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Thoughts on a film

John Derbyshire, who writes for National Review, the conservative publication, is not a man I always agree with. On the issue of creationism, however, he is wonderfully scornful of some of its advocates. In commenting on the movie, Expelled, put together by Ben Stein, he has this to say:

Our scientific theories are the crowning adornments of our civilization, towering monuments of intellectual effort, built from untold millions of hours of observation, measurement, classification, discussion, and deliberation. This is quite apart from their wonderful utility – from the light, heat, and mobility they give us, the drugs and the gadgets and the media. (A “thank you” wouldn’t go amiss.) Simply as intellectual constructs, our well-established scientific theories are awe-inspiring.

And now here is Ben Stein, sneering and scoffing at Darwin, a man who spent decades observing and pondering the natural world – that world Stein glimpses through the window of his automobile now and then, when he’s not chattering into his cell phone. Stein claims to be doing it in the name of an alternative theory of the origin of species: Yet no such alternative theory has ever been presented, nor is one presented in the movie, nor even hinted at. There is only a gaggle of fools and fraudsters, gaping and pointing like Apaches on seeing their first locomotive: “Look! It moves! There must be a ghost inside making it move!”

Update: Ben Stein has lost it totally.

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66 comments to Thoughts on a film

  • I have heard of this “evolution.” It is immoral.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIdV60cT0PQ

  • This(Link) is a rather amusing parody of Stein’s film.

    Of course, in a way the Stork* probablydoes bring babies, given the effects of an inadequate sex education.

    *Or at least its legend

  • Gib

    Please make sure when mentioning that idiot’s movie Expelled(Link), to give the link to the real info, which is expelledexposed.com(Link)

  • Gabriel

    I haven’t seen this movie, but as far as I can tell from the (uniformly negative) reviews I have read, its main thesis seems to be nothing more than that Darwinism has had a drastic impact on ethical, political and philosophical thought over the past century or so. Any remotely competent intellectual or cultural historian will confirm that this is the case and I think it would be an extremely brave man who tried to argue that the effects were predominantly salutary.

    Aside from that, I read an interesting thing a few weeks ago that went something along the lines of “to the Darwinist the evidence of the fossil record that species emerge fully formed, continue for ages without changing and then disappear, is evidence that the fossil record is wrong, to people of a more sceptical disposition it is evidence that Darwinism is wrong”. The basic argument was that by the normal standards of scientific analysis there should really be no hypothesis of the origin and development of the species taught today because none of the available options (including, of course, Young Earth Creationism) fit with the evidence available. It is only then the need to find a naturalistic explanation that leads to an very inadequate (one could even say repeatedly falsified) theory, namely development by natural selection, being taught when the honest response would be to admit that we don’t know. (Of course your hero Popper declared that Darwinism was not a scientific theory before he was bullied into saying otherwise.)

    As to whether this is true, I don’t know. I also don’t really care, being more or less able to live my life without any set views on how jellyfish came to be. It is, of course, amusing that people who concoct elaborate theories to explain why the overwhelming majority of scientists are participating in an elaborate hoax when it comes to AGW throw fifty fits when anyone challenges Darwinism, but then most things about Libertarians are pretty amusing.

  • I think it would be an extremely brave man who tried to argue that the effects were predominantly salutary.

    That’s beside the point. We don’t argue about effects, but about truth.

    Darwinism is the best hypothesis we have. It’s pretty plausible. It may be full of holes, of unknown areas, of errors. It’s liable to be corrected with new discoveries over time. It’s also possible it will be superseded by a better hypothesis in the future. This is the (provisional) nature of our knowledge.

    Creationism is not science, not knowledge. It’s religion, it’s a belief. Belief is not knowledge (as far as I’m concerned). Beliefs is not something you can argue about, verify or falsify. Belief is psychology, not science.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    John Sabotta, you have a very odd site. What’s with the yellow car?

    Gabriel writes:

    I haven’t seen this movie, but as far as I can tell from the (uniformly negative) reviews I have read, its main thesis seems to be nothing more than that Darwinism has had a drastic impact on ethical, political and philosophical thought over the past century or so. Any remotely competent intellectual or cultural historian will confirm that this is the case and I think it would be an extremely brave man who tried to argue that the effects were predominantly salutary.

    I don’t know whether they were “predominantly” salutary or not. For sure, some people have misinterpreted the idea of “survival of the fittest” to justify all manner of different, often quite contradictory, political/cultural/other views, both good and bad. As Dawkins and others point out, evolution is a process; it does not tell us what is right or wrong. On the other hand, Darwin’s explanation of how we got to be here clearly does strike a massive blow against one of the central planks of belief in an all-powerful god, at least as far some are concerned. But quite a lot of religious people I know are comfortable with Darwinian ideas.

    Of course your hero Popper declared that Darwinism was not a scientific theory before he was bullied into saying otherwise.)

    I don’t know what KP said about it. He might have had a problem with Darwinianism on the grounds that it was presented in such a way as to be unfalsifiable, which meant he felt it did not pass the full muster as a science. My problem with creationists who try to plug the gaps in fossil records or whatever is that saying “god explains it” is not usually backed up by much in the way of facts or explanation. It is not really much of an explanation at all, in fact.

    As to whether this is true, I don’t know. I also don’t really care, being more or less able to live my life without any set views on how jellyfish came to be.

    Well jolly marvellous. But understanding the difference between rigorous ways of understanding the world around us, and dubious ones, is part of that civilised, materially abundant world that John Derbyshire talked about.

    It is, of course, amusing that people who concoct elaborate theories to explain why the overwhelming majority of scientists are participating in an elaborate hoax when it comes to AGW throw fifty fits when anyone challenges Darwinism, but then most things about Libertarians are pretty amusing.

    I don’t see AGW as an elaborate hoax or grand conspiracy theory; that would credit scientists with a sense of common purpose to hoodwink the public that does not exist. A lot of scientists do accept AGW, to varying degrees of conviction. But if the theory is correct, it is another issue as to how we deal with it. I certainly don’t “throw fits” at creationists; what I do throw fits about is when such people claim the mantle of science. Anyway, you have admitted that issues like this are not important to you, so why should you care anyway? Fuckwit.

  • Gabriel

    Creationism is not science, not knowledge. It’s religion, it’s a belief. Belief is not knowledge (as far as I’m concerned). Beliefs is not something you can argue about, verify or falsify. Belief is psychology, not science.

    Wow, what an entertaining set of dogmatic statements on vexed issues. It must be a source of much puzzlement to you that people spend decades on epistemology when they could just call you up for a quick answer to all their questions. “Belief is psychology”: why can’t they see that?

    But, alack, counselling humility on Samizdata is like pissing at the wind: the wind doesn’t understand your point and you end up with piss on you, which brings me neatly on to:

    Fuckwit

    ahem

    I don’t know whether they were “predominantly” salutary or not. For sure, some people have misinterpreted the idea of “survival of the fittest” to justify all manner of different, often quite contradictory, political/cultural/other views, both good and bad.

    I was thinking more of things like evolutionary psychology and Dewey’s theory of education. The latter certainly seems to have had some impact upon you.

    As Dawkins and others point out, evolution is a process; it does not tell us what is right or wrong.

    That’s a non-sequitor for a start and it has and continues to tell people what is right and wrong. What you meant is “it does not tell me what is right and wrong”, but seeing as I’m pretty sure you get your views by reading editorials on reason.com, that was not in question.

    My problem with creationists who try to plug the gaps in fossil records or whatever is that saying “god explains it” is not usually backed up by much in the way of facts or explanation. It is not really much of an explanation at all, in fact.

    You mean it is not an explanation in view of your heroically narrow approach to the world. Perhaps a thought experiment would help. You see an interestingly shaped rock jutting out of a hillside. Now, your explanation of how this came to be would proabably be changed very much by the knowledge that there was a guy at the top of the hill with a whole bunch of rock cutting equipment. But the rationality before and after you make this discovery would not be different.

    Well jolly marvellous. But understanding the difference between rigorous ways of understanding the world around us, and dubious ones, is part of that civilised, materially abundant world that John Derbyshire talked about.

    Well, yes, but again when People like Popper try to do so, they get wail of hysterical noise in response from such luminaries of science as John Derbyshire and, umm, you.

    I don’t see AGW as an elaborate hoax or grand conspiracy theory; that would credit scientists with a sense of common purpose to hoodwink the public that does not exist. A lot of scientists do accept AGW, to varying degrees of conviction. But if the theory is correct, it is another issue as to how we deal with it. I certainly don’t “throw fits” at creationists; what I do throw fits about is when such people claim the mantle of science.

    Blah, blah, blah. If you can’t see the parallel then you are being more obtuse than normal.

  • It is, of course, amusing that people who concoct elaborate theories to explain why the overwhelming majority of scientists are participating in an elaborate hoax when it comes to AGW throw fifty fits when anyone challenges Darwinism, but then most things about Libertarians are pretty amusing.

    Nope, there is a vigorous debate happening between scientists about how to interpret climate observations (no consensus here), but a load of Marxist sociologists, ignorant media studies graduates and lawyers have decided that this is just what they need to control and re write capitalist civilisation. Nothing new here, these moonbat, fascist and general control freak types have been trying to do this for at least the last two hundred years, and this is just another attempt to achieve what they have always wanted. The old Stalinist hate mongers and the new murderous greens are in many cases even the same individuals, just with a new cause.

    Science has nothing to do with it.

    its main thesis seems to be nothing more than that Darwinism has had a drastic impact on ethical, political and philosophical thought over the past century or so. Any remotely competent intellectual or cultural historian will confirm that this is the case

    Absolutely, and this is no bad thing. Origin is one of the two most influential books ever written(Link). If that is what the film is about, then there is no argument from me.

    Of course your hero Popper declared that Darwinism was not a scientific theory before he was bullied into saying otherwise.)

    So? Arguing from authority here? Popper, arguing from his own definition of a scientific hypothesis, falsifiability, was wrong, and if he admitted it then more power to his elbow.

    The point being that, arguably, Darwinism is not an experimental hypothesis and is therefore unfalsifiable, rendering it unscientific. Well,

    1) not everyone regards Poppers definition of a scientific hypothesis correct at all times and in all circumstances.
    2) the same argument, for the same reasons, can be made of astronomy, which is clearly nonsense.
    3) Darwinism, and astronomy, can be falsified, so the claim is wrong anyway.

    The issue is not whether an experiment can be constructed in the lab, but whether predictions can be made and observations taken. And this is true of both Darwinism and Astronomy. Both disciplines can generate falsifiable hypotheses, and these can be confirmed or falsified by looking at the real world – Popper was wrong, and he admitted it. No bullying involved, just an honest man being honest.

  • Jon

    As I see it the film is more about the vilification of anyone who would challenge modern Darwinism.

    Now I’m not a raging creationist or evolutionist. I’m a simple deist.

    What I find interesting is that the intellectual community is so ready to attack anyone who would challenge their view of society or science … like … say … libertarians … or anyone who would take a critical look at Darwin.

  • Theology is the study of what God did.
    Science is the study of how he did it.

    There is not now nor can there possibly be any conflict, only a deliberate muddying of the borders.

  • What I find interesting is that the intellectual community is so ready to attack anyone who would challenge their view of society or science … like … say … libertarians … or anyone who would take a critical look at Darwin.

    All evolutionary theorists/scientists take a critical look at Darwin all the time, being critical is part of what science is.

    If you would like to provide evidence for your claim I am sure people here will be willing to debate it rationally. However, it is unlikely assertion will be accepted as evidence.

  • Sunfish

    That’s a non-sequitor for a start and it has and continues to tell people what is right and wrong. What you meant is “it does not tell me what is right and wrong”, but seeing as I’m pretty sure you get your views by reading editorials on reason.com, that was not in question.

    Short version: the theory of evolution by natural selection does not claim to answer moral questions. It merely explains observed facts in the concrete world and attempts to relate those facts in a logical manner.

    For instance, evolution offers some possible explanation of why scotch bonnet peppers are hot[1] but doesn’t even try to decide whether it’s morally okay or not to eat spicy food. That’s simply out of its doman, like going to the book of Genesis for an explanation of the principle of systematic parsimony or asking your physician to help you get a building permit.

    I’m not sure what’s wrong with reading editorials on reason.com, but the remark looked a little snarky.

    [1] because insect parasites cannot eat capsaicin. As a result, the plant that puts capsaicin in its seed-bearing formation, which we can call ‘fruit’ enjoys a competitive reproductive advantage, all else being equal.

  • nick g.

    There need be no conflict between science and religion. In the same way that Astrophysicists talk about a ‘Great Year’, to describe the precession of the Equinoxes, so a ‘Creation Day’ could be a term much longer than an ordinary day. And there are two different occasions of sending people out over the world. At the end of Creation Day 6, Man and woman go out over the world, and God sees that it is ‘very good’. When Adam gets kicked out of his gardening job, God is angry. Two different endings, because they are discussing two different dates. Adam and Eve become the originators of the Semitic races, with other races already existing. Then the legend of Lilith is simply that of relations outside of marriage with a strange clan. Doubtlessly Cain found a wife this way.
    Noah’s flood almost wiped out the semitic blood, but not the whole earth! Even the Bible faithfully records that there were Giants before the flood, and the Israelites found some of them still alive in Canaan, AFTER the flood! This suggests that ‘whole land was flooded’ doesn’t mean ‘whole planet was flooded’.
    And if we have vast amounts of time, and no need for a planet-wide flood, there is no clash.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I was thinking more of things like evolutionary psychology and Dewey’s theory of education. The latter certainly seems to have had some impact upon you.

    I have actually criticised Dewey’s education theories. As for evolutionary psychology, I am a bit of a skeptic, for all that I respect work by the likes of Stephen Pinker of The Blank Slate fame. You are a bit keen on making sweeping assertions on what I read.

    If you can’t see the parallel then you are being more obtuse than normal.

    No. AGW is a theory that can be proved or disproved, like Darwinian evolution theories. Creationism is a religious belief that sets itself above proof. Snide remarks like yours don’t impress me or, as you can see, other commenters. Grow up.

    You mean it is not an explanation in view of your heroically narrow approach to the world.

    How is a theory as subtle and complex as Darwinianism and its variants “herorically narrow”. You just disagree with it.

    In responding to Jacob, you write:

    “It must be a source of much puzzlement to you that people spend decades on epistemology when they could just call you up for a quick answer to all their questions.”

    I know. Reading this blog saves a lot of time, doesn’t it?

    Seriously, though, anyone who tries to put belief in a Supreme Being on the same plane as scientific theories supported by masses of research work deserves to be given short thrift, which is what we are giving you, Gabriel, good and hard.

  • Lee Kelly

    Regarding Popper, science and the theory of evolution by natural selection. I think that Popper was originally motivated to say that natural selection was unscientific for something like the following: the ‘fittest’ organism is defined by the organism which survives, and so whichever organism we observe to survive will be the ‘fittest’. In other words, we cannot observe an organism which is not the ‘fittest’ as the one which survives, by the definition of ‘fittest’, and so the prediction that the ‘fittest’ will survive will be true whatever, come what may, under any circumstances. That is, the prediction is unfalsifiable.

    That said, this prediction does not exhaust the logical consequences of the theory of evolution by natural selection, and other predictions are falsifiable, particularly when the theory is taken in conjunction with various geological and paleontological theories. It is not a necessary condition of a falsifiable theory that every one of its infinitely many consequences is falsifiable, if for no other reason than that every tautology follows from any scientific theory, and it is clear that no tautology is falsifiable.

  • Wow gabriel is clearly a bit of a plonker.

    Should have just ignored: “Creationism is not science, not knowledge. It’s religion, it’s a belief. Belief is not knowledge (as far as I’m concerned). Beliefs is not something you can argue about, verify or falsify.”, as your efforts a refutation are frankly – inadequate…

  • the ‘fittest’ organism is defined by the organism which survives, and so whichever organism we observe to survive will be the ‘fittest’.

    The term “Survival of the Fittest” was coined by Herbert Spencer, not Charles Darwin.

    There is a valid argument that it is a tautology, under certain assumptions, and one that it is not, under different assumptions, but it doesn’t matter. It is not a concept Darwin put forward, so it is not properly part of Darwinian theory, and falsification, or abandonment, of this statement does not reflect on the theory of Natural Selection at all. Natural Selection is a different concept.

  • CountingCats – but isn’t the concept of natural selection also exposed to the same tautology of basically “everything is here because it had featured that enabled it to survive and we know it survived because its here”? I find Popper’s view of science compelling (even though it is itself wrong, due to some complicated fallacy involving the inability falsify a theory on the same logic that Popper said that you cannot ever confirm a theory), and so it would be nice if we could work out how natural selection COULD be falsified.

  • people spend decades on epistemology when they could just call you up for a quick answer to all their questions

    Wrong. People spent millenia arguing about this or that god, and what this or that word in this or that holly book means. Nonsense on stilts. That’s what people did and are still doing, and it’s mostly nonsense. People aren’t perfect. They sift through tons of mud until they get a strain of gold, or what seems to be gold, but may prove to be mud too.

  • dagamore

    Open question to all.

    If questioning the idea/theory of Darwinism is part of science. How come every time I ask questions about it, everyone thinks I am some ‘young earth’ God did it all, creationist?

    Also why does most Darwinist fail to support or defend the theory of Darwinism and instead attack anything else?

    Why do most Darwinist fight so strongly to keep warning/stickers out of books that from what I have seen, only state that Darwinism is a Theory and it is only one possible explanation for why/who we got here?

  • dagamore

    note that last question should be why/how, not why/who.

  • ChrisV

    Nick,

    That’s a fallacious argument. You should be able to see that if I put it in a different context. Suppose we are about to watch a running race and I say “The best runner will probably win this race”. You respond “Yes, but whoever wins this race will be the best runner, therefore your statement is a tautology”. The answer is that that isn’t what I meant by “best runner”; I meant the contestant who is best equipped to run. The determination of that would be complex; it might involve things like muscle strength, body weight and mental determination. But the fact that “best” is difficult to determine sometimes doesn’t invalidate it as a concept; the idea that one runner is better than his or her peers is not meaningless.

    Natural selection cannot be falsified because it isn’t really a hypothesis; it’s the logical result of a set of other hypotheses – e.g. that information about animals is encoded in genes, or that beneficial mutations can accumulate. As long as those hypotheses remain unfalsified, natural selection is the unavoidable logical result.

  • Also why does most Darwinist fail to support or defend the theory of Darwinism and instead attack anything else?

    Do they?

    I have heard this claimed, but it usually seems to be proffered instead of arguments against Darwinism. Attack the arguer, not the argument.

    I gotta say, I think calling Gabriel a fuckwit was a mistake, I prefer to consider the statements rather than the person. However, if someone wants to argue against Darwinian theory on the basis of understanding that theory and presenting perceived flaws, I am happy to engage them.

    Problem is, in my experience most people actually don’t understand even the fundamentals, let alone the intricacies.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Chris, indeed. If Gabriel had focused on the arguments rather than adopted such a supercilious, snide tone towards myself and fellow contributors, I might have responded in kind.

  • Nick M

    Problem is, in my experience most people actually don’t understand even the fundamentals, let alone the intricacies.

    Which is the problem. Science & Math education has been so fucked up that some people are utterly pignorant. What’s worse are that some are proud of not knowing.

    Go to a university party and admit to never having read Jane Austen and you will be greeted with incredulity and derision.

    Go to a university party and admit to not knowing the Pythagorean Theorem and you’ll find a rather different response.

    One of the commonest retorts I’ve heard from pignorant arts students is that “Science and Math are so rigid – oh you’ve gotta to be very clever – but they’re not creative, you’re just following rules.”

    Of course trying to explain that generating and testing theories is profoundly creative at that point is a cause that is lost. You might as well cater the Bar Mitzvah with pork pies. At least the Rabbi would give you a coherent counter-argument.

    Social “scientists” (Boo! Hiss!) tend to get it more oddly enough. They tend to ask if you can help them with their statistics.

  • Nick

    Darwin’s point was that heritable variations lead to differential reproductive success. This is an empirical observation, and he labelled this observational fact “natural selection”. The hypothesis is that evolution occurs, and species arise, via the long term application of natural selection.

    No tautology involved.

    Dagamore

    Why do most Darwinist fight so strongly to keep warning/stickers out of books that from what I have seen, only state that Darwinism is a Theory and it is only one possible explanation for why/how we got here?

    Why should any such stickers be put into books?

    1) Darwinism is only a theory
    This one always comes up – The fact that you can make this statement tells me that you have either no training in or knowledge of that branch of philosophy known as science. If you had any knowledge of science at all you would know that the colloquial use of the word ‘theory’ is completely different to the scientific use of the word. In science, to label something a theory is to acknowledge that it been tested, tested and tested again, has failed to be falsified, is deserving of the highest accolade possible. I suggest that what you mean by theory is, to a scientist, a hypothesis. In science nothing is ‘just a theory’.

    2) When I was at school we were presented with other hypotheses, what you are asking for was incorporated in the books. Anyone who studies Darwinism is exposed to alternatives.
    Your complaint on this matter has no basis in fact. Or is it simply that you want your preferred superstition to be presented as an alternative?

    3) Observational facts –
    The sun rises in the east and there are multiple hypotheses to explain this, but if any school tried to teach geocentrism and crystal spheres I would regard them as insane.
    Matter occurs in multiple forms and there are multiple hypotheses to explain this, but who seriously tries to advocate Aristotelian physics?
    Evolution occurs, even Intelligent Design advocates that, and there are multiple hypotheses to explain this observational fact, but to invoke invisible sky fairies is the most useless of the lot. It explains nothing.

    Seriously, in a chemistry course should students be told that the atomic theory of matter is ‘just a theory’? Give me a reason to discard Darwin and I will, but whining that your preferred superstition is not given time in a course on observational science doesn’t cut it.

    If you want to express opinions on science start by learning what science is. Until then, your opinions are worthless.

    Note I am not abusing you personally, but expressing an objective assessment of the value of your opinions as demonstrated through your questions.

  • Science & Math education has been so fucked up that some people are utterly pignorant. What’s worse are that some are proud of not knowing.

    NickM,

    It is even worse than that. People recognise and acknowledge that they don’t understand Science & Maths (S&M?), even if they are proud of it. Most people actually think they understand Darwin and are willing to express opinions, even though, in fact, they have no understanding at all.

    It is scary.

  • Nick M

    Postulate
    Axiom
    Hypothesis
    Conjecture
    Law
    Theory
    Theorem
    Lemma
    Corollary

    There may be more. There is a reason scientists and mathematicians use all those nasty (not inclusive) words. They mean different things.

    I’m going amplify Cats’ point. The idea of evolution as a tautology is the one they always fall back to. It’s hard to defend because obviously the “fittest” are more likely to “survive”.

    But the real deep science is in those words I put quotes around. They mean different things in different circumstances. In a Darwinian sense grasses are very successful. The fact we walk on some (or don’t!) and eat other’s is irrelevant. It’s a system thing. T-Rex was clearly a fiercer creature than Timmy, my cat, but they aren’t currently roaming Cheshire and Timmy is.

    (Of course a T-Rex might make an adorable pet but fitting a flap for one would challenge any builder.)

    The reason I mention Timmy is that one of the most successful mammals on the planet, Felis catus, exists largely in a symbiotic relationship with another successful species, us. Has done for ten thousand years. People have cats because they make fine companions and hunt vermin. Cats have been successful by ingratiating themselves with another species. There are many such examples of this sort of symbiosis such as the dentist bird. You wouldn’t have thought entering a crocodile’s mouth was a successful evolutionary strategy but it works for the dentist bird. It works for the croc too… It’s terribly complicated. The Darwinian Devil is definitely in the details.

    And it’s not easy. You have to study it. If you look at the ID websites they are almost invariably backed by eminent retired chaps with lots of qualifications but never in biology. Frequently they’re in engineering (a ha!). They tend to generalize without knowing specifics which is like asking some geezer to build a power station who doesn’t even know how a solenoid works.

    Oh, and Jacob nailed it earlier. If we start evaluating scientific theories on the basis of their “consequences” then we have embarked upon a very dark path.

    I can’t stand bar-room philosophers who skimmed a couple of popular science books and justify all sorts of jackassery on the basis that “Einstein proved everything was relative” or that “Darwin proved that it’s last man standing”. It is those morons who are to blame for mis-using science not the PBIs in labcoats. Now where exactly did a certain mono-testicular Austrian first try a revolution?

    Darwinian evolution is just a theory. So’s the shed load of theories that we all believe in when we climb aboard an aircraft. Should the seat backs have stickers too?

    “This aircraft flies according to the laws of physics but that’s just a theory. Possibly a detachment of angels carries it aloft. That’s another theory.”

  • guy herbert

    There are some more very good things in the article Jonathan has found. I particularly like the description from Waugh of Kipling’s conservatism.

    It is very good, too, on the dishonest air surrounding Intelligent Design advocacy. The same one that, sad to say, hangs around both sides in much public discussion of climate change.

  • I gotta mention it, if no one else is.

    Personally, I find pastafarianism(Link) to be as rational a sky fairy hypothesis as any other, and I demand it be given equal time.

  • Gabriel

    JP

    I have actually criticised Dewey’s education theories.

    That was not quite the point I was making.

    No. AGW is a theory that can be proved or disproved, like Darwinian evolution theories. Creationism is a religious belief that sets itself above proof. Snide remarks like yours don’t impress me or, as you can see, other commenters. Grow up.

    Young Earth Creationism is (a set of) hypothesis(/es) about how the earth and its organisms came to be. It is a hypothesis that receives no support from the geological and other evidence available and is, indeed, falsified by it and is therefore a false hypothesis. Anyone, who believes it must do so for other reasons, most likely religious belief. So no real argument there.

    However, again all I was pointing out was that the same is true, albeit to a lesser degree, of Darwinism i.e. development by Natural Selection. No theory yet advanced really satisfactorally explains the origin of the species with support from the geological evidence and I therefore see no reason why subscribing to Darwinism should be regarded as a pre-requisite for acceptance into polite, or even Libertarian, society.

    How is a theory as subtle and complex as Darwinianism and its variants “herorically narrow”. You just disagree with it.

    No, your inability to understand that explanations involving divine interference are not necessarily irrational, is narrow. Extremely so.

    Jacob

    Wrong. People spent millenia arguing about this or that god, and what this or that word in this or that holly book means. Nonsense on stilts. That’s what people did and are still doing, and it’s mostly nonsense. People aren’t perfect. They sift through tons of mud until they get a strain of gold, or what seems to be gold, but may prove to be mud too.

    Well, I don’t think any single person has spent millenia on these sort of questions, which is what I meant. Interesting, that you use Bentham’s phrase, when what he was talking about was the doctrine of Natural Rights, which I believe most commentators here believe in.

    Which brings me onto a fairly important point. Someone mentioned that many religious people are comfortable with Darwinism. This is not strictly accurate. They are confortable with evolution, but almost certainly conceive of it as a process guided or at least initiated by the deity. Darwinism posits that the process is unguided and explicable solely in terms of the material laws of cause and effect. No person can subscribe even to the most watered down version of the Abrahamic faiths and believe this if they take five minutes to work out the implications.

    But this is not all. No matter how may times you assert otherwise, Darwinism has other implications for ethical and philosophical thought too; it has done so and will continue to do so. The counter argument employed is best put by Counting cats

    Short version: the theory of evolution by natural selection does not claim to answer moral questions. It merely explains observed facts in the concrete world and attempts to relate those facts in a logical manner

    The argument is that the discernment of relationships between observed facts have no implications for moral discourse, but, again, that is simply not true. Moreover, it has never been true; almost all ethical theories I am familiar with ground their viewpoints explicitly on the nature of mankind. Whether human beings are by nature gregarious is a question of fact, but has moral implications. Whether black people are the same species as white people is a question of (settled before anyone throws a paddy at me) fact, with moral implications. Whether there is a gay gene is a question of fact, but with moral implications. Whetherhumans evolved through an unplanned and unguided process of natural selection is a question of fact, with moral implications.

    If you believe in Natural Rights (which, I’m happy to say I don’t, so I have no particular dog in that fight) and Darwinism, you are either an incredbly clever person who needs to publish right now and get a chair of philosophy at a major university stat, or you haven’t thought it through enough.

    The second important point is that, Philosophic Naturalism is just a set of metaphysical assumptions like any other with its attendant problems. I’m prepared to admit that its probably the default assumption one should adopt unless good reason can be drawn for choosing another. However, it is not the only rational or reasonable position to adopt and if you adopt another one, it is perfectly reasonable and rational to posit that G-d had a hand in designing mankind.

    Phil A

    Should have just ignored: “Creationism is not science, not knowledge. It’s religion, it’s a belief. Belief is not knowledge (as far as I’m concerned). Beliefs is not something you can argue about, verify or falsify.”, as your efforts a refutation are frankly – inadequate…

    Sigh, if I really have to

    Creationism is not science, not knowledge.

    non-sequitor

    Belief is not knowledge (as far as I’m concerned).

    The most common, though not, I think, the majority, definition of knowledge used by philosophers is “justified true belief”, so (as far as I’m concerned) this is cock.

    Beliefs is not something you can argue about, verify or falsify.

    Not true. This appears to be based upon St. Paul’s defintion of faith, which is hardly the only one or synonymous with belief.

    Nick M

    Which is the problem. Science & Math education has been so fucked up that some people are utterly pignorant. What’s worse are that some are proud of not knowing.Go to a university party and admit to never having read Jane Austen and you will be greeted with incredulity and derision.Go to a university party and admit to not knowing the Pythagorean Theorem and you’ll find a rather different response.

    I am a basically humanities man, but I have ‘A’s in Maths, Further Maths and Chemistry A level and almost applied to do Chemisty so probably have a certain objectivity that most people on both sides of the fence lack.
    Most people are ignorant about science, that I grant you. However, most people are ignorant about everything else too.
    As for your examples, I would say that you are just plain wrong in my experience and seeing as neither of us (I assume) has done a peer-reviewed study on the matter, I guess we’ll have to agree to differ. I can tell you this, though. In the world of humanties an opposition to Darwinism will not go down well at all.

    Finally to illustrate a point made by others though not in the way they meant.

    Natural selection cannot be falsified because it isn’t really a hypothesis; it’s the logical result of a set of other hypotheses – e.g. that information about animals is encoded in genes,

    Darwinism chronologically precedes the discovery of genes. Hell, even I know that one and I’m a backwoods religious bigot who who’s hatred for foreigners is only matched by barely disguised desire to impose a religious tyranny modelled on the caliphate (to take some of thesharges levelled at me by commentators here in times past).

  • Gabriel

    It is very good, too, on the dishonest air surrounding Intelligent Design advocacy. The same one that, sad to say, hangs around both sides in much public discussion of climate change.

    There is, too, a dishonesty surrounding around many, though not all, Darwinists which is as follows
    (i) Intelligent Design is ecluded a priori from being a scientific hypothesis, because it involves something other than matter, energy and cause and effect.
    (ii)The least bad theory, namely modified Darwinism, is taught on the grounds that there must be a scientific explanation for how the speices came to be.
    (iii) Scientific hypotheses are given the status of knowledge and Intelligent Design is relegated to the inferior status of belief.

    However, (i), (ii) and (iii) can only be true if Philosophic Naturalism is true and the majority of Darwinists either are unaware of or do not divulge the implications of Philosophic Naturalism being true.*

    *Namely that 99% of all moral discourse is completely worthless and quite possibly all of it.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Intelligent Design is ecluded a priori from being a scientific hypothesis, because it involves something other than matter, energy and cause and effect.

    But of course.

    The least bad theory, namely modified Darwinism, is taught on the grounds that there must be a scientific explanation for how the speices came to be.

    Correct.

    Scientific hypotheses are given the status of knowledge and Intelligent Design is relegated to the inferior status of belief.

    Scientific ideas are granted this superior status, as other commenters have pointed out, because they are tested, testable, and subjected to frequent tests, etc. With ID, no such tests are doable. There is no comparison. To complain about this is a waste of time.

    However, (i), (ii) and (iii) can only be true if Philosophic Naturalism is true and the majority of Darwinists either are unaware of or do not divulge the implications of Philosophic Naturalism being true.*

    I am not really sure what you mean by that term. To believe in the existence of a natural world, that objectively exists, and that obeys certain physical laws, is one thing. But you will get a group of Darwinists together on a blog thread and find that quite a few differ, and radically, on other views. Take Richard Dawkins, who is quite a lefty, for example, or J. Derbyshire, a right winger.

  • If questioning the idea/theory of Darwinism is part of science.

    You are welcome to ask questions. But questions based on facts (as we know them), and on the theory (Darwinism). Relevant questions. Not questions like “isn’t creationism beautiful ? ”

    … only state that Darwinism is a Theory and it is only one possible explanation for why/who we got here?

    Maybe it’s not the only possible explanation. If you have a better one, well, you’re welcome to be Darwin v2. With facts, proof, the scientific way.
    But don’t give us Creationism. That’s not a theory, nor a hypothesis, nor nothing.

  • Lee Kelly

    I find Popper’s view of science compelling even though it is itself wrong, due to some complicated fallacy involving the inability falsify a theory on the same logic that Popper said that you cannot ever confirm a theory. – Nick

    The “fallacy” isn’t complicated and it isn’t a fallacy, but rather it is a problem, the Duhem-Quine problem or the theory-ladenness problem. (1) This problem only arises for those who wish to treat observation as a decisive and conclusive authority. The objection to Popper’s theory of science is ultimately this: falsification is inadequate because our observations are fallible. However, since Popper was a fallibilist, this simple fact was assumed from the get-go, and so the “problem” is only a problem for those who expect something far more from a theory of science than Popper was offering. (2) The problem with confirming theories is that any finite set of observations is too weak, as a set of premises, to derive anything interesting from, and especially not strong enough to infer the universally applicable hypotheses of science. This problem does not arise for falsification, which is entirely deductive, and thus creating no problem of logical strength.

  • nick g.

    The major Angst surrounding Evolution, for Christians, is the belief that all humans need to be related to Adam. But my explanation shows that this does not need to be literally true! Saint Paul is the one who tries to make this connection, but Paul gets a lot of things wrong in his letter to the Romans (such as Abraham thinking himself old at 100, when Abraham’s father is recorded in the same Bible as living to 225, and when Abraham’s father didn’t start having children until he was past 70! Such as Adam being naturally immortal because he was sinless, when the Bible points out that it was because Adam was expelled from Eden so he wouldn’t eat from the tree of life- why would an immortal being need a tree of life?) If you ignore Paul, you’ll have better Theology, and there needn’t be arguments between Christians and Evolutionists.

  • nick g.

    My argument should have included, after ‘immortal because he was sinless’, these words, ‘and automatically dying because he sinned,’. Then my argument above makes sense. Mea Culpa!

  • Sunfish

    The major Angst surrounding Evolution, for Christians, is the belief that all humans need to be related to Adam.

    We must be talking about different Christians then. The ones over here who piss and moan about evolution do so because it either undermines the idea of the world being created in a week and therefore undermines a literal reading of Genesis, or because it tells people that, since they may not be the center of attention they should go out and misbehave. Or so the complainers say.

    And then there are plenty of us who don’t get all angsty about it. If God didn’t want me to use my eyes to see the world and logic to try and understand it, he’d have made me a blind Democrat or something.

  • Gabriel

    re. the above 3 posts
    What cock. Christians dislike Darwinism because it is, by defintion, a theory of the development of the species that posits it was unplanned and unguided and explicable solely in terms of physical laws. It is hence incompatible not only with Christianity, but any form of theism whatsoever and most forms of deism as well.

    If you believe in evolution where G-d had any hand whatsoever, no matter how small, you don’t believe in Darwinism or you have been, quite probably deliberately, misinformed as to what it entails. Darwinism is a classic example of something that people believe in primarily because they think they need to in order to be clever, but in doing so only reveal they are dim. (This, by the way is not the case for atheists, who are perfectly consistent on the point, unless they also try to synthsise iin a belief in free will or whatever, in which case they are being just as dim).

  • I see a lot of assertions without any actual argument, Gabriel. One can believe that God created the universe, in a ‘Big Bang’ if you like, and let it all unfold according to the natural laws (physics) he put in place, without ‘directing’ it in the human sense of the word ‘direct’. However quite how one can ascribe ‘direction’ within the limitations of our space/time to an allegedly eternal omnipresent entity that must exist outside space/time in order to be everywhere and know everything is another issue. As I think God is just a psychological artifice, I find the discussion only mildly interesting.

    Free will is quite another thing and it does not require the Beardy Guy in the Sky at all. Go read David Deutsch’s Fabric of Reality for a summary of why he (an atheist) thinks free will is actually a natural consequence of the nature of reality. And I would argue that we can observe free will in action, which is more than we can say about God (who strangely never returns my calls).

  • Jacob

    Gabriel is right.
    You either believe in God or in Darwinism.

    One can believe that God created the universe, in a ‘Big Bang’

    A tortured argument, adopted by many (Spinoza), but such a god is not what religion is about.

  • Gabriel

    I see a lot of assertions without any actual argument, Gabriel. One can believe that God created the universe, in a ‘Big Bang’ if you like, and let it all unfold according to the natural laws (physics) he put in place, without ‘directing’ it in the human sense of the word ‘direct’.

    I said Christians dislike Darwinism because it is, by defintion, a theory of the development of the species that posits it was unplanned and unguided and explicable solely in terms of physical laws. It is hence incompatible not only with Christianity, but any form of theism whatsoever and most forms of deism as well.

    i.e. It is compatible with some forms of deism, such as the one you outlined.

    Free will is quite another thing and it does not require the Beardy Guy in the Sky at all.

    I was indeed lazy in expression. Free Will is not dependent on belief in a deity, nor does belief in a deity necessarily imply free will. Free will is, though, incompatible with the set of metaphysical assumptions (Philosophic Naturalism) that are necessary for the following to all hold true.
    1) There must be a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the species.
    2)Only such a naturalistic explanation can ever hold a claim to be considered knowledge.
    3) Any explanation positing a designer is a priori exluded from this class of explanations.

    In the present Weltanschaung enforced by the dictat of the SCOTUS and others, even if the fossil record showed every species coming into existence at the exact same time and never changing thereafter, ID would still be inadmissable as an explanation that could meet the standards of knowledge as Darwinism supposedly does. ID is discounted, not on the grounds that it is wrong, but on the grounds that it is, by simple definition, ‘not science’.* That is to say, according to the text of the pertinent rulings, it would still be illegal to teach ID in science lessons in schools even if all the evidence was for it in a completely unambiguous way (most people are simply ignorant of this). This on its own is enough to show that it is not ‘evidence’ that lies at the base of much contemporary Darwinism, but a desire to have philosophic naturalism enforced as the only reasonable attitude to the world by stealth. Groups such as American mainline churches help them along (because they are stupid and ignorant and desperate to be called clever) with cant about NOMA etc.

    As for Mr. Deutsch, I have not read the work, but I guess that either he does not believe in Philosophic Naturalism, he believes that consciousness is an emergent property of matter (i.e. he is a mystic), or he has twisted the defintion of free will to suit his purpose (often these people refer to themselves as ‘compatibilists’.)

    *There would be nothing wrong with this if it were admitted that sicence does therefore not have an automatic claim to knowledge categorically better than any other scientia (unless one assumes Philosophic Naturalism).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jacob. I don’t know: given that the very concept of “god” is so mysterious, believers can take it to mean whatever they want, so it probably does not rule out things like a Big Bang origin of the universe.

    Gabriel writes:

    Christians dislike Darwinism because it is, by defintion, a theory of the development of the species that posits it was unplanned and unguided and explicable solely in terms of physical laws.

    Some Christians might dislike it for that reason. But as a lapsed Christian, I certainly recall one of my vicars arguing that he saw no problem with Darwinian ideas per se, only that he did not believe the theory froze out a role for some sort of deity. I think you will find quite a lot of religious people, not just Christians, don’t get upset by what Charles Darwin and his followers have said.

    Darwinism is a classic example of something that people believe in primarily because they think they need to in order to be clever, but in doing so only reveal they are dim.

    That is an ad hominem cheap shot. So what if some people subscribe to Darwinism because they want to be thought of as clever? What counts is whether it is true or not, whether it follows rules of evidence, logic and proof, not what it does for the ego of the Darwinian.

  • Gabriel

    And just because I fear someone might try this line of argument: sicence cannot, logically, prove the truth of Philosohic Naturalism, because its methodology presupposes that it is true. (It is possible to imagine science done that would not do so, but in that case ID would be a legitimate hypothesis.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Gabriel writes:

    Free will is, though, incompatible with the set of metaphysical assumptions (Philosophic Naturalism) that are necessary for the following to all hold true. 1) There must be a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the species. 2)Only such a naturalistic explanation can ever hold a claim to be considered knowledge. 3) Any explanation positing a designer is a priori exluded from this class of explanations

    I don’t really see any incompatibility here between a belief in a naturalistic explanation of the origin of species and the existence of free will, of decision-making powers, of the idea that humans have volition and thinking requires conscious effort. Of course, we have, via the Catholic church in particular (St Thomas Acquinas and his followers being particularly influential), the idea that free will is a key element of their doctrine. On the other hand, the Lutheran idea of predestination seems to go the other way. Religious folk need to be careful in arguing, therefore, that if you remove God from the equation, you cut away free will also.

    I think a challenge should be thrown down at the likes of the Discovery Institute and others to create a research programme to back up their views, with propery peer-reviewed material and evidence.

  • Gabriel

    Some Christians might dislike it for that reason. But as a lapsed Christian, I certainly recall one of my vicars arguing that he saw no problem with Darwinian ideas per se, only that he did not believe the theory froze out a role for some sort of deity.

    What role? A deity who had no part whatsoever in creating man has what role exactly?

    I think you will find quite a lot of religious people, not just Christians, don’t get upset by what Charles Darwin and his followers have said.

    Charles Darwin is not pertinent. The contemporary theory of Darwinism leaves no role whatsoever for any intervention whatsoever by any deity whatsoever in the creation of mankind.
    Religious people who claim to believe in Darwinism, as I stated in above post, almost invariably reveal on questioning that they believe in evolution guided by G-d in a teleological process. Which means that, first, they don’t understand Darwinism and, secondly, they don’t actually believe in Darwinism.

    That is an ad hominem cheap shot. So what if some people subscribe to Darwinism because they want to be thought of as clever? What counts is whether it is true or not, whether it follows rules of evidence, logic and proof, not what it does for the ego of the Darwinian.

    They are separate issues. By way of comparison, it is interesting to observe belief in AGW as a sociological phenomenon akin to medieval apocalyptic oubursts and it is legitimate to do so. However, this has no bearing on the reality or otherwise of AGW. It is interesting, I maintain, to observe how people believe things completely incompatible with their other beliefs simply because they think it is what clever people believe.

  • Gabriel

    On the other hand, the Lutheran idea of predestination seems to go the other way.

    Though Luther believed in predestination, Lutherans don’t FYI.

    Religious folk need to be careful in arguing, therefore, that if you remove God from the equation, you cut away free will also.

    I wrote Free Will is not dependent on belief in a deity, nor does belief in a deity necessarily imply free will.

    I don’t really see any incompatibility here between a belief in a naturalistic explanation of the origin of species and the existence of free will, of decision-making powers, of the idea that humans have volition and thinking requires conscious effort.

    Though I believe they are incompatible, I wrote There must be a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the species. This belief, when placed in conjunction with the others, is dependent on Philosophic Naturalism.

    I think a challenge should be thrown down at the likes of the Discovery Institute and others to create a research programme to back up their views, with propery peer-reviewed material and evidence.

    I agree. This would entail reneging on the view that ID is a priori excluded from being a scientific hypthesis by virtue of invoking a designer, which will make your view very different from that of SCOTUS and others. If you do that, I will consider that I have achieved something and be on my way.

  • ID is discounted, not on the grounds that it is wrong, but on the grounds that it is, by simple definition, ‘not science’ … There would be nothing wrong with this if it were admitted that sicence does therefore not have an automatic claim to knowledge categorically better than any other scientia (unless one assumes Philosophic Naturalism).

    Actually, this is in fact my understanding of how the First Amendment, public education, et al work together on this. The insistence on keeping religion-tinged theories out of the schools is NOT a wholesale enforcing of a “science-only” worldview on the part of the government, but rather a restriction of public education to the domain of things that can be verified. It is true that there are some arrogant scientists in the world that are easily selectively quoted if anyone making an “Expelled” wants to cast ID-advocates as victims. But hell, there are equally many arrogant people on the ID side that can be selectively quoted, etc. etc. ad infinitum. The truth is that Science (meaning any scientist of integrity) doesn’t claim to have a monopoly on truth-gathering in the world. It merely claims the only method of truth-gathering that is suitable for public discourse, a point with which I whole-heatedly agree. Perhaps reading tea leaves really buys you something in the way of marriage counselling – I’m not in a position to say. The fact that this cannot be verified – nay, even if it could it couldn’t be explained in an objective way (what would the mechanism be?) – is enough to rule it out of a public education system. Public education, as with all public things, has to restrict itself to domains that allow a hugely diverse general public to function on the same playing field. So I agree that ID is ruled out for exactly the reason you say, and that this is as it should be. People who are concerned that their children are not getting a complete view can avail themselves of any or all of the following: (1) homeschooling, (2) sunday school, (3) private school, (4) afterschool programs or (5) simple conversation with their children. Public is public and private is private – keeping these domains suitably separate is the very core of Libertarianism.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    By way of comparison, it is interesting to observe belief in AGW as a sociological phenomenon akin to medieval apocalyptic oubursts and it is legitimate to do so.

    But I don’t think people subscribe to AGW to be thought clever. They usually do so because they are genuinely convinced that AGW is happening (I am generally persuaded there is some evidence, though I am not a scientific expert and don’t claim to be one). Or they are scared, in the same way that people get taken in by all manner of scare campaigns.

    The parallel with AGW is not really a good one because evidence can be found and assessed, by reference to scientific rules and tests, to show whether the Earth is heating up because of man or not. There is now a small but growing body of credible research that has challenged the more doomongering versions of the AGW idea. But creationism – which is what ID is – cannot be tested in this way. That is the whole point of John Derbyshire’s original article that I linked to.

    However, this has no bearing on the reality or otherwise of AGW. It is interesting, I maintain, to observe how people believe things completely incompatible with their other beliefs simply because they think it is what clever people believe.

  • Flash Gordon

    I like Ben Stein, and also think his film is pernicious twaddle. It is like seeing a favorite friend or uncle in a drunken stupor.

  • Flash Gordon

    I like Ben Stein, and also think his film is pernicious twaddle. It is like seeing a favorite friend or uncle in a drunken stupor.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I agree. This would entail reneging on the view that ID is a priori excluded from being a scientific hypthesis by virtue of invoking a designer, which will make your view very different from that of SCOTUS and others. If you do that, I will consider that I have achieved something and be on my way.

    I posted just as you sent this, so my view would be that SCOTUS and whomever would agree that unless ID can be tested with the same rigour as evolution theories can be, ID is not even worth considering. I’d be genuinely interested to know if creationists have actually tried to do this in ways that obey proper academic standards.

  • Flash Gordon

    I’d be genuinely interested to know if creationists have actually tried to do this in ways that obey proper academic standards.

    Michael Behe has done so, but it’s a farce. He has tried to argue something about “irreducible complexity.” This has something to do with the structure of bacterial flagellum. He tries to show “scientifically” that ID is science.

    Cell biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University, himself a believing Christian, has demolished Behe’s argument. So have others.

    Federal Judge Jones in the Kitsmiller case in Harrisburg, Pennslyvania found Behe’s expert testimony to be not credible.

  • As for Mr. Deutsch, I have not read the work, but I guess that either he does not believe in Philosophic Naturalism, he believes that consciousness is an emergent property of matter (i.e. he is a mystic)

    Hardly. It is all down to the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory. Too complex to explain, read the book (and it is an easy read as it is very well written).

    The whole ‘god’ thing is a theory, like absolutely everything else. It is just not the best theory. Deutsch deals with that one well too, using the ‘invisible fairies pushing the moon around the earth’ analogy and noting how that can perfectly explain all manner of observations and how it cannot be easily ‘falsified’ per se (what with invisible fairy detectors being beyond our current level of technology). It is just that better and deeper theories do a better job of explaining things and so get the Critical Preference Thumbs Up rather than the junk food approach of saying ‘God did it’.

  • Flash Gordon

    Creationism does nothing good for the cause of conservatism. After Kitsmiller the entire school board of conservative Republicans was replaced in the next election by liberal Democrats. A similar rout occurred in Kansas when a Republican dominated school board tried to mandate teaching ID in school science classes.

    I like Rush Limbaugh. When he rails against “Darwinists” as if they were child molesters I think my head might split.

    On a similar note, the conservative uproar in the Terry Schiavo matter was, I believe, at least a minor factor that hurt Republicans in the 2006 election. It certainly did them no good and probably some harm.

    As a committed conservative, this pains me.

  • Pa Annoyed

    If you were an AI produced by a genetic algorithm and random number generator, living in a virtual reality running on a computer unattended, would the programmer of the genetic algorithm software be omnipotent, omniscient, and the creator of your universe?

    There is, incidentally, no actual requirement for Gods to be omnipotent creators or any of the rest of it. In fact most Gods aren’t. If you look up most polytheistic cosmogonies you get one or two doing all the creation while all the rest come along later as a result of the sort of sordid happenings that you couldn’t show pictures of in public. And what with them fighting each other all the time, and having heroic adventures, they’re clearly not omnipotent or omniscient either. Or even very smart.

    Christians do have an understandable tendency to conflate the words “God”, “Theism”, “Religion”, etc. with their God, theology, religion. There are other possibilities. There is no particular reason why a God should have any interest in how animals happen. They could be getting on with their own business somewhere else, while all that evolution is happening on its own.

    The only reason it’s an issue at all is because quite a few established religions do happen to put forward explanations of the origins of species that involve their Gods, and obviously these explanations come into conflict with evolution. But if you quietly dropped that bit, while keeping all the other stuff – answering prayers, life after death, setting moral standards, smiting the wicked, granting forgiveness, emotional aid, (and maybe luck/wealth/sexual prowess) to believers – then you can more or less carry on.

    On the whole, dropping literalism and calling it a parable or allegory or something is probably far safer than nailing your religion’s colours to the creationist mast, because sooner or later somebody is going to notice that bit about the sun being created on the fourth day, and ask the astronomers for an opinion.

    Quite frankly, while you can get away with sowing confusion on the arcane subtleties of genetics and evolution, the average two year old is able to venture an opinion on where daylight comes from.

    But anyway, I hope if we have this debate again (and I’m sure we will) that perhaps somebody would throw in some cosmogonic speculation from one of the many other religions that mankind has, at some time or other, believed in? If you want other people to be truly open-minded about the existence of God…

  • Flash Gordon

    Now Stein is saying Darwin inspired the holocaust(Link). If this is what religion does to you I’ll have none of it.

  • Gabriel

    First, Ben Stein is clearly off his chump. As it happens, I think Darwinism was a more important compenent of various intellectual trends of the 20th century, including nazism, than is generally admitted, but his comments are simply deranged and, if he is not himself now deranged, they are unforgiveable. It also seems I was wrong about his movie, which is not what I thought it was about at all.

    Anyway, Joshua. I was starting to think I was simply expressing myself incoherently, but seeing as you finally provided a post that answers what I was trying to argue, I feel a little better.

    Basically you have me over a barrel, but for two things. First, since you bring up the constitution, I am of the opinion, though I realise this is not in line with contemporary jurisprudence, that the federal government is barred from running an educational system and that ones run by states can teach whatever they dang well want.
    Now, seeing as the U.S. does have a federal education system your outs for parents don’t seem so effective. What if the child responds that what his teacher tells him is fact and what his parents/sunday school/etc. is fiction? There’s a tremendous amount of pressure that can be brought to bear on children by schools and, thanks to the barbaric levels of taxation in every western democracy, most people just can’t afford private school. I sympathise with parents who want a little help in teaching their children a non naturalistic world view from the classroom.

    Secondly, this appears to me to be false

    The insistence on keeping religion-tinged theories out of the schools is NOT a wholesale enforcing of a “science-only” worldview on the part of the government, but rather a restriction of public education to the domain of things that can be verified.

    What about English Literature?

    It would appear less of a mandate for a science-only world view if religious viewpoints could be taught in schools outside science lessons, but they can’t. Bear in mind that children spend nearly half of their time awake at school and you can start to see why your argument leaves people dissatisifed.

    But this is to depart from the subject matter rather

    If I was to design a curriculum for 14 year olds it would look like this:

    The evidence shows three things. First, life on earth has been around for a very long time. Secondly, species that exist now did not always exist and species that used to exist now do not. Thirdly, the marked tendency of the fossil record from beginning to end is an increase in the diversity and complexity of organisms.

    We do not know with complete certainty how this came to be. Working scientifically we must come up with a naturalistic explanation. The best available candidate is evolution by natural selection, it is supported by … There are problems with fitting the model to the evidence which are… Consequently scientists are continually re-modelling the theory in the quest for a complete answer.

    None of this precludes a non-naturalistic explanation for the original 3 facts from being true, but such explanations cannot be varified using the scientific method and are hence inadmissable in a science lesson. It is conceptually possible that Darwinism is not true and, indeed, that no naturalistic explanation for the origin of the species is true, but neither proposition has been established. People have tried to do the first by …. they are probably wrong because of …

    How many people this would make happy I do not know.

  • nick g.

    Sunfish, the Pastor of my Church wants to link all humans to Adam, so that we can all be tainted with adam’s original Sin, and so that Jesus is a distant blood-relative of us all who can redeem his kinfolk by paying the bloodprice with His own Blood. I think humans picked up sin by themselves, that some souls saw this and wanted to help (pre-existence is an acceptable concept in Judaism- The Covenant on Mount Sinai could bind the future unborn Jews because they were there as souls and accepted it then), and that the Adamites weren’t the only humans around, but they had a mission- to show the rest of us how to live. It’s not traditional Christian theology, but it works for me.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    First, Ben Stein is clearly off his chump. As it happens, I think Darwinism was a more important compenent of various intellectual trends of the 20th century, including nazism, than is generally admitted, but his comments are simply deranged and, if he is not himself now deranged, they are unforgiveable. It also seems I was wrong about his movie, which is not what I thought it was about at all.

    Gabriel, that remark does you credit.

  • Jacob

    First, Ben Stein is clearly off his chump.

    That is so, but what he says (in essence, not in form) is what religious people always said, and there is a grain of truth in it.
    The religious say that the horrible catastrophes of the 20th century – Nazism and Communism were the result of abandoning the absolute moral code (the religious one – thou shalt not kill) and adopting relativist moral codes: “anything we say (by our ideology) is moral”.
    Nazis and Communists also claimed (falsely) that they act in the name of science, and the religious, wary of science in the first place, accepted this false claim and denigrated science further.

    The grain of truth is this: we should beware of hubris, and not discard the religious moral code lightheartedly. It evolved over millenia, and served mankind. We should separate religious myths, which can be discarded, from the useful teachings of religion. It’s rather hard to do.
    It is also plausible to claim that if religion had been more powerful, more respected, those catastrophes could perhaps have been avoided. Of course, not religion in the literal sense, but more: respect of traditions.

  • First, since you bring up the constitution, I am of the opinion, though I realise this is not in line with contemporary jurisprudence, that the federal government is barred from running an educational system and that ones run by states can teach whatever they dang well want.

    I would personally prefer that neither the federal government nor the states ran an education system, but I prefer your version to the current situation.

    My understanding of the constitutional issue is this: nothing in the Constitution bars the federal government from running an education system. Also, nothing in the Constitution bars the states from including religion in their individual curricula, though the courts have interpreted things differently (not for the first time). The Constitution DOES bar the FEDERAL government from including religion in its curriculum, so in practical terms it is nearly impossible for the states to include religion in their curricula (since their individual educations systems are hopelessly entangled with the federal one) even without the Court’s probably flawed interpretations of the Establishment Clause. And the current situation is that education is still (officially, anyway) run at the state level, but is heavily managed by the feds. See roads, drinking age, drug policy, blah blah ad infinitum ad nauseam for examples of the US federal government managing things the Constitution gives it no real authority to by attaching strings to the money it transfers to states. This Republic took a major wrong turn in the 30s and hasn’t come back from the fork yet.

    It would appear less of a mandate for a science-only world view if religious viewpoints could be taught in schools outside science lessons, but they can’t.

    This is simply not true. When I was in high school, a course introducing the philosophy of the world’s major religions was required (as “Introduction to the Humanities”). An elective course called “The Bible as Literature” was also allowed. FULL DISCLOSURE: this was in North Carolina, which is technically in the “Bible Belt,” and in the early 90s, so things may have changed. But as far as I understand it, there is no problem teaching religious views as content. What you can’t do is teach them as fact, which is what rules out ID. Not that ID is a specific religious view, mind you, but it qualifies as one for teaching purposes in my mind all the same because it relies on an unstudyable mechanism in its explanations. Thus it is not “science” in a sense suitable for a public school, as I explained in my last comment, and even if it could be found to be constitutional to include it – which it can’t be given the way the courts have ruled but never mind – I would oppose its inclusion in the curriculum of our local schools.

    Actually, I would be too lazy.

    My honest opinion on the ID issue is that it’s a religious Trojan Horse, just as Derbyshire and Myres and everyone claims. The Discovery Institute has manufactured a controversy to try to manipulate public opinion. That’s their right, and I’m happy to let them get away with it since their strategy is ultimately self-defeating.

  • Jacob

    Correction to my post above: “the religious are wary of science in the first place” – this is wrong.
    The religious have no problem with science – up to a point. They have no problem with Newton’s laws, laws governing movement of planets, optics, mechanics, etc.

    Their problems begin when science touches man. The origin of man, abortions, stem cells, etc.

  • I think Darwinism was a more important compenent of various intellectual trends of the 20th century, including nazism, than is generally admitted

    Dunno about the reference to nazism, but I certainly regard Origin as one of the two most influential books ever written. The other being Principia. Far more so than either the Bible or Koran.

  • Nick M

    Gabriel,

    I am a basically humanities man, but I have ‘A’s in Maths, Further Maths and Chemistry A level and almost applied to do Chemisty so probably have a certain objectivity that most people on both sides of the fence lack.

    ROFL. I’m a former astrophysicist. “I nearly applied for chemistry” is yanking my chain somewhat. My sister-in-law is a geologist. My best mate is a biologist…

    Guess what we all conclude about the best available scientific explanation for the origin of the species is?

    Creationism just isn’t science. It’s wishful thinking. It’s fairy tales from 3 thousand years ago. Would you trust any of the writers of The Bible to service your car? Install Windows XP, re-wire your house? No. So why trust them to tell you how you came to be at a keyboard?

    Gabriel, you have truly jumped a shark of your own devising.

  • Paul Marks

    Gabriel:

    No Ben Stein really does believe that there was no evolution.

    He pays a bit of lip service to the “Darwin led to Hitler” stuff, but the main point of the film is that scientists get fired from universities if they believe in “intelligent design”.

    Not “if they believe in God” or “if they believe in objective morality” or anything like that. If they believe in “intelligent design” – i.e. they believe in a cover tem that creationists came up with when they decided that “creationism” did not sound very scientific.

    In short people get fired from science departments when it is discovered they do not believe in basic science.

    I know Ben Stein for years watching him on Fox News.

    He writes for the New York Times as their token “conservative” President Bush supporter – but his main role is to demand higher taxes.

    I wish I had a few Pounds for every time I have seen Ben Stein say that taxes should be higher.

    He never produces any real arguments for why taxes should be higher – any more than he has produced any arguments for his Creationism.

    I suppose is respected and granted a platform to speak (on the Cavuto show and so on) because he is very rich – the idea being if a man has made a lot of money he must have things to say that are worth hearing.

    Sadly that is not true in the case of Ben Stein.

    As for Creationism/Intelligent Design.

    The whole thing in America is depressing – because the United States produced some of the first philosophers to show that there is no contradiction between evolution and the existance of God (or evolution and the existance of objective NON EVOLVED moral law) – for example Noah Porter and the Scots/American James McCosh.

    Sadly many Christians are unware of what people like James McCosh wrote (as long ago as the 19th century) and so think they have to make a choice between religion and science – or invent absurd debased “science” like “intelligent design”.

    Jews in the United States (incluing orthodox Jews) have been more sensible – at least till Ben Stein came along.