Monday, January 23, 2006

NYT: When Cosmologies Collide

The Grey Lady has yet another article on ID, called "When Cosmologies Collide." This is an article on competing philosophies and the author, Judith Shulevitz, comes out with her main point fairly early:

The judge was echoing a position taken by scientific expert witnesses, who had testified that science is a method, not a creed - a way of finding things out about the natural world, not a refutation of anything beyond that world. On the enduring mysteries of divinity and transcendence, science remains officially agnostic. But people rarely hew to official doctrine. That science and religion belong to separate realms (they're "non-overlapping magisteria," as Stephen Jay Gould grandly put it) is a good line to stick to if you're going to argue that the creationists play unfair, but it's wishful to think that scientists always live by it.

The kicker line is the quote from science philosopher Daniel Dennett:

But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination."

I, nevertheless, believe that science can be reasonably practiced from a naturalistic point of view. I have no trouble believing the saving power of Jesus Christ. I also have no trouble trying to argue that the fossils we call Homo erectus in north China may be a different species than the ones in Africa and Southeast Asia. I have no idea how Homo erectus fit into God's redemptive plan, but that doesn't make Homo erectus any less real or worthy of study. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Vatican weighs in again.

Writing for the Grey Lady, Ian Fisher and Cornelia Dean note an article published in L'Osservatore, the official Vatican newspaper which defends the recent ruling in Dover, PA. Response on both sides was pretty much immediate:

Advocates for teaching evolution hailed the article. "He is emphasizing that there is no need to see a contradiction between Catholic teachings and evolution," said Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, professor of biology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Dominican priest. "Good for him."

But Robert L. Crowther, spokesman for the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle organization where researchers study and advocate intelligent design, dismissed the article and other recent statements from leading Catholics defending evolution. Drawing attention to them was little more than trying "to put words in the Vatican's mouth," he said.

Because it IS the NYT, the authors took a pot-shot at the church, remarking:

But in the subtle and purposely ambiguous world of the Vatican, the comments seemed notable, given their strength on a delicate question much debated under the new pope, Benedict XVI.

It is, nonetheless, a notable stand. Hat Tip to R.L. Macklin.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

As goes Dover, so goes the rest of the world?

Catherine Candisky writes for the Columbia Dispatch that the Ohio State Board of Education narrowly (9-8) retained state guidelines that, critics argue, pushes the teaching of ID. Apparently, the meeting got pretty ugly. This should be a clue to the rest of the world that this subject is not going to go away any time soon.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Not even in a philosophy class...

The New York Times has reported that a law suit has been filed on behalf of 11 parents of students of Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, California, who object to the teaching of a course on ID as a philosophy class, saying it will undermine science education. The suit is supported by Barry Lynn's organization, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. This is not exactly dialogue.

Thanks to R.L. Macklin

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Discovery Institute says it has been misinterpreted.

The Discovery Institute has claimed that its aims in the Wedge document have been misinterpreted and that fear of a coming theocracy are misplaced. In a paper entitled "The Wedge Document": "So What?", a Discovery staff writer (unidentified) writes:

Darwinian activists and self-identified "secular humanists" claimed that the "Wedge Document" provided evidence of a great conspiracy by fundamentalists to establish theocracy in America and to impose religious orthodoxy upon the practice of science.

Things get a bit murky further down when he (or she?) writes:

It is in the context of our concern about the world-view implications of certain scientific theories that our wedge strategy must be understood. Far from attacking science (as has been claimed), we are instead challenging scientific materialism--the simplistic philosophy or world-view that claims that all of reality can be reduced to, or derived from, matter and energy alone. We believe that this is a defense of sound science.

This is a conflation of terms. The dichotomy the writer is driving at is the difference between methodological naturalism (the idea that the real world can be described in scientific terms and investigated using scientific methods) and philosophical naturalism (that the natural world is all that exists). Here, there is no separation between the two concepts.

Nevertheless, some good points are made:

To say that challenging a particular scientific theory constitutes an attack on science itself is to misunderstand science profoundly. Science advances precisely by such challenges.

In an attempt to identify how research is performed by fellows of the institute, the author notes:

Dembski and Meyer have argued that certain evidences from the natural world provide what they call "epistemic support" for theism even though (we have to repeat) such evidences can't "prove" the existence of God or a specific religion.

Here one would reasonably ask 'What kind of epistemic support?' I have read the work of Dembski and his "support" often amounts to a negative assessment of evolutionary theory. Once again: just because my theory about x is wrong, it does not make your theory right, especially if you cannot tell me how the mechanics of your theory play out.

The author makes an assertion that the arguments of ID are analogous to those of Richard Dawkins' in that Dawkins uses evolutionary theory to argue against the existence of God. The author states that, if Dawkins' science is acceptable, so is that of the Discovery Institute fellows. This is, in some senses, a straw man argument. It presupposes that the conclusions that Dawkins draws leading him to argue against the existence of God are valid, scientifically. They are not. And if they are not, then, conversely, the arguments made by Dembski and Meyer run the risk of not being correct either.

Monday, January 09, 2006

More from the WaPo

Alan Cutler writes on "The War That Wasn't." This article, which is long on assertions and short on citations, takes the point that the well-known heresy trial of Galileo was an abherration, rather than the norm. He states that the war between science and religion is more of a media-driven construct than reality:

[The media] depict the religious orthodoxy as historically bent on squelching reason and scientific inquiry in a desperate effort to protect bankrupt dogmas. Partisans of religion have their own version, in which science is the aggressor.

He also suggests something that I have long been thought to be true but have not followed up on:

Historians and sociologists have found that divisions within the Church have been typically more important than any conflict with science in estranging people from orthodoxy.

Thanks to Marilyn Savitt-Kring.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Richard Dawkins Redux

Another article on Richard Dawkins here. One particularly chilling quote:

"It's time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation. Isn't it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents' religion?"

We will raise our children as we see fit, thank you, Dr. Dawkins.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My friend Jon Reid relates a story about a conversation that he had with his children while driving them to school, in which his son tells him:

The teacher said we could choose and write that we believed in either creation or evolution. She just said you couldn't believe both.


Jon's response to the questions of his children was perfect:

But the Bible is not a science textbook. Science didn't exist then, we invented science only recently. So it doesn't make sense to put science onto the people who gave us the stories; it's not fair to them. There are questions religion can't answer, and there are questions science can't answer.

I wish there were more parents out there that thought this way.

Catching up Part 3: Walter R. Thorson addresses "Natural Theology."

The third article, Walter Thorson's Naturalism and design in biology: is intelligent dialogue possible? takes the view that ID, when viewed as a theological approach, is compatible with a naturalistic approach to science. Taking the same tack as the uniformly excellent Science Held Hostage, Thorson notes:

The established habit of appealing to "evolution" as an ultimate explanation for the biological order is no more legitimate scientifically than appealing to "design"--and this philosophical bias in the scientific community should be recognized for what it is.

He also points out that experiments in science that attempt to show the inadequacy of particular theoretical constructs, even if they are performed by ID proponents, are legitimate scientifically. Read the whole thing.

Catching up Part 2: Del Ratzsch reminds us...

In his article Design: what scientific difference could it make? Del Ratzsch reminds us of several things. First, in an echo of Van Till, he notes that the processes that make up a the formation of a phenomenon would be identical whether it was designed or not. Concerning the existence of an object such as a bulldozer, he states:

Whatever processes operated in the bulldozer, whatever principles its functioning exhibited--all would be exactly as manifest in the chance bulldozer as in the actually designed bulldozer, and anything that was there to be learned in the one would be there to be learned in the other. Beyond issues of mere artisan existence, whether the bulldozer is designed seems completely irrelevant on these specific counts.

The second thing is that, if we accept a design model of existence (and I do), examinations of the natural world amount to "reverse engineering." He suggests that this perspective is what fueled the motivations behind much of the scientific enterprise in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Read the whole thing.

Catching Up

In the pages of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, several interesting articles have appeared in recent years dealing with Genesis, evolution and design.

Dick Fischer, in his article Young-earth creationism: a literal mistake, argues that it is the misinterpretation of the scriptures that creates the current controversy regarding creation. His complaint, obviously, is not with creationism in general, but with the 6-day version of events. In some ways, this is a standard treatise on the mistranslation of words such as "day," "morning," "evening," and "year." He also touches on the universal flood, making an observation that I have not seen anywhere else:

Whatever remnants of the rivers Euphrates and Hidekkel (Tigris) mentioned in Genesis 2:14 that might exist would be buried beneath layers of flood-laid sedimentary rock. The flood would have scrubbed the earth's landscape. Yet we find the Euphrates thirteen chapters later. When Abraham receives his covenant from God, the Lord himself cites the "great river, the river Euphrates" (Gen. 15:18)

Another problem mentioned is the references to the Nephilim, in both Genesis and Numbers before and after the flood.

The problems with accepting a worldwide flood are best described by Mark Isaak here.

His best point, however, is his relation of YEC belief to theology as a whole. He notes:

Why have so many conservative Christians adopted young-earth creationism? The answer lies in this: while YECs can be criticized for using flawed logic in this particular area, in other areas of Christian doctrine, in general, their theology is quite sound.

Indeed, this is readily observable in many scripturally-grounded churches, home school curricula, magazines such as Christianity Today (I cancelled my subscription after one such terribly-written article) and ICR publications such as Days of Praise. Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

14th Amendment

My esteemed friend, Will Walsh, reminds me that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution extends the Bill of Rights down to the state and municipal levels. He writes:

The Dover school board, by advocating the instruction of a specific creation myth arising from a specific religion was, consistent with a reasonably long string of Supreme Court decisions, in violation of the First Amendment.

He is quite correct, in this regard.