilities of such pathways in order to infer design. In other words, the bacterial flagellum can be argued to be at most an issue of ‘we don’t know’ but certainly presents to evidence for design. Yet we still see how ID is presenting IC, the explanatory filter and the bacterial flagellum as evidence FOR design.

  • Patrick Frank is the author of “On the Assumption of Design”, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 - 130.

    Abstract: The assumption of design of the universe is examined from a scientific perspective. The claims of William Dembski and of Michael Behe are unscientific because they are a-theoretic. The argument from order or from utility are shown to be indeterminate, circular, to rest on psychological as opposed to factual certainty, or to be insupportable as regards humans but possibly not bacteria, respectively. The argument from the special intelligibility of the universe specifically to human science does not survive comparison with the capacities of other organisms. Finally, the argument from the unlikelihood of physical constants is vitiated by modern cosmogonic theory and recrudesces the God-of-the-gaps.

  • Ryan Nichols is the author of Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory The American Catholic philosophical quarterly , 2003 , vol. 77 , no 4 , pp. 591 - 611,

    Abstract: Arguments of the following form are given against theories like psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis implies X. Psychoanalysis also implies NOT(X). Hence, no observations of X or of NOT(X) can falsify psychoanalysis. Since an important proportion of propositions implied by psychoanalysis are similar to X in this respect, psychoanalysis is not falsifiable. Since psychoanalysis isn’t falsifiable, it is not a science. In my argument against Intelligent Design Theory I will not contend that it is not falsifiable or that it implies contradictions. I’ll argue that Intelligent Design Theory doesn’t imply anything at all, i.e. it has no content. By ‘content’ I refer to a body of determinate principles and propositions entailed by those principles. By ‘principle’ I refer to a proposition of central importance to the theory at issue. By ‘determinate principle’ I refer to a proposition of central importance to the theory at issue in which the extensions of its terms are clearly defined. I’ll evaluate the work of William Dembski because he specifies his methodology in detail, thinks Intelligent Design Theory is contentful and thinks Intelligent Design Theory (hereafter ‘IDT’) grounds an empirical research program. Later in the paper I assess a recent trend in which IDT is allegedly found a better home as a metascientific hypothesis, which serves as a paradigm that catalyzes research. I’ll conclude that, whether IDT is construed as a scientific or metascientific hypothesis, IDT lacks content.

  • Gilbert writes about Wells:

    Wells (2000) makes the rather strange claim that since Haeckel’s erroneous picture has been reprinted in biology books for so long, evolutionary biology must have been based on it, and therefore all of evolutionary biology is wrong. Most biologists had been willing to use this illustration as an oversimplification of von Baer’s laws to illustrate that embryos pass through similar stages. Once Richardson published the actual pictures of the embryos, reprinting this picture became silly, and almost immediately the textbooks changed. My website amended the figure within a month of the appearance of Richardson’s article. So did the website that Ken Miller had for his introductory biology book. Other books, especially those without websites, had to wait longer. For more, see Ken Miller’s website and the Talkorigins site. The assertion that evolutionary biologists knew that these pictures were fraudulent but used them anyway is also wrong. I am a developmental biologist who also has a masters degree in the history of science. When I wrote the first editions of my textbook, I did not know they were wrong. In fact, I hadn’t realized they were from Haeckel, and I quoted the Romanes (1901) volume as my source of the picture (see Gilbert 1988, p. 153).



49 Comments

PvM wrote:

Not only do we see Intelligent Design proponents argue time after time that ‘evolution is in crisis’ but we also see more and more bolder claims about what Intelligent Design has accomplished.

Let’s face it, Creationists and other pseudo-scientists have been claiming “evolution is in crisis” since the theory was first published. Generation after generation of Creationist has made the same claim, even as researchers have been explaining more and more of the evolution of life on this planet.

ID is just the most sophisticated God of hte gaps argument developed. When it’s boiled down to its essence, it’s empty and worthless. It’s proponents are, by and large, slick snakeoil dealers like Dembski (though they may have been too slick for their own good in Dover).

Prof. Richard Colling, cited above, Wrote:

In his new book, “Random Designer,” he writes: “It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods” when they say evolutionary theory is “in crisis” and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. “Such statements are blatantly untrue,” he argues; “evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny. [1]”

You can actually look this up online under the heading “The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism”

Thanks, PvM, for the informative post.

I would like to add my name to the list of Christians who find ID to be lacking both scientifically and theologically. One of the problems I have with ID is that its supporters claim to see evidence of God’s past creative activity in the present workings of Creation. But such claims actually put limits on God’s creative power. ID implies that God is only involved in Creation during specific, exceptional events. This “God of occasional action” can too easily be interpreted as a “God of usual inaction.” I prefer to think of God as continually active in Creation through the multiple processes of evolution.

It seems to me that putting on blinders and refusing to see the way that nature works is vastly disrespectful to God. Loving the world and the God who created it means loving the world as it is, not as your limited human mind would like it to be.

How do you apply strict scientific method to evolution, biology, etc., but not to Christian beliefs? The only difference between fundamentalist Bible-thumpers who insist God created everything as it is now 6,000 years ago, and the Christians on Panda’s Thumb bending over backward to accomodate their faith with science, is one of degree. Both accept an irrational belief system and make decisions based on that system. The fundamentalists have already drawn the battle line and opened fire. The Christians who fancy themselves more enlightened have retreated to a safe distance, embracing a god that is either completely internalized or so abstract as to be without any meaning or relevance.

Jeremy Mohn wrote:

…such claims actually put limits on God’s creative power. I prefer to think of God as continually active in Creation through the multiple processes of evolution.

If god is something more than an imaginary friend, who knows what powers he has, what he did, when he chooses to act? How is “I prefer to think of God…” different from “I imagine God to be like…?”

Tinker wrote:

Loving the world and the God who created it means loving the world as it is, not as your limited human mind would like it to be.

If our mind is too limited to understand god’s creation, isn’t it also too limited to know what god may want? Why should we think god needs or wants our love and praise, assuming of course that he or she exists in the first place? In the Bible god demands worship (and sacrifice, and obedience). Is that the same god who wants love? Is that the god that we can “prefer to think of” in some way – he seems pretty absolute in the Bible.

I don’t have any problem with people believing in god or whatever they want. But I do have a problem with the thinly-veiled Christian prosletyzing that’s going on here. Unless your Christian beliefs are actually adding something to our understanding of science I don’t see how expressing those beliefs in public is anything more than vanity or missionary work.

Greg writes:

Unless your Christian beliefs are actually adding something to our understanding of science I don’t see how expressing those beliefs in public is anything more than vanity or missionary work.

‘Having eyes, see ye not?’ (As somebody or other once asked.)

As a Christian, I would assert quite strongly that Christian beliefs by definition cannot add anything to our understanding of science. And I imagine you’d agree.

But the thoughts expressed in the comments you complain of do indeed ‘add something’; that something just isn’t what you think it is. Advocates of creationist ‘science’ ‘education’ try to scare religious people by claiming that evolution is irreconcilable with Christian belief. Because religious belief is usually pretty important to religious people, this can be a successful tactic. As it happens, though, the creationist claim is false. Hence it’s important that others who share these religious beliefs speak up to assert that the creationists’ theological claims are as false as their scientific claims. And if while doing so they can persuasively argue that understanding nature as it is and not as Phillip Johnson would like it to be deepens rather than threatens their faith, so much the better.

This isn’t proselytising at all. It’s the opposite: ‘preaching to the choir’, very literally. I do not see anything upthread that looks like an attempt to convince atheists that God exists. Indeed, I do not see anything upthread that is really even addressed to atheists. People like these commenters, or like the two K. Millers, are reminding their fellow-theists that God is not the limited thing their human imaginations make him. That’s an important thing for believers to bear in mind. But for non-believers, it’s at best meaningless, at worst pernicious nonsense.

When a theist asserts that scientific knowledge is compatible with religious faith, he’s not proselytising. I do not imagine that the commenters above pointing out that they are (i) Christians but (ii) not troglodytic creationist ignorami will have driven very many atheist readers to run out and seek baptism.

It looks like you think that people who believe in a god are being irrational. And I’ll cheerfully agree that you might very well be right. But I can’t agree that if I accept this bit of irrationality, I might as well go the whole hog and accept a creationist account of life on earth. That’s an argument I’d reject, whether it is advanced by an atheist who thinks me stupid for believing in God or by a fundamentalist Christian who thinks me evil for believing in evolution.

Greetings. I’m new here and hope it’s okay for me to throw my hat into the ring. By way of introduction, my online “home” is The WELL (http://www.well.com), where I host the Christianity conference, despite the fact that I am not a Christian. I do believe in God.

Greg Jorgensen is a friend of mine, and I’ve always had much respect for his intellectual prowess. But I disagree with his view here as well as in the other thread where he asserted, in so many words, that people who hold irrational beliefs are somehow impaired in their ability to engage in science.

I’m not a scientist, but my wife is, and her boss is one of the most highly respected scientists in his field. (A google search on “cleaver feeney” will point you to some of their publications if you’re interested.) He is also deeply religious, with daily devotions. And there are many others like him.

As a footnote, I have to say that I’m continually baffled by that subset of Christians who continue to deny science and promote creationism. In light of all that Christianity seems to offer, it’s quite beyond me why any Christian even thinks it’s important to try to include God in science, when God is clearly outside of the realm of science as we know it thus far. I can understand why there was widespread alarm a bit over a century ago, as Darwin’s finding were being published and confirmed. The common fear was that it would lead to total godlessness. But that didn’t happen. The fact is that many people continue to believe in God despite accepting evolution, and have no conflict about accepting the creation account of Genesis as allegory. Church attendance in the USA is the highest of any industrialized nation. The Catholic Church got over it, as did most Protestant denominations. Given no scriptural evidence whatsoever that a literal belief in Genesis is required for salvation, why can’t these creationists choose an issue that’s more central to the Christian message?

I don’t think irrational beliefs are an issue in science. After all, from a certain point of view, it is irrational to conduct an experiment that has already been conducted by other scientists many times before. And yet science routinely does exactly that.

I also reject the idea that the inability to prove a given belief makes it irrational. If it’s true that “God is love,” as the Gospel of John says, then it must also be true that love is God. Therefore, anyone who has ever experienced love has partaken of God. I know of no way that love can be scientifically proven to exist. That doesn’t stop me from believing that love exists.

Irrationality is not the enemy. The enemy is dogma. Any science influenced by dogma is tainted. And I hasten to point out that there are, unfortunately, a great many scientists - atheists included - who are prone to be dogmatic in their science, and that is not a good thing.

Personally, I think every student by about the 6th grade or so ought to presented with the creationist argument and then made to answer the question, “Why is this NOT science?” A student who cannot correctly answer that question is ill-prepared for life.

Sometimes I am astounded at how people with an intellect much sharper than mine fail to see the big picture. Such a person is Greg, and also many of the ID proponents. Greg, do you care nothing about attracting the political support of Christians and other theists? Why are you pushing so hard to convince everyone that theism is incompatible with good science? When you are old and feeble, your intellect may fail you, and maybe then you will reach for something beyond it.

Greg Wrote:

Unless your Christian beliefs are actually adding something to our understanding of science I don’t see how expressing those beliefs in public is anything more than vanity or missionary work.

I agree with Greg that Christian beliefs are not adding something to our understanding of science. But I disagree that expressing these beliefs in this context is vanity or missionary work. My interests are mostly scientific but since some/many people seem to reject science based on their faith, it is important to let these people know that 1) ID is destructive not just to science but also to religious faith 2) science and religion can coexist quite nicely.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. After reflecting a little on this I think my first posting was badly put.

Katarina wrote:

Greg, do you care nothing about attracting the political support of Christians and other theists?

No, I don’t. I thought that was clear. In fact that’s the core of my argument: scientists cheapen themselves by pandering to religious groups.

Richard Dawkins asks in “A Devil’s Chaplain” why we, as a society, give privileged status to religious leaders. Whether the issue is evolution in schools or stem cell research, what should be secular, rational discussions are tainted by inviting religious opinion (usually Christian, in this country). Unless religious leaders have something to contribute scientifically, why involve them at all? The result is a meaningless accomodation at best, a harmful compromise at worst. I don’t care what a minister or bishop thinks about stem cells unless they happen to also be a medical researcher; their personal faith is not relevant in and of itself.

What I’m objecting to in this forum is the notion that getting Christians “on our side” somehow strengthens the science. Evolution is not one whit more valid because some Christians have learned or figured out how to “accept” it; evolution is true whether or not it can be made to fit with someone’s personal superstitions. Threads like this seem to say, “Look, so-and-so, a Christian who publicly professes their belief, believes in evolution, so it can’t be all that bad.”

I’m not ignorant of the important role religion plays in individual behavior, politics, history, society, even science. I think Mrs Tilton expressed a valid reason for adding a Christian perspective to “our side:”

Advocates of creationist ‘science’ ‘education’ try to scare religious people by claiming that evolution is irreconcilable with Christian belief. Because religious belief is usually pretty important to religious people, this can be a successful tactic. As it happens, though, the creationist claim is false. Hence it’s important that others who share these religious beliefs speak up to assert that the creationists’ theological claims are as false as their scientific claims. And if while doing so they can persuasively argue that understanding nature as it is and not as Phillip Johnson would like it to be deepens rather than threatens their faith, so much the better.

I hadn’t thought of that angle, and it’s a good one. It’s a wedge strategy, the same kind of thing we criticize when the ID camp espouses it. Perhaps it will work – certainly I can’t see any harm in getting more Christians to accept evolution. If nothing else an internalized abstract god is much less likely to tell someone to blow up a building than the god described in the Old Testament or the Koran.

But there’s a down side, which as an atheist I object to. It’s too easy to give the impression that evolution wants or needs the Christian stamp of approval. Evolution is true whether some or all Christians believe it or not.

My friend Gerry made a few comments I’ll argue with:

Given no scriptural evidence whatsoever that a literal belief in Genesis is required for salvation, why can’t these creationists choose an issue that’s more central to the Christian message?

Many Christians do believe that a literal belief in Genesis is required. Who’s to say which parts are literally true, and which aren’t? Or what the metaphors mean? I don’t claim that the Bible isn’t relevant, or at least true in some sense in places (I believe Jesus lived and died), I just don’t believe it is the divinely-inspired word of God.

I don’t think irrational beliefs are an issue in science.  After all, from a certain point of view, it is irrational to conduct an experiment that has already been conducted by other scientists many times before.  And yet science routinely does exactly that.

Repeating an experiment is not irrational, it’s a very rational attempt to account for human fallibility, bias, fraud, and our inability to know or deduce all of the variables.

In light of all that Christianity seems to offer, it’s quite beyond me why any Christian even thinks it’s important to try to include God in science, when God is clearly outside of the realm of science as we know it thus far.

Christianity, like all religions, offers different things to different people – there is no core Christian belief system that all Christians agree on. Some Christians believe the universe is 6,000 years old. Some know that doesn’t stand up but believe god designed blood clotting enzymes and bacterial flagella. I don’t think most Christians agree with Gerry that “God is clearly outside the realm of science.” Some more enlightened Christians believe their version of God is outside the realm of science so far, or they choose a conception of God so abstract that it will always be safe from science.

If it’s true that “God is love,” as the Gospel of John says, then it must also be true that love is God.  Therefore, anyone who has ever experienced love has partaken of God.  I know of no way that love can be scientifically proven to exist.  That doesn’t stop me from believing that love exists.

The Bible offers lots of concepts of God, and they can’t all be true. Why should we believe that “God is love” is less metaphorical (or even less badly mangled in translation) than the vengeful destructive God of Genesis and Exodus? I know I’m echoing Job, but why would God bother with tinkering with bat sonar and let so much of His creation suffer and die unnecessarily? Scientifically proving love isn’t necessary; it’s a personal experience that we all express and feel differently. Even if we agree that love exists (provably or not) that doesn’t say anything about the existence of God: the argument is just as circular as some of the creationist reasoning.

Perhaps my Catholic upbringing and education has rendered me incapable of accepting how anyone can form their own personal conception of God, and still call themselves Christian. Until very recently Christianity – all flavors – meant accepting some form of dogma, just as Islam still does. It also means accepting superstitions and rituals (that I grant may have social value) without questioning their meaning, origin, or relevance. I don’t understand the kind of Christianity that verges on paganism or gnosticism, where Jesus or the spirit of God are little more than deliberate imaginary constructions that take on attributes that suit the believer. In the faith I was raised in no one but prophets could form any opinion about the nature of God, or what his motivations or powers might be. The little bit of Catholic that is left in my brain smells heresy every time a born-again Christian says they talk to God in their heart. And I’m afraid my lack of belief and any need for it prohibits me from beginning to empathize with true believers.

Greg

It’s too easy to give the impression that evolution wants or needs the Christian stamp of approval. Evolution is true whether some or all Christians believe it or not.

This is a good point. Religious people who understand what evolution is and why “ID theory” is creationist crap could avoid creating the impression you referred to by explicitly disclaiming it.

Let me add, Greg, that I truly empathize with your arguments. Our backgrounds are similar. My personal experience tells me that your most provocative claim, re the scientific proficiency of church-attending types, is inaccurate. But the rest of your concerns I share, at least to some extent.

Getting back to the “religious brothers” issue, I think it’s a useful way (the only way?) to address the real problem of peer pressure and groupthink which underlies the thinking of some Christians. I think many creationists are not aware or they forget that many scientists are Christians who aren’t hung up on the “conflict” between evolutionary biology’s explanation for the diversity of life on earth and the stories in Genesis.

Bringing up this fact seems to me to be a valid way of showing some (but certainly not all) skeptical Christians that they can live a Christian life without crapping on the work of scientists and reciting hypocritical and indefensible “ID” arguments.

Gerald Feeney:

As a footnote, I have to say that I’m continually baffled by that subset of Christians who continue to deny science and promote creationism.

After a lot of reading, I think I can speculate. Genesis is pretty explicit. It comes right out and says what happened, in so many words. Science says otherwise - that there is simply no evidence of creation ex nihilo, plenty of evidence for evolution, no evidence for Noah’s Flood, plenty of evidence for geologic time, etc. If science is correct, the Bible cannot be literally true.

But my understanding is that one cannot be Christian unless one accepts that the Bible is the word of the Christian God, who told His people the plain truth. This contradiction can only be rectified in a few ways - by rejecting the entire superstructure of Christianity, by proposing that God was just kidding, or by suggesting that *some* of the Bible is intended to be interpreted pretty damn liberally. Since the first two options are simply not open to the Christian, the “liberal interpretation” option is all that remains.

But this clearly opens the entire Bible to the invitation for interpretations so liberal that the actual words lose any reliable meaning! After all, claiming that the Garden of Eden was a fiction, the Flood was a fiction, Adam and Eve (even Jesus!) never existed is a fairly drastic interpretation. The Christian church has atomized into tens of thousands of sects based mostly on much smaller differences in interpretation. At this level, there might as well be no Bible at all.

And so this third option is also not acceptable. Better to accept that the Bible is literally true, and if science theorizes otherwise, then science is ipso facto misinterpreting the evidence. God does not lie!

Flint Wrote:

But my understanding is that one cannot be Christian unless one accepts that the Bible is the word of the Christian God, who told His people the plain truth.

There are undoubtedly many Christians who believe that way, but most do not. Luther’s notion of Sola Scriptura was not shared by earlier church fathers and is not shared today by the Roman and Greek Churches. In fact, some parts of St. Paul’s epistles would directly contradict that.

I think it’s also useful to consider that few, if any, self-identified Christians start out with a blank slate, read the entire Bible, and then form their own interpretations and conclusions. Most are born into a tradition and taught the interpretations and conclusions of others.

But even if a Christian feels free to choose a literal interpretation of Genesis, s/he cannot do so without making certain assumptions. Take the word “day,” for instance. Genesis refers to the creative days. It also says that Adam was warned that if he ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, on that day he would postively die. If we read on a bit further, we see that the account says that Adam lived for 900-hundred and some odd years and then he died. Did God lie, or change his mind? Or could it be that the word “day” as used in Genesis does not always refer to one revolution of the earth around the sun. It must be reconciled through some interpretive analysis, or stand as a contradiction.

It must be reconciled through some interpretive analysis, or stand as a contradiction.

“Interpretative analysis.” That’s a nice way of putting it. ;)

Maybe Greg Jergenson is right to the extent that this website should only pursue the scientific aspect of the debate? There are too many atheists commenting and contributing, who are too rigid in their interpretations, to continue to carry on a constructive discussion concerning religion and the role it plays in the anti-evolution/evolution debate.

Gerald Feeney:

We are talking past one another. You expressed bafflement at how any Christian could deny science and promote creationism, and I attempted to explain the required mindset as I understand it. There is no question that the Bible itself is internally contradictory. It starts of with TWO creation tales, which are mutually incompatible! Interpretation is required throughout. Indeed, much of the Bible has been redacted over time to fit one agenda after another. So each sect decides which parts to take literally, which parts to interpret in which ways, and which parts to just kind of conveniently ignore. There’s nothing particularly rational about most belief sets, and Christianity, everything considered, is one of the most truly bizarre ever invented.

Lurker:

The problem with your suggestion is, there aren’t any scientific aspects of the debate. ID has no science on its side at all. Intelligent Design is a religious postulate, as unsupported by any trace of evidence as the claim that leprechauns guard pots of gold at the ends of the rainbows. How can such a claim be discussed “constructively”, other than by pointing out that ID is religion, religion is not science, science and religion have no need to overlap, that science is not the side trying to force the overlap?

I think Mrs Tilton expressed a valid reason for adding a Christian perspective to “our side:” … It’s a wedge strategy, the same kind of thing we criticize when the ID camp espouses it.

Thanks for your kind words, Greg, but I disagree, in a subtle way. It’s not a matter of adding a ‘Christian perspective’ to your (and my) side. And it’s not a matter of a ‘wedge strategy’ to win Christians into the evolutionist camp.

From a scientific perspective, it is absolutely irrelevant whether one happens also to believe that God (or Thor, or J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs) is The Deity Behind It All. Biology doesn’t need a ‘Christian perspective’. (Knowing something about biology can, I’d firmly insist, enrich a Christian’s perspective, but that is another kettle of fish altogether.)

And there is no need for a ‘wedge’ to split the cleverer Christians off from their stupider brethren. (I am speaking in theoretical terms here; in purely practical terms, maybe there is such a need in America these days, heaven help you all). For the vast majority of Christians, evolution is an absolute non-issue. (That’s for the vast majority of Christians today, of course. Not too long ago, many of them would have held to some more-or-less creationist account. But then, so too would many non-Christians have done. After all, as Richard Dawkins once wrote, prior to 1859 the best explanation for life in its complexity was William Paley’s divine ‘watchmaker’.)

We can all agree that Christian fundamentalist attempts to theocratise (and idiotise) education are a real danger. From a secular viewpoint, though, that’s all these attempts are. From my own Christian viewpoint, I’d say they are at the same time also something at least equally evil, albeit on completely different grounds: they are blasphemy and idolatry. Now, you can probably understand on a conceptual level what I mean by that. But as you are not a theist, this consideration will be quite literally meaningless for you, and fair enough. I don’t ask you to follow me here (for after all, this part of the criticism of creationism is a purely inter-theist squabble). I do ask you to try to understand that when people like Jeremy Mohn or Tinker (or for that matter myself) advance a theistic argument against creationism, it is not in any way a matter of vanity, much less proselytism. Rather, it is because in addition to the very real and valid reasons you and we together have to oppose creationism, we have a further reason: creationists are bad Christians. (For all I know, some of them might be good people; I cannot peer into their hearts. But is is eminently clear to me that they are making a god in their own image, and what a very small and uninteresting god that is.)

Some more Christians who are standing up against the theology and ‘scientific’ claims of Intelligent Design. The list is quickly getting longer.

Jesuit Father Edward Oakes

and

John Russell United Church of Christ, and Founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences

Great White wrote:

My personal experience tells me that your most provocative claim, re the scientific proficiency of church-attending types, is inaccurate.

I don’t believe that religious beliefs disqualify someone from practicing science; obviously that would disqualify most scientists, including Copernicus, Newton, and Darwin. I don’t question the proficiency of religious scientists, but I do believe religious beliefs interfere with the practice of science, and can influence or taint scientific work. Copernicus tried to reconcile his discoveries with Christian dogma. Newton spent just as much time pursuing mysticism and alchemy as he did doing scientific work. Darwin delayed publication to avoid offending Christians. We remember scientists for their accomplishments and don’t consider the effect their superstitions had on their work. One way to interpret the success of religious scientists is that the truth of scientific discovery survives the influence of religion.

And, no, I don’t think atheist scientists necessarily have a better track record. Other than Richard Dawkins I can’t even think of an atheist scientist, certainly no one in the same league as Darwin, Einstein, or Newton. Atheists are subject to the same human follies as everyone else.

Flint wrote:

But my understanding is that one cannot be Christian unless one accepts that the Bible is the word of the Christian God, who told His people the plain truth. This contradiction can only be rectified in a few ways - by rejecting the entire superstructure of Christianity, by proposing that God was just kidding, or by suggesting that *some* of the Bible is intended to be interpreted pretty damn liberally. Since the first two options are simply not open to the Christian, the “liberal interpretation” option is all that remains. But this clearly opens the entire Bible to the invitation for interpretations so liberal that the actual words lose any reliable meaning!

Exactly, and well-put. What I observe is that religious people, including nominal Christians, move farther and farther from literal interpretations and embrace increasingly abstract notions of god. Literalism, which occupied educated minds for two millenia, is now the hallmark of the rube. I think believers who think themselves too enlightened to take the Bible literally should acknowledge that their belief system is not what has been understood as Christianity for the last 2,000 years. If the Bible is not divinely inpired truth, what is it? What good is it? What is there left to believe in? A personal conception of god is everyone’s right, but it’s not Christian.

Mrs Tilton wrote:

We can all agree that Christian fundamentalist attempts to theocratise (and idiotise) education are a real danger. From a secular viewpoint, though, that’s all these attempts are. From my own Christian viewpoint, I’d say they are at the same time also something at least equally evil, albeit on completely different grounds: they are blasphemy and idolatry. Now, you can probably understand on a conceptual level what I mean by that. But as you are not a theist, this consideration will be quite literally meaningless for you, and fair enough.

I appreciate your thoughtful comments again. I agree that fundamentalist attempts to theocratise pose just as much danger (perhaps more) to Christians than they do to us merely secular members of society. I am not a believer, but as I mentioned I was raised as a Catholic and went to Catholic school, and I have a pretty good understanding of the history of religion, especially Christianity. What do you think of people claiming to know what powers God does or doesn’t have, or how He has or might use them, or what his motivations might be? How do modern liberal Christians (as opposed to fundamentalists) reconcile the divine word of God as documented in the Bible with such a variety of very personal beliefs and constructions of God? Didn’t Christianity get its start because Jesus and his followers, and later Paul, espoused a version of Judaism that didn’t include the hard parts – sacrifice, ritual observance, literal belief?

I don’t want to turn this into a theological dissertation, but my questions go to the heart of one of my points. If believers can adapt and mold their faith as necessary to keep it safely away from science, by interpreting the Genesis myths as metaphors, or morphing Jesus from a divine demi-human son of God into a vague notion of love, what kind of faith is that? What purpose does it serve? Even a casual reading of Egyptian, Greek, or Roman history provides plenty of examples of religion evaporating in the face of science or social progress.

What I observe is that religious people, including nominal Christians, move farther and farther from literal interpretations and embrace increasingly abstract notions of god. Literalism, which occupied educated minds for two millenia, is now the hallmark of the rube. I think believers who think themselves too enlightened to take the Bible literally should acknowledge that their belief system is not what has been understood as Christianity for the last 2,000 years.

Greg, I think that’s a gross oversimplification at best. You’re ignoring the fact that until Luther came along, Christianity was whatever the church fathers said it was. The Bible was given no more weight than the words of a pope or a saint. And prior to the mid-15th century, the majority of Christians did not even have access to the Bible, and most would have been unable to read it even if they did have access, because most were illiterate.

And you’re ignoring the syncretization that occurred between Christianity and various pagan traditions that resulted in all sorts of practices (e.g., Christmas trees, Easter bunnies, etc.) that have no scriptural basis whatsoever. You’re also ignoring various Christian mystics who emerged along the way, such Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Hildegard von Bingen, Joan of Arc, etc. And you know better, because you read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose wherein you learned about the wranglings between various holy orders that was going on as far back as a thousand years ago.

Greg Jorgensen Wrote:

I don’t question the proficiency of religious scientists, but I do believe religious beliefs interfere with the practice of science, and can influence or taint scientific work.

In this case, where you see religion, I see human nature. Whatever it is that inclines people to be religious is still at work in people who are not religious, and manifests itself in some other form.

Atheists are subject to the same human follies as everyone else.

Exactly!

OOPS! Above I listed Merton by mistake, thinking Christian mystics, but forgetting the relevant time period. My bad.

Flint Wrote:

We are talking past one another. You expressed bafflement at how any Christian could deny science and promote creationism, and I attempted to explain the required mindset as I understand it.

I understand. What I probably failed to communicate was that my bafflement is based on my understanding of the things Christianity regards as important or essential, the central tenets, such as the Nicene Creed or the Apostalic Creed or the teachings of Jesus himself. That might include the idea that God made the world, but would not (in my mind) extend to the details about how God created the world.

Greg

Other than Richard Dawkins I can’t even think of an atheist scientist, certainly no one in the same league as Darwin, Einstein, or Newton.

It’s not clear what you intended here but I’m going to state for the record that Dawkins isn’t qualified to clean the bedpans of Darwin, Einstein or Newton. Or mine, for that matter.

Flint Wrote:

There’s nothing particularly rational about most belief sets, and Christianity, everything considered, is one of the most truly bizarre ever invented.

I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said something to the effect that one of the reasons he became a Christian was that it is just queer enough to be believable. (The idea being that if it was too pat and all tied up neatly and logically it wouldn’t seem realistic.)

Greg Jorgenson Wrote:

I don’t question the proficiency of religious scientists, but I do believe religious beliefs interfere with the practice of science, and can influence or taint scientific work.

This is a widespread notion in science: that scientists should be left to do their work without outside interference from politicians, or various groups who object to their work (whether those groups are conservative Christians or animal-rights activists). In a narrow sense, this sentiment is correct: non-scientists don’t have the expertise to understand how a synchrotron works, and shouldn’t be telling scientists how to operate it. But in a larger sense, it is both contrary to the ideals our country was founded on and very dangerous to science itself. (I’ll make a brief note here that there are differences between publicly and privately funded science, though they are a matter of degree, not kind. But my remarks are primarily directed at publicly funded research.) This country was set up on the principle that the people should ultimately control the government (obviously, via elected representatives). This includes what to spend taxpayer money on. If it were the case that 80% of the country objected to sacrificing fruit flies for research, and voted for their representatives accordingly, then we would not have federally funded research that killed fruit flies, even though this is desirable scientifically. More dramatically, we don’t fund or allow certain types of research on human beings, because the population objects to it. (e.g. it would be scientifically valuable to be able to produce human disease models by injecting people with viruses, but this is morally repugnant, both to scientists and non-scientists.) In a strict political sense, it is irrelevant why the population objects - that is just the way our system operates.

The danger to science occurs if scientists get too arrogant. If, on a large enough scale, the scientific community were to say, “give us your money, and leave us alone to do what we want with it - you don’t get any say, because you’re not a scientist”, there could very well develop a backlash, regardless of the reasons expressed for rejecting oversight of the research (i.e. that the objections are rooted in religious values). Many scientists already have this attitude. It’s just that the majority of research most people don’t care about, and also there is widespread recognition that science provides many benefits. But science operates within a society - it cannot determine its values in a vacuum, and it doesn’t have the intrinsic capacity to make moral judgements about what to do and what not to do. If too large a disconnect occurs between the scientific community and the public at large, science could suffer, perhaps greatly. This is another reason, in addition to the wise words from Mrs. Tilton, why scientists need to engage the public, including Creationists.

Flint Wrote:

The problem with your suggestion is, there aren’t any scientific aspects of the debate. ID has no science on its side at all.

Quite right. Scientists who try to argue that we should “just stick to the science” are being obtuse. Any argument that touches on the outside world is by definition going to have political, philosophical, etc. aspects to it. Even many intra-scientific debates have those aspects; it’s just that in science, usually the evidence ultimately decides the question. (Though that might be too late for the person who couldn’t get a grant, and thus tenure, even though his ideas were correct.)

For those who have access, the latest issue of Nature has several articles, editorials, and letters addressing science-and-religion and science-and-politics.

www.nature.com/nature

It’s very easy for us atheists to oppose creationism. We say that religious faith is not any way to certify knowledge as reliable, science is, it points to evolution, so evolution it is.

Best I can tell, the liberal theists have to make a different argument to creationists, roughly as follows: science is reliable, and so you need to switch to a form of christianity that doesn’t assert things contrary to science, and thereby have both science and faith, like us.

I think that argument fails though, and creationists reject it, because it subverts religious beliefs to rational ones. If faith is a valid way of knowing the truth, why must it accomodate science?

The liberal religionists might win, because people don’t enjoy looking like total idiots in light of science, but i don’t see how their argument is coherent.

steve:

Why should their arguments be coherent? Again, you are judging faith by scientific standards, and finding that faith does not meet them.

Still, I think you’re onto something. Most people can’t help but internalize the notion that reality matters. Hands on hot stoves, etc. Most people also seem to have the same sort of difficulty abandoning their faith as homosexuals have trying to be straight. Both of them can fake it, but the full sincere Winston Smith conversion is pretty well beyond them.

So the only solution is to accommodate. Yeah, there’s a god, but it doesn’t DO anything. It’s all powerful, it hears our prayers, it allows us, even encourages us, to justify whatever happens as the answer to our prayers, even if the opposite happens. It makes us feel good and righteous. No explanation of anything in the real world requires it. It allows us to eat our cake until we’re about to burst, without losing any cake in the process. Now THAT is real power.

Steve you make a good point.

Although it might not be more coherent, a related approach is to argue that (1) we all spend most of our lives behaving as if science was useful (i.e., we behave rationally, learn from experience, etc), (2) therefore it’s hypocritical to select for public disparagement the scientific conclusions of those souls who earn a living by applying these everyday concepts to the study of biology.

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:1-6 RSV

Of course, I make these same sort of arguments to Christians all the time and not one has yet admitted that the first (irrefutable) point is true.

Steve,

May I recommend that you take the time to read John Polkinghorne’s “The Faith of a Physicist”, if you have not already done so? (Actually, anyone here who hasn’t read it should.) It’s a lucid account of how an accomplished physicist and Anglican priest reconciles faith and reason. He explicitly lays out the case from a “bottom-up” perspective. It’s quite different from the fundamentalist approach, and will perhaps disabuse you of the notion that religious belief is inherently irrational. It cannot be fully rationalized, of course, but most of life cannot, including science.

Sorry, got much better things to read. Currently, The Guns of August, an essay called Mother Earth Mother Board (available online), and Wednesday’s Dining In section of the NYT. All of which I highly recommend.

As for me, I’m enjoying the new Peanuts retrospectives, back when Charlie Brown was a little mofo.

Well, you’ll understand then if I don’t take your musings on religious believers’ motivations and/or intelligence seriously. You rightly excoriate people who don’t understand biology for criticizing evolution. Yet you feel no qualms about pontificating on theology, something about which you apparently know very little. There’s little wonder the evoltion-creation debates have such a high heat/light ratio. Each side seems to enjoy bashing the other more than actually learning something new.

“Yet you feel no qualms about pontificating on theology, something about which you apparently know very little. There’s little wonder the evoltion-creation (sic) debates have such a high heat/light ratio. “

Heat instead of light? You mean like you talking about what you presume I know or don’t about religion, instead of addressing the substance of what I said? To remind you, what I said was that changing a fundamentalist’s mind is essentially conversion, and I said I don’t see how an argument for conversion can be rational, and I think there’s a contradiction regarding the competing epistemologies. You didn’t address any of that here, you just said I was ignorant. There’s your heat instead of light. You have no idea what I know about religion. I’m no stranger to philosophy and theology, can discuss the Five Pillars of islam, the structural similarities between the Code of Hammurabi and the Torah, the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the value of ignorance recommended in the Lao Tzu, the various Awakenings which have gripped America, what it means that Lord Krishna picked such fundamentally different people as recipients of his knowledge, what philosophers think are huge problems in Ruse’s answer to the demarcation problem, and on and on. I have no interest anymore in reading any books promoting religion by religious people because I’ve spent too much time with justifications of myths as it is. Should I put down such a fantastic book as The Guns of August to read yet another apologetic about an invisible man in the sky? No. I’ve had enough of that. I posted #11563 to suggest that liberal religionists are using an internally problematic tool on their creationist bretheren. The heat you bring fails to change my mind. Anyway, you had bad timing. Since the purpose of creationists is to amuse me by being imaginatively retarded, most of my posts are little snarks about those things, and yet you criticise one of the rare posts in which I said something substantive. I have liked your posts in the past, and will probably like them in the future, as long as they’re not presumptuous fictions about me.

Well, I can see my comments above have helped to initiate quite a discussion. I’d like to respond to some of the questions that have been raised.

Greg Jorgensen Wrote:

How do you apply strict scientific method to evolution, biology, etc., but not to Christian beliefs?

My answer to this question has to do with the difference I see between beliefs and the scientific method. I’ll admit that belief in God may seem irrational in light of current scientific knowledge, but beliefs do not have to be rational. Beliefs are accepted based on faith, not on scientific evidence. We should be careful not to apply the scientific method to every aspect of human existence. Personally, I see tremendous harmony between what I understand about the universe through science and what I understand about the universe through my faith. But my faith is not derived from my understanding of science, nor is it the other way around.

Greg Jorgensen Wrote:

How is “I prefer to think of God … “ different from “I imagine God to be like … ?”

There really is no appreciable difference between the two phrases. This was a statment of my personal beliefs, not an attempt to establish the existence of God. This may be seen as “thinly-veiled Christian prosletyzing,” but I assure you that was not my intent. I apologize for any harm it may have done.

Personally, I take issue with Greg’s characterization of “liberal Christians:”

Greg Jorgensen Wrote:

The Christians who fancy themselves more enlightened have retreated to a safe distance, embracing a god that is either completely internalized or so abstract as to be without any meaning or relevance.

It seems quite strange to me for an atheist to call anyone’s personal conception of God “abstract” and “without any meaning or relevance.” How could one know there is no meaning or relevance for those who choose to believe? Wouldn’t most atheists say there is no meaning or relevance in anyone’s personal conception of the nature of God?

I remember Greg saying that Mrs Tilton had a valid reason for adding a Christian perspective in support of evolution when she said:

Mrs Tilton Wrote:

Advocates of creationist ‘science’ ‘education’ try to scare religious people by claiming that evolution is irreconcilable with Christian belief. Because religious belief is usually pretty important to religious people, this can be a successful tactic. As it happens, though, the creationist claim is false. Hence it’s important that others who share these religious beliefs speak up to assert that the creationists’ theological claims are as false as their scientific claims. And if while doing so they can persuasively argue that understanding nature as it is and not as Phillip Johnson would like it to be deepens rather than threatens their faith, so much the better.

Unfortunately, the above statements about us “more enlightened Christians” and our “abstract” and “internalized” God lend support to the creationist notion that evolution is irreconcilable with Christian belief. Evolution certainly is irreconcilable with some particular beliefs held by certain Christians, but not ALL beliefs held by ALL Christians. The term “liberal Christian” is a much more attractive moniker to me than “fundamentalist Christian,” but that doesn’t mean that I have given up all meaning or relevance in developing my personal conception of the nature of God. I’ve just chosen not to base my beliefs on disprovable scientific evidence, or, in Greg’s words, to make my conception of God “safe from science.”

This leads me to explain why I “added my name to the list” in the first place. It was not an attempt to proselytize. Rather, it was an attempt to provide evidence of a believer who thinks that reconciliation is possible. Whether we like it or not, this struggle is a political one, and politicians are elected by the people. Creationists and IDists are trying to force believers to make a choice between science and God, and, of course, the vast majority of Chritians will choose God. I think it is important for everyone to hear that this forced choice is not only unnecessary, but it is ultimately dangerous to religious faith.

Flint Wrote:

But my understanding is that one cannot be Christian unless one accepts that the Bible is the word of the Christian God, who told His people the plain truth.

I totally agree with the first part of your statement. This is one of the foundational tenets of the Christian faith.

However, I’m not so sure that we should view the Bible as the “plain truth.” As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God written in the imperfect language of human beings. The Bible uses non-literal metaphors and allegories to reveal God’s ways because human language and experience could never fully convey them. Therefore, interpretation is often required. This, I believe, is an unavoidable truth that all Christians must acknowledge.

Fortunately, I also believe that the Bible is not the only book we have about God. The “Book of Nature” also provides us with clues. Of course, I’m not talking about fingerprints of an intelligent designer. These clues are not proof of God’s existence, as many IDists might argue. Instead, they are characteristics of the physical universe that seem to be consistent with a particular view of the nature of God.

Of course the “Book of Nature” is also open to interpretation. After all, the evidence does not interpret itself. Many non-believers would say that the scientific evidence seems to suggest that God does not exist. But I think this is because the traditional conception of God is based solely on the imperfect human language used to describe Him in the Bible. In a general sense, nonbelievers are siding with the creationists when they make such claims.

The creationist’s forced choice between science and God often leads people to reject science, but it can also lead people to reject God. In the end, ID and Creationism turn out to be the best friends athiests ever had.

Steve Wrote:

To remind you, what I said was that changing a fundamentalist’s mind is essentially conversion, and I said I don’t see how an argument for conversion can be rational, and I think there’s a contradiction regarding the competing epistemologies. You didn’t address any of that here, you just said I was ignorant.

Your whole argument depends upon the assumption that believing in the Bible is irrational. That the choice is between the literal interpretation that conflicts with everyday observation, and a ‘liberal’ interpretation, which apparently has no meaning aside from abstract thoughts inside the believers head (aka an interpretation that is unthreatening to the atheist).

In the limited context of a blog post, I tried to make the point that there are other options, which include taking both the Bible and science seriously. Either you know about such traditions but are ignoring them to score a cheap rhetorical point, or you’re ignorant of them. Either way, I don’t see why I should take your argument seriously. Reading all the religious texts in the world doesn’t do any good if you’re going to distort and belittle the beliefs and intellectual traditions of the associated religions.

Steve wrote “I think there’s a contradiction regarding the competing epistemologies”

And why shouldn’t people contradict themselves, indeed? Anyone who can’t has got to have more than a bit of a fundamentalist about them.

Faith-based beliefs, whether compatible with reason or not, are by definition not founded on reason. The liberal theist who wants to fix the evolution-deniers has the task of converting fundamentalists from one faith-based belief to another faith-based belief more compatible with science. What I was pointing out is that trying to use a rational argument to do that is inherently problematic.

Your insults have not harmed my position. I’m not going to listen to you any longer, because your posts on this lack merit.

This appeared in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. It’s an interesting read, but not what I would regard as a sign of progress:

Why isn’t Phillip Johnson celebrating?

Followers of the battles over evolution know Johnson, an emeritus law professor at UC Berkeley, as an intellectual godfather of intelligent design. The movement, whose advocates dismiss Darwinism in favor of a guiding intelligence behind the complexity of life, seems to have won a landmark victory. In an apparent national first, the school board in the small town of Dover, Penn., mandated in October that intelligent design be taught in the classroom.

To read online: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/artic[…]92A899T1.DTL

Johnson, in the linked article:

A huge percentage of the American public is skeptical of [evolution]. This is a problem that education ought to address.

Quite. Just not in the way Johnson would prefer.

What Johnson really means is that a huge % of Americans are incredulous about evolution. I blindly accepted a caricature of evolution for 30 years. Only when I began to understand it as science defines it in the late ’90s did I become skeptical of it. Of course I accepted it anyway and still do. As with “theory,” anti-evolutionists exploit the difference between the common definition of “skeptical” and the scientific one.

Interesting read, this thread. But I think a couple of significant points have been missed. First, it doesn’t matter to science proper (in the service of humanity) what individual scientists or the general public believe about ultimate or final causes. Science is a methodology for examination and quantification of natural phenomena. An entirely FAPP enterprise that by rights has nothing legitimately scientific to say about ultimate or final causes.

Second, because science is not chartered to establish or investigate ultimate or final causation, it set itself up for the current challenges by trying to claim the power to judge beliefs about these things by its own limited standards.

True, the worst offenders are really ideologists doing what ideologists of all stripes have always done - draping themselves in some purportedly “authoritarian” mantle to give their ideological opinions more objective weight than they deserve. But science is the authority of our age, sociologically speaking.

I would contend that it doesn’t really matter what anyone believes about how the world came to be. One could as easily assert that “real” scientists convert the loudmouth metaphysical materialists in the ranks from their faith-based belief to an acknowledgement of the ideologically neutral position of science itself.

The moment all the corruption of anti-theistic ideology is rejected by scientists and science teachers, the “controversy” disappears. The perennial theistic arguments can then meet as ideological equals in another class - sociology for example. Biology can be taught like science - provisional “best guess” theoretical framework(s) describing physical phenomena, supported and/or challenged by evidence in the real world. Faith in the accuracy of theoretical framework(s) is not a requirement - or shouldn’t be if it’s really science and not religion. “Faith” being by definition not founded on reason, and all.

Students will continue to do what students have always done - accept or reject, on their own bases of judgment. So long as they pass the test, they pass the course. What they do with it after that is their own business.

Joy B

“Faith” being by definition not founded on reason, and all.

While I agree entirely, in my miserable experience the statement in quotes is, shockingly, among the most controversial of all propositions which form the penumbra of this debate.

I think it’s more accurate to say faith is not dependent on empirical evidence (“faith is hope in things unseen”), which is something different from reason. Math is not dependent upon empirical evidence, either, but it is rational.

The reason that statement is controversial, GWW, is that most people don’t claim that their faith can be completely justified by rational arguments, but they usually claim that there are rational arguments in support of it (of course some people don’t care about rational arguments one way or the other). I guess it depends upon what one means by ‘founded’. Adjudicating such questions depends upon the particular faith claim being examined.

Joy B: But science is the authority of our age, sociologically speaking.

I suspect that’s the heart of the controversy right there. “Soft” creationists (most IDers included) might rightly object to the role of Science as Arbiter of Everything. Instead, what they do is essentially concede the point then - dishonestly, delusionally or otherwise - claim that Science supports their mythology.

Is “Science [the] Arbiter of Everything”?

Is “Science [the] Arbiter of Everything”?

Of course not. It’s the Arbiter of Nearly Everything. But the average creationist-peddling fundie (ACPF) can’t admit that his deity is irrelevant to anything. So the strawman in the quote gets set up, then the ACPF knocks it down by showing that science can’t tell us whether it’s morally wrong to thaw frozen embryos.

most people don’t claim that their faith can be completely justified by rational arguments, but they usually claim that there are rational arguments in support of it

I can understand why people believe in supernatural stuff like deities and resurrections. It makes them feel good to do it. Even atheists can appreciate how nice it must be to have a supernatural being looking over your shoulder all the time and maybe even granting your wishes occasionally.

But rationalizing the existence of a faith-based belief isn’t the same as arguing, e.g., that my faith in an invisible omnipotent deity is evidence-based, just as my belief that George Washington had wooden teeth is evidence-based. That’s nonsense. And it’s typical nonsense that gets recited by ACPFs nearly everytime the subject comes up. Why do I say that it’s nonsense? Because ““Faith”, by definition, is not founded on reason. Moreover, the ACPFs main dude is quite explicit about the benefits of not looking for such evidence. Again, no suprise that ACPFs ignore that fact when disparaging scientists.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on December 6, 2004 10:18 PM.

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