Rusty and the "Evolutionary Paradigm"

Once more into the breach, dear friends. Rusty has posted a reply to me on the subject of evolution and morality, but the issue is really whether evolution equates with atheism or not. I'm getting a bit tired of hashing and rehashing this with both he and Ilona, primarily because they keep moving the goalposts. To wit, Rusty says:

Its interesting to note his response to my rhetorical request, 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. As I expected, he lists some prominent theistic evolutionists (a contradiction in terms if there ever was one) with Ken Miller leading the pack. What I didnt expect was that he would list statements by various Christian denominations that supposedly declare that God as creator is compatible with evolution. That was a nice touch but it still doesnt address the logical implications of the evolutionary paradigm.

Well yes, Rusty, I listed some prominent theistic evolutionists. After all, that is exactly what you asked me to list, wasn't it? You asked for a list of people who accept evolution and accept that God interacts with the natural order, and that is what I gave you, and it includes not only all of those scientists I listed (and remember, those are just the ones I have been personally involved with in one way or another) but every mainline Christian denomination. And your response is that this "doesn't address the logical implications of the evolutionary paradigm." I'm tempted to respond with "Well, duh". It wasn't meant to address that, it was meant to address the question you asked me. Silly me, actually answering the question I was asked. Whether you think those people are being correct or consistent or not has no bearing on the challenge you made, which I answered completely and with a far larger and more compelling list than I'm sure you figured on. But let's move on to the rest of your screed...

First off I must confess that I was leading Ed a bit with my extremely short qualification to the request I made. It is a subjective qualification and although he seems to think he listed quite a few scientists off the top of his head, what I would now compare it to is the list of scientists who believe the evolutionary paradigm as well as not believing in a supernatural being that interacts with the natural order. Now lets be real in the context of that comparison, the original list is extremely short. Regardless, all he has done is list additional people who are just as logically inconsistent as he is with regards to the evolutionary paradigm. An argument from popular opinion carries no weight in this matter.

Holy contradictions, Batman. First you make an argument based on the comparative popularity of evolutionary atheism as opposed to evolutionary theism, then you follow that up immediately with "an argument from popular opinion carries no weight in this matter". Then why on earth did you just imply that it did? First, let's see if this is in fact an "extremely short list". Tim Radford, writing in the Guardian, cites the following figures:

In the US, according to a survey published in Nature in 1997, four out of 10 scientists believe in God. Just over 45% said they did not believe, and 14.5% described themselves as doubters or agnostics. This ratio of believers to non-believers had not changed in 80 years.

Herein lies the real problem. Rusty keeps using the phrase "evolutionary paradigm". Near as I can figure, this means "evolution plus atheism". But the "evolutionary paradigm" is not equivalent to "evolutionary theory". Evolutionary theory says nothing about ultimate origins and it says nothing about the existence of God, it simply says that modern life forms on earth are derived from a common ancestor through descent with modification. That's all it says. But Rusty attacks the "evolutionary paradigm" as though doing so somehow disproves evolutionary theory.

Evolutionary theory is no more tied to metaphysical naturalism or atheism than is meteorology or medical science. If Rusty was consistent, he would rail against the "meteorological paradigm" that assumes that weather has natural causes and rules out the role of God, attested to numerous times in the bible, a priori. Obviously those thousands of meteorologists who believe in God are blind to the inconsistency of attributing the weather to purely natural causes when their bible says otherwise. They are obviously not being logically consistent with the implications of the meteorological paradigm.

Rusty continues:

Ed is being a bit disingenuous here, whether intentional or not though I do not know, for theistic evolutionists do not believe that God interacts with the natural order in regards to evolution.

No Rusty, the one being disingenuous here is you. You didn't ask me for a list of those who believe that God interacts with the natural order in regards to evolution. You said:

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.

Now you want to move the goalpost and change the question, and declare me "disingenuous" because I didn't answer the question you didn't ask. And frankly, this silly game is getting tiresome.

Rusty then quotes Ken Miller and says:

Yet, one wonders what thoughts the likes of Eugenie Scott, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, et. al., are having as they smirk behind Millers back.

He then goes on to quote Phillip Johnson and William Dembski on what those "hard core naturalists" in the "Darwinian establishment" really think. And Dembski points out that those foolish theistic evolutionists are just too cowardly to go all the way to being "full-blooded Darwinists":

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Darwinian establishment views theistic evolution as a weak-kneed sycophant that desperately wants the respectability that comes with being a full-blooded Darwinist but refuses to follow the logic of Darwinism through to the end. It takes courage to give up the comforting belief that life on earth has a purpose. It takes courage to live without the consolation of afterlife. Theistic evolutionists lack the stomach to face the ultimate meaninglessness of life, and it is this failure of courage that makes them contemptible in the eyes of full-blooded Darwinists.

[sarcasm]Yep, they're all cowards, Bill. Fools who are deaf to the sound of those evil atheists laughing at them behind their back, naive fellow travelers - oh hell, let's go all the way and call them "useful idiots" and make the communist metaphor complete - who are just too cowardly to face up to life without God. They're not like you, Bill, bravely standing up for God in the face of the "Darwinian Establishment" who relentlessly refuses to accept your brilliant ID model despite the fact that you can't produce a single testable hypothesis that flows from it. Truly, you're a martyr.[/sarcasm]

You know, my level of irritation is beginning to rise, particularly when I read this kind of presumptuous bullshit. I don't know Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins, but I do know Genie Scott. And I can assure you that she is not "smirking" behind Ken Miller's back. She and Ken are friends and colleagues and she has the utmost respect for him both as a scientist and as a person. What Genie Scott recognizes, and you do not, is that evolution, like all scientific theories, is nothing more than an explanation of a specific set of natural phenomena. It does not address any overarching philosophical issue, any more than seismology does, and thus one can be an atheist, a Christian, a buddhist or a satanist for that matter, and still accept that evolution is a valid explanation for the data. But of course Rusty knows better. He knows that those big bad evil atheists laugh behind the backs of those unwitting dupes like Ken Miller, who foolishly run labs where evolution is tested and observed every day and then actually believe evolution without realizing it's all part of the evil atheistic plan. I'm sorry to be so blunt Rusty, but you're just plain full of shit on this one. When the Christian physicist and ID critic Howard Van Till joined us for dinner at Rob Pennock's house, we didn't laugh at his silly theistic beliefs when he walked out the door. And believe me, I would love to see that conversation when you tell Howard that he's being inconsistent because he's "blinded to the obvious implications of the evolutionary paradigm."

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Well Jeanne Dixon I'm not. I did say I wondered what smirks they have behind Miller's back. Regardless of whether they smirk or not, the point I keep harping on is the inconsistent approach taken by some evolutionists. BTW, I'm not attacking anyone as a person. Ken Miller may be the nicest guy on the block, indeed he certainly comes across that way in every interview I've seen of him, and I even put some mula in his pocket by buying (and reading) Finding Darwin's God; but even so, I can still call him to task for philosophical inconsistencies.

I'm surprised at you Ed. You typically don't rant and rave. Did I really push that many of your buttons? Calm down buddy... it's just a blog.

Well Jeanne Dixon I'm not. I did say I wondered what smirks they have behind Miller's back.

No, you said you wonder what they are thinking as they smirk behind his back. And then you quoted Dembski calling them cowards, while at the same time claiming that it's us "full-blooded Darwinists" who find them "contemptible". Well that's hypocritical bullshit, Rusty, and neither you nor Dembski has any basis for making such a claim. You don't know Ken Miller, or Howard Van Till, or Glenn Morton, or Keith Miller, or any of the others I mentioned, to know whether they are cowards. I know them personally, with the exception of Ken, and I know that they are anything but that. You also don't know Genie Scott, or Rob Pennock, or Barbara Forrest, or any of the other "full-blooded Darwinists" that you accuse of laughing at them behind their back, so you don't have any idea whether they do so. But I do know them, and count them as friends, and you're dead wrong. You're casting aspersions at people with exactly nothing to back those aspersions up. And on top of that, you're doing it at least in part to people who share your faith. That's pretty pathetic, Rusty.

BTW, I'm not attacking anyone as a person. Ken Miller may be the nicest guy on the block, indeed he certainly comes across that way in every interview I've seen of him, and I even put some mula in his pocket by buying (and reading) Finding Darwin's God; but even so, I can still call him to task for philosophical inconsistencies.

Nonsense. You want to critique Ken Miller's views? Be my guest. You want to call him a coward and an unwitting dupe of the Darwinian establishment whose friends laugh at him behind his back? That's where I call your bluff. You can tap dance around it all you want and you can claim that you didn't really call him that, you just quoted someone else doing it, or that you just meant a general group of people, but that's not gonna fly. These are real people, not just names on a page, and they are people with real friendships that you impugned with absolutely no factual basis, and then you flippantly laugh it off when you're called on it.

I'm surprised at you Ed. You typically don't rant and rave. Did I really push that many of your buttons? Calm down buddy... it's just a blog.

Yeah, silly me. I don't like having my friends insulted by someone who doesn't even know them, or being called disingenuous for not answering a question you didn't ask when you feel like moving the goalposts. You've let your mouth get way ahead of your brain or your sense of ethics on this one, Rusty. The one you should be surprised at is yourself.

One thing I have noticed is that when the going gets tough you attack me and my supposed motives, as well as my faith, and my sources; all while repeatedly referring to my arguments as "nonsense" at best, and as excrement at worst. I could get all bent out of shape about it, but what good would that do?

Besides, the motivation for my initial post was not theistic evolution but, rather, the logical inconsistency found in attempting to believe in both the evolutionary paradigm and morality. Up to this point the only argument I've heard is that there are many people who claim that the inconsistency isn't there for the simple reason that they believe in both evolution and morality.

A. I haven't said a word about your motives. I don't care about your motives.

B. I haven't attacked you, but I did criticize you for attacking other people with presumptions that you can't possibly back up. And I notice that you don't even attempt to dispute any of the reasons I gave for why you deserved such criticism.

C. I never questioned your faith. The only one questioning anyone's faith here is you, as you declare people to be "cowards" for not ditching their faith the way you think they should.

D. Your sources are guilty of the same presumptuousness that you are. They therefore deserve to be criticized for the same behavior.

E. If you got all bent out of shape about it, that would be pretty ridiculous since you can't dispute the substance of that criticism.

F. I've repeatedly pointed out that evolution is no more "atheistic" than any other scientific theory. They all hold to methodological naturalism as a matter of assumption because they have to do so. There is no more inconsistency between evolution and morality than there is between meteorology and morality, or between the germ theory of disease and morality, or between plate tectonics and morality. All of that has been pointed out, along with several other arguments on the same side, but you appear to be too busy impugning the faith and integrity of people you don't know, and dodging the entirely justified criticism that you've earned as a result of that, to answer those arguments.

I don't get at all what inconsistency that Rusty sees between evolution and a belief in God. That creatures evolve over time is undisputable.

This is not to say that life began without the involvement of a creator. There are a few holes in using evolution to explain how life began. Holes that may be filled by natural explanation as we learn more about how life develops and changes, but holes that could easily have been filled by a creator. Evolution does not explain how life started, only how it became divers and more complex. It may be that we will discover a way that life could have just begun when certain conditions are established. It may also be that we can prove that cross-species evolution can and has occurred. When that happens, we will have a natural explanation for how life began on earth and how it became what we see today.

That has not yet happened. It may never happen; there may be no way it can happen naturally. Perhaps, life needs to be created and then it can evolve into what we see today naturally, as a process of its design. Maybe even that is not enough, and each species had to be created, which could then evolve. Maybe each species was the result of multiple forms of life beginning. There are many unanswered questions, using only what we know of science.

God is always an acceptable explanation. After all, if you can't find a way that it was done by the rules (nature) then it can be explained by violating the rules (supernatural).

I am a Christian. I believe that God created the world. I also know that creatures evolve. I suspect that evolution explains a great deal of how life developed on Earth, but I suspect that God had to nudge nature along here and there. I may be proven wrong. It may be that God created it all so that the universe would progress from the moment of creation to what we see today purely bound by the rules that God established in its creation; rules we are struggling to learn. I accept that as possible.

It has no effect on my faith, because my faith in God is not based on using Him as an explanation for how life began. If it is proven in my lifetime that the entire universe could exist as we see it today without a creator, I will still believe in God.

My belief is based on the wisdom found in the teachings of the Bible and of Christ. It is based on my personal experience with God.

Science has never been a barrier to that; I fully embrace the scientific explanations of the world around us, while holding firmly to my faith in God.

Would you care to explain to me, how that makes me a coward?

By Aaron Pohle (not verified) on 08 Mar 2004 #permalink

Well Aaron, you'll have to ask Rusty about that. He's the one who seems to think you're a coward. Personally, I find the staggering arrogance of Dembski to be matched only by folks like Dawkins. The two extremes mirror each other perfectly in their presumptuousness.

I would like to address the logical inconsistency found in attempting to believe in both the intelligent design paradigm and morality. One looks around at human beings, a result of some intelligent designer. And we see some of the things she has designed in to some humans: homosexuality; a taste for pornography; a taste for polygamy; a taste for violence; a taste for wife beating; a taste for lying and stealing; a taste for atheism; and even some human beings have designed in a preference for Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam. So there's no reason to believe that this intelligent designer, whoever she was, had any links to any moral positions whatsoever. This intelligent designer appears to have had many amoral positions herself, and clearly wants humans to experience these amoral positions.

I believe that if you accept the intelligent design paradigm, then you cannot possibly link it to morality. The two are independent. One does not imply the other.

did I move the goalposts? I didn't know I had it in me!

I do think some of this might be useful to look at... particularly in the light of my feeling that there are Christians who gut the religion of all but the name.

Not today, however.... today I want to think about the moving of goalposts.... and wondering if I knew my own strength. Well a few more cat stretches and perhaps I'll start something on the topic in the coming week.

This is the part of the conversation which most interests me... the effects in ones beliefs and in the culture.

I enjoy your blog. I do wonder if the idea of moving goalposts comes from the fact that the subject is really a very large one.... with more than one goalpost at hand, perhaps.

just a thought.

Ilona, I don't think the idea of moving goalposts comes from the fact that "the subject is really a very large one". At least in this thread, it signifies that one person was asked for evidence to support point A, and when evidence was provided, that same person criticized the evidence because it didn't support point B. That's moving the goalpost.