A Quick Note on Arrogance

Here’s an interesting blog post written by a biochemistry professor at Seattle Pacific University. I call attention to it for two reasons. First, it is a harshly negative, but also highly substantive, review of Stephen Meyer’s ID manifesto Signature in the Cell, written from a Christian perspective:

So w/r/t this whole book you’ve just written, about how the Creator must be inferred to explain the origin of DNA? I very much wish you were right.

But you aren’t.

I don’t say this because I fear for my job. I have a feeling I could have a very nice job at the Discovery Institute if I pushed for it, speaking to churches and other groups across the land, defending Intelligent Design. After all, you’re in town here, I could just commute. Here I’ve already got plenty of grant money and tenure, and I’m at a place where I could defend such a defense of ID as part of my job, even if all the rest of that was not true.

I say it because, as a scientist who prays and studies scripture, I do not buy your argument.


Well said, though I find it interesting that the author admits that he wishes Meyer’s argument were correct. I find this easy to understand. That the facts of science steadfastly refuse to provide any evidence for theism has to be troubling to a religiously-inclined person. At some point you start wondering about whether absence of evidence really is evidence of absence.

The other part that caught my eye was this:

I believe what you do: In one God, almightly creator of heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ, his only son … you know the rest. I have worked in science, too, and have a big interest in the questions of how life started. In both of these matters, I am on your side and am also theoretically predisposed to accept your arguments about Intelligent Design. I have no philosophical opposition to it, in fact, I believe, no, scratch that, I know that the creator stepped into creation as Jesus and gave us a glimpse of the future with the physical resurrection on Easter morning, an act of new creation unexplainable any other way.

We New Atheist types like to emphasize that religion ought not to be exempted from the usual requirement that assertions of fact be supported by evidence, and that both the methods and findings of science tend to weaken the case for traditional religious beliefs. For this we are accused, with tiresome lack of originality, of being arrogant. We are lectured about the limits of science and about how we can not prove there is no God. Sometimes we are even described as being like fundamentalists.

Such charges are nonsense, of course. It is not arrogant to grow irritated with those who demand respect for their religion without providing a shred of evidence in support of their beliefs. Arrogance is when you claim to know, with “know” in italics and clearly distinguished from “believe,” that some dubious bit of religious dogma is true.

Phony claims of certainty are far more typical of religion than they are of atheism.

Comments

  1. #1 463j764ej8
    November 30, 2009

    Really religious scientists struck me as the kind of people who have somehow managed to have two completely opposite/opposing sets of ideals. It’s almost as bad as a gay Catholic or a Jewish Nazi.

  2. #2 Zeno
    November 30, 2009

    It’s almost as bad as a gay Catholic or a Jewish Nazi.

    There are clearly lots of gay Catholics — even among the clergy. It drives conservative Catholics (who are in the ascendant in the Church these days) absolutely nuts that the lavender brotherhood is so deeply embedded in the various ranks of the hierarchy. They’re paranoid about it and would love to root them out. But a Catholic Church without gay priests is about as likely as Macy’s without gay window dressers. What did they expect when they made the priesthood attractive to boys who wanted to live with other boys, wear dresses, and have nothing to do with girls? Rather predictable.

    In terms of science, though, the Catholic Church has learned to back off (I guess they learned something from Galileo) and has no problem with evolution (except to cling to a vague ID notion of soul infusion, which is pretty immune to scientific discussion).

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    November 30, 2009

    except to cling to a vague ID notion of soul infusion, which is pretty immune to scientific discussion)

    This wouldn’t bother me so much except that their opposition to abortion is wholly based on soul infusion being true (of course, they need to modify their reasing when it comes to birth control–which is probably why few mainstream Catholics in the developed world follow the Church’s dictates on birth control).

  4. #4 SteveC
    November 30, 2009

    My comeback to the accusation of arrogance from certain sorts of Christians is this:

    Arrogant? Last I checked, *I’m* not the one claiming to be on a first name basis with the supreme creator of the universe.

  5. #5 Jim Swetnam
    November 30, 2009

    Jason

    Do you by any chance know the name of the book by RJP Williams he mentions several times? Google Scholar has so many references to this guy that it is a forest of trees. It sounds fascinating. The role of the second law in the origin of life (and life itself) is so central to the understanding of the Great Mystery.

  6. #6 James
    November 30, 2009

    I believe the book he is talking about is called “The Chemistry of Evolution.” BN and Amazon both have it.

  7. #7 oldfuzz
    December 1, 2009

    A few thoughts:

    This is a dispute within the creationist community. So much for their marching in lockstep.

    Your declaration, “We New Atheist types like to emphasize that religion ought not to be exempted from the usual requirement that assertions of fact be supported by evidence…” reveals an important issue in the reason versus religion dispute. While I agree with the premise that all thinngs presented as fact must be supported by evidence, the core of religious belief is non-reason for which there is no direct evidence;e.g., love and compassion. I “know” my mother loved me, but my evidence is anecdotal.

    The religious people I hang with embrace all hard scientific evidence as revelation of the known which touches the boundary to the unknown, then imagine what might lie beyond. Each new scientific discovery alters our religious perspective.

    It’s a question of whether one believes there are both reason and non-reason and if so, how one addresses the domain of non-reason for which there is no evidence, only imagination.

    BTW, The blogger BenMc, probably Ben McFarland, is a biochemistry professor at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian school.

    Stephen C. Meyer is a director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, in Seattle. This is the intergalactic epicenter for Intelligent Design. He is a hard core creationist.

    Your declaration, “Stephen Meyer’s ID manifesto Signature in the Cell, written from a Christian perspective…” would be more accurate if it said “creationist perspective.” Creationism is a minor, by head count, Christian view, but a major, through media attention, perception among non-Christians.

  8. #8 holomorph
    December 1, 2009

    oldfuzz @7: I think Jason meant that McFarland’s review was from a “Christian perspective”.

  9. #9 Matthew Foster
    December 1, 2009

    Good point. The whole issue comes down to claims about knowledge. If the religious would leave their claims as faith needing no evidence – just belief in belief, and not call it knowledge everything would be just fine. But when they start to say I KNOW this or that doctrine to be true they open themselves up to fierce fallacies. Know comes from the latin veritas, which implies verified or evidential. To know something necessitates verification through evidence…not mere faith.

  10. #10 History Punk
    December 2, 2009

    “Jewish Nazis” existed. Check out Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers
    The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military by Bryan Mark Rigg.

  11. #11 James Sweet
    December 2, 2009

    While I agree with the premise that all thinngs presented as fact must be supported by evidence, the core of religious belief is non-reason for which there is no direct evidence;e.g., love and compassion. I “know” my mother loved me, but my evidence is anecdotal.

    I agree with this in theory, but there are two problems with this:

    1) That may be the core of religious belief for some people, but there are plenty of people — the Disco Institute, Ray Comfort, etc., etc. — who want to paint reality as independently confirming their non-reasoned beliefs. The entire field of apologetics is basically dedicated to nothing other than putting reason to these supposedly non-reasoned beliefs. Religious apologetics needs to end before this argument holds serious water.

    2) You “know” your mother loved you, and that’s a wonderful thing… but if you start going around telling everyone that they will be much happier if they can just accept that your mother loved you (your mother specifically, not each person’s individual mother), then that would make you a world-class douche. And if you started trying to get laws passed based on some idiosyncratic aspects of your mother’s love, that would make you a scourge on humanity.

    I am pretty sure that if all religious people admitted their beliefs were completely evidence free and irrational, didn’t try to impose their beliefs on the political process, and didn’t encourage other people to share their delusions, then the New Atheists wouldn’t have anything left to talk about. Sure, plenty of people would hold some personal irrational beliefs, but so what? As you point out with the mother’s love analogy, we all have personal irrational beliefs. The problem is when they extend outside the personal. And extending irrational beliefs outside the realm of the personal is pretty much the definition of organized religion.

  12. #12 Stan Pak
    December 3, 2009

    History Punk wrote:

    “Jewish Nazis” existed. Check out Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military by Bryan Mark Rigg.

    Yes, they existed – but they were just soldiers and not necessary NSDAP party members or devout Nazis. They were in military before Hitler’s rule and they become trapped (presumably) in that situation (it is difficult to leave military in general). The sense of analogy was rather that religious scientist is like devout Nazi Jew (who decided to accept ideology of Nazis). There was probably not so many of such Jews in Hitler’s Germany.

  13. #13 Darwin Crusher
    December 7, 2009

    How can this uy who calls himself a Christian not believe in Creationism? He stated that he believed in Jesus Christ. Apparently he doesn’t know that the reason that Jesus came here to start with is becuase of what happened in the Garden of Eden after creation. Apparently he never read the book of Isaiah either.

    It’s like amedical doctor saying ” I believe you are sick, but I doubt if the flu really exists.”

    Isaiah chapter 45 gives a pretty good indication of how lfe and the universe began as God was speaking directly to Isaiah in a literal audible voice. Maybe Mr. I believe in God, I just don’t beleive he can speak or create anything” Christian needs a new theology teacher. He is evidently in the middle of a spiritual battle between good and evil at whcih he could very easily loose. he must choose the right side carefully. There is only one choice. he cannot have it both ways.

  14. #14 John Kwok
    December 10, 2009

    @ Jason -

    In fairness to that Christian biochemist that you’re citing, he does admonish Meyer for relying upon bad theology in advocating Intelligent Design creationism (You may be among the last who have posted this online, since I have been familiar with this biochemist’s review for over two weeks now.).

    @ To everyone -

    The Dishonesty Institute is mounting a campaign in support of Meyer’s book over at Amazon.com. In the past day there have literally been scores of new positive 5 star reviews posted by those who have seen the Dishonesty Institute’s e-mail appeal. Please vote Nay on each of these reviews and Yea on the negative ones, especially mine and Donald Prothero’s, since ours are the most comprehensive negative one star reviews posted at Amazon.com.

    Yesterday in a Dishonesty Institute e-mail, I received this request:

    Dear John,

    Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell is gaining momentum, and now the Darwinists are fighting back. After Dr. Meyer and Dr. Sternberg trounced Darwinists Michael Shermer and Donald Prothero in last week’s debate, desperate Darwinists are lashing out at Dr. Meyer, trashing his book at Amazon.com. They can’t afford for more people to be exposed to the arguments that Meyer is making, so they have resorted to trying to ruin the book’s reputation. If you have read Signature in the Cell, we need your help! Please write a review at Amazon.com (they need not be long, just honest). This is a book that has earned its place in the top 10 list of bestselling science books at Amazon, the book that made the Times Literary Supplement’s Top Books of 2009, and an author who was named “Daniel of the Year” for his work. Please take a moment and defend Dr. Meyer and his groundbreaking book.

    Sincerely,

    Anika M. Smith

  15. #15 shonny
    December 12, 2009

    14 @ Jason -

    In fairness to that Christian biochemist that you’re citing, he does admonish Meyer for relying upon bad theology in advocating Intelligent Design creationism (You may be among the last who have posted this online, since I have been familiar with this biochemist’s review for over two weeks now.).

    Ugh, is there anything such as good theology, like ‘sensible superstition’ or similar?

  16. #16 Robert Morane
    December 12, 2009

    To Darwin Crusher:

    And, of course, the fact that you were raised into a Christian culture has NOTHING to do WHATSOEVER with your believing that Christianity is the true faith…

  17. #17 Bill
    December 29, 2009

    “We New Atheist types like to emphasize that religion ought not to be exempted from the usual requirement that assertions of fact be supported by evidence…”

    “It is not arrogant to grow irritated with those who demand respect for their religion without providing a shred of evidence in support of their beliefs.”

    I Agree. However, would it not work the other way too? If the theory of evolution is just a theory, the burden of proof is on this belief as well. If the belief in macroevolution remains a belief that hasn’t been proven, and provokes animosity to nay sayers, false claims of “ape-men” in text books, and funding of continued support for the belief–how close of a religion could it be? Does it take faith? I, being neutral to the two thoughts, would say also to the evolutionist: where’s the proof?

    You have science in the middle and two beliefs on either side: Creation or Evolution. Both take faith. Though one may not be able to prove the existence of a creator (certainly not on this page), I find it equally absent on this page any proof of macroevolution. Those educated enough to know the difference in types of evolution would be honest to know that it has never been proven (from molecules to man).

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