Myers on Romney

P.Z. Myers does not agree with my take on Mitt Romney’s statement regarding evolution.

Now, I agree with P.Z. on about 99% of everything in life. But on this one, and on theistic evolution generally, he is way off.

Let’s start with his title: “Mitt Romney, theistic evolutionist…and this is supposed to be a good thing?”

My answer: Yes! This is an unambiguously good thing.

Not the best thing, certainly. The best thing would be for him to denounce God belief as silly and to affirm that scientists have no need of that hypothesis. But this is one of those times where we shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Romney has unambiguously endorsed evolution, has included human beings in the process, and has said clearly that he does not believe that ID has any place in science classes. Those are good positions to hold, and they are not positions calculated to appeal to Republican primary voters. The shameless, calculated position would be that there is a genuine controversy among scientists regarding evolution and that both sides should be presented. That, after all, is the position of our current president. But Romney didn’t say that. So, yes, I give him some credit.

But P.Z. demurs:

OK, so it’s a bunch of political junkies over there. What do they know? But then I read Jason Rosenhouse, who’s “impressed”, calls the statement “downright intelligent”, and thinks “he’s right on this issue”.

Just for the record, I actually said merely that for a Republican his statement was downright intelligent. And the part he’s right about is in accepting evolution and in not wanting ID taught in science classes, not the part about God using evolution to create humans.

I’m sorry, but Romney’s statement is pure calculated bullshit with more acknowledgment of religion than science. It is perfectly in alignment with the strategy of rebranding ID as evolution. Seriously, if you follow the statements of the intelligent design creationists, you’ll find that they say stuff that is just like Romney’s comment — if there’s any difference, it’s that IDists are more reluctant to mention god than Romney was.

No, it is not calculated, and that’s precisely the point. This is not a position likely to endear you to Republican primary voters.

But the bigger issue is that there is a world of difference between theistic evolution and ID. ID folks say idiotic things like, “If a system requires all of its parts to function, then it couldn’t have evolved gradually,” or “With the aid of a back of the envelope probability calculation we can prove the intervention of an intelligent designer in the course of natural history.” They also run around misrepresenting the views of scientists, lying to school boards, and promoting anti-science propaganda to the general public.

Theistic evolutionists don’t do such things. They’re only crime is tacking on some supernatural mumbo-jumbo to a scientific theory that was doing just fine without it. I am all in favor of criticizing them for this, but they are a huge improvement over the ID folks nevertheless.

Myers’ continues:

Look at Romney’s statement carefully. Aw, heck, you don’t even need to look carefully — the superstition jumps out at you.

“I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”

Magic man done it! Seriously, follow the link and watch the movie clip. Intelligent Design creationism is the idea to ape scientific explanations exactly except for … a “thing”, “some kind of force”, that mucks about whenever the creationist doesn’t understand how something could have evolved. Theistic evolution is the same thing.

Go back to the original for links.

No, that is not the idea of Intelligent Design creationism. If we’re talking about the movement spearheaded by the likes of William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Jonathan Wells, then ID is the idea that there are fundamental, insurmountable flaws in purely naturalistic conceptions of evolution, and that these flaws can only be plugged by invoking the action of an unfathomable intelligence.

Theistic evolution, by contrast, does not invoke a magic man every time some evolutionary puzzle is brought to light. TE says that the major claims of modern evolutionary theory are correct, and that scientists are right to approach their problems the way they do. They believe that there is some guiding intelligence behind the whole thing as well, but that this belief is not something that should influence the way science is done. I’m puzzled by P.Z.’s inability to see a difference between these positions.

Myers later gets to the heart of the issue:

I’m not arguing that Romney is particularly bad in this case. He’s not pushing some insane Young Earth Creationist position, and I think if you pushed the candidates in the Democratic field they’d probably say something similar–they’d mumble some platitudes about accepting the scientific consensus and then throw in something about their belief in god, and how god used science to make us. It’s all wrong. What is particularly troubling is how far we’ve sunk that so many on the side of science are willing to ignore the unscientific promotion of an unevidenced supernatural entity and pretend that this is good for us.

I’m not ignoring anything, and I don’t pretend that excessive God belief is good for us. I merely acknowledge that Romney’s view is a considerable improvement over the beliefs of the mainstream of his party. And the sign of how far we’ve sunk is not that many on the science side are willing to give a tip of the hat to a politician who unambiguously accepts evolution and says that ID should not be taught in science classes. Rather, the sign of our descent is the fact that Romney’s milquetoast statement will actually put him at odds with large segments of American voters.

P.Z. goes on like this for several more paragraphs, finally building up to this:

And Nick will say … I have no idea how Nick would reply. I’m sure it will be clever and devastating, and I’m sure it will explain how the statement that “I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation” is pro-science while “I do not believe in the sufficiency of random mutation and natural selection to explain the history of life on earth” is anti-science. I’d like to hear an explanation for how “theistic evolution” is less religious than “intelligent design”.

If he can’t, we’re going to have an interesting time at the next trial. Maybe the gang at the NCSE should rethink their strategy a bit, because the way I see it, any defense that uses separation of church and state as its basis is becoming increasingly untenable.

What a ridiculous straw man! No one is saying that the statement, “I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation,” is a pro-science position. It merely represents a belief held by some people who are, in addition to this belief, pro-science. A more accurate summary of the theistic evolution position is, “I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation, but my religious views have no relevance to the proper practice of science or to the assessment of modern scientific theories.”

As to the other side of the dichotomy, the ID position is a lot more than, “I do not believe in the sufficiency of random mutation and natural selection to explain the history of life.” It is more like, “Not only do I not believe that known naturalistic mechanisms are adequate for explaining the history of life, but also I believe that natural mechanisms will forever be unable to explain certain aspects of natural history and that the only possible way of explaining them is by invoking an awesome supernatural intelligence and that the definition of science needs to be expanded to allow for such explanations.”

Any regular reader of this blog knows I have no sympathy for theistic evolution. I think it’s a misguided and erroneous view of the world, and I think it deserves strong criticism. But to argue that the merely wrong views of the theistic evolutionists should be condemned with the same vigor that we use against the loathsome behavior and totally-contradicted-by-the-facts views of the ID folks strikes me as misguided, to say the least.

Comments

  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    May 12, 2007

    Romney has unambiguously endorsed evolution

    Did he really? As quoted on Panda’s Thumb, Romney said:

    He was asked: Is that intelligent design?

    “I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.”

    About which Steve Reuland writes:

    Translation: I’m not touching ID with a ten-foot pole.

    As I read it, Romney is not saying that he wouldn’t support ID with a ten foot pole, he is saying he wouldn’t touch the issue with a ten foot pole. He is waffling. He didn’t support ID, but he didn’t reject it either.

    Rose-coloured glasses for everyone!

  2. #2 shannon
    May 12, 2007

    dude, so you believe in evolution? well—good for you, why do people choose to put their faith in things that aren’t real when you can put your faith in God.

  3. #3 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    May 12, 2007

    dude, so you believe in evolution? well—good for you, why do people choose to put their faith in things that aren’t real when you can put your faith in God.

    1) You are equating “belief” with “faith.”
    2) Your second question is nonsensical because God is not real.
    3) You should end a question with a question mark.

  4. #4 andy
    May 12, 2007

    I guess you’re just another Neville C in his opinion. Cheezes, is this ever stupid. I cry.

  5. #5 andy
    May 12, 2007

    And I’m almost ,… but not quite yet tempted to remove PZ from my daily read.

  6. #6 Colin Slater
    May 12, 2007

    An unrelated but honest question: why do you capitalize “god”?

  7. #7 Tyler DiPietro
    May 12, 2007

    I’m going to come down on Jason’s side here. It’s laughably unrealistic to expect a Republican to denounce religion, proclaim his love of unmitigated rationality and insist that all forms of the supernatural are not only unscientific, but almost certainly wrong. That he took this position, which puts him at odds with a hugely influential sector of Republican politics, is hardly pure political calculus, IMO.

    To use a metaphor from Dawkins, we have to “Climb Mount Improbable”. We certainly can’t go from the ghastly morass we currently have to rationalistic panacea in one election cycle. This is a sign of improvement.

  8. #8 Colugo
    May 12, 2007

    “It’s laughably unrealistic to expect a Republican to denounce religion, proclaim his love of unmitigated rationality…”

    No, I reject that premise. We should expect nothing less of Mitt than his complete renunciation of Jebus and the teachings of Joseph Smith.

    Just kidding.

    Remember, PZ and his choir were also grievously offended when Al Gore made a lighthearted reference to Adam and Eve during a global warming talk.

    If they are going to get the vapors over theistic evolution or, indeed, any mention of deity or teleology at all, then how much additional indignation can they muster over, say, Young Earth Creationism? Not a whole lot.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    May 12, 2007

    This whole Romney thing is starting to remind me of why I lose patience with literature people when they get into “close reading”. We’ve got two paragraphs of stuff, and we go on for many pages about what it means, maybe without keeping contact with the “bigger picture” or looking for further evidence.

    We also have an astonishing ability to mean different things when we say words like “theistic evolution”. The path to clear communication this is not.

    Off to a party. Be seeing you.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    May 12, 2007

    “No, I reject that premise.”

    Oh yeah? Well I reject the premise that you reject my premise! OH WHAT NOW, BEHOTCH!!?

    In all seriousness, I see what you’re saying. Even though I regard supernaturalism as a universally bad idea (most importantly because I regard it as almost guaranteed to be wrong), I think we all have to recognize that the poison comes in more diluted forms that we can partially stomach in the process we eliminate it altogether. Theistic evolution is still bad, but certainly less poisonous than YEC.

  11. #11 Tyler DiPietro
    May 12, 2007

    “…in the process of eliminating it altogether.” Sorry about that little syntactic jumbling above.

  12. #12 Colugo
    May 12, 2007

    No worries; my own synaptic jumbling decoded it.

    “I regard supernaturalism as a universally bad idea (most importantly because I regard it as almost guaranteed to be wrong)”

    Almost guaranteed to be wrong, sure. But there are a lot of bad ideas, and even bad applications of good ideas. I’m not particularly interested in eliminating supernaturalism per se. If it happens, it happens. (Spoiler alert: It won’t.) In any case, the focus should be on persuading the public to accept evolutionary science.

  13. #13 Tyler DiPietro
    May 12, 2007

    “I’m not particularly interested in eliminating supernaturalism per se. If it happens, it happens. (Spoiler alert: It won’t.)”

    Yes, but as I’ve said before, even infeasible goals can have utilitarian value. We don’t have to believe that supernaturalism is going to go away completely to discourage it.

  14. #14 cbutterb
    May 13, 2007

    The extra mumbo-jumbo isn’t as innocuous as you seem to think. If there’s a deity who directed evolution, the implication is that that deity must have directed it to some foreseeable end. It’s assumed that that end is us. Built into this thinking is the notion that evolution is purposeful and progressive. In it, man becomes the end of the road, the epitome of creation’s completion, the end product rolling off the assembly line. I don’t see any theistic evolutionists saying that the creation of the universe and the glorious chain of directed events that happened on this planet over the last four billion years was all to create frogs, or pine trees, or ducks. Evolution becomes a man-making machine; humans enjoy a fundamentally different relationship to this process than all other life.

    Perhaps I’m wrong; if there is actually any theologian or politician of any influence out there who argues for a god who just has a jones for speciation and mass extinctions, please point me toward them.

    Thus this is not harmless baggage. It plants a distorted view in nonscientists’ heads of how evolution works. It carves out for humanity a special status that does not exist. It subtly reinforces a vague dominionist notion that the whole world is just for us. That such an attitude has unpleasant ecological consequences should need no further elaboration.

    Besides that, Romney’s views are transparently self-contradictory, and people aren’t so stupid they won’t notice. If a deity did actually intervene in the chain of events leading from RNA to us, at some actual time in the past, by doing some actual thing, then that is an event fully investigable by science. Finding some sorts of teleological footprints that this indeed happened would be a legitimate and worthy avenue of research. And since this is just what the IDists claim to be doing, Romney has no reason to distance himself from them. Thus he implicitly endorses the content of ID research, even as he claims it’s unworthy of serious consideration.

    So yes, it’s good that Romney endorsed theistic evolution, in the same sense that it’s good that not everyone in Iraq has gotten killed yet. You’re setting the bar pretty low.

  15. #15 matthew
    May 13, 2007

    I don’t think any of this is really worth much debate time… That is because I have no reason to believe that if it is convenient for him to think otherwise, he won’t change his mind in the future. Right now it very convenient for him to distance himself from anything that Bush believes, just like most everyone else. I’m not impressed.

  16. #16 Matthew L.
    May 13, 2007

    Colin: Same reason you capitalize “James Bond”.

  17. #17 Chris' Wills
    May 13, 2007

    The reason PZ gets in a snit about any mention of God is that he is a No.7 atheist, simple as that.

    Francis Bacon had it right, about PZ at least, “…that atheists will ever be talking of that their opinion, as if they fainted in it, within themselves, and would be glad to be strengthened, by the consent of others. Nay more, you shall have atheists strive to get disciples, as it fareth with other sects.”

    It appears that God bashing is his raison d’etre together with the promulgating of his version of philosophical materialism.

    Shame as his science postings are interesting.

  18. #18 Chris' Wills
    May 13, 2007

    …Thus this is not harmless baggage. It plants a distorted view in nonscientists’ heads of how evolution works. It carves out for humanity a special status that does not exist. It subtly reinforces a vague dominionist notion that the whole world is just for us. That such an attitude has unpleasant ecological consequences should need no further elaboration.
    Posted by: cbutterb | May 13,

    Please elaborate.

    Some Christian groups hold that we have the world in trust and are its stewards not the owners. Some religions have a general philsophy of treading lightly upon the earth.

    For those religious people not harming the earth is a duty and, as they believe we will be called to account, they are likely to have strong environmental concerns.

    Now Christians will hold human life of more worth than other lifeforms but, apart from the likes of PETA & ALF members, I suspect that this is true of people in general irrespective of their being theists, atheists, platonists, agnostics etc..

    The “problem of the common” applies to all people and greed and selfishness are common to all people, so I really don’t see how you are justified in making your claim.

  19. #19 cbutterb
    May 13, 2007

    Yes, some religions encourage “stewardship” of the earth. Others don’t. At any rate, thinking of the issue in terms of what the Magic Man in the Sky wants is a frivolous obstacle to thinking clearly about it. Some people will pass through the filter and make it through thinking wisely about the issue; some won’t. Why have that needless impediment at all?

  20. #20 cbutterb
    May 13, 2007

    [Quoting Bacon] “. . . Nay more, you shall have atheists strive to get disciples, as it fareth with other sects.”

    Yes, atheists try to get converts, in the sense of of having a reasoned belief, and trying to convince others, through reason, of the worthiness of that belief. That’s called “argument”. Much as one does when one has a reasoned opinion about tax policy, or philosophy, or whether a certain movie is worth seeing.

    Do you object to this process? On what grounds?

  21. #21 DuWayne
    May 13, 2007

    Just to help clarify something. . .

    “I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.”

    I think this is actually an honest semantic issue, not a case of waffeling on ID. I am also a Christian who also accepts evolution as the origin of life. I also believe that God used evolution as the tool for creation. Semanticly, I do believe in intelligent design, just not that of the folks from the discovery institute. I do not believe that any form of life was “poofed” into existance, in it’s actual form. I believe that all life evolved from single celled organisms.

    There are plenty of things to criticize Romney for, the R after his name is really sufficient. One can easily criticize his religious beliefs, really it’s quite easy to smack at those from any direction, whether one is a atheist, deist, Christian or other theist. You won’t find me arguing that my religious beliefs (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are particularly rational, on their face. Indeed, theistic acceptance of evolution, requires particularly strenuous, theological gymnastics. But I do not believe that waffleing on ID is one of his “sins.”

  22. #22 DuWayne
    May 13, 2007

    cbutterb –

    I actually have serious doubts that man is the epitome of evolution. Certainly, what we have done to this planet and seem hellbent on continuing to do to it, belies that notion. Of course, I am not a prominent theologian (yet) nor am I a politician of any stripe, so apparently what I believe is completely meaningless. At least until I become a well respected theologian.

  23. #23 Chris' Wills
    May 13, 2007

    Yes, some religions encourage “stewardship” of the earth. Others don’t. At any rate, thinking of the issue in terms of what the Magic Man in the Sky wants is a frivolous obstacle to thinking clearly about it. Some people will pass through the filter and make it through thinking wisely about the issue; some won’t. Why have that needless impediment at all?
    Posted by: cbutterb | May 13,

    Clear thinking?
    First define clear. Some think that we should reduce the worlds human population to 1,000 million. Now if I getto choose no problem, if someone else why should I follow their arguement. Driven as I am to reproduce it is hardly rational to expect it of me.

    We all have pre-suppositions, yours are no more logical than anyone elses. Even if they are you cannot prove it.
    I will consider your thinking muddled and stupid if it doesn’t benefit me or mine (enlightened self interest).

    You have to make a choice, do you wish to help enhance the environment or do you want to war on those who have a different rational (set of pre-suppositions) to you even if you and they both want the same result for the environment.

    Yes, atheists try to get converts, in the sense of of having a reasoned belief, and trying to convince others, through reason, of the worthiness of that belief. That’s called “argument”. Much as one does when one has a reasoned opinion about tax policy, or philosophy, or whether a certain movie is worth seeing.
    Do you object to this process? On what grounds?
    Posted by: cbutterb | May 13

    Proselytisers all believe that their truth is “The Truth”. You may believe in scientism or materialism or some such creed many don’t and your definition of well reasoned may not be reasonable to them due to conflicting philisophies.
    They may hold that sciences explains the natural world as God created it, you claim that there is no God. From the point of view of Science neither is testable and neither makes one iota of difference to how Science is done.

    Again, decide what you want to achieve. If it is to preserve scientific methodology you should join forces with other like minded people irrespective of philosophical differences on other issues.

    If you are willing to abandon science to retain your purity that is your choice, but you are then weakening the defence of scientific methodology.

  24. #24 doctorgoo
    May 13, 2007

    PZ was quoted:

    I’d like to hear an explanation for how “theistic evolution” is less religious than “intelligent design”.

    So what if it’s not less religious. The important point is that it’s much MORE pro-science!

    While PZ might believe “pro-science” must equate with “anti-religion” in all cases, I propose that his unyielding anti-religious fervor often alienates those fence-sitting athiests/lukewarm Christians who would normally seriously consider what he has to say.

    I mean really, what ever happened to just being a nice person… demonstrating in the first person that atheists are, on average, good, moral people just like everyone else?

  25. #25 Tyler DiPietro
    May 13, 2007

    “From the point of view of Science neither is testable and neither makes one iota of difference to how Science is done.”

    From a scientific standpoint, one explanation is more parsimonious than the other. You can come up with all kinds of ad hoc auxiliary nonsense that is compatible with the science, but that doesn’t automatically make the belief valid.

  26. #26 cbutterb
    May 13, 2007

    First define clear.

    Consult Ockham’s Razor if you’re confused on this point.

    Proselytisers all believe that their truth is “The Truth”.

    Please distinguish operationally between these two.

  27. #27 Chris' Wills
    May 13, 2007

    From a scientific standpoint, one explanation is more parsimonious than the other. You can come up with all kinds of ad hoc auxiliary nonsense that is compatible with the science, but that doesn’t automatically make the belief valid.
    Posted by: Tyler DiPietro | May 13

    Doesn’t make it invalid either.
    Occam’s razor is not a rule of nature.

    My point still holds, it doesn’t make one iota of difference as to how science is done.

    Science doesn’t test the proof of any philosophy.

    At the end of the day anti-theists & atheists simply have a different set of beliefs to theists.

    As long as neither side seeks to suborn science why does it matter what philosophy people follow?
    Making common cause with others is the way to defend science, not philosophical purity.

  28. #28 Chris' Wills
    May 13, 2007

    First define clear.

    Consult Ockham’s Razor if you’re confused on this point.

    I asked first.

    Please note, Ockam’s razor has nothing to do with clarity. It is an ad-hoc rule of thumb.

    Proselytisers all believe that their truth is “The Truth”.

    Please distinguish operationally between these two.
    Posted by: cbutterb | May 13

    What operations do you wish to apply and what are your pre-suppositions?

  29. #29 Tyler DiPietro
    May 13, 2007

    “Doesn’t make it invalid either.”

    And I didn’t say it did. But there is a concept of “burden of proof”, unless you are of the position that a claim is automatically valid if it doesn’t outright contradict known knowledge.

    “Occam’s razor is not a rule of nature.”

    That’s irrelevant, no one says it is. It is rather a compression of the explanation so that it doesn’t exceed necessity.

    “My point still holds, it doesn’t make one iota of difference as to how science is done.”

    In extremely rare cases someone can compartmentalize to the point where the utter dearth of evidence for theism in no way deters them from their belief in god(s). This is not the case for Simon “humans are inevitable” Conway Morris or Frank “this equation proves God” Tipler or Francis “moral sense comes from God” Collins. As I said, religion can come in diluted forms that less poisonous, but that doesn’t eliminate their toxicity to scientific inquiry.

    “Science doesn’t test the proof of any philosophy.”

    Only if “philosophy” is tantamount to those things you wish to arbitrarily exempt from scientific scrutiny. Most religions aren’t the Spinozan abstractions conciliatory atheists assume in defenses such as yours.

  30. #30 cbutterb
    May 13, 2007
    First define clear.

    Consult Ockham’s Razor if you’re confused on this point.

    I asked first.

    Please note, Ockam’s razor has nothing to do with clarity. It is an ad-hoc rule of thumb.

    Yes, it does. In this context, “clear” thinking conforms to Ockham’s Razor. Thus worrying about the opinions of a magical supernatural being in the sky, whose existence Ockham’s Razor says need not be posited, is not clear thinking.

    Proselytisers all believe that their truth is “The Truth”.

    Please distinguish operationally between these two.
    Posted by: cbutterb | May 13

    What operations do you wish to apply and what are your pre-suppositions?

    Operationally, as in, if some proponent of some position is trying to convince me of something, how am I to determine if he or she is a “proselytizer” or not? Keeping in mind that it’s already been established that they’re arguing honestly and using reason.

  31. #31 G. Shelley
    May 13, 2007

    In general, I agree with PZ on these matters, but in this case, I think he would only be satisfied with a candidate who said “I believe in a totally naturalistic evolution of all life and that God did not start it, guide it, create it or interfere in any way”
    Which is pretty unreasonable. If Romney was saying students should be taught that God interfered or that science had shown where he put in his efforts, that would be different.

  32. #32 Chris' Wills
    May 13, 2007

    “Doesn’t make it invalid either.”

    And I didn’t say it did. But there is a concept of “burden of proof”, unless you are of the position that a claim is automatically valid if it doesn’t outright contradict known knowledge.

    I hold the position that if it makes no practical difference why worry over it.

    “Occam’s razor is not a rule of nature.”

    That’s irrelevant, no one says it is. It is rather a compression of the explanation so that it doesn’t exceed necessity.

    You introduced parsimony, not me.
    Necessity is an interesting idea, lots of concepts start out complicated and are simplified over time some stay complicated.

    The theist would say that a prime cause is necessary to avoid infinite regress and claim that this is parsimonious.

    “My point still holds, it doesn’t make one iota of difference as to how science is done.”

    In extremely rare cases someone can compartmentalize to the point where the utter dearth of evidence for theism in no way deters them from their belief in god(s). This is not the case for Simon “humans are inevitable” Conway Morris or Frank “this equation proves God” Tipler or Francis “moral sense comes from God” Collins. As I said, religion can come in diluted forms that less poisonous, but that doesn’t eliminate their toxicity to scientific inquiry.

    If the theist believes that nature is God’s creation and is lawful then there needn’t be any compartments in their mind. “For the greater glory of God” and other such aphorisms apply.

    Are you claiming that Simon Conway, Frank Tipler and Francis Collins aren’t scientists or that their science isn’t of the highest caliber? A remarkable claim.

    “Science doesn’t test the proof of any philosophy.”

    Only if “philosophy” is tantamount to those things you wish to arbitrarily exempt from scientific scrutiny. Most religions aren’t the Spinozan abstractions conciliatory atheists assume in defenses such as yours.
    Posted by: Tyler DiPietro | May 13

    Not arbitary. Science tests nature pre-supposing that nature is understandable and lawful and that there are no non-natural causes.
    Luckilly for us it has allowed us to learn a lot and it does appear to follow laws and that cause/effect is how it works.
    Science doesn’t test if you or I are good, good isn’t a scientific concept.

    You could, of course, say that certain outcomes are good and test if your or my actions result in these outcomes. But science can only confirm the outcome not its goodness.

    Science explains How not Why.
    There may not even be a why.

    Oh, my defence isn’t of theists per se. My comments have all been aimed at explaining to anti-theists that insulting possible allies who would help defend science is silly.

    Also, most Theists are human beings just like you and me. They laugh, they cry, they want the best for their children and they aren’t irrational, excepting you define rational as being an atheist.

  33. #33 Chris' Wills
    May 13, 2007

    Please note, Ockam’s razor has nothing to do with clarity. It is an ad-hoc rule of thumb.

    Yes, it does. In this context, “clear” thinking conforms to Ockham’s Razor. Thus worrying about the opinions of a magical supernatural being in the sky, whose existence Ockham’s Razor says need not be posited, is not clear thinking.

    A theist could say that having a prime cause is simpler than infinite regress, so could claim Ockham’s razor for their side.
    It is a double edged razor.

    So no, I don’t agree with your assumption about what clear thinking is.

    Operationally, as in, if some proponent of some position is trying to convince me of something, how am I to determine if he or she is a “proselytizer” or not? Keeping in mind that it’s already been established that they’re arguing honestly and using reason.

    Reason is predicated on your assumptions, so what you call reason may not be agreed by others. It isn’t being unreasonable or dishonest they just start from different assumptions.

    As for what a proselytizer is:
    Proselytism is the practice of attempting to convert people to another opinion, usually another religion. The word proselytism is derived ultimately from the Greek language prefix ‘pros’ (towards) and the verb ‘erchomai’ (to come).

    So trying to change someones philosophy to coincide with another is what a proslytizer does. It can also be done on any issue, a lawyer can be said to prosletise on behalf of his client.

    But back to the original point.
    Do you think it makes sense to antagonise possible allies when defending science?

  34. #34 Tyler DiPietro
    May 13, 2007

    “I hold the position that if it makes no practical difference why worry over it.”

    I pointed out to you several cases where it clearly does make practical differences in the science. Do you accept Simon Conway Morris’ idea that humans are inevitable, or Francis Collins’ claim that our moral propensities can only be explained by god, as science? To me they are goddidit conjectures in the same class as intelligent design, even if their overall utilitarian impact is less damaging.

    “You introduced parsimony, not me.”

    Yes, I did. You mischaracterized my claim, so I corrected you. Occam’s razor is not a “law of nature” but principle regarding the formulation of explanations. Much like the continuity principle.

    “Are you claiming that Simon Conway, Frank Tipler and Francis Collins aren’t scientists or that their science isn’t of the highest caliber? A remarkable claim.”

    They may be responsible for quite high caliber science. That’s not the point, not by a long shot. The individual claims of their’s that I pointed out are influenced primarily by their religious beliefs and are scientifically fatuous.

    “The theist would say that a prime cause is necessary to avoid infinite regress and claim that this is parsimonious.”

    And perhaps they are right. But in any case they need to justify the logical leap from “prime cause” to “divine creator”. If god is nothing but a “prime cause”, then god could be something like a Hawking singularity or some kind of gravitational fluctuation in quantum foam.

    “Science doesn’t test if you or I are good, good isn’t a scientific concept.”

    There are multiple meanings and usages of “good”. Could you please clarify what you mean here?

  35. #35 DuWayne
    May 13, 2007

    Tyler DiPietro –

    To me they are goddidit conjectures in the same class as intelligent design, even if their overall utilitarian impact is less damaging.

    Huge difference, these men are not claiming that those particular views they hold are science, whereas, ID is making exactly such a claim. I am unfamiliar with Tipler or Conway, but Collins does not put forth his religious claims anywhere but in a religious context.

    They may be responsible for quite high caliber science. That’s not the point, not by a long shot. The individual claims of their’s that I pointed out are influenced primarily by their religious beliefs and are scientifically fatuous.

    And where exactly did those men make those claims? Did they do it in research papers? Did they do it in the classroom or lab? If they are guilty of that, then you have a real point, otherwise, what the hell is your point? I know Collins has written some very interesting articles, about his faith, articles that I really appreciate. In them he does not try to make any scientific claims, they are purely philosophical – much like Dawkins does in The God Delusion. Does the fact that Dawkins leaves the realm of science and talks about philosophy, somehow denigrate his abilities as a scientist? Should I, a theistic evolutionist, dismiss him as harming science, because I happen to disagree with his non-religiousscience beliefs? I actually love to read him, at times he reminds me a lot of Carl Sagan, in his awe and wonder at the natural world. I really hope that I’m not supposed to just dismiss everything that Dawkins says, as junk science, just because I have a serious philosophical disagreement with him.

    And perhaps they are right. But in any case they need to justify the logical leap from “prime cause” to “divine creator”.

    Why? I am not asking you to believe what I believe. I am not claiming that my belief is supirior to yours. I am not claiming that you are wrong. I am not even claiming that by any evidence you would accept, that my beliefs are rational. This is not to say that I don’t think they are rational, I certainly do, but I do not ask you, or anyone to accept them as rational. Nor do I ask you to justify your disbelief in anything supernatural. So why is it that I have some responsability to justify myself to you?

    Ultimately, I am all about fighting for science education. I think it is abhorrent, what qualifies for the teaching of evolution in public schools in the U.S. I think it is disgusting that so many Americans want to “teach the contraversy.” I want to see my kid and everyone elses get a reasonable eduation and a leg up in surviving in an increasingly science competative world. I am not afraid to mix science with my religion, I do so quite often with the kids at church. But I never try to mix religion into science.

    Of course, yoou’ll keep criticising people like Collins if you like, but keep in mind that he, and many people like him, convince a lot of people, you will never have a chance with, that science is not the antithesis of their faith. That science does not threaten their faith. That evolution does not mean God dissapears in a puff of logic. They and even myself on a much smaller scale, are convincing the people with a lot of power, that teaching religion in the science classroom is a seriously dangerous idea and that not learning about evolution, will likely put their child at a serious disadvantage in a lot of different ways. Not the least of which being that it forces them to choose between cold hard facts and their faith – putting their faith on the winning side of the choice.

    So go ahead and criticize them. Call them perveyures of junk science or whatever else you wish. Just keep in mind that they, not you, are doing a lot to defend and fight for science education – your just alienating the very people who need to be convinced.

  36. #36 Tyler DiPietro
    May 13, 2007

    DuWayne,

    “Huge difference, these men are not claiming that those particular views they hold are science, whereas, ID is making exactly such a claim. I am unfamiliar with Tipler or Conway, but Collins does not put forth his religious claims anywhere but in a religious context.”

    You don’t even see that you are putting forth a serious incongruity here? First you condescendingly inform me of some “big difference” I am not aware of, and then you admit you are not even familiar with two out of the three people I mentioned. Simon Conway Morris wrote an entire book on his idea that humans were an inevitiable product of evolution, and Frank Tipler was recently on television proclaiming an equation of his “proved” the existence of his god.

    “And where exactly did those men make those claims? Did they do it in research papers? Did they do it in the classroom or lab? If they are guilty of that, then you have a real point, otherwise, what the hell is your point?”

    Science is more than lab work and publishing. And in any case, the figures I cited have authored books for the purpose of attaching their scientific credibility to claims of supernatural magic. Does criticizing them in some indirect way harm the cause of science education? Maybe, but I refuse to sit down and exempt them from criticism when they put forward profoundly stupid ideas. I’m not one dimensional, although many seem to assume I should be.

    “Does the fact that Dawkins leaves the realm of science and talks about philosophy, somehow denigrate his abilities as a scientist? Should I, a theistic evolutionist, dismiss him as harming science, because I happen to disagree with his non-religiousscience beliefs?”

    Perhaps if anyone had actually claimed that the scientific work of these figures should be completely discounted because of the inanities on the periphery of those ideas, this criticism might actually hold water. But no one actually has, and it consequently doesn’t.

    “Why? I am not asking you to believe what I believe. I am not claiming that my belief is supirior to yours. I am not claiming that you are wrong.”

    This is the exact sort of feel good nonsense that gives people of your intellectual persuasion a bad name. If you disagree with me, then you de facto claim by consequence that I am wrong. There may be varying degrees of certainty attached to that belief, but to claim it isn’t so is simply fatuous.

    “Of course, yoou’ll keep criticising people like Collins if you like, but keep in mind that he, and many people like him, convince a lot of people, you will never have a chance with, that science is not the antithesis of their faith.”

    And why, praytell, would I want to convince anyone of that? It is the exact opposite and antithesis of the views I hold on the matter. If you’re expecting me to abandon everything and kowtow to religious nonsense out of fear of reprisal, you’re out of luck. I don’t want an intellectual landscape where one class of ideas is off-limits.

  37. #37 SLC
    May 13, 2007

    What should be stated here is that the supporters of science in general and evolution in particular, are divided into three groups.

    1. Methodological Naturalists who insist that philosophical naturalism is science, i.e. science == atheism. Examples are Dawkins, Moran, and Myers.

    2. Methodological Naturalists who are also philosophical naturalists but do not insist that philosophical naturalism is science. Examples are Scott, Wilson, Forest, and Tyson. This group is sometimes referred to as Chamberlainists by the folks in Group 1.

    3. Methodological Naturalists who are also philosophical theists. Examples are Miller, Conway Morris, Chu Carroll, and Collins.

    It’s not clear to me which group our esteemed blogmaster, Prof. Rosenhouse considers himself to be in.

  38. #38 Tyler DiPietro
    May 13, 2007

    FYI SLC, I’ve posted a response to your above post here, even though I mostly used your quote as a launching pad to make a larger point.

  39. #39 DuWayne
    May 13, 2007

    Tyler Diepierto –

    You don’t even see that you are putting forth a serious incongruity here? First you condescendingly inform me of some “big difference” I am not aware of, and then you admit you are not even familiar with two out of the three people I mentioned. Simon Conway Morris wrote an entire book on his idea that humans were an inevitiable product of evolution, and Frank Tipler was recently on television proclaiming an equation of his “proved” the existence of his god.

    First, my apologies if you thought I was being condescending, nothing could be farther from the truth. I absolutely despise condescention, if we were having a live conversation that would be obvious. I would also say that I voraciously dissagree with both the notion that humans are the inevitable product of evolution and that any equation could ever prove the existence of God.

    That said, Francis Collins (as well as has never mixed God into his science. What he has done is to write about his faith, outside the context of science. That he happens to be a scientist and even uses that to further his philosophy, is no different than Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan, doing the same (both of whom I enjoy reading very much).

    Science is more than lab work and publishing.

    I understand that. For me in fact, it is about reading and learning what others have discovered and occasionaly repeating experiments that others have done in the lab, to understand it better – also to illustrate to and teach my son about science. But I am geussing that is not what you meant.

    If you are trying to imply that it is some abstract lifestyle, some governing principle, I have to warn you, it sounds very dogmatic to me.

    And in any case, the figures I cited have authored books for the purpose of attaching their scientific credibility to claims of supernatural magic. Does criticizing them in some indirect way harm the cause of science education?

    When you claim that they are harming science, it isn’t even indirect harm. I am not saying don’t criticize them, I am saying stop claiming that they are harming science. They are doing no more harm to science than Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan, who both use/d their position as scientists, to express their philosophical world view. Collins, Miller and Roughgarden, all have made decent contributions to science, not the least of which is to reconcile sciene and faith, bringing many to get over their fear of science. Many of those who previously feared science, may even come over to a purely naturalist philosophy, certainly it makes it far more likely their children will.

    Maybe, but I refuse to sit down and exempt them from criticism when they put forward profoundly stupid ideas.

    So criticize what they say. Do so voraciously, if you feel the need to be obnoxious. But don’t claim that they are doing some sort of harm to their profession. I am the last person that would ever claim religion or any other philosphy or belief, should somehow be exempt from criticism. Nor have I claimed anything like that. You are doing more than criticising them, you are impuning their proffesional credability (though in the cases of Tipler and Conway, thatr sounds warrented).

    This is the exact sort of feel good nonsense that gives people of your intellectual persuasion a bad name. If you disagree with me, then you de facto claim by consequence that I am wrong. There may be varying degrees of certainty attached to that belief, but to claim it isn’t so is simply fatuous.

    I should have worded that better. I am not trying to argue that my religion is right and your philosophy is wrong. I would not, because it is impossible for me to produce any evidence that you would accept, to support my belief in God. Just as it is impossible for you to produce any evidence that my faith is wrong and your philosophy is right. You are welcome to criticize my beliefs all you want, I honestly could care less – it is not going to change my beliefs one iota. If you want to see others embrace your philosophy, I would even encourage you to criticize beliefs that are contrary to that philosophy. Though I would reccomend that you not be obnoxious about it, as that is not a very good way to change peoples minds. Innumorable obnoxious theists have proven that, time and time again.

    And why, praytell, would I want to convince anyone of that? It is the exact opposite and antithesis of the views I hold on the matter. If you’re expecting me to abandon everything and kowtow to religious nonsense out of fear of reprisal, you’re out of luck. I don’t want an intellectual landscape where one class of ideas is off-limits.

    Again, I worded that poorly. I do not mean do not criticize, I mean do not claim that they are bad scientists, or somehow damaging science.

    As for why you might wish to do that; You are in the minority. The very people they are trying to convince of the validity of science, are the people who are fighting against science and science education. It is also true that the minority you are in, was considerably smaller just two hundred years ago. It has grown as education and the quality of education has grown. Even while people like Collins are simply trying to get people of faith to accept/stop fearing science, they are fostering an environment that leads more and more people to your philosophy.

    If your interest is simply to revel in self-righteous indignation, then by all means, do everything you can to impugn the proffesional credability of people like Collins or Miller. However, if you actually want to effect change, then criticize their beliefs, not their proffesional integrity and accept that they are effecting positive change, by bringing more support to science.

  40. #40 Tyler DiPietro
    May 13, 2007

    DuWayne,

    I have posted a clarification of my position on most of the matters you bring up in what I linked to above (on my blog).

    As for people not accepting science: this is going to sound iconoclastic, but I don’t think that that is the biggest issue. I think that, on the big issues, Americans are more pragmatic than most people here care to give them credit for. Most of them already support embryonic stem cell research, according to most polling data, for instance. Once science delivers the goods, people are far less cavalier about dismissing it, or politically organizing against it.

    In the light of that, I think that the best way to get Americans to understand the value of science education, including as a significant factor the (adequate) teaching of evolution, is to go for the pocketbook. Science and math education is imperative for maintaining economic competitiveness as a nation, and for higher education at the individual level. That is a point that I don’t see hit home on too many occasions, even though it’s one that will probably be the most convincing due to it’s lack of abstraction.

    I think the intellectual battles I am fighting, along with others, go far beyond what gets taught in sophomore year high school biology classes. The menace of religion extends far farther, and it’s attempts to legislate it’s own legislate and litigate it’s own exceptionalism are, if not inherent in the belief system, at least unnervingly commonplace.

    My tactic in dealing with this is to engage the ideas directly. Make strident anti-theistic positions like mine acceptable in the public discourse and a commodity in the marketplace of ideas. It’s high time atheists became more open and, dare I say, intransigent about their positions instead of cowering beneath the pervasive taboo of ridiculing religion.

  41. #41 Dan S.
    May 14, 2007

    Even though I regard supernaturalism as a universally bad idea . . . I think we all have to recognize that the poison comes in more diluted forms

    Homeopathic religion!

  42. #42 DuWayne
    May 14, 2007

    Dan S. –

    Thank gods I have no beverage in hand, I would have totaly wrecked my laptop.

    Tyler DiPietro –

    I emailed my response, rather than continue this increasingly OT discussion here. . .

  43. #43 Colugo
    May 14, 2007

    Dan S: “Homeopathic religion!”

    In fact, perhaps religion has a hormetic effect in mild doses and is actually beneficial to most humans, while being toxic in strong doses.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormesis

    We can’t rule it out a priori. In fact, I suspect that this is the case.

    Paracelsus: “All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”

  44. #44 Chris' Wills
    May 14, 2007

    ..”Science doesn’t test if you or I are good, good isn’t a scientific concept.”

    There are multiple meanings and usages of “good”. Could you please clarify what you mean here?
    Posted by: Tyler DiPietro | May 13,

    In the original post, from which you clipped this, I wrote; “You could, of course, say that certain outcomes are good and test if your or my actions result in these outcomes. But science can only confirm the outcome not its goodness”. The point was that good isn’t a scientific concept, it is an arbitary human concept.

    Obviouslly the English wasn’t clear enough.

    As for your comments about Tipler et al, their science is unaffected by their beliefs. Oh, perhaps you think they’ll go and frigg some results.
    Poisoning science :o) Get real.
    People cheat and lie in all fields of human endevour or do you somehow think science is immune from human greed & avarice. Science should, by its method, be self correcting and discover the cheating eventually but I doubt if the philosophy of the scientist has much to do with it.

    Given your other responses to other posters, it is obviouslly not worth continuing as you have little interest in defending scientific methodology if it requires joining forces with those who don’t share your philosophy and so sullying your purity.

  45. #45 Tyler DiPietro
    May 14, 2007

    “As for your comments about Tipler et al, their science is unaffected by their beliefs. Oh, perhaps you think they’ll go and frigg some results.”

    Results in peer reviewed journals? No, probably not (peer review would likely get in the way, thank the FSM). But think about this: how many people read peer reviewed journals? Or how many people form their opinion of science by the contents of the journals, which are largely inaccessible to the non-specialist? Few do, and that’s the reason we have such a problem with ID (they go straight to the general public). If we should only worry about those things that actually get published in refereed publications then we’ve been fighting the wrong battle all along. ;-)

    “People cheat and lie in all fields of human endevour or do you somehow think science is immune from human greed & avarice.”

    Indeed, because as we all know, when one thing is detrimental to a certain field of inquiry it de facto means that nothing else can be.

    “Given your other responses to other posters, it is obviouslly not worth continuing as you have little interest in defending scientific methodology if it requires joining forces with those who don’t share your philosophy and so sullying your purity.”

    *Sigh* I’ve said it over, and over, and over, and over. Here it is again: alliances do not require uniformity. To say that I’m not interested in defending methodology is a blatant strawman. What you really mean is that I’m not interested in defending religion or refraining from scrutinizing those who attach their scientific credentials to superstition (which Tipler quite plainly does).

  46. #46 JimV
    May 14, 2007

    “I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”

    I infer from this that Mr. Romney believes the last 13.7 billion years or so of this universe were intended to bring about the existence of the human species in its present form. If so, the arrogance of this idea (that the universe was created for us, rather than we just being a natural and not very special part of the universe) has been responsible for many past abuses (such as crusades, inquisitions, and supression of science).

    So, like PZ Myers, I do not see this stance as an unrelieved good thing.

    However, I would urge his critics to reflect that PZ has not had as much time to devote to purely scientific posts as he and you would like recently, due to other commitments, and is mainly getting his blogging fix by quick reactions to things in the news, such as this topic. Since they deal with opinions more than hard facts, I hope that both sides can discuss them without getting unduly upset by minor disagreements.

  47. #47 Chris' Wills
    May 15, 2007

    ..What you really mean is that I’m not interested in defending religion or refraining from scrutinizing those who attach their scientific credentials to superstition (which Tipler quite plainly does).
    Posted by: Tyler DiPietro

    Now I have never asked you to defend religion or refrain from scrutinizing what people write/say.
    So whence your delusion about this comes from I am unsure.

    However you have written about those you disagree with being poisonous to science.

    Their science is not bad, as you admit, just that their philosophy (belief set) is not the same as yours so they are classed as a poison.

    Hardly conducive to creating allies and also reminiscent of a purity test, though I am sure that you would abhor such a concept being implemented.

  48. #48 James McGrath
    May 15, 2007

    As long as religious believers are convinced that evolution is a threat to their faith, they will continue their war against good science education and all things rational. Because theistic evolution embraces science fully and differs from the author of this blog only on matters of metaphysics, adherents of theistic evolution are important allies in the ‘culture war’ over science education. It is important to make common cause, and to treat the question of belief in God as a separate issue – which it is.

    http://blue.butler.edu/~jfmcgrat/blog/

  49. #49 cbutterb
    May 15, 2007

    James:

    No, TE emphatically does not embrace science fully. It may embrace the facts discovered by evolutionary biology, but it tacks on, by faith alone, truth claims about the universe that are in principle investigable by science, without investigasting them by science. This point was made eloquently and correctly by the commenter Jon in the “Romney redux” thread on PZ’s blog (comment no. 53).

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