Saturday, December 24, 2005

ID stands for "Irony Deficiency"

The ID Irony tour makes another stop at TechCentralStation.com with this article by James Ringo (excerpted in its entirety):

An Atheist's Dream


Those battling to include the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) along with Darwinian evolution in biology classes are shooting themselves in the foot, and not just because a Pennsylvania judge this week tossed out an effort to teach ID in schools.

The problem can be seen if one imagines, as a simple thought experiment that one is an aggressive atheist planning a propaganda campaign to capture the minds of the young. Such a campaign might look like the following. Begin by tying the question of the existence of God to some poorly supported theory of biology. Next, set up a joint presentation of this weak theory with, and in comparison to, the Darwinian theory of evolution which can and has been demonstrated in the laboratory with short generational microorganisms (both mutation and selection of the “fit” are observed) and has a world of data and modeling support. Finally, have this contest presented, refereed and commented on… by a Darwinist, as the bulk of biology teachers surely are. Diabolical no? Yet such a campaign is not far from what has been happening in Dover, PA, in Kansas and elsewhere.

Besides making a tactical misjudgment, those trying to force ID into the biology classroom are making a scientific misjudgment. This is a misunderstanding about how scientific disputes are settled and the status of the opposing theories.

There is no court that decides when a scientific hypothesis graduates to become a theory and when a theory is accepted as a law. But if there were such a court the theory of evolution would be called the law of evolution. The assurance biologists (including me) place in Darwinian evolution is demonstrated when we regularly bet our careers on evolution being right. These bets take the form of basing new experiments on, among other things, principles from evolutionary theory. For example, I have spent years on experiments which derived from an idea that a brain memory mechanism found in rodents would be preserved, expanded and adapted in the monkey. I followed this line of work because I am convinced of the general correctness of Darwinian evolution. Such conviction is essentially universal among the professors at major national research universities.

Now it is conceivable that all those biologists are wrong. Scientific revolutions have occurred before. The overwhelming bulk of attempts to overthrow established scientific law, however, come up empty, and usually with far less publicity than (say) Cold Fusion received.

The key to this kind of revolution is to find some inexplicable experiment or fact which is utterly incompatible with the current scientific understanding. If the proponents of ID would actually demonstrate (instead of simply assert) that the flagella or some other structure is irreducibly complex and could not have evolved then they would have met such a test. In fact, the “irreducible complexity” of the flagella, while asserted by ID proponents, is not holding up well. One (nicely reduced) candidate component of the flagella, which has an important function of its own and could also serve as a ‘way station’ on an evolutionary pathway to the more complex flagella, is a secretory structure with substantial homologies, discussed here (note: the provided link is inaccessible, but was hosted on the Miller and Levine web site.

This specific, detailed and technical dispute is exactly what should be happening. The first place to dispute evolutionary theory is in the laboratory. If proponents of ID show some success there, young Turks will flock to such a potential scientific revolution as Nobel Prizes beckon. At that point, basic texts in biology should (and will) attend to the issue, not before.

Lastly, if (say) 10% or even 5% of the professors at American medical schools backed ID one could argue there was an uncertain scientific consensus, or if this was an academic field where the very notion of expertise is suspect then there could be a supportable case that a political resolution would be needed. At present, however, it simply looks primitive. Science is not decided by consensus, but by evidence and experiment. Anybody who wishes is free to work to disprove Darwinian evolution. Textbooks, however, are compilations of consensus.

I would recommend a harder but surer path for those who believe in ID. Either do, or help fund, some revelatory experimental demonstration showing Darwinian evolutions limits.


I'd like to know what odds the Vegas bookmakers are quoting on the outcome of the ID/Darwin showdown. It may be too lopsided to even make book in, but I'm sure that there is plenty of foolish ID money that could be suckered in.

60 Comments:

Blogger Oroborous said...

ID is a fad, and will fade away over the decades.

It's also quite insulting to God.

A being that could create the Universe - black holes, quarks, wormholes, 14 dimensions, and all - could certainly provide initial conditions conducive to the eventual emergence of any type of being that It wanted.

All of this "tweaking every few millenia" nonsense is strictly amateur hour.

December 24, 2005 8:05 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oroborous:

So long as there are people out there who believe the Bible is literally correct, then some variation of ID/Creationism will always exist.

Amazingly enough, there are still Bible literalists out there trying to demonstrate a geocentric solar system, young earth, and what's more, a young universe.

And, even more amazing to me, there are Christian Reconstructionists who seek to impose Biblical literalism on the rest of us -- google the term , do a little reading, and see if you can identify anyone we know.

Fortunately, though, Biblical literalists are a relatively small portion of Christians. The vast majority, when faced with a clear disconnect between Scripture and empirical evidence, view those parts of the Bible as allegory.

Additionally, ID/Creationists are collectively inclined to so thoroughly rejecting that which they oppose that they are wholly ignorant of it.

If I was going to pick a fight, I think one of the things I would want to have in abundance is knowledge about my enemy.

It's also quite insulting to God.

An idea I repeatedly tried to get religionists to address in ID, Sex Combs, and Theodicy.

December 26, 2005 4:16 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

In the sense that ID is a tactic, it will no doubt fade out as long as its utility fails to assert itself.

This utility will NOT be decided on merits but on politics.

At the moment, the utility of ID seems low. There is no assurance it cannot make a comeback.

'Utility' must be carefully defined.

There is the sane man's utility; in this case, whether your opinion (ID or darwinism) allows you to conduct successful research in biology.

Then there is the the common or garden variety utility, which allows you to make money (or gain power over) the dumb bunnies.

It is obviously not the case that completely bogus theories fail in the second instance. Consider chiropractic.

December 26, 2005 1:26 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Harry Eagar has it right. You have to define what you mean by "outcome" and "showdown". The political results might well be much different than the scientific results (which might not be fully accepted for another 100 million years or so).

December 26, 2005 6:59 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Why do you think your theodicy argument (which you have done well) is more effective against ID than any other theory positing the divine? Put another way, if you dimiss ID on those grounds, what theology would you have more respect for in light of the Holocaust and tsunamis?

December 27, 2005 3:02 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Some things I am more familiar with than others. Theodicy definitely falls into the "others" category, so I might not have conveyed my point as well as I might have.

The theodicy part of the argument (as opposed to ID's theoretical vacuity; on reflection I can now see the cause of any confusion) was not against ID in any way, but rather what follows if we take ID as stipulated. It isn't my theodicy argument against ID, but rather the theodicy problems attending ID.

I can well remember tossing up theodicy in the wake of the Tsunami, only to have David Cohen promptly slap me down. All natural disasters are the consequence of a living earth. A world without vulcanism is a dead world; with vulcanism, tsunamis are inevitable. As such, they are neither good nor evil, and it isn't possible to attribute evil intentions to God because of them.

Similarly with the Holocaust, or Dresden, or any number of man-made horrors, all of which come with the human free-will territory.

Neither, even for an areligionist such as I, have any impact on any but the most simplistic Christianity. (Into which we can put Jesuits who opposed helping Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake, and physicians who, upon Biblical authority, opposed easing the pain of childbirth until Queen Victoria publicly insisted upon chloroform.)

ID, however, stands in very stark contrast. By involving God in the tiniest minutiae of life -- bacterial flagella, for just one example -- ID (not I) makes God responsible for every element of every form of life.

Including not just the cuddly stuff, but also the design "features" that can only be attributed to either incompetence or malevolence. Whereas in Paley's time, people widely believed Nature to be perfect in all its manifestations, between modern medical and engineering knowledge, we now can positively demonstrate that notion is ridiculous.

Naturalistic Evolution puts God at arm's length, thereby insulating God from Nature's features both ridiculous and awful.

ID eliminates that arm's length. ID itself, in as compelling a display of irony as you are ever likely to see, throws wide open that theodicy door, beyond which lie monsters.

Monsters of ID's making.

One of two things is possible. I could have this theodicy thing all wrong, and ID isn't guilty of a grievous self-inflicted wound.

Alternatively, I hit somewhere close to the mark. Religious zealotry has brought along with it target fixation and immunity to irony, the result being the potential to unnecessarily weaken Christianity far beyond any impact naturalistic evolution could ever have.

Never mind the appalling integrity lapses peculiar to religiously motivated antagonists to naturalistic evolution, which themselves don't play particularly well.

Have you read Kitzmiller? As a lawyer, I'm sure you can appreciate what must have gone on for the Judge, a conservative Bush appointee, to use the language he did.

December 28, 2005 12:59 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Skipper,

As I was thinking about this today, I came upon the idea that views of God struggle between the tradeoffs of an active/powerful and a passive/weak God. Either choice is a good news/bad news situation. For the active/powerful God camp, the fact that God intentionally inflicts tsunamis and plagues upon mankind is mitigated by the fact that someone is "in charge". There is a much greater payoff in placating such a God than there is in a passive/weak God.

For the passive/weak God camp, the benefit of living in a universe where God is not "out to get you" is counteracted by the fact that there is little that can be gained in placating this God. The believer has nothing to gain over the unbeliever.

Also, I think that we underestimate the appeal of an angry & vengeful God. Just as there are people who look to associate themselves with the hardest and toughest groups, by joining the Marines or the Hells Angels, you can look at the prestige that believers feel can be gained by worshipping the toughest God that they can envision. That is why I think that the theodicy dilemma does not affect many believers. For gods as with gangsters, it is better to be feared than loved.

December 28, 2005 9:01 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

If I am right, this is not a matter of choosing between a God active & powerful or passive & weak.

Natural disasters and those resulting from human agency are simply part and parcel of a world God designed to not require constant miraculous intervention, and humans that are other than automatons.

Vulcanism is required for a living world, but earthquakes come with the package. Free will distinguishes us from animals, but at the cost of sin.

God, whether Hairy Thunderer or Cosmic Muffin, is easily consistent with all of that.

To that extent, theodicy not only doesn't affect most believers, it really isn't much of dilemma.

The distinct difference attending ID, though, is that a great many things about life in general, and humans in particular, are more than just unnecessary. They are random, in that their effects are unpredictable. Some, but not all, virtuous believers blow an appendix. Some, but not all, sinning heathens, blow an appendix.

Beyond that, some of these design flaws impose suffering far exceeding what Christ endured on the cross.

A century, or maybe even less, ago, it simply wasn't apparent that so many elements of our design elements are far from perfect.

Now it is, and ID is pointing at God to take credit for all of them.

Jews seem to (all caveats apply here) have a more eyes wide-open approach to their God. But I doubt even Judaism entertains the idea of a God that, more than just angry and vengeful, is capricious and unspeakably cruel.

I'm only guessing here (even more than I have been so far on this topic), but I'll bet evolutionary scientists have simply been holding their fire on this. Not because they are waiting for the proper time to pull the trigger, but rather because they would take no joy in weakening or destroying other's beliefs.

December 29, 2005 4:19 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

No, the details of theodicy is not my forte either. Your analysis is perfectly fair, I think, but after much reflection, I simply can't decide whether it is a discrete objection or simply a feature of ID's ultimate fatal silliness-- at least the ID that claims to be a coherent, comprehensive alternative as opposed to just a critique of the inadequacies of natural evolution based upon the argument from complexity.

Notwithstanding Duck's predictable amateur pop psychology, it is true that the religious struggle to "know the unknowable" and that their general acceptance that the Divine Will is largely hidden (and not to be measured by human standards) sits uneasily with the assumption that hints abound and that it has a certain ultimate coherence to it--few really accept He may be a feckless, malevolent prankster or an incompetent handyman. Both ID and your critique of ID seem to assume an awful lot about Him--namely He is a master craftsman seeking perfection in physical design and that He is animated by the fitness imperative. The ID'ers marvel at the beauty and complexity of the design and your response is that it is pretty shoddy workmanship for one both omniscient and omnipotent. Well, De gustibus non est disputandum. All I can say is that it all substantiates Orrin's point that natural evolution and ID are really variations of the same theory and that ID gives creationism a good name.

Yes, I read or at least scanned most of the judgment. Seriously, it isn't much help at the level we deal in. Being a judge, he was very concerned about ID being used to circumvent previous case law and he had a lot to say about the motivation and good faith of the proponents. OK, that's what judges are paid to do, but you will appreciate that SCOTUS precedents have a limited influence on the theological and epistimological beliefs of a poor little Canadian boy and that the underlying politics are very American and hardly a matter of either general scientific or theological insight. Also, he simply seems to have just given natural evolution a pass based upon the argument from authority that it is "scientifically" established. I trust that between those glasses of champagne, even you can see that doesn't mean much more than that there is one judge who agrees with you.

Finally, Skipper, I simply can't let this one go by wiithout comment:

Whereas in Paley's time, people widely believed Nature to be perfect in all its manifestations...

Would you please shelve the Durant for a while and make a concerted effort to get over your bigotry about the past. They thought no such thing. If anything, they thought humans were gross and fallen, beasts menacing and that great danger lurked in forests, on seas and up mountains. Plague, drought and floods were real threats, as was starvation. Traditional Christianity was more about escaping or transcending Nature than celebrating it. It's you modern fanatics who think everything in Nature is just great and getting better by definition all the time.

December 29, 2005 4:22 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
Don't knock amateur, pop psychology, it is often better than the professional kind. I'm just trying to get inside the ID'ers head, something that does all too often to understand the sphisticated, wine sipping, coed-dating secularist. On the DD, amateur, pop psychology is welcome.

Skipper, I understand the dilemma that the discoveries of poor design attendant to biological forms poses to the proponents of ID, but in my amateur model, that only increases the "cost of entry", so to speak. And with people who join what they believe are elite groups, the higher the cost, the higher the prestige.

Skipper,

I'm not saying that this is a motivation for the major proponents of ID, but for many of the people who would be in favor of it. How else to explain its appeal? From your analysis it looks like noone in their right mind would be in favor.

December 29, 2005 6:51 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

On the DD, amateur, pop psychology is welcome.

Super. How's that daddy complex coming along? Skipper's sexual confusion? Oroborous' sublimated desire to rule the world?

Hey, this is fun.

December 29, 2005 8:34 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I agree in part with your approach, Duck.

But you elide the completely illogical element in the God strong/Me helpless faction.

It is a matter of constant amusement in newsrooms to hear the statements of people who have just survived a plane crash/fire/ship sinking that killed 99% of those involved: 'The man upstairs was looking after me.'

And he was doing what for the rest . . . ?

Those who choose Hairy Thunderer almost never expect he is going to visit his wrath on THEM personally. It is the other, unenlightened guy who is going to get it.

The most dramatic instance in my personal experience was a local pastor who preached that all those killed in the Long Island plane crash were punished for sin (even, presumably, the half dozen infants) but that attending his church could guarantee against such judgments.

Or maybe not. A couple of years later, he and his wife hanged themselves in their garage.

Religion really does drive everybody crazy in the degree they take it seriously.

December 29, 2005 10:42 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Thank you for a very thoughtful reply.

I trust that between those glasses of champagne, even you can see that doesn't mean much more than that there is one judge who agrees with you.

Actually, I was only pleased with the ruling because the ID case was so awful that anything else would have been an assault on common sense. NB, BTW, the trial was not so much about naturalistic evolution, but rather whether ID met the bar set for rational inquiry.

And it is also worth noting that if there was any judge who would side with ID/Creationism, Judge Jones was certainly the one. That he slammed ID as hard as he did must have come as a shock to some people who had gotten far too used to a diet of their own press clippings.

Whereas in Paley's time, people widely believed Nature to be perfect in all its manifestations...

I admit guilt to carelessly over egging my case, but the gist of the argument holds.

It is, perhaps, difficult to imagine now, but one of the original religionist objections to evolution was extinction. That concept was utterly alien in 1859, and for many couldn't be possible, because extinction would mean God's creation was not, in fact, perfect. Whether the Bible required such a thing, or, even if it did, intuitively obvious elements of nature justified such a belief, most people held it just the same. Until rational inquiry, and increased ability to travel (until the 1800s, probably more than 90% of people never traveled more than 100 miles from their birth place), people simply had no idea that weather was something other than a strictly local occurrence, and attributed drought and deluge alike to displeasing God.

As you have noted, religious faith often requires difficult duality. A century or so ago, it was accepted wisdom that all organisms were perfectly designed. In a relatively short time, humans have available to them plenty of information to the contrary.

IMHO, ID hasn't taken that on board.

It's you modern fanatics who think everything in Nature is just great and getting better by definition all the time.

Unfortunately, you let the side down here. Both by attacking the arguer, rather than the argument, and attributing to the arguer a position never taken.

December 29, 2005 1:55 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

the trial was not so much about naturalistic evolution, but rather whether ID met the bar set for rational inquiry.

I don't think so. At least I hope not, and so should you. I know something about trials and, believe me, they are no place for settling such a question. Best to stick with blogs. :-)

,,,if there was any judge who would side with ID/Creationism, Judge Jones was certainly the one

Why? I fear you have come to see this debate as a partisan political one. Sad, if true.

December 29, 2005 3:34 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,
Yes, but when has religion ever been logical?

"Pop psychology alert!! "The attitude you describe mirrors, I think, the same attitude shown by women who believe that any women who was raped must have done something to deserve it. The "logic" of such a seemingly illogical and counter to self interest belief is that if all rapes are the woman's fault, then women have control of the situation, and therefore woman who believes this feels a sense of control over events that may cause her harm. The alternative, to believe that bad things can happen to good people out of no fault of their own, is to give up that sense of security.

A cruel, but predictable universe can be preferable to a cruel and unpredictable one.

December 29, 2005 5:26 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I think Skipper was mostly right the first time.

The received Christian view has generally been that the world was a perfect creation, somewhat soiled -- for humans and (in some sects) animals that had sex with them.

Creation itself, though, remained perfect. This was Paley's view and in fact the rationale for the monetary award in those lectures whose name I cannot just now recall.

That people could simultaneously maintain the view that creation was perfect but that it was simultaneously right to eat cows but not pigs merely demonstrates that religion prevents people from thinking clearly.

They had 1,800 years to clarify their thinking and never did so.

'Long comes Darwin with a nonreligious viewpoint, which they hate, but even after 150 years they still have not come close to a self-consistent description of creation.

Thus, the theodicy problem.

December 29, 2005 5:27 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Oroborous' sublimated desire to rule the world?

What do you mean, "sublimated" ?
Seems pretty overt to me.

Fortunately, I've been born into the right time, in the right society, to indulge in such a passion.

[I]f all rapes are the woman's fault, then women have control of the situation, and therefore a woman who believes this feels a sense of control over events that may cause her harm.

The same dynamic motivates people to believe that 9/11 was provoked by something that America did, or failed to do, or that 9/11 was actually planned/committed/allowed to happen by the U.S. gov't - usually personified by Bush, despite the fact that the planning was done under Clinton.

Oh well, logic does not come easily to conspiracists and the emotionally desperate.

December 29, 2005 10:09 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

When people of Paley's time or whenever asserted that Creation was perfect, they meant it theologically as a defining adjective, not that no human could think up anything more functional or efficient, still less that the human form or the weather couldn't be improved upon in theory. It's an ab initio statement of faith, not a report card. What you are doing here is akin to arguing against the mathematician who asserts that three is a "perfect" number by pointing out defiantly that four makes a far more successful dinner party.

Geez, the way you guys look at the past you would think that pre-Enlightenment man was not only lacking biological knowledge, he was barely conscious. I recommend two aspirins and an uninterrupted week of Shakespeare.

oroborous:

Oh well, logic does not come easily to conspiracists and the emotionally desperate.

Do you think there is anyone out there who, when faced with a terminally ill child, doesn't wrestle for a long time with angst as to whether something he did or didn't do (including offending the Eternal) was responsible? Were any of us on 9/11 free from wild mental lurchings as to what had happened and why? Is your dream world one where bloodless, airtight empirical logic is man's sole motivator? Eh, Mr. Spock?

You're fight is not with the excesses of the emotionally fragile, but with human nature itself. No wonder you guys are so disappointed in creation.

December 30, 2005 2:39 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Regarding Kitzmiller, the plaintiffs alleged that the school board was acting to inject religion into science classes.

IIRC, Judge Jones concluded two things: the defendants motivation was in fact religious, and that ID was devoid of scientific content.

I am not particularly uncomfortable with trials settling this kind of question. There was ample opportunity for both sides to present their best arguments. Judge Jones conducted the trial scrupulously. If there is a better setting for non-scientists to assess the merits of competing positions, I am not aware of it.

There are two reasons I said Judge Jones was at least as likely as any to side with ID/Creationism. First, he is a Bush 43 appointee, with all the conservative credentials that implies. Second, that is precisely what ID/Creationism proponents said. They are the ones viewing this as a partisan political battle.

Geez, the way you guys look at the past you would think that pre-Enlightenment man was not only lacking biological knowledge, he was barely conscious.

First of all, we are talking about a time that is decidedly post-Enlightenment. Second, in the mid-19th century, people did in fact possess biological knowledge, but it was scarcely a patch on what we have today. I doubt anyone in 1859 knew anything about the appendix's function, or had any notion of how poorly designed the human pelvis and back are for their intended function.

The widely prevailing notion was the the earth was 6600 years old -- Bible's even had years since creations as marginalia adjacent to events -- and that God had got it right first time around. Extinction was simply not on the cards, never mind the notion that the species alive today represent something like 1/10th of one percent of all that have ever existed.

Profound ignorance allows people to view Biblical creation stories literally.

Naturalistic evolution allows people to view the Bible's creation stories allegorically. While there is clearly no such thing as humans without parents, humans are still special results of God's general creation, while being fully part of that creation.

ID requires people to view God as either unspeakably evil or incompetent beyond comprehension.

Naturalistic evolution required the dualistic nature of religious belief to exhibit some of its elasticity. To the extent ID/Creationism becomes widespread, it will also for a great many people take that elasticity beyond the breaking point.

No wonder you guys are so disappointed in creation.

Huh?

As for 9/11, no lurchings here. I knew from the get-go that perfect believers had applied Divine Command morality perfectly.

December 30, 2005 6:01 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

9/11 did show the downside to believing in an activist God. I remember hearing several people through the media express doubts about their faith in God because of it. Some did the same after last year's tsunami. It seems to be a kind of faith that weakens when you need it the most - it's a fair weather outlook on God. Good for allaying anxieties when times are good, but devastating when the inevitable hard times arrive.

Peter, we all know that people are illogical and weak. Therefore, we craft worldviews that, conscously or subconsciously, provide us with a sense of meaning. Worldviews have strengths and weaknesses. The strength of a materialist worldview, or a weak god worldview (one that is consistent with evolution) is that there are no expectations of special protection from disaster - which simultaneously is its weakness, for those who cannot reconcile themselves to that realization.

I'm not sure that pre-Darwinian thinkers had a universally consistent view regarding the perfection of Creation. I seem to remember a quote by some "thinker" to the effect that God made creatures legs just the right length to reach the ground. Pre-Galileo, theologians thought that perfection meant that all orbits were perfectly round, and the moon and planets were perfectly smooth. But at the same time we have mosquitos and painful childbirth, and death, which was chalked up to Original Sin and the Fall. So, as long as men could believe in the literal history portrayed by Genesis, then God's creation had a perfection of purpose, in that the bad stuff was accounted for by Man's free will - which was the first recorded instance of "blaming the victim".

But after Darwin, such perfection of purpose was no longer possible. Mosquitos, painful childbirth and death were now the result of mindless, random material processes. ID would have to not only put God back in the designer's seat, but also find a way to put Man back in the position of generating all the imperfections of the world through Original Sin. Which is a tall order for science, given the available evidence.

December 30, 2005 6:06 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Is your dream world one where bloodless, airtight empirical logic is man's sole motivator? Eh, Mr. Spock?

You've been reading my comments for two years now, and I know that because you've been arguing with me for a similar length of time.

I'm disappointed that you've apparently retained nothing of what I've been attempting to communicate.

The answer to the specific question above is no, but I would like to live in a world where, four years after 9/11, people would have calmed down and yes, applied some empirical logic.

"Panicked speculation" as a way of responding to 9/11 is getting a bit long in the tooth, wouldn't you say ?

December 30, 2005 6:58 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

You guys have a tendency to do two things that eventually makes these arguments of ours go off on different tracks. The first is your inclination to contrast modern sophisticated, educated, even professional opinion with past general opinion of ordinary people in the street. Just about every modern argument and doubt you hold about religion and biblical lieralism was well-known to and explored by the ancients and pretty much every age since. Ever heard of the atoms of Democritus? The stoics? Maimonedes?

You can rail against Orrin's creative definitions to arrive at his famous 13%, but you must know that your view of the exclusivley determinative role of natural evolution is not one shared by most of a general public that has had many generations of secular, public education in a climate that honours science. I feel your frustration and understand that is why you want to control and censor public education and deprive most students of exposure to the very arguments we all delight in for hours on end (and, puleeze, spare me the bunk about religion classes). Well, bully for both sides, but this straight-line "all those superstitious pre-moderns believed lierally in the Bible but we moderns KNOW the truth" is something you just have to get over in the name of history. It wasn't true about them and it isn't true about us. Again, Shakespeare is a good start.

The second is that there is no room for "We don't know" with you guys, except on minor details needed to flesh out the whole picture. You have no problem in seeing medieval man as awash in a sea of ignorance and way off on the wrong track in many areas of knowledge, but you are so confident you have solved the riddle it never dawns on you that what we don't know is still huge and fundamental. Nor do you appear to understand that the medieval worldview "worked" for them much the same as your scientific rationalism works for you--which is to say, not too bad, but hardly flawlessly and with decidedly diminishing returns. I sense the reason why you keep demanding your adversaries declare for ID or literal creationism, is you assume everybody has to have a comprehensive, coherent opinion on how we got here and why, and that anyone who doesn't loses to you by default. My own view is that biblical creationism is obviously wrong as literal history, ID is silly and the idea that the modern synthesis alone explains human history and evolution is a scream. Bully for me, too, but how about a little modesty around here.

Duck, did someone give you a lot of self-help books for Christmas or are you practicing for a second career as a Freudian psychologist?

December 30, 2005 7:08 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Oroborous:

Me, too, which is one reason I am supremely grateful for the U.S.A. and it's forces. But after two years I get the impression you believe human nature is infinitely malleable and there is no problem we can't solve with win/win scientifc and technological advances. Except maybe Islam.

December 30, 2005 7:18 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,

Now that I know it bugs you, I do it just for that reason :-)

Seriously, I don't know how you can debate ID or any other religious/philosophical controversy without trying to figure out what motivates the other guy. I guess that you could call that effort pop psychology, but if you do you'd have to apply that term to just about all political and religious opinion-making that passes for intelligent conversation nowadays.

I could attempt a more professional psychological approach, but that would require attaching electrodes to your head. Are you game?

It sounds like we don't have much to argue about with you regarding ID. It is funny how we reflexively assume antagonistic positions in these debates, as if someone shouted "to your battle stations" over a megaphone.

One reason that I include the literalist strawman in so much of my commentary, and not the modern, enlightened, nuance-perceiving religious sophisticate such as yourself, is because a)the literalist still exists, and is the driving force behind ID, and b) I think I understand the literalist better than the sophisticate. The literalist believes that without a literal reading of the Bible Christianity has no meaning. I tend to agree. Without a literal historical act of Original Sin, how to explain the necessity of Christ's sacrifice?

December 30, 2005 9:13 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

There are two, and only two, intellectually responsible positions that can be taken.

1. Strict materialism.

2. Literal belief in a sacred text.

Any wavering on 1. leads to vitalism, which makes scientific inquiry otiose.

Any wavering on 2. leads to cherry pickinng, which is all the modern, sophisticated religious person can come up with.

You can live a life with some mixture of 1. and 2., and almost everybody does. But it is impossible to have a coherent set of opinions that way, which is why discussions based on an assumption that you can mix 1. and 2. are inconclusive.

I do not, by the way, believe that the beliefs of medieval people were as good for their purposes as ours are for our purposes.

Today in the Highlands of New Guinea, anytime a pig gets sick and dies, some human has to be found who was responsible and killed -- or if that is too difficult, one of his relatives.

This approach is exactly how people lived in medieval times.

I think that going to Safeway and buying a pork chop, with no human sacrifice involved, is a decided improvement.

December 30, 2005 11:34 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

There are two, and only two, intellectually responsible positions that can be taken...

Cue the orchestra, Harry:

"Call me...irresponsible..."

Yeah, those ancients and medieval types were forever offering up their little ones to compensate for sick pigs. Records are full of it.

December 30, 2005 1:24 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Just about every modern argument and doubt you hold about religion and biblical lieralism was well-known to and explored by the ancients and pretty much every age since.

And the answer is?

Because it makes a difference to:

[the] view of the exclusively determinative role of natural evolution is not one shared by most of a general public that has had many generations of secular, public education in a climate that honours science.

First, absent a few obvious examples, I don't know of any evolutionary biologists who insist that naturalistic evolution is exclusively determinative. There is no possible way to determine whether, or how often, some God nudged the mutation or survival dice.

Second, when one stops torturing the statistics to the screaming point, at least 60% of Americans assume naturalistic evolution correctly describes the material aspects of natural history. The only thing separating them from Dawkins is that they assume God has been intermittently nudging things along in ways undetectable.

I don't care to control or censor public education. But I do rather prefer that when something is taught under the rubric of rational inquiry, it actually bears some resemblance to rational inquiry.

The moment ID/Creationism, or any other alternative to naturalistic evolution, does anything other than Cargo Cult science, then I will heartily endorse its inclusion.

but this straight-line "all those superstitious pre-moderns believed lierally in the Bible but we moderns KNOW the truth"

That sentence is an interesting mix. I don't think that "pre-moderns" were superstitious, in the strict sense of the word. The Bible was, for the part of the world from which we descend, was the only descriptive/explanatory game in town. That they relied upon the Bible to understand the surrounding world wasn't an act of superstition.

But as soon as empirical evidence demonstrates that there was never any such thing as a pair of adult humans without parents, then the alternative to considering huge swaths of the Bible inoperative is indeed a trip into fairy tale land.

Like Duck says, the literalist still exists. And strongly desires to impose that literalism on everyone.

Harry is exactly on point with his characterization of dualism. Fortunately, most humans have the ability to simultaneously entertain mutually exclusive ideas.

Otherwise, we'd be extinct within the year from blown aneurysms.

December 30, 2005 2:40 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I get the impression you believe human nature is infinitely malleable...

No, I don't.

...and there is no problem we can't solve with win/win scientific and technological advances.

I do, but only because in the long run, that's true of 95% of all problems that we might face, and 99% of all problems that we'll probably face.

For instance, the struggle over abortion, currently one of American society's most contentious issues, will quietly fade away as medical advances render the current D & C treatment obsolete.

It'll end up being an issue like birth control, where what once was a culturally-wracking issue turns into an issue that a very small minority feel strongly about, and everyone else accepts as settled.

Even the American Civil War need not have been fought, as it was amenable to a technological fix.
If the political aspects had held off coming to a head for another forty years, then petroleum-powered tractors and fertilizer from natural gas would have solved the South's need for human slaves, and an ever-expanding territory, due to cotton's rapid depletion of soil fertility when planted in the same fields for many years in succession.

Let's just hope that the planet-busting asteroid lurking somewhere in the depths of the void holds off until we're ready for that challenge.

Except maybe Islam.

To the extent that Islam is a problem for the world, it's going to get "fixed".
America will be satisfied with the final outcome, and future generations of "reformed Islam" worshippers may be satisfied, but current Islamic fundamentalists are likely to be very unhappy with the end product.

Note that America and the rest of the West don't necessarily have to do much more than ensure that Muslims have freedom of choice; once Muslims aren't worshipping at the point of a sword, then Islam will reform or wither - their choice.

Harry Eagar wrote an applicable paragraph in his piece that became the "theodicy" thread, about how the presence of a significant Buddhist faction in Hawai'ian society has prevented Christian churches from getting both too radical and too influential - the Buddhists provide a living example that there's more than one way to feed a cat, that success can be achieved in many ways.

[I]t never dawns on you that what we don't know is still huge and fundamental.

While I can only speak for myself, I can assure you that I've written extensively about how the current sum total of human knowledge is as the first step on a journey of a thousand miles, when viewed from the perspective of omniscience.

When viewed, however, from the vantage point of human history, it must be said that we have A LOT of neat toys.

December 30, 2005 10:33 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

hey skipper wrote: "ID requires people to view God as either unspeakably evil or incompetent beyond comprehension."

Isn't there a third possibility? That God's will and definition of good and perfect is simply beyond human comprehension? For example, if you designed this bad back of mine, I'd consider you evil. But if God did it, perhaps it's an integral, important, and good part of His greater plan.

hey skipper also wrote: "The only thing separating them from Dawkins is that they assume God has been intermittently nudging things along in ways undetectable."

Perhaps, but isn't that intermittent nudging the main thing that ID claims? And if you ask them whether the evolution or the nudging were more important, which would they say?

December 30, 2005 10:42 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't think 'intermittent nudging' is a fair assessment of ID.

The ID theorizers are inconsistent on this point.

Some seem ready to pick an arbitrary point and admit that 'stuff that happened after X' might be hammered into a natural selection framework. But they totally skip any discussion of where 'X' might fall, if not right at the moment of creation.

For ID to make any sense even on their terms, X must start at Time 0.

December 31, 2005 2:39 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

No, I don't think there is a third possibility.

So far as I know, all revealed religious texts make a point of distinguishing good from evil, and extolling God's munificence.

In order for any of this to have any meaning at all, to be anything other than random hand waving, these terms as used in, say, the Bible, must have some meaning to those reading The Book.

Within the context of those terms, which is to say, the human context, these eminently avoidable design deficiencies represent some combination of evil and incompetence.

Keep in mind that it is within the human context that religious faith exists, and it is within the human context that people will interpret IDs claims. I simply don't see how the notion, demonstrated by ID, that God purposefully imposes excruciating suffering absolutely randomly can coexist at all comfortably with Christian notions of God.

Or any human notion, for that matter. Here the Irony Meter once again goes into the red. Randomness now becomes part of God's plan, yet randomness is just the thing that religionists hate most about Darwinism.

To the extent this notion is true, people won't stop believing, they will just choose something else. I can't imagine that Christianity's defenders figure that to be a good thing.

And if you ask them whether the evolution or the nudging were more important, which would they say?

One should be able to determine that by referring directly to ID. Assuming, of course, if ID is distinguishable in any way from the null hypothesis.

December 31, 2005 4:56 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey skipper,

I'm mostly gonna have to take your word for it since I can't even begin to pretend to know much about the bible. My impression from believers had always been that God was by definition perfect and therefore my achin' back was part of His perfection and greater plan and why my suffering is perfect was just beyond human comprehension (or at least my comprehension). Sure, some parts of God's will are easily understandable, but some parts (like my bad back) are not, but that doesn't mean they're not perfect from God's perspective.

But I suspect that we'll possibly get to see if you're right. I suspect ID might possibly get a foothold and grow as a movement such that it's taught in a lot of schools. And then we'll see if your predictions regarding its damaging effects to Christianity (and I guess the rest of the Abrahamic religions) come to pass.

Regarding my question, "and if you ask them whether the evolution or the nudging were more important, which would they say?", the "them" is the 60% who believe in nudging by God, not the advocates of ID, so I cannot determine the answer by referring directly to ID itself. Sorry about the ambiguous wording on my part.

December 31, 2005 12:15 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Here's a good site refuting Michael Behe and ID.

December 31, 2005 3:28 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

By the way, Peter, I have read all of Shakespeare, which is a religion-free zone.

Whatever he demonstrates about the perspicasciousness of the oldsters, he showed you could get there without god.

Whether he believed in any god is uncertain. He was either an atheist or he didn't trust people who did believe in god.

He was, as you indicate, a wise man.

Certain it is, though, that in the only scene he ever wrote in which religion played an effective part, the religion was witchcraft.

December 31, 2005 3:58 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

It is surpassing odd that God isn't as good a writer as Shakespeare.

December 31, 2005 5:10 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

OK, so let's see if I've mastered this week's lessons from the Daily Duck regulars:

A) Religious folks must see the Bible as a book of natural history; otherwise they are illogical or hypocritical, which is both perfectly fine, even healthy, and to be resisted firmly;

B) Prohibiting kids from learning about any theologically-based challenges to darwinism whether their community wants them to or not is not censorship. It is simply the promotion of clear-thinking.

C) Everybody in the past saw creation as perfectly designed and the Bible as literally true except for Shakespeare and his many fans who managed to carve out a religion-free zone while all around them were trading humans for pigs;

D) We hardly know anything at all, except that technology and scientific rationalism will solve 99% of our problems;

E) ID fails because Bret's bad back proves God is malevolent or incompetent.

Have I got it?

January 01, 2006 5:33 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
You would make a good satirist, you should try out for Second City. Why do all the good comedians come from Canada?

Seriously, do we really want to raise the "censorship" charge? We have existing legal precedents forbidding the teaching of religion in public schools under the Establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. The majority has a right to make its views heard up to the point, but when they wish to use the levers of government authority to make those views heard to a captive audience of children, the Constitution limits them from imposing religious views.

I find it odd that the ID proponents are so eager to rush the results of such a fledgeling "science" into the classroom texts, wouldn't it be prudent to wait for a scientific consensus to form before taking this step? Do we need to expose our children to every quack theory of science under the rubric of anti-censorship?

That the impetus of ID efforts are aimed at the elementary school classrooms and not funding research into this fledgeling "science" decisively shows that it is an effort to support religion, not science.

January 01, 2006 10:24 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

As far as the questions that ID raises against evolution, they have been answered in convincing fashion (see the link above). Yet people like Behe continue to ask the same question over and over. Behe brings up the "irreducible complexity" bugaboo over and over. He is like some medieval Spaniard in the court Queen Isabella, who, after Columbus's third successful voyage to the New World, continues to object that his next voyage will sail off the edge of the world and be lost.

This quote about Irreducible Complexity from the "Behe's Empty Box" site captures it perfectly:

I should point out that Behe's hybrid vision of life does accept common descent as reasonable, and does allow for cases of Darwinian natural selection and random genetic drift. So how can we distinguish evolution from design? Simple: To Behe, a system has evolved when he, or others, can imagine how it has evolved, otherwise it was a product of intelligent design. "Irreducible Complexity" has nothing to do with it.

January 01, 2006 10:33 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

As to your A, Peter, all I said is that if you are going to accept any writing as divinely inspired, you have to accept the whole corpus. You cannot pick and choose. That would put you in the position of usurping god -- what Orrin always accused me of.

Whether the divine revelation has anything to say about natural history, I will leave to the divinity.

The principle applies to any divine revelation about any subject.

January 01, 2006 11:55 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

To second Harry, your point A is pretty much correct. No need to charge hypocrisy, illogical will do.

But rather than restate our argument, why not counter them? Please answer my question regarding Genesis, Original Sin and Christ's sacrifice. If Original Sin was not a historical act commited by humanity's common ancestor, then in what way is Christ's sacrifice theologically necessary?

Now it is fine for religious people to argue that Genesis is not literally true, but figuratively, but then don't you also have to say the same about the Passion? Yes, Jesus's death was a historical fact, but the "dying for our sins" would have to take on figurative, as opposed to literal, meaning.

You can build a religion around a figurative sacrifice and resurrection, (see Archbishop Spong) but it falls short of Christianity, no?

January 01, 2006 12:28 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

We hardly know anything at all, except that technology and scientific rationalism will solve 99% of our problems

Because our limited knowledge suffices for our limited problems.

We don't need to know how to create and sustain a black hole, nor how to travel interdimensionally, in order to end hunger and starvation among the peoples of Earth, and our limited knowledge of biology will (eventually) allow us to medically end the threat from AIDS (note that such isn't even necessary, since simple and well-known, but unheeded, changes to human behavior would do the same).

Knowledge of faster-than-light travel isn't necessary for us to cope with a warming Earth, nor with the next Ice Age.

Almost all future advances will simply allow us to achieve more, they aren't necessary for base survival.

Some problems that we DO need to figure out, before they occur:

How to detect and stop the Global Extinction Asteroid that's on a sure collision course with Earth; how to detect, stop, and/or suppress a supervolcanic eruption; and figuring out how to inert ANY virus would certainly be nice.

As for the first two, we likely (likely, NOT surely) have hundreds or even thousands of years in which to solve those, before it's do or die time.

And those two are indeed "do or die", the first will end all human life, possibly all Terran life period, and the second might kill two billion people, globally.
The last time that a supervolcano erupted, the entire human race was whittled down to less than 100,000 people. It was very near a human extinction event.

January 01, 2006 6:48 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Congratulations, Harry. You have managed to reduce the entire field of biblical scholarship to one sentence. Where did you guys ever get the idea that "divinely inspired" is synonymous with "divinely dictated"? If you are going to keep attacking religion, could you please try and stick to the adult versions rather than the six year old ones. Think most religious people believe the Book of Job or Song of Soloman was written by non-humans?

As we are into pop psychology these days, what am I to make of a bunch of darwinists who start a blog devoted to furthering natural evolution but who, rather than confront its weaknesses and lacunae head-on, spend more time chortling at those crazy religious folks and debating and pronouncing on what people who believe in what they don't believe must believe, even though they don't believe in that either? Passing strange.

Duck, it really doesn't matter in the end what SCOTUS precedents say or what is testable, or what is or isn't science, blah, blah. For whatever reasons, you have put yourself in the position where you stand for the proposition that the youth of America should be cut off and shielded from a huge swath of Western intellectual tradition and the opportunity to confront and debate timeless philosophical questions. That issue stands above the fulminations of both Pat Robertson and the ACLU and all the political posturing. I believe the judge in the Dover case at one point called ID "a particular version of Christianity", which is very strange and makes me wonder whether he wasn't trying a little too hard and disingenuously to link it to the establishment of a particular faith. In any event, I hope you won't be insulted if even a Canadian says he is confident the Founding Fathers never intended anything like what is happening. Can't have religion classes, can't expose them to non-natural theories in science class, can't promote any theory of morality with theological roots and even the Christmas pageant is very, very dicey. Heaven help us if you guys ever set your sights on music and art class. But censorship is what it all adds up to. Time to look in the mirror and stop trying to be too clever with the dictionary.

As to Genecis, all I can say is that thanks to our debates of the last few years, I have come to see it as far more astounding an account than I ever did before, in the sense that I find it much harder than before to entertain the possibility that a few patriarchs could have just made it up sitting around the camp fire. Many thanks, guys. Of course it isn't natural history in the modern sense, but so what exactly? Myth is not synonymous with error and there are more things in heaven and earth than this world dreams of. What was your question again?

As to the Passion, no thanks. No offense, but that would feel a little like arguing the strengths and weaknesses of freedom and democracy with a bunch of Islamicists. You guys may give rote nods of distant respect to religion in general, but you are simply too vituperative and contemptuous of Christianity for me to get into that. After all, there are whole libraries on the subject and the arguments over how it happened and what it meant have been going on for two thousand years. It drives me bananas too, but whatever I believe, it's more than enough not to feel comfortable setting it up as a target in a secularist paint ball concession. There are a few over at Brosjudd who might take you on, though. For me, I prefer to stick at the theism vs atheism level.

Oroborous, I stand in awe. Seriously. In all the discussions we have about American exceptionalism, I try to keep a respectful detachment, but there is no doubt American optimism is unique. Darn it, even your pessimists are more optimistic than everyone else's optimists. We up here are probably second in the world, but we can't hold a candle to you guys. Ah well, sunny Michael vs. gloomy Peter. While you are racing around solving all these intractable problems, I'll bone up on my Kaplan and Dalrymple and nag you to keep you honest.

Happy New Year, all.

January 03, 2006 4:01 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

LOL

Well, I don't mean to imply that we will end world hunger anytime soon, just that it's not a problem of science/technology/environmental capacity.

The human race could produce enough food to make everyone fat; that we don't do so is ENTIRELY a political/cultural problem.

Which is the case with almost any seemingly intractable problem that you'd care to name - a failure to apply the known solution.

January 03, 2006 2:40 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Where did you guys ever get the idea that "divinely inspired" is synonymous with "divinely dictated"?

If all religionists were like you, I, for one, would never get that idea.

But they aren't. Islamists, and Christian Reconstructionists, are people of perfect faith, and perfect Revealed Textual knowledge. For them, the difference between divinely inspired and dictated is without distinction.

I believe the judge in the Dover case at one point called ID "a particular version of Christianity", which is very strange and makes me wonder whether he wasn't trying a little too hard and disingenuously to link it to the establishment of a particular faith.

Well, that happened to be precisely what the plaintiffs were trying to show (some of whom are devout Christians, and one of whom objected to ID because it means "God is incompetent."). The Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center were behind this whole ID shlamozzle; their brief was patently obvious, as was the school board's. The Judge only concluded the blindingly obvious.

Can't have religion classes

Can. They just may not be classes on the government dime promoting a particular religion -- schools can teach all the comparative religion classes they want. Thomas Jefferson was very clear on this sort of thing; he was the founding father who coined "the wall of separation." Funny how religious conservatives insist on interpreting the constitution through the intent of the authors (a good thing, BTW), yet forgetting that at precisely the moment clear intent collides with religionist desires.

but whatever I believe, it's more than enough not to feel comfortable setting it up as a target in a secularist paint ball concession.

I truly and humbly apologize if I have given that impression, for it was never my intent.


Peter, you and David Cohen have provided me with some of the most interesting conversation of a good many years, if not ever; thank you very much.

Best wishes for 2006,
Jeff

P.S. Get some sleep.

January 03, 2006 5:48 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Thank you, Jeff, same to you, but just hold on a minute here. Haven't you guys just been arguing that anyone religious who isn't an absolute biblical literalist is illogical and holds completely untenable positions. What are you saying, that I'm horribly confused and not nearly as intellectually respectable as those Reconstructionists, but that you like me better for it all the same? Hey, look, I know we Canadians just love to be stroked about our famous niceness, but this is too much. Talk about illogical!

January 03, 2006 6:30 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Great thread, this.

Top marks for Peter for doing very well what we often find ourselves doing on BrosJudd: taking on a swarming horde of opponents by himself.

I'm very much with Harry when it comes to there being only two truly honest intellectual stances.

Either you absolutely accept materialist explanations (with the caveat that you will change your mind in the face of incontrovertable evidence), or you accept the literal truth of whatever religious dogma you prefer, despite any evidence to the contrary.

Anything in between - eg. cherry-picking, redefining as allegory, drawing arbitrary lines here - is equivalent to admitting that you are only interested in hearing what you want to hear and believing what is nicest and least offensive.

Which is exactly what the vast majority of people do, and is perhaps the only practical way to live. But it doesn't stand up to scrutiny when we get down to philosophical nitty gritty.

I've said before that ID is nothing more than Creationism for wusses.

On Peter's point about our ascribing naivity to pre-Enlightenment man, it is true that there are virtually no arguments for or against the existence of God that weren't thoroughly discussed by the Ancient Greeks.

Except one. Pre-Darwin, you could talk about the problems of evil and first causes all you like, but the religionist always had the ultimate fallback, failsafe argument: the Argument from Design.

The human ear, the elephant's trunk, the lion's teeth, bees and pollen - it all seems to fit so well that it must have been designed.

Post-Darwin, that argument disappeared. It's pretty hard to overstate the importance of the 'Dangerous Idea'.

January 04, 2006 3:42 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Post-Darwin, that argument (from design) disappeared.

That is, of course, your charm.

January 04, 2006 4:31 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

Surely you won't mind if I make a small addition to your argument:

Either you absolutely accept materialist explanations (with the caveat that you will change your mind in the face of incontrovertable evidence), or you accept the literal truth of whatever religious dogma you prefer (with the caveat that the Divine Will is revealed through history), despite any evidence to the contrary.

January 04, 2006 5:06 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Haven't you guys just been arguing that anyone religious who isn't an absolute biblical literalist is illogical and holds completely untenable positions.

Depends on the position. When religionists state that God is required for morality, then pick and choose which parts of God's revelations are morally operative, then religionists are using reason to determine morality (because it is off topic, I will leave for some future time the discussion as to whether religion vs. reason as the source of morality is a false dichotomy).

It is inconsistent to neglect one's dirty finger when pointing out someone else's spots.

Notice my word choice: inconsistent vs. untenable. Scriptural literalists hold a completely consistent position that happens to be untenable. Scriptural selectivists hold an inconsistent, but tenable, position.

So I'm not saying you (and probably at least 80% of Christians) are confused; rather, you have, through the hive mind, adopted a functionally selective approach to Scripture. If you read up on your Deuteronomy, you will find God has commanded you to kill all those, including members of your own family, who worship false gods. Yet you don't, and, I suspect, would find such a thing abhorrent. Why is that?

Humans have an astonishing ability to simultaneously entertain mutually exclusive ideas; intelligence and the awareness of our own mortality seems to require nothing less. Humans, in general, are completely adverse to "I don't know."

Which is the one tenable and consistent position. It just has nothing much to do with human nature.

January 04, 2006 5:22 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Yes, I will mind. That just means that you'll gradually retreat under the weight of empirical evidence until you reach a point you're comfortable with.

Everyone does it, but it is intellectual fraud.

January 04, 2006 5:22 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
Not completely illogical. You are too defensive. We attack the argument, not the arguer.

How do you define the difference between divinely inspired and divinely dictated? Can someone be inspired by God to say something that is not an authoritative truth?

A priest at my childhood church stated one Sunday that he was told by God to bless the local reservior, so that all tap water would be Holy water. Now, this can be said to have been inspired by
God. But how do you know that what people say about God is truly inspired or not? It leaves

January 04, 2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

(cont.)...too much to the discretion of the subjective sense to be an authoritative way of discerning the truth, don't you think?

January 04, 2006 9:17 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

It depends on what kind of truth you are talking about. But, sure, renegade or dotty priests saying silly things about reservoirs or people trying to build airplanes on biblical principles have always been among us. But, if you were honest, you will note that it has not been since deep in the Dark Ages that flocks just rotely followed or that the religious have rejected natural explanations. Matter of fact, we invented and discovered them. Anyway, you can't really discuss that concern without reading in the influence and contributions of authority, tradition and community. The rationalists' idol may be the lone scientist discovering truth in the lab all by himself by ignoring all that came before him and applying rigorous observation techniques, but that, for the most part, is not how religious truths are arrived at. And we, too, have peer review. Duck, have you checked with the Vatican about church doctrine on turning reservoirs into Holy Water?

The reason I groan about pop psychology is that it brings useful debate to a screeching halt, as Brit and Skipper demonstrate. You attribute a convenient, unconscious selectivity grounded in security and comfort, which must be very comforting for you, as it allows to you see your real adversary in such stark, extreme terms and pretend the edge is the mainstream or that religious people who actually accept much of your world are illogical or hypocritical. So the only answer you leave me is to retort that you must have a deep psychological need to distort the views of those who challenge you in order to hide your weaknesses and paint them as either completely self-regarding or barely sane or conscious. I would prefer to argue that your error is in limiting the scope of knowledge itself and excluding much of experience as reliable or knowable. Now, I could go on and suggest that is very convenient for you and just happens to fit snugly with advancing the little personal worlds you have constructed for yourselves, but I'm not into that. Yet.

It is very, very easy to raise profound conundrums about religious belief, especially where it interssects or overlaps with the natural world, conundrums that unaided logic cannot resolve. Theology wouldn't exist if that weren't so. But what I can't figure out is why you are so faithful to the notion that scientific rationalism alone is an unfailingly superior guide to everything about life, including moral and ethical ballast, when the vast majority of scientific findings and knowledge have been found to be wrong or wanting and there is evidence all around you that we are making such a hash of so many things. I recall Skipper opining that, even if belief in rationalism and darwinism leads to social dislocation or societal extinction, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Talk about fanatical! I think it has something to do with the fact that for you guys, if problems and experiences don't fit into the rationalists' paradigm, they simply don't exist.

January 05, 2006 4:27 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

Very well said.

I think the answer to your central question is that we don't draw a line between the smaller everyday questions (eg. how do I get to work?) and the deep philosophical questions (eg. how did humans get here?) when it comes to applying rational enquiry.

Of course we don't think that the method of scientific rational enquiry gets everything right all of the time - obviously science is always being debunked or improved - but it's the only method we have, and it also has the advantage of being self-correcting.

Of course, I cannot rule out the possibility that God has revealed himself to you but not yet to me. I'm skeptical about that, but I can't rule it out.

January 05, 2006 5:51 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
It is hard to carry on a proper philosophical conversation in snippets, it leaves too many things not said which prrompt the other party (you in this instance) to fill in the blanks with pat exlanations or pop psychology, as it were.

I don't apply scientific reasoning to moral matters, or the larger questions of "what is the good life". Ideas like justice and the good cannot be weighed, nor can their density or spectrum be measured. Their is a wholly other set of reasoning faculties which we employ to ponder those questions and work toward answers.

Our difference is that you look to religion to answer those questions - not as a mere, uncritical recipient of commands, but as a co-discoverer, so to speak, of those truth emanations known as revelations. Your assumption being that Man, in his corporeal state, is incapable of discovering these truths through the employment of his own reasoning faculties, and needs supernatural assistance.

We engage in the same search for truth as you, but do not look for signs of supernatural revelation to guide the way. My assumption is that Man's innate faculties are sufficient to find answers to the questions; or more accurately, that there is no supernatural aid forthcoming, and our faculties are all we have, and will have to do.

I have spent a good portion of my life within a religious worldview, so I understand the effort to discern divine inspiration from the merely reasoned truths. I couldn't tell. The best you can do is to go with what your moral sense tells you, and strive to educate that sense through reflection and experience. The worst thing to do is to withhold on making a decision until you receive a sign, or to accept the judgment of another merely because he seems more confident of the divine origin of his revelation.

The other difference between us is this need of the religious to determine our origin, specifically from a divine source. Religion has convinced people that they would be incapable of caring about the outcome of their own lives unless their lives were the intended creation of God. Life is what it is, you either find it worth caring about or you don't. The answer about origins is not forthcoming, and you have a life to live in the meanwhile.

The problem with basing your moral commitment to life on a creation story is that it is at best a shaky foundation. I was brought up in the Catholic religion, and was taught the Genesis account of creation in cathechism class as a literal account and I believed it to be a literal account. It was only later that I learned that the Church's official position was that Genesis is figuratively, not literally true. The Church's cathechism is too convoluted, confusing and contradictory to serve as a foundation for anything. At some point, like a frustrated homeowner who is tired of hiring incompetent and pricey contractors to maintain his house, you begin to wonder whether you are just as capable as the so called were dependent upon to provide you with what you needed.

The good thing about de-linking your sense of worth and meaning from the nature of your origin is that whatever future scientists discover, or fail to discover, about the origins of the Universe, or the origins of Man, you need not call into question your whole moral framework.

January 05, 2006 6:50 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

To second Harry, your point A is pretty much correct. No need to charge hypocrisy, illogical will do.

I don't apply scientific reasoning to moral matters, or the larger questions of "what is the good life".

Do you not see how I am now completely flummoxed? You agree with Harry that the choice is between pure materialism and unqualified literal belief in sacred texts, which would seem to suggest you are telling religionists that, if they think there is anything "truthful" in the Bible, they have to accept G-d wrote the genealogical tables and Daniel and the lions is historical fact--no intellectually flabby fudging allowed. But it's ok for you guys to drop materialism and rationalism when presented with questions you don't think they answer or don't like the answers if they do. No?

January 06, 2006 6:54 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
I can see where you got confused. It is not that I see it as illogical to derive moral truths from the Bible while not accepting its accounts as literally true. It is accepting the
bible as an infallible record of God's word and yet not accepting its accounts as literally true that I find illogical. Once you determine that passages from the Bible can have either literal or figurative meaning, you inject subjectivity into the mix.

Not that I am against subjectivity, but that is not what the Bible is supposed to represent. Once subjectivity enters the mix, then the authority of the text is superceded by the authority of the interpreter, and the Bible joins the ranks of every other man-made text as far as its claims to authoritative, inerrant truth.

January 06, 2006 8:39 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

The reason I groan about pop psychology is that it brings useful debate to a screeching halt, as Brit and Skipper demonstrate. You attribute a convenient, unconscious selectivity grounded in security and comfort, which must be very comforting for you, as it allows to you see your real adversary in such stark, extreme terms and pretend the edge is the mainstream or that religious people who actually accept much of your world are illogical or hypocritical.

I think you have misapprehended my (and I, if I may be so bold, Brit's) argument.

For one, I cannot attribute a convenient, unconscious selectivity to only my adversary, because human existence is impossible without doing that continuously. Being consistently analytical is impossible, for to do so requires analyzing the impact of each "fact" upon all other known "facts."

In fancy terms, that is a Cartesian Product. If you possessed only 300 facts, and could analyze each fact-pair in one nanosecond (IIRC), you would not be able to complete your analysis within the age of the universe.

Inevitably, then, all of us rely on the hive mind for virtually all our knowledge of all kinds. When religionists insist materialists are incapable of, say, deriving morality from reason, they are guilty not only of posing a false dichotomy, but also ignoring the very thing upon which their own religious beliefs are largely based.

Second, I'm not sure you understand who my adversary is. It isn't the people, or sects, that view Revealed Scripture as a both explanatory and allegorical; who judge others by proper actions, rather than proper ceremonies and beliefs.

It is the people, or sects, who insist that revealed text justifies establishing exclusionary moral communities based upon proper belief. They are the ones whose viewpoint is untenable.

It is very, very easy to raise profound conundrums about religious belief, especially where it interssects or overlaps with the natural world, conundrums that unaided logic cannot resolve. Theology wouldn't exist if that weren't so. But what I can't figure out is why you are so faithful to the notion that scientific rationalism alone is an unfailingly superior guide to everything about life ...

I'm not.

I am faithful to the notion that where scientific explanations about the natural world conflict with Scriptural explanations, Scripture is always wrong.

Why does that matter?

Because, as Duck has noted, it forces separating core Scriptural values from implementation details. And, in so doing, impedes the formation of exclusionary moral communities, which have been the bane of organized religion.

I recall Skipper opining that, even if belief in rationalism and darwinism leads to social dislocation or societal extinction, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

You recall incorrectly.

If I thought such was the case, I would argue for limiting both.

But it isn't. The evils that have been laid at rationalism's door are either those that have long predated rationalism, or are more correctly consequences of post-Industrial civilization. To the extent that the potential for social dislocation or extinction exist, it does no one any good to hook that cart to the wrong horse.

You really need to post less challenging replies. What you see here is a fraction of what went into the bit bucket.

January 07, 2006 5:30 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

I am faithful to the notion that where scientific explanations about the natural world conflict with Scriptural explanations, Scripture is always wrong.

I see. Would these by chance be the same scientific explanations that you assure us repeatedly are self-correcting, are grounded in time and place and are contingent upon ongoing substantiation by all future observations and discoveries? Yet somehow, when they conflict with Scripture, they are to be accepted as eternal absolute truth? I guess that means if Scripture in any way "conflicted" with the theory of the four humours advanced by medieval naturalists, Scripture was wrong and the naturalists right.

It's Sunday to-day, Skipper. Where are you going to pray?

January 08, 2006 4:28 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Would these by chance be the same scientific explanations that you assure us repeatedly are self-correcting, are grounded in time and place and are contingent upon ongoing substantiation by all future observations and discoveries?

Yes. Because revealed explanations are none of these things. But more importantly, religious belief is not (so far as I can understand it, anyway) primarily about physical implementation details.
If, say, Christianity's core values have any worth whatsoever, they are completely independent of the earth's position with respect to the sun, the value of Pi, whether bats are birds, or the extent to which naturalistic evolution is a correct description of natural history.
When religion's attempt to "prove" themselves (or treat different explanations of material reality as threats), they build their castles on sand in terrain they aren't even primarily concerned with. After all, is Christianity primarily about the here and now, or eternal salvation?
if Scripture in any way "conflicted" with the theory of the four humours advanced by medieval naturalists, Scripture was wrong and the naturalists right.
That the the theory of "four humours" was wrong doesn't make Scripture correct. Oddly, though, ID/Creationists automatically assume that wherever naturalistic evolution is "wrong", their theory is correct.
I'm sure you have noticed, though, that naturalistics explanations have come quite some way since the four humours. Scripture remains unchanged, unchangable.
It's Sunday to-day, Skipper. Where are you going to pray?
Is this a trick question?

January 09, 2006 4:44 AM  

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