John Mark Reynolds on how to rationalize reality-denial

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Today, we have part 3 of John Mark Reynold’s four six-part exercise in rationalizing institutionalized ignorance of geology, aka young-earth creationism. See previous discussion of part 1 and part 2. The really fascinating thing about Reynolds is how he can contradict his own professed high principles within seconds of stating them. For example:

The question is: “What is true?”, not what fits my preconceived philosophy of science or theology.

Way to go, great sentiment. Clearly, then, we should look at the physical evidence and conclude that the earth is not young and the global flood of Noah did not happen – oh, wait:

I think this [abandoning young-earth creationism] is a mistake, not merely because of theological problems it creates, but because it shuts off interesting questions, and leads to some serious philosophical problems. […] The best advice I ever received on this issue as a student was from an agnostic professor who said to always stay calm, listen, follow the arguments where they led, and not to try to solve a physical problem at too high a metaphysical cost.

In other words, we are justified in ignoring the obvious, hard data right in front of us – data that has convinced all but the strictest fundamentalist Biblical literalists, many of them good conservative Christians without any commitment to “naturalism”, and convinced against their initial convictions – because of “philosophical problems” and “metaphysical cost.” Oh, but remember that the question is about truth, “not what fits my preconceived philosophy of science or theology”? Hypocrisy, thy name is John Mark Reynolds.

Another example: by privileging his metaphysical preconceptions over massive empirical observations, Reynolds has clearly adopted something essentially the same as postmodern relativism. But, as a conservative, Reynolds doesn’t like postmodernism, so he tries to talk his way out of it:

This is not a post-modern approach, but a classical handling of the complexities of reality. It is (if anything) philosophically pre-modern (Plato and Aquinas), not post-modern! Some post-moderns have seen the “dead end” of scientism, but they have gone too far in denying that truth exists altogether and in some of their criticisms of science.

Yes, being a truth-denying postmodern is bad – it’s far better to be a truth-denying pre-modern like Reynolds! (And being a truth-denier is exactly what Reynolds will be as long as he ignores the crushing, crashingly obvious evidence that the earth is old.)

Reynolds, having criticized evangelicals for their naive Baconianism (“no theories, just the facts, m’am”) in a previous post, slips right back into it in this one:

The argument is not about data, but how to interpret the data.

Straight naive Baconianism right there. Ken Ham couldn’t say it any better himself. Reynolds continues with more hypocritical high-minded rhetoric about truth, which he clearly doesn’t actually take seriously himself:

Theology and science progress from data to better interpretations of that data (from the Incarnation to the doctrine of the Trinity, from data about the heavens to theories of modern cosmology).

…theories of modern cosmology which Reynolds shamelessly denies…

Both reject errors along the way after argument …

…except for Reynolds, who perpetuates the egregious error of young-earth creationism and has probably misled thousands of readers and students into mistakenly thinking it is a reasonable point of view.

while the two knowledge traditions are not just the same, both share the commitment to rationality and truth-finding that marks any positive field of human study.

…except for Reynolds, who will happily deny the empirical truth if it causes problems for his philosophy and theology.

Reynolds then launches into a pseudo-history of evolution, which among other egregious sins ignores the role that geology and the Christian invention of methodological naturalism played in the development of evolution. Reynolds tries to turn “Lord Wallace” (he means Alfred Russel Wallace, who was never a Lord) into an embarrassing “occult” evolutionists that scientists don’t talk about today, instead of the reality, which is that Wallace is highly respected today for his contributions to biogeography, conservation, and other fields, despite a few bits of spiritualist weirdness which no one takes seriously anymore. No one except the Discovery Institute, that is, which has repeatedly cited Wallace’s spiritualism favorably as a precursor to ID.

25 Comments

I’m going to have to ask that the title of this article be changed immediately. Rationalization implies that some rational process is going on, and there simply isn’t anything rational in Reynolds’ line of whatever it is as which it does qualify.

Perhaps it could be changed to, “Reynolds on How to Enthusiastically Ignore Evidence in Favor of an Invisible Friend in the Sky.”

Or maybe someone could come up with something better. Titles aren’t my strong point.

Boy, it’s easy to distort, isn’t it?

When Reynolds says, “I think this is a mistake,” the immediate prior thought had to do with accepting theistic evolution, not rejecting young-earth creationism. He’s a YEC, but he absolutely was not saying it’s the only option someone should consider. He’s not nearly as dogmatic about origins as, say, Nick Matzke is. But he is a lot more thoughtful than these out-of-context snippets suggest.

The more you fight a distorted version of what other people believe, the more you’re just boxing the air. The more you conduct your arguments this way, the more you sound like middle-schoolers: “Nyaah, nyaah, you’re so stoooopid!”

Tom, “Dogma” means either

a religious doctrine that is proclaimed as true without proof

or

a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative; “he believed all the Marxist dogma”

YEC is clearly a dogma of the first kind, and the Theory of Evolution is, to the extent that the term isn’t just being tossed about for effect, a dogma of the second kind.

So, as for ‘degrees of dogmatism,’ I’d have to say that adherents of the first kind of dogma are “more dogmatic,” by definition, since that “without proof” bit is kinda central to what your average modern individual means by the term.

Or, do you feel that YEC and Evolutionary Theory are on a level, in terms of evidentiary support?

Either way, it’s a joke to act as if one came to YEC via an open-minded examination of the facts.

FWIW, here is the full passage, some of which Nick [paraphrased] above. Judge for yourself.

The good news for any thoughtful Christian is that he or she has many options in approaching reality. She can take an intellectual risk and (for sound theological and philosophical reasons) explore the possibilities of young-earth creationism or take the mainstream scientific approach of old-earth creationism with its theological and metaphysical difficulties. She need not believe in any particular miracle or divine “intervention” but can be open to following the evidence where it leads. It is an intellectually bracing and honest approach.

Of course, she could also discover that God has chosen not to intervene in the area of biology and accept some form of theistic evolution as most member of my own church do.

I think this is a mistake, not merely because of theological problems it creates, but because it shuts off interesting questions, and leads to some serious philosophical problems. As you read and think about these issues (and I address this to my blog reader), try to see who is most openly following all the evidence (taking into account all of reality: physical and metaphysical) and not locking some questions away.

He’s clearly lumping together the various avenues one could take away from YEC, and labeling that “a mistake.”

Theistic evolution is something you can take away from YEC??? Please, now.

As to who is more dogmatic, isn’t there something to be said for whether a person is willing to entertain more than one thought in his brain at a time?

Yeah, Reynolds is clearly talking about YEC vs. non-YEC. Even old-earth creationism goes too far for Reynolds. If it didn’t, he would be an old-earth creationist.

Nick

He’s clearly lumping together the various avenues one could take away from YEC, and labeling that “a mistake.”

Theistic evolution is something you can take away from YEC??? Please, now.

“Away” is being used as a direction, Tom. As in moving away from a YEC position.

I love the phrase “many options in approaching reality.” He might as well say, “Reality, you can take it or leave it!”

As to who is more dogmatic, isn’t there something to be said for whether a person is willing to entertain more than one thought in his brain at a time?

Is it dogmatic to say the earth is round, not flat, and that flat-earthers are deluded fools?

Reynolds said:

… try to see who is most openly following all the evidence (taking into account all of reality: physical and metaphysical).

Which is of course making the mistake of assuming there is a metaphysical reality one needs to account for. Amazingly, all the metaphysical “problems” he struggles with can be solved by simply dropping the assumption that the metaphysical exists.

I believe what Reynolds is doing is technically termed “trying like hell to rescue a failed hypothesis.”

I am deeply indebted to Reynolds.

This is not a post-modern approach, but a classical handling of the complexities of reality. It is (if anything) philosophically pre-modern (Plato and Aquinas), not post-modern!

I’m gonna use that from now on whenever a religious type (or other cultural conservative) objects to the introduction of complexities into a discussion, be they moral, ethical, philosophical or geopolitical.

Whoowhee! my complexities are holier than thy complexities. That’s pure gold.

The argument is not about data, but how to interpret the data.

We wouldn’t even have the data if we used your “interpretation,” Reynolds. That’s one of the virtues of having a theory consistent with human sensory and thinking processes, it leads to data, as well as making sense of the data on hand prior to theory.

It should be understood what phrases like “it’s all interpretation” mean in non-loony philosophy. Of course evolutionary theory is “just interpretation,” however it is honest interpretation based upon the agreement possible among communicating humans. Yes, we don’t say that unquestionably we are “right” or even necessarily “consistent” in our interpretation ‘with the world’ (though in practical matters we’d agree with the latter), what we do say is that unprejudiced minds are able to agree on a small subset of theories (or even just one) while discarding the others as inconsistent with our concepts of “shared reality”.

What some post-moderns did was to claim that science fails along with all prejudices about what “truth is”. Much post-modernism is a reaction to the biased mindset of Reynolds and the IDists, and it often does well in those criticisms (even some that deny the soundness of science). Where these types go wrong is in not recognizing the cognitive and psychological framework within which “ordinary truth” can be and is agreed upon, at least for the sake of human interaction. And really, I don’t think that many current post-moderns do go that far any more.

All that Reynolds can do is to assert the same prejudiced view against which the legal system, science, and philosophy (some goofy, some not) have been fighting during the modern era. It’s not surprising, for he has no credible justification for it, he simply must assert “Truth” as having some prior hold over the “truths” that we recognize in science. The only reason these original prejudices failed is that they never led us to any better data or better interpretations of data.

Science has given us both, and it’s absurd to claim that we’re only disagreeing about “interpretation” when only evolution was even capable of leading to much of the data that we have.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Pfffffffffffff. Reminds me of a local politician. I wondered how he could get his foot in his mouth while his head is so far up his colon. Maybe the foot came first…

In part 1 of this thread, I expressed my skepticism that Reynolds was a young-earth creationist. I hereby retract that post. I blame Reynolds, however, because his reasoning is so wishy-washy and full of weasel-words that it’s hard to tell what he believes. I was convinced that perhaps he had made some progress since he co-authored “Three Views…”. Part III, however, seems to clinch the argument that I was wrong.

It’s a shame, as well, that he doesn’t elaborate more on the “theological and metaphysical difficulties” with old-earth creationism and on why theistic evolution is a “mistake”. I’m much more interested in that than in a lecture on Platonism and the evils of Darwinist secularism.

Maybe it’s just as well, though. He doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on what theistic evolution is (perhaps because there is no one definition). TE (at least for some) is not “that God has chosen not to intervene in the area of biology”, but rather the notion that if God intervenes in biology he does so in a way that is not detectable by science. Thus, of course, TE is not a scientific theory, but a construct for bridging science and religion.

jkc Wrote:

In part 1 of this thread, I expressed my skepticism that Reynolds was a young-earth creationist. I hereby retract that post. I blame Reynolds, however, because his reasoning is so wishy-washy and full of weasel-words that it’s hard to tell what he believes.

I always say that it is impossible to know what one believes in private, especially when one knowingly and willingly uses weasel words, and contantly spins his way out of rebuttals. But Reynolds is doing just what one expects of someone who privately accepts evolution (not just an old Earth and common descent), yet has an agenda that precludes admitting it.

If he honestly thought that the Earth is young and species don’t share common ancestors, he’d jump at the chance to challenge the DI’s own Michael Behe first. And Behe would jump at the chance to debate Reynolds. That’s the least they could do to get scientific credibility. But after Dover they are less interested in scientific credibility than ever. It’s all a game, and they know that their biggest fans are YECs. Even William Dembski, who unequivocally admitted an old Earth (& hints at accepting common descent “between the lines”), made it clear that his political sympathy lies squarely with YEC.

Wow, Reynolds is pretty ridiculous.

Off topic, but in case Nick hasn’t heard, his request for brimstone has been made public.

And jolly good it is too.

Bob

Nick wrote: I love the phrase “many options in approaching reality.” He might as well say, “Reality, you can take it or leave it!”

Indeed. Mike Behe said pretty much the same thing in his response to a letter by a YEC geologist in First Things:

I appreciate Jackie Lee’s and Carmen Catanese’s letters, which together help to illustrate the breadth of freedom available to a Christian interpreting the physical evidence of nature.

According to Behe and Reynolds, being a Christian means you can make up your own reality! I discussed that letter on PT a while ago.

Hey cool, I didn’t know the TREE thing was out. Will blog it at some point.

I only just now realized John Mark Reynolds’ essay series has SIX parts, not four, I guess I was being dyslexic with the Roman numerals. Yet more fun. Here is part 4 from JMR.

Frank J Wrote:

If he honestly thought that the Earth is young and species don’t share common ancestors, he’d jump at the chance to challenge the DI’s own Michael Behe first.

Actually, Behe leans towards an old earth and common descent, as well (see page 5 of Darwin’s Black Box).

In any case, it’s not surprising that there’s so much equivocation when there’s such a big tent to embrace. It just makes it hard to deal with because you’re always trying to hit a moving target and you spend half of the time just defining terms.

I am sure you all saw it but here it is anyway : If we see order or complexity in nature, then some infer intelligent design that is : an intelligent designer made it. If that conclusion proceeds from logic, we must infer that the intelligent designer himself (who is ordered and complex, I suppose) needs an intelligent designer and then, we get into an infinite sequence of intelligent designers. The only way to stop that sequence seems to me to postulate a first intelligent designer. But that postulate is not from logic but from faith (we are not in the realm of science anymore). That postulate has to be made at the beginning, as soon as we leave (how?) the natural world. Surely the IDists are well aware of that simplistic reasoning. Well, may be it is just that simplistic.

Another thing : We only need the relations among the sides of a right triangle to calculate the distance of sn1987a. Given the datas from Hubble, given that the relations of the triangle are mathematically proven, can we say that it proves that sn1987a is close to 168 000 light years from us (an inverse parallax?). Can someone tell me how the yecs escape this one ? If they cannot escape that, then they must draw the conclusion that men are at least 168 000 years old since there literal interpretation of genesis leads them to say that men and universe have an age differing by at most 6 days.

Lomer B Wrote:

Given the datas from Hubble, given that the relations of the triangle are mathematically proven, can we say that it proves that sn1987a is close to 168 000 light years from us (an inverse parallax?). Can someone tell me how the yecs escape this one ?

Ignorance. There is also all manner of sillyness to do with light being faster in the past. Of course with GR you really can’t have a constant coordinate velocity for light and if you were feeling really perverse you could choose a coordinate system with the big bang at t=-4004, a rather unpleasant Roman governor at around t=30, and today at t=2007. I rather doubt many YECs understand the distinction between proper time and coordinate time, or that Einstein’s constant is nothing more than a unit conversion constant in modern physics.

Re “light being faster in the past.”

A point here- chemical and physical reactions depend on exchanges of photons, so quite likely their rates would be proportional to the speed of light. So if light were faster, those processes would be faster by the same factor. Though I’m not sure how that would relate to gravity.

Henry

Henry J Wrote:

A point here- chemical and physical reactions depend on exchanges of photons, so quite likely their rates would be proportional to the speed of light. So if light were faster, those processes would be faster by the same factor. Though I’m not sure how that would relate to gravity.

The units used in GR are defined by the sort of phenomenon you refer to. The speed of light in a vacuum and Einstein’s constant is 299,792,458 m/s by definition; if you changed that definition to 2,997,924,580 m/s tomorrow the Earth and everything in the universe would continue quite unperturbed at ten times its current “size”. Gravity waves (not yet directly observed) also travel at c in the low amplitude limit (the speed of large-amplitude gravity waves isn’t really well-defined). Now if the speed of light in a vacuum isn’t the same as Einstein’s constant or the speed of low-amplitude gravity waves then you’re no longer dealing with known physics, and GR can’t predict what would happen. That being said, if GR turns out to be not quite right (as is likely to happen eventually), all the evidence supporting GR isn’t going to magically disappear.

More to the point of YEC, the idea that so many lines of evidence just happen to point to an old Earth by coincidence just isn’t tenable. That idea is only sustainable by either massive ignorance, or plusgood doublethinking. At least theistic evolution, despite its “brains in a jar” character, isn’t massively inconsistent with the evidence.

John Mark Reynolds, and many other young earth creationists Wrote:

The argument is not about data, but how to interpret the data.

That one’s right out of the young earth creationist cornucopia of “Lies young earth creationists tell themselves and repeat to everyone else.”

There’s obviously no doubt that young earth creationists argue against how to interpret the data, because they’re pushing an empirically false religious dogma by which they oppose any and all science-based interpretations of data.

But the idea that they don’t also argue with the scientific data itself, all the time, is preposterous, because the young earth creationist propaganda literature is permeated with factual scientific errors that have been discredited for decades, which young earth creationists yet continue to promote to this day, because of their intransigence against acknowledging and correcting their errors. (These guys go around telling bald-faced lies to people about short-period comets having no explanation - as if the Kuiper Belt doesn’t even exist; about the Earth’s magnetic field never having reversed in the past - as if we don’t have a good geologic record in, for example, Atlantic rock cores showing magnetic reversals in the geologic record over spreading from the Atlantic rift; about fossils not ever showing evolutionary transitions - even though paleontologists have recorded in published literature hundreds of examples of such; about the geologic erosional features of a hardrock canyon like the Grand Canyon have formed in one or a few years and being the same as the erosion of soft sediment such as seen at Mt. St. Helens - despite the fact that they are not the same at all; and on and on these young earth creationists go with their lies, repeated ad nauseum year after year, decade after decade, completely impervious to scientific reality.)

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on April 11, 2007 3:09 PM.

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