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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Darwinism, atheism, liberal religion, and the academy

As the Darwin bicentennial looms and the flapdoodle flaps, we are treated to ridiculous hagiography and soothing, reassuring spin on how Darwinism can live harmoniously with the non-materialist beliefs of the peoples of Earth.

Meanwhile, a friend draws my attention to Taner Edis.

He advises me that Edis is
a physicist at Truman State University and a researcher at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. He's also associate editor for physics and astronomy for the NCSE's monthly journal. In 2004, he co-edited Why Intelligent Design Fails, a volume with many scientific contributors opposing ID and supporting evolution; including various contributors associated with the NCSE.

And he offers some brief passages from Edis's 2005 book, Science and Nonbelief , as a commentary on the harmony we can expect:
"[E]volution does, in fact, undermine a common traditional conception of the nature of morality. In a Darwinian world, nature is no longer infused with morality. Living things do not have created functions that are right and proper, and variation is not a deviation from an essence with overtones of corruption."
(Taner Edis, Science and Nonbelief 90 (Greenwood Press, 2006).)

"[I]n the United States, there is a recent movement to celebrate February 12, Darwin's birthday, as "Darwin Day." This event is supported largely by humanist, freethought, and atheist-oriented groups, using slogans of science and humanity." Naturally, the scientific community responds positively, treading it as a public outreach .. Occasionally, university science departments cosponsor larger public events put on for Darwin Day, alongside atheist and humanist organizations." (Taner Edis, Science and Nonbelief 91 (Greenwood Press, 2006).)

"An alliance with religious liberals need not bother the nonreligious. After all, nonbelievers most often react against politically intrusive, conservative religions. Their political goals and ethical inclinations are usually close to those affirmed by modernist spiritualities. And even those nonbelievers who equate all religion with superstition very often think religious liberals are already halfway to rejecting the gods. If so, promoting public acceptance of Darwin would also nudge people toward dropping their supernatural beliefs, even if they hang on for a while to vague liberal conceptions of divinity." (Taner Edis, Science and Nonbelief 91-92 (Greenwood Press, 2006).)

Oh, well that's all perfectly all right then. If you attend a church, synagogue, mosque or whatever, Darwin Day sounds like a great way to find out which clergy should take early retirement. Just catch them promoting it.

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Darwinism can't be defended by mere silliness? Whodathunkit?

Years ago, when people would ask me how anyone could take seriously the pseudo-insights from evolutionary psychology, I would say that Darwinism today is where astrology was in the high middle ages: Truth, falsehood and nonsense all defend it equally. Its practitioners need only emit agreeable nonsense, and everyone who wants to get on in the world immediately acquiesces. (Unless he has a power base that suspects it is bunk.)

Mathematician Jason Rosenhouse, who hatres the ID folk, nonetheless thinks, as I do, that evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne signally failed to grapple with any real issues when he tried to trash Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution.
Coyne's little challenges here are a mixture of good points and bad points, but they are all jumbled together and the whole thing is presented with such malice that he even managed to turn me off, and I already think Behe is a snake. If he could piss ME off just think of the effect he is having on anyone who does not already despise ID.

Earth to Rosenhouse: Most of the world doesn't despise ID. People who doze gravel at a steep angle to pay your salary do not usually despise ID.

I seem to recall University of Toronto evolutionary biologist Larry Moran saying something similar.

(I shouldn’t need to say this here, but you have to meet a cogent argument with a cogent argument, and you can’t meet a cogent argument with dancing with the biologists. Well, you can, but ... )

Rosenhouse and Moran both think Darwinism can be fireproofed. Good job I don’t underwrite the policy.

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Edge of Evolution - a rare example of actual science in a bookstore science section today

Regular readers of this space will know that I blogged recently on an attempt to misshelve copies of Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution, presumably to keep people from assessing its argument .

(Behe’s argument in a nutshell: He has no problem with Darwinian evolution in principle, but when Darwinian evolution has actually be observed over vast numbers of generations of life forms in the laboratory, it does not work quickly or straightforwardly enough to do the work that the Darwinist typically insists it can do.)

Having advised intelligent readers, who do not need the Misshelver to help them decide what they should read or where they should find it, to go quickly to their local bookstore, and find and buy Behe’s Edge, I of course did the same thing myself. I already owned a copy and had reviewed the book weeks ago, so my purchase was just a test.

Because I buy most of my books on Amazon Canada, I had not realized how much of the current science section of a major Toronto bookstore is in fact given over to topics that don’t seem like science to me.

Examples: The evolution of religion (assumes that there is no revelation), the evolution of morality (assumes that there is no intrinsic moral order, just survivors), our inner ape, our future ape ... in other words, a whole bunch of flapdoodle that was probably kicked out of the social science section because it isn’t scientific enough.

And finally, tucked obscurely on a bottom shelf, I found Edge of Evolution, a book that I know for sure IS about science - an exact history of the long war between the malaria parasite and the human blood cell, showing what Darwinian evolution has done and - more critically - has not done through countless generations.

I bought it - it was the only copy. And there, left all alone in the dark, was a single copy of Behe’s previous book, Darwin’s Black Box. Misshelver Canada, if she exists, will need to find that book in order to hide it wherever she prefers. But I won’t even tell her where the store is, let alone where the book is.

Meanwhile, there’s an active combox discussion on the recent admission of an attempt to hide a bookstore’s copies of Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution by an aggrieved Darwinian evolutionist. One commenter asked me:
What I want to know is why does ID threaten a Darwinist like this so much that they feel the need to indulge in antics that would only impress a 10 year old ? Or apparently another "open minded godless liberal" ?

I replied

... it's hard to tell in this case because this individual is unwilling to confront her own real agenda.

That is, she tells us - and herself - that she'd like to teach the world biology and that her actions were "light-hearted" (= even if she did some damage, anyone who is annoyed with her has some kind of a problem).

Since you mention a 10 year old, even a 10 year old can see that the only foreseeable outcome of her activities is to create difficulties for people who wish to find Mike Behe's book. But a lucid adult of her political persuasion must protect herself from the realization that she is a censor by adopting a variety of poses - and that is just what we do see.

And so forth. Have fun. Enjoy the good weather.

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