Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Another Rejoinder to Rusty

This is becoming a regular series, isn’t it? It wasn’t intended as such. Rusty’s latest salvo deals with a couple of questions. It started with his post concerning the Understanding Evolution website, and one section of that site in particular, which advised teachers on how to answer the common misconception that evolution is inherently anti-religious or anti-Christian. Here is the section in its entirety:

Misconception: “Evolution and religion are incompatible.”

Response: Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.

The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive. Most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.


This elicited the following response from Rusty:

You’ve gotta wonder if the evidence for evolution is so truly convincing (as most evolutionists will claim), then why bother with getting religious endorsement?

I explained to him, as did someone else in the comments section on his site, what should have been incredibly obvious to anyone reading the quote in context (which I suspect he had not done when he posted his initial post on the subject, as he was originally quoting John West’s absurd article on the NRO on the subject), which is that the section he quoted was not intended to provide religious endorsement or evidence for evolution, it was intended only to answer the common misconception that evolution is anti-religious. Of course, even without seeing the original context, the very fact that the first line says, “Misconception: Evolution and religion are incompatible.” followed by “Response” might have been a major clue, wouldn’t you think? Anyway, here is his latest paraphrase of what his objection was:

All I really wanted to know was, if the empirical data for evolution is so convincing and if MN is not a worldview, then why do the NCSE and the Understanding Evolution websites even bother to address the religious aspect? Why do they imply religious endorsement? Why do they state that an evolutionary understanding of the natural realm can enrich one’s faith?

Well let’s see, Rusty. Maybe it’s because people like you continually claim that the opposite is true. Here’s the irony here. Phil Johnson, William Dembski, and Rusty, as well as nearly all ID advocates, make the claim that evolution assumes philosophical naturalism, aka materialism, and hence is anti-religious and anti-Christian, and that therefore one cannot honestly accept evolution AND be a Christian. Rusty has been making that claim for months, and quoting the others repeatedly to support it, so this really isn’t open for dispute. Indeed, this is the primary objection of virtually everyone who doubts evolution, virtually every creationist/ID advocate in the world shares a similar religious viewpoint. Teachers inevitably have to deal with these religious objections when they teach evolution, and this is primarily the result of leaders like Johnson and Dembski continually repeating those religious objections and claiming that evolution is inherently atheistic. So we have this mantra – “evolution is incompatible with religious belief” – being repeated over and over and over again, by the leaders of the ID movement, by creationists everywhere, by ministers in the churches, by Rusty of course, and thereafter by students across the country when evolution is taught.

So along comes a website by prominent scientists and scholars that helps teachers understand evolution and teach it more effectively. That website points out that this mantra is not necessarily true, and points to the fact that millions of Christians do accept evolution, including the governing bodies of every single mainline Christian denomination, and what happens? The ID crowd loses its freaking minds! The Discovery Institute writes a positively moronic article in the National Review (who seem to be making moronic articles on this subject a habit lately) claiming that this violates the Establishment clause (I would LOVE to see West take that argument into court. He wouldn’t go to court with that legal argument in a million years and he knows it). And Rusty comes along and says, “I don’t understand why they would bother answering this argument we’ve been repeated a million times a day. It must be because the evidence for evolution is so weak.” I’ll take non sequiturs for $1000, Alex.

The other issue with Rusty and I at this point is the offensive portrayal of theistic evolutionists offered by he and Dembski. Here is what Rusty quotes from Dembski:

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Darwinian establishment views theistic evolution as a weak-kneed sycophant that desperately wants the respectability that comes with being a full-blooded Darwinist but refuses to follow the logic of Darwinism through to the end. It takes courage to give up the comforting belief that life on earth has a purpose. It takes courage to live without the consolation of afterlife. Theistic evolutionists lack the stomach to face the ultimate meaninglessness of life, and it is this failure of courage that makes them contemptible in the eyes of full-blooded Darwinists.

Now Rusty claims that Dembski doesn’t really think they’re cowards, he just says that “full-blooded Darwinists” think that TEs are cowards. I say this is nonsense, for several reasons. First, because Dembski doesn’t quote any of those “full-blooded Darwinists” to make his point. He is simply inventing a straw man “Darwinist” and putting his own words in his mouth. Second, the wording of the passage itself says that TEs are cowards, and it is this cowardice that allegedly makes Darwinists “hold them in contempt”. Third, a look at the entire context shows that this is in fact Dembski’s view. Here is the entire passage:

Design theorists are no friends of theistic evolution. As far as design theorists are concerned, theistic evolution is American evangelicalism’s ill-conceived accommodation to Darwinism. What theistic evolution does is take the Darwinian picture of the biological world and baptize it, identifying this picture with the way God created life. When boiled down to its scientific content, theistic evolution is no different from atheistic evolution, accepting as it does only purposeless, naturalistic, material processes for the origin and development of life.

As far as design theorists are concerned, theistic evolution is an oxymoron, something like “purposeful purposelessness.” If God purposely created life through the means proposed by Darwin, then God’s purpose was to make it seem as though life was created without any purpose. According to the Darwinian picture, the natural world provides no clue that a purposeful God created life. For all we can tell, our appearance on planet earth is an accident. If it were all to happen again, we wouldn’t be here. No, the heavens do not declare the glory of God, and no, God’s invisible attributes are not clearly seen from God’s creation. This is the upshot of theistic evolution as the design theorists construe it.

Design theorists find the “theism” in theistic evolution superfluous. Theistic evolution at best includes God as an unnecessary rider in an otherwise purely naturalistic account of life. As such, theistic evolution violates Occam’s razor. Occam’s razor is a regulative principle for how scientists are supposed to do their science. According to this principle, superfluous entities are to be rigorously excised from science. Thus, since God is an unnecessary rider in our understanding of the natural world, theistic evolution ought to dispense with all talk of God outright and get rid of the useless adjective “theistic.”

It’s for failing to take Occam’s razor seriously that the Darwinist establishment despises (yes I say despises) theistic evolution. They view theistic evolution as a weak-kneed sycophant, who desperately wants the respectability that comes with being a full-blooded Darwinist, but refuses to follow the logic of Darwinism through to the end. It takes courage to give up the comforting belief that life on earth has a purpose. It takes courage to live without the consolation of an afterlife. Theistic evolutionists lack the stomach to face the ultimate meaninglessness of life, and it is this failure of courage that makes them contemptible in the eyes of full-blooded Darwinists (Richard Dawkins is a case in point).

Clearly, this is Dembski’s view himself. And he’s not the only who makes it. The vitriol aimed at TEs by ID advocates and creationists is easy to find. Here’s Phil Johnson claiming that TEs are motivated to placate the scientific establishment and therefore they serve as unwitting dupes of atheists (they can’t have a sincere view, you see, there must be some shallow ulterior motive):

“If theistic evolutionists broadcast the message that evolution as they understand it is harmless to theistic religion, they are misleading their constituents unless they add a clear warning that the version of evolution advocated by the entire body of mainstream science is something else altogether. That warning is never clearly delivered, however, because the main point of theistic evolution is to preserve peace with the mainstream scientific community. The theistic evolutionists therefore unwittingly serve the purposes of the scientific naturalists, by helping persuade the religious community to lower its guard against the incursion of naturalism.”

And here is yet another quote from Johnson saying much the same thing:

“To know that Darwinism is true (as a general explanation of the history of life), one has to know that no alternative to naturalistic evolution is possible. To know that is to assume that God does not or cannot create. To infer that mutation and selection did the creating because nothing else was available, and then to bring God back into the picture as the omnipotent being who chose to create by mutation and selection, is to indulge in self-contradiction. That is why Darwin and his successors have always felt that theistic evolutionists were missing the point, although they have often tolerated them as useful allies.”

Is there any way for a TE to take that other than insulting? And yes, Rusty, that IS how they take it. Here’s Howard Van Till’s response to the exact same passage that Rusty quoted from Dembski:

“I’m inclined to reply: “Not to put too fine a point on it”? Given that a typical dictionary definition of sycophant is a self-seeking, servile flatterer; a fawning parasite, I can scarcely imagine needing to resort to criticism any more caustic than that…

The words are his own; he neither quotes from a named person nor provides any particular source that employs a comparably insulting tone of voice. Is there such a thing as a “Darwinian establishment” view? If so, is this the tone of voice “they” would use? Is Dembski being fair to presume that “they” would express themselves in this insulting manner? Is Dembski not responsible for the words of contempt that he places in the mouths of others?”

And here is Glenn Morton’s response to the above quote from Phillip Johnson:

Here Johnson seems to imply that our only purpose in life is to salve the mainstream scientific community, and he claims in this that we are witless to know that we are being used. Good grief, we do have a bit of smarts, not that one would ever guess from this bit of polemical rhetoric…Johnson treats us as the lap dogs of the evolutionists conjuring up the picture of us panting our tongues as our masters pat us on the head!

To all of this insult, Rusty adds his own:

Yet, one wonders what thoughts the likes of Eugenie Scott, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, et. al., are having as they smirk behind Miller’s back.

Somehow he just doesn’t get why this is insulting. It seems incredibly obvious to me and, I would hope, to any other reasonably ethical person who might read it. Here is how he defends it at this point:

Do I know for a fact that Scott, Dennett, Dawkins, or et. al., smirk behind Miller’s back? Of course not. That wasn’t the point of the passage. I was illustrating the point of my series of posts, which dealt with the logical inconsistency between MN and morality.

Here’s what Rusty doesn’t get. The issue is not whether he “knows for a fact” that Genie Scott smirks behind Ken Miller’s back. The issue is that he doesn’t have any factual basis whatsoever to make that claim. He doesn’t know either of them. He is smearing Genie, just like Dembski and Johnson do with similar claims above, by claiming that she laughs behind the back of her Christian friends and considers them unwitting dupes too dumb to understand that they’re really supporting atheism, which would make her a contemptible human being, in my view, if it was true. And he is smearing Ken Miller, just like Dembski and Johnson do repeatedly, by implying that he is a pathetic “useful idiot” being used by his atheistic friends and he’s too dumb to know it. Well I’ve got news for Rusty, and for Johnson and Dembski…Ken Miller is smarter than all of you (and me) put together. And I’ve got further news for them – Genie Scott is a really great person. She’s funny and charming and very, very smart.

But again, Rusty just doesn’t seem to understand that what he has said, and continues to defend, is insulting. He also doesn’t understand that it’s all the more insulting because he has no basis whatsoever for it. This isn’t a case of “I can’t prove it for a fact, but I’ve still got a good reason to believe it.” This is a case of “I have no knowledge whatsoever that could possibly justify this claim and I’m slandering people I don’t know without anything to back it up other than my own prejudice against them.” The fact that Rusty just doesn’t get why this is offensive is shown by this statement he makes:

Ed clearly took offense at that post because he personally knows Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott. I’ve re-read the post several times and can find no reason for the type of reaction that Ed came back with. However, since it is clear that Ed is still offended by my post I offer my apology for insulting his friends.

There’s a politician’s apology if ever I’ve seen one: “I didn’t do anything wrong, but if you think I did I’ll offer an obviously insincere apology.” And this from someone who claims that us non-Christians have a problem with ethics! He also suggests that I forward what he wrote on to Genie and Ken, and if they are “truly offended”, then he’ll apologize. But given the obvious lack of sincerity of the non-apologetic apology above, that’s obviously a waste of time. Offering two or three empty apologies is no more compelling than offering one. Rusty, if you don’t understand why what you and Dembski and Johnson (and all of that ilk) say about theistic evolutionists is offensive and insulting to them – and you obviously don’t – then you probably won’t ever get it. But I would suggest that you’ve pretty much submarined any chance of being taken seriously in the future when taking a moral position, or advocating the ten commandments (one of which tends to frown on bearing false witness).

Comments

  1. #1 Rusty
    April 5, 2004

    Ed you really do have a knack for twisting my points around. If you still can’t understand the logical inconsistencies with naturalism and ethics of any kind (remember?… that’s what started all of this) – then you probably won’t ever get it.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    April 5, 2004

    Within the confines of this discussion, the only inconsistency is between your ethical position and your behavior. You have made a false accusation that impugned the integrity of good people without even a single shred of evidence for it, you have quoted other people favorably doing the same thing with the same complete lack of evidence, and when confronted with that fact, you offer an obviously insincere non-apologetic apology. So it seems that the real inconsistency, in this exchange, is between your supernatural beliefs and ethical behavior. To presume to lecture someone about unethical behavior when you’ve been displaying it so obviously is to make a mockery of ethics and to pretty much destroy any credibility you have.

    The grand irony of the whole thing is that while claiming that those big bad evil Darwinists hold theistic evolutionists in contempt, the only ones who have actually showed any real contempt (as opposed to the hypothetical kind that you and Dembski seem to prefer) toward theistic evolutionists is you and your heroes. There is a word for this. That word is hypocrisy.

  3. #3 Eddie Rios
    April 6, 2004

    Furthermore, Rusty, you have also impugned the very faith you, Dembski, and Johnson claim to uphold. It makes me wonder if Eveangelical Christian movement has ever had an honest day in its short, tumultuous life.

    I can only wonder what the master you, Dembski, and Johnson claim to follow must feel. If I were The Christ, I would be sick with grief and my tears would flow ceaselessly for the current state of affairs.

    Shame on you!

    Yours truly,
    Eddie Rios

  4. #4 DS
    April 6, 2004

    We understand you don’t like evolution Rusty.
    But you don’t have a case against it other than dislike. That’s the basis of your whole objection to evolution, science and naturalism, as well as Theistic Evolution, as far as I’ve been able to determine.
    You don’t like it. You don’t like people who accept it. And your dislike is not based on evidence or even reasonable inference, but on extremist and perhaps even bizarre ideological grounds.

    Yes, I can understand why someone who hates science and evolutionary biology would hate theistic evolutnary philosophy; because thevo’s reveal a crucial IDC lie to the secular and Christain public. This lie is so beneficial to the IDC Orthodoxy, that they carefully cultivate it. Namely, that evolution is incompatible with being a ‘real’ Christian.

    You’re screwed. You backed the wrong horse scientifically. There is no ToIDC, there is a ToE, and there is no controversy between the two among scientists.
    What’s more is there are people who are deeply religious AND who accept science-including evolutionary biology-and even report being spiritually inspired by it.

    The only question now is if you’re enough of an adult to admit you got hoodwinked, or if you’re going to continue lying about and smearing people as part of advancing your increasingly desperate ‘morally superior* case against the evils of evolution.

    ~DS~
    Help! Help! I’m being repressed!

  5. #5 mm
    April 6, 2004

    It seems disingenuous to me to have this whole post accusing your opponents of being rude, and then turn around and defend Brian Leiter, who is surely the rudest blogger in creation.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    April 6, 2004

    It seems disingenuous to me to have this whole post accusing your opponents of being rude, and then turn around and defend Brian Leiter, who is surely the rudest blogger in creation.

    It seems far more disingenuous to make this statement without bothering to read the numerous times that I’ve said that I think Brian is unduly rude to people even, or perhaps especially, when he’s right on the substantive issues. I’ve never defended his harsh style, and many times have criticized him for it. Even if that were not true, however, there is still a distinction between what I criticizing Rusty for and what you are criticizing Leiter for. I’m not accusing Rusty merely of being rude. I’m accusing Rusty of insulting people with no factual basis.

    There is a difference between saying “I think someone is an idiot based on what I’ve read and here are the reasons why”, which is what Brian Leiter tends to do, and insulting someone as an assumption rather than a conclusion. When Brian says that Lawrence VanDyke is ignorant of the issue he proposed to write upon, he’s right. When he says that VanDyke had distorted the views of Laudan and others, he’s right. When he says that VanDyke wrote an extremely credulous review of a book without bothering to check any of the citations to see if they actually supported the thesis of that book, he’s right. When he says that VanDyke does a ridiculously poor job of citing sources, often claiming they say the exact opposite of what they do, he’s right. All of those claims are factually correct, VanDyke’s own words establish them as correct, and he made the substantive arguments to support those claims. That he then goes a step further and accuses VanDyke of fraudulent scholarship and outright dishonesty is a judgment call, and while it may be rude to make that accusation, it’s not entirely unjustified. That is a far different thing from what Rusty has done, which is accuse people he doesn’t know of being too stupid to know that they are unwitting dupes of the atheist horde, their friendships are a sham and that their friends mock them behind their back. Rusty has absolutely no basis for making that claim, a claim I know is false. it is an assumption that he cannot possibly support, as opposed to a conclusion for which there is a reasonable amount of evidence. It’s a far different thing from Bill Dembski declaring theistic evolutionists “cowardly” when he has no basis whatsoever for making that claim.

  7. #7 eon
    April 6, 2004

    MM:

    Surely you can see the difference between Leiter’s abrasive rhetoric and Rusty’s pharisaical libel?

  8. #8 mm
    April 6, 2004

    Well, Mr. Brayton, I have never read your blog before, and I don’t view the making of blog comments as an activity that somehow imposes an ethical requirement that I be familiar with your entire corpus, or indeed with anything other than your main page as of today.

    And you are far too kind (today anyway) to Mr. Leiter. What, pray tell, are the “reasons” that support the conclusions that “anyone with an eighth grade education knows that the United States is the main threat to world peace,” (a paraphrase from memory) or that Glenn Reynolds functions at a “disgraceful” intellectual level, or that Mr. Van Dyke is guilty of “fraud,” which is defined in my world–I am a lawyer–as knowingly making untrue factual statements, not merely having a difference of opinion, or supporting a different view of what the Constitution permits.

    As for eon, if you are using the word “pharasaical” in some technical sense, you are too subtle for me. (To me, it means legalistic.) Otherwise, I generally don’t see much difference between accusing your intellectual opponents of being dupes and accusing them of being idiots and frauds. Both about equally libellous, I would say.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    April 6, 2004

    Well, Mr. Brayton, I have never read your blog before, and I don’t view the making of blog comments as an activity that somehow imposes an ethical requirement that I be familiar with your entire corpus, or indeed with anything other than your main page as of today.

    Okay, fair enough. But on my main page today is the post I presume you read, concerning Leiter’s latest response to VanDyke. And in that post, I said, “I still tend to think that Leiter’s rhetoric is a bit overly harsh”, which followed on the footsteps of numerous similar and even more strongly worded statements to that effect. For example:

    For the record, I don’t think my posts on this situation can fairly be portrayed as a vicious attack. Professor Leiter’s reply, I suppose, might be called such. While I agree with him on the substantive issues, I think he would do better to restrain his rhetoric and be a bit more collegial. It only distracts from the substantive issues.

    I’ve expressed the same thing to Brian in private e-mails. I have never defended his slash-and-burn rhetorical style, but I have defended the substantive positions he took in his dispute with the National Review and Lawrence VanDyke. Oddly, that doesn’t seem to be enough for you, as you then say:

    And you are far too kind (today anyway) to Mr. Leiter. What, pray tell, are the “reasons” that support the conclusions that “anyone with an eighth grade education knows that the United States is the main threat to world peace,” (a paraphrase from memory) or that Glenn Reynolds functions at a “disgraceful” intellectual level, or that Mr. Van Dyke is guilty of “fraud,” which is defined in my world–I am a lawyer–as knowingly making untrue factual statements, not merely having a difference of opinion, or supporting a different view of what the Constitution permits.

    First you accuse me of defending Leiter’s harshness, now you’re demanding that I defend statements he has made that I’ve never seen on issues I’ve never discussed with him in conversations I was never involved with. I would not bother to defend, nor for the life of me can I understand why you think I should be required to defend, the statement that the US is the main threat to world peace (I think that’s a silly statement at best) or that Glenn Reynolds is intellectually disgraceful (I rather like Professor Reynolds, and have cited his law review articles numerous times in my posting on constitutional law). As far as the claim of VanDyke being guilty of fraud, let me quote myself from my 2nd response to VanDyke:

    Academic freedom does not insulate one’s published writings from criticism, no matter how sharply worded that criticism is. Still, I think even the informal charge of academic fraud is over the line. I think Mr. VanDyke is guilty of wishful thinking, of badly misreading (as opposed to intentionally misrepresenting) several sources, and of swallowing a lot of nonsense that would not stand up to scrutiny. I don’t think he’s guilty of academic fraud, which is a serious accusation that shouldn’t be thrown around casually even in an informal context.

    I have to confess that I find this whole conversation to be just plain weird. You demand that I defend positions I don’t take, and have explicitly denied. I’m not Brian Leiter’s defender, nor do I agree with him on everything or, probably, even most things. I think he’s far too abrasive at times and I have pointedly taken him to task for that when I felt it was appropriate. But I also think that on the subject of evolution and ID, he generally knows what he’s talking about and on the substantive issues he was mostly right in his dispute with VanDyke. That’s it. I haven’t the slightest idea why you think I should defend anything other than the positions I’ve actually taken.

  10. #10 mm
    April 6, 2004

    Perhaps I have misjudged you, and perhaps your corpus, taken all in all, does adequately criticize Mr. Leiter’s over-the-top rhetoric, at least on this topic.

  11. #11 eon
    April 6, 2004

    “Pharisaical” is one of those ten-dollar words that I often find befitting when responding to the screeds of anti-evolution propagandists. From dictionary.com: “hypocritically self-righteous and condemnatory.”

    As you can see, it means neither “legalistic” nor “rude.” In Rusty’s case (as well as in Dembski’s, et al.) — in their reprobation of theistic evolutionists — the proper shoe fits.

    My point — and I take it to be Leiter’s as well — is that VanDyke and the anti-evolutionists he sees so fit to parrot should know better. His/their arguments should be thoroughly transparent to any lawyer with a first-year law school grounding in Constitutional law and the most basic understanding of the nature of science. “Intelligent Design” is a religious, and not a scientific position … and several members of the Discovery Institute have occasionally had the temerity to admit it publicly.

    And yet, though they’ve undertaken not one scientific research program to support their teleological conclusions, the self-appointed clergy at the DI have nevertheless issued any number of pronouncements that ID will displace “Darwinism” as the accepted theory of biological origins. Ergo, their attempts to insinuate this metaphysical fancy into public school science classrooms does indeed constitute a fraud. That Rusty (and more pointedly, VanDyke) chooses to play sycophant to the movement does nothing to diminish their culpability: these are people of sufficient intelligence to know that the arguments in question are entirely fatuous.

    As for your contention that Leiter and Rusty are being equally libelous, I’m sure you’re aware that truth is a defense to libel. Leiter wins on the counterclaim.

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