Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Two old friends have left a fascinating set of comments on an earlier thread and I liked them so much that I’m moving them up here to make sure everyone sees them. I have known Henry Neufeld for about 15 years, since first meeting him in the Compuserve religion forum. I have known Sastra for probably 10 years, since meeting her in a religious debate channel on IRC. Henry is a Christian, a Hebrew scholar and the director of a Bible school; Sastra is an atheist and longtime activist. Despite those differences, they are two of the clearest thinkers I have ever known. I’ll paste the exchange below the fold. First, Sastra’s comment:

I suspect that ID advocates haven’t bothered to condemned Stein’s statement because they have all intuitively translated it into what Stein actually meant. They translate everything into their own idiom, because they are fighting a different war. It’s not about the science.

“Science leads to killing people” doesn’t really mean what it appears to say. Instead, it means:

“If you base your world view only on science — and leave out God — then you are an atheist. Atheism leads to killing people. Atheism is the real enemy. We’re going after atheism.”

Darwinism = atheism. Flat out. That’s why even educated cdesign proponentists don’t feel strange confusing evolution with abiogenesis. It’s why they can ask how “Darwinism” explains how the planets got here, or where the universe comes from, with a straight face, and get nods of approval from their listeners.

I think this is why those who defend the theory of evolution are somewhat polarized on this issue. The obvious rebuttal is to point out that evolution does NOT mean atheism. You need not follow it strictly all the way down: there are many theists who feel comfortable incorporating any and all scientific findings into their faith. Make this clear, and the ID tactic will fail. And you don’t get into the quagmire of defending atheism.

BUT — because the ID issue has been framed by its advocates as a full-scale attack on atheism — atheists feel required to fight back. What group wouldn’t, under the same circumstances? Otherwise, it feels as if the evolutionary side is conceding that yes, atheism is immoral, and atheism leads to immorality — but evolutionists aren’t all atheists, so that makes it okay.

And Henry’s response, agreeing with her:

Sastra: The problem I’ve found is that it is very easy to be misunderstood when defending evolution by making it clear that it is not atheism, which of course it isn’t. But it can easily sound like, “The ToE would be bad if it was atheism or fit well with atheism, but it isn’t, it doesn’t, so it’s OK.”

The only reason the theory of evolution is OK is that it is good science, and correct insofar as we know to date. Whether it helps me as a theist fill out my theological system, or whether it helps one be a fulfilled atheist as Dawkins noted is irrelevant.

I agree with what you’re saying, but the propaganda against atheism is so pervasive and has been so effective, that when one quite properly separates the theory of evolution from atheism, one can be readily misunderstood as acknowledging that atheists are immoral or that if the theory of evolution supported atheism, it would be thereby be a bad theory.

To repeat myself redundantly, a scientific theory is valid based on the science involved, not on what philosophical or theological systems make use of it, what people feel comfortable with it, or what ideas propagandists associate with it.

I agree with all of this. And I think it’s important to make it clear that when we say that evolution is not synonymous with atheism, that doesn’t mean that atheism is a bad thing. It’s not. Sastra suggests, tongue in cheek, attaching the Seinfeldian phrase “not that there’s anything wrong with that” to such statements.