Thursday, April 29, 2010

Josh Rosenau, Jerry Coyne, and the "New Creationism"

Jerry Coyne is an atheist. He makes no secret of it and, while he is considerably less acerbic than either Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Myers, it does spill out sometimes. Josh Rosenau noticed, in his zeal, he got some things wrong. Coyne writes:
I’m coyneing the term “New Creationism” to describe the body of thought that accepts Darwinian evolution but with the additional caveats that 1) it was all started by God, 2) had God-worshipping humans as its goal, and 3) that the evidence for all this is that life is complex, humans evolved, and the the “fine tuning” of physical constants of the universe testify to the great improbability of our being here—ergo God. New Creationism differs from intelligent design because it rejects God’s constant intervention in the process of evolution in favor of a Big, One-Time Intervention, and because these ideas are espoused by real scientists like Kenneth Miller and Simon Conway Morris. (Note that Miller, though, has floated the possibility that God does sometimes intervene in the physical world by manipulating electrons.) New Creationism is bad because, while operating under the deep cover of real science, it tries to gain traction for dubious claims about the supernatural.
Aside from the oh-so-cute play on his name, his closing premise is wrong. But first, Josh:

Two main thoughts occur. First, this is the creationism that preceded the Enlightenment. It's not, in any sense, new. And there's already a term for it: Theistic Evolution.

Second, the term "New Creationism" is not new. Creationist Henry Morris used the term "neo-creationism" to describe his strategy in 1997. A chapter in Scott's sourcebook on the controversy has a chapter titled "Neo-creationism." Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh used the term "New Creationism" in 1997 to describe a particular front in the Science Wars then waging, in which certain social scientists rejected biological explanations for human behaviors. Creationist Paul Garner titled his work of young earth creationism The New Creationism. It was published last year.
His main complaint stems from the belligerence with which Coyne presents this, however. He has his own definition to add:
coyne: (v) To invent a new pejorative which adds heat, not light, and which tends to collide with established usage.
Back to Coyne. The closing premise to his paragraph is incorrect. Evolutionary creationists do not use science as a "deep cover" to gain traction for anything. One of the complaints that theistic evolutionists/evolutionary creationists have about the "science" that is performed by recent earth creationists is that the science is always secondary to the particular theological perspective such that if it conflicts with the literal reading of scripture, it must be disposed of and "right thinking" science instated in its place. Theistic evolutionists understand that the physical world is the creation of God but that it behaves in accord with laws and processes that God has laid down.

When Jesus came to earth, he didn't say "I have come to make you understand science better." He came to save our souls. The world kept spinning on its axis and things kept evolving. Coyne gets that there are differences between ID supporters and TEs but because he has adopted a reductionist way of thinking about the universe, anything beyond the observable world doesn't exist. Consequently, any appeal to it, even outside the realm of science, is unacceptable. It isn't the science of Kenneth Miller that Coyne objects to. It is the religion of Kenneth Miller.
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