Egnor Fisked: Le Vrai - Fundamentalism in Science Education?

First, I actually agree with Egnor that “Creationism” and “Intelligent design” are ostensibly different things; however, the history behind the Intelligent Design movement puts the lie to the prima facie difference between the two.

So for Egnor to claim that “Intelligent design isn’t a religious belief” is the height of disingenuousness; an accusation he himself levels at Pigliucci.

Egnor made much of the fact that Pigliucci cited a survey result that showed that people with more education were less likely to agree with the statement that “heaven is a physical place”. While Egnor may still believe that Heaven is hiding above the firmament and that Hell is in the depths of the earth, it seems rather ignorant to claim that Heaven is a physical place rather than a spiritual place. In response Egnor exclaimed “Why is Dr. Pigliucci surprised that most people, even well-educated people, believe in Heaven?”, it is clear that the question was about Heaven as a real (physical) place. But Pigliucci’s argument was simply that “In fact, the connection between education (science education in particular) and belief in paranormal phenomena or explanations is an empirical matter”.

Now I understand that not too many people take the musings of Egnor too seriously but I do enjoy a good fisking. Saves me a lot of hard work. For those interested in the excellent and thought provoking essay by Pigliucci, it can be found here. Critical thinking can prevent scientifically vacuous concepts like Intelligent Design and other forms of Creationism from violating St Augustine’s position on science, a position I believe us Christians should take seriously.

Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) provided excellent advice for all Christians who are faced with the task of interpreting Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge. This translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

As Christian, interested in solid science education, we should embrace Pigliucci’s proposals. It’s the Christian thing to do and makes for solid science education. But Pigliucci’s proposals make for good science no matter our philosophical backgrounds.

Methodological naturalism is no enemy of Christian faith and when Egnor ‘argues’ that “In point of fact, Dr. Pigliucci proposes to teach students philosophical naturalism veiled in scientific naturalism.” he is, in typical Intelligent Design fashion, confusing the concept of methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism. Egnor’s response however does show that ‘teach the controversy’ has nothing to do with improving science education or improving the critical thinking skills of our children.