Writing at Slate, Phil Plait has a post up about the big Ham vs. Nye debate. He gets off to a good start:

Last night, science advocate Bill Nye “debated” with creationist Ken Ham, the man who runs the Creation Museum in Kentucky. I was torn about the event; I think it’s important that science get its advocacy, but I also worry that by even showing up to such a thing, Nye would elevate the idea of creationism as something worth debating.
But I’ve thought about it, and here’s the important thing to remember: Roughly half the population of America does believe in some form of creationism or another. Half. Given that creationism is provably wrong, and science has enjoyed huge overwhelming success over the years, something is clearly broken in our country.

I suspect that what’s wrong is our messaging. For too long, scientists have thought that facts speak for themselves. They don’t. They need advocates. If we ignore the attacks on science, or simply counter them by reciting facts, we’ll lose. That much is clear from the statistics. Facts and stories of science are great for rallying those already on our side, but they do little to sway believers.

About last night’s debate, my colleague Mark Stern at Slate argues that Nye lost the debate just by showing up, and I see that same sentiment from people on social media. But I disagree. We’ve been losing this debate in the public’s mind all along by not showing up. Sure, science advocates are there when this topic comes up in court, and I’m glad for it. But I think that we need to have more of a voice, and that voice needs to change. What Nye did last night was at least a step in that direction, so in that sense I’m glad he did this. (Emphasis in original.)

I agree with that. In fact, it’s almost exactly what I said in my “Debating Creationists” post.

Sadly, Plait goes badly wrong in what follows:

But Ham is insidiously wrong on one important aspect: He insists evolution is anti-religious. But it’s not; it’s just anti-his-religion. This is, I think, the most critical aspect of this entire problem: The people who are attacking evolution are doing so because they think evolution is attacking their beliefs.

But unless they are the narrowest of fundamentalists, this simply is not true. There is no greater proof of this than Pope John Paul II—who, one must admit, was a deeply religious man—saying that evolution was an established fact. Clearly, not all religion has a problem with evolution. Given that a quarter of U.S. citizens are Catholics, this shows Ham’s claim that evolution is anti-religious to be wrong.

Go to the original for relevant links.

The part where he says that people are attacking evolution because they think evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs is correct. But the rest of it is about as wrong as wrong can be. It is the party line among most scientists and pro-science organizations, but it is no less wrong for that. And until you appreciate just how wrong it is, you cannot really understand why America has such a big creationism problem.

Let us begin with some polling data. It is well-known that people’s opinions in this area are highly sensitive to small changes in question wording. The most careful polling available, though, strongly suggests that the percentage of people who accept young-Earth Creationism (YEC) is actually quite small. It’s certainly under twenty percent, and perhaps closer to ten. So right off the bat Plait’s thesis is looking dubious. If support for some form of anti-evolutionism hovers around fifty percent, but the percentage of young-Earthers is way smaller than that, then we seem to have two options. Either an awful lot of people are just confused about the consequences of their religious beliefs, or it is not just fundamentalists who have a problem with evolution.

In yesterday’s post I argued that while it is appropriate to describe YEC and intelligent design (ID) as different dialects of the same language, they are separate cultures nevertheless. Nearly all of the people I met at ID conferences were quite religious, but they were also contemptuous of YEC. They were not fundamentalists, and on many occasions they lamented the fact that YEC makes Christianity look foolish. Plainly, there is a large contingent of people who are not fundamentalists, but who also have a problem with evolution.

Even for the YEC’s, the Bible is not really the main issue. When I would ask them directly what they found objectionable about evolution, conflicts with the Bible were never the first thing they would mention. They start off hating evolution, and then use the Bible as one more weapon in their arsenal. If they thought that evolution was a nifty idea, they would suddenly discover that the Bible had been teaching it all along.

Things get worse for Plait when you consult the article he linked to in defense of his claim that Pope John Paul II described evolution as an established fact. The Pope said no such thing. The relevant quote is this:

Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.

It takes some mighty creative reading to get “Evolution is an established fact,” out of that. And when you consider that the Pope then went on to hold forth about acceptable and unacceptable mechanisms for evolution, Plait’s description is starting to look a bit optimistic. John Paul II’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, together with his minion Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, walked right up to the line of endorsing ID, without actually crossing over. None of this should make you optimistic that the Catholic Church is a great friend to evolution. They happily arrogate to themselves the right to hold forth on “the truth about man,” and still make Adam and Eve central figures in their Catechism.

It has always been thus.

In discussing what Darwin accomplished in The Origin of Species, it is customary to make a distinction between the fact of common descent and Darwin’s proposed mechanism of natural selection. In pondering the response at the time from religious scholars, it is clear that common descent was generally tolerable (though it was common to carve out an exception for humanity), but natural selection as the primary mechanism flatly was not. Historian Frederick Gregory describes the situation thusly:

Unquestionably, the attempt to reconcile evolution and Christianity depended on a rejection of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. A few writers, for example Asa Gray and George Frederick Wright, claimed that natural selection was not incompatible with a divinely ordered creation, but after Hodge, theologians for the most part abandoned the attempt to reconcile natural selection and design.

(This is from Frederick Gregory’s contribution to the book God and Nature, Lindberg and Numbers, ed.)

“Hodge” refers to Charles Hodge, an especially prominent Protestant theologian in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He is the one who wrote a book called, What is Darwinism? and famously answered that question with, “It is atheism.” More precisely, it was the absence of any sort of teleology in Darwin’s conception of evolution that consigned it to the status of atheism.

Gregory was referring specifically to the response of Protestant scholars and theologians. The response from the Catholic Church was scarcely an improvement. It is technically true that they never declared evolution to be heretical. But they came awfully close to doing so when they condemned a book by Rafaello Caverni, who defended a rather circumscribed view of evolution. The reaction from the Congregation of the Index, charged with deciding what was and was not heretical, is worth considering at length:

Until now the Holy See has rendered no decision on the system mentioned. Therefore, if Caverni’s work is condemned, as it should be, Darwinism would be indirectly condemned. Surely there would be cries against this decision; the example of Galileo would be held up; it will be said that this Holy Congregation is not competent to emit judgments on physiological and ontological doctrines on theories of change. But we should not focus on this probable clamor. With his system, Darwin destroys the bases of revelation and openly teaches pantheism and an abject materialism. Thus, an indirect condemnation of Darwin is not only useful, but even necessary, together with that of Caverni, his defender and propagator among Italian youth.

This goes on for another paragraph. Nor was this an outlying view among the Church authorities. Historians Mariano Artigas, Thomas Glick, and Rafael Martinez write:

Evolutionism was viewed by many Catholic theologians as a materialist and agnostic ideology based on a scientific theory that had no serious foundation. This ideology seemed opposed to Christian doctrine on the Bible, on Creation and divine action in the world, and on human beings. There was a consensus among theologians about Catholic doctrine, including aspects that, without expressly being dogmas of faith, were held to be closely related to them, and evolution, as it was presented by its most ardent proponents, certainly clashed with dogmas of faith and with other positions generally held by theologians.

(These excerpts are taken from the book Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877-1902, by Artigas, Glick and Martinez.)

Let us fast forward now to the early twentieth century. From 1910-1914 a series of pamphlets was published by prominent Protestant scholars. These pamphlets were known collectively as “The Fundamentals,” and this is where we get the term “Fundamentalism.” There were three articles in the series devoted specifically to evolution, and all were unambiguously hostile. Dyson Hague, in explaining the reasons for publishing the pamphlets in the first place, lamented the trend toward liberal theology:

The present day liberal theology may be traced to two streams of influence: First, the influence of German rationalism, preeminently the Ritschlian theology, and the critical theories of Wellhausen, Kuenen and their school. Second, the widespread acceptance of the theory of evolution.

To the first may be traced the free and easy way of the modernists of dealing with the Scriptures; and to the second, the revolutionized attitude of theologians with regard to sin, its source, its penalty, and its atonement.

I have belabored these points because they illustrate something important. Evolution as Darwin presented it was almost entirely unacceptable to the foremost Christian scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, writing in the decades after Darwin. They had specifically religious objections to the non-teleological nature of the theory, and to the conflicts they perceived between Darwin and the Bible. Yet none of these people were fundamentalists in the modern sense, none endorsed a young-Earth or a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, and all would have been embarrassed by Ken Ham. Even the contributors to The Fundamentals were overtly hostile to the idea of a young Earth.

(Incidentally, the perceived conflicts between Darwin and the Bible did not generally revolve around Genesis 1. The more serious issue was the Adam and Eve story in Genesis 3. Since this story is strongly tied in with what is said about Jesus in the New Testament, it is much harder to metaphorize than the creation story in Genesis 1.)

So, after all, that, let us return to Plait’s argument. He tells us that the problem is too many people perceiving evolution as a threat to their religious beliefs. Indeed, but why do they perceive it that way? Is it a failure of messaging on the part of scientists? Is it because Richard Dawkins or P. Z. Myers make snide remarks about religion? No, those are not the reasons.

It is because these people have noticed all the same problems the scholars of Darwin’s time were writing about. It is because evolution really does conflict with their religious beliefs, but not because of an overly idiosyncratic interpretation of one part of the Bible. It is because the version of evolution that so worried the religious scholars of Darwin’s time, that of a savage, non-teleological process that produced humanity only as an afterthought, is precisely the version that has triumphed among modern scientists. And it is because the objections raised to that version of evolution in the nineteenth century have not lost any of their force today.

So I think the issue is just a tad more complex than Plait suggests. It manifestly is not the case that only the most narrow of fundamentalists has a problem with evolution. Evolution challenges the Bible, refutes the argument from design, exacerbates the problem of evil, and strongly challenges any notion that humanity plays a central role in creation. These are not small points, and Plait needs to acknowledge them.

Plait concludes his essay with:

And who should do this? The answer to me is clear: Religious people who understand the reality of science. They have a huge advantage over someone who is not a believer. Because atheism is so reviled in America, someone with faith will have a much more sympathetic soapbox from which to speak to those who are more rigid in their beliefs.

I know a lot of religious folks read my blog. I am not a believer, but I hope that my message of science, of investigation, of honesty, of the joy and wonder revealed though it, gets across to everyone. That’s why I don’t attack religion; there’s no need. I am fine with people believing in what they want. I only step up on my own soapbox when a specific religion overreaches, when that belief is imposed on others.

So I urge anyone reading this who is a believer of any stripe to speak up. In almost every case, evolution is not a threat to your beliefs. It’s an important part of science, and the basis upon which our understanding of biology is founded. It’s like the Periodic Table in chemistry, or Newton’s Laws in physics; without it, biology makes no sense. And we know biology makes sense.

That’s mostly fine by me. I’m a big fan of Ken Miller, for example, and I wish we had a thousand more just like him. If BioLogos wants to set up shop and tell Evangelicals that they have nothing to fear from evolution they have my complete support. If the signers of the Clergy Letter Project want to tell their congregations that evolution is a marvelous thing, I will applaud their efforts. So long as they are OK with scientists deciding what goes into the science curriculum, I don’t even care if they glop up a perfectly good theory with an implausible metaphysical superstructure in which God is personally mutating the genes or whatever. I will challenge their arguments when I find them inadequate, of course, but I applaud their efforts nevertheless.

But there’s a reason they find their views to be such a tough sell. Conflicts with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 are the least of the problems evolution poses for Christianity, and it is very debatable, to put it kindly, whether the more liberal clerics have successfully neutralized them. So, yes, encourage the more liberal believers to go spread their message. But don’t be surprised when they report a lack of success, and don’t blame Richard Dawkins when they do.

(Incidentally, the last few days have brought a wealth of new readers to this blog, so I can’t resist mentioning that I discuss all of these issues in far greater detail in my book Among the Creationists, published by Oxford University Press.)

Comments

  1. #1 MNb
    February 7, 2014

    It may have escaped you, JR, but the world is bigger than the USA and not all christians live in your country.

    “It is because these people have noticed all the same problems the scholars of Darwin’s time were writing about”
    As slihtly less than 30% of the Dutch are non-religious (either agnost or atheist) more than 70% are religious. Still acceptance of Evolution Theory is not a problem at all in my home country. I suppose all those Dutch christians according to you are blind to those problems. That specifically includes Dutch theologians.
    If you mean what you write you have some explanation to do, for instance why the USA is about the only western country where those “objections raised to that version of evolution in the 19th century have not lost their force today” but have in almost all other western countries. Plus

    “But there’s a reason they find their views to be such a tough sell”
    there is a reason they don’t have to sell their views to Dutch christians at all as the vast majority of them already have bought them several decades ago.

    “it is very debatable, to put it kindly, whether the more liberal clerics have successfully neutralized them.”
    Whether the more liberal clerics have done so is debatable indeed. Fact is that in The Netherlands either those problems have been neutralized or a couple of millions christians wear blinkers. You say it.

  2. #2 Pete Attkins
    UK
    February 7, 2014

    “It takes some mighty creative reading to get ‘Evolution is an established fact,’ out of that.” Mighty creative reading? The quote made it abundantly clear that evolution is a theory rather than a hypothesis. In non-scientific commonly used English language that means evolution is an established fact rather than just a theory (conjecture, opinion, speculation).

    @MNb
    Similar here in the UK.

  3. #3 Lenoxus
    February 7, 2014

    I think the USA’s unusally low acceptance of evolution can be blamed on an especially powerful set of fundamentalists and/or young-earthers who have shifted the Overton window, so that even scientifically sophisticated Americans can feel that in order to be cool people, they have to belittle Darwin. The various canards like “Why are there still monkeys?” are practically a part of our culture; I’d be curious how widely known that phrase is in other countries.

    Another unfortunate effect of creationism being so prevalent and so passionate is that schools, not wanting to bother parents, are afraid to get into evolution at all… so they often don’t. (Not to mention the Texas textbook problem, etc.) At least my state, Pennsylvania, doesn’t have science standards along those lines, and I’m curious if any state does. I’m pretty sure most Americans are not in the set of people taught evolution by a non-creationist (I’ve read lots of accounts of creatonist biology teachers).

    I agree with Jason about the Pope’s statement; it certainly could have been a lot worse but it could have been better, too. In front of a non-scientific audience he should have said “fact”, not theory, and he’s also rather vague; even young-earthers believe in “micro”-evolution, so it’s not necessarily a big deal to say “evolution” is true. Did he actually believe humans are descended from other primates, for instance?

  4. #4 not quite st.Peter
    Finland
    February 7, 2014

    I´m European, and feel this evolution vs ID debate may eventually only harm the American christians. I´m sort of believer. As the pope says, most people here even religious circles accept evolution as “material truth” whereas the Bible tells the “religious truth”. God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” Gen2:7 – so the man already made – somehow, not so important how – out of dust, got a living soul. The material and spiritual are different “domains”, “dimensions” – though which may interact in subtle ways. We also need to use the intellect of our own, and believe our eyes, see & accept what we find digging the ground.

    Science is our own attempt to understand things, by definition. Deus ex machina solution like ID isn´t science.

    OK, this is heresy to millions of Americans. Just feel frustrated….

  5. #5 eric
    February 7, 2014

    Jason,
    I mostly agree with you here, though I am more optimistic that Christian theology can do the metamorphosis necessary to accept non-teleological evolution. The reason for my optimism is that even with all the vehement rejections you cite, the response to evolution and Darwin was still nowhere near as vehement as the church’s earlier response to heliocentrism. That was considered such an existential threat to church doctrine that they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake and put Galileo under house arrest. And yet, here we are, with a church that evolved to accept that scientifc belief. You argue that there are sound theological reasons why evolution doesn’t fit well with Christian doctine. That may be true, but Christian doctrine changes. It’s made more radical changes than this one in the past, so I see no reason to think it can’t make this one. I expect that 100 years from now there will still be the ToE. There will still be Christianity. The vast majority of Christians will accept the ToE “straight up,” just as they accept “straight up” cosmology today. As to how they reconcile the two in their minds, I don’t know. But I look at history, see that they’ve done this before, and expect that they’ll do it again.

  6. #6 Miles Rind
    Cambridge, Mass.
    February 7, 2014

    “If they thought that evolution was a nifty idea, they would suddenly discover that the Bible had been teaching it all along” (Rosenhouse).

    Exactly–just as they have somehow convinced themselves that the Bible teaches that the earth is round!

  7. #7 Lyle
    February 7, 2014

    Recall that evolution relies on the uniformitarian principle of Charles Lyell that the same process that exist today existed in the past, or as taken by many today that there are no supernatural interventions in the universe by God. If God can intervene in the Universe, then anything goes since God is by definition all powerful. One can only make the all powerful idea jive with evolution by having god decide never to intervene in the universe (i.e. the watchmaker theory).
    Most want to believe that god does intervene (else why guardian angels and praying for rain etc.).
    So I think that folks need to start off with the uniformitarin principle and state that just like euclidian geometry holds that one and only one line passes thru a point parallel to a line, uniformitarianism is a postulate of evolution.

  8. #8 eric
    February 7, 2014

    Lyle:

    uniformitarianism is a postulate of evolution.

    But it isn’t. We have concluded uniformitarianism based on the observations we collect. Evidence supports that notion, but things could’ve turned out differently. If, for example, stellar spectral lines differed radically based on distance (rather than just being a bit red- or blue- shifted), that observation would force us to rethink the idea that physical laws and constants have always been the same. But they don’t differ radically, which is evidence for uniformity in physical laws over time periods that easily encompass all of Earth’s history.

  9. #9 Tulse
    February 7, 2014

    uniformitarianism is a postulate of evolution

    The dinosaurs would strongly disagree.

  10. […] The meme above gives voice to the real problem with these fringe fundamentalists. And fringe is what I do mean. While Ham and his cohorts often tout the “fact” that nearly 50% of all Americans believe in creationism, that is not at all accurate. As with all polling, how the question is framed matters greatly. When you get to the extreme of a Ham–the earth is only a few thousand years old, ditto the universe, and Adam and Eve were the original humans, and the bible (usually only the KJV translation) is the literal word of God–we are talking about something less than 10% of the population. […]

  11. #11 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    So the Pope thinks evolution could be true but nevertheless a soul is created immediately by god ( its alive! its a miracle ) at conception. My question to the Pope is how the church handles chimerism? We all know that monozygotic twins result from a single zygote splitting to form two embryos…two souls? When did that happen? After conception? As to chimerism, this occurs when two zygotes fuse to form a single embryo. Does it now have two souls, or what if three or more fuse? Individuals presenting with Chimerism will test differently on DNA testing depending on where the sample is taken. There was a notable case recently where the mother’s DNA did not match the child’s DNA until multiple sampes were taken because she was a chimera.
    It reminds me of W. Churchill’s son’s first response to reading the bible for the first time, ‘God, isn’t god a shit!”

  12. #12 Another Matt
    February 7, 2014

    As to how they reconcile the two in their minds, I don’t know. But I look at history, see that they’ve done this before, and expect that they’ll do it again.

    The problem is that it will require a complete rethinking of the Fall in light of the fact that there never was a literal Adam and Eve. There was a rather funny back and forth between Jason and Edward Feser a couple years ago, about whether these things could be reconciled. Feser’s idea was that evolution could have worked the way scientists say, all the way up to the point where the hominid species emerged. But none of them had souls-in-the-image-of-God, so they couldn’t have had language or abstract thought yet (and these, according to Thomists, can’t evolve by natural selection); somewhere at this point, God gave a pair of them souls, and they were the ones who disobeyed. All of their subsequent progeny had souls, but probably not Cain’s wife. I don’t think most Christians will go for this story.

    One other possibility will be to think of the Fall or Original Sin as just the fact that we are evolved creatures, and “salvation” would be overcoming that. There’s the old Orthodox doctrine of theosis, which is a God-led improvement of the human nature and human condition — it was taken to be the final stage of salvation, but it seems to be completely missing from Evangelical theology. I could see it being the teleology of evolution according to Christianity. I don’t think they’ll ever find a way to lose the teleological instinct, however. I remember Elliott Sober recently pointing out that natural selection itself would work just fine as a natural process with or without God, so long as God’s participation was only in twiddling base pairs now and again and making it look random. Most of us think “what’s the point of the God hypothesis, then?”, but maybe it would work for Christians. I suspect they’ll think it’s pretty cold supper compared to the teleology they’re used to believing in.

  13. #13 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    @12
    If you wiki ( ‘Catholic Church and evolution’) it provides a useful summary of the church’s position on evolution. According to it, Catholics still hold( or let them be anathema!) that modern humans ( ie humans with a soul ) all descended from Adam & Eve ( the first ensouled primates ) and we have inherited their original sin.
    It is common to find modern theologians refer to the Fall as a metaphor for the emergence of consciousness and man’s inability to go back to a complete merging into nature as non-human animals supposedly do.
    As you said, what’s the point? The bible has usefulness as literature, but so does the ILiad.

  14. #14 eric
    February 7, 2014

    The problem is that it will require a complete rethinking of the Fall in light of the fact that there never was a literal Adam and Eve.

    Yes, and heliocentrism required a complete rethinking of what it means to say ‘god placed us at the center of the universe.’ We went from a literal center to a figurative center. The church will go from a literal fall to a figurative one (many sects already have), a literal A&E to a figurative pair (again, some already have), and just keep trundling along. At least, IMO.

    In some sense I think you’ve fallen for religion’s hype. They like to tell you that their beliefs are unchanging and they like to imply that there are some core beliefs that can’t possibly change without the religion falling apart completely. But, in reality, the social and organizational part of a religion pretty much rides out changes in theology. Pillars of the earth, Jesus’ prediction that heaven will return in his lifetime, purgatory as a place…history is filled with a record of Christianity’s theological castoffs. What’s more likely: that this really is the one doctrinal factoid they can never do without – that we are at a special time and place in history when the one true core belief of christianity is being challenged – or that this fight is pretty much like all the other ones?

  15. #15 Sean T
    February 7, 2014

    Another Matt,

    I don’t know; it seems pretty easy to reconcile evolution with the fall. Basically, one just has to understand that the Bible is not a science text, but a work outline principles of morality. Understood that way, the Genesis account of creation becomes “God created everything,” just with a lot of flowery and poetic language.

    In any case, whether a Christian would be comfortable with such an account, the traditional theology of the fall is problematic to say the least. I’m not a believer, but my understanding is that God is supposed to be infinitely just and powerful. Since He’s all-powerful, he need not continue to punish people because of the deeds of Adam and Eve. Therefore, He could lift the punishment if He wanted to. Why doesn’t He? Is is really just to punish people alive today for the actions of two people who purportedly existed thousands of years ago? What would anyone think of a justice system that allowed people to be imprisoned or executed for crimes comitted by their great-great grandparents? Additionally, one of the themes of the New Testament is mercy and forgiveness. If we are supposed to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, why shouldn’t God be held to this same standard?

  16. #16 Another Matt
    February 7, 2014

    Eric,

    I mostly agree with you. My point is that in all forms of Christianity, Jesus has a certain raison d’être, which is to fix whatever happened at the Fall (whether or not it was a real event, whether or not it was our fault, or whether or not Original Sin is real). Without the idea that Jesus has some main purpose in the religion, it will still be some religion, but it won’t be Christianity any longer. We’re kind of left with Jesus as a cure searching for an ailment, and then, like I said, what’s the point?

    You might also be right that I’ve fallen for religion’s hype — I grew up in a YEC family, and there are patterns of thought that don’t disappear no matter how much you try to lose them.

  17. #17 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    @14
    A book I recently read along those lines is _From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity_. It is obvious that the modern Catholic Church’s rejection of sex is greatly attenuated.
    As recently as 1980 Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Christian belief that sex solely for pleasure is a sin even if it is performed with your own wife: ‘Man can commit … adultery in the heart also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.’ Those interested can Google the quote. When the world didn’t end and Jesus didn’t return, the church had to change its stance on sex because babies had to be born to keep things going.

    Although, I have it on very good authority that Jesus did return and the Christians of today missed out and are taking the wrong side of Pascal’s waqer.

  18. #18 Sean T
    February 7, 2014

    Jason,

    As you correctly point out, the wording of a poll question often has a significant influence on the responses received. Given that, I often wonder about polls such as these. If the question were “do you believe that God played a role in the development of life on earth?” I suspect that you would get quite a different percentage of “yes” responses than if the question were “do you believe that evolution is false?” There likely are many people who would answer yes to the first of these and no to the second.

    We tend to think of evolution and creation as black and white terms, especially when we have events like the Ham/Nye debate. However, as you know, there are a whole range of intermediate “grey” positions. I just wonder, if these polls ask questions similar to the first one I gave, if it’s really fair to call anyone answering yes to the question a creationist. Surely, for instance a deist would answer yes to that first question. Since the deist belief is that there is a God who got everything rolling, that would be God’s role in the development of life. However, we probably wouldn’t want to refer to someone who believes that evolution occurred precisely as outlined by modern science a creationist, would we?

    Various types of theistic evolution pose similar quandries; at what point do we apply the label “creationist” to someone who accepts most or all of the findings of evolutionary biology? If someone belives, for instance that mutation and natural selection are sufficient to account for all biodiversity, but that God is guiding the mutations, is that person a creationist? I don’t know, but my point is that there isn’t necessarily a bright dividing line between “evolutionist” and “creationist”.

  19. #19 Terroh
    February 7, 2014

    “…The part where he says that people are attacking evolution because they think evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs is correct.”

    Do some religious people view evolution as a threat because they are threated by the phenomenon itself? You can view ghosts as a threat and even the creator. How come they are more OK with the latter and not the obvious phenomenon of evolution? I think if a certain phenomenon feels threatening to you and is beyond your control, your only option would be to accept it and be comfortable with it. Many people feel disturbed by the existence of the supernatural, for example. Unless persistently denying something actually shuts down the phenomenon completely. Only then it’s understandable.

  20. #20 eric
    February 7, 2014

    @16 – not to try and channel liberal Christianity,but his raison d’etre could still be to help us reach heaven, regardless of where the sins we have come from. Don’t need God to have caused the accident for it to make sense for God to send an EMT.

    Now, lack of a fall is certainly a theodicy issue (if you’ve got an all powerful benevolent god, and man didn’t cause all these issues…) but I don’t really see it as an issue for the divine messenger/savior concept embodied by Jesus. Jesus still makes sense under Marcionism, for example, which didn’t need a fall – it just posited God made the world bad to begin with.

  21. #21 eric
    February 7, 2014

    You might also be right that I’ve fallen for religion’s hype — I grew up in a YEC family, and there are patterns of thought that don’t disappear no matter how much you try to lose them.

    I got ya. The irony in your story is, of course, that protestant YECism is at best 500 years old (and more likely only 100-150 years old). You are a product of a recently schismed sect, telling me the church can’t possibly survive change. :)

  22. #22 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    Marcion had an important insight which Harlold Bloom also pointed to. To make Jesus believable, the nature of god had to change. As Bloom pointed out, the god of the OT is irreconcilable with the god of Jesus. The OT. god is wild enraged jealous adolescent. The NT god is cooly rational, a beloved father who never changes his mind…and just loves everyone so much he sent his beloved son to die for us…isn’t that just special…

  23. #23 Qweet
    February 7, 2014

    “It manifestly is not the case that only the most narrow of fundamentalists has a problem with evolution. Evolution challenges the Bible, refutes the argument from design, exacerbates the problem of evil, and strongly challenges any notion that humanity plays a central role in creation.”

    Firstly, just because the theory of evolution points out and invites people to examine an obvious and existing phenomenon, which seems evil to some religious people, it is not the reason to think that whoever points it out is evil. Secondly, evolution is not the only evil phenomenon in the world. There is a lot of evil everywhere, in all areas of life. Evolution could even be the “devil in disguise”, for all you know. However, many religious people are generally OK with the other kinds of evil around us. Many of them are true perpetuators of evil themselves. Why would they want to deny evil, if it’s there. It would be like denying crimes, and that is evil in itself.

  24. #24 Another Matt
    February 7, 2014

    Right, which is why early Christian orthodoxy had to counter Marcion by saying he was mistakenly taking the actions and nature of the God depicted in the Jewish scriptures literally. Any wrath wasn’t actually part of God, but only how humans perceived it, written in language humans could understand. Whatever. God’s impassibility is no longer really that important a doctrine in Protestantism.

  25. #25 Kurly
    February 7, 2014

    [I have belabored these points because they illustrate something important. Evolution as Darwin presented it was almost entirely unacceptable to the foremost Christian scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, writing in the decades after Darwin. "]

    By disqualifying something first and then finally agreeing with it, religious people suggest that you can live in any kind of truth you want on earth, particularly in isolated communities or isolation. And it is partly what’s presently going on on our planet. You can simply create the truth or a worldoutlook for yourself with a set of beliefs that create a certain reality for you that would make your life, at least bearable. This also means that each individual person does not owe anyone anything, and you can free yourself from the kind of people you don’t want to be around, and ward everything unpleasant off yourself.

  26. #26 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    I think this is what led some to throw up their hands in frustration at the ‘objective’ results of the historical-critical method. Even an naive hermeneutic results in differences between practictioners. In my opinion, if one is going to go down that road, it is better to have a body of official interpreters as the RC church does.At least they can put up a united front. Protestants perhaps have side-stepped this issue by holding to the priesthood of believers, but I have to say, there is not much evidence that the holy spirt ‘has lead them into all truth’ passe the book of Acts. What with 33,000+ Christian denominations, various branches of Judaism, etc. Seems that god has a communication problem.
    Does a ‘religion of the book’ always result in internecine warfare? It seems so. We ( Westerners) have inherited this prejudice of always thinking there is one truth, one answer one great mind…science is thinking god’s thoughts after him. America is infested with this way of think. Once you use a book to legitimize values, its intepretation becomes paramont and those who control its interetation control the values. This underlines much of the hype around evolution, etc. It delegitimizes the thing that legimizes their values and world and life view…guess I’m preaching to the choir.

  27. #27 Qweet
    February 7, 2014

    @26 wrote:
    [there is not much evidence that the holy spirt ‘has lead them into all truth’ passe the book of Acts. What with 33,000+ Christian denominations, various branches of Judaism, etc. Seems that god has a communication problem.]

    When people share their personal experiences with others, you can believe them. And if they made it up, you can say they are dishonest. However, jumping to conclusions as to what those experiences were/are, and trying to define them, is never a good idea.

  28. #28 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    @27
    Sorry, did not mean to jump to any conclusions. Everyone, in the quiet of their own heart, makes decisions about ultimate things and practices their values in their own way. Agreement is hard to find thus democracy…we fight with words rather than guns ( as Popper said, ideas die in democracies rather than people).
    I was making a point about the institutionalization of ‘truth’ or ‘belief’. To refer to a timely topic, some Christians think homosexuality is a sin, while others don’t. Among those who do think it’s a sin, some believe that homosexuals should be put to death as is done in Iran for example. This is based on competing definitions of the bible.
    In 390 AD, Theodosius had all the male prostitutes in Rome rounded up and he had them publically burned as the whole city watched ( they were forced to watch ). Interpretations of a holy book can have very real consequences. If you believe that the bible has a message and your eternal salvation depends on correctly understanding this message, then getting the correct interpretation is vital. Assuming the Christian god exists ( for sake of argument ), it can’t be the case that having the correct belief or even the correct behavior can matter much since no one can agree on what it means. There is no univocity of voice in other words. Thus my reference to 33,000+ denominations. If you say your interepretation is the correct one, you’ve made my case.

    In terms of personal experiences, I am not sure what you mean but I would certainly respect that. I have a co-worker who said he saw Jesus. I certainly believe him and that he experienced something. However, given my own view of reality, I would saw that the thing he experienced was a product of his mind and there was no external referent…ie Jesus wasn’t standing in the parking lot. In terms of semiotics, there was a sign and a thing signified. In this case, the thing signified was a fictional character. That people can have relationships with ficitonal characters who do not exist as flesh and blood is what makes novels and literature possible. It makes Christianity possible. One knows what a unicorn is even though they don’t exist. If one has a ‘relationship’ with Jesus, they are having a relationship with an object of their imagination( IMO ). I am not belittling this, just pointing out a fact that they are having a relation with an object in their mind…ie, a relationship with their own consciousness.

  29. #29 Qweet
    February 7, 2014

    @28

    My comment was meant to support your idea, and not undermine it. Sorry for the confusion.

  30. #30 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    Wow – sorry too. Totally misread that one.

    It makes me think how the ancient Greek thinkers prefered the spoken word over the written word…probably for this very reason.

  31. #31 eric
    February 7, 2014

    Blaine:

    What with 33,000+ Christian denominations, various branches of Judaism, etc. Seems that god has a communication problem.

    Yup. While people focus on the bible’s ‘accuracy problem,’ I think the ‘precision problem’ kills it without even needing to answer the question of whether it’s accurate. If I’ve got a scale that measures my weight +/- 5,000 pounds, I throw it out. Doesn’t matter if it’s technically accurate or not – the imprecision makes it a useless tool for determining weight. 30,000+ sects means the communication is imprecise; the communication is a useless tool for determining truth.

  32. #32 deepak shetty
    February 7, 2014

    don’t even care if they glop up a perfectly good theory with an implausible metaphysical superstructure in which God is personally mutating the genes or whatever.
    I am conflicted about this. We seem to be saying the religious must be coddled into accepting fact. That might be a pragmatic and may be effective choice, of course , but it stinks of Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth”
    Its one thing to truly believe that God diddles with genes undetectably, its another to promote it as a sound strategy. (when you don’t believe it)..

  33. #33 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    Don’t know if you guys have read Alvin Plantinga’s latest book _Where the Conflict Really Lies_. Although the author accepts the theory of evolution, he says that god intervenes at the quantum mechanical level by collapsing the wave function to achieve his results without violation of natural law (because the collapsed eigenstates are unpredictable anyway). Through this process, god can guide and orchestrate the direction of evolution.

    Wow – who knew?

  34. #34 Michael Fugate
    February 7, 2014

    That’s a much more sophisticated god than this one….
    ” And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

  35. #35 Qweet
    February 7, 2014

    [If one has a ‘relationship’ with Jesus, they are having a relationship with an object of their imagination( IMO ). I am not belittling this, just pointing out a fact that they are having a relation with an object in their mind…ie, a relationship with their own consciousness.]

    I guess what science is ultimately postulating is that whether you suffer from some symptoms of mental illness or are in fact exposed to some real phenomena, you might eventually end up being equally bothered by either or. And that is unfortunate. Therefore, science provides the means for coping with and alleviating the pain as a result of these experiences no matter what they might be.

  36. #36 Jason F
    February 7, 2014

    Jason,

    Just a thought….likely one of the main factors in the disparity in the polling results is that outside of the dedicated defenders of science and the hard-core creationist activists, most people just don’t think about this issue much at all. So when you ask them questions about evolution across a series of days, you’ll probably get a variety of answers.

    Look at the estimated viewership for the Ham-Nye debate. ~500K? That’s barely over 10% of the US population. And how many of those 500k were in other countries?

    Most people I know don’t really care one way or the other and don’t know anything at all about IDC, YEC, PE, etc. They take a kind of “leave it to the schools” approach.

    And regarding the fact that YEC’s don’t immediately tell you that this isn’t really about the Bible….

    I too interact with a lot of creationists, and just because they don’t come out in the first 5 minutes and tell you “It’s all about the Bible” doesn’t mean that’s not the case. I’ve found that it takes a fair bit of time spent asking the right questions to get them to finally admit that their YEC beliefs and science denial really are about the Bible and not much else. It’s hard to get to because AiG, ICR, et al. have spent decades telling these people that you don’t HAVE to resort to just citing scripture, and that there’s a genuine scientific case for creationism to be made. So these people follow that.

    It’s only after a period of knocking down one talking point after another and constantly reminding them of that, that they finally will admit “none of that matters anyways, God’s Word is all I need”.

    Don’t mistake your initial read of them as an accurate representation of what’s really going on. Fundamentalism itself is rooted in some very deep seated psychological factors.

  37. […] Moran quotes Jason Rosenhouse disputing Phil […]

  38. #38 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    Just had a thought.

    Not too long ago I read _Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back_ by Frank Shaeffer who is the son of the now deceased Evangelical ‘philosopher’ Francis Schaeffer.

    I wonder if Michael Behe’s son, now that he has de-converted and become an atheist, writes a _Crazy for Intelligent Design_ book.

  39. #39 eric
    February 7, 2014

    Blaine [describing Plantinga's latest, um, well let's call it "thought"]:

    god intervenes at the quantum mechanical level by collapsing the wave function to achieve his results without violation of natural law (because the collapsed eigenstates are unpredictable anyway). Through this process, god can guide and orchestrate the direction of evolution.

    Don’t need to read his book, because if he had a real mechanism for- and evidence of how collapsing wavefunctions could orchestrate natural selection or other large-scale effects, he’d win a Nobel Prize. It’s just blue-skying. Speculation that doesn’t even rise to Reuse’s “observation-based” level.

  40. #40 Qweet
    February 7, 2014

    @ Eric

    Eric, how would you be able to prove to people that you’re suffering from visual hallucinations and delusions? And what method would you use to actually realize that you’re hallucinating?

  41. #41 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    @39
    It brings to mind Russell’s celestial teapot.

    One thing that I find interesting ( and frustrating ) is society’s historical forgetfulness ( Ricouer – Memory, History, Forgetting ) Most of the heavy work in undermining the credibility of the bible was done by the end of the nineteenth century and most ‘thinking’ people at that time thought reasonably, as they witnessed people leaving the churches in droves, that Christianity would be dead within a generation or two. But no, a new generation comes along and makes all the same fallacious arguments which have to be refuted all over again as well as reminding Christians to familiarize themselves with the work of Wellhausen, et al. Post-modernism has been a unmitigated disaster in my opinion by giving succor to ideologues…which interestingly enough some have actually had regrets and said maybe they went too far ( Bruno Latour comes to mind ).

  42. #42 Phil
    February 7, 2014

    Sean T,

    “Since He’s all-powerful, he need not continue to punish people because of the deeds of Adam and Eve. Therefore, He could lift the punishment if He wanted to.”

    Allah can do that. Jehovah cannot.

    “Is is really just to punish people alive today for the actions of two people who purportedly existed thousands of years ago?”

    General condemnation….general atonement.

  43. #43 Blaine
    February 7, 2014

    @40 Qweet
    This is not a far fetched as some may think. It is quite common for a spouse to hallucinate that they see their spouse during the grieving process. I read of one case, reported by a woman, a widow reported seeing her husband in the house. She knew it was a hallucination because he was dead so it couldn’t possibly be him. She reported that she yelled at the apparition and herself to go away. After a period of time, it did go away. An interesting book on how prophetic failure and stress can actually increase religous fever is _When Prophecy Fails_ by Leon Festinger. This book as well as examples like the one I gave, easily explain how the disciples of Jesus supposedly ‘saw’ Jesus after his death. Paul claim, is of course, consistent with this claims all those who saw the risen Christ did not see him in the flesh which makes it consistent with a ‘vision’ or hallucination. John Nash ( of Game Theory fame ) talked himself out of his delusional schizophrenia because he realized that the voices talking to him couldn’t possible be ‘real’ voices.

    What happens when you put three people together who all think they are Jesus Christ? This test actually happened. The three people finally concluded that one was Jesus, one was the holy spirit and the other was god the father ( _he Three Christs of Ypsilanti_ – you can wiki it ).

  44. #44 eric
    February 7, 2014

    Queet:

    Eric, how would you be able to prove to people that you’re suffering from visual hallucinations and delusions? And what method would you use to actually realize that you’re hallucinating?

    Where did THAT question come from? Nothing I’ve posted has anything to do with this.

    In any event, let’s get the criteria for success out of the way. Are you asking me how I would ‘prove’ with absolute philosophical certainty that I was hallucinating, or are you asking for a normal, reasonably-certain-based-on-empiricism proof that I’m hallucinating?

  45. #45 Blaine
    February 8, 2014

    @44 I was wondering that too, but I thought it would be fun to respond…also to drop a bunch of my own non sequiturs and join the party.

    I would like Qweek to prove that the world was not created 3.14159 26535 89793 23846…( pi ) seconds ago and made to appear old along with all our memories, etc. Since you can’t prove that it wasn’t, it therefore was….take that.

    Zeus and Hera also made the world appear to be designed even though it wasn’t….they lacked certain engineering skills.

    Lowen-Skolem, if I remember correctly, says that a formal system will have an countable collection of models.

    Does god know the last digit of pi? If not, either he doesn’t exist or he is not omniscient or infinity does not exist.

    Prove that god did not tell me that the universe is Turing computable.

  46. #46 Qweet
    February 8, 2014

    @Eric

    My questions were clear. Let me paraphrase them for you.

    What observational method would you use to observe hallucinations, and how would you prove to your scientist colleagues empirically that you’re hallucinating?

    @Blaine
    So you’re suggesting that it is more likely that the human brain has evolved to the point that it is capable of producing uniformed hallucinations than for emryan life forms to exist outside human consciousness?

    @45
    [Prove that god did not tell me that the universe is Turing computable.]

    Proving this to you will serve no useful purpose.

  47. #47 Qweet
    February 8, 2014

    @45

    [I would like Qweek to prove that the world was not created 3.14159 26535 89793 23846…( pi ) seconds ago and made to appear old along with all our memories, etc. Since you can’t prove that it wasn’t, it therefore was….take that.]

    This fact has been ascertained on the premise that it is in fact impossible to prove this to be untrue, however it does not mean that it is true. Many religions use this argument every time somebody tries to question their doctrines. With this argument you can coerce people into believing in anything you want them to believe. It’s the trick that lead to the emergence of all those 30,000 Christian denominations and other belief systems.

  48. #48 eric
    February 8, 2014

    Queet:

    What observational method would you use to observe hallucinations, and how would you prove to your scientist colleagues empirically that you’re hallucinating?

    I’d prove it to them by asking them to design the test, then take it. They’re going to believe the results of a test they design.

    If I thought I was hallucinating, I’d get someone I trusted and created a blinded test where I tested to see if they saw what I saw, without them knowing it. And I’d repeat that a bunch of times with different people. If none of them see what I see, I’m hallucinating.

  49. #49 G
    February 9, 2014

    Anyone who is reaonably capable of self-observation can usually tell when they are hallucinating. (The arguement to the contrary is unfalsifiable.) You can experiment on yourself with the common negative-hallucination (perception of an object being not-there when it is actually there) of being unable to see your keys or wallet even though they are in plain view. Try to parse out what your visual system and attention were doing that failed to recognize an expected shape of object in whatever context it occurred. Another useful exercise is to observe how your sense of the passage of time is altered by your degree of concentration on a task and on periods of waiting whilst engage in a task that is subject to external interruptions.

    What to do with the belief that evolution and natural selection are as science describes, but a deity is intervening in the process:

    I treat that as belief in evolution, and I don’t think it’s fair to do otherwise. How many atheists have things in their homes or vehicles that are not strictly necessary for the direct mechanical functioning of the homes or the vehicles? Or should we observe strict functionalism in our lives?

    Re. teleology: whether nature has purpose is undecidable, and arguing about it is pointless.

    Humans have purpose: we have goals and we act to achieve our goals. Science and religion can agree on that, and each can impart its own views regarding what kinds of purposes and goals are worthwhile, and how humans should act in light of them.

  50. #50 Qweet
    February 9, 2014

    [If I thought I was hallucinating, I’d get someone I trusted and created a blinded test where I tested to see if they saw what I saw, without them knowing it. And I’d repeat that a bunch of times with different people. If none of them see what I see, I’m hallucinating.]

    Psychologists do not perform such tests however. They employ other observational techniques, and the rest of it is just pure trust. Also, strong stigma of mental illness helps a great deal, ironically, because knowing that it is a stigma, people are less likely to fake mental illness, as it can only serve as an impediment when severely stigmatized.

    As for the test you suggested, there have been instances when a person, who thought that they were hallucinating, asked another person with mental illness to hear what they hear, and they actually did. There is always a possibility that a hallucinating person can bring someone else into their hallucination as well even though it sounds a bit science-fictional.

    I think people find it easier to believe that you’re experiencing hallucinations and are not in direct communication with the divine, for instance, because the latter is less stigmatized. It can even be hard to convince religious people, who encourage you to connect with god, to believe or trust you with relaying your alleged communication. And again whatever those experiences are, whether they are indeed hallucinations, other real dimensions, parallel realities, alien or divine contact is hard to determine. All I know is that psych means help shut these experiences down or, at least, eliminate the their disturbing and bothersome aspects.

  51. #51 eric
    February 9, 2014

    Psychologists do not perform such tests however. They employ other observational techniques, and the rest of it is just pure trust.

    Are you saying psychologists don’t perform blinded tests? Doing research they certainly do. I have no idea about whether they use them with patients but I’d be surprised if they didn’t.

    there have been instances when a person, who thought that they were hallucinating, asked another person with mental illness to hear what they hear, and they actually did. There is always a possibility that a hallucinating person can bring someone else into their hallucination as well even though it sounds a bit science-fictional.

    Its not science fictional at all to expect someone to show a bias once they’ve been informed about something. That’s the entire point of blinding – to prevent that. You understand the concept, right? When I say I’d bring in someone and ‘create a blinded test’ that means that I’d see if they were hearing/seeing what I hear/see without me telling them I hear/see anything or asking them if they hear/see it.

    I think people find it easier to believe that you’re experiencing hallucinations and are not in direct communication with the divine, for instance, because the latter is less stigmatized.

    Now you’ve confused me. You are saying people find it easier to think someone is hallucinating because communication with the divine is less stigmatized? How does that make sense?

  52. #52 Qweet
    February 10, 2014

    @51

    While trying to respond to your overall dilemma in obtaining the proof by means of empirical testing, my question for you would be why do you and people like you, lean more towards viewing people as liers or someone, who is more likely to make stuff up than not, and, therefore, shouldn’t be trusted unless scientific proof is presented. Do scientists generally have a very low view of people or something? Can this be supported by statistical research data? And what is the CURRENT ratio between liers and truth speakers?

    [Now you’ve confused me. You are saying people find it easier to think someone is hallucinating because communication with the divine is less stigmatized? How does that make sense?]

    This is the realm of psychology. The reason why people are more likely to believe someone experiencing hallucinations that they are indeed experiencing them without empirical testing, can be attributed to the fact that mental illness has been stigmatized. The assumption here is that with mental illness stigmatized, people, who are not experiencing obvious to them symptoms of mental illness, would be less likely willing to see a psychiatrist because the diagnoses might land them in burdensome life circumstances and a victimized state of mind. Thus, unless it’s really pressing and you really really need help, you wouldn’t want to seek psych care. With divine communication, which can also be regarded as visual and auditory hallucinations, it’s a little bit different because it’s not as stigmatized. In fact, in the religious community, it is quite revered. Thus, proving it to your religious brothers and sisters, can land them in a state of disbelief for you. I hope I am clear on this.

  53. #53 musical beef
    musicalbeef.wordpress.com
    February 10, 2014

    eric & another matt:

    Some xian denominations already have rethought The Fall (eric provides the example of Marcion), and some have already discarded it completely. The LDS church holds that Jesus’s sacrifice was necessary not because of Adam’s or god’s mistake, but because each and every human will necessarily sin. Perfection is impossible.

    Eric is right: religion will always adapt.