ID and Catholicism

Over at HuffPo, John Farrell has an interesting post up about the dissatisfacton with ID expressed by many Catholics. He writes:

The Discovery Institute has from its beginning claimed it would in short order get actual scientists to consider intelligent design as a viable scientific theory, by publishing peer-reviewed articles in the leading science journals.

But they’ve failed. And no matter how much cheering the Institute Fellows get from friendly audiences at Bible schools and church socials, the reality is: this was not the way things were supposed to turn out.

And now, they’re losing the Catholics.

This past year, prominent Catholic conservative intellectuals at once ID-friendly magazines and web sites, started to break their silence about the vapidity of intelligent design.


His first example is Edward Feser, a professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College. Feser writes:

The problems are twofold. First, both Paleyan “design arguments” and ID theory take for granted an essentially mechanistic conception of the natural world. What this means is that they deny the existence of the sort of immanent teleology or final causality affirmed by the Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic tradition, and instead regard all teleology as imposed, “artificially” as it were, from outside.

Well, I hate to argue with a fellow ID critic, and I only vaguely understand what is meant by the “Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic tradition,” but I’m afraid I don’t see how ID commits you to any particular view of immanent teleology or whatever. ID claims simply that there are certain features of the natural world that cannot be explained by known natural mechanisms. They must be explained by recourse to the actions of an intelligent agent. That is all. How does that entail believing that all teleology is imposed “artificially” from the outside (whatever that even means)?

Farrell supplies a link to Feser’s website, which in turn contains links to essays written by both Feser and Dembski on this point. Since I cannot make head or tails out of what either one of them is saying, I think I will let this go for now.

It also comes as news to me that a mechanistic conception of the natural world is somehow at odds with Catholicism. Ken Miller and John Haught, as I understand them, and both writing from a Catholic perspective, defend just such a view. Their argument is that God established a fully natural world for us to inhabit, one that we can come to understand using the methods of science. Such detailed understanding of nature should bring us closer to God, not drive us away. The idea is that God set up the initial conditions which made evolution possible. It sounds to me like they believe that all teleology really is imposed from outside. How is this theologically problematical?

We next come to physicist Stephen Barr, who wrote:

What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing. The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists. If we are to look for ID achievements, then, it must be in the realm of natural theology. And there, I think, the movement must be judged not only a failure, but a debacle.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! This came from an essay published in the journal First Things early in 2010. Alas, as I discussed at the time, Barr’s essay is mostly pretty bad. I found it poorly argued and at several points highly unfair to the ID crowd. Farell quotes the opening paragraph above, but the essay was largely downhill from there.

Skipping ahead a bit, Farrell quotes Father Nicanor Austriaco, a biologist at Providence College:

“When we talk about evolution,” Austriaco told me in a recent interview, “most people think that to affirm that evolution is a contingent process, is to necessarily exclude divine providence.” But this is simply not the case, he argues. “The irony about the intelligent design debate today, is that the intelligent design proponents, like the Darwinists, presuppose an opposition between chance and design. They necessitate an opposition between chance and design. If it’s design, it cannot be chance. If it’s chance, it cannot be design. There is no option — and there are philosophical reasons why the moderns can’t come up with this — there is no option, no one thinks about the possibility of talking about God’s design working through chance, through contingency.”

The problem isn’t so much that the chanciness of evolution necessitates a rejection of an underlying design, it just makes design seem superfluous to our understanding of nature. You can certainly graft notions of design onto the corpus of evolutionary theory, but Austriaco will need to give some compelling reason for why we ought to do so. Moreover, the problem is not simply that God seems to work through chance. It is that evolution by natural selection is a process of singular waste and cruelty, and does not at all seem like the sort of thing a loving God would set in motion. I realize the theologians have their little arguments to offer in reply to that obvious point, but I have yet to see anything plausible from them.

Anyway, sorry to be so churlish. Perhaps I should just be happy that religious criticism of ID is becoming very common. Regardless, go read the rest of Farrell’s post!

Comments

  1. #1 Alex H.
    December 5, 2010

    It’s not overly important, but to translate the philosobabble:

    The first quip about rejecting Thomistic notions of imminent teleology and final causality both stem from the “Prime Mover” concept. To drastically oversimplify, since God made the rules, God props up the card table, and God started things in motion, natural things stemming from natural forces are also from God, even if not in the same sense as a miracle. In this philosophic tradition, to see the world as some sort of anti-God deception is blasphemy.

    The chance/design dichotomy refers to a more specific idea (I *think* this was Thomas Aquinas too, but I forget) that chance is an illusion because God sets the results of all things indeterminate. By this line of thought, evolution is God’s hand.

    Like I said, not overly important. Thomism is internally consistent, but not consistent with modern science, so you can kick through any of the arguments if you read them in full. These are just blurbs to help you understand what they’re saying.

  2. #2 Vince Whirlwind
    December 6, 2010

    The Vatican has quite explicitly rejected Creationism as “dangerous”.

  3. #3 Zeno
    December 6, 2010

    It’s actually Pasadena City College where Prof. Feser teaches. It’s a well-regarded community college.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 6, 2010

    Zeno –

    Thanks for catching the error. I’ve corrected it in the post.

  5. #5 megan
    December 6, 2010

    PS- The catholic church HAS ALWAYS since recent John Paul term accepted evolution as the method an path for ‘Gods” creation. It’s just they still place a higher being at the initial chemical processes or Big Bang. Since the Galileo fiasco the Catholic Church has covered it’s butt with near full support of science and research as ways to discover more about “God’s” creation, it’s just it refuses to access the scientific interpetation or integration into social behavior norms things that counter their biblical/eschatological writings and philosophy. So what if God accidentally allows homosexual behavior in his creation, humans must deny it and live ‘holy’.

  6. #6 Paul Murray
    December 6, 2010

    ” ID claims simply that there are certain features of the natural world that cannot be explained by known natural mechanisms. They must be explained by recourse to the actions of an intelligent agent. That is all. How does that entail believing that all teleology is imposed “artificially” from the outside (whatever that even means)?”

    Well … that’s kind of exactly what it means. the ID-ers maintain that God sort of reaches into the universe from outside and tinkers with it. He imposes a purpose (aka teleology) from outside. These people are saying that that’s naive, and that the universe is made to express God’s purpose all by itself, or that God’s purpose is immanent, or something. Of course, then you have to ask if God’s purpose involves Bambi getting killed and eaten, but that’s a whole ‘nother debate.

  7. #7 david
    December 6, 2010

    In my opinion the Edward Feser quote shows bad writing. Let’s be kind if possible. For examples, “twofold.” Means two? “Essentially” mechanistic, and what is then “non-essentially” mechanistic and where’s the cutoff? In his head? “What this means is” has a vague antecedent which also has something to do with “essentially” and “two” so it means? “the sort of immanent teleology or final causality”: well which one of the two, both or either, and if they are the “sort of” along with others, how are we to recognize them and not the others or should they not be mentioned? Next, all that, whatever it means, is “affirmed” by a “tradition”: does “affirmed” mean “say again” or “more evident” here? I know what affirm a judgment means, but I don’t think he means that. God knows I guess. It’s not on the page. I do understand these connected names, Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic, that each is supposedly built on the former (though they often translate wrongly), but about what years did the three connected become “a tradition” and with what little group? Next we have “all teleology as imposed, ‘artificially’ as it were, from outside” : no way to know what that means, no more than for its presumed opposite, “naturally from the inside.”

    Such prose cries out, “I don’t know and can’t control what I’m saying. You supply the meaning as best you can.” So someone does.

    One might say, “So what, picky grammar police?” So bad writing shows bad thinking. We often let it slide. But the tacit cleric’s writing on display is outside whatever the inside is (his conceit) of which he alone, like Job’s messenger, has the notion, if indeed he does.

  8. #8 kosmodisk
    December 6, 2010

    He imposes a purpose (aka teleology) from outside. These people are saying that that’s naive, and that the universe is made to express God’s purpose all by itself, or that God’s purpose is immanent, or something.

  9. #9 John Farrell
    December 6, 2010

    Jason, thanks for reading–and linking!

    It is that evolution by natural selection is a process of singular waste and cruelty, and does not at all seem like the sort of thing a loving God would set in motion.

    I think this is a serious question, and one not given enough consideration, at least not in the more general RC literature, and not in a satisfying way. But–that’s a topic or two for later posts!

  10. #10 greatbear
    December 6, 2010

    I’m not an expert on Catholic doctrine, but as I understand it, according to them, God is essentially a watchmaker. He built a fantastically complex watch (ie, the universe) that operates according to specific principles. The watch continues to run without any need for his intervention and we are able to study and understand the principles God chose to have the watch operate under.

    ID proponents, on the other hand, postulate God as an incompetent watchmaker. He has to constantly adjust the springs and replace to the gears in order for the watch to keep running.

    Of course, in my view (and Hawking’s), the former makes the concept of a god superfluous to the nature of the universe, while the latter implies that we should be finding God’s fingerprints all over things.

  11. #11 James Sweet
    December 6, 2010

    The catholic church HAS ALWAYS since recent John Paul term accepted evolution as the method an path for ‘Gods” creation. It’s just they still place a higher being at the initial chemical processes or Big Bang.

    Ignoring the strange “HAS ALWAYS since…John Paul” (that wasn’t very long ago!), you are mainly right except that there is one other important deviation in the official post-JP2 Catholic policy on evolution: They believe in a specific moment of “ensoulment”, when God reached down and turned a monkey into a man — without messing with his DNA, but by giving him a magical homunculus that uh… well I’m not sure what.

  12. #12 eric
    December 6, 2010

    Greatbear: I’m not an expert on Catholic doctrine, but as I understand it, according to them, God is essentially a watchmaker.

    I’m no expert either but I think Prof. Austriaco’s talk about chance sees God more like a casino operator than a watchmaker. G. sets up the games and rules for play. Individual gamblers may win or lose based on chance, but the outcome is never really in doubt – the casino’s going to make money. Thus, you get design working through chance.

    At least, that would be my analogy. His other comments about modern people not being able to come up with this is…well let me say perplexing to be charitable (idiotic may be more apt). He’s a biology professor – did he never take statistical mechanics? Scientists deal with stochastic systems all the time.

  13. #13 Tulse
    December 6, 2010

    I’m not an expert on Catholic doctrine, but as I understand it, according to them, God is essentially a watchmaker. He built a fantastically complex watch (ie, the universe) that operates according to specific principles. The watch continues to run without any need for his intervention

    Catholicism is not deism. Catholic doctrine asserts the reality of miracles, the incarnation of their god on earth as a human, the necessity of his death to save humanity, etc. That is not a distant watchmaker, but very much an activist god.

  14. #14 anandine
    December 6, 2010

    If people are also subject to evolution, including the brain and mind, then special creation is false, and God is not needed to explain humankind.

    Darwin wrote in a journal that once in a while, he would begin to think there was something to religion, but then he would reflect that human consciousness had evolved, and he would snap out of it.

  15. #15 greatbear
    December 6, 2010

    I’m no expert either but I think Prof. Austriaco’s talk about chance sees God more like a casino operator than a watchmaker.

    Make it a rigged casino in which the only chance of even breaking even is to kowtow to the casino’s floor manager (ie, the Pope), and I think you have it.

    Catholicism is not deism. Catholic doctrine asserts the reality of miracles, the incarnation of their god on earth as a human, the necessity of his death to save humanity, etc. That is not a distant watchmaker, but very much an activist god.

    I never said they were consistent with that view. I was speaking in terms of how the RCC views evolution and the nature of the physical universe. Of course they take the opposite view when it comes to miracles.

  16. #16 eric
    December 6, 2010

    Make it a rigged casino…

    No, a rigged casino misses the entire point of the analogy. Which is to provide an example of a system where stochastic processes lead to well-determined outcomes. I could’ve used pressure or temperature, but those are probably less public-friendly than the analogy of a fair casino game.

    I get that you’re making a different analogy to religion, so consider this just a quibble. :)

  17. #17 Craig
    December 6, 2010

    Hello,

    Everything in the universe evolves… even the process by which everything evolves must evolve. Eventually, our understanding understanding of evolution must evolve to include our ability to influence and design our own evolution. And, when this happens, since the formula must be open ended on either side, we will have to accept the possibility (the possibility, not the fact) that there may have been outside influence previously.

    Ultimately, if there is life on this planet that is unaware of our existence and unable to understand our level of consciousness, and is either directly or indirectly affected by our conscious actions, then we must theoretically allow for life that we are unaware of existing, at a level of consciousness we cannot perceive, directly or indirectly affecting us with it’s conscious actions.

    Or, maybe that is all just BS ;)

    Have a good day.
    Craig

  18. #18 greatbear
    December 6, 2010

    No, a rigged casino misses the entire point of the analogy. Which is to provide an example of a system where stochastic processes lead to well-determined outcomes. I could’ve used pressure or temperature, but those are probably less public-friendly than the analogy of a fair casino game.

    That would be all right, if I thought the RCC viewed the physical universe as such a model. I don’t. In their view, the house doesn’t just win in the aggragate, but it always wins. Everything is the result of God’s will.

    Again, this is not my view, but my interpretation of their view.

  19. #19 Wowbagger
    December 6, 2010

    Craig wrote:

    Ultimately, if there is life on this planet that is unaware of our existence and unable to understand our level of consciousness, and is either directly or indirectly affected by our conscious actions, then we must theoretically allow for life that we are unaware of existing, at a level of consciousness we cannot perceive, directly or indirectly affecting us with it’s conscious actions.

    Ultimately, if my auntie had wheels, she’d be a wagon.

  20. #20 kosmodisk
    December 6, 2010

    Catholic doctrine asserts the reality of miracles, the incarnation of their god on earth as a human, the necessity of his death to save humanity, etc. That is not a distant watchmaker, but very much an activist god.

  21. #21 Brian
    December 6, 2010

    ‘What this means is that they deny the existence of the sort of immanent teleology or final causality affirmed by the Aristotelian-Thomistic-Scholastic tradition, and instead regard all teleology as imposed, “artificially” as it were, from outside. ‘

    Aristotle had a teleological view of the world derived from biology. Basically, the nature of a thing is it’s purpose. When you see a seed, it’s purpose or nature is to grow into a tree. Now that seems silly, but there you go. Apply this idea to humans and their purpose is to have babies? worship god. Apply this to fire an it’s purpose is to rise, and earth (not the planet but dirt) is to fall. Planets purpose are to trace out nice paths in the sky and stars to shine. While that’s a gross simplification, you get the idea. Aristotelian metaphysics is all about the nature of things (where nature means purpose or end). This is why the church says the purpose of sex is to have babies and thus gay sex is unnatural.

    Now, Aristotle had the idea that there were 4 types of causation.

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

    The final cause, is the purpose or end that upholds the lesser causes. Again this is just teleology but you can’t blame Aristotle, he was just speculating and didn’t see himself as the end of philosophy that he became.

    History got in the way and over time thought ground to a halt became static. The church developed a form of learning and argumentation over theology/philosphy that became known as scholasticism.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism
    Some important Scholastics where Anselm (ontological argument), William of Ockham (Ockhams razor) and Aquinas.

    Aquinas (Thomas Aquinas, hence Thomistic) wove Aristotle and church dogma into some sort of system and that ended up overriding the churches love of Platonism. Aristotle has been lost to the west many hundreds of years due to the dark ages and Christians disinterest in secular learning.

    Anyway, some pope a while back (200 years?) said that Aristotle/Thomistic/Scholastic philosophy was church dogma and anything else, philosophy, was wrong.

    That’s how I understand it anyway. Totally oversimplified and thus probably totally wrong.

  22. #22 Mark
    December 6, 2010

    While Intelligent Design is not backed by most scientists; it certainly does have credibility to its name. The Naturalist cannot explain everything away, nor can the one who represents Intelligent Design show proof for every statement he/she makes. What one must realize is that there is an argument that can be made for a Creator. I myself believe that the earth was created by God. He is the cause for creation. He is not only the cause of creation, but he is the sustains it as well. It is a fact, there are parts of the world that simply cannot be explained away by natural selection.

  23. #23 Brian
    December 6, 2010

    ‘It is a fact, there are parts of the world that simply cannot be explained away by natural selection.’
    Are they non-biological parts perhaps?

  24. #24 Mark
    December 6, 2010

    Whether they are non-biological parts or biological parts does not make a difference in my mind; the fact still remains the same. Wouldn’t you agree?

  25. #25 Brian
    December 7, 2010

    Agree with what? I’m still trying to understand what parts of the world you think can’t be explained by natural selection. Explained away is meaningless. Either natural selection has explanatory power or it doesn’t I would’ve thought.

  26. #26 386sx
    December 7, 2010

    It is a fact, there are parts of the world that simply cannot be explained away by natural selection.

    No argument from me, except that the “explained away” part seems like it implies some sort of sinister intent of the explainers awayers. other than that small objection, I don’t see how anyone can have much of an argument with your statement.

  27. #27 Brian
    December 7, 2010

    386sx, I’m wondering if Mark is making a strawman that natural selection ought explain or justify naturalism.

  28. #28 eric
    December 7, 2010

    Brian: 386sx, I’m wondering if Mark is making a strawman that natural selection ought explain or justify naturalism.

    Sounds to me that he’s making the strawman argument that natural selection ought to explain everything.

    You get this argument a lot. Its almost aesthetic in nature; science is incomplete and tentative, a product of flawed human action, therefore not as good as a religion which purports to be complete, certain, unchanging, etc… My guess is that some folks are so bothered by uncertainty that a system that provides an answer – no matter how pat or trite – to every question is more psychologically acceptable than a system that regularly gives the answer “I don’t know (yet).” Some folks desire a reason for the lightning so much that, if the natural philosophers can’t supply one, Zeus will do.

    Mark: What one must realize is that there is an argument that can be made for a Creator.

    There are many arguments. However, in order to be considered science the only arguments that matter are scientific ones, based on proposing testable hypotheses and then going out and testing them. ID has not done this – and no, claiming that evolution cannot explain X Y Z does not count as a testable hypothesis of ID. A testable ID hypothesis would be something like “the designer’s lab lies below Washington, D.C., in the cambrian strata.” Of course, you don’t really think any such independent evidence of the design event exists, because in your heart you think it was a “poof! there it is” miracle. Which, of course, is why ID isn’t science.

  29. #29 JimV
    December 7, 2010

    “What one must realize is that there is an argument that can be made for a Creator.”

    If there is, I’ve never heard it. I have heard arguments that no one can prove there wasn’t a creator (due to its miraculous ability to hide itself), and arguments that it is conceivable there was a creator (e.g., this existence could be someone’s experiment in virtual life taking place in a giant computer), but no plausible argument that shows either that there was, in fact, a creator, or that there must have been a creator.

    It seems to me any such argument would also apply to the putative creator itself – if this universe somehow requires a creator, then so would that creator require a creator, and so on. So adding a creator does nothing to explain or solve the mysteries of existence, for me.

  30. #30 Mark
    December 7, 2010

    @JimV if this universe somehow requires a creator, then so would that creator require a creator, and so on.

    I do believe this world requires a creator; however, due to the nature of this creator (God) I do not think that someone would have had to create Him. Simply because He is God. Yes – in order to believe this, you must have faith, which is indeed a trust that you place in God. Many do not place their trust in God, rather, they place their trust in other things. Some place their trust in Naturalism, some place their trust in themselves by stating that they do not believe in God, etc…

    I am curious as to who/what you place your trust in?

  31. #31 Mark
    December 7, 2010

    Perhaps instead of Intelligent Design some of you claim Dawkin’s argument and reasoning as to why God supposedly does not exist.

    If this is you, look at what he says is his central argument:

    1) there is a great challenge when attempting to explain the design of the universe

    2) The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to design itself.

    3) The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

    4) The most powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

    5) We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.

    6) We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.

    Therefore, because what is stated above, “God almost certainly does not exist,” according to Darwin.

    My question is, how in the world do you draw a conclusion that there is no God based upon Numbers 1-6? To me it is very clear that you do not get that outcome based on those 6 statements.

  32. #32 386sx
    December 7, 2010

    Some place their trust in Naturalism, some place their trust in themselves by stating that they do not believe in God, etc…

    I am curious as to who/what you place your trust in?

    We don’t know what that means exactly. We aren’t from the cult where you got it from. We ain’t used to that kind of talk. It makes little sense, but they make you think it makes profound sense. Someone stating they don’t believe in god doesn’t mean they must trust themselves. Someone stating they do believe in god doesn’t mean they must not trust themselves. Someone trusting in naturalism doesn’t mean they cannot trust themselves. The statements make little sense to people outside of the cult speak zone. You probably got it from a cult somewhere.

  33. #33 386sx
    December 8, 2010

    My question is, how in the world do you draw a conclusion that there is no God based upon Numbers 1-6? To me it is very clear that you do not get that outcome based on those 6 statements.

    Dawkins was referring to a particular type of creator god, not the generic concept of “god” in general. He calls it the “god hypothesis”. This “god hypothesis” was invoked by some religions to explain nature. If we can explain nature all on our own without the need for a “god hypothesis”, then there is no need for a “god hypothesis” at all. Therefore the odds are very good that this particular type of god is a made up pretend thingy made up by people to pretend like they know things about nature which they really do not.

    Dawkins was referring to one particular type of god, not all gods, contrary to what you may have read from somewhere else. And he did not say it does not exist, he said it almost certainly does not exist. I agree his conclusion that this god almost certainly does not exist may be a little too strong of a conclusion, since it is well known that gods are like a whack-a-mole that can be whatever they want whenever they want. (Just like when you go to Burger King and order up a Whopper®, you can “have it your way” whatever you want. Well, you can have god your way too, whatever you want, but they do charge for extra cheese though.)

  34. #34 tresmal
    December 8, 2010

    Perhaps instead of Intelligent Design some of you claim Dawkin’s argument and reasoning as to why God supposedly does not exist.

    If this is you, look at what he says is his central argument:

    Could you tell us where he makes this argument? What follows below doesn’t look like anything of his that I’ve read.

    1) there is a great challenge when attempting to explain the design of the universe

    Assumes that there is a design to the universe.

    2) The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to design itself.

    OK, that is natural, we do seem predisposed to see agency even when there is no evidence of such.

    3) The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

    That is one problem sure.

    4) The most powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

    For the appearance of design in Biology. Evolution is right up there with Atomic Theory in its robustness and explanatory power.

    5) We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.

    Huh?

    6) We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.

    Not sure what this means.

    Therefore, because what is stated above, “God almost certainly does not exist,” according to Darwin.

    What!? Conclusion has no relationship at all to premises let alone follow from them. Secondly Darwin’s lack of faith had as much, if not more, to do with theodicy than Naturalism. Finally conflating evolution with atheism is a pretty elementary error.

    My question is, how in the world do you draw a conclusion that there is no God based upon Numbers 1-6? To me it is very clear that you do not get that outcome based on those 6 statements.

    You’re right, we don’t, but then I don’t know anyone who has made such an argument. The argument you’ve posted isn’t recognizable even as a caricature of any argument I’ve come across.

    Posted by: Mark | December 7, 2010 9:57 PM

  35. #35 tresmal
    December 8, 2010

    errrr… the

    Posted by: Mark | December 7, 2010 9:57 PM

    bit should have been blockquoted or snipped.

  36. #36 386sx
    December 8, 2010

    Therefore, because what is stated above, “God almost certainly does not exist,” according to Darwin.

    I think he meant Dawkins, not Darwin. Mark is citing abbreviated points from The God Delusion.

  37. #37 386sx
    December 8, 2010

    What!? Conclusion has no relationship at all to premises let alone follow from them.

    They are non sequitur-ish, but Dawkins was referring to a creator god so they do have a relationship. If evolution can explain people, then you don’t need a god that “poofs” people. But sadly Dawkins argument is naive since indeed god can “poof” people and have them evolve too. Gos can do whatever it wants, including contradictory or nonsensical things.

  38. #38 cliff c kirtley
    December 8, 2010

    A Christian will often rationalize this situation by saying, “Yes, the Egyptians and the Romans worshipped false Gods, but Christianity is real. Just look at the billions of people who believe in Jesus Christ.” This strength-in-numbers rationalization may feel comforting, but it is meaningless. The fact that millions of people worship a god is meaningless.

    It was once the case that most people believed the world to be flat. Widespread belief did not change the fact that the world is a sphere. The scientific and observational evidence that we have available today is undeniable — the world is a sphere.

    All scientific evidence shows that God is imaginary. So does all historical evidence. This leads any rational person to conclude that Christian beliefs are pure mythology. Christianity is just like every other mythology that mankind has dreamed up through the ages.

  39. #39 Mark
    December 8, 2010

    386sx: Yes, the above points are derived from Dawkins book, “The God Delusion”. I should have noted that.

    When quoting Dawkins, my point was to show that his conclusion is indeed too strong of an conclusion based upon his hypothesis. That is the only point I’m attempting to make.

    @386sx: Post #32 – My point here is that you must place your trust in something/someone. It is either God, yourself, science, etc… You have to believe something, yes? While I certainly do not derive my syntax from a cult, I do believe that a person must place his trust in something… For example, if you say that you are a Naturalist, then you are inevitably trusting in the process and conclusion that Naturalism proposes. Therefore, you are trusting that the Naturalists theory is right. Do you see the element of trust that exists there?

    Simply put, my point is to say that it seems like it takes more trust (faith) to believe in the process of evolution, naturalism, etc… than it takes to believe in God. I believe the whole of creation testifies to God’s creative genuis. For example: Think of the human eye, it has 40,000 nerve endings and focusing muscles that move more than a 100,000 times a day, the human eye has over a 137 million light sensitive cells. To think that the eye was formed by natural selection seems a bit ‘out there’ to me. Even Darwin himself said these words, “To suppose that the eye could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” The creative theory of evolution is antithetical to the common sense you and I have been given. Another example, let’s say that you go to an art gallery and you see a beatiful painting. When you look at that painting, how can you be certain there was a painter? Well, the painting is proof that there is a painter. What more proof could I ask for than to see the evidence of the painting? Therefore, creation serves as proof that there is a creator.

  40. #40 eric
    December 8, 2010

    Mark: I do believe this world requires a creator; however, due to the nature of this creator (God) I do not think that someone would have had to create Him. Simply because He is God.

    You realize that you are making a circular argument, right? If you define God as the only thing not requiring a cause, then when you conclude that the only thing not requiring a cause is God, you have really not made an argument of any value. No one is going to be convinced that A is really true based on the argument “If A, then A.”

  41. #41 eric
    December 8, 2010

    Mark: My point here is that you must place your trust in something/someone. It is either God, yourself, science, etc… You have to believe something, yes? While I certainly do not derive my syntax from a cult, I do believe that a person must place his trust in something… For example, if you say that you are a Naturalist, then you are inevitably trusting in the process and conclusion that Naturalism proposes.

    Scientists think that science provides the best available method for discovering things about the world. That doesn’t mean we think every discovery will turn out to be 100% correct. Scientific knowledge is considered tentative and open to revision precisely because, as a method, we understand that “best available” does not equal “perfect.”

    Even that belief (that its the best available method) is open to revision. All you have to do is show scientists that some other method of knowledge-generation is consistently better than experiment at discovering things like how airplanes fly and how diseases work. We’ll switch.

    So, no, we do not trust science or naturalism the way you trust scripture. We do not think it is inerrant, or represents Truth-with-a-capital-T, and we don’t trust that it is “right.” Individual theories could be wrong, and we’d be okay with that. The whole edifice could be wrong too – maybe aliens land tomorrow and show us a better way of turning data into knowledge. We’d be okay with that, too. Our decisions are ultimately pragmatic and based on whatever works; we neither seek nor demand any loyalty to any metaphysical principle.

  42. #42 Wowbagger
    December 8, 2010

    Mark wrote:

    Simply put, my point is to say that it seems like it takes more trust (faith) to believe in the process of evolution, naturalism, etc… than it takes to believe in God.

    Except that we can see that evolution works, and have not – despite over 150 years of looking – found any other consistent way to explain why life on this planet is how it is.

    Gods, on the other hand, have had no such confirmation – and the fact that even many sects of Christianity are willing to push God’s role further away (i.e. those sects such as Catholicism that accept evolution) is indicative of how unassaiable the reality of evolution is.

    So even if we did have ‘faith’ in evolution (which we don’t; it’s entirely the wrong word to use – but I think you already know that), it’d be far most justified than the ‘faith’ (in the traditional sense) of any theist on the planet, since their ‘faith’ can actually be shown to have merit.

  43. #43 psweet
    December 8, 2010

    Mark, I think you need to learn some terminology before you try these arguments. When I say I am a Naturalist, it merely means that I take the time to observe and attempt to learn about the natural world, without any of the philosophical connotations you’re attaching. The only place I’ve heard the word used the way that you’re using it is in Creationist writings. I assume you’re trying to use it to mean “one who practices Naturalism”, but that’s not how it’s used in the rest of the world.

    Of course, you are also making the common mistake of conflating Methodological Naturalism with Philosophical Naturalism (I think I’ve got that right). Philosphical Naturalism is the argument that nothing exists outside of the natural world. Methodological Naturalism merely means that we can’t actually deal with anything supernatural in any useful sense, so we’ll leave it out of our calculations. There are many scientists who gladly use the latter while rejecting the former. On the other hand, although there are scientists who will claim that the latter is not enough, oddly enough they never seem to make that argument in their own fields.

  44. #44 tresmal
    December 8, 2010

    Mark said:

    For example: Think of the human eye, it has 40,000 nerve endings and focusing muscles that move more than a 100,000 times a day, the human eye has over a 137 million light sensitive cells. To think that the eye was formed by natural selection seems a bit ‘out there’ to me.

    Argument From Personal Incredulity (or more formally Argument From Ignorance)

    And then:

    Even Darwin himself said these words, “To suppose that the eye could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

    That is a very old and disreputable creationist quotemine. For the record here’s the rest of the quote:

    Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound. (Darwin 1872, 143-144)

    He then spent 3 pages laying out how the eye could have evolved.

    Here’s a tip Mark; quotemines are a classic creationist tactic and they are pretty much always dishonest and they are regarded with well justified contempt. If you want to be taken seriously here you’ll avoid them.

  45. #45 386sx
    December 8, 2010

    Therefore, you are trusting that the Naturalists theory is right. Do you see the element of trust that exists there?

    I don’t know about “Naturalists theory” but I can see for example that doctors fix people and faith healers pretend like they fix people.

    Simply put, my point is to say that it seems like it takes more trust (faith) to believe in the process of evolution, naturalism, etc… than it takes to believe in God.

    Not really, but that’s one of the things they tell you, and if you trust them enough then you believe it without thinking a lot about it. (Have your wallet ready though.)

  46. #46 386sx
    December 8, 2010

    Simply put, my point is to say that it seems like it takes more trust (faith) to believe in the process of evolution, naturalism, etc… than it takes to believe in God.

    I don’t see how, since one is evident and the other is completely invisible. It seems like it should be the other way around. Leave it to religion to flatter itself into thinking the complete opposites makes sense. I can see how it would be easier to not double check the facts than to double check them. I don’t know if it necessarily takes more or less faith or trust though.

    Since we seem to be relying so much on faith, than I guess we can assume that we aren’t sure if the invisible people you talk to are god or not? There’s a reason why people who are certain they speak to god, instead of relying on the faith that they speak to god, are considered a little bit bonkers even among their own religious peers. And that reason is: Because the whole thing is a pile of hoo-haw.

  47. #47 386sx
    December 9, 2010

    Leave it to religion to flatter itself into thinking the complete opposites makes sense. I can see how it would be easier to not double check the facts than to double check them.

    Case in point:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/12/good_grief_but_i_despise_the_d.php

    No, the authors provide data to support a dramatic (and unsurprising) effect of temperature on the rate of chemical reactions, and the Discovery Institute uses a paper demonstrating the feasibility of life’s early chemistry to argue the exact opposite.

    It’s stunningly arrogant — I guess they’re used to their readers simply accepting whatever they say. They quote the first three sentences of the paper, and leave off the rest of the paragraph. Would you like to know what it says?

    Do you think the DI might have accurately represented the sense of the paper?

  48. #48 386sx
    December 9, 2010

    Never mind the “Case in point”…

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/12/good_grief_but_i_despise_the_d.php#comment-2989022

    This will not endear me to PZ’s fan club, but I agree with Tulsa # 7: the DI article is not as dishonest as PZ makes it out to be.

    Lol, I am a ironic fool. :P Oh well…

  49. #49 eric
    December 9, 2010

    Never mind the “Case in point”…

    Oh, I think its still worth minding. The creationist objections mck9 cites are still disingenous and rhetorical in nature, rather than having any scientific validity. For example, that first one is just a remake dance version of the classic ‘I need to see every single fossil between A and B before I accept that A descends from B.’ IOW they are still using long-discredited creationist cliches, just not the particular cliche PZ accused them of using.

    What should scare us is that this research has obvious value outside of any OOL question – understanding how enzyme kinetics vary with T could have all sorts of applications for the chemical and biological industries, medicine, etc. – but the creationists would shut down and defund such work because of the perceived threat to their religious beliefs. In poo-pooing this research they give us a window into the future they would like, and it isn’t pleasant.

  50. #50 Dan L.
    December 9, 2010

    Many do not place their trust in God, rather, they place their trust in other things. Some place their trust in Naturalism, some place their trust in themselves by stating that they do not believe in God, etc…

    I am curious as to who/what you place your trust in?

    It’s not clear what you mean by “trust” here. I trust my family on a lot of things, but none of them are surgeons, so I wouldn’t trust them to do open-heart surgery if I needed it. I trust my friends, but they have their own problems and their own lives, so I don’t count on their unconditional help in times of need.

    Stating that I don’t believe in God certainly doesn’t mean that I “place [my] trust in myself,” though again, it’s not clear what you mean by “trust.” I trust myself in some respects, but I also understand that I have limitations. My limitations constitute conditions under which I cannot trust myself. I also know that I have limitations of which I am not aware, so I can never completely trust myself.

    This kind of presumption on your part is actually pretty rude. I would suggest asking questions instead of making accusations if you want to understand other people’s points of view. In this case, I’d also be curious what you’re really trying to say with the word “trust.”

  51. #51 Ye Olde Statistician
    December 17, 2010

    @megan
    The catholic church HAS ALWAYS since recent John Paul term accepted evolution as the method an path for ‘Gods” creation. It’s just they still place a higher being at the initial chemical processes or Big Bang.

    YOS
    Evolution is not creation, period. Creation is a bringing into and sustaining in being. Evolution is merely a transformation of matter from one form to another. It no more is contrary to creation than is the formation of sedimentary rocks or of salt from Na and Cl. God is not “placed” at some “initial” point, since in theology, God is outside space and time. (Logical necessity: space and time are both created things.) Creation as such is happening at every moment, not at some remote past time. This was a point made by Father Georges Lemaître, who first developed the Big Bang theory, and who had to correct some enthusiasts who confused the beginning of a space-time manifold with a moment of creation. (An error made more recently by Hawking.)

    Augustine of Hippo set out the traditional notion in Late Antiquity: “It is therefore, *causally that Scripture has said that *earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in times to come.” [On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11]

    William of Conches put it this way in the 12th cent.: “[God] is the author of all things, evil excepted. But the natures with which He endowed His creatures accomplish a whole scheme of operations, and these too turn to His glory since it is He who created these very natures.”

    And Albertus Magnus wrote in the 13th cent.: “In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass.” [De vegetabilibus et plantis]

    And his student Thomas Aquinas: “Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.” [Commentary on the Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268]

    Christoph Cardinal Schönborn (20th cent.) wrote: “I hope all the readers of First Things would join me in strenuously objecting if God is ever invoked in the course of normal scientific explanation!”

    Notice that when Thomas Aquinas wrote

    “Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning. Again, animals of new kinds arise occasionally from the connection of individuals belonging to different species, as the mule is the offspring of an ass and a mare; but even these existed previously in their causes…”

    he was wrong in the particulars of the science of his day, but he did not suppose new species would arise through poofing, but would emerge in some fashion from the old.

  52. #52 386sx
    December 17, 2010

    God is outside space and time. (Logical necessity: space and time are both created things.)

    Thanks I always wondered if space and time were created by God. Good thing for theology that they were.

    Creation as such is happening at every moment, not at some remote past time.

    Oh okay. Except for evolution of course, because “Evolution is not creation, period.” Everything except for evolution.

  53. #53 Ye Olde Statistician
    December 17, 2010

    386sx
    Thanks I always wondered if space and time were created by God. Good thing for theology that they were.

    You’re welcome; but it’s also a consequence of general relativity. Einstein had wanted to eliminate space and time from empirical physics because he regarded them as metaphysical intrusions. In general relativity, space and time are the consequences of the existence of matter/energy. There is no absolute Newtonian space, as such. Hence, space and time would come into existence once something material came into existence. That is why there is no time “before” the Big Bang. (Although a dynamic universe had to be pointed out to Einstein, it follows as a consequence of his gen.rel. model.) In particular, time is the measure of change in material being, which is strangely congruent to Thomist thinking, even though (ironically) general relativity is more aligned with Parmenidean thought on the illusory nature of motion.
    + + +
    Creation as such is happening at every moment, not at some remote past time.

    386sx
    Oh okay. Except for evolution of course, because “Evolution is not creation, period.” Everything except for evolution.

    You misunderstood. To say that evolution is not creation is like saying cooking is not baseball. It simply means that the two things address utterly different issues. They are not the same kind of thing.

    However, you make a good point. Evolution is a relation among physical things, but does not itself have physical existence. Only the individuals of this species and the individuals of that species exist physically. The evolution of the one from the other is a relationship between them (as the term “e-volution” implies). (Even “species” do not exist physically, as Darwin pointed out in the Origin.)

    Then-cardinal Razinger put it this: “Creation should be thought of, not according to the model of the craftsman who makes all sorts of objects, but rather in the manner that thought is creative. And at the same time it becomes evident that being-in-movement as a whole (and not just the beginning) is creation.” This comports with the Einsteinian notion that things exist as space-time manifolds, and not simply as 3-dimensional cross-sections.

    Hope this helps.

  54. #54 386sx
    December 18, 2010

    Ye Olde Statistician,

    Evolution is a process with a goal whose goal was to [insert word here] people. What word am I supposed to put in there.

    Jesus [insert word here] some loaves and fishes. What word do I put there, and was in done at a point in space and time.

  55. #55 386sx
    December 18, 2010

    “We need not be concerned here with the opinion of many people that the Christian ‘faith system’ is unsuited to answering this question and that a new one must be found, because they thereby make a statement within their own faith decision and outside parameters of their science.” –The Pope

    Lol, special pleading alert. You would think with an attitude like that, he would keep his nose out of everyone else’s business. Unless you take into account the slippery slopes and question begging his speeches and writings are riddled with. Then it all makes sense…

  56. #56 386sx
    December 18, 2010

    Jesus “copied and pasted” some loves and fishes.

  57. #57 Ye Olde Statistician
    December 18, 2010

    386sx
    Evolution is a process with a goal whose goal was to [insert word here] people. What word am I supposed to put in there.

    YOS
    Evolution is a [general] process with a goal whose [general] goal is [greater fitness for a niche; i.e., the perfection of the species].

    In the more particular case of (e.g.) why the polar bear has white-seeming fur, see any usual book on biology.

    On a broader scale, “evolution is a process with a goal whose goal is to [increase diversity of species]” – which is why it is called “the origin of species.” (A telos is proportional to the scale on which the action is considered. Evolution globally speaking has global ends; evolution particularly speaking has particular ends.

    However, in terms of the final cause of evolution — i.e., considering evolution as the outcome of the cause system — one can make another case entirely in conjunction with the material, formal, and efficient causes of evolution.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.