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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Theistic evolution: What does it really mean?

I asked a prof recently,

I don't mean to cause a hassle, but ... doesn't "theistic evolution" - Francis Collins- style - naturally lead to unorthodoxy?

Collins's view - amounts to making rules for God, doesn't it? Like, what God is or isn't allowed to do.

So then the rules run God, but God doesn't run the rules. So the rules are really God.

So we can dispense with God. It's just the rules, really.

Then we only need show that the rules could somehow have evolved without any
intelligence, and we have atheism.

If that is not "theistic evolution", American Scientific Affiliation list-style, please tell me what exactly it is.

I needn't wonder any longer why people who go for that sort of thing end up outside the evangelical Christian community.

Why I even care: I must write a journal article for ASA's Perspectives soon. I don't plan to get into religion, but don't want a fight with them.

I am a news hack. We call it news because it isn't "olds.".

PS: I am a genuine theistic evolutionist, like Mike Behe, in the sense that I think that God could create entirely through evolution, if that is what he chooses to do. But it is a designed process. Specifically, there is nothing random about the outcome. And there is evidence of design.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Huh? Frank Beckwith, of all people, attacked by conspirazoid prof Barbara Forrest?

Here's an interesting example of the way that any non-materialist draws fire from materialist atheists.

Baylor prof Frank Beckwith had a big tenure fight a while back, possibly connected with his view that it is not unconstitutional to teach that the universe is intelligently designed in an American school setting and that there is something wrong with killing our kids and then wondering who is going to work to pay our pensions.

And - while Beckwith does not endorse the ID view, and has often attacked it and its proponents - he was recently savaged at considerable length by conspirazoon Barbara Forrest (author of The Trojan Horse).

David DeWolf, a Catholic and one of the evil Discovery Institute types, who currently star as the villains in a local potboiler, offered me some thoughts on the difficulties that Catholics like Beckwith and he may face.

It took me a while to get to his comments, so I wrote back advising him that there is no shortage of dump bears from hell here either.

But here are his thoughts:
Speaking as a Roman Catholic, I would say that to the extent there is a lesson from the Galileo affair (and historians know how distorted the contemporary understanding of that business is), many Catholics, sadly, even those in positions of authority, have gotten it just backwards. Those who want to avoid another Galileo affair should be slow to identify the Church or the Faith with a particular scientific theory. After all, today's scientific confidence can be tomorrow's embarrassment.

But that's not what many prominent Roman Catholics have been doing. Instead, what we see today is an *embrace* of "evolution" -- even of Charles Darwin -- as though that theory had been proven and the Church wants to show it's on the side of the winner.

One might say it would be foolish to declare ID the winner in the debate, although Catholics (certainly those in the Thomist tradition) are already on record as affirming design and teleology. Why some Thomists want to draw such a sharp distinction between teleology as a philosophical matter and the evidence of teleology in biological structure is a mystery to me (I gather it is a mystery to Mike Behe, as well).

There is a danger in identifying only *some* events as displaying teleology, suggesting that God is in direct control of some things, but on sabbatical (so to speak) with respect to, say, an apparently random pile of rocks at the bottom of a hillside. As with most things, I repair to Scripture for assistance: the Gospels repeatedly refer to various events in Jesus' life as being a fulfillment of prophecy. To point out, say, that none of Jesus' bones were broken during the crucifixion, is not to suggest that only the events specifically identified as a fulfillment of prophecy were planned, while the rest of Jesus' life just sort of happened. But there is a reason for pointing out that certain events support a logical inference of design, and these are significant precisely because the question of design in history, in the universe, is very much in dispute. Therefore, it baffles me that, rather than embracing ID as a plausible account of biology (plausible, but far from being what the Darwinians claim about evolution -- more firmly established than the law of gravity), many otherwise loyal Churchmen run for the exit door as if the place were on fire. Sure, there are ways to distort ID to turn it in a bad theological direction. But there's nothing that I can detect that should make a Roman Catholic any less enthusiastic about ID than any other variety of Christian.
It's never been any kind of a mystery to me. Many terrified Christians feel they need to accommodate atheism, and that means selling out Christians who come up with reasons why atheism might not be true, as opposed to finding ways to somehow sneak out to holler for Jesus while letting atheists rule.

(Note: Some people believe in conspiracies, and some don't. My own experience as a hack inclines me to the latter, skeptical view. Few can resist the self-importance of spilling their guts to an obliging hack. So the conspiracies that really exist are small, highly focused, and often involve people [think 9-11] who get themselves killed. Didn't the 20th jihadi start to spill? Could be torture? I'd never torture the fellow myself, because if you just lock up people like him up for a while, they start to spill to a polite and friendly interview officer - usually through a desire for importance and meaning in life.)

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Science and society: Methodological naturalism as the religious link between science and government-sponsored atheism

Recently, some friends and I were discussing methodological naturalism (MN),
The philosophical doctrine of methodological naturalism holds that, for any study of the world to qualify as "scientific," it cannot refer to God's creative activity (or any sort of divine activity). The methods of science, it is claimed, "give us no purchase" on theological propositions--even if the latter are true--and theology therefore cannot influence scientific explanation or theory justification. Thus, science is said to be religiously neutral, if only because science and religion are, by their very natures, epistemically distinct. However, the actual practice and content of science challenge this claim. In many areas, science is anything but religiously neutral; moreover, the standard arguments for methodological naturalism suffer from various grave shortcomings
MN is a useful idea in its place. That is, if your dog dies, you might better look to natural causes than supernatural ones for an explanation. Dogs are natural creatures, subject to diseases and other misfortunes. If that was all MN meant, no reasonable person would doubt it.

But that is not all it means. It means that

1. "Naturalistic" explanations must be insisted on, no matter how ridiculous or unsatisfactory.

Once it hits the popular culture, MN also means that any methodological naturalist (MN) explanation is by definition better than any other one, no matter how stupid or useless.

For example, the three-ring circus of “evolutionary psychology” is a direct outgrowth of MN.

No matter how stupid, unnatural, counterfactual, or counterintuitive an evo psycho explanation is, it must be treated with respect because it supposedly ties in to “evolution” – which is doctrinaire MN – even if the explanation is at the level of Ooga! Ooga! or the Big Bazooms theory of evolution. Go here
or here, if you want to know about more current nut moments in this supposed discipline.

The fact that a given evo psycho theory is stupid and unlikely, and unsupported by serious evidence, is not a detraction, provided that it invokes the sacred name of "evolution." The key reason is that "evolution" is believed to support MN.

Otherwise, people would say, "Look, evolution happened, but all this stupidity is just plain stupidity."

But they can't – not because of evolution but because of MN. That is precisely the stranglehold MN has on our culture. It forces people to believe stupid things, as a matter of moral and intellectual obligation, because believing smarter and more obvious things would violate the principle.

That's why people feel wounded when someone like me tells them
But your Big Bazooms theory is just plain stoopid! There is an easier explanation for why men prefer stacked women to skinny ones. How about this: It's not about having kids, it's about having fun. Kids arrive, sure, but that guy didn’t organize his life around kids at first … that came later, when he was appalled at how loud a newborn can shriek, and how hard it is to ignore that shrieking kid … and it's his kid anyway, so ...
2. MN also means, among other things, that useless supposed science projects (like trying to discover exactly how life originated) continue to attract funding and can never be evaluated in a rational way. That is, there is probably no way of determining exactly how life originated, whether life's origin was entirely by chance events or not. Indeed, if life originated purely by chance events, it is less likely that we can know exactly how it happened.

3. A third disadvantage of MN is that speculation comes to sound like science - as long as it agrees with MN. For example, take the view that we are not unusual - and therefore, there must be just tons of alien civilizations out there. How do we know? We don't. We certainly haven't heard from any of them.

4. A fourth disadvantage - and in my view, the biggest one - is that it forces people to decide that they cannot accept bodies of evidence that don't coincide with materialist atheism (MN's true sponsor, of course, however many Bible college profs may have embraced it). So there is this ridiculous dance around the "hard problem" of human consciousness., Why is it a hard problem? Because consciousness is not a material entity. That would suggest studying it as a non-material entity. Oh, but wait. MN says no, because that might open the door to the idea of divine action.

Therefore, there are no non-material entities.

Remember, You can't study consciousness the way it really is, so you must study it the way it really isn't, and come up with gimcrack theories that convince no one. Talk about a "science stopper ... "

So, the trick with MN is to see that it's not about science. It's a way of making decisions.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


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