Pharyngula

So the Republicans find themselves confused about science (especially evolution), and are arguing among themselves about how to cope with reality. Perhaps you think this is a promising development—they’re at least considering the issues, and their hidebound attachment to fantasy is weakening. Can we someday hope that the Republican Party will once again be the home of pragmatists? Will the political props supporting creationism disappear? Does the fact that only 3 of the Republican candidates raised their hands to deny evolution promise that reason may yet reign?

No. There is another tactic growing stronger in the ranks of the creationists, one that is stealthy and devious, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the majority of Republicans (and Democrats!) adhere to this peculiar view of evolution.

For a perfect example of the new creationist strategy, look to Dinesh D’Souza. Not only is he a good example, but he’s also stupid enough to let all the flaws and inconsistencies in this new view hang out, exposed for all to see.

The new strategy is to embrace the word “evolution”. Ask them if they believe in evolution, and they will happily declare that “Yes, I believe in ‘evolution’!” Unfortunately, what they call “evolution” is not evolution as evolutionary biologists understand it. If they’re willing to redefine science, what’s to stop them from redefining mere evolution to suit them?

D’Souza’s latest eructation is an attempt to rally conservatives to support “evolution” — he wants them to know that they shouldn’t be afraid of it, and that opposing it makes them look like yahoos. He’s even writing a book about it.

In my forthcoming book “What’s So Great About Christianity” I will show why, contrary to the claims of Dawkins and company, Darwinian evolution does not undermine the design argument for God. On the contrary, the latest findings of modern science have greatly strengthened that argument. Paley was right and Dawkins is wrong.

Note the sleight of hand: he’s babbling about “design”, Paley, the common creationist lie that modern science supports belief in God, his book is about Christianity, and he’s calling that “Darwinian evolution”. If you’ve been wondering what the new name for repackaged Intelligent Design was going to be after the drubbing it took in Dover, look no further: it’s going to be called “evolution”. The new textbook from the gang at the DI, intended to replace Of Pandas and People is going to be titled “Explore Evolution”.

It’s a cunning plan to sow confusion, which is ultimately all the Intelligent Design creationists are good at. If state education standards mandate instruction in evolution and if the laws of the land make teaching Intelligent Design creationism illegal, well, they’ll adapt and teach “evolution” … it’s just that this version of “evolution” flouts the ideas of experts, ignores the evidence, misrepresents the theory, and promotes a role for design in “evolutionary” history.

It’s an interesting tactic. Simply write a very bad book about evolution, market it appropriately, and find enough ideologically motivated science teachers to use it, and they will have effectively continued their efforts to subvert science education in this country. After all, the successful court challenges to block creationism in the classroom have done so on the basis of their violation of the separation of church and state, not so much on their quality and competence; propagating awful science is probably constitutional.

Comments

  1. #1 archgoon
    May 5, 2007

    Scientist:Well that’s a very good theory…

    Creationist:Thank you very much.

    Scientist: But you, know, it does happen to be our theory.

    Creationist:Not quite.

  2. #2 Zeno
    May 5, 2007

    Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

    Oh, if only these rotten eggs would fall off the wall once and for all! A forlorn hope, I know.

  3. #3 Caledonian
    May 5, 2007

    They do adapt. Eventually.

    They’re just going to keep coming, and as long as enough people are dishonest/choose not to think/too stupid/too ignorant to know better, they’re going to continue to spread.

    To lapse poetic for a moment: yang strength cannot oppose yang weakness; confronted with it, the virtue inevitably degenerates into its diminished form. Only yin strength obliterates yang weakness and stabilities yang strength. To further the interests of science, rationalists must inculcate and culture within themselves the yin strengths, or the yang weakness of irrationality will consume them.

    Or you could have a revolution and put the creationists to the sword.

  4. #4 Jim RL
    May 5, 2007

    I’ve got to say that would be a positive movement. Getting Creationism into the same fringe as Holocaust denialism would be a major step forward. A nation of theistic evolutionists where school teaches evolution and kids can be taken to church (or not) to learn the theistic part is much better than this “teach the controversy” BS going on now.

  5. #5 Jimbo
    May 5, 2007

    I find these discussions to be infuriating. It must be what it’s like to listen to a room full of schizophrenics discussing their ailments and conspiracies with each other. I read the Times article, looked up West’s book on Amazon and tried to get through D’Souza’s gibberish – and I don’t know what the hell any of them are talking about.

    Christians and conservatives always seem to be talking in some weird code that mixes emotion and logic and religion and science in arbitrary measures – and then are angry and confused when we can’t decipher the nonsense.

    What strange creatures.

  6. #6 Bronze Dog
    May 5, 2007

    One of the classic woo strategies that’s filling up my Doggerel index: If your woo isn’t convincing, just change labels at a furious pace.

  7. #7 vhutchison
    May 5, 2007

    Had the question been “Do you believe that both evolution and creationism/intelligent design should be taught in public school science courses?” all of the candidates would probably have raised their hands.

  8. #8 Ick of the East
    May 5, 2007

    No worries. All we need to do is make an anthology of all of the great science and atheist writings. Print it on really thin paper with red edges, and bind it in black and call it The Holy Bible.

  9. #9 Skeptic8
    May 5, 2007

    Oh goody! ‘So now you “believe” in evolution and it isn’t Darwinian? Well, is it Wallachian or Lamarckian?’
    ‘Pray tell me where I might find a concise explication of the theory and the evidence.’
    After the shock and puzzlement pass deSouza is obligated to name his new theoretical direction and hang a name on it. Hey, he’s talkin’ a new theory of evolution so he’s gotta play it out on the naturalist turf playin’ field.

  10. #10 Steve Sutton
    May 5, 2007

    Sorry, DI, the name “evolution” is already taken and has been for quite some time. Unlike Christmas trees and Easter eggs, co-opting evolution for your religion might not be as easy as you think.

  11. #11 squeaky
    May 5, 2007

    “I’m not saying embrace Darwinian evolution because it is politically useful. I am saying don’t hastily reject a theory that has a lot of evidence going for it when it has the added merit of being politically congenial.”

    So essentially he’s saying not to embrace Darwinian evolution because it is politically useful. But embrace it because it is politically congenial. And that is different how?

    On the bright side, although he is basically advocating for a form of social darwinism to justify his political views, he needs to actually believe evolution is real in order to do that. It’s like the creationist argument about the age of the Earth being old because God made it look old. If God made it look old, then radiometric dating must work, since that’s how we know it is old.

    I am not sure which is better–scientists and creationists fighting over whether evolution is real, or liberals and fundamentalists both accepting evolution is real and then arguing over how to use it to their political advantage…At least in the latter scenario, it’s reality is no longer questioned. Whether that’s a step forward, or a step forward and three steps back remains to be seen…in any case, science simultaneously wins and loses. People may accept scientific principals, but they still are clueless about how it works.

  12. #12 Sastra
    May 5, 2007

    There is another tactic growing stronger in the ranks of the creationists, one that is stealthy and devious, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the majority of Republicans (and Democrats!) adhere to this peculiar view of evolution.

    I wouldn’t be surprised either, because the misunderstanding is already there among even liberal secularists of a “spiritual” bent. They tend to equate “evolution” with “progressive change for the better.” From what I’ve seen and read, teleological notions consistent with the vitalistic approach of Teillard de Chardin is very, very popular among the Spiritual Left.

    “Evolution is how God creates” obscures and obfuscates the mindless mechanism of evolution with the loving desires of God. Among a lot of self-identified liberals, it will get the same knee-jerk approval as “teach both sides of the controversy.” As you say, it’s clever strategy, because it reaches out to popular prejudice.

    I think this is yet another reason to be leery of promoting “theistic evolution” as the best antidote to Creationism.

  13. #13 Zib
    May 5, 2007

    On a more cheerful note, here are two BBC news stories that could not be more off-topic. The first one even features a cephalopod.

    Clever octupus
    Solar power station

  14. #14 John Danley
    May 5, 2007

    Egads. “Explore” and “Discover.” Finding the beauty of God through bees wings perhaps? Maybe a cobra bite will reveal the presence of The Holy Spirit?

  15. #15 Zib
    May 5, 2007

    … and you may also have noticed how I got the URL’s the wrong way around for comic effect.

  16. #16 rob
    May 5, 2007

    I have to take a bit of a contrarian view here. While I didn’t particularly like the use of “design argument for God”, I thought it was fairly benign. I mean, he could have simply been suggesting that god designed the cosmos and laws of nature in the first place and set things in motion, and then evolution happened as Darwin said. I don’t agree with that, but it is nowhere near as offensive as the likes of Behe and Egnor.

    And I don’t disagree with his position that understanding the implications of Darwin is valuable for making political descision (and no, I don’t think he is advocating Social Darwinism or Eugenics or anything of the type). The particular conclusions he jumps to I’m not sure I buy into, but I do agree that bringing an acceptance of Darwinism into the discussions are valuable for setting realistic policy.

    I usually don’t mind harsh language on the part of those of us who believe in evolution and reject religion, but I thought calling this guy “stupid” was out of line and untrue, at least based on the short article I read of his.

  17. #17 Colugo
    May 5, 2007

    squeaky: “…liberals and fundamentalists both accepting evolution is real and then arguing over how to use it to their political advantage.”

    I have some thoughts on that.

    Evolutionary theory has been used in support of almost every conceivable ideology and social agenda: anarchism, libertarianism, liberalism, socialism, conservatism, fascism, feminism, patriarchy, anti-theism, support for religion, heterosexism, sexual diversity, martial values, pacifism…

    Not that I do not believe that there is a human nature. There is. But there are three important reasons to be wary of the invocation of human nature in support of a particular ideology: 1) plasticity, even biased and limited plasticity 2) inter-individual diversity, and 3) inherent conflicts of interest within species and social groups.

    In addition, the state of the art of evolutionary biology changes. Are human social groups merely opportunistic constructs or a major level of selection in the shaping the human mind? Does pan-adaptationism or constraint better explain the traits of species? (Note: These are rhetorical; I know the current thinking on these.) While the principle of evolution is itself incontestable, a political edifice that rests on a foundation of current evolutionary thought can be a castle built on sand.

    I’m increasingly disinclined to think generously of attempts, on the part of either side of the aisle, to assert that science guarantees one’s worldview, politics, and social agenda. If a case is good, then its merits should be plain on its own terms, not because science allegedly says so. That is the modern version of ancient appeals to infallible gods and priests.

  18. #18 SoE
    May 5, 2007

    Maybe someone here can help me out but I would like to know how creationists explain the evolution we see in bacteria every day. So a couple of years ago we could kill most of them with antiobiotics. But now they got resistances spreading around. How do you call that? God gave them resistances? God intends to keep us fighting against the little bugs?

    BTW: That’s such a good example of irony how they fight against evolution with evolutionary methods. They should try to win their fights with the exact concept they had 6000 years ago. Umm, wait…

  19. #19 Dan Harlow
    May 5, 2007

    Ick of the East has the right idea. We’ll just rename science “Religion” and instead of science journals we’ll call them “hymnals” and all the textbooks will be renamed “Holy Bibles”!

  20. #20 Theo Bromine
    May 5, 2007

    SoE:

    First, you need to remember that antibiotic resistance is only microevolution – after all, they are still bacteria. Creationists believe that macroevolution is when dogs turn into cats. Also, it’s not God’s fault that the world is evil, it’s Satan’s fault. And it’s not God’s fault that people are evil – God gave people free will, so it’s our own fault if people are evil. (Just don’t think to hard about the implications of the prefix “omni-“, and everything will be fine.)

  21. #21 dorid
    May 5, 2007

    I don’t know… I see this as a step in the right direction. Seems to me they’ve had to do a lot of backpeddling to get this far. If they can agree that evolution is the HOW, does it matter what they speculate is the WHY?

  22. #22 The Science Pundit
    May 5, 2007

    Q: Define “Evolution.”

    A: “Magic Man Done It!”

  23. #23 K. Signal Eingang
    May 5, 2007

    Given D’uchebag’s “latest findings of science” comment, I expect the relevant chapter’s little more than a recitation of the “Goldilocks” litany — if this cosmological constant were not thus, or pi not precisely so, then nothing could exist. Therefore, God.

    I actually kind of respect this argument, but it leads to an Einsteinian or Jeffersonian kind of god. One who either exists but is wholly impersonal, inhuman, and nonintervening, or a god who winds the universe up like a clock and then for all intents and purposes, ceases to exist.

    Such a notion of god might still be silly wishful thinking, but at least it has the advantage of not demanding the blood of infidels or giving much of a damn who you share a bed with.

    Of course Dinesh probably hasn’t bothered to carry the logic that far, but it’s a short push, I’d say. If the world absolutely insists on being enlightened one frame at a time, this isn’t the worst argument going.

  24. #24 Kseniya
    May 5, 2007

    I’m sure they’ll have a lot of fun taunting scientists with challenges to “disprove” this “theory” of “evolution.” It’s madness. The Orwellian nightmare continues. (Digitally-altered film at eleven.)

    D’Souza seems to have chosen his book title to serve as a kind of response to Hitchens’ book, in hopes that its reception will put him in the same league. He may be a contemptible ghoul, but he’s not lacking in ambition or guile. Or gall.

    Or gas.

    eructation

    Nice one. I had to look it up. 🙂

  25. #25 raven
    May 5, 2007

    Why don’t they just join the earth centered solar systemers and flat earthers and accept reality? This would free up a lot of their resources to do something worthwhile.

    There is BTW, no conflict between science and religon much less christianity. Most christian denominations have long ago made their peace with evolution and moved on. There is a conflict between a few cultists trying to shoehorn 5,000 years worth of facts into some stories written by guys barely out of the stone age. But that is their problem, not religion’s.

    Science coexists with astrology, scientology, UFOs, Bigfoot, ESP, warlocks, wiccans, elves, and the whole collection of modern day supernaturalism without many problems. No one would pay much attention to the creationist’s improbable beliefs or care except for one thing. They want to indoctrinate our children with it in biology classes. This is morally wrong and illegal.

  26. #26 Caledonian
    May 5, 2007

    There is BTW, no conflict between science and religon

    Except that what is necessary for religion is fatal for science, and what is necessary for science is fatal for religion. Other than that, they’re completely compatible.

  27. #27 squeaky
    May 5, 2007

    Colugo,
    I certainly agree with your assessment. It speaks to the broader question of application of science to ethical questions. Science isn’t about ethics. Science just is. We then make ethical decisions about how to use it–do we build and use nuclear weapons? Do we develop human cloning? People will use or misuse science to fit their agenda, but it doesn’t mean the science is wrong or right when they do.

  28. #28 Kristine
    May 5, 2007

    Wow. It looks as if Dinesh is using Darwin to justify the “original sin/Fall of man” argument.

    This is an interesting development, the usurpation of the world “evolution” by anti-evolutionists. I’m of two minds about it. I don’t like it, but it’s a defeat of sorts for them, isn’t it? If they use the world “evolution,” does it make it less of a dirty word to Americans, even if it perpetuates basic American ignorance about what evolution is?

    (Good book, by the way: What Evolution Is.)

  29. #30 tinisoli
    May 5, 2007

    There are some humans who will reject evolution simply because it is incompatible with their faith. And there are others who really don’t understand it at all, and they still envision species just appearing out of nowhere and/or by “accident,” and in their ignorance they think they have discovered a “hole” in the theory. Education and argument probably won’t work on those people, especially when doing so would deprive them of the illusion of immortality.

    But there are others who find evolution inadequate because they cannot view the universe and their reality as just one of many possible outcomes. They look around and they think “What are the odds of all of this evolving or coming into existence without there being a higher power or purpose?” And then they make some basic calculations (as Behe does with the evolution of flagella) and they determine that the odds are so slim that the idea of things evolving without purpose or reason is insanely slim. But this is only because they regard their reality as the only possible outcome. In his brief interview of Dawkins, Bill O’Reilly revealed that it is precisely this puzzling problem of probability that makes him “throw in with Jesus.” If he simply recognized that he, his wife, his job, his species, this Earth, and everything else in his reality exist only because they can and not because they had to, maybe he’d be a little less skeptical of a godless universe. If there’s one central truth that humans need to accept before they even get into arguing about the specifics of evolution, it is that nothing we know of had to exist. Things do exist–and in many ways we can determine why, when, where, and how–but if you assume that it had to be, or that reality had to be exactly as it is, then you are likely to make Pascal’s wager.

  30. #31 Steve LaBonne
    May 5, 2007

    If there’s one central truth that humans need to accept before they even get into arguing about the specifics of evolution, it is that nothing we know of had to exist.

    Alas, it’s precisely this thought that seems to be intolerable to many people (for reasons I’ve never been able to comprehend.)

  31. #32 s9
    May 5, 2007

    “No worries. All we need to do is make an anthology of all of the great science and atheist writings. Print it on really thin paper with red edges, and bind it in black and call it The Holy Bible.”

    I would buy that book in a heartbeat. Then I’d buy another ten of them for leaving in hotel rooms when I’m traveling on business.

  32. #33 Christian Burnham
    May 5, 2007

    Is it just me, or is Distort D’newsa rediscovering that evolutionary justifications can be used to prop up his peculiar brand of fascism?

  33. #34 jewbacca
    May 5, 2007
  34. #35 Dustin
    May 5, 2007

    RE: #34
    PZ, could you just ban this guy already?

  35. #36 Scott Hatfield, OM
    May 5, 2007

    Re comment #28:

    Kristine, I am also of two minds here. The IDevotees are treading down a slippery slope in the well of public opinion, to the point where the burden would entirely be upon them to explain how *their* version of evolution differs from the textbooks, etc. In that respect, they are weakening their case.

    However, within the churches this strategy buys them some time to again build a coalition between different theological camps, whom they no doubt hope will forget their previous failures, especially Dover.

    Besides, the real threat to science education will not come from repackaged DI propaganda. The real threat will come from YEC such as Ken Ham’s organization. They will not abandon their polarizing ‘God vs. Darwin’ schtick at any cost; it is part of their reason for existence.

    And, I envy you the prospect of a vacation in S. America! Have a glorious holiday!—SH

  36. #37 Will E.
    May 5, 2007

    So now evolution means “god did it” and when we secularists say we accept “evolution” it means we believe “god did it” so we really believe in god but we now have to explain why “evolution” doesn’t mean “god did it” but nature did it itself and we now don’t really believe in “evolution” because we don’t believe in god… oh, god, my head just caved in on itself. These fuckers are brilliant.

  37. #38 skeptic8
    May 5, 2007

    The social/political interpretations of science seem to share the polemical direction of the commentator. Darwin DID use the thesis of Malthus in his formulation. The interpreters invented ‘social darwinism’ and eugenics quite aside from Darwin’s thesis on speciation.
    The competent Lamarck got it wrong but his “interpreter” Lysenko built a little empire under Stalin.
    The “survival of the fittest”, illustrated by Spencer as “Nature red of tooth and claw”,is quite attractive to the combative and greedy seeking justification for exploitive practice. They interpret Adam Smith’s faith as vendication. I have used the term “survival of the fittingest” to elicit a big ‘Huh!’ response. Any poster here can imagine the mini-lecture that follows this provocation.
    Is Lamarck responsible for Lysenko’s reservation about Darwin’s speciation? Is Darwin somehow responsible for his mis-interpreters? In Creationist/ ID polemics one who agrees with Darwin becomes one with the interpreter currently most despised.

  38. #39 Dustin
    May 5, 2007

    So now evolution means “god did it” and when we secularists say we accept “evolution” it means we believe “god did it” so we really believe in god but we now have to explain why “evolution” doesn’t mean “god did it” but nature did it itself and we now don’t really believe in “evolution” because we don’t believe in god…

    Creationists have been adept at employing the grade-school playground argument methodology for decades. These include the “rubber-glue” defense, the “Darwin was a doodie-head” defense, and the “I know you are but what am I” defense. These have not, sadly, proven to be as effective as hoped, so they’re dragging out the secret weapon — the “No means yes and yes means no” defense.

    Once we thwart that one, they’ll just start throwing rocks.

  39. #40 Jim E-H
    May 5, 2007

    I usually don’t mind harsh language on the part of those of us who believe in evolution and reject religion, but I thought calling this guy “stupid” was out of line and untrue, at least based on the short article I read of his.

    Rob — read more of D’Souza’s stuff, and trust me, you’ll understand that calling him “stupid” is in no way excessive. It’s not just a view of those who reject religion, it’s a view of a lot of people who reject the approach of “start with the conservative conclusion you want to support and work backwards to cobble together an argument, and then reverse it and pretend it’s logic.”

    This is a man who is stupid enough to write a book arguing that 9/11 is the fault of liberals because al-Qaeda hates cultural liberalism, without realizing that this puts him in the position of agreeing with al-Qaeda.

  40. #41 Christian Burnham
    May 5, 2007

    Calling Distort D’newsa ‘stupid’ is grossly insulting to stupid people like myself.

    I’d call DD a hypocrite, but again, even hypocrites have some moral standards.

  41. #42 Dustin
    May 5, 2007

    Yeah, I was actually a little surprised that Dinesh had composed something that was only slightly stupid and offensive, rather than using it as a springboard to accuse the Democrats of sleeping with bin Laden, or atheists of shooting up their schools. Actually, this:

    Darwin shows that social institutions like the family are founded in the deep human drive to reproduce and care for the young. Reproduction and self-perpetuation are the natural root of human family arrangements, which cannot be redefined as mechanisms of “self-fulfillment” without jeopardizing their biological basis and function.

    Was probably the first reasonable thing he’s ever said. Unfortunately, he immediately uses it to compose yet another screed against single moms. And he also wrote that paragraph, after, mind you, after he said that:

    First, Darwin gives a dark and selfish view of human nature, which is why we need a tough foreign policy to deal with bad guys who cannot be talked out of their badness–even if U.N. cocktails are served. In addition, the selfishness in human nature warrants a system called capitalism which channels this self-orientation toward the material betterment of society.

    Even judging D’Souza based on this one article, he’s still a stupid wanker. 1/20th of that article made some kind of sense, the rest was the usual D’Souza scorched-earth egoist bullshit.

  42. #43 Ed Darrell
    May 5, 2007

    D’Souza says Darwin has a dark view of human nature? Then, he says, in that dark view, Darwin says humans are genetically disposed to form families?

    Oh, those wacky conservatives! Sometimes they come up with stuff that can’t be parodied because parodists are left breathless at the inanity of the original claim.

    Either that or D’Souza has some might odd experiences with his family that he’s not talking about.

  43. #44 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 5, 2007

    I’m going to get into trouble for this again… folks, help me out here.

    There are Christians around who seem to manage pretty well on the basic empirical facts of science. Theodosius Dobzhansky I’ve mentioned in these comments before. Ken Miller we know well from his sterling work at exposing the vacuity of the intelligent design movement. There a lots of others less prominent, working away in the normal channels of scientific research and who are, nevertheless, Christians.

    A common perspective of such folks is that evolution is designed. That is, the whole of the natural world, including evolutionary processes involving all the conventional ideas of natural selection and random variation, is nevertheless in some way a part of God’s grand design for the cosmos.

    I don’t think this myself; but my reasons for rejecting this perspective go well beyond evolutionary biology. They have to. So my question is this.

    However much we might disagree with that perspective, isn’t it still consistent with evolution to hold that the natural world itself was designed to give rise to evolving life? I don’t think there’s the slightest evidence FOR this perspective. I don’t think it’s a good fit with the God of theism that supposedly has on-going interactions with the physical world; it’s more easily reconciled with deism.

    But I don’t see that it is REDEFINING evolution for a believer to hold that evolution is part of a larger design for the whole cosmos.

    Where is the “redefinition” here?

  44. #45 Dustin
    May 5, 2007

    It’s also worth pointing out that D’Souza, in addtion to being a failure of a human being, sucks as an objectivist too — he believes in God, and he’s always trying to justify egoism with something like:

    …a system called capitalism which channels this self-orientation toward the material betterment of society.

    When the capitalist system is thought to be the only allowable one by the objectivists since they take it, as an axiom, that the individual is an end unto himself and that the only acceptable social system is the one which allows individuals to exist for themselves alone. Hell, it’s even spelled out on a leaf in the back of every damn Rand novel out there, just in case her bludgeoning the reader to death with that message for 1200 pages wasn’t enough.

    This isn’t, though, the first time social and secular conservatives have tried to drag a flimsy understanding of the theory out as justification for bombing the world and kicking the social support out from beneath the poor. I think there was an article in the National Review sometime back around ’95-’97 called “The Evolutionary Case for Conservatism”, or something equally stupid. It was, needless to say, forgotten.

  45. #46 Mark Borok
    May 5, 2007

    The positive aspect of this is that it further divides the “intelligent design” proponents from the “real” creationists, i.e. the ones who believe that the DI undermines religion by not asserting the “truth” of Genesis. Taking it one step further and explicitly endorsing evolution (or “evolution”, to the True Believers the distinction won’t matter) is really sowing dissent among the ranks.

  46. #47 PZ Myers
    May 5, 2007

    However much we might disagree with that perspective, isn’t it still consistent with evolution to hold that the natural world itself was designed to give rise to evolving life?

    It’s also consistent with the idea that the world was designed to produce oxygen. I expect the space tankers with the big sucking hose to arrive any day now for the harvest.

    Seriously, you can invent any rationale you want. Consistency is not enough. We have to demand some evidence — they have to show some independent argument for their supernatural being, I have to show you some photos of the oxygen pirates fleet — before we can claim either position has any scientific basis. And I argue that the proper scientific position is to flatly reject tenuous bafflegab; we do not sit around and pretend every random guess is tenable, that we must suspend skepticism for all ideas. Especially when the “idea” under question has a history of squirming away from inspection and being promoted in plethora of mutually incompatible forms. Call it nonsense and be done with it.

    Maybe the advocates will then take positive steps to formulate evidence and experiment. Until then, the scientific view is to reject the position.

  47. #48 Caledonian
    May 5, 2007

    However much we might disagree with that perspective, isn’t it still consistent with evolution to hold that the natural world itself was designed to give rise to evolving life?

    It’s not consistent with science. Science is the only reason the evolutionary perspective is noteworthy. The compatibility of a finding of science with a religious belief does not render science compatible with religious belief.

    Adopting that perspective requires junking everything that makes our knowledge valid and meaningful.

  48. #49 David Marjanovi?
    May 5, 2007

    Calling Distort D’newsa ‘stupid’ is grossly insulting to stupid people like myself.

    LOL! We have a Molly winner!!! 😀

    I’m still laughing at the Pain comic, too…

  49. #50 David Marjanovi?
    May 5, 2007

    Calling Distort D’newsa ‘stupid’ is grossly insulting to stupid people like myself.

    LOL! We have a Molly winner!!! 😀

    I’m still laughing at the Pain comic, too…

  50. #51 beepbeepitsme
    May 5, 2007

    “A scientist is a man who changes his beliefs according to reality, a theist is a man who changes reality to match his beliefs.” – Volker Braun (1998)

  51. #52 eewolf
    May 5, 2007

    Will E.:
    “These fuckers are brilliant.”

    Like a billion termites.

  52. #53 Kristine
    May 5, 2007

    However, within the churches this strategy buys them some time to again build a coalition between different theological camps, whom they no doubt hope will forget their previous failures, especially Dover.

    And Scott, don’t forget all those “conferences,” which probably serve such great doughnuts.

    Those DI dollars at work.

    But what I’m wondering is, how can the ID folks maintain their big tent while letting in the evo animals to run in the main ring? I think the relations between the IDers and the YECs is strained enough. Oh, well, I guess we’ll see what, um, evolves.

    I’ll say Hi to the torties for ya!

    @ dorid, #29 – I nearly busted a gut. Good one!

  53. #54 s9
    May 6, 2007

    Okay, I’ve been thinking about this development for most of the day (while not corralling a toddler). I think overall this is a “two steps back, three step forward” sort of thing.

    If the conservatives start trying to say their crackpot design theory is evolution, then they’re really walking into a trap. (This is Dinesh D’Souza we’re talking about here– walking into a traps is like a life’s work for him. You did see him with Jon Stewart, yes?)

    If they concede they’re accepting “evolution” and saying that their woo-woo silliness about a Universal Designer is compatible with it, then we remind them what we’ve always said: evolution is the change in the inherited traits of a population from generation to generation caused by natural selection and genetic drift. Where is the input from the designer in that process? Is it the natural selection? Or is it the genetic drift? Both? Some other mechanism that evolutionary biologists have yet to discover?

    At this point, there really isn’t anything they can say that won’t make them look like the total idiots they are. What, genetic drift really isn’t random? That’ll be a pretty amusing argument to see them put forward. Oh, wait– natural selection needs help from a designer to work? Pay no attention to these simulations… Some other mechanism? Really. I can’t wait to see your papers on that. Let them write “bad science” books. They can languish in the slush piles with all the other Left Behind fan fiction.

    It’s a trap. I almost feel sorry for them, but we should be looking for ways to lure them into it, not warning them away.

  54. #55 Sophist
    May 6, 2007

    However much we might disagree with that perspective, isn’t it still consistent with evolution to hold that the natural world itself was designed to give rise to evolving life?

    It is consistent, but trivially so, since it’s basically just a facet of the ol’ “mysterious ways”. When a line of, for lack of a better word, reasoning boils down to “whatever the universe turns out to be like, it’s like that because god made it that way”, it’s compatible with anything—and is therefore totally meaningless.

  55. #56 Scott Hatfield, OM
    May 6, 2007

    Comment #47: “Until then, the scientific view is to reject the position.”

    Exactly so. The fact that said position might be consonant or feasible with the available data does not make it testable, nor constitute evidence for that position in the absence of such a test. ‘Theistic evolution’ as it stands is not science.

    Comment #48: “It’s not consistent with science. Science is the only reason the evolutionary perspective is noteworthy. The compatibility of a finding of science with a religious belief does not render science compatible with religious belief.”

    Again, I agree that theistic evolution is not science, and I further agree that supernatural explanations are quite properly excluded from science, along with *other* non-falsifiable hypotheses. That the universe exhibits regularities is consistent with a source of order, and the believer might see that source as God, but this belief could never be invoked *within* science. I acknowledge that any scientist who is also a believer
    ‘compartmentalizes’in some fashion, with or without intention.

    To conclude, however, that this predisposition necessarily renders knowledge invalid or meaningless in the mind of that believer seems a bit much. Any worker who holds multiple hypotheses in mind during the course of research is doing a form of ‘compartmentalization’. As long as the hypotheses are held with some degree of tentativeness, as long as they are not dogmatically-affirmed desired outcomes at any cost, would science still suffer?

    I am eager to hear others’ thoughts on this subject.

    Comment #52: Kristine, if it’s not too much, could you take some pictures and share them on your blog? I want to see how the blue-footed boobies respond to the shimmies….:)

  56. #57 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 6, 2007

    In comment #44 above, I ask whether D’Souza is really redefining evolution. I don’t see it.

    PZ replied to me in comment #47, but I think he answered a different question.

    My position is simply this. D’Souza’s belief in a grand design may be something he can reconcile with conventional evolutionary biology. Lots of working scientists manage the same thing. Lots of others don’t, and see no design to the universe at all.

    I agree with PZ that there’s no good evidence for a design to the cosmos. I think D’Souza is wrong about Paley, because Paley’s argument was NOT for a grand design to the cosmos but to much more concrete design of living forms that stands as a falsified alternative to evolution.

    But I don’t think D’Souza is redefining evolution.

    On the other hand, I think it IS redefining evolution to add in the clause “there is no design of any kind involved in the universe”. This is a mixup of more general metaphysics and a speficic scientific model. That additional belief is very common amongst scientists, and there are good reasons for that. But it is not a part of the scientific models themselves.

    Rather than try to debate this at length in the comments column, I have written up a more detailed argument at my own blog: Is D’Souza really redefining evolution?.

  57. #58 Skeptic8
    May 6, 2007

    Scott #52.
    In taking a moderate view of “theistic evolution” you protect science-in-the-schools by giving nonspecialist administrators a leg to stand on when Dominionist preachers and politicians attack. The “evolution” in the textbooks and the teachers that teach are your job. If some ‘believers’ outside of your precincts have a religious interpretation of evolution, well, that is their opinion. ‘Dover’ sets the style. The ‘Christian homeschool grads’ are having diffulty getting into anything but ‘bible college’ these days. The DI ‘masters’ don’t care how many they sacrifice on the Altar.

  58. #59 Colugo
    May 6, 2007

    Chris Ho-Stuart: “it IS redefining evolution to add in the clause “there is no design of any kind involved in the universe”. This is a mixup of more general metaphysics and a specific scientific model.”

    Quite true. All of the metaphysical muddlers on either side of the atheist/theist divide with pretensions that their metaphysical views are scientific should take note.

  59. #60 Bob O'H
    May 6, 2007

    We have to demand some evidence — they have to show some independent argument for their supernatural being, I have to show you some photos of the oxygen pirates fleet — before we can claim either position has any scientific basis.

    But absence of evidence in not evidence of absence. I think the usual theological proposition for the existence of a god is not a scientific proposition, hence your argument has no weight at all. If there is a god that does not interact with the real world any more (i.e. it just set the wheels in motion), then science would be unable to say anything either way on the matter, and should stay agnostic.

    Only once there is a claim that the god has a measurable effect on the universe can science leap in and try to test its existence.

    Sorry, but methodological materialism cuts both ways.

    Bob

  60. #61 Scott Hatfield, OM
    May 6, 2007

    Skeptic8:

    I feel stupid admitting this, but I can’t tell from your response if you think my take on theistic evolution is moderate (and thus you’re agreeing with me, yes?) or if you think it isn’t, and that I am somehow pulling away means of support for non-specialist school administrators. I apologize in advance for my thick-headedness, and hope you’ll set me straight.

    For my part, I’m a theist, but I’m pretty sure I agree with your above comments. Except…..

    …. the part about the Christian homeschool grads. My understanding is that many of these folk due very well on SAT tests and getting accepted to real institutions of higher learning, not just fraudulencies like Bob Jones University. If anyone has any data to the contrary, I’d love to hear it, since I think these kids *should* be learning science from real science teachers, rather than creationist videos.

    Thanks for responding…SH

  61. #62 Scott Hatfield, OM
    May 6, 2007

    How I can substitute ‘due’ for ‘do’ is completely beyond me. Perhaps I should just now type ‘doh!’

  62. #63 SEF
    May 6, 2007

    It’s like the creationist argument about the age of the Earth being old because God made it look old. If God made it look old, then radiometric dating must work, since that’s how we know it is old.

    But then they are worshipping Satan, the god of lies, and are merely being dishonest about it (to themselves and to others) by switching the names around.

  63. #64 windy
    May 6, 2007

    If there is a god that does not interact with the real world any more (i.e. it just set the wheels in motion), then science would be unable to say anything either way on the matter, and should stay agnostic.

    Wrong. We can study abiogenesis although it doesn’t occur “any more”. The important thing is did it leave any traces?

    Only once there is a claim that the god has a measurable effect on the universe can science leap in and try to test its existence.

    What kind of god has no effect on the universe? It seems to be almost inherent in the definition.

    If we are talking about a god that e.g. set the physical constants of the universe, and we can measure those physical constants, it seems that we are measuring the god’s effect on the universe.

  64. #65 jpf
    May 6, 2007

    Did the rebranding start back when the DI decided to call their blog Evolution News & Views? (Or was that done merely to game Google?)

  65. #66 Bob O'Hara
    May 6, 2007

    Wrong. We can study abiogenesis although it doesn’t occur “any more”. The important thing is did it leave any traces?

    Sorry, but I thought abiogenesis was thought to have occurred some time after the big bang. Has the consensus changed now?

    If we are talking about a god that e.g. set the physical constants of the universe, and we can measure those physical constants, it seems that we are measuring the god’s effect on the universe.

    But how would you test the hypothesis that the physical constants were set by a god, as opposed to some other extra-universal phenomenon?

    Bob

  66. #67 Monado
    May 6, 2007

    “Evolution: accept no substitutes!”

  67. #68 Simon Packer
    May 6, 2007

    Sorry guys, but there is no monolith of creationist objectors to evolution/conditional support for it. There are almost as many views on the subject as there are scientifically trained Christians. They are just the product of thought without dogma.
    For many of us Christians, the abiogenesis problem and the comical nature of most proposed macroevolution pathways are enough to rule out ‘life as found today by complex accident’. (I would suggest anyone, regardless of philosophy, who really stops and thinks outside of the oppresive box of evolutionary orthodoxy and it’s misleading propagandists would have serious concerns here).
    Within the camp of scientifically qualified Christians who do not take evolutionary orthodoxy seriously, there are old earthers and young earthers. There are a variety of takes on Genesis from culture-specific parable to hard literal truth according to a modern timeline history.
    Evolution clearly means very different things to different secular and atheistic scientists also. We are not dealing with two opposing monoliths here, one creationist and one evolutionist. For most Christians, it is clear that evolution by natural selection is a potentially viable mechanism. Most take the view that a) the variation is within certain limits b) increase in phenotype complexity is most unlikely c) the whole process of diversification and its outcomes is subject to the foreknowledge of the creator.
    I really, honestly, find the tenacity to evolution as commonly justified by the likes of Dawkins strangely comical. Surely you have your doubts?

  68. #69 Simon Packer
    May 6, 2007

    Sorry guys, but there is no monolith of creationist objectors to evolution/conditional support for it. There are almost as many views on the subject as there are scientifically trained Christians. They are just the product of thought without dogma.
    For many of us Christians, the abiogenesis problem and the comical nature of most proposed macroevolution pathways are enough to rule out ‘life as found today by complex accident’. (I would suggest anyone, regardless of philosophy, who really stops and thinks outside of the oppresive box of evolutionary orthodoxy and it’s misleading propagandists would have serious concerns here).
    Within the camp of scientifically qualified Christians who do not take evolutionary orthodoxy seriously, there are old earthers and young earthers. There are a variety of takes on Genesis from culture-specific parable to hard literal truth according to a modern timeline history.
    Evolution clearly means very different things to different secular and atheistic scientists also. We are not dealing with two opposing monoliths here, one creationist and one evolutionist. For most Christians, it is clear that evolution by natural selection is a potentially viable mechanism. Most take the view that a) the variation is within certain limits b) increase in phenotype complexity is most unlikely c) the whole process of diversification and its outcomes is subject to the foreknowledge of the creator.
    I really, honestly, find the tenacity to evolution as commonly justified by the likes of Dawkins strangely comical. Surely you have your doubts?

  69. #70 Maria
    May 6, 2007

    Simon,

    What exactly is “comical” about abiogenesis? Is it more or less comical than imagining a young, unmarried woman telling their parents that she’s pregnant, but it’s ok because an angel appeared to her and told her it was God’s son?

    Also, you claim that “increase in phenotype complexity is most unlikely”. Would you please answer two questions for me:

    – Exactly how unlikely is it (ie, give an approximate probability)? Call the probability p.
    – Choose a number between 1 and 1/p… Call it n. How likely was it that you would choose n?

  70. #71 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 6, 2007

    Simon says:

    Evolution clearly means very different things to different secular and atheistic scientists also.

    Nope; not so — unless you mean pseudoscientific nutjobs.

    Evolution is a well defined scientific theory, foundational for biology, and not in any credible doubt. The same basic definitions are used right across the board.

    Like any active scientific research area, there are a host of interesting questions that are a focus for ongoing research and investigation; but none of these are about giving a different meaning to evolution. It is sorting out the details from a solidly established scientific base.

    The various bits of tired nonsense that get trotted out as criticisms of evolutionary biology are invariably unmitigated codswallop, and it is a tragic comment on the appalling state of basic scientific education that so many people can’t tell the difference between such drek and credible science.

    Don’t mistake the small difference of opinion showing up in this thread between folks like me, and folks like PZ, as reflecting any particular doubts of the basic facts of evolution. Evolution as the explanation for living diversity in the same sense that fusion is the explanation for energy from the Sun. Both are scientific models, both of which continue to be refined and both of which are denied only on the basis of ignorance, stupidity, or dishonesty – and usually a combination of the three.

  71. #72 Blake Stacey
    May 6, 2007

    I guess Behe decided to call his new book The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism before he got the message about what “evolution” is now defined to be.

  72. #73 Mooser
    May 6, 2007

    Why is it, for people who want to do inhuman things, a belief in God is necessary? You would think that people who wish to use war as an instrument of policy would disavow all belief in God. Instead, the most inhuman acts are associated with the Greatest belief.

    Not that there aren’t lots of other things which can make us act, cause us to decide to act, in an inhumane manner.

    Try missing a meal sometime, boom, instant barbarity!

  73. #74 windy
    May 6, 2007

    Sorry, but I thought abiogenesis was thought to have occurred some time after the big bang. Has the consensus changed now?

    Your wise-assery would be more impressive if anyone had actually mentioned the big bang… Abiogenesis was another EXAMPLE of a thing that we can’t observe anymore, OK?

    But how would you test the hypothesis that the physical constants were set by a god, as opposed to some other extra-universal phenomenon?

    I’m not a cosmologist so dunno 😉 How would you test the hypothesis that a god directly created the first life-form, as opposed to abiogenesis? The absence of such a test does not suggest to me that we must demand scientists to be agnostic about it.

  74. #75 Kseniya
    May 6, 2007

    comical nature of most proposed macroevolution pathways

    I think Mr. Packer’s comment can be distilled thus:

    “Most educated Christians accept microevolution, but not macroevolution. Therefore, God.”

    Evolution clearly means very different things to different secular and atheistic scientists also.

    Oh really? “Clearly” you say? Please elaborate.

    (I would suggest anyone, regardless of philosophy, who really stops and thinks outside of the oppresive box of evolutionary orthodoxy and it’s misleading propagandists would have serious concerns here).

    Oh? So anyone who doesn’t agree with your denial of the conclusions of a century and a half of interdisciplinary research isn’t really thinking? Please elaborate.

  75. #76 Michael E
    May 6, 2007

    This is one of the best things I’ve read all week:

    “I’m increasingly disinclined to think generously of attempts, on the part of either side of the aisle, to assert that science guarantees one’s worldview, politics, and social agenda. If a case is good, then its merits should be plain on its own terms, not because science allegedly says so. That is the modern version of ancient appeals to infallible gods and priests.”

    Thanks, Calugo

  76. #77 Inoculated Mind
    May 6, 2007

    Hmmmm, I can see this happening for-sure. It fits right in line with what they’ve been focusing on lately, about Darwin = Nazi Eugenics. Next you’ll hear them trying to stick the eugenics ploy into the science textbooks as an example of how bad evolution is, and then when you try to do anything about that, they’ll claim that your trying to censor! Creationism 2.1beta.

    Can we have some of that old time creationism?

  77. #78 Keith Douglas
    May 7, 2007

    So, the plan is to deliberately flout the use-mention distinction?

    Sastra: Various forms of “theistic evolution”, like the catholic one, merely are closer to being correct than the views normally called creationist. Life is easier to handle with the notion of partial truth …

    dorid: I have no problem with people doing the speculation; I just reserve the right to criticize their answers. In the specific case, there might be no “why?” at all.

    Chris Ho-Stuart: People like Adolf Grnbaum, Mario Bunge, Quentin Smith (and myself) have said for ages that the idea that the universe itself is created is incoherent on many grounds so, yes, there is a problem. Miller and the others have more specific problems, since they also believe in traditional gods.

    Colugo: Some of us (well, at least me, amongst the participants here) have written about how science itself presupposes certain metaphysical principles. Now, we could be wrong about that, but merely asserting it doesn’t make it so.

  78. #79 Scott Hatfield
    May 7, 2007

    Keith, I agree that science ‘presupposes certain metaphysical principles.’ That the creation of the universe might be an incoherent notion is news to me, however. Do you have any links or other sources that contain a detailed discussion of this incoherence? I’d like to learn more.

    Sincerely…SH

  79. #80 Scott Coulter
    May 8, 2007

    On the homeschoolers and college admissions topic:

    “Homeschoolers bring certain skills-motivation, curiosity, the capacity to be responsible for their education-that high schools don’t induce very well,” Jon Reider, Stanford’s senior associate director of admissions.
    “The home school group has about a 3.0 GPA their freshman year, […] the entire freshman class, the GPA is between a 2.3 and a 2.4. They are well prepared. They’re self starters. Faculty, in general, enjoy having them in class because they know how to do things independently.” Dr. Michael Donahue, Director of Admissions for Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis
    “We welcome home school students, they score high on college admissions tests and tend to be some of our best applicants.” University of Michigan-Flint Admissions Director Andrew Flagel.
    “We receive a good number of candidates every year with all or part of their education from a homeschool background. Homeschooling is broader than some people realize. We are looking for the strongest candidates in the world and we find some of those among homeschoolers.” Marlyn McGrath Lewis, Director of Admissions for Harvard University
    “We certainly do accept homeschoolers. We have a growing number of homeschool applicants and those that choose to apply to our institution generally fare well in our process.” Kedra Ishop, Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Texas

    –sdc

  80. #81 Scott Coulter
    May 8, 2007

    On the homeschoolers and college admissions topic:

    “Homeschoolers bring certain skills-motivation, curiosity, the capacity to be responsible for their education-that high schools don’t induce very well,” Jon Reider, Stanford’s senior associate director of admissions.
    “The home school group has about a 3.0 GPA their freshman year, […] the entire freshman class, the GPA is between a 2.3 and a 2.4. They are well prepared. They’re self starters. Faculty, in general, enjoy having them in class because they know how to do things independently.” Dr. Michael Donahue, Director of Admissions for Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis
    “We welcome home school students, they score high on college admissions tests and tend to be some of our best applicants.” University of Michigan-Flint Admissions Director Andrew Flagel.
    “We receive a good number of candidates every year with all or part of their education from a homeschool background. Homeschooling is broader than some people realize. We are looking for the strongest candidates in the world and we find some of those among homeschoolers.” Marlyn McGrath Lewis, Director of Admissions for Harvard University
    “We certainly do accept homeschoolers. We have a growing number of homeschool applicants and those that choose to apply to our institution generally fare well in our process.” Kedra Ishop, Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Texas

    –sdc

  81. #82 Scott Coulter
    May 8, 2007

    On the homeschoolers and college admissions topic:

    “Homeschoolers bring certain skills-motivation, curiosity, the capacity to be responsible for their education-that high schools don’t induce very well,” Jon Reider, Stanford’s senior associate director of admissions.
    “The home school group has about a 3.0 GPA their freshman year, […] the entire freshman class, the GPA is between a 2.3 and a 2.4. They are well prepared. They’re self starters. Faculty, in general, enjoy having them in class because they know how to do things independently.” Dr. Michael Donahue, Director of Admissions for Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis
    “We welcome home school students, they score high on college admissions tests and tend to be some of our best applicants.” University of Michigan-Flint Admissions Director Andrew Flagel.
    “We receive a good number of candidates every year with all or part of their education from a homeschool background. Homeschooling is broader than some people realize. We are looking for the strongest candidates in the world and we find some of those among homeschoolers.” Marlyn McGrath Lewis, Director of Admissions for Harvard University
    “We certainly do accept homeschoolers. We have a growing number of homeschool applicants and those that choose to apply to our institution generally fare well in our process.” Kedra Ishop, Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Texas

    –sdc

  82. #83 God's DNA
    May 8, 2007

    Is the world’s scientific community reluctantly confirming God’s existence?

  83. #84 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 8, 2007

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Oh that’s funny.

  84. #85 Scott Coulter
    May 9, 2007

    Sorry for the triple-post, I got error messages the first two tries and didn’t realize it had actually posted.
    –sdc

  85. #86 Keith Douglas
    May 10, 2007

    Scott Hatfield: See “The Poverty of Theistic Cosmology”, by Gruenbaum, for example.

  86. #87 GodsDNA
    August 28, 2007

    DNA is indeed God’s codified language. No?

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