Dispatches from the Creation Wars

DI’s List of 400 Shrinks by 1

Richard Hoppe has already put this story on the Panda’s Thumb, but I had to write it up for here as well. The Discovery Institute loves to talk about the “growing number of scientists” who doubt “Darwinism”, and especially about their list of 400 scientists who signed on to a statement they put together. Now one of the 400, Robert Davidson, is removing himself from the list, fed up with the DI’s “elaborate, clever marketing program” and “misuse of science”:

He’s also a devout Christian who believes we’re here because of God. It was these twin devotions to science and religion that first attracted him to Seattle’s Discovery Institute. That’s the think tank that this summer has pushed “intelligent design” — a replacement theory for evolution — all the way to the lips of President Bush and into the national conversation.

Davidson says he was seeking a place where people “believe in a Creator and also believe in science.

“I thought it was refreshing,” he says.

Not anymore. He’s concluded the institute is an affront to both science and religion.

“When I joined I didn’t think they were about bashing evolution. It’s pseudo-science, at best … What they’re doing is instigating a conflict between science and religion.”…

“I’m kind of embarrassed that I ever got involved with this,” Davidson says.

He was shocked, he says, when he saw the Discovery Institute was calling evolution a “theory in crisis.”

“It’s laughable: There have been millions of experiments over more than a century that support evolution,” he says. “There’s always questions being asked about parts of the theory, as there are with any theory, but there’s no real scientific controversy about it.”

Davidson began to believe the institute is an “elaborate, clever marketing program” to tear down evolution for religious reasons. He read its writings on intelligent design — the notion that some of life is so complex it must have been designed — and found them lacking in scientific merit.

And by the way, that statement that the 400 scientists signed on to has nothing to do with supporting ID. Here is the full statement:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

This is the statement that they say shows that these scientists support ID. But it says nothing of the sort. I could honestly sign on to that statement and I think ID is total nonsense. In fact, I know of no evolutionary scholar who couldn’t agree with it. No one thinks that random mutation and natural selection alone account for the complexity of life. It leaves out several non-selective mechanisms by which diversity can increase, including genetic drift and neutral mutations. So the statement really doesn’t say anything substantive.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan
    August 25, 2005

    It’ll be interesting to see how the DI spins this… .

  2. #2 Chuck
    August 25, 2005

    Anyone who’s heard of a little evolutionary development called sexual reproduction (or even conjugation between bacteria) must agree with the statement. Random mutation is only one source of the variation within populations that natural selection acts on (and you were right to point out that not all evolution is driven by natural selection – there is also sexual selection, and, as you said, genetic drift and silent mutations). In fact, it can be argued that in sexually reproducing organisms, random base-pair mutation is a rather minor source of variation compared to recombination and the occasional aneuploidy resulting from errors in the crossing-over mechanism.

  3. #3 spyder
    August 25, 2005

    Has someone actually read through the list and verified that those on it were all indeed scientists within their area of specialization and discipline. Last year i served on a committee that reviewed the list of nearly 10,000 “scientists” who signed a similarly vague document regarding global warming. I personally found several hundred non-science signatories who were members of the various conservative organizations that circulated this “letter for scientists.” The list included children, cousins, dead scientists, and so many other erroneous listings that it became its own albatross for the pro-fossil fuel lobby; they stopped using it in their PR.

    Will the list of 400 likewise be examined and start to lose its usefulness to DI and ID and so forth????

  4. #4 Raging Bee
    August 25, 2005

    This is just too silly: a guy who signed on to the DI because he actually, sincerely believed in what they were saying, the kind of scientist they need most to stay credible, and he realizes it’s crap and defects. This is a much-needed dose of comic relief.

  5. #5 Celcus
    August 26, 2005

    “More and more scientists are rejecting the flawed theory of Darwinism…” How many times do we hear this from the ID cheerleaders? Yet, other than the handful they repeat over and over, including many who do not support ID they can’t name any. I imagine Richard Hoppe’s name will continue to find it’s way onto this for years to come. They have awful good cheerleaders, but neglected to put a team on the field.

  6. #6 Uber
    August 26, 2005

    ‘Davidson says he was seeking a place where people “believe in a Creator and also believe in science.’

    Yes, YES you can, but it makes the Christian version a little bit harder to buy into for many people who aren’t willing to bend and twist and make pretend.

  7. #7 Raging Bee
    August 26, 2005

    Mr. Gibbons? Mr. Gibbons? Care to comment on this? Hello? Damn, I could swear he was around here a minute ago…

  8. #8 Chuck
    August 26, 2005

    The concept of evolution and even the concept of the old earth would seem to make it impossible to be a Christian who believes in the literal word of the Bible’s stories. However, one can believe in the deist conception of God and also sign on to the moral doctrines prescribed by Christ in the New Testament and still call himself a Christian, yes?

  9. #9 Uber
    August 26, 2005

    Hi Chuck,

    I would say yes for the simple reason it’s possible to believe whatever you want for whatever reason you fnd personally acceptable.

    ‘However, one can believe in the deist conception of God and also sign on to the moral doctrines prescribed by Christ in the New Testament and still call himself a Christian, yes? ‘

    Yes, but you’d have to decide exactly which interpretation of said doctrines you would subscribe to I suppose. The problem isn’t with the OT although some try to pigeonhole it there because of the origin stories but the NT has it’s fair share of ‘obstacles’ to scientific thinking as well.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    August 26, 2005

    Chuck wrote:

    The concept of evolution and even the concept of the old earth would seem to make it impossible to be a Christian who believes in the literal word of the Bible’s stories.

    I don’t think it’s quite this simple. No one believes that every word of the bible is to be taken literally, even those who call themselves biblical literalists. Even the most staunch literalist will still recognize that there is language in the bible that isn’t intended to be taken literally, just as we use figures of speech every day that are not intended literally. When they see passages like the one in Isaiah that says the mountains sang and the trees clapped, they don’t think that the mountains literally grew vocal cords and began to harmonize, they recognize this as figurative language. They would not attempt to interpret poetry as literal history, for example. So it isn’t as simple as dividing up Christians into those who “take the bible’s stories literally” and those who don’t; it’s a question of which parts are viewed as literal and which are not.

    In the case of Genesis 1, those who argue for a non-literal reading are in quite good company. The Jews themselves do not view it as literal history, nor did many great Christian theologians including, most notably, Augustine himself. So interpretation of Genesis 1 as non-literal does not necessarily put a Christian in the position of being a non-literalist or of needing to take all of the bible as non-literal.

  11. #11 Ed Darrell
    August 26, 2005

    That’s 0.25% shrinkage. Is that statistically significant?

  12. #12 Raging Bee
    August 26, 2005

    No less significant than a defector from the USSR.

  13. #13 Uber
    August 27, 2005

    ‘In the case of Genesis 1, those who argue for a non-literal reading are in quite good company. The Jews themselves do not view it as literal history, nor did many great Christian theologians including, most notably, Augustine himself. So interpretation of Genesis 1 as non-literal does not necessarily put a Christian in the position of being a non-literalist or of needing to take all of the bible as non-literal.’

    One could argue, perhaps more successfully, that despite the famous names these people are being disengenous to maintain an irrational faith. If you don’t take Genesis literally you are a non-literal reader of the bible. You are picking and choosing which parts to read literally and which to not.

    There is not good reason at all Genesis should not be read as a literal story if one believes the bible is literal. It was written as the writers understood it. Now science obviously conflicts with this story as it should, the prior was written by people without knowledge. modern humans should know better. But to say Genesis wasn’t written as a ‘literal’ story, well, seems slightly dishonest.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    August 27, 2005

    Uber wrote:

    One could argue, perhaps more successfully, that despite the famous names these people are being disengenous to maintain an irrational faith. If you don’t take Genesis literally you are a non-literal reader of the bible. You are picking and choosing which parts to read literally and which to not.

    Again, there simply isn’t any such thing as a “literal” or “non-literal” reader of “the Bible”. Everyone, even the staunchest literalist, reads some passages non-literally. So everyone is picking and choosing which parts to read literally and which to not. The only relevant question is whether their reasoning for a non-literal reasoning of a particular passage is reasonable or not.

    There is not good reason at all Genesis should not be read as a literal story if one believes the bible is literal. It was written as the writers understood it. Now science obviously conflicts with this story as it should, the prior was written by people without knowledge. modern humans should know better. But to say Genesis wasn’t written as a ‘literal’ story, well, seems slightly dishonest.

    Have you ever read any of the biblical scholarship on this question? If not, I would suggest that you are reaching this conclusion without a rational basis. Augustine lived long before science ever conflicted with it, yet he argued for a non-literal reading based purely on his analysis of the text itself, so it cannot be true that the only way to decide between a literal and non-literal reading is by what science does or doesn’t support.

    My friend Henry Neufeld, a Hebrew scholar and theologically liberal scholar (and evolution advocate) has done an enormous amount of analysis of the Hebrew text from a literary perspective, attempting to determine by the type of literature each passage represents which ones should be interpreted literally and which ones should not. Everyone recognizes that there are different types of literature in the bible, everything from parable to literal history to poetry and even music. So that type of literary analysis certainly aids in determining what was intended to be taken literally and which was not. And this is quite a separate question from whether any particular passage is true or not. I’m not saying this analysis is necessarily true, and obviously there are disagreements among scholars, I’m just saying that it can be done on a far more rational and sophisticated basis than you seem to think.

  15. #15 raj
    August 28, 2005

    Just to point out, the Genesis that is available to most people is a translation of ancient texts that were written in languages other than English. It is impossible for most people to read Genesis literally because most of them do not read the languages of the ancient texts. Nor would they understand the cultural context in which the texts were written, which is essential for an understanding of the ancient texts.

  16. #16 Uber
    August 29, 2005

    ‘Have you ever read any of the biblical scholarship on this question?’

    Yes, and I would maintain, as others in the field of biblical scholarship do, that there is no reason not to read Genesis with the understanding that it was meant as a literal understanding of the world’s creation.

    ‘If not, I would suggest that you are reaching this conclusion without a rational basis.’

    Look Ed, I’m not trying to argue. But your conclusion is no more ‘rational’ than mine. I am aware that there are other ways of looking at it. I myself subscribe to one. That being said I do it because it allows me to maintain my faith.

    ‘Augustine lived long before science ever conflicted with it, yet he argued for a non-literal reading based purely on his analysis of the text itself, so it cannot be true that the only way to decide between a literal and non-literal reading is by what science does or doesn’t support.’

    Never said that you should decide using science. I said Genesis is obviously non-literal because we now know better.

    ‘My friend Henry Neufeld, a Hebrew scholar and theologically liberal scholar (and evolution advocate) has done an enormous amount of analysis of the Hebrew text from a literary perspective, attempting to determine by the type of literature each passage represents which ones should be interpreted literally and which ones should not. ‘

    Fine, but for everyone of him, I can find 1-2 others. It’s fools gold.

    ‘Everyone recognizes that there are different types of literature in the bible, everything from parable to literal history to poetry and even music.’

    Yes, I agree.

    ‘So that type of literary analysis certainly aids in determining what was intended to be taken literally and which was not.’

    In my view, based on what I’ve read, I suspect genesis was meant as a literal history. You are free to disagree. In all honesty without Genesis you are on a slipperly slope to justify many aspects of the Christian faith. Now a person of Jewish faith would not share these difficulties.

    ‘And this is quite a separate question from whether any particular passage is true or not. I’m not saying this analysis is necessarily true, and obviously there are disagreements among scholars,’

    Yes there is.

    ‘I’m just saying that it can be done on a far more rational and sophisticated basis than you seem to think’

    See your assuming I don’t know that already. I am simply stating that to me, I find the better arguments on the side of those who feel Genesis was meant to be a literal story. I feel once one gives up Genesis you create far more theologically unsupported problems for Christianity than by leaving it as a literal event.

    Jesus spoke continuosly in admitted parables and yet many take that literally also. There is alot of inconsistency on every side of biblical scholarship which makes one inclined to think that the premises may be the problem.

  17. #17 Raging Bee
    August 30, 2005

    Uber: why is it so important to take Genesis literally? The main message is that God created everything (which is, of course, an indispensible article of faith). Do we have to accept the specifics of what God made on which day? Or the snake-and-apple story as a literal description of the Fall of Man?

  18. #18 Uber
    August 30, 2005

    It’s not and I don’t, but if one doesn’t you end up with bigger theological issues than if you do.

    ‘Or the snake-and-apple story as a literal description of the Fall of Man?’

    The ‘Fall of man’? What exactly is that? This is what I’m talking about to some degree. If death already existed in the world for billions of years what exactly did man do to cause it?

    Likewise, in evolutionary thinking, the species line is often very vague. When did the first ape become human? Where it’s parents just souless beasts? The line from human to chimp is one of degree not a chasm of diference.

    Like I said the reason evolution presents problems for Christianity is that it creates hurdles that are not easily overcome by rational thinking people. And the answers are not anything to be found in the Bible. It should also be mentioned that Jesus mentioned Adam and the creation story. Now if your a Jew that doesn’t matter, if your Christian you, I guess, have to say that Jesus was also referencing a metaphor when it seems clear he was referencing a literal event to him.

    If the main message is God created everything, your right thats no problem. If the message is one that needs to be consistent with the Christian plan of salvation than you have problems.

  19. #19 Raging Bee
    August 30, 2005

    Like I said the reason evolution presents problems for Christianity is that it creates hurdles that are not easily overcome by rational thinking people.

    Are you sure you don’t mean “hurdles that are not easily overcome” by literal-minded simpletons who can’t understand allegory, symbolism, or multi-layered understanding? I’ve met many rational people, and none of them had any trouble accepting the Bible as a story describing Man’s relationship to God as effectively as mere words can do.

    The ‘Fall of man’? What exactly is that? This is what I’m talking about to some degree. If death already existed in the world for billions of years what exactly did man do to cause it?

    This is an example of my point. The first Humans tasting knowledge of good and evil — i.e., trying to function separate from God — did not cause biological death, which was always a part of life; it caused spiritual death, i.e., separation from God, loss of contact with God’s wisdom, and imprisonment in narrow worldly priorities.

    Most of the Bible’s stories are symbolic representations of concepts too complex and transcendental to be described to physical beings any other way. In my experience, it is literalism that causes the most theological problems.

  20. #20 Uber
    August 30, 2005

    I understand your perspective. But…….

    ‘I’ve met many rational people, and none of them had any trouble accepting the Bible as a story describing Man’s relationship to God as effectively as mere words can do.’

    Fine, but it’s an assumption. How do they explain my previous questions, when exactly did the soul enter the first human?

    ‘This is an example of my point. The first Humans tasting knowledge of good and evil — i.e., trying to function separate from God — did not cause biological death, which was always a part of life; it caused spiritual death, i.e., ‘

    And exactly where did this come from? I mean where is the evidence for this view? And again I ask when exactly did the spirit enter the ‘first’ human? Evoution is a continuity, speciation is not a distict event but a process. So how did it happen.

    How exactly did the ‘first’ humans taste good and evil? Was it when they were fighting the other members of Homo for survival? Or were the first human neanderthals and sapiens another? I mean who fist tasted good and evil?

    ‘ separation from God, loss of contact with God’s wisdom, and imprisonment in narrow worldly priorities.’

    ???? Ahhh, but how is one to know Gods wisdom is the entire book is ‘too complex and transcendental to be described to physical beings any other way’?

    ‘In my experience, it is literalism that causes the most theological problems.’

    Your still arguing for a form of literalism, not as severe but equally backward. You assume it means something different, or that your view is correct. But as I said it creates more problems than it solves.

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