Saturday, August 27, 2005

Weekend Humor

This, thanks to Uncommon Descent. You know you have hit a tipping point when the popular media make fun of Darwinism.

Friday, August 26, 2005

What Is Darwinian Fundamentalism?

In its broadest meaning, Darwinian Fundamentalism refers to any expression or support of macroevolutionary theory that evinces characteristics of religious fundamentalism, such as narrow-mindedness, intolerance, anti-intellectualism, obscurantism, or dogmatism.

Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent proponent of evolution, used the term “Darwinian Fundamentalism” before me, and a post about his usage, with link, is here. The definition above is how the term is used on this blog, but this would include the Gould sense.

A discussion of the meaning of the word "fundamentalism" can be found here.

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Some of the more common examples of Darwinian Fundamentalism are:

* Acceptance of and devotion to macroevolutionary theory on the basis of a rigid, a priori philosophical commitment to Materialism, and not on the basis of scientific evidence. A good example this philosophical perspective can be found here, and a longer discussion here.

* Intolerance of people who question macroevolutionary theory, and support for public policy that involves teaching only the evidence that supports it and banning any scientific evidence that would tend to disprove it. This also includes those who assert that there is no scientific evidence that would tend to disprove any aspect of macroevolutionary theory. Examples of this can be found here and here.

* Anti-intellectualism and obscurantism reflected in misrepresenting the scientific evidence relevant to macroevolutionary theory, misrepresenting the position of those who challenge any aspect of macroevolutionary theory, questioning their motives or focusing on their religious beliefs as opposed to attempting to refute their arguments on the merits. This has its most common expression in ad hominem arguments and straw man arguments. Examples of this are simply everywhere. One example, discussed in a previous post, is a drop in the ocean.

McCain Too, But Who's Counting?

The Arizona Daily Star reports that John McCain supports presenting "all points of view" on origins to students:
On Tuesday, though, he sided with the president on two issues that have made headlines recently: teaching intelligent design in schools and Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother who has come to personify the anti-war movement.

McCain told the Star that, like Bush, he believes "all points of view" should be available to students studying the origins of mankind.

The theory of intelligent design says life is too complex to have developed through evolution, and that a higher power must have had a hand in guiding it.

Seems like the reporter assumes his statement means teaching intelligent design. He might have only meant that he supported presenting all points of view on the theory of evolution and/or the evidence for and against evolution.

I count Santorum, Brownback, Frist and McCain as Senators publicly supporting teaching the controversy. Is anyone keeping a complete list? Any Senators or Congressmen saying that the scientific evidence and arguments that would tend to disprove evolution should not be taught?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Losing Her Religion?

Good ol' Cornelia Dean wrote the latest article in The New York Times' series on evolution and intelligent design. Strangely lacking was Cornelia's Creed, which appeared so ritually in her previous articles. Has she lost faith in it? Could she not find a way to work it in? Did the macro on her computer fail? Was it something I said? Makes me a little wistful, I must say.

In any case, she writes about scientists and their belief in God or lack thereof. What is truly remarkable is that she does not include any comments from proponents of intelligent design, but she feels quite comfortable judging them:
Although they embrace religious faith, these scientists also embrace science as it has been defined for centuries. That is, they look to the natural world for explanations of what happens in the natural world and they recognize that scientific ideas must be provisional - capable of being overturned by evidence from experimentation and observation. This belief in science sets them apart from those who endorse creationism or its doctrinal cousin, intelligent design, both of which depend on the existence of a supernatural force.

The last sentence is, of course, absolutely false. Proponents of intelligent design believe very much in science "as it has been defined for centuries." They just do not accept Rigid Materialism, which has appeared over the last century. They look for natural explanations, but they remain open to other explanations. They do not dogmatically insist that there must be a naturalistic explanation for every historical event. Intelligent design does not "depend" on the existence of a supernatural force. It finds evidence for intelligent design, supernatural or otherwise, in the facts. This paragraph more than any other shows how biased and agenda driven her article is. How can she, with a straight face, make such a statement without asking a single proponent of intelligent design how his or her faith interfaces with science? How can someone who has researched the movement as much as she has still be so ignorant of its proponents' positions? Perhaps there is some evidence of design here?

The article functions mainly as a chance to praise the Christian scientists that Dean likes- the "good Christians" like Francis Collins, as opposed to the "bad Christians" over there at the Discovery Institute (which actually has fellows of many different philosophical and religious persuasions). We don't dislike all Christian scientists, just those kind of Christian scientists. One can almost hear her saying, "some of my best friends are Christians."

I note as well that she does not explore how scientists' atheism affects how they do science. She only includes quotes by Dawkins and Weinberg about other scientists and their beliefs, as if atheism somehow gives you a neutral perch from which you can uniquely judge your neighbor. Does atheism bias your evaluation of the evidence? How does Dawkins' rabid atheism affect his ability to consider fairly the purported evidence for intelligent design? I look at such questions in this post.

The article does include this insightful comment:
One panelist, Dr. Noah Efron of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said scientists, like other people, were guided by their own human purposes, meaning and values. The idea that fact can be separated from values and meaning "jibes poorly with what we know of the history of science," Dr. Efron said.

Amen, brother Noah.

The curious reader would do better reading the sidebar in the recent Time magazine, which allowed four people, with various worldviews, to explain their perspectives in their own words. My discussion of Michael Behe's views, with links, can be found here.

If you missed the link at the beginning, you can find an explanation of what Cornelia's Creed is, the magic words of assurance that religiously appear in all of her most recent articles on evolution, and the religion she seems to have lost, here.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The New York Times Teaches the Controversy- And Nobody Got Hurt

The New York Times' latest installment in their series on evolution, intelligent design and the current debate includes a sidebar entitled "What's Wrong With Evolution?" Although they do not do an especially good job of presenting the arguments on both sides, they at least show how it can be done without bringing in the Bible, Creationism, or anything that could be considered to violate the US Constitution. It shows how the discussion can be conducted by only appealing to scientific evidence. It is going to be increasingly difficult for the dogmatic Materialists to insist on banning this kind of information from classrooms.

I have to add that they completely botch the arguments based on the Cambrian Explosion. I do not know if this was intentional or merely a matter of ineptitude, but hopefully this will prompt people to dig deeper. For a better articulation of the issues raised by the Cambrian Explosion, check this out.

Safire On Origins of Origins Terms

I almost missed William Safire's On Language piece in the Sunday Times magazine on the origins of terms in the origins debate. The Times is doing a pretty good job of slamming the obscurantist "intelligent design is the same thing as creationism" poppycock.

He does not just comment on the well-know phrases, but brings up a neologism that the dogmatic Materialists hope will spin the debate in their direction:
To counter the ''sophisticated branding experts'' who flummoxed establishmentarian evolutionaries with intelligent design, opponents of classroom debate over Darwin's theory have come up with a catchily derisive neologism that lumps the modern I.D. advocates with religious fundamentalists: neo-creo. The rhyming label was coined on Aug. 17, 1999, by Philip Kitcher, professor of the philosophy of science at Columbia University, in a lively and lengthy online debate in Slate magazine with the abovementioned Phillip Johnson, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley: ''Enter the neo-creos,'' Kitcher wrote. ''Scavenging the scientific literature, they take claims out of context and pretend that everything about evolution is controversial. . . . But it's all a big con.'' Johnson replied: ''I want to replace the culture war over evolution with a healthy, vigorous intellectual debate. The biggest obstacle is that the evolutionary scientists are genuinely baffled as to why everyone does not believe as they do. That is why they appear so dogmatic, and why they tend to slip into sarcasm and browbeating.''
Nobody is pretending that everything about evolution is controversial. I don't think "neo-creo" is going to catch on for one simple reason: the obscurantists are too intent on using the label "creationist" to support their false claim that the new challengers are no different than the folks who were arguing for Creation Science back in the 80's.

He spends most of his time quoting others, without taking positions. But he seems to give a nod of approval to teaching the controversy by closing with this:
I will leave the last word on this old controversy with its new phraseology to the neuroscientist Leon Cooper, a Nobel laureate at Brown University. He tells all of today's red-faced disputants: ''If we could all lighten up a bit perhaps, we could have some fun in the classroom discussing the evidence and the proposed explanations -- just as we do at scientific conferences.''
This is fun, isn't it?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Spectrum of Worldviews: How We Approach the Evidence

Why is there such a big fight over the sufficiency of the evidence for macroevolution? Much can be explained by looking at the a priori philosophical frameworks or worldviews that are the inevitable starting point from which people evaluate the scientific evidence. Unless we understand our own worldview, and respectfully try to understand those of the people with whom we disagree, there will not likely be constructive and healthy civil discourse on the various issues surrounding the theory of macroevolution and how it should be taught in school. The following spectrum is only meant to be a very simple summary of the various worldviews for a popular audience. I do not mean to imply that every person fits neatly into any one category. However, I do believe that these categories help us to understand how an individual person approaches the evidence, and what bias may be involved in that approach.

1. Rigid Theism
2. Open-minded Theism
3. Open-minded Agnosticism
4. Open-minded Materialism
5. Rigid Materialism

Rigid Theism describes a theistic worldview that constrains the way the person views the empirical evidence. Creation Science advocates generally believe that Genesis chapters one and two in the Bible must be understood as a literal six twenty-four hour day history of the creation of the earth and life on it. Because of this understanding of what the writer of Genesis intended, the Bible gives controlling guidance as to how the scientific evidence must be understood.

Open-minded Theism describes a theistic worldview that does not constrain the way the person views the empirical evidence. The person believes that there is a God who is ultimately responsible for creating the world and life on it, but that God could have used macroevolutionary processes and mechanisms to do it and could have done it over millions of years. The person might have a very conservative view of Biblical authority, but does not believe that the Bible necessarily intends to convey that God created the world in six 24 hour days.

Open-minded Agnosticism describes a worldview in which the person is has no position on whether there is a God or not, and this worldview does not constrain the way the person views the empirical evidence.

Open-minded Materialism describes a materialistic/naturalistic worldview that does not constrain the way the person views the empirical evidence. Such a person will look for an explanation that comports with a materialistic framework, but will not assume that there necessarily must be a materialistic explanation. Such a person recognizes that science has not proven that there is no God or that there is no supernatural realm, so that it is presumptuous to assume that there must be a naturalistic explanation for all phenomena.

Rigid Materialism describes a materialistic/naturalistic worldview that constrains the way the person views the empirical evidence. If such a person encounters evidence that does not fit a materialistic explanation of nature, he will develop an explanation to make the evidence fit that framework. Only a naturalistic answer is acceptable, and all evidence must fit within these starting assumptions.

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What is noteworthy about the current challenge to Darwinian theory, is that most of the new challengers are Open-Minded Theists or Open-Minded Agnostics, not Rigid Theists as in the 1980's when there was a push to teach Creation Science alongside macroevolution in schools. Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe are good examples of this. Johnson stated in his book Darwin On Trial:

I believe that a God exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary process instead. I am not a defender of creation-science, and in fact I am not concerned in this book with addressing any conflicts between the Biblical accounts and the scientific evidence.

My purpose is to examine the scientific evidence on its own terms, being careful to distinguish the evidence itself from any religious or philosophical bias that might distort our interpretation of that evidence. I assume that the creation-scientists are biased by their precommitment to Biblical fundamentalism, and I will have very little to say about their position. The question I want to investigate is whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism. (p.14)

Later he stated:

I am not interested in any claims that are based upon a literal reading of the Bible, nor do I understand the concept of creation as narrowly as Duane Gish does. If an omnipotent Creator exists He might have created things instantaneously in a single week or employed means wholly inaccessible to science, or mechanisms that are at least in part understandable through scientific investigation. (p. 115)

You can read Behe's views here. Neither Johnson nor Behe are challenging Darwinian theory because their religion requires them to do so. Their religion requires only that they acknowledge God as the ultimate creator of whatever natural phenomena they observe. They are challenging macroevolutionary theory because the evidence demands it.

Many of the current proponents of macroevolutionary theory are Rigid Materialists. Richard Dawkins and Richard Lewontin are good examples of this. Lewontin has provided a very good statement of the Rigid Materialist perspective:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

I provide a longer quotation, with citation, in this post. Richard Dawkins has indicated that evolution is the only possible explanation. He is very public in his commitment to promoting atheism, and his faith demands that Darwinism be true. Rigid Materialists simply cannot fathom any explanation for life on earth other than macroevolution, regardless of the evidence. How much stock should we therefore put in their evaluation of the evidence?

What should be clear from all this is that we need to look beyond who is religious and who is not. If we are going to look at anyone's worldview, we need to look at everyone’s worldview and, more importantly, how much that worldview constrains the person’s ability to evaluate the evidence objectively. It is becoming clear to the general public that the scientific establishment is not made up of neutral truth seekers, but rather individuals with their own strong biases and agendas.

I note as well that the mainstream media almost never asks proponents of macroevolution about their worldview, but very frequently comments on the worldview of its critics. This is especially ironic given the public admission by many proponents that, to a large extent, their worldview dictates how they will construe the evidence.

Many scientists would presumably insist that they are Open-Minded Materialists, Agnostics or Theists. But are they really open to doubting macroevolutionary theory? Are there other philosophical, psychological, professional, cultural or political biases that may affect their neutrality in evaluating the evidence? Looking deeper into these questions will require another post.

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Postscript: My comments are not meant to endorse any one position on the spectrum or to suggest that any one position is "better" than the others. My simple point is that many of the current leaders in questioning Darwinian theory are more neutral in approaching the evidence, and therefore more credible to the general public, than many of the prominent defenders of the theory.

Postscript 2: This post focuses on big picture worldviews, or how the person views the ultimate nature of reality. I do not discuss in this blog how "methodological naturalism" fits in, but I plan to discuss this in a future post.