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Recently in Theological Issues with Intelligent Design Category
This is a guest post by Robert J. Asher. Asher is a paleontologist in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. He is also the author of the recently-published book Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist.
In February 2012, Asher authored the essay “Why I am an Accommodationist” for Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rober[…]1298554.html).
Jason Rosenhouse wrote a reply at his EvolutionBlog in March 2012 (http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionbl[…]mmodationism). Asher’s response is below.
– Nick Matzke
God as a Superhuman: A (belated) Response to Jason Rosenhouse
Way back in February, I tried to make the case that accommodation between religious belief and a scientific worldview is a good thing. I remain convinced that in order to make a positive difference in science literacy, educators should distinguish between superstition and religion, understand that human identity can entail elements of both, and acknowledge that science does not render religion untenable. My particular focus in that essay was that believers need not attribute a human-like mode of creativity to their god. Conversely, I argued that anti-theists (by which I mean those atheists who view religion as terminally misguided) and creationists (by which I mean those who think natural mechanisms are insufficient to explain at least some aspects of biological evolution) often agree with each other in rejecting, or at least not liking, this viewpoint. Both argue (for different reasons) that a god without some human-like will to circumvent biology & physics for its own ends is too remote and/or abstract to be worth worshipping, or representative of “real” religion as practiced by millions of people today. I believe that both are wrong on this point.
It’s no secret that the species of Christian intelligent design creationism embodied in the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture has no love for theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism. It’s also no secret that they’re masters of the bait and switch. As far back as 2002 when Stephen Meyers and Jonathan Wells sprung their “teach the controversy” compromise on the Ohio State Board of Education they’ve sailed under false colors, only to drop their deceptive flag of convenience at the last minute to run up their true theocratic colors. Now Darrel Falk, President of Francis Collins’ BioLogos Foundation, has fallen victim to the Disco Dancers’ bait and switch.
Falk was a participant in the recent Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science conference. The conference was organized ostensibly in order that Christians, particularly Christians who are scientists, could explore common ground. It included a range of people as speakers, Old Earth Creationists all, and featured such luminaries as Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. a leading old earth creationism ministry.
Part of Falk’s involvement was to have been as co-leader, with Stephen Meyer, of a breakout discussion on the origin of life, with participation also by Randy Isaac of the American Scientific Affiliation and Douglas Axe of the DI’s Biologic Institute. Falk tells us he sought and got firm reassurances that his participation wasn’t mere tokenism. He writes that the conference organizer said
… the organizers assured me that since they were travelling to personally meet with each speaker, I could be assured that even this session would exemplify Christians working together in a spirit of Christ-centered unity. We might differ on scientific and theological details, but we each would be held accountable to work within this context. I appreciated that.
That was the bait. Then at the last minute came the switch. Less than a week before it was to occur, the Disco ‘Tute publicized the event as a debate, using martial language that doesn’t seem to reflect that “Christ-centered unity.”
Next week the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science becomes the God and evolution showdown in Austin, as the question of whether faith in God can co-exist with Darwinian evolution will be discussed and debated with people of faith on all different points of the spectrum.
Attendees have three days of speakers and sessions but should prepare for a rumble on Thursday, October 28, when Stephen Meyer and Doug Axe will go up against Darrel Falk and Randy Isaac in a debate on the origin of life, moderated by Walter Bradley.
That was contrary to the assurances that Falk says he received, and he tells us the Disco ‘Tute, in the person of an Associate Director, refused to withdraw the description when asked by the conference organizers. Is anyone surprised? The only person at the Disco ‘Tute who holds the title “Associate Director” is political scientist John West, so the implication is that it was West who approved the martial verbiage under Director Stephen Meyer’s leadership. So Falk, to his credit, pulled out of the session.
Welcome to our world, Professor Falk. Anyone still wonder why we don’t trust the Disco ‘Tute’s apparatchiks? As William Dembski plainly said,
Design theorists are no friends of theistic evolution.
They really aren’t, you know, Professor Falk.
Finally, for a foreshadowing of Falk’s experience see Steve Matheson’s prescient critique of the underlying premises of BioLogos’ participation in the “Vibrant Dance” conference:
As long as Reasons To Believe and the Discovery Institute engage in openly dishonest attacks on science and deliberate distortions of scientific knowledge, discussions about “unity” between them and BioLogos should focus entirely on their failure to meet (or seek to meet) standards of integrity.
Good luck with that!
By now everyone has heard how the pro-terrorism group Revolution Muslim threatened South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker by stating “they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh,” posting a picture of the murdered film director, and helpfully including their addresses at South Park studios, and the address of Comedy Central’s offices. The threat was issued after South Park’s episode “200” in which all the people that South Park ever made fun of, led by Tom Cruise, teamed up to get back at the town. To protect themselves from the ridicule of South Park citizens, they plotted to capture Muhammad and steal his secret ability to not be made fun of. To avoid breaking the rule against depicting the prophet Muhammad, Stone & Parker dressed Muhammad up in a bear suit.
(Never mind that Muhammad had co-starred sans censorship in the 2001 episode “Super-Best Friends”, since played as a rerun hundreds of times without controversy, and that Muhammad appeared hundreds of more times amongst the other Super-Best Friends in post-2001 intro graphics for the show.)
After the threat was issued, and after Comedy Central began to kowtow to the terrorists by increasing the censorship of the show, the sequel episode “201” revealed that it had not been Muhammad in a bear suit after all, but Santa Claus. Despite the complete non-depiction of Muhammad in the show (in the non-bear-costume shots, Muhammad had been hidden behind a CENSORED box), Comedy Central has now taken even the censored version of episode 201, and the old Super-Best Friends episode, off its website.
Anyway, what’s the connection to evolution? Well, I was watching a CNN discussion which featured a clip scrolling through RevolutionMuslim.com’s blogposts. Here’s the cowardly “kill people who disagree” (I’m paraphrasing, obviously) post…
The song of the title of this post is a catchy and highly amusing piece that suggests that if we’re just mammals we should have sex. It’s sort of a low brow version of Andrew Marvell’s To his coy mistress. Instead of Time’s wing�d chariot, we should do what mammals do on the Discovery Channel. Except, humans don’t. They do something special. Think about it. We aren’t dogs, monkeys, dolphins or bowerbirds, we’re humans. We are a species (which, as I keep reminding folk, is the noun of “special”).
So when Phillip Johnson, the father of the modern intelligent design movement, attacks Christopher Hitchens for calling “great men” “mammals”, and points out:
While Hitchens never refers to the authorities on his side as “mammals,” reserving that category for those whom he wishes to belittle, it will not escape the reader that if “great men” are only mammals, then so are scientists, including the esteemed Charles Darwin and the not-quite-so-esteemed Richard Dawkins, and so, of course, is Hitchens himself. Which raises the question: Why should we take seriously any speculation by a mere mammal, or even the consensus of mammal opinion, about the origin of its species, no matter how much evidence the mammals imagine themselves to have gathered?
… we might be inclined to agree. If we’re just mammals, then we shouldn’t pay attention to Hitchens or Dawkins or Darwin, right?
I call this Darwin’s Monkey Mind Puzzle. Darwin wrote near the end of his life:
But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? [Letter to William Graham, 1881]
It is recently the argument presented by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga against evolutionary theory - it’s self defeating. If evolution is true, then we have no warrant for thinking that evolution is true, ergo Augustine is right. Or something. I would like to discuss this a little, reprising some arguments Paul Griffiths and I have presented in a forthcoming paper. On my blog.
As a final blow to the Discovery Institute’s attempts to get Intelligent Design into the Catholic ‘door’, the church announced an evolution congress which failed to invited creationists, and intelligent design
The Congress is titled “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 years after ‘The Origin of Species’” and is scheduled for March 3-7, 2009 in Rome. The organizers are the Pontifical Council for Culture, Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of Notre Dame as one of a series of events marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”
The reason for the rejection?
He said arguments “that cannot be critically defined as being science, or philosophy or theology did not seem feasible to include in a dialogue at this level and, therefore, for this reason we did not think to invite” supporters of creationism and intelligent design.
It seems to me that the Catholic church has come to understand that intelligent design fails to contribute either to science or to theology in a manner fruitful to be discussed.
I can’t wait to read Denyse O’Leary’s comments on these ‘shocking’ developments.
Oops, someone pointed out to me that this publication preceded the DI’s press tour.
Poor Discovery Institute, after spending much time and effort on trying, unsuccessfully, to generate some media interest on the Gonzalez tenure case, all they got was a cynical response from Mac Johnson at the conservative site Human Events.com.
So in light of the issue’s new prominence and with a desire to improve the mental hygiene of others, I would just like to say that Intelligent Design is a really, really bad idea –scientifically, politically, and theologically. I say this as a dedicated conservative, who has on many occasions defended and espoused religion and religious conservatism. I also say it as a professional molecular biologist, who has worked daily (or at least week-daily) for years with biological problems to which the theory of evolution has contributed significant understanding – and to which Intelligent Design is incapable of contributing any understanding at all.
In 2001, evolution was poised to return to the the Kansas Science Standards. The Intelligent Design Network objected to them and proposed changes that would have left open the door to teaching creationism. Kansas Citizens for Science responded to their proposal, which was sent to all members of the state board. One might suspect the response to have been too parochial for anything other than Kansas creationism; one would be wrong: the response serves as a prototype response for many creationist arguments and works nicely as a reference for letters to the editor even today.
In 1999-2000, the Kansas State Board of Education was running their PR machine full-bore, trying to convince the public that the central organizing theory of modern biology and biotechnology was a dead idea. Creationist speaker after creationist speaker was flown into town to put on a dog and pony show. If you were a Young-Earth Creationist, you might have seen Duane Gish/Fred Whitehead nondebate. If you liked ID creationism, you might have seen Johnson or Wells. Back then, it was a very big tent.
Well, KCFS wasn’t going to take things lying down, so we thought we’d prepare a few flyers to inform the audience to help them be ready for the creationists when they arrived. One of those flyers, “Jonathan Wells: Who is He, What is He Doing, and Why?” turned out to be pretty important.
Fast forward to Spring 2005, after the creationists had taken over the state board of education again and ran roughshod over the accepted processes of curricular review. They rejected the recommendations of the experts who developed very good standards and held a show trial, in which evolution would be dragged before them to answer the tough ID creationists’ questions.
The details of the story are described elsewhere, but one of the “witnesses” was Jonathan Wells, who during his testimony claimed that he was not influenced by religion. Within the span of an hour, KCFS was able to print several copies of our Wells flyer to distribute to interested members of the press. The result was that in the following day’s newspapers, Jonathan Wells testimony and his quotations were seen in juxtaposition to each other, making of his credibility to journalists what those in the know had deemed of it for years.
Find the flyer on the flipside. It’s also available in RTF format. Please note that the DI has since changed their name from the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture to simply the Center for Science and Culture. So clearly it’s no longer religious.
During my time in Kansas Citizens for Science, I was privileged to work with science supporters of all walks of life as I developed flyers and pamphlets on evolutionary topics or criticizing aspects of the intelligent design creationism movement. When some ID creationism speaker would come to town, KCFS would be there, passing out flyers that informed the audience what they would be hearing from the creationist and why it was wrong or disingenuous. (When Phillip Johnson came to Lawrence, it was fun to see everyone in the hall reading our brightly colored pamphlets prior to his talk. Everything he said, we already had written down in our pamphlets.)
I’m now out in Pennsylvania. While KCFS is still going strong (and about to host Monkey Girl author Edward Humes’s lecture at JCCC this Thursday), one thing I have missed from KCFS is the availability of easy-to-find pamphlets or flyers on ID creationism or evolution. I’d like to fix that.
So, I’ve updated “A Word About Intelligent Design Creationism.” Its text appears below as the extended entry as well as in PDF and RTF formats. Please feel free to adopt the text of this flyer to your own purposes, though appropriate attribution with a plug for the Thumb would be appreciated.
I’ve added a new “Category” of Flyers/Pamphlets under which we’ll hopefully amass quite a library of pro-science literature broadsides and pamphlets. Alternatively, if you have flyers that you’ve made, let us know via comments below. (We might be able to make those available here or on other archive sites as well.)
A common attack upon evolutionary biology, from ranking clerics in the Catholic church to the meanest creationist blogger, is that it implies that life arose and came to result in us by accident. We are asked to believe, they say, that three billion years led to us as a series of accidents. No matter how often evolutionary biologists and informed respondents try to point out that the sense of “accident” in biology is based on the lack of correlation between the future needs of organisms, the trope is repeated ad nauseum.
I have frequently commented that intelligent design (ID) is bad theology. Equally often, I am challenged by someone who will point out that ID may be bad theology from my point of view, while it might be good theology from someone else’s point of view. This is a very valid objection to what I have said, though I will defend the basic point. ID could be more correctly termed “theology done badly” than “bad theology.”
Nonetheless, since ID is being supported primarily by Christians, and evangelical Christians at that, it can be quite properly called “bad theology” as well, because it is bad theology within what is supposed to be the theological framework of most of its supporters. If you are wondering why there is a split amongst conservative Christians over ID, it is simply that many conservative Christians are saying either that this does not prove or that it is not even trying to prove anything that actually works within their theology.
In talking to Christian groups, I frequently find people who are shocked that I don’t support ID. “How can you not believe the universe is designed?” they ask. My answer is that I don’t accept ID precisely because I believe that the universe is designed. However it is disguised, however many chapters of mathematical formulas are provided, however many pious statements are made (whenever someone is not trying to pretend this is not theology), ID does not prove, and is not attempting to prove that the universe is designed. It is, in fact, attempting to prove that some elements are more designed than others, i.e. when we deal with specified complexity as a test of design, it means that we distinguish things that could happen randomly, and things that happen by design. Right or wrong, evangelical Christians are generally very uncomfortable with things that happen randomly. They are not looking for Paley’s watch on the seashore to prove that the watch is designed, but rather to prove that everything is designed.
Read more at Threads from Henry’s Web. Please post comments there.
Some years ago, a creationist challenged me, “Burt, how would you go about disproving evolution? It’s non-falsifiable and, by definition, cannot be science.”
Challenged me it did - I was unable to think of a good answer. At least, I was unable until I consulted with the brainiacs in Kansas Citizens for Science. The answer, like just about any answer when considering involving evolution, is to look at the past and examine evolution when it was back fighting for its life.
We’ll discuss this limited aspect of the history of evolution, along with why it’s important, on flip side…
Note: The purpose of this essay is to offer a critique of intelligent design on theological, rather than scientific, grounds. It is not intended to provoke arguments over the validity of Christianity or theism in general because that is not the concern of this blog. Hence, we would ask that any comments be restricted to the subject of the theological validity of ID and its relation to science education rather than the rational validity of Christianity. Such discussions are fascinating, but are best left for other fora.
In a recent contribution I suggested the possibility of a designer who made such a perfect design that intervention would never be necessary. This is not something that could be demonstrated, nor is it something that I assert as a fact, but it is a design possibility. The point here is that a deist or theist can quite easily both believe that the universe is designed, and yet not believe that the “design” is going to be detectible. Since the whole is designed, there is no necessity that some portions of it look more designed than others.
The question is whether this hypothetical theist can allow any kind of intervention in the universe, without also assuming that such intervention can be detected and measured? I am frequently asked how I can oppose intelligent design, and yet see any kind of interaction of God with the universe.