Saturday, August 29, 2015

Seth Shostak: Just Add Water

Not Even Wrong

In a recent KCBS radio interview about his work for the search for extraterrestrial life, the Center for SETI research Director Seth Shostak repeatedly made claims about the simplicity of life. “Life is just chemistry,” Shostak informed interviewer Jeff Bell. Shostak elaborated that life is merely a collection of big molecules and that “You’re nothing more than that.” This just-add-water view of life is one of the many consequences of evolutionary theory and is so far from science that there is no point in even issuing a rebuttal. It is another example of metaphysics posing as science and making absurd statements with a straight face.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

BioLogos: Fundamentalists Were Wrong About Galileo, So They’re Also Wrong About Darwin

A Flawed History

It is one thing to point out particular conflicts between religion and science, it is quite another to characterize broadly the relationship between religion and science as one of conflict. The former is simply recognizing realities, the latter is the failed view known as the Conflict or Warfare Thesis. Certainly there are some genuine conflicts that arise from certain religious sects or traditions, but historically the relationship between religion and science is far more complicated than simply an on-going conflict. The BioLogos organization is very much concerned with this conflict, but they point out that they are careful to avoid the Warfare Thesis. Unfortunately this claim depends on a carefully crafted definition of the Warfare Thesis.

What is the Warfare Thesis?

The Warfare Thesis is bad history, but ironically too often the Warfare Thesis itself is the victim of bad history. Proponents of the Warfare Thesis are not necessarily atheists as they are sometimes portrayed. Nor do proponents of the Warfare Thesis necessarily see religion and science as mortal enemies, locked in an inevitable and necessary conflict. Like any broad movement the Warfare Thesis occupies a spectrum of views. From Voltaire and Edward Gibbon, to Hume, Kant, Washington Irving, Antoine-Jean Letronne, Thomas H. Huxley, John William Draper, Andrew Dickson White, and the many twentieth century proponents, the Warfare Thesis has had a wide variety of inputs and influences. Within its ranks one can find theists, agnostics and atheists. A common thread, however, is not the identification of conflict between religion and science so much as between fundamentalist religion and science. The problem lies with those scriptural literalists who can’t, or won’t, understand poetry or nuance in God’s word. Religion, once loosened from the fundamentalist grip, can take on its proper role. One of the Warfare Thesis strongest exponents, Andrew Dickson White, made this quite clear:

My belief is that in the field left to them—their proper field—the clergy will more and more, as they cease to struggle against scientific methods and conclusions, do work even nobler and more beautiful than anything they have heretofore done. And this is saying much. My conviction is that Science, though it has evidently conquered Dogmatic Theology based on biblical texts and ancient modes of thought, will go hand in hand with Religion; and that, although theological control will continue to diminish, Religion, as seen in the recognition of “a Power in the universe, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness,” and in the love of God and of our neighbor, will steadily grow stronger and stronger, not only in the American institutions of learning but in the world at large.

This religious sentiment was nowhere better illustrated than in the final scene of Inherit the Wind (click video above) which has the fictional character Henry Drummond (based on Clarence Darrow and played by actor Spencer Tracy) paying respects to his now deceased courtroom opponent, Matthew Harrison Brady (based on William Jennings Bryan and played by actor Fredric March).

Such sentimentalism does not sit well with atheist journalist E. K. Hornbeck (based on H. L. Mencken and played by actor Gene Kelly). Drummond quotes Scripture from memory and laments that “A giant once lived in that body, but Matt Brady got lost because he looked for God too high up and too far away.”

Hornbeck cries foul: “You hypocrite. You fraud. The atheist who believes in God,” but he is easily vanquished by the wiser Drummond who excoriates Hornbeck and his shallow skepticism. Hornbeck retreats from the courtroom while Drummond thoughtfully weighs his law book in one hand and the Bible in the other hand. He places the Good Book on top and victoriously walks out the other door to the rising crescendo of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Inherit the Wind is a classic staging of the Warfare Thesis. The ultimate target of Jerome Lawrence’s and Robert Lee’s script was McCarthyism and its witch hunts, but it was its weapon of choice—the Warfare Thesis—that made the play, and its many stagings and screenings, so popular.

And just as the Warfare Thesis is constructed from a false history, so too is Inherit the Wind based on a fictional retelling of the famous 1925 Monkey Trial. The historical furniture is rearranged to convey a false message of conflict, and yet the script is routinely held up as a cogent and accurate message for today. Such is the power of the enduring Warfare Thesis mythology.

So the Warfare Thesis is not an atheistic mission. Nor is it an attack on all things religious. Rather it is a religious view that seeks a harmonization which avoids the pitfalls of literalism and recognizes the advances of science. That may sound good, but in its attack on fundamentalism it fails to appreciate the complex relationship between religion and science. Religion, for example, can provide useful ideas to science and it can guiding restraints. The influence may or may not be cooperative, but it often is subtle and complicated.

What is BioLogos?

BioLogos is many things, but regarding the religion and science, BioLogos is concerned about conflicts. And not just any conflicts. President Deborah Haarsma recently reiterated BioLogos’ long-standing concern with Christians who do not accept the fact of evolution. Meanwhile Senior Editor Jim Stump expresses concern that design advocates are misleading people in areas such as climate change and vaccines.

These are all classic Warfare Thesis topics. They are politically, economically and metaphysically laden areas where the science is easily influenced by non scientific factors. Consider vaccines, for example, a topic that comes right out of Andrew Dickson White’s work. The facts are that vaccines provide varying levels of immunity at the very remote risk of injury. The details vary with the vaccine but, in general, patients are faced with a risk-reward tradeoff for which there is no scientific formula. Unfortunately the whole area has become politically charged and accurate statistics can be difficult to obtain. Even the mention of risk, which is a scientific fact, is too often met with disdain. It is the height of scientism—a spin-off of the Warfare Thesis—to argue that science dictates the answer. This is a human decision.

One of BioLogos’ arguments for its position is that it is following in the tradition of Copernicus and Galileo who advocated heliocentrism against scriptural opposition. Is it not obvious that Christians were right to alter their interpretation of biblical verses suggesting geocentrism, such as Psalm 104:5, Joshua 10:12-13 and Ecclesiastes 1:5.

The answer, of course, is “yes.” And for most such a modification was not difficult since it was doctrinally inconsequential. Indeed, most of Galileo’s opposition had little or no problem with such modifications and the scriptural questions were not high on his list of disputes he had to deal with.

Furthermore, when the perspective of those verses is understood (or as we say in science, the “reference frame”), there is no contradiction with heliocentrism. Galileo had plenty of political opposition, and he created much of it with his overbearing personality, but in his favor he had empirical evidences that were fairly suggestive of heliocentrism.

This is not analogous to today’s Warfare Thesis situation. The science does not at all suggest that the species arose spontaneously. We can argue over how unlikely this is, but BioLogos argues it is a fact. And as with all evolutionists, their confidence comes from the metaphysics, not the science. There are many proofs of evolution, but there is no scientific argument that supports the evolutionist’s claim that evolution is a fact. That is not my opinion, that is a fact of the literature.

Likewise, to compare the politically-charged man-made global warming theory with Galileo and heliocentrism is an insult to the great scientist and the theory he championed. Thoughtful commentators such as Matt Ridley have explained the non scientific influences on AGW, but the myth of certainty persists. This is not to say AGW is not true, perhaps it is. But we are far from knowing what its proponents proclaim as undeniable truth, and that is the point. The truth claims reveal that it isn’t about the science.

I tried to explain these issues at the BioLogos website. The website’s rule is the comments are closed after four days of inactivity. In this case, however, the evolutionists suddenly changed the rule and closed the discussion after a criticism of my points.

BioLogos is certainly on target to argue that scientific findings need to be acknowledged and recognized. And BioLogos obviously rejects the over-the-top atheistic versions of the Warfare Thesis. But that doesn’t change the fact that BioLogos’ support for non scientific mandates falls right into the Warfare Thesis tradition.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Evolutionists Have a Brand New Theory

The Philosopher is Dead, Long Live the Philosopher

For a theory that is supposed to be scientific, and therefore not teleological, evolution certainly does have its share of Aristotelian commitments. In fact, the Philosopher seems to be present at every turn in evolutionary thought. Consider the latest thinking from evolutionists—a brand new theory formulated to replace the last brand new theory which, not surprisingly, failed just as badly as the previous theories. The new one is called the extended evolutionary synthesis. First there was evolution. Then there was the evolutionary synthesis. Now there is the extended evolutionary synthesis. Well at least this one affords evolutionists a three-letter acronym. Here is how evolutionists describe it (as usual, watch for the infinitive form):

the EES regards the genome as a sub-system of the cell designed by evolution to sense and respond to the signals that impinge on it. Organisms are not built from genetic ‘instructions’ alone, but rather self-assemble using a broad variety of inter-dependent resources. Even where there is a history of selection for plasticity, the constructive development perspective entails that prior selection underdetermines the phenotypic response to the environment.

Designed by evolution? To sense and respond? Organisms self-assemble? This isn’t science, this is absurdity.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Warfare Thesis and BioLogos

Hindsight is 20/20

Today professor Ted Davis, historian and Fellow at the BioLogos Foundation, explains why BioLogos does not promote the Warfare Thesis. Davis explains that just because the Warfare Thesis (the claim that Christianity often conflicts with and opposes scientific advances) is wrong doesn’t mean there aren’t real conflicts here and there. Davis points to geocentrism and the young-earth beliefs as examples of legitimate conflicts between religion and science. Davis’ point is that while the overarching model of Warfare between religion and science is flawed, there certainly are particular conflicts. So while we need to clarify the failure of the Warfare Thesis, we must not over compensate. We must not reject any and all conflicts as unreal:

My first goal in writing for BioLogos is to get the history right, in all of its complexity. If we want to overthrow the Warfare Thesis (and all of my work is aimed at doing just that), we can’t be replacing it with an equally inaccurate, sanitized view of things.

It was precisely this error that I fell into when I claimed that BioLogos promotes the Warfare Thesis, according to Davis. Davis says that I have a “Misunderstanding of the History of Science and Religion.” After all, BioLogos’ position today is comparable to Galileo’s position four centuries ago when he advocated heliocentrism.

Davis makes many good points, not the least of which is that the history of the interaction between science and religion is a complicated one. The Warfare Thesis is obviously flawed, but nonetheless there certainly have been, and remain today, areas of conflict. That is an important point that I have made many, many times. It is central to this blog and the recent posts (here, here and here) about BioLogos make this very point. Therefore it is a bit perplexing that Davis can, nonetheless, find what would be a sophomoric mistake:

What he fails to understand—or at least, what he fails to tell his readers—is that we historians continue to think there are some instances of genuine conflict between science and religion

Of course there is genuine conflict between science and religion. But how did Davis miss my telling my readers about it? For instance, one post explains that “Evolution was never about the science, but rather is motivated and justified by, yes, religious beliefs. That is abundantly documented, from Leibniz to Darwin to Coyne.” Another post gives this explanation:

evolutionary thinking is obvious in ancient Epicureanism, but its resurgence in the seventeenth century was almost exclusively the work of Christian thinkers. Descartes, Malebranche, Cudworth, Ray, Burnet, Leibniz and Wolfe are good examples of how widespread was the movement within Christian thought, and of how varied were the arguments for a strictly naturalistic origins narrative. These Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans agreed that the world must have arisen by natural causes. The common theme was that the arguments were theological and philosophical (i.e., metaphysical rather than scientific). These mandates for naturalism increased and by the nineteenth century were the received truths for progressives. This was the culture Charles Darwin was born into and his book applied these arguments for naturalism to the problem of the origins of the species. Darwin’s thought—from his early notebooks, to Origins, to his later works and autobiography—was thoroughly metaphysical. God must have created via law not miracle and, ever since Darwin, Christians have embraced this belief just as strongly as the pre Darwin Christians had promoted it. … In fact, from a strictly scientific perspective, a naturalistic origins fares no better than a perpetual motion machine. The clear message of science, then and now, is that the world did not likely arise spontaneously.

If that isn’t conflict between science and religion then what is?

But Davis seeks to defend the BioLogos evolutionists and clear BioLogos of the Warfare Thesis. One way to do this is to label any such criticism as a na├»ve misunderstanding—a failure to understand genuine conflicts. To identify BioLogos with the Warfare Thesis is to deny the existence of any legitimate conflicts between religion and science, because BioLogos is doing nothing more than pointing those out.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. BioLogos is not merely pointing out some particular, current examples of religious resistance to science. Instead, BioLogos fits precisely into, yes, the Warfare Thesis.

BioLogos advocates the spontaneous origins of the world (i.e., evolution according to chance plus natural law), claims that this evolutionary conviction is a compelling, empirical scientific conclusion, and then accuses skeptical Christians of using their religion to oppose science. This is precisely the argument of the Warfare Thesis. And like earlier Warfare Thesis proponents, they (i) appeal to Galileo, as though that brings some justification and (ii) seek a “harmonization” in which today’s Epicureanism determines the facts, and skepticism is demoted to mere feeling and faith. Where it counts, this is no different than yesterday’s Warfare Thesis.

But in fact evolutionary thought is soaking in religious influence. Theological proofs are what motivate and justify evolutionary thought—they are at its foundation. Evolutionists, from the seventeenth century to today, have made that abundantly clear. And they use the Warfare Thesis claim the high ground of science and blame the other guy for what they do.

It is easy to look back to centuries past and see the error of those who have come before. It is more difficult to see that same error today. But we must if we are to educate ourselves and avoid such recurring errors. As a previous post explained:

So whereas the seventeenth and eighteenth century evolutionists were clear about their metaphysical assumptions and how those assumptions mandated naturalism, today’s evolutionists obfuscate their message with the Warfare Thesis. They make the same non biblical, theological and philosophical arguments for evolution in their apologetic literature. But then argue that their proofs are scientific, not metaphysical, and claim their skeptics are the ones with the bad science and bad religion.

The Warfare Thesis is not merely something from long ago. It is not a problem from the past that we have now fixed. It is inherent in our modern day Epicureanism, and it won’t go away until we recognize it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Here is How BioLogos Promotes the Warfare Thesis

Just Like Huxley and White

The “Warfare Thesis” is an overly simplistic and downright mythological view of the relationship between religion and science. It models the relationship as one of conflict, with religion dogmatically resisting science’s inconvenient findings, such as evolution, while science objectively pursues the truth. But the Warfare Thesis is not opposed to religion. Early exponents such as Thomas H. Huxley and Andrew Dickson White were often friends with religion. Huxley was sympathetic to the Church of England and White spoke well of Christianity. Far from wishing to injure Christianity, White wrote that he hoped to promote it; at least, his favored version of Christianity. White's target were those “mediaeval conceptions of Christianity.” Once this “dogmatic theology” is excised all would be well:

My belief is that in the field left to them—their proper field—the clergy will more and more, as they cease to struggle against scientific methods and conclusions, do work even nobler and more beautiful than anything they have heretofore done. And this is saying much. My conviction is that Science, though it has evidently conquered Dogmatic Theology based on biblical texts and ancient modes of thought, will go hand in hand with Religion; and that, although theological control will continue to diminish, Religion, as seen in the recognition of “a Power in the universe, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness,” and in the love of God and of our neighbor, will steadily grow stronger and stronger, not only in the American institutions of learning but in the world at large.

In other words, rightly understood science and religion should divide along the fact-faith split. Science gives us facts while religion gives us faith and feelings. This was the implicit message of the closing scene of Inherit The Wind which had Clarence Darrow (Spencer Tracy) clutching a Bible after demolishing William Jennings Bryan’s (Fredric March) belief that the Bible gives us facts, as well as faith. The message was not to reject religion, but to keep it in its place. Of course Darrow was not a Christian, and he never defeated Bryan. But the Warfare Thesis never was about truth.

So while the Warfare Thesis speaks of conflict between science and religion, it also seeks harmony between science and religion. The difference is in the religion. Religion needs to accommodate science’s new truths and restrict itself to faith and feelings. That will lead to harmony but otherwise there is conflict.

Nowhere is this more evident today than at BioLogos where, for example in a recent post, President Deborah Haarsma expressed concern that Bethel College has decided that its faculty ought not to be advocating the view that God used evolution to create the first humans. The concern at BioLogos is that such a decision “effectively sets faith commitments in opposition to clear scientific evidence [for the evolution of humans] in God’s creation.”

This is the Warfare Thesis. Religion is in conflict with “science” and that is a problem.

But of course elsewhere BioLogos calls for harmony as they invite “the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation,” and provide “5 Reasons the Church Should Embrace Science.”

This too is the Warfare Thesis. Religion is in conflict with “science” and the solution is to acquiesce and retreat to the realm of faith and feelings.

The Warfare Thesis is based on the erroneous equating of evolution as empirical science. Evolution was never about the science, but rather is motivated and justified by, yes, religious beliefs. That is abundantly documented, from Leibniz to Darwin to Coyne. The claim that science has arrived at Epicureanism is simply absurd. The fact is, Epicureanism has arrived at Epicureanism. Evolutionary thought is thoroughly ensconced in metaphysics. There are no scientific proofs for the spontaneous origin of the species, they are theological and philosophical.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jim Stump: “I almost felt sorry for design advocates”

F6 Thinking

In his recent review of Benjamin Jantzen’s Introduction to Design Arguments (Cambridge University Press, 2014), evolutionist Jim Stump finds much to agree with because, as Stump argues, design arguments are both bad science and bad religion. For example, Michael Behe argues that evolution is challenged by the irreducible complexity of biological structures, but “almost all” biologists think Behe’s examples don’t hold water. The problem is Behe is implicitly appealing to a caricature of how evolution works that views complexity arising all at once. “In reality,” the ex Bethel professor explains, “natural selection operates on combinations of traits, not merely on isolated structures. Half-developed wings won’t help an insect fly, but they might help it do other things that contribute to its survival, like skim across the surface of water. Contrary to the ID claim about irreducible complexity, you don’t have to get the whole thing at once.”

Furthermore, even if Behe is right, he can merely conclude that design is the best explanation available. The history of science is full of best explanations that were later rejected because a previously unconceived explanation arose. Therefore Behe’s claim is considerably weakened. Stump finds Jantzen’s analyses to be cogent and by the end “almost felt sorry for design advocates as the soft underbelly of their arguments was exposed.”

Unfortunately what the philosopher demonstrates here is not a helpful and insightful commentary on design arguments but rather the usual sequence of evolutionary misrepresentations.

It begins with Stump's appeal to authority. This is a common evolutionary argument, but the fact that a majority of scientists accept an idea means very little. Certainly expert opinion is an important factor and needs to be considered, but the reasons for that consensus also need to be understood. The history of science is full of examples of new ideas that accurately described and explained natural phenomena, yet were summarily rejected by experts. Scientists are people with a range of nonscientific, as well as scientific influences. Social, career, and funding influences are easy to underestimate. There can be tremendous pressures on a scientist that have little to do with the evidence at hand. This certainly is true in evolutionary circles, where the pressure to conform is intense.

Next, Behe does not appeal to a caricature of how evolution works as Stump describes. In his development of the problem of irreducible complexity, Behe specifically addresses the adaptation of pre existing structures. Indeed, Stump’s representation of ID as claiming that with evolution you must “get the whole thing at once” is itself a caricature.

Furthermore Stump’s view that “natural selection operates on combinations of traits” is nothing more than the usual Aristotelianism dressed up in Darwinian language. Natural selection doesn’t “operate” on anything. And Stump’s credulous explanation of how “Half-developed wings won’t help an insect fly, but they might help it do other things that contribute to its survival, like skim across the surface of water” is simply a just-so story. There is no scientific evidence that this ever actually occurred in history, and it adds enormous serendipity to evolutionary theory. Does that make it impossible? Of course not. But that’s not the point.

The final critique of Behe is that he can only present design as the best explanation and is therefore vulnerable to the problem of unconceived explanations. Is not Behe’s claim considerably weakened?

This coming from an evolutionist is hypocritical for contrastive thinking is foundational to evolutionary thought. If Behe’s claim is considerably weakened then evolution is demolished.

Stump concludes with the usual Leibnizian / Kantian appeal to naturalism. Reminiscent of the final scene in Inherit the Wind which has the victorious Spencer Tracy clutching a Bible, we are told that the divine hand is evident in the created order, not in the failures of nature:

We see God’s hand throughout the created order not because science can’t explain nature, but because it can. The Designer’s mark is not in systems that don’t work quite right and need tinkering; those are signs of imperfection.

If naturalism fails, then nature fails. And if nature fails, then the Creator has failed. It’s the seventeenth century all over again.