Volokh on creationism

| 29 Comments

Eugene Volokh has an interesting post here on creationism and what ID proponents are pleased to call "naturalism."

29 Comments

Eric Muller at Is Theat Legal? has something to say about a follow-up post Volokh has made. He disputes Volokh’s premise that holocaust deniers are disliked because of the motives of their denial. Motives are irrelevant, both for the holocaust deniers and the evolution deniers. Even if the Divine Designists were trying to bring about something worthy by lying to schoolchildren about the state of modern biology, they’d still be lying.

It’s the willful disconnect from shared objective reality that’s despicable, regardless of motives.

I agree with Matt in general, but I do think motives play a role and cannot be discounted. For instance, the IDers all claim that their objections to evolution aren’t religiously based, but when you read their own literature, they more or less admit it openly when addressing the choir. Dembski, in one of his books, stated outright that any view of science that omitted Christ should be considered deficient. So to point out that the IDers, despite their spin, ARE working from religious and not scientific motives is a valid criticism.

The truth is that, ultimately, the IDers (even the ones with Ph.D’s that they DIDN’T get from degree mills) don’t really care about science at all. What they want is a world in which Christianity is never called into question for any reason. As evolution directly challenges Chapter 1 of Genesis, it’s got a big bullseye painted on it. That’s the only reason why.

Shermer was commenting on the responses to a poll. Volokh seems to have misread that Shermer either constructed those questions, or is endorsing one of the answers. But I think the problem lies in the way the poll was constructed. The heirarchy I see is:

1) Evolution didn’t happen. It all happened in a week of pure magic, or by some process non-evolutionary at some point. 2) Evolution did happen, and continues to happen.

Now in the second category, we have three general stances: 2A) Evolution happens, and God guides it 2B) Evolution happens and there are no gods 2C) Evolution happens, and god issues are not addressed by theory or observation.

Now, it strikes me that all but 2C are religious positions, or religious positions layered over science. Evolution is an active threat only to position 1). Theistic evolutionists are comfortable with 2A, atheistic evolutionists are comfortable with 2B, and both of these groups in practice follow 2C (which is why no mention of gods can be found anywhere in the literature).

Like PZ Meyers, I find Eugene Volokh’s argument confusing. Why not just say that no scientific theory will ever state “God had no part in this process” and work from there?

The message that needs to be told to those sympathetic to creationist arguments is this: Science has nothing to say about the supernatural. If someone wants to investigate the possiblity of the natural being influenced by the supernatural (eg a rock was moved by telekinesis), science at best can only offer a natural explanation instead (eg the evidence indicates that the rock was moved by gravity).

Interject the supernatural into science and you no longer have science. Claim that science has something to say about the supernatural and you’re not talking about science.

Not a bad article. One thing he neglects to take into account is the fact that the people who claim most adamantly that evolution and belief in God cannot be reconciled are the creationists. It’s not as if scientists could expect creationism to go away if only they’d be more careful about avoiding talk of God. That might be helpful, but it wouldn’t fundamentally change anything.

The ID movement’s beef is not so much that one can’t believe in God and evolution at the same time. You can make the point over and over that the two aren’t mutually exclusive, and they won’t care. Their problem is that one can believe in evolution and not believe in God. As long as it’s possible to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist” (to use Dawkins’ infamous term), even if the evidence doesn’t compel it, they’ve got a problem. They cannot accept God-belief as a matter of faith, because then people can choose not to believe. Instead, it must be a matter of fact. This is what their “cultural renewal” program is based upon.

Now in the second category, we have three general stances: 2A) Evolution happens, and God guides it 2B) Evolution happens and there are no gods 2C) Evolution happens, and god issues are not addressed by theory or observation.

Now, it strikes me that all but 2C are religious positions, or religious positions layered over science. Evolution is an active threat only to position 1). Theistic evolutionists are comfortable with 2A, atheistic evolutionists are comfortable with 2B, and both of these groups in practice follow 2C (which is why no mention of gods can be found anywhere in the literature).

The problem is that 2C never seems to get addressed in polls, so people reading about the polls and people answering the polls are given the false impression that science does take religious sides.

Steve Reuland -

“They cannot accept God-belief as a matter of faith, because then people can choose not to believe. Instead, it must be a matter of fact. This is what their “cultural renewal” program is based upon.”

What an elegant statement of exactly what is going on in the minds of creationists. And this is one of the reasons why, at its very roots, creationism is an un-Christian, even anti-Christian movement, and also, a would-be authoritarian one. Even the Old Testament argues vigorously against arrogantly demanding personal physical proof of God’s existence.

This came up when I answered a creationist who claimed evolution was “atheistic” in some thread here a few weeks ago. I made the standard point that the theory of evolution is no more atheistic than any other scientific theory, or the rules of baseball for that matter. It explains physical events without making extraneous reference to God.

His reply was derisive, but had nothing to do with evolution. He couldn’t believe I would argue that evolution made belief in God “unecessary”! To him, atheism didn’t mean denying the existence of God - it meant implying that faith was required to believe in God at all!

I was taken aback at first. Since when has Christianity ever not been about faith? How could belief in God ever be “necessary” (putting aside Calvinistic subtlties that some may be predestined to faith, or whatever)? It’s clear that he didn’t mean it in the sense that God is “necessary” for spiritual fulfillment or a good life (since evolution could not possibly be related to that argument), but that God should be perceived as a necessary explanation for scientific phenomenae.

This was his mindset, and the implications are incredibly sinister and cynical. Belief in his particular God required that God be “necessary” (and by implication, he would support “making it necessary” to express such belief). Anything that even makes his version of God not “necessary” to explain some physical event must be censored or denied, EVEN If IT IS TRUE, in order to force people to believe that God is “necessary”. So in addition to God’s demand for faith being denied, God’s requirement of honesty is denied as well.

Also implicit is the idea that his own belief in God rests on perception of concrete proof, and that his own religion, and any moral inhibitions it may place upon him (however few that often seems to be with creationists) might be abandoned should he himself ever conclude that God isn’t “necessary” for some arbitrarily chosen physical event. Or even that this has already happened, but that he seeks to suppress science in order to falsely keep others accepting God as “necessary”.

And in retrospect, this is actually a common refrain of many creationists, and the essence of what much of the Kansas testimony is hinting at.

Albion:

The issue might be even simpler: The poll simply didn’t allow that answer as an option. You got three choices: 1) God did it by supernatural magic 2) God guides a natural process 3) God played no role in the process

I think this poll construction illustrates the Great American Blind Spot: neutrality to a god assumed to be real by 90% of the population doesn’t cross the pollsters’ minds. God did this, god did that, or god did NOT do this or that. But god pervades the thought processes. The relevant question to the pollsters as well as their subjects is: What role does God play in evolution? That god is the measure of all things, is so obvious no other way to frame the issues occurs to them.

Sometimes I think I’d like to watch one of our modern-day Believers transported to ancient Greece, and get involved in an argument about WHICH god was responsible for whatever.

“Which god controls the weather?” “No no no. There is only one God, the almighty God of the Bible (to be written Real Soon Now).” “OK, which god IS that one god? Is it the weather god? The god of the sea? Which one?” “You don’t understand. God is God. He is all-powerful. No other gods exist.” “But then how do you explain the arguments between the gods, if there is only one?”

Monty Python could probably do a much better job depicting this clash of competing but equally arbitrary sets of beliefs.

Steve Reuland’s comment is closely related to the basic method of ID - inferring that the Designer did it via an eliminative argument - eliminating the ‘don’t know’ option.

Monty Python could probably do a much better job

Maybe along the lines of:

Let me get this straight. This “one God” is the god of war and love? Fire and sea? He’s male but is also the godess of fertility? Bloke must be a raving lune…

Flint Wrote:

Sometimes I think I’d like to watch one of our modern-day Believers transported to ancient Greece, and get involved in an argument about WHICH god was responsible for whatever.

Or you could just read Ephesians or Corinthians.

Perhaps Flint has a policy against using anonymous sources.

Hilarity. Read.

http://www.venganza.org/

All hail the Giant Spaghetti Monster.

Flint Wrote:

“Which god controls the weather?” “No no no. There is only one God, the almighty God of the Bible (to be written Real Soon Now).” “OK, which god IS that one god? Is it the weather god? The god of the sea? Which one?” “You don’t understand. God is God. He is all-powerful. No other gods exist.” “But then how do you explain the arguments between the gods, if there is only one?”

The funny thing is that Genesis has several passages that seem to indicate that there is more than one God - but THE God is the top God. Others argue differently. For instance, correct me if necessary, but I think that in the early part of Genesis there are passages like “Let US make man in OUR image” etc. in some translations. I think Christians interpret this along the lines of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost)

For instance, correct me if necessary, but I think that in the early part of Genesis there are passages like “Let US make man in OUR image” etc. in some translations. I think Christians interpret this along the lines of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost)

But there are places in the bible where Yahweh acutally speaks of other gods specifically and where the idea of the Trinity just can’t explain the passage.

Ex.12:12 “And against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment.”

Ex.15:11 “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods?”

Ex.18:11 “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods.”

Ex.23:24 “Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.”

Idea of God certainly seems to, um, evolve as you read through the Bible. The moloch wanabee in Exodus who kills all the first-born children just because he’s cross with Pharaoh is barely recognisable in Jesus who seems remarkably well disposed towards children. Perhaps the old god became Herod instead. All very confusing.

I made the standard point that the theory of evolution is no more atheistic than any other scientific theory, or the rules of baseball for that matter.

Arggghhh!!!! *Another* of my catchphrases stolen.

;>

For instance, correct me if necessary, but I think that in the early part of Genesis there are passages like “Let US make man in OUR image” etc. in some translations. I think Christians interpret this along the lines of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost)

The problem with that excuse, of course, is that (1) Genesis was written by Jews who did not accept any Trinity, (2) the Trinity doctrine itself was not accepted as Christian canon until several centuries after Christ was already dead and the New Testament was already written (and even then was not accepted by many denominations, and *still* isn’t by some), and (3) there are also places where God specifically refers to itself as “I”, thus raising the question whether God was too dumb to know whether it was a “he” or a “we”.

For some odd reason, the fundies get all upset with me when I ask them about this . … …

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I think it’s important to recognize that motives aligned with one’s own don’t make the lies justified thereby any more acceptable. I’m sympathetic (sort of, in a broad and abstract way) with some of the goals and motives claimed by the postmodernist left of the 1990s. But they needed to be taken down hard for their abuse of science. We had to win the “science wars” (their term), and it’s a good thing we did (thank you Paul Gross and Alan Sokal!)

(Actually, to be honest, I’m not really sympathetic to any of the goals of the 1990s postmodernist left. But I find them more innocuous than those of today’s Christian right and the Divine Designists. Perhaps because they are now completely irrelevant.)

Sometimes the theological/exegetical discourse here on PT is as infantile as the biology discourse on AiG.

The plural form for God in the OT: simple: it’s the Royal “we”.

Here’s my take on the “watchmaker’s paradox”: OK, you’re walking around in the desert, and you see a watch. Fine, you can assume it was put together by a human.

Later you see an oasis. Do you ask, “Gee, I wonder who built that?”?

And on complex things coming about under their own power: consider snowflakes. Quadrillions of them, all perfectly symmetrical, all quite complex, and as far as we know, no two alike. Gee, I wonder who made those.

That wouldn’t be the first time the ‘royal we’ has been employed to exit a boo-boo.

DUDE C’mon man, who’re you gonna believe? Those guys are–we dropped off the damn money–

LEBOWSKI WHAT?!

DUDE I–the royal we, you know, the editorial–I dropped off the money, exactly as per–Look, I’ve got certain information, certain things have come to light, and uh, has it ever occurred to you, man, that given the nature of all this new shit, that, uh, instead of running around blaming me, that this whole thing might just be, not, you know, not just such a simple, but uh–you know?

LEBOWSKI What in God’s holy name are you blathering about?

DUDE I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about! I got information, man–new shit has come to light, man. Shit.

Here’s my take on the “watchmaker’s paradox”: OK, you’re walking around in the desert, and you see a watch. Fine, you can assume it was put together by a human.

The watchmaker’s paradox has always been a refutation of ID, but they don’t understand. To wit: if you can distinguish the watch from nature because it was designed, then nature wasn’t designed. If nature was designed, simple designedness isn’t causing the distinction.

IDers would then alter their argument to say, well, the watch is distinct because it was designed by fallible, mortal, relatively unintelligent creatures. But this is a wholly different argument, and the given formulations of ID are ruined. Well, extra-ruined, I guess. To continue, they’d have to switch to saying their methods can distinguish degrees of design. Since in two decades they have failed to create a basic theory of ID, you’d have to be mentally handicapped to expect that they can create this more nuanced version of ID.

Mike S commented:

“Sometimes the theological/exegetical discourse here on PT is as infantile as the biology discourse on AiG.”

But isn’t theological/exegetical discourse supposed to be infantile? See for example Matthew 18:3. A bit tough on those who have put away childish things, but that’s what the man said.

Sometimes the theological/exegetical discourse here on PT is as infantile as the biology discourse on AiG.

Indeed, it MUST be infantile, since literally no one knows anything about it.

The watchmaker’s paradox is interesting. I’d never heard of it before, and I’ll have to think further about it.

Tentatively I’d say that it poses a false dilemma: our only choices are to believe that God designs each and every phenomenon specially, so that design can be perceived in or inferred from each and every phenomenon, or the perception or inference of design is not possible (or warranted) at all. Thus, it ignores views like those expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter V, paragraph ii:

Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

Long before Darwinism was on the radar screen, Christians (and probably Jews and Muslims) maintained that God acts through second causes (including natural laws). This is not some notion that came along with intelligent design or Alvin Plantinga.

It seems to me that the watchmaker’s dilemma fails as a refutation of design because it has no force against what I take to be the orthodox Christian view of God’s activity in his creation. The only way one could rescue it, it seems to me, would be to show that the view of God acting both directly and through second causes is incoherent or untenable, thus forcing the theist back onto the horns.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

The ID movement’s beef is not so much that one can’t believe in God and evolution at the same time. You can make the point over and over that the two aren’t mutually exclusive, and they won’t care. Their problem is that one can believe in evolution and not believe in God. As long as it’s possible to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist” (to use Dawkins’ infamous term), even if the evidence doesn’t compel it, they’ve got a problem. They cannot accept God-belief as a matter of faith, because then people can choose not to believe. Instead, it must be a matter of fact. This is what their “cultural renewal” program is based upon.

An excellent point, Steve. I’ve often been amuzed/furious at the irony of the religious right being so patently non-Christian. I mean, if Jesus were around today, and supposing he gave a damn about the sick, the poor, the oppressed, etc., there’s no way he would be able to stomach their crap.

But, as you point out, they vehemently oppose the freedom to accept/decline god. My understanding is that that was the entire point of the whole Free Will debate – christians could not accept a world in which man did not have free will, because it is essential that man choose god. (You know, like they did in the New World…)

I guess you can have any color you like, as long as its black…

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on June 16, 2005 6:40 PM.

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