Francis Beckwith’s Letter to The Editor (Updated!)

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Francis Beckwith has published a letter to the editor in the latest issue of the Chapman Law Review (not available online) alleging that I misrepresented his views in my recent article in that journal. I think my article correctly described his views and that his letter–probably intentionally–obscures the issues involved.

30 Comments

Awesome smackdown of a deserving recipient, Mr. Sandefur.

Is there any chance we are going to be given the content of the letter? I couldn’t find it on Beckwith’s website either. Simply being told that the letter exists isn’t that helpful.

If Ken Miller is considered to be a creationist, we’re forced into a major shift in our language.

I realize, of course, that one could always claim that in a sense an evolutionist who is a theist (in the Abrahamic sense) must be a creationist, at least at some level. But that’s not what is usually meant by the epithet “creationist,” and I see no reason to insist on a change in the ordinary meaning of “creationist.” Especially since there’s a good chance that we’d have to call both Darwin and Wallace “creationists,” at least in the early years.

Alfred Wallace, in particular, would likely have to be called a creationist, while Darwin’s sincerity in bringing up the “Creator” in his first book can at least be debated. Yet Wallace, no matter how much he believed in woo, was especially wedded to natural selection, while Darwin was willing to allow for inheritance of acquired characteristics.

If Wallace has to be called a creationist, even though he helped to found evolutionary science, language would appear to have ceased to be a means of conveying meaning to other humans. At least with respect to that word.

Glen D

http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

…his letter – probably intentionally – obscures the issues involved.

Beckwith Wrote:

I am not, and have never been, a proponent of ID, for reasons having to do with my philosophical opposition to the ID movement’s acquiescence to the modern idea that an Enlightenment view of science is the paradigm of knowledge.

By seeming to agree with their materialist foes that the mind or intellect cannot have direct knowledge of real immaterial universals, such as natures, essences, and moral properties, many in the ID movement commit the same mistake as the one committed by the late medieval nominalists such as William of Ockham, who gave us what is often called “Ockham’s razor,” though Ockham himself did not offer this precise formulation: “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate” (translated: “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”).

According to many scholars, the practical consequence of “Ockham’s razor” is that claims about a thing’s nature, purpose, or intrinsic dignity - universal properties it shares with other things of the same sort - are “unnecessary” for our scientific investigation of the world because they don’t add anything of explanatory importance to our direct empirical observations of the world. But if one thinks of science as the only or best way of knowing, then these claims are not “knowledge” and thus not real objects of academic inquiry.

This is a death knell for dogmatic and moral theology as actual knowledge traditions.

Although I continue to maintain that ID advocates raise important questions about the nature of science and whether science should presuppose naturalism (namely, the view that all that exists is the material universe and that there is no mind, such as God, behind it), I have doubts about ID’s answers and whether these answers can offer an attractive alternative to the inadequacies of the Enlightenment for the rationality of religious belief.

Flesh that out, in all its implications…

Glen Davidson said:

If Ken Miller is considered to be a creationist, we’re forced into a major shift in our language.

When you have guys like Philip Johnson claiming that theistic evolutionists are the ID scam movements biggest problem, you have to understand that there must be some differences. Just because we normally deal with YEC Biblical literalists, doesn’t mean that they have a monopoly on the designation. If it bothers you, just be more specific. Call them anti-science creationists or YECers or ID perps. I admit that I am a creationist, and Miller does too. It doesn’t bother me when the term gets used losely because most of us understand what is meant. There is a big difference between the guys that claim to know all about the creation and those of us that are just happy to try to understand a bit of it.

So Intelligent Design is too “materialist” for Mr. Beckwith.

Although I continue to maintain that ID advocates raise important questions about the nature of science and whether science should presuppose naturalism (namely, the view that all that exists is the material universe and that there is no mind, such as God, behind it), I have doubts about ID’s answers and whether these answers can offer an attractive alternative to the inadequacies of the Enlightenment for the rationality of religious belief.

Maybe the inadequacies aren’t the Enlightenment’s fault. Maybe they’re religion’s fault. (Just a thought.)

Good luck with putting square pegs in round holes, dude.

Beckwith fails to state which claims by Sandefur are false, and which are misleading if technically correct.

The position Sandefur is allegedly ascribing to Beckwith is Steve Fuller’s, fairly precisely, so to the degree that Beckwith is a legal extension of Fuller’s arguments, the characterization is right.

Ron Okimoto said:

Glen Davidson said:

If Ken Miller is considered to be a creationist, we’re forced into a major shift in our language.

When you have guys like Philip Johnson claiming that theistic evolutionists are the ID scam movements biggest problem, you have to understand that there must be some differences. Just because we normally deal with YEC Biblical literalists, doesn’t mean that they have a monopoly on the designation. If it bothers you, just be more specific. Call them anti-science creationists or YECers or ID perps. I admit that I am a creationist, and Miller does too. It doesn’t bother me when the term gets used losely because most of us understand what is meant. There is a big difference between the guys that claim to know all about the creation and those of us that are just happy to try to understand a bit of it.

I am unaware of Miller admitting that he is a creationist. I know that others have said that he is, although he says he’s an “orthodox Darwinist”. Dembski from the “Vice Strategy”:

Let’s now turn to someone like Kenneth Miller, who has remarked “I’m an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Darwinian.” [Miller made this remark on the PBS evolution series that aired September 2001.] Miller, as a Catholic believer, holds to a doctrine of creation. Is Miller a creationist? [Obviously, adjust this question if it is actually addressed to Miller. The answer to this question will be no – unless we’re talking a Frederick Crews or The Vise Document Wm. A. Dembski 9 Richard Dawkins style Darwinist who does not see the strategic value of trying to keep KM Darwinists within the Darwinian fold and outside the creationist fold.]

I am not particularly concerned if anyone can find Miller stating that he is “a creationist” in some special case or other. Obviously I have already allowed that in a sense that is possible.

Above, Dembski is referring to a portrayal of Miller as a creationist by Crews, which has been done by others as well. IIRC, Jerry Coyne is one who has also depicted him as a creationist.

I am aware that Dobzhansky did say he was an evolutionist and a creationist, which again is using “creationist” in a special sense.

Language makes little sense if we have to call an “orthodox Darwinist” a creationist as well, in normal discussions, especially when the usual sense of “creationist” is one who opposes evolution (which the IDists sensibly do, with repetitive creationist interventions being the primary “mechanism” of change through time).

It is entirely up to you to try to make language meaningless if you wish to do so. I will stick with the usual way of determining the meaning of words, which is according to usage. And usually “creationist” means anti-evolutionist, although typically more than just that.

Glen D

http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

Glen Davidson said:

If Ken Miller is considered to be a creationist, we’re forced into a major shift in our language.

We could probably get rid of the term “creationist” altogether, because as far as I can tell, the way Tim Sandefur uses it its equivalent to “theist.”

Just to underscore the absurdity to which language is strained by calling just about any theist a “creationist” (without qualifying it somehow), here’s Jerry Coyne discussing his meeting with Miller:

Ken is undoubtedly the most tireless and effective opponent of creationism in America, a star witness for the prosecution in the Dover trial, and he also co-wrote our country’s most popular high school biology textbook, so I have always admired him a great deal. But the admiration is not unmixed.

whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/02/14/darwin-day-philadelphia-1-i-meet-ken-miller/

Is Miller running around opposing his own beliefs? Or do the usual meanings of “creationist” and of “creationism” typically refer to the IDists, YECists, etc., and their beliefs? Again, using a less common meaning, and by indicating somehow that one is doing so, sure, one might call Miller a “creationist.”

If the general meaning of “creationist” is to include Miller and Wallace, Coyne’s statement either makes Miller absurdly contradictory (well beyond what New Atheists often charge), or it makes Coyne nearly incomprehensible.

Glen D

http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

The beginning of debate is the definition of terms.

Don’t hit me, don’t hit me!

I did find this:

As an aside, Kenneth Miller does describe himself as a “creationist” in a certain sense because of his belief in God and the position that God has played some part in the development of the universe and in various interactions with mankind. However, Miller says that this belief is independent of science and is based entirely on his religious faith.

www.detectingdesign.com/kennethmiller.html

Pretty darned circumscribed, and fitting what I wrote initially:

I realize, of course, that one could always claim that in a sense an evolutionist who is a theist (in the Abrahamic sense) must be a creationist… [Emphasis retained]

Glen D

http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

JohnK said:

Flesh that out, in all its implications…

I did so a while ago when Beckwith initially posted that statement:

http://religionsetspolitics.blogspo[…]ckwards.html

Glen,

Just to remind you, PZ Myers did call Ken Miller a “creationist” nearly three years ago here and elsewhere. Recently, in reviewing Ken’s “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul”, Jerry Coyne claimed that Ken shared three characteristics with creationists, and strongly suggested that Ken could be viewed as one:

Glen Davidson said:

If Ken Miller is considered to be a creationist, we’re forced into a major shift in our language.

I realize, of course, that one could always claim that in a sense an evolutionist who is a theist (in the Abrahamic sense) must be a creationist, at least at some level. But that’s not what is usually meant by the epithet “creationist,” and I see no reason to insist on a change in the ordinary meaning of “creationist.” Especially since there’s a good chance that we’d have to call both Darwin and Wallace “creationists,” at least in the early years.

Alfred Wallace, in particular, would likely have to be called a creationist, while Darwin’s sincerity in bringing up the “Creator” in his first book can at least be debated. Yet Wallace, no matter how much he believed in woo, was especially wedded to natural selection, while Darwin was willing to allow for inheritance of acquired characteristics.

If Wallace has to be called a creationist, even though he helped to found evolutionary science, language would appear to have ceased to be a means of conveying meaning to other humans. At least with respect to that word.

Glen D

http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

Regards,

John

As anyone who has spent any time wrestling in the sty with creatures like Beckwith and Steve Fuller, you know that a big part of their game is to never make *any* clear statement about what their beliefs are, at least not in a public forum. One would think that since Beckwith has been spewing his drivel for years now that you could find a clear instance of him saying, e.g., “Of course monkeys and humans shared a common ancestor in the deep, distant past” or “The idea that humans and monkeys shared a common ancestor is based on a misunderstanding of the evidence, and the opposite conclusion finds far better support.”

But no. We also know that if you catch Frank or Steve making a plainly false or absurd statement that getting them to admit that they did so is a nearly hopeless task. These people are not “scholars”. They more closely resemble charlatans and politicians and their goal, like Ann Coulter and the mentally defectives at the Discovery Institute, is to make a buck by attacking people who dislike their lies and the lies of their “fans”, i.e., America’s creationist idiots.

Glen Davidson: I did find this:

However, Miller says that this belief is independent of science and is based entirely on his religious faith.

www.detectingdesign.com/kennethmiller.html

Yes, well I found this:

“The irony is that only those who embrace the scientific reality of evolution are adequately prepared to give God the credit and the power He truly deserves. By recognizing the continuing force of evolution, a religious person acknowledged that God is every bit as creative in the present as He was in the past. That - and not a rejection of any core ideas of evolution - is why I am a believer.”

Somehow a separation between Miller’s religious belief and his science is not as clear in that passage from his book, Finding Darwin’s God.

I am confused. What is misleading about Beckwith’s letter? You can’t use the term “creationist” to include all people who believe that god guides evolution. If you have used it in that way, then Beckwith totally won that round. (I haven’t yet read your article, so I’m not weighing in on who won.)

The sense in which scientists maintain that evolution is “unguided” is perfectly compatible with there being senses in which it is guided. Try defining “unguided” in any scientifically acceptable way if you have not yet convinced yourself. For extra practice, after you do that, see if your definition manages to rule out god’s use of foreknowledge to set up initial conditions in such a way that humans evolve (here we have a perfectly robust sense of “guidance” without ordinary intervention). I have given one example of a kind of guidance that’s compatible with endorsing evolutionary orthodoxy, but there are infinitely many others. It is intellectually irresponsible to ride roughshod over these distinctions.

-Atheist

Try defining “unguided” in any scientifically acceptable way if you have not yet convinced yourself.

You’ve made the same point others have - that these words are imbued with deep meaning largely because they defy useful definition.

So If I pour water on a hilltop and let it flow downhill, is it guided (gravity does participate) or is it unguided because I don’t try to alter any flow patterns? Or am I still guiding it because I set up the initial condition?

I think where the meaning comes in, revolves around whether or not a human-type intelligence is actively making modifications to reality somehow, despite our utter inability to identify them. Miller’s god’s single compelling advantage is, He adds no explanatory power to any understanding of anything, and is rendered superfluous and therefore omnipotent!

Beckwith I am not, and have never been, a proponent of ID

Right. He just worked right alongside the professional shillers at the Discovery Institute who peddled ID nonstop for years, but he wasn’t a “proponent”. Beckwith is a regular Leni Reifenstahl, except far less intelligent and talented. Also, like Reifenstahl, Beckwith will have the curious pleasure of watching his comrades become the objects of near universal scorn and mockery while he is still alive. In short, Frank: sxck on it.

I hardly said that the word “unguided” is “imbued with deep meaning largely because it defies useful definition”. I think only a complete dolt would say something like that.

And in any case, if it does defy useful definition, then you had better (i) excise it from your vocabulary, or (ii) stop pretending to make interesting points by invoking it.

Beckwith quote mines himself in his letter.

From his letter:

When most people think of creationism, this is the view they have in mind. And this is why scholars who have their doubts about materialism in general and evolution in particular typically keep it to themselves. But in order to dispute naturalistic evolution as defined above, one does not have to embrace this sort of creationism. (It is certainly not a view I embrace or have ever embraced).

The view he is talking about is not about creationism, it is the fact that he does not need to embrace old-earth creationism to dispute naturalistic evolution.

But if you continue reading his own article he give his own definition of creationism.

That is why it is more accurate to define creationism in the context of Plantinga’s argument as any viewpoint that denies that naturalism as a worldview is correct, and that affirms that that there are apparently natural aspects of the universe or of the universe as a whole, that can be reasonably accounted for an agent with the appropriate resources. In other words, an exhaustive materialist (or naturalist) description and explanation of the events and entities in the universe is not a real possibility for there are causes, agents, and entities, including God, that are non-material (or non-natural) and are thus non-detectable under the strictures of the materialist paradigm. Under this definition any view, including Aristotle’s cosmology, that asserts that one can know that there exists non-material agents or entities (finite or infinite) responsible for apparently natural phenomena in the universe or the universe as a whole is a “creationist.” That is what I mean by creationism in this essay, unless I indicate otherwise.

I am assume if we go by his definition, he is a creationist.

or the universe as a whole is a “creationist.”

should be

or the universe as a whole is “creationist.”

non-detectable under the strictures of the materialist paradigm.

Ah, so all we have to do is get away from the materialist paradigm to see evidence for God,,, and unicorns and demons and fairies and bigfoot and bogeymen.

FYI, her name is Leni Riefenstahl, and she became a great underwater photographer after World War II (Though that doesn’t quite exonerate her for being Hitler’s favorite documentary filmmaker.):

Registered User said:

Beckwith I am not, and have never been, a proponent of ID

Right. He just worked right alongside the professional shillers at the Discovery Institute who peddled ID nonstop for years, but he wasn’t a “proponent”. Beckwith is a regular Leni Reifenstahl, except far less intelligent and talented. Also, like Reifenstahl, Beckwith will have the curious pleasure of watching his comrades become the objects of near universal scorn and mockery while he is still alive. In short, Frank: sxck on it.

Incidentally, one of the “great” atheists of our time, actress and filmmaker Jodie Foster, has been interested in making a fictionalized account of Riefenstahl’s life, with herself, of course, as Riefenstahl.

Atheist:

I (hopefully not unreasonably) interpreted your challenge to ‘try defining “unguided” in any scientifically acceptable way’ as a claim that this could not be done. And I agreed - it can’t be done, because “scientifically acceptable” means a good, solid, operational definition. “Unguided” has no operational definition - it instead implies what whoever uses it intends to be understood. Which is usually that some imaginary god is “out there” somewhere, dicking with reality in profound yet indetectable ways to validate their fantasies. There seems to be some vague appreciation that for (ahem) US to arise, necessarily implies that someone arranged for this to happen.

I doubt either of us is a complete dolt. I don’t even think those who seek some post-facto “guidance” are complete dolts. At the very least, they generate some truly creative rationalizations and special pleading. From the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, such attempts are either stupid or dishonest or both. From a psychological standpoint, they can be fascinating.

I am not sure what the claim “from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, such attempts are either stupid or dishonest or both” means.

Let T be a scientific theory according to which evolution is unguided (in whatever sense the scientists can reasonably talk about “unguided”.) I assume there *is* such a sense, by the way. My claim was just that the scientific sense of “unguided” is not going to be sufficiently strong to rule out many kinds of guidance.

If T is compatible with god guiding evolution in some other way (e.g., by pushing around landmasses in accordance with his foreknowledge, the more exotic example given above, etc…) then scientists are in NO POSITION AS SCIENTISTS to pretend that T is incompatible with god exercising guiding control. To the extent they do so, they demonstrate poor thinking, and make inferential leaps they are not entitled to make as scientists. As theologians or atheologians or philosophers or the prejudiced, they can, of course, make such leaps. But then the theist can observed that this is philosophical or theological bullshit masquerading as science-speak.

Now I maintain that our best current biological theory T invokes the notion of guidance (and posits the lack of it) in a well-defined sense, which sense, I further maintain, renders T compatible with certain other kinds of guidance (such as those I have exhibited). I go on to maintain that I very much doubt the scientist can get herself a stronger notion of guidance that rules out any kind of theistic influence. If I am right about this, the scientist is never speaking as a scientist when she says that evolution is incompatible with every form of theistic oversight.

I am quite willing to defend the above claims further.

I figure that scientifically, “evolution is unguided” just means that there’s no evidence for such at this point (or more precisely, there is currently no observed pattern of evidence that is logically explained by the concept that evolution is guided by God/Designer/FSM/Q/Gallifrey/Whoever).

Another thought I have though is to wonder why a theist would worry about whether we’re “designed” or not; if the theistic purpose is spiritual, then why would it depend on physical details of anatomy, biochemistry, geographic (or astronomical) location, etc.?

Henry

It is quite clear that when Sandefur – with whom I totally agree on the legal issue (i.e., teaching evolution does not violate the Establishment Clause) – calls Miller a creationist, he means it in the most derogatory sense possible, even though, as earlier commenters have argued convincingly, this is an abuse of language and a erasure of meaningful distinctions. Sandefur’s disgust for scientists who are also religious is quite intense. This quote, from his blog, is memorable for its apocalyptic imagery:

—————————– If science is ever destroyed, _this_ will be why. It will be because the defenders of science opened the city gates from within to the forces of unreason, admitting them on the terms of this false equality. [http://sandefur.typepad.com/freespa[…]he-edge.html] —————————–

I have blogged critically on this attitude, and on Mr. Sandefur’s article in the Chapman Law Review, at

http://www.theotherjournal.com/blog[…]rticleID=771

Sincerely,

Larry Gilman

This is a death knell for dogmatic and moral theology as actual knowledge traditions.

Let’s hope so.

I have blogged critically on this attitude

The level of care you take in making your argument is consistent with your failure to correctly spell “Myers”.

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