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Monday, August 04, 2008

A sociologist's perceptive look at "theistic evolution"

Recently, I have been reading Warwick U sociologist Steve Fuller's Dissent over Descent: Intelligent Design's Challenge to Darwinism, and was intrigued by his comments about "theistic evolution", as understood by members of the American Scientific Affiliation and promoted by Francis Collins in The Language of God:
Theistic evolutionists ... simply take what Collins calls 'the existence of the moral law and the universal longing for God'' as a feature of human nature that is entrenched enough to be self-validating. But is their dismissal anything more than an arbitrary theological intervention? If humans are indeed, as the Darwinists say, just one among many species, susceptible to the same general tendencies that can be studied in the same general terms, then findings derived from methods deemed appropriate to animals should apply to us as well. Collins' own comprehensive but exclusive training in the hard sciences may explain why he believes in a God who communicates straightforwardly through the natural sciences but appears less willing to cooperate with the social sciences, including such biologically inflected fields as sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Instead Collins finds intuition, anecdote, theology and sheer faith to be more reliable sources of evidence. Why God should have chosen not to rely on the usual standards of scientific rigour in these anthropocentric matters remains a mystery. (p. 104-5)

Collins is unlikely to understand the problem Fuller raises - why should anyone take Collins's faith as anything more than an evolutionary glitch?

I am glad that a sociologist is researching the debate, because ASA-style theistic evolution makes sense only as sociology. It doesn't make sense intellectually. As I have said elsewhere, it is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist (= how you can continue to believe in God even though the universe shows no evidence of design). But everyone realizes that the universe shows evidence of design. Design theorists must explain it, and materialists must explain it away.

The other, less benign role of theistic evolution is to confuse traditional religious people by implying that, for example, "you can believe in Darwin - and Jesus too!" Well, Darwin didn't.

The way you believe in Jesus and Darwin too is by keeping yourself in a permanent state of confusion about the basic issues, or, Collins-style, not really understanding them. Some clergy are happy to help.

A friend alerted me to this article which nicely illustrates the muddle in progress. The article features the efforts of the Vatican to address the current Darwin cult. My friend asked me for a comment, and I replied,
Well, I hope the reason they are trying to play all sides of the table (except Dawkins's) is that they know that “evolution” is in a state of meltdown.

If not, they will soon find out. I think the Church’s antiquity is partly the result of avoiding taking a position until necessary - and there is always the Galileo affair to remind us of what happens when we fail to adopt that course.

From the news article: “In his article, "Darwinism From Different Points of View," he explained that Darwinian theories of natural selection are only completely unacceptable to the church when they are used to become the basis for justifying certain social policies and ethical choices.”

The main problem here would be instantly identified by ID godfather Phil Johnson: If Darwinian theories are a correct account of our origin and nature, then it is reasonable to use them to justify social policies and ethical choices.

To refuse to focus on whether the Darwinian account is true raises the possibility that we regard our own bases of action as a pleasant fiction and theirs as an unpleasant one. But that is a matter of taste, surely, and the subject should be put to a vote.

If, on the other hand, we can say Darwin was wrong about human nature (for that is the point at issue), we can reject the proposed social policies that depend on them without further consideration. More important, we can defend our own proposed policies as proceeding from a correct estimation of human worth, not merely our preference.

About that question, the most obscure backwoods six-day-creation crank is far more clued in than many a Jesuit prof, I fear.
Basically, I think Fuller is right. Theistic evolution is for people who find "intuition, anecdote, theology and sheer faith to be more reliable sources of evidence" when it comes to religion, and flee the implications of design in nature. No wonder the atheistic evolutionists use them but don't respect them.

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Why the education system needs to inculcate materialism and Darwinism

In the first of three excerpts from his book, Makers and Takers, author Peter Schweizer examines why liberal communities favour health spas and sushi bars, but view children as a burden. Then how to pass on their materialist ideas? Well, they do have a solution, Schweizer claims, quoting one of them,
“I’d say that the author of a popular book has far more aggregate influence than do one set of parents. So if the book is very popular and captures the imaginations of kids, presto, you’ve done a lot to insure that the ideas that are important to you live long after you pass on … If it’s the ideas that matter then I suppose that there are ways that folks like you can propagate the ideas without having your own kids be your lab rats.”
Think of all the earnest, child-free people out there flogging one brand of materialist ideology or another, earning a good living on tax money by passing it on to other people's children. It is not Dawkins's "selfish gene" but to be sure, but they seem to think this will work better.

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Darwin: Now that it's all in ruins, they're fighting over the rubble?

In Science or Monkey Business?: A Review of Roy Davies’ The Darwin Conspiracy, Flannery talks about the oft-raised question of whether Darwin routinely made unattributed use of the work of others.

I've often wondered about that, ever since - in 2002 - a Darwinist prof informed me that the reason people raised that question was that they didn't really believe in Darwin.

It was one of those moments of recognition - he sounded just like a certain type of fundamentalist informing me that the reason people analyzed the Bible critically was that they didn't really believe in Darwin. It strengthened me in my resolve to write By Design or by Chance?

In fact, people have raised the question over the years, and now Roy Davies throws in his hat:

The central theme of this rather slim 204-page volume is that Darwin lied and cheated his way into prominence as the principal discoverer of modern evolutionary theory and hence into the annals of science and world history as arguably the most influential theorist of Western Civilization. Who did he cheat? Several people - Edward Blyth for one, but most notably Alfred Russel Wallace. How was he able to do it? It’s a long and elaborate tale, but basically with the help of his friends Joseph Dalton Hooker and Charles Lyell, who “agreed to put their own reputations on the line” and read a joint Darwin/Wallace paper for the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858, the two men in an unseemly collaboration “to ensure priority for Darwin” (their longtime friend and fellow gentleman of rank and standing), manipulated key dates and events to make it appear that Charles had indeed come up with the crucial features of adaption and natural selection independently of Wallace who at the time was away collecting specimens in the Malay Archipelago (see p. 153). They informed Wallace of the reading (selecting the details carefully, of course), and so half-informed and ignorant of most of their machinations, Wallace (a man of much more middling means and social class) was delighted to be thrust into such rarified atmosphere as that inhabited by the Linneans elite. He could never have done it on his own. But this joint paper exercise wasn’t really about Wallace; it was about Darwin. In fact, the whole preemptive reading was railroaded into the Society agenda rather quickly after Darwin received the now-famous Ternate letter from Wallace laying out in detail the essential features of natural selection. The whole scheme was designed to deflect an almost certain trumpery on the part of Wallace if something wasn’t done and done posthaste.

Much in this history depends upon what Darwin knew and when he knew it.
From this account, Darwin does not emerge as a very pleasant person, let alone the object of the ridiculous hagiography (pious saints' legends) I have mentioned here in the past. Actually, Darwin's theory and the huge anti-traditional religion enterprise it has spawned is in a state of collapse, because (1) Most of the evidence is against either Darwin's original theory and its "neo" version, and no one can say any longer what is correct.

Meanwhile - for public consumption, the hagiography and misrepresentation go on. One thing the Darwinists can count on is that few legacy media would dream of exposing this stuff.

See also:

Darwin misconceptions in textbooks slammed in biology journal

Darwinism as a religion and the courts


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