Thursday, May 20, 2010

Josh Rosenau Ponders on Todd Wood

Josh Rosenau has a long piece over at Thoughts from Kansas in which he examines Todd Wood's creationism and response to the new BIO-Complexity journal. Wood is hopeful about the new journal because it represents an effort, at last, of the ID establishment to put its money where its mouth is. Josh agrees, and then contrasts the ID movement with standard creationism. He writes:
The thing that's so shocking about the failure of all previous attempts at an ID journal is that the young earth creationist movement has actually done quite well at creating its own pseudoscientific infrastructure. They have several journals that imitate the peer-review of proper scientific journals. Sure, authors have to swear that their results won't contradict a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, and the actual arguments they make tend to fall apart once you start pushing on them, but many of the papers are quite sharp, and do a decent job of testing hypotheses within the straightjacket imposed on them by fundamentalist ideology.
While it is quite true that the modern-day recent earth creationist movement has a large infrastructure, their imitation of peer-review is a very poor one and is anti-scientific at its core. Rosenau is correct to call it a straightjacket but it results in a discipline that cannot even be called peer-reviewed because everyone that reviews the articles is sympathetic to them and, for the sake of the theology, doesn't dare disagree with them. This results in a skewing of the data in such a way that the results the results do not stand up to an even cursory examination. It also, as Randy Isaacs found out with the RATE project, results in intellectual dishonesty.

He continues:
In the past I've cited Wood as a reminder to anti-creationists that it's not enough to simply dismiss creationism as irrationality run amok. Wood's approach is rational, but premised on faulty assumptions. Rationality is dependent on the quality of the minds inputs and presuppositions, and some folks tend to wrongly claim that simply being rational would solve all our problems.

I also point it out in the hopes that Wood will, at some point, confront the special pleading he's using, and will realize that if he extends his arguments to their logical results, he'll have to abandon his creationism. His critiques of ID creationism and of old earth creationism are spot on, and if he'd only turn the same analytical approach toward his adherence to young earth creationism, interesting things might happen.
This is wishful thinking. Wood, at one point, addressing the nature of evidence, wrote:
As a point of application, I think modern creationists would be much better served if we stopped coddling their every doubt and fear with new "evidence for creation" and instead helped to wean them off evidence altogether. A truly close Christian walk with Jesus should render evidence irrelevant. This is where we really want to be, not buffeted about by the wind and waves but confidently walking through the storm with our eyes fixed unwaveringly on Christ.
As I have written before, I believe that this represents some sort of dualism in that the clear evidence from creation is not just rendered as secondary in importance, but ignored. The researchers of the RATE project found unequivocal evidence of over 500 million years of radioactive decay yet still managed to conclude that there was support for a young earth. Why? Because the evidence had to be subjugated to the theology. If, as Wood suggests, we should be called upon to "wean them off of evidence altogether," what does the evidence mean? Why would God create a beautiful and wondrous creation filled with majesty and awe only to have us ignore it?

One might argue that Wood means that we, as Christians, should focus entirely on our walk with God and not even bother at all with the questions of origins. For most people, this is an entirely appropriate perspective and it has always been my position that Christians should think carefully before exposing themselves to scientific areas that might affect their faith but for which there is little importance in their daily lives.

But we know from his other posts that Wood is a card-carrying recent earth creationist, who runs the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College. The focus of this research is "baraminology," which is the study of the search for the original created kinds. Their view of creationism is this:
Creationism isn't some modern, extremist anomaly. It was the dominant view of western culture and the church for nearly two millennia. From ancient commentaries on Genesis to medieval books on Noah's Ark to Renaissance monographs on Flood geology, we are seeking to recover the history of that intellectual domination.
Much is left out of this definition. For example, while creationism was the dominant view in western culture for nearly two millenia, what is not said is that once we began to acquire the tools to examine planet earth and the cosmos, beginning in the 1400s, creationism became less and less sustainable until, by the late 1800s, no practicing geologists and very few practicing clergy supported it. It was only the work of the Seventh Day Adventists in the early 1900s that led to a resurgence of this view, one that was (and is) totally without established scientific support. To recover that intellectual domination would carry scientific achievement back six hundred years and negate all of the advancements that have been acquired since then. Is this really what he wants?

It reminds me of something that Conrad Hyers once wrote, and I paraphrase: "if the Bible is found to be in accordance with science of the 20th century, it is necessarily out of accordance with the science of the 19th century and that of the 18th century and so on." Why does Wood presuppose that the science of six hundred years ago is the correct model?

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  1. James -- I really enjoy your blog, but your insistence on quoting and requoting that article by Wood, always portraying that ONE article as an essay on "the nature of evidence" is dishonest. That was an essay on faith, not on evidence. It's right there in the title! There's another essay titled "the nature of evidence" in which he discusses the nature of (ahem) evidence.

    The point isn't that evidence should be subordinate to faith; the point is that faith doesn't work on the same stuff as evidence. The grounds are different.

    Personally, I don't think I believe him; I think faith is NOT mystical or divorced from evidence (I think Romans 1 makes that clear; everyone knows they are accountable to God BECAUSE of the evidence; the difference between faith and unbelief there is a willful rejection of the light that's given). But this is an error (if it is one) regarding the nature of FAITH, not the nature of evidence. You're misrepresenting Wood, and therefore failing to actually address his real weaknesses (and failing to use his real strengths). If you'd only done this once, it wouldn't matter; but every post you make on Creationist Foolishness quotes that exact same sentence and mis-characterizes it in exactly the same way.

    The best way, I think, to look at Wood is to ask whether his theories actually explain anything. Since he admits that he doesn't have a scientific theory, and no creationist has actually come up with a scientific theory, you need to PUSH him on how important actual scientific theories are. Yes, he believes that as a scientist, he can eventually come up with an explanation for what now looks like shards of contradictory evidence to him; but can we as teachers and parents tell our charges that? We have to start with what we have NOW, and not rely on mere promises.

    I don't really know where to take it from here. I've been immersing myself in these origins blogs for a long time, trying to figure things out. I'm impressed with Wood's honesty, and I appreciate that he seems to be trying to explain to creationists primarily that they shouldn't be trying to "defeat" evolution. I'm confused why he thinks that we should teach 7-day creationism in Bible study, and he doesn't explain what we should teach in our science classes... I'm guessing that his answer would be that he'd teach what he's personally confident in (that, for example, all of the horse lineage clearly has a single ancestral species) and simply not teach what he thinks is unclear (for example, that all species have a single common ancestral species). I don't know; I'm not him. In my position, I can afford a few more years of confusion and unclarity -- I don't write a blog and my sons won't be old enough to understand the problem for a while.

  2. I certainly don't mean to come across as dishonest. That is not my intention. The reason that I quote that statement is that, while it is a statement on faith, he seems to be saying it as a fall-back position since his theories don't, as you say "explain anything." His comment on evolution is nothing short of astounding. He can find absolutely nothing wrong with the theory, nothing at all—yet he still doesn't believe it.

    I, also, applaud his honesty in acknowledging the scientific evidence as well, which makes the cognitive dissonance all the more amazing.

    In hindsight, you may be correct that I have mischaracterized his argument based on faith but I think that his argument is mistaken on both the faith and the evidence levels. He has erred theologically by rejecting the evidence of God's creation, especially in light of Romans 1. He has erred scientifically because, by doing the same, his pursuit of baraminology is scientifically bankrupt. His scientific conclusions will always be suspect and subject to a scientific interpretation of a creation that is 6,ooo years old.

    Furthermore, as you allude to in your post, we cannot go around teaching students what we hope will be true sometime down the road. That was my point in mentioning the RATE project. They had good solid evidence that the earth was at least 5oo,ooo years old and they rejected it for no good reasons, stating instead that they were confident that there would be evidence for a young earth.

    That isn't science. Neither is baraminology.

    Your criticism is well-taken though. I will try to be more fair in the future.

  3. I apologize for writing that your post "is dishonest". That's not what I meant to write, and thank you for reading it with a spirit of charity.

    I'm satisfied with everything you've written here, and by and large agree with you more than Wood; but I have one little thing to add.

    You said: "we cannot go around teaching students what we hope will be true sometime down the road."

    Exactly. Yet we do teach children that all life forms descend from a single common ancestor; and you dismiss Wood here precisely because he denies that (baraminology requires only that one deny singleness and universal commonality). (I think you also dismiss him because he denies old-earth, but that's not what you bring up here.) We do NOT in fact know that our ancestor was single or common; it's entirely possible (but unlikely) from the evidence that there were multiple origins of life and that not all of those origins mixed to become common to all modern life. There are somewhat plausible ways that could be fleshed out in a completely naturalistic theory, although I wouldn't bother without a lot more evidence. But then Wood does claim to have more evidence -- that's what he thinks the Bible provides.

    If I believed as Wood does, I would teach children what we KNOW -- that life forms evolve, and that the record shows that they in fact evolved substantially in the earth's history. I certainly wouldn't teach them that life had some known number of origins, neither a single one nor multiple God-created ones. (I suspect Wood would teach them the latter, which seems to me to not comport with his stance on evidence.)

    Yes, RATE is certainly one of MANY examples of creationist obfuscation. If it were merely a scientific study, I'd be fine with it looking past some solid evidence (there's always SOME contradictory evidence; that's where new scientific theories come from); but it's not being used as a scientific project, but rather as a propaganda source.

    Another thing that's always irked me is how the Discovery Institute has a public policy that discourages teaching ID in classrooms, and yet almost every court case regarding teaching ID they assist (the exception being obvious 6-day creationists).

  4. Anonymous3:02 PM

    Jim writes: "even be called peer-reviewed because everyone that reviews the articles is sympathetic to them and, for the sake of the theology, doesn't dare disagree with them."

    Jim: How do you know that it's true that Bio-Complexity papers are only sent to "sympathetic" reviewers? Do you really know that's true? How do you know it's true?

    Please document your sources and show you're not just making assertions in ignorance.

  5. Anonymous, the entire editorial board are ID supporters. I do not believe that there is one dissenter on it. Papers are normally sent to a journal's editorial board. While I do not know for sure how these papers would be reviewed, they are certainly sent to sympathetic reviewers.