2nd Response to Rusty on Morality

Rusty from New Covenant has replied to my post replying to his post in response to comments at the end of my post. Did you follow that? Drugs help, I promise. The upshot of the whole thing, and the issue under dispute, is that Rusty thinks it's "inconsistent" for anyone who accepts evolution to be true to take any moral position on any question. He manages to reach this conclusion through one major misunderstanding (the same one that Ilona has in her responses to me over the last few days) and one major non-axiomatic assumptions. Let's get right to the fisking:

He begins:

Ed over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars responded to my comments regarding the inconsistency evidenced whenever someone who holds to the evolutionary paradigm makes use of morality as a basis for their argument.

And here we run right smack into that first big misunderstanding. Evolution is not a "paradigm". I had explained that in the post Rusty is replying to when I said:

He thinks evolution is a "worldview", a term we hear a lot but which simply doesn't apply here.

Evolution is the theory that modern life on earth is derived from a common ancestor through descent with modification. It explains the facts of biodiversity, biostratigraphy, comparative anatomy, and so forth. That's it. It neither prescribes nor proscribes human behavior; at best it might help DEscribe some aspects of human behavior, but even there I think it's easy to substitute wishful thinking or assumption for a well thought out explanation. It doesn't tell us whether there is a god or not, it doesn't tell us what, if anything, will happen to us when we die. Nor does it attempt to. Thus Rusty is simply wrong when he declares that I am "inconsistent" because I accept evolution and also take moral positions, any more than I'm being inconsistent in accepting evolution and taking a position on what type of offense is most effective in basketball - the subjects just aren't related.

To which Rusty replies:

Ed is just flat out wrong.

I would ask Ed to give me a list of those people who hold to the evolutionary paradigm who also believe that the supernatural exists in the form of some sort of deity that interacts with the natural order. I suspect that the list will be extremely short.

Well first, I don't know anyone who "holds to the evolutionary paradigm" because there is no such thing. But if you want a list of people who accept evolution as the true explanation for the natural history of life on earth and also believe that there is a God who interacts with human beings, you're going to lose that bet. In fact, I bet I can name more theistic scientists in the relevant fields who accept evolution than you can name theistic scientists in the relevant fields who reject it. To begin with, here's a list just off the top of my head of evolution advocates who are also theists (not deists like me, but theists who believe in a personal god who interacts with people, just as you requested): Ken Miller, Glenn Morton, Kevin O'Brien, Steve Schimmrich, Keith Miller, Richard Weins, Glen Kuban, Howard Van Till, Davis Young, Terry Gray, John Burgeson, Henry Neufeld, Barry Lynn, George Murphy, Charles Austerberry. And these are just ones that I either know personally or have personally interacted with in the context of the creationism/evolution dispute. We can add to that most of the membership of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of some 2000 Christian scientists who are primarily theistic evolutionists, not creationists. We can also add numerous Christian organizations and their membership to the list.

For example, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church - USA passed a resolution in 2002 that declared:

The 214th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA):

1. Reaffirms that God is Creator, in accordance with the witness of Scripture and The Reformed Confessions.

2. Reaffirms that there is no contradiction between an evolutionary theory of human origins and the doctrine of God as Creator.

3. Encourages State Boards of Education across the nation to establish standards for science education in public schools based on the most reliable content of scientific knowledge as determined by the scientific community.

Likewise, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared in 1982 that,

Whereas, the state legislatures of several states have recently passed so called "balanced treatment" laws requiring the teaching of "Creation-science" whenever evolutionary models are taught; and

Whereas, in many other states political pressures are developing for such "balanced treatment" laws; and

Whereas, the terms "Creationism" and "Creation-science" as understood in these laws do not refer simply to the affirmation that God created the Earth and Heavens and everything in them, but specify certain methods and timing of the creative acts, and impose limits on these acts which are neither scriptural nor accepted by many Christians; and

Whereas, the dogma of "Creationism" and "Creation-science" as understood in the above contexts has been discredited by scientific and theologic studies and rejected in the statements of many church leaders

The Lexington Alliance of Religious Leaders, a group of 78 Kentucky ministers and religious leaders:

As religious leaders we share a deep faith in the God who created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and take with utmost seriousness the Biblical witness to this God who is our Creator. However, we find no incompatibility between the God of creation and a theory of evolution which uses universally verifiable data to explain the probable process by which life developed into its present form.

The United Church Board for Homeland Ministries:

We acknowledge modern evolutionary theory as the best present-day scientific explanation of the existence of life on earth; such a conviction is in no way at odds with our belief in a Creator God, or in the revelation and presence of that God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in 1982:

Affirms that, despite efforts to establish "creationism" or "creation-science" as a valid science, it is teaching based upon a particular religious dogma as agreed by the court (McLean vs Arkansas Board of Education); Affirms that, the imposition of a fundamentalist viewpoint about the interpretation of Biblical literature -- where every word is taken with uniform literalness and becomes an absolute authority on all matters, whether moral, religious, political, historical or scientific -- is in conflict with the perspective on Biblical interpretation characteristically maintained by Biblical scholars and theological schools in the mainstream of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Judaism. Such scholars find that the scientific theory of evolution does not conflict with their interpretation of the origins of life found in Biblical literature.

All of these statements and more were published in a book called Voices for Evolution by the National Center for Science Education and are available, along with numerous others, here on their website. And those are just a portion of the statements from Christian organizations in the US (I left out similar statements from the Roman Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church as well as a couple of others). It does not include the many foreign Christian organizations or the numerous Jewish organizations who hold similar positions on evolution. Suffice to say that Rusty is 100% wrong to declare that the list of people who accept evolution and theistic involvement in the world is "extremely short".

Rusty continues:

To hide behind the argument that evolution only attempts to explain the facts of the natural realm is to miss the point entirely, for to hold to the evolutionary paradigm is to accept the worldview (and it is a worldview) that nature is all there is.

As the above proves beyond a doubt, this is nonsense. It also ignores the difference between methodological naturalism and philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, which I've explained numerous times and which Rusty seems to want to pretend doesn't exist. This isn't "hiding behind" anything, it's just the truth. Perhaps Rusty can explain why evolution relies on "naturalism" in a manner distinct from how the germ theory of disease or the kinetic theory of gasses relies on "naturalism". The problem Rusty has, just like Ilona has, is that he doesn't really want to argue against evolution, per se, he wants to argue against the combination of evolution and atheism, which he seems to want to call the "evolutionary paradigm". But there is no intrinsic tie between the two ideas. Some who accept evolution are atheists; some who accept evolution are Christians, Jews, deists, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and so forth. If he wants to criticize Richard Dawkins for combining evolution and atheism without making a distinction between the science and the philosophical inferences he draws from them, I'll gladly join him. I've made the same criticism of Dawkins many times. But the inferences that Dawkins draws from evolution that support his philosophical position of atheism are no different from the inferences that Ken Miller draws from evolution that support his philosophical position of Christian theism. In both cases, the inferences are separate from the scientific theory of evolution and which inference, if either, is true has no bearing on the validity of evolution itself.

Rusty continues:

Therefore, if one believes that nature is all there is and if modern life on earth is derived from a common ancestor through descent with modification, then everything in this universe must also be derived from determinism and chance. Methodological Naturalism not only implies, but vehemently proclaims, that there is no need for a God.

No, methodological naturalism does NOT proclaim that. Metaphysical or philosophical naturalism does. Methodological naturalism only says that when performing scientific studies, one must assume that nothing supernatural is going to skew the results and that only natural explanations are testable and falsifiable. Methodological naturalism is shared by tens of thousands of Christian scientists in every field of science, but they obviously reject metaphysical naturalism or they wouldn't be Christians in the first place.

Rusty continues:

Consistent evolutionists, such as Daniel Dennett and William Provine, take the implications of this worldview to their logical conclusion by advocating moral relativism or, worse yet, that true morality is an illusion and merely the product of evolutionary processes. Provine has said,
...modern science directly implies that there are no inherent moral or ethical laws, no absolute guiding principles for human society... The individual human becomes an ethical person by means of two primary mechanisms: heredity and environmental influences.

First, Dennett and Provine are consistent atheists, not consistent "evolutionists". And notice that Provine only says "modern science implies...", not "evolution means...". They are using an inference FROM evolution as part of their atheistic worldview. That does not mean that evolution is intrinsically a part of the atheistic worldview. I accept evolution and I don't have an "atheistic worldview". Neither do all of those people and Christian organizations I listed above. That fact alone proves that there is no intrinsic, necessary connection between evolution and atheism.

Rusty continues:

For an evolutionist to not accept this is to be inconsistent with the philosophical and logical implications of the worldview that drives their evolutionary paradigm.

I'm sorry, at some point I just start chuckling that the same mistaken assumption keeps getting repeated over and over again. There is no "evolutionary paradigm". There is perhaps an atheistic paradigm that uses inferences drawn from evolution. But there are also lots of non-atheistic paradigms or worldviews that use inferences drawn from evolution. That simple fact shows Rusty's assumption to be utter nonsense.

Now on to the moral question, which Rusty begins with this false claim:

Ed makes the argument that we are the ones who determine our moral direction, and not some divine being.

No, Ed didn't make that argument. Ed made the argument that IF there is no god who gives us a set of moral rules, we still MUST develop some sense of morality on our own. We still have to do all of the things I listed, even if there is no god. Surely Rusty wouldn't dispute that, or dispute the fact that merely because one claims "god says so" that does not mean that god, in fact, said so. Indeed, he quotes Phillip Johnson in his reply as saying, "a supposed command of God can hardly provide a basis for morality unless God really exists. The commands of an imaginary deity are merely human commands dressed up as divine law." And that is identical to what I said. The argument from morality isn't an argument for why such a god does exist, but for why such a god should exist, and Rusty proceeds from the assumption that when he says "God says so", it's true. Well that's not an assumption that I share. I made no claim of a "higher principle" or of some received wisdom. I didn't say "God says so". But since I don't accept that Rusty can legitimately say "God says so" either, I don't see his moral statements as any better grounded or objective than mine are. In fact, they may well be less so, since if "God said so", he could also say the opposite. In fact the bible is full of such inconsistencies, such as God commanding that thou shalt not kill but then ordering the slaughter of entire cultures, man, woman and child...except the virgin females, which he often reserved as the spoils of war, which would be a clear violation of human rights in today's world with our moral relativism and all. How ironic. Divine command is no more objective a basis for morality than was the Nuremberg defense. It merely declares that you do what you're told and that whatever you're told is objectively moral, even if you're told the opposite tomorrow of what you're told today.

Sorry Rusty, I can't say "God said so" when I come to a moral judgement. And you can say "God said so" until you're blue in the face, but that doesn't make it true, nor does it make it any more objective or firmly grounded than my statement.


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And don't forget Pope John Paul II who commented on how Christianity and Evolution intersect. Basically, he was able to reconcile the two, and he knows a little bit more than I do about Christianity. Here is the link.

I thought about including several statements from Pope John Paul II, as well as the earlier statement from Pope Pius in the 1950s, but couldn't find a concise statement in that letter that gave the overall impression without taking up too much space. But suffice to say that the Catholic church long ago reconciled with evolution, as have all of the mainline protestant denominations.