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Does It Matter That Sen. Brownback Doesn't Accept the Theory of Evolution?

Jonathan links to Sen. Brownback's explanation of his views, which do indeed seem to reject the proposition that man evolved through a natural process from lower life forms. Nor, as best I can tell, does he take the view that evolution took place but that the mechanism for evolution was set up by God. Perhaps I'm wrong on this -- his argument isn't crystal clear -- but it seems that he is viewing man as a product of separate creation:

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man's origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

How should this affect a person's judgment about whether he supports Sen. Brownback? I'm not sure I know the answer, but I thought I'd raise the question, and mention a few thoughts of my own. (Note that I am by no means a supporter of Brownback's, though I have no implacable hostility to him, either.)

1. We might argue that this shows Brownback believes things that are provably false, and that this reflects badly on his judgment. But while I myself believe in evolution, I can hardly say that divine creation is provably false, at least under any familiar standard of "proof." If God exists, and he can work miracles, he might have created man in a way that makes evolution look plausible. I don't see any evidence for this proposition, but I can't say I can disprove it. For that matter, I can't say that a theory that man was created by super-intelligent aliens -- either created from scratch or "uplifted," to borrow David Brin's science fiction term, from apes -- is provably false.

2. We might argue that this shows Brownback believes things about the physical world that are not based chiefly on reason and evidence, and that this reflects badly on his judgment. This is a classic burden-is-on-believers-to-show-it argument against belief in God: As a friend of mine put it, there is the same evidence for the existence of God (at least once evolution is available to explain the development of complex systems) as for the existence of werewolves. Yet we would comfortably say that "werewolves don't exist," and look askance at someone who says "wait, maybe they do exist, you can't prove that they don't." We usually put the burden on people who are claiming the existence of things to provide some evidence that they exist; a contrary view is seen by us as superstitious or unscientific (again, consider claims about werewolves, vampires, or ghosts).

Likewise, the argument would go, we should fault those who assume the existence of a God, and a miracle-working God at that, without real evidence or logical deduction. Of course, this assumes that we've rejected the logical arguments for the existence of God, but I've never found any of those to be particularly persuasive, and in my experience even many religious people don't rely on those arguments.

Note, though, that this argument would equally apply to candidates who sincerely believe in the Virgin Birth, in the Resurrection, in the parting of the Red Sea, and in any other miracle. Perhaps it should apply to them; but I do want to flag that this argument isn't peculiar to evolution.

3. We might argue that this shows Brownback, if elected President, will have a lousy science policy.

Evolution is not in some abstract sense the "simplest" or "most plausible" theory of the development of mankind or of other species. Divine creation is in some ways simpler, and to some more plausible. Evolution is the simplest or most plausible theory that doesn't require the existence of some external intelligence (whether God or aliens); in that respect, there is some truth to the argument that belief in evolution rests on a sort of judgment about the relevance of God just as creationism does.

But what makes evolution better is that this naturalistic assumption is much more productive of potentially useful predictions about the world. Compare, by analogy, the theories that the planets appear to move around the sky because of gravity, that the planets appear to move around the sky because divine beings push them, and that the planets appear to move around the sky because all reality is just a dream. The good thing about the gravity theory isn't that it's provably true and the others are provably false; they definitionally resist disproof. Rather, the gravity theory is the most useful theory -- most useful at predicting the location of planets, at developing machines, and more -- and the other theories aren't useful at all.

If this is right, then rejecting the theory of evolution would lead a Brownback Administration to misinvest science research resources, and to underinvest in research that assumes the theory of evolution. This might distinguish most beliefs about one-off miracles in the past; it's unlikely, for instance, that a government leader's belief in the Virgin Birth would lead to poor governmental judgments about funding of gynecology and obstetrics.

4. We might argue that electing Brownback would make America look foolish to world elites that accept the theory of evolution. On the other hand, note that this, too, is potentially true of electing people with various other religious beliefs; and query more generally how much we should guide our judgment by such concerns.

In any case, these are just some tentative thoughts. I offer them not because I'm sure about them, or because I feel I've settled on an answer, but just because I think this is an important intellectual and practical question, and I wanted to stoke the conversation a little.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Does It Matter That Sen. Brownback Doesn't Accept the Theory of Evolution?
  2. Brownback on Evolution:
Anderson (mail) (www):
But while I myself believe in evolution, I can hardly say that divine creation is provably false, at least under any familiar standard of "proof."

Put another way, however, Brownback disbelieves things that are provably true. There is a great deal of evidence for evolution by natural selection.

One might not want to have a President who disbelieves anything with as much evidence supporting it as "macroevolution is true" on the basis that his religious beliefs require him to think otherwise.
5.31.2007 4:11pm
uh clem (mail):
If there really are unicorns, what color are they?

We can spend time debating this, with about as much practicality as debating Sen Brownbacks hypothetical policies should he be elected president.

Instead, I propose we all breathe a sigh of relief that the three candidates who raised their hands on May 4th are fringe candidates and will remain fringe candidates.
5.31.2007 4:13pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Good questions although I’m inclined to agree with Governor Huckabee (who along with Representative Tancredo also raised his hand to the question) – this doesn’t really have anything to do with being president of the United State. If anything it’s a distraction from serious issues which is a bloody shame particularly with the limited time that candidates get to answer questions in these debates.

FTR though:

We might argue that electing Brownback would make America look foolish to world elites that accept the theory of evolution. On the other hand, note that this, too, is potentially true of electing people with various other religious beliefs; and query more generally how much we should guide our judgment by such concerns.


I won’t vote for Sam Brownback for reasons that have nothing to do with his rejection of the theory of evolution – but you may want to remember that these “world elites” undoubtedly already look down their noses at the United States and pretty much always have. In which case a chance to stick a thumb in their collective eye might actually be a point in his favor.
5.31.2007 4:16pm
byomtov (mail):
Anderson pretty much nails it.

EV overlooks the argument that Brownback deserves criticism because he refuses to believe things for which there is overwhelming evidence, because, well, he just doesn't believe them.

It's not a question of religious faith, it's a question of not accepting empirical facts. That's a pretty undesirable quality in a President.
5.31.2007 4:17pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
it's a question of not accepting empirical facts. That's a pretty undesirable quality in a President.

And who knows where *that* would get us ....
5.31.2007 4:19pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
What thing does Brownback disbelieve that is provably true, if one assumes a God who can perform miracles? (I don't assume this, but Brownback isn't the only candidate, I expect, who does assume it.)
5.31.2007 4:27pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
Who knows what it would be like to have a president who doesn't believe in science? Oh wait, we already have one.
5.31.2007 4:29pm
nunzio:
Not accepting empirical facts is an unfortunate trait in all our presidential candidates. It leads to spending money on policies that don't work. Stay tuned.

An interesting corrolary to EV's questions are whether if Brownback's beliefs don't disqualify him from being a US Senator should they still disqualify him from being President?
5.31.2007 4:30pm
Esquire:
"What thing does Brownback disbelieve that is provably true, if one assumes a God who can perform miracles? (I don't assume this, but Brownback isn't the only candidate, I expect, who does assume it.)"

Exactly! As I wrote in the previous thread:

I'm always disturbed at dogmatism in science...if we say it's intellectually legitimate to believe in a virgin birth, a resurrection, walking on water, and countless other "non-scientific" tenets of certain faiths, then why draw the line at whether a Creator could have reasonably done something else inconsistent with the "evidence?"

Admittedly, the Dawkins types do indeed go "all the way" and denounce religion althogether -- but it seems that's what you'd need to do...
5.31.2007 4:31pm
plunge (mail):
The argument was unclear DELIBERATELY. Brownback never really commits himself to any grappling with any evidence for this or that: even a 6000-year old earth is mentioned as not necessarily creationist... but isn't discounted as false either.

In short, the entire thing is an exercise in careful rhetorical cowardice. I don't think he believes the Earth is 6000 years old... but he knows full well that a large number of his most ardent supporters do.

He also pulls this whopper out: he claims that he "of course" believes that small changes within a species are possible "but on the other hand" does not believe that all life is meaningless randomness with no hand of God. That's about as dishonestly false a dichotomy as you can get: and yet again allows him to careful sidestep any discussion about evidence for things like common descent (or even any specific mention of it and discounting it) while at the same time discounting it as part of a pretty serious straw man.

Then there are the usual creationist canards (scientists have various debates over particular mechanisms and elements of evolution, so therefore they are not sure whether common descent really happened at all: which is, of course, false).

And while he has a fair point in that people who claim that evolution demonstrates that all life is without external purpose are going farther than science can support, most of those people are already honest about that. Worse, Brownback just does the same damn thing, when he asserts:

"Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."

i.e. he has the truth, and anything that speaks against it need not apply.
5.31.2007 4:36pm
Colin (mail):
What thing does Brownback disbelieve that is provably true, if one assumes a God who can perform miracles? (I don't assume this, but Brownback isn't the only candidate, I expect, who does assume it.)

He disbelieves in evolution, or, as he calls it, "macroevolution." I understand that he touts miracles as an alternative to provability, but that means that he doesn't believe that anything is provably true. I think that says poor things about his rationality, and is a point against him in the election.

More broadly, I wouldn't vote against someone because they believed in miracles, or in unprovable assertions generally. (I might vote against them if they believed in specific, objectionable, unprovable assertions.) But Brownback says, "Aspects of [scientific] theories that undermine [religiously revealed] truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science." There is, as Anderson suggests, a world of difference between believing in a faith-based assertion and rejecting scientific evidence on the basis of that faith. Brownback is running for President of the Synod; I want a candidate who represents his polity on the basis of objectivity, not subjective and unprovable revelations.

If he can't believe in science because he doesn't want to, then how can we trust him to believe in economic or strategic realities that conflict with his preferred preconclusions?
5.31.2007 4:42pm
Colin (mail):
Excuse me - Brownback isn't running for President of the Synod.
5.31.2007 4:43pm
Nikolay (mail):
It's very end that is most troubling:
Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.
What does he mean, "should be firmly rejected"? In what way? Should the books be burned? Or would he prefer to burn people?

BTW, this uniqueness in the created order -- does it mean he's totally sure there's no life outside Earth? Or that aliens, were we to meet them, would definitely be inferior?
5.31.2007 4:46pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Well, Sen. Clinton believed that CFR was Constitutional and GWB believed he could count on the USSC to cover for him if he signed it, so I can't say that an ability to believe without evidence is much of a disqualifier for President. Au contraire....

Incidentally, EV, God is no more evident in the world than we are evident in our bodies. But so long as our assumptions are that we work the way the world works and that we work by will, the burden of proof is on the atheists.
5.31.2007 4:47pm
Esquire:
All knowledge -- at the most fundamental level -- rests on certain conditions/assumptions. Most of the time, we all *agree* on these, so it's not an issue; but the most fundamental philosophical divides (like this) about man's origin, etc., show that one's worldview ultimately drives everything else.

The conviction that there can be no more reliable a source of truth than whatever we've defined "science" to be (which BTW was a subset of philosophy until a couple hundred years ago!) is every bit as much an article of "faith" as is the opposite view.
5.31.2007 4:49pm
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Nope. What if we had a candidate who denied the holocaust happened but was otherwise exemplary? The good deeds wouldn't matter right? That denial alone clues you in that there's a basic cognitive deficiency in our hypothetical candidate.

Evolution is so central to modern biological science that such head in the sand idiocy should be automatically disqualifying.
5.31.2007 4:49pm
Crust (mail):
I don't think it matters that much if a candidate doesn't believe in evolution, at least not directly. I'm far more troubled for instance if they seek to deny human-caused global warming as that has direct, major policy consequences.
5.31.2007 4:51pm
JLR (mail):
I think the key conclusion to be drawn here is that Senator Brownback, when it comes to the question of evolution, is not thinking scientifically, but rather is thinking theologically.

Senator Brownback has theological first principles, and any scientific evidence that he believes contradicts those first principles is automatically discounted. Scientific thinking means being willing to question fundamental premises, and being willing to give up those premises should enough convincing empirical evidence come to light. Theological thinking means having faith that one's fundamental premises are true regardless of empirical evidence.

Stephen Jay Gould conceived of science and religion as "non-overlapping magisteria." Senator Brownback does not. And that leads one to wonder how he would approach science policy, and even empirical data generally.
5.31.2007 4:52pm
Hattio (mail):
I would say the fact that Brownback is being deliberately unclear because certain potential voters believe one thing is clearly true and certin PV's believe another is clearly true, and he doesn't have the guts to commit to either one makes him untrustworthy as a president. But, as with so many of the objections, this would apply to every candidate with one issue or aonther.
5.31.2007 4:55pm
Sophist:
I find his attitude about belief off-putting. It is one thing to have faith and quite another to have it with this convinction. These beliefs play such a central role in his reasoning in that any claims that contravene them are not only false, they don't even fall in the realm of "science" but "atheistic theology posing as science." This strikes me as very strong language. He even states it in the passive voice, in a general manner, as if we all should believe and act this way as well. I have no problem with an executive with strong beliefs about things not provably true or false, but his certainty in these beliefs - the hints that we should all be so certain - reflects poorly on his judgement. He sounds stubborn and arrogant, and I wouldn't think these traits are only characteristic of his attitude about religious matters but other, more politically salient matters as well.

Although I wouldn't want a president as confident in his atheism, at least I would now that this purely hypothetical president probably had great respect for "reason" and scientific thinking.
5.31.2007 4:55pm
Orielbean (mail):
I like this truth the best.

Wiki yielded this quote of a quote.

"Robert Wicks discusses Nietzsche's basic view of truth as follows:

Some scholars regard Nietzsche's 1873 unpublished essay, "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" ("Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn") as a keystone in his thought. In this essay, Nietzsche rejects the idea of universal constants, and claims that what we call "truth" is only 'a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms.' His view at this time is that arbitrariness completely prevails within human experience: concepts originate via the very artistic transference of nerve stimuli into images; "truth" is nothing more than the invention of fixed conventions for merely practical purposes, especially those of repose, security and consistence."
5.31.2007 4:56pm
Esquire:
I'm sure we can think of various times throughout history where something "so central to modern . . . science" or otherwise viewed as beyond question was indeed legitimately challenged. This is why academic freedom, freedom of speech/religion/etc. need to be so absolute...
5.31.2007 4:56pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It doesn't take evolution, or evolution exclusively, to find people who deny the provably obvious.
Evolution, though, has that special cachet which allows certain of us to feel immeasurably, inconceivably superior to others of us.
Taking one side or the other of Newton vs. Einstein just won't do it.
5.31.2007 4:57pm
Colin (mail):
And that leads one to wonder how he would approach science policy, and even empirical data generally.

With a pitchfork and a torch, apparently.
5.31.2007 4:57pm
Just Visiting:
What thing does Brownback disbelieve that is provably true, if one assumes a God who can perform miracles?

What does anyone disbelieve (or believe) that is provably true (or false), if one assumes a God who can perform miracles? Put another way, is "I don't care what the physical evidence says, God did it" a legally valid defense? If not, why not?
5.31.2007 4:59pm
plunge (mail):
"The conviction that there can be no more reliable a source of truth than whatever we've defined "science" to be (which BTW was a subset of philosophy until a couple hundred years ago!) is every bit as much an article of "faith" as is the opposite view."

Nice try, but no dice, aside from I guess comforting yourself.

The definition of science is basically not that much different from the principles of the everyday empiricism we ALL admit to by virtue of dealing with the physical world in a rational way. You're posting to the internet on a device developed by scientists: you're doing this INSTEAD of trying to beam your thoughts directly into our minds. So even you seem to implicitly admit that one is far more reasonable than the other.

I'm sorry if the rest of philosophy is a bit envious of the ability of science to deliver useful and verifiable to all (rather than just to believers) truths to a degree no amount of faith seems capable of, but science really can't help that.
5.31.2007 5:00pm
U.Va. 2L:
What thing does Brownback disbelieve that is provably true, if one assumes a God who can perform miracles?

Nothing, which is precisely why his answer makes him unfit to be President. If one assumes a god who can perform miracles, there's no need for empirical proof. After all, apples might fall from trees because a god wills it, not because of gravity. Of course, believing in such a god is by no means an automatic disqualification, but it doesn't say much for a candidate's ability to use logical reasoning when he refuses to rely on an explanation of some phenomenon for which there are loads of empirical proof (like evolution or gravity) in favor of relying on a miraculous god.
5.31.2007 5:02pm
Birdman2 (mail):
"What thing does Brownback disbelieve that is provably true, if one assumes a God who can perform miracles?"

We can approach this question as reasonable people approach almost all questions in life, or we can approach it by insisting that "provably true" means "so clearly true that there is zero doubt." Prof. Volokh appears to be using the latter approach, which Descartes' thought experiment (viewed critically and sensibly) showed doesn't get one any farther than knowing that one exists. That seems to me to be the wrong approach to the "provably true" concept.

Using the approach that almost all of us actually use in real-life situations, then the answer to the question is: Senator Brownback denies the provably true fact that human beings descended, via application of the principles of natural selection, from earlier "primitive" -- more apelike -- species. Sure, a "God that performs miracles" might have intentionally placed in the archaeological/genetic record the abundant evidence of such descent that actually exists, simply in order to fool us (or for any other reason that He chose). But that hypothesis, like the one Prof. Volokh explicitly mentions in connection with planetary motion (that we're simply dreaming) has meaning only if we're applying the extreme definition of "provably true." And that definition is so extreme as to be literally meaningless.

Indeed, as I understand scientific reasoning, nothing is "provably true" in any ultimate sense; instead, a great number of things are provably false, and propositions that are falsified are rejected, permitting us to continue the never-ending quest for "true" propositions. And such falsification is accomplished through application of reasonable and not extreme notion of what is sufficient proof (i.e., a notion that rejects the possibility that the scientists in question are all dreaming).

It is correct that any candidate who is an orthodox, believing Christian presumably believes in at least one miracle, and probably in several. But as one commenter pointed out, such belief -- in a miracle or miracles that happened long, long ago -- is different from disbelieving current facts that, under any reasonable definition, are clearly true.
5.31.2007 5:02pm
byomtov (mail):
What thing does Brownback disbelieve that is provably true, if one assumes a God who can perform miracles?

If one assumes a God who can perform miracles, then nothing is provably true, not even that Sam Brownback exists.

The issue is what Brownback regards as a basis for forming beliefs about the natural world. He plainly gives his personal beliefs priority over empirical facts. He says as much in the op-ed. If he is willing to do that with respect to evolution then he may be willing to do it with respect to matters he deals with more directly as President.

It is not that hebelieves things about the physical world that are not based chiefly on reason and evidence, , but that he refuses to believe things about the nattural world for which there is overwhelming evidence.
5.31.2007 5:03pm
Esquire:
"I'm sorry if the rest of philosophy is a bit envious of the ability of science to deliver useful and verifiable to all (rather than just to believers) truths to a degree no amount of faith seems capable of, but science really can't help that."

It's interesting that Augustine believed scripture should be interpreted so as to not pose any inconsistencies with otherwise-known (i.e., science, intuition, etc.) facts, so as to maintain credibility with the world. Aquinas, on the other hand, seemed content to only use reason when it suited his theology (for which he was criticized by Russell and other atheists/agnostics).

I believe that it's rational for somebody to believe that science is 99.99999% accurate, and yet that his faith is 100% accurate, and thus when they occasionally depart (which need not happen very often in daily life!) that faith would thus come first...

I realize this poses all sorts of *practical* problems, but is there any *logical* problem here?
5.31.2007 5:07pm
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Esquire, the senator can proclaim the moon a soft boiled egg for all I care. The topic is whether we should have any intellectual standards for presidential candidates.

A hypothet obviously since Bush is president. In any event, I'm all for challeging the scientific status quo, but we must have certain standards.

Whenever anyone tells me creationism should be presented as an alternative in science class, I ask if holocaust denial should be so treated in history class. I don't know if you've spent much time investigating the neo-nazi holocaust denial propaganda, but those idiots do apparently believe it, in outright denial of all empirical reality based on a priori beliefs.

Creationism is a less toxic belief, but its intellectual foundations are equally shoddy.
5.31.2007 5:10pm
plunge (mail):
"I'm sure we can think of various times throughout history where something "so central to modern . . . science" or otherwise viewed as beyond question was indeed legitimately challenged. This is why academic freedom, freedom of speech/religion/etc. need to be so absolute..."

This is the famous "they laughed at Einstein, they laughed at Galileo" dodge. But the reality is that they also laughed at the Marx Brothers. Yes, plenty of new ideas have radically challenged longtime assumptions (though never to quite the degree often portrayed). But that in and of itself is not a legitimate argument against any specific consensus or body of evidence. Science IS always open to challenges, but challenges on the evidence, not of rhetoric. Einstein and Galileo brought evidence to the table.

It's also worth noting that since the advent of modern science, not a whole lot of the big ticket items (or which evolution is undeniably is one) really HAS been completely overturned. Even Eistein and others who ushered in the crazy realm of QM vastly deepened our understanding of the universe, but not to the extent that it made older equations wrong: they continued to be useful and accurate within the realms and scales in which they were developed. Likewise, things like common descent and evolutionary change are highly unlikely to turn out to be completely wrong: there is just too much convergent evidence for them. We may well one day turn out to discover unexpected and important new principles and ideas. But if so, they almost certainly will deepen our understanding rather than invalidating older, comparatively sloppier constructs.
5.31.2007 5:11pm
EH:
"I'm sure we can think of various times throughout history where something "so central to modern . . . science" or otherwise viewed as beyond question was indeed legitimately challenged."

How many times were they legitimately challenged by creationism? Answer: None. They were challenged by science itself.
5.31.2007 5:12pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Prof. Volokh appears to be using the latter approach, which Descartes' thought experiment (viewed critically and sensibly) showed doesn't get one any farther than knowing that one exists. That seems to me to be the wrong approach to the "provably true" concept.

Right. If Brownback thinks a deceitful demon might've faked the fossil record, inserted mitochondrial DNA into our cells, and whisked the WMD's out of Iraq just as our troops crossed the border, then he should say so. Preferably on video.

Otherwise, the objection belongs in undergraduate philosophy class.
5.31.2007 5:14pm
Guest J (mail):
In light of the fossil record, the way genes work, the observed similarities between different species, etc., evolution is indeed the most simple theory that ties together all this evidence. It is not simpler to propose that a creator created beings with characteristics that happen to look exactly like what we would expect if species evolved -- vestigial traits, non-functional genes that function in other species, bizarre common limitiations, etc. -- because this then raises the question why a creator would create creatures in such a way as to look, for all the world, like they evolved from each other, even if doing so would impose flaws on the creation. (For example, humans cannot synthesize our own vitamin C. Yet we have some of the genetic heritage for it. This sure looks like an evolutionary accident.) The intentional creation of the various species with all these traits only appears simpler if you're ignorant of these things and don't consider their significance as evidence of evolution.
5.31.2007 5:17pm
James Ellis (mail):
I just don't know if I could be comfortable voting for a guy who would authorize a 26 year old press secretary to instruct a volunteer intern to go out and and find someone to ghost write an op-ed like this!
5.31.2007 5:17pm
Esquire:
Does anybody who believes creationism to be intellectually illegitimate *not* believe the same to be true of the resurrection? I'm honestly curious why one is generally more tolerated as an acceptable belief than the other, when both would seem to defy science so blatantly.
5.31.2007 5:18pm
Guest101:

1. We might argue that this shows Brownback believes things that are provably false, and that this reflects badly on his judgment. But while I myself believe in evolution, I can hardly say that divine creation is provably false, at least under any familiar standard of "proof." If God exists, and he can work miracles, he might have created man in a way that makes evolution look plausible. I don't see any evidence for this proposition, but I can't say I can disprove it. For that matter, I can't say that a theory that man was created by super-intelligent aliens -- either created from scratch or "uplifted," to borrow David Brin's science fiction term, from apes -- is provably false.

I realize you're going out of your way to be impartial here, but you're smarter than this, Eugene. Obviously, science makes certain assumptions about the reality of the empirically-observed world that are vulnerable if one stipulates to the existence of an omnipotent God who does things like putting dinosaur fossils in the ground as a test of faith, but the problem is, as pointed out above, that if you accept that premise, nothing is "provably false." We all assume, concededly without "proof" in the absolute sense, that the empirical observations presented by our senses are a generally accurate depiction of external physical reality. By that standard, Brownback's refusal to accept the truth of human evolution is, at best, an irrational departure from the principle of Occam's Razor, as Darwin demonstrated persuasively that we need not hypothesize an omnipotent creator in order to explain the abundance and diversity of life on Earth. At worst, Brownback's position is a willfully ignorant and rather narcissistic refusal to see the world as it is, rather than as he would prefer it to be.
5.31.2007 5:20pm
tbaugh (mail):
Remove the evolution question for a moment. "Does it matter that" a candidate believes in an omniscient and ominipresent God, the virgin birth, the resurrection, the ascension into heaven, and the ultimate resurrection of all the saved? Is such a person at war with science? Is a Christian worthy of support?
5.31.2007 5:22pm
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Are school boards being overrun with ressurrectionists who want to teach an alternative viewpoint to death?
5.31.2007 5:23pm
Esquire:
Exactly! Why pick on creationsim more than any other supernatural, unsupported, unscientific assertion of faith?
5.31.2007 5:23pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
because this then raises the question why a creator would create creatures in such a way as to look, for all the world, like they evolved from each other

So that secular intellectuals like you could doubt the veracity of the Holy Bible and ensure your eternal damnation, silly!

Does anybody who believes creationism to be intellectually illegitimate *not* believe the same to be true of the resurrection?

Sure. The Resurrection is not a scientific event; it's a "one-off" miracle of the type EV expressly includes. By definition, it's a violation of the natural order -- which for a strict empiricist like Hume, was enough reason to disbelieve in it. But most of us are less strict.

Whereas creationism leads us to infer the type of God that I invoked above to tease GuestJ.
5.31.2007 5:29pm
Colin (mail):
Exactly! Why pick on creationsim more than any other supernatural, unsupported, unscientific assertion of faith?

Because it's being aggressively asserted by political interest groups in an attempt to undermine science education for religious purposes. There's no practical consequence to someone's belief in the capital-R Resurrection. The practical consequence of creationism's political agenda is crappy science education.

Moreover, there's no scientific evidence that a man named Jesus Christ died and did not rise again. Only that such a thing hasn't been observed and tested scientifically. There is scientific evidence that evolution has happened and continues to happen. The difference, as people keep pointing out, is between believing in an unprovable assertion, and rejecting a provable assertion. The one is commonplace and unobjectionable, whereas the second raises eyebrows.
5.31.2007 5:29pm
plunge (mail):
"I believe that it's rational for somebody to believe that science is 99.99999% accurate, and yet that his faith is 100% accurate, and thus when they occasionally depart (which need not happen very often in daily life!) that faith would thus come first..."

I personally don't see why faith comes anywhere in terms of determining factual truth.

"I realize this poses all sorts of *practical* problems, but is there any *logical* problem here?"

When your beliefs don't match up with the evidence, that doesn't mean that your beliefs are for sure wrong, but it does mean you'd better darn well consider the possibility seriously, or else I'm gonna have some severe doubts about your judgment.
5.31.2007 5:32pm
CJColucci:
Leaving aside that Brownback's op-ed was shifty and intellectually and politically dishonest even in its own terms (for reasons I laid out in comments on Adler's post), what business does Brownback have having a "belief" on the subject of evolution? Does he have a "belief" on the subject of relativity? No. Does he understand relativity? No, and I don't fault him for that. Relativity, like evolution, is tough stuff, well beyond the grasp of lay folk in its details. What Brownback knows (at best) about relativity, beyond a few very simple ideas, is that within the scientific community, relativity is not, generally, a matter of opinion. Some extremely technical issues exist on which scientists disagree and, to that extent, there are "beliefs" about relativity, but we non-scientists can't possibly understand them and have no basis for any "beliefs" of our own.
In a sane world, or with a sane candidate, the same would be true of evolution. What the sane non-scientist can say is that he understands some basic concepts of the theory, knows that among scientists who understand these things the basic theory is uncontroversial, that there are technical issues about which scientists are divided and about which the sane non-scientist has no basis to form or offer an opinion. All of this could be thrown into a cocked hat by some new theory or new evidence, but that's true of all science and the sane non-scientist has no business doing anything more than acknowledging that possibility and leaving the issue to scientists.
Rejecting well-established scientific theories for religious reasons is different from being open to the possibility of the occassional supernatural intervention. Believers in the Virgin Birth do not disbelieve or disparage basic biology. They believe as a matter of faith that God made a special exception. There's no scientific evidence for that belief and, in principle, there couldn't be, but believing in exceptional divinely-mandated exceptions to the general rules, or believing that "something" out there accounts for the general rules, is vastly different from denying the general rules, which is what the Brownbackian anti-evolutionist does.
5.31.2007 5:32pm
dancole (mail):
"But while I myself believe in evolution, I can hardly say that divine creation is provably false, at least under any familiar standard of 'proof.'"

I think this is wrong. Pick any standard of "proof" familiar to law professors. Under any of them, the God thesis fails. It is not supported by substantial evidence; it is not more likely than not true on the evidence; and the case against it is beyond a reasonable doubt (with the stress on the word "reasonable"). To understand why, simply do as Sam Harris suggests and think of any context in which we use the word "God" (e.g., "In God We Trust"). Now, substitute the word "Zeus" for the word "God." If that doesn't convince you, consider a similar case. Aristotle's theory of why falling objects gained speed as they approached the earth was because they sensed they were heading toward home. This theory must be as difficult to "prove" false as the God thesis, and yet no one (after Newton) argues that it should be taken seriously.
5.31.2007 5:33pm
Esquire:
"The Resurrection is not a scientific event; it's a "one-off" miracle of the type EV expressly includes. By definition, it's a violation of the natural order -- which for a strict empiricist like Hume, was enough reason to disbelieve in it. But most of us are less strict."


Hmm...interesting...so would "strict empiricism" like Hume's be an article of faith, since he actively rejects the resurrection merely for lacking evidence one way or the other?

I'm still skeptical of whether there's such thing as a 100% "neutral" approach, but the closest to it would probably be some kind of distinction along those lines...
5.31.2007 5:34pm
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Is a Christian worthy of support?

A strongly devout Christian? No. This isn't a Christian nation. What if our President really was a committed "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" Christian? I supposed he'd offer Osama the Empire State Building.

Christianity is good for neighborhood relations, but its no way to run a country.
5.31.2007 5:35pm
whit:
"While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science"

sorry, but contrary to the whole premise of this post, that statement is NOT inconsistent with evolution. it says neither that man is part of a "seperate action" (your words), nor that he did not develop to reflect the "image and likeness" of god THROUGH evolutionary processes.

he very well may not believe in evolution, but i don't see your excerpted quote as supporting that to be a fact.
5.31.2007 5:40pm
Ron Mexico:
if we say it's intellectually legitimate to believe in a virgin birth, a resurrection, walking on water, and countless other "non-scientific" tenets of certain faiths, then why draw the line at whether a Creator could have reasonably done something else inconsistent with the "evidence?"

Maybe I'm alone in this camp, but I don't think we can assume that any of this is intellectually legitimate.
5.31.2007 5:42pm
Cornellian (mail):
I like John Derbyshire's comment that hearing Brownback talk about evolution versus creationism is like hearing Paris Hilton talk about partial differential equations.
5.31.2007 5:46pm
Esquire:
"I personally don't see why faith comes anywhere in terms of determining factual truth."

Many devoutly faithful believe that divine revelation is actually the *most* reliable source of truth -- not just some gap-filler for the things man can't figure out "on his own." So it seems rational to me for somebody to prioritize their faith on those rare occasions where it may differ with science and/or even reason...provided, of course, that one does not presuppositionally stipulate scientific claims to be 100% infallible.
5.31.2007 5:48pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

Evolution is not in some abstract sense the "simplest" or "most plausible" theory of the development of mankind or of other species. Divine creation is in some ways simpler, and to some more plausible


Assuming you mean this in the sense of Occam's Razor, it's not true. What William of Occam actually said wasn't that we should take the simplest explanation but the one that requires the fewest assumptions.
5.31.2007 5:52pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
so would "strict empiricism" like Hume's be an article of faith, since he actively rejects the resurrection merely for lacking evidence one way or the other?

Today, I'm defending Darwin; you'll have to find a Humean for that one. Though if you've never read "Of Miracles," it's a hoot.

So that, upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding,and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.
5.31.2007 5:54pm
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Divine creation is simply passing the problem to a committee. The intellectually curious would demand to know who designed the Intelligent Designer!
5.31.2007 5:59pm
Ohad (mail):
I like John Derbyshire's comment that hearing Brownback talk about evolution versus creationism is like hearing Paris Hilton talk about partial differential equations.

The same can be said regarding Richard Dawkins discussing religion (though Dawkins is surely a fine scientist).
5.31.2007 6:01pm
SeaDrive:
Just a guess, of course, but I'd bet the basis of Brownback's belief system is the notion that man has a privileged place in the universe. He doen't mind if dinosaurs evolved into birds, but he just can't accept the notion of an ape in his family tree.
5.31.2007 6:04pm
Guest J:
Oh, and, while the evidence (or absence of evidence) for God and for werewolves may be the same, it's not true that the evidence for werewolves and for God is of equal strength. Werewolves, as conceived of in the common folklore, are predatory creatures that live among human beings. It would be reasonable to expect that their existence should produce evidence human beings would find. At least some conceptions of God, by contrast, build in the notion that God would be expected to be outside ordinary human experience.
5.31.2007 6:04pm
frankcross (mail):
Back to the point. EV it is not about whether Brownback's belief in miracles is provably wrong. It's about whether the American people want a President who would hold these beliefs. And I think this goes far beyond science policy. A President who rejects scientific evidence in favor of divine revelation might be considered quite dangerous on defense policy as well.

In reality, I think Americans want their Presidents to be religious but not too religious. But it's up to the majority to decide. I think a candidate's fundamental belief systems of this sort are vastly more significant than their current health care policy.
5.31.2007 6:07pm
Guest101:

At least some conceptions of God, by contrast, build in the notion that God would be expected to be outside ordinary human experience.

Yeah, and if Brownback were an eighteenth-century Deist, his views might be defensible (or at least not falsifiable) on that ground. But clearly Brownback, and the vast majority of contemporary theists, believe in a deity that routinely intervenes in human affairs, and therefore one would expect to find the same degree of telltale evidence of such intervention that one would find of other supernatural creatures living among us. Celestial werewolf tracks, or some such thing. The absence of any such reliable evidence is inconsistent with belief in an intercessory deity.
5.31.2007 6:14pm
Bobbie (mail):
Orielbean, perhaps you should read what Nietzsche says, as opposed to what others say he said. But I think it’s generally good practice to assume that anytime someone claims that something that is “keystone” to Nietzsche thought was something Nietzsche decided not to publish, you might want to take their interpretation of Nietzsche with a pound of salt.

Nietzsche does not reject “truth,” despite several decades of crappy post-modern “philosophers” arguments to the contrary.

/off soap box.
5.31.2007 6:15pm
plunge (mail):
"Ohad: The same can be said regarding Richard Dawkins discussing religion (though Dawkins is surely a fine scientist)."

I often hear people saying things like this, humphing and harumpfing that Dawkins doesn't address the particular white elephant exception they think their faith has, but I have never really encountered anyone seriously grappling with the actual arguments Dawkins makes in his books.

"Esquire: Many devoutly faithful believe that divine revelation is actually the *most* reliable source of truth"

Well, that's nice and all, but it's a not a particular useful definition of truth. The truth science deals in are truths that we can all verify in our common reality. It most certainly cannot encompass all possible imaginable truths: it is, in fact, a fairly constrained scope. But that's precisely its power. All these divine revelations can't offer any real hope of anyone agreeing to them. We can all run around claiming that we have a direct line to "Truth" but problem is, that sort of Truth just doesn't allow for any useful comparison or test against other people's reality.

"So it seems rational to me for somebody to prioritize their faith on those rare occasions where it may differ with science and/or even reason...provided, of course, that one does not presuppositionally stipulate scientific claims to be 100% infallible."

I think you have it backwards. Science is pretty much by definition the admission that no claim is 100% infaliable, and thus we must always check our work over and over, always come back to the evidence again and again. What you are saying seems to essentially be that first we admit that... and then we spin around and claim that we can just divine the ultimate truth without any feeling that we have to back it up with something. That DOES seem a little sketchy, frankly.
5.31.2007 6:19pm
r78:

"What thing does Brownback disbelieve that is provably true, if one assumes a God who can perform miracles? (I don't assume this, but Brownback isn't the only candidate, I expect, who does assume it.)"

And I believe in and worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster who created the world and breathed life into man through his noodly appendage.

My beliefs are not "provably false" under EV's definition so don't you dare call me crazy.
5.31.2007 6:24pm
whit:
derbyshire has done some great (by far the best at NRO) skewering of "scientific creationists" etc. and some of their ridiculous claims.

again, i have yet to see any evidence that brownback does not believe in evolution. it seems people are making a lot of assumptions. i read his statement three times. i don't think prof. volokh's premise is supported, that started this whole thread.
5.31.2007 6:32pm
Esquire:
Well, nobody ever said (or at least proved) that truth has anything to do with people's agreement on it (as uncomfortable and impractical as this notion could become!). And while many of the criticisms of a faith-driven worldview do indeed illuminate all sorts of *practical* problems, I'm still not seeing any *logical* fallacy inherent in elevating divine revelation above other epistemological sources. Granted, *any* assertion of "a priori" knowledge is often *unsatisfying* because it makes itself impervious to argument, but that's different than saying it's *irrational*.
5.31.2007 6:32pm
dejapooh (mail):

the burden of proof is on the atheists


Can you prove a negative? An Atheist would have to show that there is no God, never was a God, and Never will be a God based on any concept of what God is... Seems pretty difficult. Sorry, you can not transfer the burden of proof that easily.
5.31.2007 6:33pm
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
To deny the holocaust happened, you simply have to deny the reality of photographs, film, court testimony, graves, missing relatives, and eyewitnesses.

Denying evolution as a process actually requires one to deny a far broader scope of empirical reality.
5.31.2007 6:33pm
whit:
"Can you prove a negative?"

in some cases, yes. in others - no. this is one of the biggest pop-philosophy fallacies around - the "you can't prove a negative". in SOME cases you can.

but i understand your point.

" An Atheist would have to show that there is no God, never was a God, and Never will be a God based on any concept of what God is"

yes. a socalled "strong atheist" would. that's why atheism in this respect can be argued to be a belief system/leap of faith, in the same way that any religion can.

god is an issue of faith. all pascal'esque wanking aside, it's that simple. faith is not science, and fails miserably when people try to make it science (see: 'scientific creationism')

but stating you know there is no god (vs. you don't BELIEVE in god, or you doubt his existence) is just as much a leap of faith as saying you do believe in god, or have faith in god.

i also see no evidence, based on brownback's essay that he denies "evolution as a process". if i could distill what he says down to the barebones, he says evolution can be seen as having the hand of god behind it. which is of course conveniently unprovable, but that's kind of the nature of religion
5.31.2007 6:42pm
Elliot123 (mail):
We might want to consider that 55% of Americans agree with Brownback. That tells us nothing about the validity of the theory of evolution, god, or science, but it gives us a lot to think about in terms of electoral politics.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/22/opinion/polls/main 657083.shtml
5.31.2007 6:42pm
Toby:
I think that a president who believes in creationism is less likely to do damage to us and our society that a persident who holds any of several other non-scientific beliefs, like say in the efficacy of socialism, or in the benefits of central planning.
5.31.2007 6:43pm
Bobbie (mail):
whit, is the burden also on me that there is no Santa? That there is no Easter Bunny? Or does it take as much faith to deny that those things exist as to believe they do exist?

I'm willing to say that I know there is no Santa. Are you?
5.31.2007 6:50pm
Fub:
Cornellian wrote at 5.31.2007 4:46pm:
I like John Derbyshire's comment that hearing Brownback talk about evolution versus creationism is like hearing Paris Hilton talk about partial differential equations.
Or Brittany Spears on semiconductor physics?

Link may or may not be work-safe, YMMV. But it does feature some differential equations, and an interesting (and work-safe) vignette of another popular star who actually did make a significant contribution to technology.
5.31.2007 6:51pm
whit:
"whit, is the burden also on me that there is no Santa? That there is no Easter Bunny? Or does it take as much faith to deny that those things exist as to believe they do exist? "

nice strawman. i made no claim about the "burden being on you" to prove or disprove anything.

what i am saying is that saying you KNOW there is no god is JUST AS MUCH A LEAP as saying you KNOW there is a god. plenty have claimed they know god exists - like martin luther king i might add - about a million times.
5.31.2007 6:58pm
Bobbie (mail):
You never answered me. Is saying there is no Santa take just as much of a leap of faith as saying there is a Santa? That's absurd, we both know it.
5.31.2007 7:01pm
scote (mail):

PersonFromPorlock:
Incidentally, EV, God is no more evident in the world than we are evident in our bodies. But so long as our assumptions are that we work the way the world works and that we work by will, the burden of proof is on the atheists.

That statement is rather unclear because your analogy isn't as profound and self-evident as you think it is.

As to the burden of proof being on Atheists, obviously not. By that standard it would be up to Christians to assume that all other religions are true and to have to disprove each and every one of them. Clearly Christians do not subscribe to such a standard of proof, instead they dismiss all other theistic claims out of hand while holding their own as inherently and unchallengeably true.

To put it clearly, Stephen Roberts said, "I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all of the other possible gods you will understand why I dismiss yours." This aphorism neatly summarizes the inconsistently applied atheism and presumed burden of proof of theistic Christians. They are atheists with regard to all other gods but their own yet they decry "atheism" as an evil, ignoring their own atheism.
5.31.2007 7:02pm
dejapooh (mail):

yes. a socalled "strong atheist" would. that's why atheism in this respect can be argued to be a belief system/leap of faith, in the same way that any religion can.

I disagree. Anyone who doubts would have to leap the same hurdle in your belief system. Agnostics uniquely hold that they DON'T know. That lack of faith in god's existence does not necessarily mean belief that he doesn't exist.


but stating you know there is no god (vs. you don't BELIEVE in god, or you doubt his existence) is just as much a leap of faith as saying you do believe in god, or have faith in god.


This makes as much sense as saying that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.
5.31.2007 7:04pm
whit:
bobbie, the analogy is stupid because santa doesn't answer questions that science doesn't

science has yet to answer why love exists, why we are here, and all those other metaphysical questions.

that's why nearly every society ever known to man (and many evolved completely isolated from others) had some concept of god or gods, but very few can point specifically to santa claus. do you see the difference?

again, i guess you now tacitly admit that it was not ME that made that 'burden of proof' claim, because i didn't.

what i said is that being agnostic does not require a leap of faith. denying the possibility of god's existence DOES, just as denying the possibility of his non-existence does.
5.31.2007 7:06pm
Esquire:
There's a difference between the hard-agnostics who say that NOBODY could know, and the soft-agnostics who humbly say THEY don't know, while still aknowledging that maybe a higher being could have revealed himself convincingly to somebody else...

The battle for the burden...he who sets the default, wins.
5.31.2007 7:07pm
whit:
A"gnostics uniquely hold that they DON'T know. That lack of faith in god's existence does not necessarily mean belief that he doesn't exist"

correct. and agnosticism does not require a leap of faith. KNOWING that god does not exist, or KNOWING that he does - DOES require a leap of faith.

an honest atheist will admit there is no way to prove god's nonexistence. i certainly can't prove he exists or doesn't exist, nor would i claim that i know he does or doesn't exist.
5.31.2007 7:09pm
Tim Amulb:
JLR,

"Stephen Jay Gould conceived of science and religion as "non-overlapping magisteria." Senator Brownback does not."

How do you reconcile this with his statment that "The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other". That seems to be saying exactly what you would like.

Senator Brownback states exactly what he objects to - any theory of evolution which would require him to accept an "exclusively materialistic" viewpoint which "holds no place for a guiding intelligence". He objects to the philosophical ideas that are often promoted alongside scientific evolutionary theory - the idea that God is not the ultimate creator of the universe, the idea that human beings are not "special" in the sense of having a different relationship to God than the animals.

I'm just a simple caveman lawyer. I'm not a scientist. I don't have much of a first-hand opinion on whether or how macro-evolution occurs. I know that scientists who know more about science than me do believe in macro-evolution, and I can accept their conclusion, although there is plenty of disagreement about how this occurs. With Senator Brownback, though, I do not believe I am required to assent to the other philosophical and theological assertions that are often put forward by evolution proponents, assertions which I do not believe have been or can be proven by evolutionary theory.
5.31.2007 7:11pm
SenatorX (mail):
The demarcation between a scientific theory and a metaphysical theory is that the first looks for refutations it can survive and the second just looks for any confirmation. The proposers of statements that can in no way be refuted don't deserve response.

It's not that scientific theories are "the truth" because they will always be getting refined in the face of new data, new refutations. That’s one thing that many creationists project onto atheists, that we all believe science is the absolute truth. Instead that is the claim made by believers in many metaphysical theories. The LESS provable the TRUER it is. The fanatic equates the strength of their denial with the power of their belief.

Good science is based on doubt though. A long history of trial and error with a method to pass on the knowledge gained. It's not really a truth at all the concept is mis-applied I think because it's always changing, losing parts and gaining others.

I find Brownback's statement revolting. Undermining truths is one of humanities most endearing qualities. I'm glad VC is undermining HIM.
5.31.2007 7:14pm
Bobbie (mail):
whit, I won’t derail the thread further, but just because science doesn’t answer something doesn’t mean you can plug in some concept and claim that it takes faith to believe that concept does not exist. So, no, I don’t see the difference. Your argument pared down seems to be that we can’t scientifically explain certain things therefore it takes faith not to believe that God exists. That’s a non-sequtiur. I don’t expect science to answer many questions, but that doesn’t mean the answer is God.

Regarding your comment that an honest atheist will admit there's no way to prove God's non-existence. In a trivial sense, that’s true. Different people will define God in different ways so no “proof” could disprove God in that sense. It’s a moving target. Once somebody defines what they mean by God, then you’re wrong. I can use my experiences, the claims made by people about God, etc. to come to a reasonable certainty based on the evidence that there is no God. Much like I would do with Santa. So unless you’re implicitly accepting (which you are) that the burden is on other people to somehow prove God does not exist, I can certainly believe and know that he does not exist.
5.31.2007 7:20pm
Guest101:

bobbie, the analogy is stupid because santa doesn't answer questions that science doesn't

science has yet to answer why love exists, why we are here, and all those other metaphysical questions.

You were on the verge of a good point with the argument about "knowing" vs. lacking belief in God, but this is sheer nonsense. Science can and has explained to us why love exists (a chemical process in the brain evolved for the purpose of encouraging procreation that we subjectively experience as a warm and cuddly feeling), and "why" we are here (product of emergent complexity of the interactions of fundamental physical particles)-- to presume that there is more of a "why" to our existence than that is to simply beg the question in favor of the theistic perspective.


"Stephen Jay Gould conceived of science and religion as "non-overlapping magisteria." Senator Brownback does not."

In that limited context, Brownback has the better of the argument; non-overlapping magisteria is an unintelligible cop-out, at least insofar as religion makes any empirically testable claims-- which, excluding the handful of Deists I mentioned earlier, all religions do.


With Senator Brownback, though, I do not believe I am required to assent to the other philosophical and theological assertions that are often put forward by evolution proponents, assertions which I do not believe have been or can be proven by evolutionary theory.

I think it's important to bear in mind, as unfortunately even scientifically-literate atheists sometimes do not, the relevance of evolution to arguments about God. Despite the fact that it is often carelessly cast this way (even by Dawkins, who should know better), evolution is not a direct refutation of the God thesis. It is a refutation of one of the most popular arguments for the existence of God, the Argument from Design. To the extent that theists (who obviously bear the burden of proof for their hypothesis, despite Person from Porlock's ill-informed disputation of that point) rely on the Argument from Design in favor of their belief, that argument is rebutted by the fact of evolution. There are other arguments for God, though, to which evolution is not directly relevant.
5.31.2007 7:24pm
Esquire:
At the end of the day, I think the postmodern-relativistic types may have one thing right -- that even if there is absolute truth at some fundamental level, there's nothing to stop the human will from rejecting it.

Of course, I still cannot for the life of me see how reason or science can unilaterally render assertions of faith somehow "invalid" -- the debate is older than Augustine, Aquinas, and other better-minds-than-mine which have grappled with the conflict.

If science is to preserve its status as being above philosophical banter, it by definition cannot get into dogmatic mandates that speak to people's foundational premises or worldviews.
5.31.2007 7:26pm
Guest J:
Guest 101: "clearly Brownback, and the vast majority of contemporary theists,
believe in a deity that routinely intervenes in human affairs,"

Yes, but many have a belief that God's interventions are primarily within the hearts and minds of human beings. Some go so far as to posit that God prevents his/her/its actions from being directly observed / measured / tested to require faith.

I'm not saying I find this persuasive, at all -- I don't - I'm just noting that many religious people have an explanation for the difficulty of observing God that they fit into the definition of God. God basically plays hide and seek with us. Not so with werewolves.
5.31.2007 7:37pm
plunge (mail):
Esquire: "Well, nobody ever said (or at least proved) that truth has anything to do with people's agreement on it (as uncomfortable and impractical as this notion could become!)."

That's irrelevant. There may or may not be some "truth" of the sort you are talking about, but it really doesn't much matter, because we'll never be able to establish it or do anything with it precisely BECAUSE we can't get people to agree.

The truth, small "t" science deals in, whatever you want to call it, works and IS someone that compels agreement on its own terms. Science gets way way beyond the basic premises of empiricism too: most faith beliefs never really manage that: they are just restatements of the original beliefs with no unsought convergence even on their own terms.

"And while many of the criticisms of a faith-driven worldview do indeed illuminate all sorts of *practical* problems, I'm still not seeing any *logical* fallacy inherent in elevating divine revelation above other epistemological sources."

There's no logical problem with sophilsm either. So? You're confusing terms: logic is about the validity of ARGUMENTS. Simply saying "I believe X, end of story" is not an argument, it's just a bare premise. But anyone can have a bare premise, especially if they feel no need to either prove it or at least show that it's unavoidable for most people in practice.
5.31.2007 7:45pm
ReaderY:
A problem with scientific arguments is that they use logic. Does logic exist? How do we know whether it exists or not? Can anyone prove it exists? Has anyone claimed to have seen it?

I'm not sure about the idea tha the burden of proof is always on the part of someone asserting something exists. It seems that at least in the case of logic, people are willing to simply assume it exists and proceed as if the idea of questioning it were simply inconceivable.
5.31.2007 7:48pm
plunge (mail):
Tim Amulb: "Senator Brownback states exactly what he objects to - any theory of evolution which would require him to accept an "exclusively materialistic" viewpoint which "holds no place for a guiding intelligence". He objects to the philosophical ideas that are often promoted alongside scientific evolutionary theory - the idea that God is not the ultimate creator of the universe, the idea that human beings are not "special" in the sense of having a different relationship to God than the animals."

The problem is that if you read Brownback's claims, he basically says that ANYTHING beyond "species change in small ways over time" is a philosophical idea that we can rule out because it negates his belief that God is a designer. That means that things like common descent are ruled out (though without having to get up and say so directly). See the bait and switch there?
5.31.2007 7:49pm
byomtov (mail):
To get back to the question raised in the post, I am curious what effect the conversation has had on EV's thinking.
5.31.2007 7:50pm
Michael B (mail):
"The demarcation between a scientific theory and a metaphysical theory is that the first looks for refutations it can survive and the second just looks for any confirmation." SenatorX

Senator, you don't know what you're talking about. I'm no philosopher but you're far less of one. Certainly, in analytical philosophy, reason plays a highly probative, skeptical and even corrosive role vis-a-vis metaphysical theory (here at Volokh for only the barest hint of the barest beginning of such an inquiry). Too, both scientific theory and metaphysical theory look for confirming data as well as data that might refute any hypothesis/theory.

A better way to characterize this "demarcation" you're referring to might be by reference to empiricism, but even that is problematic since the further one "strays" from the hard sciences (physics, first and foremost) the more one is forced to rely upon various forms of rationalism and rationalizations (aka hypotheses) and the less upon empiricism per se. That's little more than a characterization, but reflects a set of relevant qualities nonetheless.
5.31.2007 7:53pm
whit:
yes, i basically agree with you. but science answers the WHAT (to some extent) and much less satisfyingly - the why. i am a big fan of evolutionary psychology etc. but saying that (for example) the state of love is concomitant with a certain brain state/chemical process etc. says just that. it doesn't (for many) offer a satisfying explanation as to the why, similar to art, etc.

i'm not trying to give some sort of defense of faith. i'm merely saying that faith REQUIRES a leap. so does (strong) atheism.

science and faith (and religion) answer generally different questions.

i really don't want to get into a long metaphysical wank, but suffice it to say that science has little to say about duality, why we are here (like does there even have to be a reason) blah blah blah. we can't explain why life appeared.

science is based on experimentation and comparison. we can't compare our universe to another universe, to see if non-god-created universes exist. we can't look back to the beginning and see what happened, nor can we reproduce the evolutionary process etc. there are tons of holes. some people make a leap of faith and attribute god to those holes. others make a leap of faith and say there is no way god is to account for the holes.
the band live in their song "heaven" makes basically the same point. even with the double negatives!!! :)


You don't need no friends
get back your faith again
you have the power to believe
another dissident
take back your evidence
it has no power to deceive

I'll believe it when I see it, for myself

I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe.
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive

I sit with them all night
everything they say is right
but in the morning they were wrong
I'll be right by your side
come hell or water high
down any road you choose to roam

I'll believe it when I see it for myself

I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe.
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive, yeah

darling, I believe, Oh Lord
sometimes it's hard to breathe, Lord
at the bottom of the sea, yeah yeah

I'll believe it when I see it for myself

I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe.
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive

I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe.
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset
I can see the sunset
I can see the sunset
I don't need no one
Ohhhh
I don't need no one
I don't need no one
I don't need no one
To tell me about heaven
I believe
I believe it, yeah
5.31.2007 7:54pm
plunge (mail):
I've never seen why people just don't get the burden of proof concept. As whit says, if you run around claiming that there is no god, then congratulations: you've incurred a burden of proof.

And, frankly, you've done so pointlessly, in my mind. Simply not believing in God is good enough without running around claiming to know that there is no God. Be as skeptical of the claims FOR God's existence made as you need, and then simply remain unconvinced about the binary issue of whether or not there is a God. If a theist cannot establish their burden of proof that God exists, then that's that, game over. There's no need to go any further.
5.31.2007 7:58pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Wow, this is getting pretty ridiculous. I'm not going to keep up with this comment thread if it's already this large after a few hours, but I can't for the life of me see how anything in the quoted section above (in the post) amounts to any assertion of a separate creation if that's supposed to mean a denial of common ancestry in speciation. All I see is a denial that whatever processes took place were a result of blind chance without a divine teleology. In other words, all he's willing to state for sure is what the current and previous pope were willing to state for sure. God created, and you can't deny that and hold to Christian teaching. That means that if God's method of creation was evolution as the contemporary consensus holds then it was not just natural selection and random chance. It was divine purpose through the means of natural selection and random chance. I see nothing that goes closer to any stronger form of creationism, but I also see nothing that endorses anything closer to the scientific consensus than young-earth creationism. He's thus being silent on all the issues those positions vary on and merely insisting on God's having created.
5.31.2007 8:38pm
plunge (mail):
"but I can't for the life of me see how anything in the quoted section above (in the post) amounts to any assertion of a separate creation if that's supposed to mean a denial of common ancestry in speciation."

Saying you believe in small changes within species but on the other hand you don't believe in all that vile evolutionist nonsense is boilerplate creationism. Yes, his construction is very very careful not actually state anything outright or address the issue of speciation or common descent, but that's exactly what's so shady about it. He lumps all of that into the category of godless purposelessness by implication instead of actually mentioning it directly and taking a position.

Heck, the guy doesn't even come out against a 6000 year old earth.
5.31.2007 8:44pm
therut:
Your number 4 would be the best reason for him to be President. WHO CARES ABOUT SO CALLED WORLD ELITES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They are the problem. And whom designates these world elites to their superior status? Is it anything like the NOBEL "PEACE" PRIZE Propaganda committee. Yes, a world ruled by a committee of elities.
5.31.2007 8:47pm
SenatorX (mail):
Oh Michelle B, I didn't invent that it's pure Karl Popper. You're right, you are no philosopher.
5.31.2007 8:52pm
John Herbison (mail):
Many "young Earth" creationists believe in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis. I wonder, however--as between the creation account in the first chapter and the separate and distinct creation account that begins at Chapter 2, Verse 4? (The order of creation differs as between the two accounts.)

By the way, I wonder how Senator Brownback, who converted to Catholicism as an adult and whose opposition to abortion rights is central to his political career, interprets Genesis 2:7, which indicates that man did not become a living soul until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

Does a non-breathing fetus have a soul?
5.31.2007 8:57pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Whit: "an honest atheist will admit there is no way to prove god's nonexistence. i certainly can't prove he exists or doesn't exist, nor would i claim that i know he does or doesn't exist."

Dawkins' recent book relates Bertrand Russell's example of the orbiting teapot. This idea says there is a very small teapot orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Now, we can't disprove that right now. So, how does the rational person approach the idea of the orbiting teatpot? And, what does our lack of proof do for the supporters of the celestial teapot? Is it reasonable to believe in the teapot?
5.31.2007 9:13pm
plunge (mail):
Elliot, the correct response to the teapot, at lest for an empiricist, is to NOT believe IN it. That's not the same thing as running around asserting that there is no teapot.
5.31.2007 9:20pm
Michael B (mail):
Oh SenatorX, you fail to provide an intelligible argument. Your invocation of Popper means nothing without reasoning through your argument, which is to say both transparently and cogently.

Instead of any type of serious engagement, you duck. That you once opened some pages of Popper means nothing. You were the one, after all, who referred to positively looking "for refutations" that can be survived. Yet when put to the test, you invoke authority and an empty and ineffective retort, one that relies upon dismissiveness rather than reason.
5.31.2007 9:25pm
whit:
plunge, great response.

also, as noted, the teapot does not answer any (eternal and universal questions). god does.

almost every society on earth has had some concept of god/god(s)

not true with orbiting teapots.

atheists are usually guilty of thinking they are oh so much smarter/rational than theists, and thus can't stand to admit they have made a leap of faith in their KNOWING god does not exist.

it's rather ironic that they have the same arrogance/dogmaticism that they accuse many theists of having
5.31.2007 9:36pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Because it's being aggressively asserted by political interest groups in an attempt to undermine science education for religious purposes. There's no practical consequence to someone's belief in the capital-R Resurrection. The practical consequence of creationism's political agenda is crappy science education.
So hopefully one positive side effect of electing Brownback president would be to get liberals to stop thinking that the federal government should have any role in science education.
5.31.2007 9:37pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Put another way, however, Brownback disbelieves things that are provably true. There is a great deal of evidence for evolution by natural selection.

Certainly. There is doubt that evolution occurs. Just get an infection, stop taking antibiotics before the bugs are dead, and you can have an evolution of your own.

But does it account for all the differentiation of species (recognizing that species is an arbitrary concept)? Someday I want to write on Devolution and Unintelligent Design. Why do we have an appendix whose sole function is to give us appendicitis? Why do we get bald on top, where we most need protection from sun? Why is impotence a common problem among older men (who remain fertile to their dying day) and not among women (who by then have lost the capacity to add to the species)?

I never have figured out how the scorpion evolved. He needs a tail, a sting, and venom-generating gland. Any one is useless without the others. So how'd he get all three? On the other hand, I can't figure out why any intelligent designer would have made the little %&#^#$ pest, either. Lizards would serve his purpose very nicely, and haven't stung me.
5.31.2007 10:00pm
plunge (mail):
"also, as noted, the teapot does not answer any (eternal and universal questions). god does. "

Well, I sort of disagree there. I think that in general, the idea that god answers questions is basically illusionary. Issues like morality or purpose turn out to not really be any better off with a god than without. God often just ends up being a nametag for an explanation that never actually arrives: just a rephrase of "something I don't understand happened in a way I don't understand... but at least I KNOW that it was done by a being I cannot fully conceive of and cannot explain!"

"atheists are usually guilty of thinking they are oh so much smarter/rational than theists, and thus can't stand to admit they have made a leap of faith in their KNOWING god does not exist."

To be fair to atheists, however, a lot of them grow up in isolation and reacting to theists who often try to phrase the issue in a confusing manner so that there ISN'T any other position than having to claim god doesn't exist. Heck, the whole debate over what the word atheist means is pretty much a microcosym of that basic confusion. Plenty of people will happily call me an atheist, for instance, when I tell them that I don't believe in God, and then they will turn around and ask me to defend the claim that God doesn't exist. Uh, what? So I can see how a lot of reactive atheists go metaphysically overboard, not to excuse the error. It's also worth noting that while I don't agree with any I've come across, many strong atheists generally claim to have rational arguments as to why a (generally specific) God cannot exist. Thus it's not really quite fair to accuse them of having a faith or a dogma. Of course, by the same measure, it's not really fair to accuse theists of that either, though in many cases its the theists themselves that assert that they have faith.
5.31.2007 10:01pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Scote:
That statement is rather unclear because your analogy isn't as profound and self-evident as you think it is.

Well, for one thing it's not an analogy, it's a syllogism: if we work the way the world works then the world works the way we work; and if we work by will then the world works by will. Obviously this is false if we don't work the way the rest of the world does, or if we don't work by will. But so long as we make those very common assumptions, some notion of 'god' flows logically from them and it is up to those wishing to deny that notion to prove at least one of the assumptions wrong.

Your further objection is trivial. When one religion claims another's god "does not exist" it is by way of asserting that its own does. You cannot, with that line of logic, get the god-count down to zero as atheism requires.

I should explain that I have no religious interest here; 'god' is simply a structural necessity in a universe that contains us, if we work as we think we do.
5.31.2007 10:11pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
I only made it about halfway through these comments. I wanted to commend EV's analysis, and point to one bit--

But what makes evolution better is that this naturalistic assumption is much more productive of potentially useful predictions about the world.

--that seems to conflate evolution as a theory of origins with evolution as an observable phenomenon. I don't know of any Christian (although I'm sure there are some) who doesn't believe that we can see animals adapt to their environments through natural selection and that new species develop in response to environmental changes. That's where the "predictive power" of evolution comes from.

You could argue that a theory of evolution that posits (as a macroevolutionary theory of origins does) that life can be spontaneously generated from non-life predicts the fact that life can be spontaneously generated from non-life in the future (or is in the present), but I'm not sure anyone expects to see that. Do they? Is that valuable?

My point is that Christians who accept evolution as an observable fact of life but reject it as a satisfactory philosophical explanation for the existance of humanity bring most (as far as I can see, all) of evolution's predictive value. This is the position virtually every Christian I know takes, and quite possibly the position Mr. Brownback takes.

I fully expect, Mr. Volokh, that there is a glaring flaw in this point; if you get this far into the comments, I hope you'll respond. Thanks for the excellent post.
5.31.2007 10:18pm
Jam:
If evoluion is true, the universe is eternal and always existed. Is that what you evolutionists believe?
5.31.2007 10:24pm
plunge (mail):
"But does it account for all the differentiation of species (recognizing that species is an arbitrary concept)?"

I don't know how we could prove that it accounts for ALL of the differentiation, and there are a lot of different evolutionary mechanisms. But certainly evolution CAN account for all these things pretty handily. Heck, the degree of morphological change in the fossil record is orders of magnitude SLOWER than the observed rates of change in nature: one of the big issues in evolutionary biology is actually why evolution is so conservative in practice.

"Someday I want to write on Devolution"

No such thing really. Evolution isn't directional.

"and Unintelligent Design."

Again, evolution cannot promise optimality (and in fact, bizarre convoluted solutions to what should be easy design problems are a hallmark of evolutionary algorithms)

"Why do we have an appendix whose sole function is to give us appendicitis?"

It clearly served a useful purpose in creatures we are related to, so it is vestigial. As to whether its sole function in us is just to cause that disease, we can't say for sure, but again, evolutionary processes can't always get "there" from "here."

"Why do we get bald on top, where we most need protection from sun? hy is impotence a common problem among older men (who remain fertile to their dying day) and not among women (who by then have lost the capacity to add to the species)?"

Again, evolution does not promise perfection, let alone the subjective perfection you might happen to care about. There is no real reason to think that human beings as organisms prior to modern society ever even had a evolutionary pressure to live long enough to worry about going bald. Evolution doesn't necessarily have to have a reason: stuff breaks, and at that point, it doesn't matter so there is no pressure to correct it.

"I never have figured out how the scorpion evolved. He needs a tail, a sting, and venom-generating gland. Any one is useless without the others."

Really? I don't see how you could think that. All can exist for other purposes. Tails are a given to begin with, and stingers are an obvious improvement over a tail with no stinger. Start having cells secrete poisonous substances is even better on top of that, and so on.
5.31.2007 10:27pm
plunge (mail):
Jam: "If evoluion is true, the universe is eternal and always existed. Is that what you evolutionists believe?"

No. The ultimate age of the universe is immaterial to evolution, other than that the universe is pretty old. Aside from that, it really doesn't matter from the perspective of biology if the universe is eternal or began or not.
5.31.2007 10:28pm
plunge (mail):
Joe: "My point is that Christians who accept evolution as an observable fact of life but reject it as a satisfactory philosophical explanation for the existence of humanity bring most (as far as I can see, all) of evolution's predictive value."

You are confusing issues here. Evolution is not a "philosophical" explanation for the existence of humanity, nor is it directly in contradiction with any one that someone might have. It DOES explain that we are apes and shared a common historical ancestry with other apes. If one believes that was all in keeping with what God intended, then in fact there really is no contradiction at all. Science doesn't support that idea or deny it: it's an issue outside of evolution.
5.31.2007 10:31pm
Michael B (mail):
"... many strong atheists generally claim to have rational arguments as to why a (generally specific) God cannot exist. Thus it's not really quite fair to accuse them of having a faith or a dogma." plunge

That's a leap of faith. Such would be the case only if those putatively "rational arguments" were valid and conclusive. And why, pray tell, do you not require of yourself what you require of others in the adjacent thread? Cite relevant material and arguments, be specific rather than relying upon such a "vague, content-free" manner of addressing the topic.
5.31.2007 10:31pm
plunge (mail):
Michael B: "That's a leap of faith."

No: a leap of faith is saying: "I can't prove this, but I believe it." That's not what they are saying. Even if you think they are wrong, then what they are is mistaken, not engaging in faith.

"Such would be the case only if those putatively "rational arguments" were valid and conclusive."

Indeed. If not, then they would be in error (as I think most are). But that's still not faith. When someone makes the modal ontological argument for God, I think they are clearly wrong, but what they are not engaging in is a leap of faith. They are making an argument.

"And why, pray tell, do you not require of yourself what you require of others in the adjacent thread?"

There's no disconnect. I'm not making an accusation against anyone, just summarizing what they themselves say they argue. That's not the same thing as claiming that someone's arguments are laughable but then never bothering to present the argument as to why.
5.31.2007 10:38pm
Atlantic06 (mail):
We might argue that electing Brownback would make America look foolish to world elites that accept the theory of evolution.

Interesting way to put this -- are you implying that evolution is some sort of foppish, pseudo-intellectual fad taken up by the rich European idle class?

Much of this discussion should serve as conclusive proof that "intelligent design" is a flawed concept.
5.31.2007 10:43pm
SenatorX (mail):
Actually Michael your comment is thick with projection.

Please tell me again why Popper's demarcation is not relevant here? And no "A better way to characterize this "demarcation" you're referring to might be by reference to empiricism" that’s not a better way. In fact it exposes an ignorance of the subject. Empiricism was rejected by Popper and not for the reasons you would like.

The irony of you accusing me of going to Popper for authority instead of providing context is not lost on me considering his well executed attack on knowledge of any sort having ANY claim on authority. Hardly the same thing as the empiricist demarcation is it now? The empiricist view is flawed not because it gets weak as it moves away from the "hard sciences" but because it has no more authority to claim the truth via perception than any other source. In fact for Popper there are no hard sciences as you refer to them because even the most apparently immutable laws of physics will be perceived in new ways.

I find Popper relevant in almost every way important frankly. The more people that understand the folly of placing creationist theories next to scientific ones as equals the better. That a man could do this and be elected leader of the country I live in amazes me.
5.31.2007 10:50pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

What self-regarding nonchalance and lack of rigorousness you exhibit. The "accusation" is more implicit rather than more explicity, so you exempt yourself.

Boorishness, to the hilt.
5.31.2007 10:50pm
Esquire:
Funny...when secularists debate ID, they often say that creationism is fine as religion, but just keep it out of science class. But now in response to Brownback, there are a lot of people saying that "science" always needs to *trump* any given religion in the event of a conflict...lest one be tagged anti-intellectual or some such.

By definition, one cannot offer science (previously known as the PHILOSOPHY of scientific naturalism, which is why science doctorates are still called Ph.D.s) as somehow offering "universally-agreeable" answers, if half the population is willing to side with their respective religion (whatever it may be) whenever there's a conflict.

Russell said Aquinas was not a "true philosopher" because by his own admission he was not willing to go *wherever* reason took him. But, to rule out the possibility of ever encountering a higher truth than reason strikes me as an article of faith in itself...the relative sizes of leaps of which can be shaky territory to quantify.
5.31.2007 10:57pm
Reg (mail):
I'm disappointed so many here would consider most of the great thinkers before the 20th century (excepting Hume and a few others) as unfit for public service. There are other ways to look at the world other than with a purely empirical, scientific, view.

The answer for Christians is to say evolution is good science. Assuming no metaphysical God, evolution explains the origin of life. However, if a metaphysical God exists, and he chooses not to make himself physically known, science has nothing to say about him. Theology and religion provide answers to this question.

Once a person starts saying that science does have something to say about a metaphysical God, then that person isn't doing science, but is philosophizing. Perhaps this is what Brownback was saying when he says that evolutionary science can't claim either way whether "Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order" because the question depends on whether God exists.

As a matter of philosophy, a metaphysical God is an open question. The idea that a metaphysical God created this universe without using evolution and without leaving any evidence of this creation, except revelation in Genesis, is not disproven by science. It is not addressed by science.

Such a view is not necessarily ignorance. It would be quite arrogant to say that one who fully understood every aspect of evolutionary theory, or astrophysics, could not possibly beleive that a metaphysical God created the world. Many acknowledge that religious beliefs are based on faith, and find faith to make science more beautiful and meaningful as well.
5.31.2007 11:19pm
Michael B (mail):
Senatorx,

Believe me, as with your other ad hominem displays, we can accuse one another of mere projection 24/7.

I have a great deal of respect for Popper, I have five volumes of his on my shelves (so if you'd provide a citation it might help). I simply find your construals less than serious, much less probative. I don't mind you going to Popper for authority per se, I mind you going to him without any attendant explication and fuller development. By your measure, that's somehow presumptuous? Too, I was not defending "creationist theories," in part because I have no idea what you intend by the term, though yes I am a theist and you can brand me with that curse all you care.

In terms of my reply, I already did so, directly upthread.

Too, I stated the following: "A better way to characterize this "demarcation" you're referring to might be by reference to empiricism, but even that is problematic since the further one "strays" from the hard sciences (physics, first and foremost) the more one is forced to rely upon various forms of rationalism and rationalizations (aka hypotheses) and the less upon empiricism per se. That's little more than a characterization, but reflects a set of relevant qualities nonetheless."

Iow I was not being conclusive and definitive, I was merely being suggestive and tentative.

And plunge, I did reply, with commentary by a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, here, and secondly with commentary by Alvin Plantinga, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, here.

But enough for today.
5.31.2007 11:32pm
scote (mail):

PersonFromPorlock:
Scote:
That statement is rather unclear because your analogy isn't as profound and self-evident as you think it is.

Well, for one thing it's not an analogy, it's a syllogism: if we work the way the world works then the world works the way we work; and if we work by will then the world works by will. Obviously this is false if we don't work the way the rest of the world does, or if we don't work by will. But so long as we make those very common assumptions, some notion of 'god' flows logically from them and it is up to those wishing to deny that notion to prove at least one of the assumptions wrong.


Your poor logic is only surpassed by your opacity. Although obfuscation might pass for profundity in some circles it won't work here. Your statement says and means absolutely nothing. "if we work?" What do you mean "work?" This is all nonsense. You haven't defined your terms nor made a case that the

Now as to analogy vs. syllogism. I hate to break it to you, but your original statement,

God is no more evident in the world than we are evident in our bodies

is an analogy, not a syllogism. You are claiming that A is to B as C is to D claiming that the two circumstances are analogous. This attempt at comparison isn't a valid syllogism, there is no middle term and you haven't use a valid structure syllogism. (You may have confused "evident" as being a term in common, but it is the "to" in the attempted syllogism, not a term). Nor is it a valid analogy.


When one religion claims another's god "does not exist" it is by way of asserting that its own does.


This is, of course, false and disingenuous. Although many religion's are mutually exclusive not all are. Just the notion of "Judeo Christian" tradition proves this to be the case, where both religions believe in the "God of the Old Testament." Thus they believe in the same angry, genocidal god but differ in what He wants of us now.

It is disingenuous because your claim was that it is up to the atheist to disprove god, asserting ones own faith in ones own god is not "proof" that all other gods do not exist.



I should explain that I have no religious interest here; 'god' is simply a structural necessity in a universe that contains us, if we work as we think we do.

Yet another massive howler on your part, claiming that you "have no religious interest" but you are merely asserting that "god" is a structural necessity. You apparently base this "necessity" on the idea that human's are conscious beings therefore the universe must have a conscious being controlling it. Your astoundingly baseless leap in logic might be summed up, "I think therefore I am therefore god." You forgot to prove the necessity of god, let alone any specific idea of god.
5.31.2007 11:42pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Plunge,

Belief in evolution becomes a philosophical position when it insists that an omniscient being did not create a world in which evolution occurs. Correct or not, that is a philosophical position.
5.31.2007 11:43pm
Stopping By:
I'm echoing what only a few other commenters have said (Reg most recently).

Brownback is coming from the perspective that humans have an immortal soul created by God (which is Catholic Church teaching, and I would guess the belief of the great majority of Americans: Christians, Jews, and Muslims all believe in humans having an immortal soul).

Now, the fact that humans have an immortal soul is not something that can be proven scientifically. Furthermore, the human soul is not material, so it can't be accounted for by evolution.

But is belief in an immaterial and eternal human soul irrational? I submit it's not. The existence of a human soul does not violate any scientific principle or empirical finding that I know of. And it is not inherently contrary to human logic or philosophical inquiry. In fact, many people have made philosophical arguments in favor of its existence.

So, if the existence of the human soul is a truth that you accept (accepting it either by faith or by philosophical argument, and not having it disproven to you scientifically), then Brownback's position makes sense: evolution may explain the creation of material things, but it cannot explain the creation of the immaterial human soul, and consequently, we should be wary of evolutionary theory that oversteps its boundaries outside of the scientific method and seeks to deny the existence of the immmaterial human soul.
5.31.2007 11:45pm
Ken Arromdee:
Replying to the original post (!): The difference between believing in creationism and believing in the virgin birth or resurrection is that Brownback doesn't just believe in something which can't be proven by the physical world--he believes in something which is *outright contradicted* by the physical world.

It would be possible to believe in a type of creationism which doesn't have this sort of problem. For instance, Brownback could believe in some sort of omphalos theory, where God made the world in six days, but made it look exactly as if it was billions of years old. That theory would be nonscientific and depend on faith, but Brownback could assert that theory without making any factual errors.

On the other hand, the creationism we normally know of in America makes incorrect factual claims. Creationists don't just say that dinosaurs lived with cavemen but God hid all the evidence. They say that dinosaurs lived with cavemen, and God did *not* hide the evidence, and scientists don't see the evidence because they're Satanic. Creationists don't say that there was a Noah's flood, but God faked the fossil record to look billions of years old. They say that the fossil record *doesn't* look billions of years old, and that scientists who think so are ignorant, rather than understandably fooled by God's fake evidence.

(That being said, there *is* a case to be made for not voting for someone who believes in a virgin birth or resurrection. Believing in arbitrary weird things without evidence is not good. The only reason we should accept politicians who believe in the virgin birth is that we understand that humans can compartmentalize their religion, and their weird beliefs don't extend to other areas.)
5.31.2007 11:51pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
On the other hand, the creationism we normally know of in America makes incorrect factual claims. Creationists don't just say that dinosaurs lived with cavemen but God hid all the evidence. They say that dinosaurs lived with cavemen, and God did *not* hide the evidence, and scientists don't see the evidence because they're Satanic. Creationists don't say that there was a Noah's flood, but God faked the fossil record to look billions of years old. They say that the fossil record *doesn't* look billions of years old, and that scientists who think so are ignorant, rather than understandably fooled by God's fake evidence.

Creationists who are not scientists are, unsuprisingly and like most people who are not scientists, very ignorant about science. Creationists with some scientific literacy do not fit your generalizations. I doubt Mr. Brownback would maintain any of those positions.

It's funny that you think that it's wierd to believe in resurrection. I'm glad we've evolved to the point where we can discount the philosophical positions of nearly all history's great pre-1800 minds.
5.31.2007 11:56pm
plunge (mail):
"I'm glad we've evolved to the point where we can discount the philosophical positions of nearly all history's great pre-1800 minds."

You say that like they didn't have all sorts of beliefs that none of us find credible today: like the belief that Africans were impossible to educate and had a musical spirit. Being great and famous for some things does not prevent you from being wrong.
6.1.2007 12:07am
plunge (mail):
Michael B: "plunge, What self-regarding nonchalance and lack of rigorousness you exhibit. The "accusation" is more implicit rather than more explicity, so you exempt yourself. Boorishness, to the hilt."

Wait, so was there an argument in there somewhere that I missed? Some substantial response to my arguments?

We're trying to have a discussion here. If you think I'm wrong, then you are going to have to explain why, not just state that you don't agree, don't explain why, and then draw psychological conclusions about me as a person.
6.1.2007 12:11am
plunge (mail):
"Joe Bingham: Belief in evolution becomes a philosophical position when it insists that an omniscient being did not create a world in which evolution occurs. Correct or not, that is a philosophical position."

Sure, but that's not what evolution is.

I don't see any reason to believe that God created the universe, but it's certainly not hypothetically inconsistent with evolution, or even abiogenesis.

Ken Miller presents one pretty plausible sketch of a theology that explains why the universe is as it is (according to science) and why God would want it that way in his book "Finding Darwin's God." I still don't believe it, or see any compelling reason to need to believe it, but I celebrate the spirit in which it was conceived by someone who does, and I don't find any fault in it beyond not being convinced myself.
6.1.2007 12:18am
Joel B. (mail):
Unfortunately, Eugene only looked at the negative aspects of having a President who doesn't believe in Evolution, it seems to me, there would be a lot of positives for the strict constructionist. (I will admit myself to being a Young Earther).

If one accepts a strict constructionist view of the Creation of the world from the standpoint of Genesis, would that same person be likely to strictly interpret the constitution. After all, if they don't go around willy nilly reinterpreting the Scripture they would probably treat the Constitution well. And at least in a Chief Executive that seems like a very positive trait.

Would it be more scary to have a believer who said that believed in the Bible, but then reinterpreted to the whims of the day, why if they were willing to do that for the Scripture, why not for the Constitution.
6.1.2007 12:21am
scote (mail):

If one accepts a strict constructionist view of the Creation of the world from the standpoint of Genesis, would that same person be likely to strictly interpret the constitution.

I don't think there is any evidence for this proposition. It seems more of an argument of wishful thinking since people tend to compartmentalize their religion and apply different standards to their religious texts than they do secular works.
6.1.2007 12:55am
Ken Arromdee:
Would it be more scary to have a believer who said that believed in the Bible, but then reinterpreted to the whims of the day, why if they were willing to do that for the Scripture, why not for the Constitution.

Whether someone who reinterprets the Bible is also likely to reinterpret the Constitution depends on *why* they reinterpret the Bible. If they reinterpret the Bible because they have a habit of reinterpreting all written documents, then yes. But if they reinterpret the Bible because the reinterpretation is an accepted part of their version of Christianity, then no. Actual people who reinterpret the Bible are probably in the second category.
6.1.2007 1:04am
Cornellian (mail):
Joel B, I look forward to seeing how this Biblical strict constructionist is going to persuade the voters to vote for someone who favors the death penalty for working on the Sabbath, for women who have sex before marriage, and for any number of other Biblical provisions universally rejected by all but a few lunatics.
6.1.2007 1:06am
Cornellian (mail):
If evoluion is true, the universe is eternal and always existed

Evolution requires no such inference.
6.1.2007 1:15am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
"But does it account for all the differentiation of species (recognizing that species is an arbitrary concept)?"

I don't know how we could prove that it accounts for ALL of the differentiation, and there are a lot of different evolutionary mechanisms. But certainly evolution CAN account for all these things pretty handily. Heck, the degree of morphological change in the fossil record is orders of magnitude SLOWER than the observed rates of change in nature: one of the big issues in evolutionary biology is actually why evolution is so conservative in practice.


Still have problems, see below.

"Someday I want to write on Devolution"

No such thing really. Evolution isn't directional.


One might hope it functions in the direction of favoring individuals who have the potential to increase population of the species. Otherwise it is not logical. So why would males, capable of procreation until death, often become impotent in age, when women, whose reproductive span is more limited, are quite capable of such (as Ben Franklin and Mark Twain so famously explained). And why do we have the appendix, whose sole function is to kill us and thus limit our reproduction?

"and Unintelligent Design."

Again, evolution cannot promise optimality (and in fact, bizarre convoluted solutions to what should be easy design problems are a hallmark of evolutionary algorithms)

It seems to me that this answer indicates that the theory cannot be refuted ... which means that, as with any posit of a divine being, it also cannot be proven. An omnipotent being planted all those fossils to test our faith, or because he really liked practical jokes. Evolution left behind all these artifacts that would kill off the genetic bearer, because it was imperfect. Or really likes practical jokes.

"Why do we have an appendix whose sole function is to give us appendicitis?"

It clearly served a useful purpose in creatures we are related to, so it is vestigial. As to whether its sole function in us is just to cause that disease, we can't say for sure, but again, evolutionary processes can't always get "there" from "here."


Sounds like an argument from faith to me. 2+ million years, and nobody has had a mutatation that gets rid of the appendix, or just shrinks it enough to reduce the problem? Cripes, we've had sickle-cell anemia, with no less than three genetic sources, that gives something of a resistance to malaria, at the cost of killing an appreciable number of its victims/beneficiaries.

"Why do we get bald on top, where we most need protection from sun? hy is impotence a common problem among older men (who remain fertile to their dying day) and not among women (who by then have lost the capacity to add to the species)?"

Again, evolution does not promise perfection, let alone the subjective perfection you might happen to care about. There is no real reason to think that human beings as organisms prior to modern society ever even had a evolutionary pressure to live long enough to worry about going bald. Evolution doesn't necessarily have to have a reason: stuff breaks, and at that point, it doesn't matter so there is no pressure to correct it.


Again, this starts to incline toward an argument based on faith rather than science and reason. If a given feature can be explained in terms of giving an advantage in reproduction, that proves evolution is responsible. If it cannot be so explained, it proves it was just a glitch. Yet I think we could all agree that (a) males who remained potent to the day they died would have a MASSIVE reproductive advantage until viagra was invented (and there were such mutations, look at Aaron Burr) and females who could have stretched out their reproductive years would have had the same advantage.

"I never have figured out how the scorpion evolved. He needs a tail, a sting, and venom-generating gland. Any one is useless without the others."

Really? I don't see how you could think that. All can exist for other purposes. Tails are a given to begin with, and stingers are an obvious improvement over a tail with no stinger. Start having cells secrete poisonous substances is even better on top of that, and so on.


Tails are not a given among arachnids. Stingers may be an improvement, but a tail stinger without toxin isn't much, the prey just runs off. Toxins not only require a gland to excrete them, but either immunity to them or a storage area. This is, shall we say, not so much as weapon as a weapon delivery system.

I should add, in case you haven't had the encounters with these fellows that I've had, the mere jab of the sting isn't likely to stop even a cricket. It's "ouch!" rather like being jabbed with a needle. Being as they have lousy eyesight, and hunt at night anyway, they'll have trouble finding prey that covered even a few feet after being hit. But cripes, do they have a neurotoxin!
6.1.2007 1:23am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Oh, come on, Professor. It isn't the somewhat vague beliefs that Brownback probably wants the flat-earthers to think he shares with them. It's the indicator.

Just as, we would be rightly skeptical of a candidate if he took a similar position regarding say, Holocaust denial.

If Brownback wants to bid for the yahoo vote, he should be accepted as a yahoo himself.

The other thing is the careful amount of thought that he evidently has put into his position.

Bush II has sort of nodded his head in the same direction and may, somewhere in the brambles of his mind, think vaguely that he and Brownback share similar ideas about evolution/creation. The difference is, nobody believes Bush ever spent five seconds worrying about it.

And the third thing is, that if you listen to the people who really, really take this seriously -- as Brownback clearly has -- you learn some scary stuff.

For example, yesterday I listened to a Calvary Chapel preacher assure his Brownbacks that we "know for a fact" that God is preparing Petra as a refuge for the one-third of Jews who will be alive after Antichrist assumes the government of the state of Israel.

To the degree Brownback is sincere, he is nuts.
6.1.2007 1:30am
Guest101:

I'm disappointed so many here would consider most of the great thinkers before the 20th century (excepting Hume and a few others) as unfit for public service.

I realize that theists have been taking an intellectual beating for a long time now, but this is a dreadfully tiresome canard that needs to be retired. People in earlier centuries-- including intelligent, educated, successful people-- believed all sorts of nonsense that wouldn't be justified today. Aristotle, who was a hell of a lot smarter than anyone posting in this thread, believed all kinds of crazy things that have since been disproven. There was a time when the educated class was justified in believing that the Earth was a flat disc in the center of the universe. Fortunately, the scope of human knowledge has moved past those primitive ideas, due in large part to western civilization's development and application of the scientific method. So the fact that Thomas Jefferson believed that the world was created by God does not in any way legitimize Sam Brownback's decision to hold that same belief today. Jefferson lacked the benefit of subsequent scientific breakthroughs; given his keen interest in natural philosophy, I have no doubt that if he were alive today, he would be an ardent student of evolutionary theory. Really, creationists, if the best you can do is point out that your views were considered mainstream 300 years ago, it's time to reassess your position.
6.1.2007 1:31am
James 999 (mail):
"Guest 101: "clearly Brownback, and the vast majority of contemporary theists,
believe in a deity that routinely intervenes in human affairs,""

I went back and re-read Brownback's statements as available in this post. I did not see anything leading to this conclusion. Perhaps I missed it, can you cite an example?
6.1.2007 1:33am
Guest101:
James 999,
Yes-- my example is called "common sense," or "the accumulated body of knowledge about the basic tenets of Catholicism." Show me a mainstream Catholic who doesn't believe that God intercedes in human affairs, and maybe we'll have something to discuss. Otherwise I'm going to continue assuming that Brownback accepts the fundamental tenets of his professed faith.
6.1.2007 1:43am
Cornellian (mail):
I read an interview with Dawkins in which he said he was an agnostic, not an atheist, in the strict sense. That is, he wasn't going around saying the non-existence of the Christian God was empirically provable. Instead, he said he was an atheist with respect to the existence of the Christian God in the same sense that Christians were atheists with respect to the existence of Zeus and Odin. Christians have no difficulty believing that those gods do not exist despite the fact that their non-existence isn't empirically provable either.
6.1.2007 1:49am
plunge (mail):
Dave Hardy: "One might hope it functions in the direction of favoring individuals who have the potential to increase population of the species."

Yes, indeed that is the point (though less about population levels as much as surviving into the future period, however that's done). But that's precisely why it doesn't make sense to speak of "devolution" in the sense that you seem to: i.e. changes that seem subjectively less nice or less complex.

"So why would males, capable of procreation until death, often become impotent in age, when women, whose reproductive span is more limited, are quite capable of such (as Ben Franklin and Mark Twain so famously explained)."

Again, you are acting as if evolution sat down and planned things out, and so was being illogical. But in reality, evolution can only make moves in a particular landscape of nearby possibility. That's one thing that sets it apart from design. A designer can see a problem and just radically refit and solve it. If the engine of a 2005 Ford is fault, the 2006 model can appear with a totally new redesigned from scratch engine concept, or one borrowed in whole from a completely different company. That's NOT what we see happening in nature, and its beyond evolution's capability. Evolution can only work with what moves are available from where it is. If certain solutions are blocked by something or too far away, then it has to make do with some other solution or direction.

As I said, questions about what happens in old age to humans are probably moot, because it's only for an extremely tiny and evolutionarily irrelevant period that humans even lived long enough to worry about such things (and thus for them to have any bearing at all adaptively.) So there's no reason to think that there was any adaptive pressure to care about it.

"And why do we have the appendix, whose sole function is to kill us and thus limit our reproduction?"

As I already explained, evolution can't just magically solve any problem in any way. It's quite possible that the gene changes necessary to eliminate the appendix would cause other problems elsewhere. Or, alternatively, that the smaller an appendix gets (on the way to vanishing altogether) the MORE likely it is to get infected and rupture, and so it CAN'T just shrink away.

"It seems to me that this answer indicates that the theory cannot be refuted"

Not at all. In fact, turn it around and you have a pretty easy way to refute it: just show that some form of life exhibits any of forethought or planning.

"Evolution left behind all these artifacts that would kill off the genetic bearer, because it was imperfect."

You're confusing two different ideas. Again, evolution never promised optimal function in the first place, so how can you fault it for not delivering it? All that matters to long term persistence of a species is that its traits keep on adapting well enough to its environment to keep the generations going: that's not the same thing as saying that they must always have the best solution on tap and be perfect in every imaginable respect. Species that really DO develop traits which really do kill off too many really won't last, as we might expect. But just because you've found examples in which some people die off early is not really much of anything either way.

"Sounds like an argument from faith to me. 2+ million years, and nobody has had a mutatation that gets rid of the appendix, or just shrinks it enough to reduce the problem?"

I don't see how not knowing the full story on something, and admitting it, is faith. It would be faith if we claimed that we knew for certain the full story, not the other way around. As I already explained, the issue is a lot more complicated than that. There may not BE just one mutation in any direction from the current position of the genome that can get rid of it safely. A designer could do it easily, of course.

"Cripes, we've had sickle-cell anemia, with no less than three genetic sources, that gives something of a resistance to malaria, at the cost of killing an appreciable number of its victims/beneficiaries."

Yep. And this is exactly why one shouldn't immediately assume that some thing that causes horrible pain and nastiness is necessarily something evolution "should have" eliminated. Resistance to malaria is a big deal, and may well be worth the cost. Evolution deals in tradeoffs like these all the time. A lot of times a seeming major cost has some other tradeoff that makes it worth the cost.

"Again, this starts to incline toward an argument based on faith rather than science and reason."

Again, you seem so eager to get to that conclusion that you never really explain why it's "faith." I think the real problem here is that you treat everything as if it were one long argument trying to prove evolution is true.

"If a given feature can be explained in terms of giving an advantage in reproduction, that proves evolution is responsible."

No, we can already establish whether or not evolution was responsible via other means.

"If it cannot be so explained, it proves it was just a glitch."

Again, you are seeing evolution as if it were a thinking designer with purposes and intentions that it then irrationally fails to live up to. That's just not the way it works.

"Yet I think we could all agree that (a) males who remained potent to the day they died would have a MASSIVE reproductive advantage until viagra was invented (and there were such mutations, look at Aaron Burr) and females who could have stretched out their reproductive years would have had the same advantage."

Again: if no one ever lives that long anyway, why would it be any advantage at all? In fact, there are many reasons to hope that older members do not reproduce, because the older they are the more likely their offspring will be sickly or have heavy genetic damage, or get orphaned early (and thus at a disadvantage) and so on. Again, you are trying to tell a story without acknowledging all the other possible pressures and tradeoffs and so on that can also be at play.

If you just assumed that having a million offspring was the best way to propagate, then you'd be at a loss to explain why some creatures have only a few at a time. But that's because EITHER strategies can work out and be successful depending on the particular environment. It's the "depends" that we have to work out, and in fact what most biologists DO spend their time working out and demonstrating in excruciating detail.

"Tails are not a given among arachnids."

They most certainly are ancestrally and developmentally, whether or not all modern arachnids have them.

"Stingers may be an improvement, but a tail stinger without toxin isn't much, the prey just runs off."

Isn't much is still better than not, and that's all evolutionary advantages require. This is like the question "what good is 1% of an eye????" Well, frankly, it's a heck of a lot better than no eyes at all.

"Toxins not only require a gland to excrete them, but either immunity to them or a storage area. This is, shall we say, not so much as weapon as a weapon delivery system."

But none of that has to evolve all at once. The toxins can start out not being all that damaging to the surrounding tissue and get more damaging ALONGSIDE the development of a better way to store them.
6.1.2007 2:04am
JimJ (mail):
My name is Jim. I just turned 60, so I’ve had a few years to digest my understanding of life and “what’s out there”. So far there have been 138 contributions to this discussion, so there must be a lot of interest in the subject.

While I can’t use as many big words, and many of your comments are nitpicks, or discussions of minutia, or the finer points of philosophy, I can’t match those, so I’ll just tell you what I believe.

There is something real out there. It either created itself or it was created by something. I see no other option. To say that it always existed just sidesteps the issue and moves the starting point back in time. But it seems to me there must be a starting point. As to what’s out there creating itself, I find that to be absurd. Nothing in my personal observation or in any reading or discussions with anyone has shown me any instance of something creating itself. There is always a cause sufficient for the effect. Evolution is an insufficient first cause. And if evolution is outside the scope of first cause (an argument I’ve seen from time to time), it seems insufficient to explain the reality of what exists, and is nothing more than an attempt to avoid the difficulty of the question.

The God of the Old Testament is the only vehicle I’ve seen that satisfactorily provides for me a sufficient first cause. He did this through a big bang, which set in motion the creation of all of the elements in the universe. This panoply of elements provides the building blocks He has used to further His creation. The science of physics seems to provide an orderly creation of this table of elements from the initial big bang. But that table of building blocks is nothing more than that; a table of building blocks.

It seems that, in order to build something, I need three things; a plan for the final outcome, a list of materials, and an ordered application of energy. This is certainly true in my woodworking projects, and seems to be universal as I’ve looked at other things becoming more complex over time. For me, random chance is totally inadequate to explain the complexity of what’s out there. Take all the time you want, there is no sufficient amount of it to explain the complexity. Other gods of other religions are limited in their power, and insufficient for the task at hand.

The string became clouded early on with the assumption that creationists believe the universe, the world, and its contents were created in 6 twenty-four hour days. Many creationists over the years (and millennia) have believed that God took whatever time he wanted to create his universe. After all, the concept of time was part of his creation. I’m in the old earth creationist camp.

While I’ve seen many statements over the years that evolution is proven, I’ve never seen a convincing argument that holds up when looked at in its details. Yes, there is microevolution, where species change within themselves. But in making the case for macroevolution, where new species evolve by themselves from other species, there is always insufficient evidence to support the claim, and insufficient cause to support the change. A factoid, by my definition, is a statement that, when repeated often enough, becomes true in spite of, not because of, the evidence. This is where I’ve seen the case for macroevolution.

I’m really not trying to refute anyone else’s arguments, just to state how I see the universe and the reality of what’s before me. Hope this helps the discussion.
6.1.2007 2:10am
John Herbison (mail):
Leviticus 11:9--12 says:


9 These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

Deuteronomy 14;9--10 says:

9 These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat:
10 And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you.


Perhaps someone should ask Senator Brownback whether he would permit shellfish to be served at a state dinner in light of these scriptures.
6.1.2007 2:20am
ReaderY:
The difficulty with the orbiting teapot analogy is that we programmed to believe it. It's simply an arbitrary belief, posited for hypothetical purposes, whereas religion is an almost universal belief among widely separated peoples and cultures.

Radical skepticism -- the idea that one assumes non-existence and can't rely on anything whose existence hasn't been proven -- immediately runs into difficulties, because much we take for granted in ordinary life would have to be tossed out, including much of the underpinnings of science. Once again, logic is something we are programmed to believe, yet from a radical skepticism point of view it's unprovable -- any argument would have to assume a subset of it -- but is it no more credible than an interplanetary teapot?

Underlying science are axiomatic systems assumed on pure faith because we are programmed to believe them. Karl Poppers requires "intersubjective certifiability" -- experience has to be reproducable by others. But how can we establish that others exist? We can't by Popper's definition, because any evidence can't be intersubjectively certifiable without relaxing radical skepticism. We believe in other intelligence's existence, along with the existence of logic, but we believe this not on scientific evidence ut based on thought patterns or experiences wired into our psyche. We can't make sense of the world without them; we can't concieve of a world that could be knowable without them. But this isn't proof. If folks aren't willing to apply skepticism to their own core assumptions such as existence of other intelligences or the existence of logic (and hence the existence of science, which these things are precursors to) and they aren't willing to follow through rigorously, it seems rather selective to apply radical skepticism cafeteria-style, only to those things one chooses to. If one isn't willing to be radically skeptical of those things one believes oneself, one has denied the universality of radical skepticism generally. And if radical skepticism is refuted as a universal rule and can only be applied selectively, then it becomes reasonable to base which way the burden of proof should lie, and what to assume a priori, based on consultation with ones own internal programming. What one chooses to select and what one chooses to continue to believe on faith is as much a statement about oneself as about the universe.
6.1.2007 2:28am
ReaderY:
John Herbiso,

Joeseph Lieberman, as a traditional Jew, follows the Biblical rules you outline, among others, and doesn't eat selfish. If he had been elected Vice-President, presumably shellfish wouldn't have been served at state dinners. Would you be less inclined to vote for him over this? Is this something that ought to influence how one votes? Why?
6.1.2007 2:33am
ReaderY:
John Herbison,

Joeseph Lieberman, as a traditional Jew, follows the Biblical rules you outline, among others, and doesn't eat shellfish. If he had been elected Vice-President, presumably shellfish wouldn't have been served at state dinners. Would you be less inclined to vote for him over this? Is this something that ought to influence how one votes? Why?
6.1.2007 2:34am
plunge (mail):
Jimj: "Evolution is an insufficient first cause. And if evolution is outside the scope of first cause (an argument I’ve seen from time to time), it seems insufficient to explain the reality of what exists, and is nothing more than an attempt to avoid the difficulty of the question. "

That's some pretty strange reasoning: who EVER has claimed that evolution is a "first" cause? Who actually made this argument you've seen from time to time? Because it doesn't make any sense, and I can't see how anyone even remotely related to biology would actually make it. Evolution requires life, and in the only case we know about, required the planet Earth to exist. And the universe, which is to say, pretty much all the existence we know about, has been around a lot longer than the Earth. So who anywhere has claimed that biological evolution came before, well, even the universe? Or is that not what you meant to say?

"The God of the Old Testament is the only vehicle I’ve seen that satisfactorily provides for me a sufficient first cause."

I've never really seen the utility of this. Simply saying that the universe as we know it big banged seems simpler and just as valid as saying that God big banged the universe. In both cases we have something that we cannot explain he origin of in a causal sense, but then, both things are probably so far outside the context of our experience that it's silly to expect to know what they can and cannot do.

"For me, random chance is totally inadequate to explain the complexity of what’s out there."

Well, in that case, its worth pointing out that evolutionary processes are NOT, in fact, simple random chance at all.

"While I’ve seen many statements over the years that evolution is proven, I’ve never seen a convincing argument that holds up when looked at in its details."

Can you give examples?

"Yes, there is microevolution, where species change within themselves."

Ok, but you do understand that "species" is merely a population that can interbreed, and interbreed-ability is itself just a change int he genes of the gene pool, right? So there is no real "within" to species in that sense.

"But in making the case for macroevolution, where new species evolve by themselves from other species, there is always insufficient evidence to support the claim, and insufficient cause to support the change."

I've looked at the evidence, and I find it very far from insufficient. In fact, I find it very hard to even conceive of any other way to explain the evidence we have, because of the way it all converges to the same place in fine detail no matter what method is being used to test and examine it. That's something pretty much impossible to explain by the idea that even ALL of those methods are in error (because there still would be no reason for them to all give the same erroneous answers in such convergent ways).

"A factoid, by my definition, is a statement that, when repeated often enough, becomes true in spite of, not because of, the evidence. This is where I’ve seen the case for macroevolution."

Well, I don't agree. It's a fact because the evidence is there whole hog, period.
6.1.2007 2:40am
nocturnal (mail):
In one sense, I don't quite understand why fringe candidates continue to exist in American politics. Certainly, fringe candidates can raise issues that otherwise might not present themselves. But this could be accomplished through different means (e.g., PACs, lobbying, etc.), which also happen to be far cheaper than running a campaign. From an economic standpoint, fringe candidates' campaigns are a terrible waste of money, both by the candidate and his/her supporters.
6.1.2007 2:51am
scote (mail):

JimJ writes:
The God of the Old Testament is the only vehicle I’ve seen that satisfactorily provides for me a sufficient first cause.

The idea of God doesn't solve the problem of first cause, it only compounds it;

If the universe must have a first cause then so must God. If you can exempt God from needing a first cause then you can exempt the universe on the same basis. Any fancy footwork to claim that God exists "outside time" and such is just a dodge to avoid admitting the obvious inconsistency (much of theology and philosophy is dedicated to making things so confusing that it is hard to see how completely nonsensical they are.)

Even for those people who choose to ignore this logical conundrum and demand that God must provide first cause, there is nothing special about the God of Abraham that makes Him a better agent of first cause than any other equally powerful concept of god, be it Baal or Odin or what not. In fact, the God of Abraham is not all powerful given that it took 6 days to create the universe and such rather than an instant, and given that God had to do silly things like create a massive flood rather than just making all the evil people on earth disappear.

It does not follow that "The universe must have been created, therefore my god exists and exists to the exclusion of all others."
6.1.2007 3:23am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Nocturnal sez: 'In one sense, I don't quite understand why fringe candidates continue to exist in American politics.'

Because fringe voters continue to exist. Depending upon how firmly you want to hold fundamentalist Christians to their creationist views, somewhere between 15 and 30% eat this stuff up.

Some candidates can get plenty of satisfaction from being lionized by 15% of the electorate.

You might as well ask why American housewives continue to buy supermarket tabloids that continue to promise miracle cures from garlic and vinegar.
6.1.2007 4:54am
Kovarsky (mail):
to be honest, although I think Eugene does a wonderful job parsing the arguments he does identify, there's one that he hasn't that is, for me, the most concerning.

as a matter of data analysis, i'm sure people that profess to the superiority of non-evolution (i tried to pick the most non-valent term, a practice that i know is frequently disfavored here), by doing so signal their liely position on a number if issues that many people find quite upsetting.
6.1.2007 6:01am
Michael B (mail):
"No: a leap of faith is saying: "I can't prove this, but I believe it." That's not what they are saying. Even if you think they are wrong, then what they are is mistaken, not engaging in faith." plunge

So if one acts upon a mistaken belief, a belief that one is correct about some aspect of the world, such is not an act of faith? Of course it is, unless you wish to confuse contextual knowledge with Truth, which confusion broaches a metaphysical issue. Not entirely dissimilar to SenatorX, you fail to fully appreciate and likewise fail to more fully critique your own underlying assumptions about knowledge and truth. That is why the metaphysical inevitably comes into play, it cannot be avoided in terms of more fundamental truth claims, it cannot be assumed away.
6.1.2007 9:49am
Guest101:
In response to scote's post about first causes, my very amateur understanding of the state of contemporary physics is that, at the quantum level, causation and temporal linearity just don't work the way the way we perceive them to in daily life, such that there is no need for a "first cause" of the universe. I would welcome input from someone with a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics who could elaborate upon or rebut my understanding, though.
6.1.2007 10:12am
David Miller (mail):
What disturbs me more than Brownback's article are the number of responses here that characterize anyone who questions evolution as being ignorant or stupid.

Evolution theory has been elevated to the new holy scientific dogma that cannot be questioned by anyone.

Brownback admits to evidence for microevolutionary changes. When the term "Evolution" is used without qualification, it usually refers to the idea of monophyletic natural evolution, meaning that the great diversity of organisms that exist today descended evolutionarily through many changes from a single living ancestor at some time in the distant past without any guiding influence or force other than the natural processes currently observable. Quite frankly, I think anybody who believes that has left reason completely. The statistical probability for such to occur and the fossil record simply does not support such a giant leap of logic. The problem is that our legal system and the non-critical thinkers do not allow our public educational systems to discuss all the empirical data and interpretations available to us. Our educational system has become a propaganda system that is afraid of Creationist views. Oh, we can discuss the debunked concepts of Lamarkian evolution freely, but not the so-called debunked Creationist views. Have you ever wondered why this would be so?
6.1.2007 10:46am
Esquire:
scote,

Perhaps, but I think it could follow to say that everything in the physical universe appears to need a cause, so therefore there must be *something or someone* beyond the physical universe (as we understand it).
6.1.2007 10:53am
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
The statistical probability for such to occur and the fossil record simply does not support such a giant leap of logic.

Mr. Miller-I'm sorry but that is indeed an ignorant statement. It's akin to rejecting 100 years of electrolytical analysis and denying water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Anyone who does that is, well, stupid. Evolution is like the quip about the jury system. A horrible theory perhaps but far superior to any alternative.

I'll repeat my query I posed above. If you want to carve out a period in science class to teach creationism, what would you say to a neo-nazi who want a chance in history class to argue for holocaust denial.

Let's compare your standards for teaching historical reality against your standards for teaching reality in general.
6.1.2007 10:57am
plunge (mail):
Michael, "So if one acts upon a mistaken belief, a belief that one is correct about some aspect of the world, such is not an act of faith?"

No Michael. If one makes an _argument_, based on logic or evidence, then they are not making a leap of faith.

Again: people who argue that the claimed qualities of God are incoherent or inconsistent are not making leaps of faith. People that argue that God exists because of the first cause argument are not making a leap of faith. They are making arguments. They may well be unconvincing, but people that offer arguments cannot de facto be accused of employing faith without some serious argument as to why.

"Of course it is, unless you wish to confuse contextual knowledge with Truth, which confusion broaches a metaphysical issue. "

But I don't, and haven't. Sorry. This is just another irrelevant discursive diatribe.
6.1.2007 11:19am
Esquire:
It seems like both sides can play the "extrapolation" game:

Secularists say that creationism is just as unreasonable as any other arbitrary, made-up story, and thus every conceivable wacky idea would need to be legitimatized in order for creationism to be. OTOH, that reasoning necessarily must apply (by its own terms) to ALL supernatural assertions (which *empirically* most humans appear drawn towards in some way...), thereby erecting a rigidly materialistic worldview.

Bottom line: Any assertion by one camp or the other that divine revelation trumps "empirical" data (*or* vice versa) circularly assumes that the opposite isn't true! Both sides can appeal to their respective *intuition* about what FEELS to be a sensible base-line, but at the end of the day that "gut" feeling is all you've got.

And, it seems to me that one can't hold something to naturalistic standards of evidence when it by definition seeks to look beyond the natural epistomological realm.
6.1.2007 11:21am
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Esquire, I myself am a theist. But you're confusing issues. If you want to learn about the empirical world, you use empirical methods. E.g., you want to see what composes water, you electrolyze it in a lab. If you have a new theory about the composition of water, you can't just get it from a dusty scroll. Demonstrate it in the lab, and we can discuss it. Otherwise, can it.

Creationism simply has no seat at the table of empiricism. And like it or not, empiricism rules our empirical world.
6.1.2007 11:30am
plunge (mail):
Miller, when people make specific claims about the state of science, and those claims are false and misleading, it is perfectly fair to accuse someone of ignorance. It' snot about questioning a dogma: it's about making boilerplate creationist claims that are misleading, period.

Brownback claims that there are "many forms of evolution" and that scientists can't agree on them. But this is a misrepresentation of the field: there ARE heated debates over specific elements. But none of these debates are cause, as he implies, to doubt the certainty of the broad conclusions, such as common descent, the basic tree of life, man's apehood, and so on.

"Quite frankly, I think anybody who believes that has left reason completely."

Then I would say that you are probably ignorant of the evidence for it, because it really is pretty inescapable when you lay it all out and understand it. What matters is the evidence, not whether or not you are incredulous about whatever concept you have of it.

If you disagree, then please explain why. Please explain why the fossil record does not support common descent. Please explain what is statistically improbable about evolution. Lay it all out.

"The problem is that our legal system and the non-critical thinkers do not allow our public educational systems to discuss all the empirical data and interpretations available to us."

Except that what creationists present as empirical data is almost always BS. We might as well allow flat-earthers to teach their views in geology class.

"Oh, we can discuss the debunked concepts of Lamarkian evolution freely, but not the so-called debunked Creationist views. Have you ever wondered why this would be so?"

Sure: because we don't want to be overtly attacking people's religious beliefs in a public school. Public school science classes should teach the science, teach the evidence, and leave it at that, and they generally do.
6.1.2007 11:32am
plunge (mail):
Esquire: "Bottom line: Any assertion by one camp or the other that divine revelation trumps "empirical" data (*or* vice versa) circularly assumes that the opposite isn't true! Both sides can appeal to their respective *intuition* about what FEELS to be a sensible base-line, but at the end of the day that "gut" feeling is all you've got."

Well, there is the little matter of empiricism directly tracking the physical common reality we all live in, thus providing a basis for commonality. You can push your "I can walk through walls" beliefs all you want, but I think teachings people "if try to walk through a wlal you'll bump your nose" is more than just an arbitrary bias. Empirical science is all still just an extension of that realm.

Material reality isn't necessarily all there is, but it is probably the only stuff we can prove to everyone's satisfaction that there is, provided that they first concede that live within the material world. Given that they must concede this to even recognize that the debate is going on, I think it's a safe bet.
6.1.2007 11:36am
plunge (mail):
Esquire: "Perhaps, but I think it could follow to say that everything in the physical universe appears to need a cause, so therefore there must be *something or someone* beyond the physical universe (as we understand it)."

Causality is something we observe in the context OF the universe: it's not immediately clear why it should then apply outside of that context, to the universe itself.

We know so little about the actual origin of the universe and what it ultimately is that there is really nothing in our experience that can nail it down.

Thus, the only way we can actually include the universe in "all things must have a cause" is by making that a general principle. But if we do that, then any God is included. And if we give God a special exception, then we cannot rule out giving the universe the same exception. So in short, we get nowhere with that line of reasoning.
6.1.2007 11:44am
Esquire:
Isn't there a difference between conceding the reality of the physical world (which I stipulate to pretty readily, BTW!) and conceding that ALL of our inferences we derive from it are ALWAYS more accurate than any given (believed) divine revelation?

It seems that's where things break down, because when half the population believes in a God who at least *CAN* trump science/empiricism at (His) will, then we can't say it's still "universal" anymore in those certain cases...it then gets down to gut feelings about comparative reliability, no?
6.1.2007 11:45am
Michael B (mail):
Martin Ammorgan,

Teaching creationism (thus inherently teaching theism) in a science class would not be comparable to teaching holocaust denial, the moral dimension alone is not commensurate. Teaching creationism in a science class would be more comparable to teaching atheism or a pure physicalism and accompanying determinism in a science class. The latter comparison would have the benefit of maintaining roughly equivalent moral registers.

Unless, perhaps, you'd allow that teaching atheism in a science class would also be equivalent to teaching holocaust denial.
6.1.2007 11:46am
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Esquire-give me an example where you believe divine revelation trumps empirical reality.
6.1.2007 11:50am
Esquire:
"And if we give God a special exception, then we cannot rule out giving the universe the same exception. So in short, we get nowhere with that line of reasoning."

Perhaps, but this seems semantic...it sounds like Russell's notion that we could simply define whatever yet-unknown "supernatural" cause(s) there might be as being an extension/complement to the natural universe -- since once it would be known it wouldn't be supernatural anymore. To be fair, philosophers have argued the natural/supernatural distinction to be a false dichotomy anyway...
6.1.2007 11:52am
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Atheism has no place whatsoever in a science class. Atheism is just more metaphysics.

Science is a method not a result.
6.1.2007 11:52am
Esquire:
Martin,

Well first, I said *CAN* trump. Second, I know some here have distinguished between "one-shot miracles" and creationsim, but I do know an awful lot of atheists who think they are *all* garbage -- so I'll use those: My empiricist friends tell me the resurrection and the virgin birth are biologically implausible, and yet I do believe in them.

So, I guess I believe that *whether or not* God *did* actually create the world a certain way, I do think He *could* have created it any way he wanted to, without being "bound" in any way by the very world that I (without physical proof one way or the other) think that he created in the first place.
6.1.2007 11:58am
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Esquire, I reject nothing, not even miracles, a priori but, in this world, past performance is the best guarantee of future results.

If your teenage daughter comes home and says she's pregnant, would you believe her if she says the conception was immaculate?
6.1.2007 12:05pm
Jam:
I wrote: "If evoluion is true, the universe is eternal and always existed. Is that what you evolutionists believe?"

Someone answered: No. The ultimate age of the universe is immaterial to evolution, other than that the universe is pretty old. Aside from that, it really doesn't matter from the perspective of biology if the universe is eternal or began or not.

Another answered: Evolution requires no such inference.

Doesn't evolution infers, requires (demands?) millions of years for the process to work itself out? And doesn't evolutionary biology depend on evoutionary chemical proceses that are contingent on beginings?

And, if indeed, evolutionary biology does not depend "the universe is eternal or began or not" it still has to graple with its foundational tenets.

If the Cosmos is eternal and self-existent, isn't that question outside science?

If the Cosmos had a begining evolutionists have to answer the "something out of nothing" question. A question that is outside science also, isn't it?
6.1.2007 12:07pm
Guest101:

If the Cosmos had a begining evolutionists have to answer the "something out of nothing" question. A question that is outside science also, isn't it?

No, it isn't, but that's a question for physicists, not biologists. I suspect that you don't know any more about quantum mechanics than I do, so there's no real point in exploring the question of the ultimate origins of the universe without someone here who knows a bit about the actual scientific theories involved. In any event, though, the theory of evolution picks up with the point at which organic, self-reproducing molecules first appear on Earth, and explains their subsequent development into the abundant diversity of life we see today. Whether the primordial Earth popped into existence by the word of God or by the operation of blind physical laws over the millions of years following the Big Bang is a question entirely irrelevant from an evolutionary perspective.
6.1.2007 12:16pm
plunge (mail):
Jam: "Doesn't evolution infers, requires (demands?) millions of years for the process to work itself out?"

Yes. And luckily, all evidence points to the idea that the universe is in fact, billions of years old.

"And doesn't evolutionary biology depend on evoutionary chemical proceses that are contingent on beginings?"

I don't know what you mean by this. Evolutionary biology depends on there being life, which as far as we know requires something like an Earth. That's all. Other than that, it's really a matter well outside the subject of evolution itself. These things do, in fact, exist, and evolution proceeds from there.

"And, if indeed, evolutionary biology does not depend "the universe is eternal or began or not" it still has to graple with its foundational tenets."

No, not really. As I said, evolutionary biology depends on the planet being... well, the way it is. Grappling with things like the origin of the universe is not really relevant to evolution.

"If the Cosmos is eternal and self-existent, isn't that question outside science?"

Maybe, maybe not, it all depends on whether that idea is testible/demonstrable or not. Right now, I'd say that we barely even have a good grasp on how to formulate the questions, let alone know the answers.

"If the Cosmos had a begining evolutionists have to answer the "something out of nothing" question."

Uh, why? This is like saying that plumbers have to answer the "how does television work" question. Evolutionary biology deals with the evolution of life. On Earth. Not the origin of the universe as we know it. It takes the universe as we observe it as a given and works from there.

"A question that is outside science also, isn't it?"

Like I said, it might be or it might not. We don't know enough about the question at this point to say.
6.1.2007 12:21pm
David Miller (mail):
Plunge, we have a difference of opinion about what is false and misleading. You have clearly been brainwashed by the popular propaganda machine of our educational system.

Brownback's mentioning of the contrast of evolutionary models like Punctuated Equilibrium versus Darwinian Selection is certainly valid. You are being way too insecure if you think that such comments alone somehow dismisses evolution as being false. He is simply pointing out that there is much we don't know, and so a completely atheistic model still has a lot of problems.

You ask me to explain why the fossil record does not support common descent, or why there are statistical problems. This is not the forum for such long discussions. Surely you are aware of the huge gaps in the fossil record. Others have written volumes on this, many by atheistic evolutionists. Evoluionists like Ernst Mayr and George Gaylord Simpson have been honest enough in many of their tomes on this matter. Have you ever read a polyphyletic evolutionist like Kerkut ("Implications of Evolution") go through the problems with common descent?

I will agree with you that many creations present a lot of bad "science," but that is because many of them are theologians. The concept of origins crosses disciplines of knowledge and that is why there is so much confusion and bad mouthing one another. Have you ever read Robert Gentry's "Creation's Tiny Mystery"? That might present you with at least some basics of an actual creationist who understands science and presents interesting data and uses a strong inference method of disproving competing hypotheses.

Your last comment assumes that here is no empirical data supporting creationist models of evolution. This is just more bogus propaganda that you have erroneously accepted. For example, if an evolutionist posits a uniformitarian model for a geological structure, it is perfectly reasonable to point out the polystrate fossils in the strata and argue that a catastrophic event in line with a creationist model is better supported by the empirical data.
6.1.2007 12:39pm
SenatorX (mail):
Michael B, I will try to say this as clearly as possible.

A skeptic starts from the position that nothing is assured. That there are NO authority sources of knowledge that can lay claim to the truth. That everything IS relative and contextual. Well then it could be viewed as somewhat comical for a theist to accuse that skeptic of failing to perceive their assumptions.

What is going on is that you believe you already know "the Truth" that’s why you capitalized the T. Plato and his ilk with the "other True world" seemed to have found a host in you for those old memes. Any philosophizing you do will be to work your way back to proofs to the truth you already know. You are likely always in search mode for confirmations and I have no doubt you find them everywhere.

Please do not project this onto a humble atheist. I and others here have already stated that in opposition to "creationists" we don't believe we know the truth. We just know that believers don't know it either. The scientific method is very useful but it does not make the claim to provide the Truth.

You are claiming doubters have faith because they have faith in doubt? So atheists are wrong for assuming that believers cannot know any more about gods than they do? Believers are not wrong for assuming they DO know what the truth is? Indeed the fanatic is kind of a one trick pony who stays locked on his belief. After all the whole point of faith is you prove you have it by believing in that which you assume is real. If you truly thought it was real already you wouldn’t need to have faith.

Again are you really accusing doubters of relying on faith in their doubt? As if to say "your doubting all truths is the equivalent of me believing this one Truth".
6.1.2007 12:49pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
FYI, disinformation like Mr. Miller's is handily refuted by browsing at talkorigins.org. For instance, the "gaps! in! the! fossil! record!!!" bit is addressed at their FAQ.

(Short answer: of COURSE there are gaps -- most organisms do not leave fossils. The amazing thing is how well the fossil record *does* support natural selection.)
6.1.2007 12:57pm
plunge (mail):
"You have clearly been brainwashed by the popular propaganda machine of our educational system. "

That remains to be seen: it's simply an accusation made by you. I certainly isn't "clear."

"Brownback's mentioning of the contrast of evolutionary models like Punctuated Equilibrium versus Darwinian Selection is certainly valid."

But not in the way they are presented as calling into question whether or not life on Earth is ancestrally related and developed by evolutionary change. That is precisely how Brownback uses it in his essay. But it's as silly as claiming that the moon could suddenly fly off into space because there are heated arguments over how to resolve the issue of quantum gravity.

"He is simply pointing out that there is much we don't know, and so a completely atheistic model still has a lot of problems."

This is another common creationist tactic. Evolution is not an "atheistic" model in the sense that it takes a position on the question of religious beliefs. Plenty of evolutionary biologists are Christians.

"Surely you are aware of the huge gaps in the fossil record."

The fossil record was never expected, by anyone that knows anything about fossilization, to be gapless. The claim that the incompleteness of the fossil record is a problem for evolution is just a creationist misrepresentation. The problem is that you don't understand the nature of the fossil record and how it plays into the evidence for evolution. Ironically, the fossil record is actually far far richer than people in Darwin's day ever expected it to be, and it is more than ample enough to establish everything we need to establish insofar as demonstrating the common descent of life on earth via descending modification.

"Evoluionists like Ernst Mayr and George Gaylord Simpson have been honest enough in many of their tomes on this matter. "

Yes: only to be grossly misrepresented by creationists who pull quotes out of their works and try to present them as arguing something that they in fact did not (even more silly is that most of these pullquotes are decades out of date regardless).

"For example, if an evolutionist posits a uniformitarian model for a geological structure, it is perfectly reasonable to point out the polystrate fossils in the strata and argue that a catastrophic event in line with a creationist model is better supported by the empirical data."

No, it isn't, because the evidence stills overwhelmingly supports the mainstream geology case over that of the creationist as to what is going on.
6.1.2007 1:01pm
plunge (mail):
Miller, it's also worth pointing out that Punctuated Equilibrium is not "versus Darwinian Selection." If you think so, then you clearly don't know what PE actually is or concerns.
6.1.2007 1:03pm
Michael B (mail):
"No Michael. If one makes an _argument_, based on logic or evidence, then they are not making a leap of faith." plunge

Since this thread is invoked along a political and therein suggestive of a public policy line, I'm assuming we're not talking about pure abstractions but rather are talking about arguments that result in acts, in applications. Indeed, I pointedly emphasized the idea of act, of an act(s) that results from making various arguments and not arguments purely in the abstract.

But let's view a more abstract example, in Copernicus since I've used him recently in another vein. Copernicus's heliocentric model was an improvement upon Ptolemy's model. Well and good. However, Copernicus, in forming his hypothesis, maintained the idea of circular orbits because (from Aristotle or other peripatetic philosophers from antiquity, not sure) circular forms were deemed to be aesthetically "perfect," or some such notion. Further, he stipulated his hypothesis was not merely a hypothesis but represented physical reality as well (though he seems to have gone back and forth in positing this positivist aspect of his model).

So how is such a hypothesis, qua hypothesis, not a certain act of faith in and of itself, even in the abstract? Then, when his positivist notion is additionally applied (his positing that it wasn't merely a hypothesis but additionally represented the reality of the solar system), that represents a second act of faith, no?

This is important and representative since science is a process, is a type of successive, hypothesis formation process wherein intuition plays its part as well. For example a GUT, a grand unified theory, has not been achieved, but its aesthetic appeal continues to motivate hypothesis formations in physics, mathematics and other fields as well (e.g., string theory).
6.1.2007 1:10pm
Bob Up North (mail):
Esquire asked: "Does anybody who believes creationism to be intellectually illegitimate *not* believe the same to be true of the resurrection? I'm honestly curious why one is generally more tolerated as an acceptable belief than the other, when both would seem to defy science so blatantly."

I do. I believe creationism is illegitimate and intellectually dishonest, but the resurrection is true. I hold this view on purely theological grounds - no science or empiricism required.

Christian scholars have rejected the soi disant "literal interpretation" of Genesis since 235 AD. Outside the US, creationism is a fringe view rejected by most Christians.

Belief in creation is based on a misunderstanding of the Biblical proof texts. This misunderstanding is so pervasive among Bapist decended Churches that they misremember and misquote the Bible.

You can confirm this by asking a creationist to quote Genesis. He will probably misquote it to say God created the heavens, god created the earth, god created the Plants, and God created the animals. It does not.

The resurrection is soundly grounded in Christian theology.
6.1.2007 1:14pm
plunge (mail):
Michael, despite quoting it, you did not respond to my argument, so we cannot move on to other subjects until you do.

Do you agree that when a non-believer claims that the Christian God does not exist because deductively its qualities contradict each other, they are not, in fact, making a faith claim?

Do you agree that when a believer claims that God exists because there is empirical evidence of the creation story being true, this is not a faith claim?
6.1.2007 1:21pm
Tom952 (mail):
1 &2 Are both based on the the evidence of his irrationality and how that would affect his judgement. If he truely believes things that are contrary to objective factual evidence, he could not be relied upon to make rational decisions in the future.

3 His science policy could be shaped by many factors in addition to his personal religious views, so this conclusion is weak.

4. Looking foolish should not be a strong concern. The first person to publish a truth contrary to the conventional wisdom often looks foolish at first. I am not suggesting the Senator has offered a new truth, just that a person's credibility shouldn't be dismissed purely because they utter something that differs with widely held notions.
6.1.2007 1:28pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'My empiricist friends tell me the resurrection and the virgin birth are biologically implausible, and yet I do believe in them.'

Why?

Give me a reason that does not require me to believe that a god wrote the Bible, becuase I don't believe that.
6.1.2007 1:39pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Good heavens, you certainly have "stoked the conversation." Anyway, yes, that's right folks, science is no orthodoxy delivered from on high. But surely it is no "dogmatism" to note that for the layperson scientific consensus is the epistemic best-bet. (Compare the results of faith's wagers against science in the past...) Given that ours is a secular government, then, I just don't see how a politician who is willing to bet against a policy-relevant scientific consensus on the basis of a counterfailing [sic] "faith" is fit to participate.
6.1.2007 1:53pm
David Miller (mail):
Anderson, IMHO, talkorigins.org poorly addresses the questions at hand. It only appears to handle them by the non-skeptical person who already wants to believe atheistic evolution. Too many problems to deal with here and now.

Plunge, I can be called an evolutionary biologist who is a Christian. I'm a published biologist who has taught evolution to biology students at the university level. Such observations don't say anything about the atheistic nature of the evolutionary theory.

If science were a discipline that only attempted to explain issues by strictly empirical data, then perhaps it would be open to theistic arguments. However, almost all scientists have taken the position that any reference to a Deity in the explanation of anything violates their method of study. If one cannot reference a Deity in his model of explanation, then the discipline is atheistic. For you to suggest that science is open to theistic explanations is a canard, and contrary to previous points you have tried to make.

You claim the fossil record was never expected. Again, more false information. Haven't you ever read the Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin? It is amazing to me how many evolutionists I have met who have never read it. Darwin made some very clear predictions about how the gaps in the fossil record would fill in and prove his theory to be true. His prediction was false.

As for the poor methods of arguments used by creationists in yanking quotes out of context, I have no argument with you. You have not seen me do that. We can point to the same poor tactics by scientists, and even fraudulent activity like Piltdown man, but that doesn't prove that all scientists do it. Therefore, your point here is irrelevant.

Your comment to my example of polystrate fossils illustrates yet again how you blindly follow your paradigm in spite of direct empirical evidence to the contrary. You are more religiously motivated toward your cherished dogma of evolution than many religious people I have known. It doesn't matter how much data seems to overwhelmingly support a viewpoint. It only takes one piece of clear evidence to falsify an idea. You might consider reading Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn for a more clear understanding of how science operates.

In regards to Punctuated Equilibrium, it is a modification of the pure Darwinian model, something necessitated by the lack of fulfilling Darwin's prediction concerning the fossil record. I have read the original article by Elredge and Gould, answered questions about PE during a Master's and PhD program in biology, and taught it in the university. I assure you I know what PE is. Gould back-tracked on it some in later years because of the way creationists used it, but read his original article and you will see that it indeed was pointing out where we were missing it with Darwinian selection as the primary mechanism of evolutionary change. The interesting thing is that the fossil record better fits a creationist model of evolution than it does the purely Darwinian model. PE makes the creationist model and evoluionary models less distinguishable from each other.
6.1.2007 1:59pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Oh, lord:

So how is such a hypothesis, qua hypothesis, not a certain act of faith in and of itself, even in the abstract?

I will explain.

An "act of faith" means that I *believe something to be true.*

A "hypothesis" means that I entertain a proposition about what might be true, for the purpose of testing it to ascertain whether it can be true or not.

Not any proposition can be a hypothesis, because it has to be testable ("falsifiable," as Popper puts it). "God exists," for ex, is not a hypothesis, except on some definition of "God" that would allow for testing -- like, "God is an entity that will not allow me to injure myself if I jump from the top of the Temple onto the flagstones below."

Copernicus, please recall, was writing at a time *before* scientific method was developed, a century before Bacon. In and of itself, his book was forgettable. He lucked out because Kepler picked up the idea and ran with it.
6.1.2007 2:00pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
You claim the fossil record was never expected. Again, more false information.

Reading is fundamental; what he wrote was this:

"The fossil record was never expected, by anyone that knows anything about fossilization, to be gapless."

No wonder you don't find the Talk.origins site to be especially helpful.
6.1.2007 2:02pm
scote (mail):

I do. I believe creationism is illegitimate and intellectually dishonest, but the resurrection is true. I hold this view on purely theological grounds - no science or empiricism required.

Christian scholars have rejected the soi disant "literal interpretation" of Genesis since 235 AD. Outside the US, creationism is a fringe view rejected by most Christians.

Belief in creation is based on a misunderstanding of the Biblical proof texts. This misunderstanding is so pervasive among Bapist decended Churches that they misremember and misquote the Bible.

Once you a "faith" component to your belief set you give up the right to claim that anyone else's faith-based beliefs are wrong. If you believe something based on faith it is just silly to point at someone and say that their irrational belief is wrong but your irrational belief is right **and** claim you have a rational reason why your irrational belief is right and theirs is wrong.

You claim that creationism is a "misunderstanding" whereas the resurrection is "solidly grounded" in Christian theology yet both of those positions are built up on top of a foundation based on belief without reason. Anything built on such a foundation, such as your claims of solid grounding for your theology, will still be faith based and still be irrational no matter how logically the top floor is built.
6.1.2007 2:22pm
Guest101:

Anderson, IMHO, talkorigins.org poorly addresses the questions at hand.

David Miller,
You apparently believe, among other things, that punctuated equilibrium is a separate and distinct theory from Darwinian evolution by natural selection, and that the fossil record is the only (or best) empirical evidence supporting the theory of evolution. It's therefore apparent that your opinion is not worth very much, because you're ignorant of some very fundamental aspects of the unifying theory of modern biology and the evidence supporting it.


Surely you are aware of the huge gaps in the fossil record.

I think it was Dawkins, though it might have been someone else whom Dawkins was quoting, who pointed out the irony of the "fossil gap" argument-- the creationist denies the reality of evolution because of the lack of some transitional form in the fossil record. If you show him a transitional form to fill that gap, he now says there are two gaps!
6.1.2007 2:37pm
Guest101:

The interesting thing is that the fossil record better fits a creationist model of evolution than it does the purely Darwinian model. PE makes the creationist model and evoluionary models less distinguishable from each other.

Can you kindly explain, Dr. Miller, how on Earth you reach this conclusion? What is the "creationist model of evolution?" Does punctuated equilibrium deny the process of speciation, or the ultimate derivation of all life forms from a single protenitor?
6.1.2007 2:46pm
Jam:
1) Genesis 1 account is linear. Genesis 2 is summary.

2) What to eat and what not to eat is Old Testament. Read Acts and Peter's vision on the rooftop. Christianity is not Judaism.

3) If God created the Cosmos and everything in it, then it is completely logical that all creation, especially biological organisms, share common material.

4) To my Christian brothers who are evolutionists: If God can raise Jesus from the dead and create the Cosmos out of nothing, choosing to do it in 6 literal days is no more a stretch than the creation itself.

5) Faith (which is synonimous to trust) and reason are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary. We all develop trust, ie faith, on people or information based on experience. The Bible does not attempt to eliminate empiricism, it relies on it. That is why the writers, particularly New Testament writers, appeal to what the target audiences have seen and heard.

6) Revelation and science are not antagonistic but science has to investigate because revelation is outside its abilities.

plunge: Thanks for your responses.
6.1.2007 2:48pm
scote (mail):

2) What to eat and what not to eat is Old Testament. Read Acts and Peter's vision on the rooftop. Christianity is not Judaism.

Yeah, guess you better throw out the Decalogue, Genesis and all of that "Jewish" stuff if you are Christian. I guess evolution is now no problem since you as a Christian don't have to pay any attention to the Old Testament; no "begats" adding up to 6,000 years and no Old Testament account of Genesis. To say otherwise would be inconsistent with your proposition.

Faith (which is synonimous to trust) and reason are not mutually exclusive.

Faith and trust are not "synonimous." Trust can be based on reason--such as can I "trust" this scientific information to be accurate. Faith can't be based on reason--that would be an oxymoron.

Revelation and science are not antagonistic but science has to investigate because revelation is outside its abilities.

Both are ways of learning and knowing about the universe. They most certainly are antagonistic because you can make claims based on revelation that contradict empirical fact and vice versa.
6.1.2007 3:20pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I was going to post that it was obvious that David Miller has never read, eg, Mayr but only about Mayr in creationist tracts.

Miller claims different.

I'm still going to post that it is obvious that Miller has never read Mayr.

I dunno, maybe you can get a Ph.D. in biology without reading Mayr. From Biola U. perhaps.
6.1.2007 3:28pm
plunge (mail):
"Such observations don't say anything about the atheistic nature of the evolutionary theory."

Of course they do. Evolution is not atheistic. It is science, not a theology or philosophy.

"However, almost all scientists have taken the position that any reference to a Deity in the explanation of anything violates their method of study."

That's a methodological commitment based on empiricism, not a ruling out of god philosophically. It's basically saying "magic is not an answer." If you can explain how you'd do science on untestable miracles, then you are welcome to propose an alternative. But time and time again, we see this bluster with no follow up.

"If one cannot reference a Deity in his model of explanation, then the discipline is atheistic."

Oh, so if I explain tooth decay without resorting to a Deity, dentistry is "atheistic"?

"You have not seen me do that."

Your references to Mayr and Simpson certainly come close. What else could you be referencing than the standard creationist quote mines of their books?

"Your comment to my example of polystrate fossils illustrates yet again how you blindly follow your paradigm in spite of direct empirical evidence to the contrary."

There isn't direct empirical evidence to the contrary. The physical evidence does not support flood geology there, and it does not contradict mainstream geology. The idea that it does is pretty much a layperson-level lack of understanding of geology. Like with most creationist arguments, it attempts to pass off an argument that sounds reasonable to a person that is not really familiar with the more complex ins and outs of geology.

"It doesn't matter how much data seems to overwhelmingly support a viewpoint. It only takes one piece of clear evidence to falsify an idea."

Then present some. Show me a single lineage in the entire world that, for instance, has a feature taken whole hog from another lineage that isn't supposed to be related to it.

"In regards to Punctuated Equilibrium, it is a modification of the pure Darwinian model, something necessitated by the lack of fulfilling Darwin's prediction concerning the fossil record."

Well, then you're quite wrong. PE is a reaction to phyletic gradualism, but phyletic gradualism is not something Darwin supported: it post-dates him, and there is considerable controversy whether or not the position Gould and Eldredge attacked was in fact just a straw man. Not that it matters, but Darwin says pretty clearly that he does not suppose that the pace of changes is always the same, and even talks about short spurts of adaptation with long periods of relative stasis. Sound familiar?

"I have read the original article by Elredge and Gould, answered questions about PE during a Master's and PhD program in biology, and taught it in the university."

I pity your program and your students for being so misinformed in that case.

"I assure you I know what PE is."

Then why did you offer it as a contrast to selection? PE concerns the pace of speciation and change over time, not contradicting the mechanism of selection in assuring particular adaptations to an environment.

"The interesting thing is that the fossil record better fits a creationist model of evolution than it does the purely Darwinian model."

You keep saying, but you also keep failing to explain how.

"PE makes the creationist model and evolutionary models less distinguishable from each other."

Nonsense. As I said, you don't really seem to understand how the fossil record fits into evolution as evidence for it. Your reference to gaps is a pretty standard creationist drivel in this regard. No biologist ever expected the fossil record to be complete, and it doesn't have to be anywhere NEAR complete to establish common descent (in Darwin's day, there wasn't even a faint hope of actually mapping out the relations in the way we can today: all he really used fossils for was to establish ideas like extinction and the difference between past and modern life). All it has to do is be consistent in every physical regard... and it is. To an absurd degree, and also just so happening to match up with the independent check we have in measuring genetic relation.
6.1.2007 4:38pm
Jam:
Scote:
1) Acts, chatper 10. Start at verse 9
2) Lookup faith in the dictionary.
6.1.2007 5:02pm
David Miller (mail):
I knew I would regret taking the time to post here. (sigh)

Look, most of you have jumped on your favorite dogma and have forsaken critical thinking. You can't even read what I write without misinterpreting what I have said or reading your own preconceived notions about what you think I am about to say.

Anderson: I quoted as I did because the rest of what he said was already written and understood within my terse quote. It doesn't change my point that Darwin himself predicted the gaps in the fossil record to be filled in. Go look at the data yourself or ask any HONEST evolutionist. Whenever I have raised this in graduate study classes, always the graduate students think the fossil record is fine, but the honest professors shamefacedly agree with me and then start with the EXCUSES.

Guest101, PE is not distinct from Darwinian evolution. The PE model describes long periods of Darwinian evolution which are punctuated by explosive periods of rapid evolutionary change. The trick then becomes how to explain the sudden and rapid changes. On the other hand, a purely Darwinian model is different than PE. The predictions of the fossil record and the kinds of empirical evidence are different.

Furthermore, I do not in any way indicate that the fossil record is the only or best empirical evidence. On the contrary, it is one of the strongest evidences AGAINST it. You need to understand that science best operates not by trying to find all the evidence to support an idea, but rather by attempting to falsify an idea. Think critically and skeptically, or you will continue to misunderstand what I am saying as well as my motivation.

In regards to your last question, the prediction of creationist models concerning the fossil record is that organisms were created according to their kind. Theologians differ on what "kind" is. Some use the term species to define it, but a class level of taxonomy probably better defines the kind specified in Genesis. Creationist models generally predict a fossil record that show organisms already developed, and then after the fall, evolutionary processes worked in a degradative fashion to produce what we observe today. This is contrary to the classical Darwinian model which predicts a single event creating the original life, and then evolutionary processes working toward increasing complexity and development to produce what we have now. When considering the fossil record, it more closely matches the predictions of the creationist model developed from Genesis than it does the classical Darwinian model. However, PE modifies the Darwinian model in a way that more closely matches the predictions of the creationist model. Note, however, that this has been done in an ad hoc fashion in response to seeing how the evidence support Darwin. A statistician can tell you the problems this kind of theory modification presents. You may want to consult a very good article called "Stong Inference" by Platt if you have any serious interest in understanding good science.

Forgive me all if I don't continue with this thread. My time is very limited these days. I do hope some of you will study a little deeper and think more critically and honestly. Don't believe everything that the establishment tells you. When you see the educational system censoring certain kinds of information, like creationist viewpoints, look carefully. There might be other reasons they don't want you to know about the evidence they are hiding.
6.1.2007 5:07pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Anderson: I quoted as I did because the rest of what he said was already written and understood within my terse quote.

LOLR (R for Ruefully) ...

but the honest professors shamefacedly agree with me and then start with the EXCUSES.

I wish we had video of *that* moment.

Forgive me all if I don't continue with this thread.

Forgiven!

I wonder how Mr. Miller explains why we almost never find human fossils down beneath the Precambrian ones.
6.1.2007 5:27pm
Guest101:

PE is not distinct from Darwinian evolution. The PE model describes long periods of Darwinian evolution which are punctuated by explosive periods of rapid evolutionary change. The trick then becomes how to explain the sudden and rapid changes. On the other hand, a purely Darwinian model is different than PE. The predictions of the fossil record and the kinds of empirical evidence are different.


I note, first, the obvious contradiction between the two bolded statements that makes it rather difficult to tell what you're trying to say here. As has been pointed out, though, punctuated equilibrium and gradualism are simply disagreements about the rate of change in a process about which both sides are completely in agreement as to the broader details-- and that process is entirely inconsistent with a creationist model.


Furthermore, I do not in any way indicate that the fossil record is the only or best empirical evidence. On the contrary, it is one of the strongest evidences AGAINST it. You need to understand that science best operates not by trying to find all the evidence to support an idea, but rather by attempting to falsify an idea. Think critically and skeptically, or you will continue to misunderstand what I am saying as well as my motivation.

I'm well-acquainted with Popper's work. But you have yet to explain what testable prediction the theory of evolution makes that is falsified by anything in the fossil record. Your effort to distinguish punctuated equilibrium from the broader theory of evolution is apparently part of that-- even if it were the case that the fossil record conclusively establishes that Gould and Eldridge are right about the process of evolution as a series of long periods of stasis followed by short periods of rapid change, that would obviously not falsify the theory of evolution-- it would simply disprove one hypothesis about one detail about how the process works. Obviously, neither Gould and Eldridge on the one side, or Dawkins on the other, ever suggested that the punctuated equilibrium vs. gradual change debate implicated the validity of the general theory of evolution.

It seems to be you who needs to develop an understanding of how science works, as you are apparently under the impression that a professional disagreement between practicing biologists about a technical detail of a larger natural process somehow rebuts the overwhelming empirical evidence in support of the general theory within which the scientists are debating. The scientific method requires testing empirical observations against ever more detailed hypotheses about the natural world; this is exactly what is happening in the punctuated equilibrium debate, and whichever side prevails in that debate (and from my limited understanding of the issue, I tend to think that the many scholars who have suggested that Gould and Eldridge really overblew the scope of the disagreement and the significance of their "alternative" model), the theory of evolution will emerge stronger from it. This is one of many rather ignorant arguments you've made that compel me to question your claim to have a Ph.D. in biology, at least from a legitimate university. You sound more like someone who has read a few creationist tracts online without bothering to read the actual science.

Anderson,

I wonder how Mr. Miller explains why we almost never find human fossils down beneath the Precambrian ones.

Godditit. That must be what happened to all the rabbits, too...
6.1.2007 5:52pm
Michael B (mail):
SenatorX,

No. I do not at all claim to know the "Truth" and you've entirely misrepresented, or more likely have misapprehended, what was stated.

Profoundly so.
6.1.2007 5:55pm
scote (mail):

Jam:
Scote:
1) Acts, chatper 10. Start at verse 9
2) Lookup faith in the dictionary.



Your claimed exemption from Jewish dietary restrictions is a rather narrow one and it actually makes your case weaker because it shows by omission that the other laws of the Old Testament do still apply. Such as this classic from Deuteronomy 13:

"13:6 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
13:9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
13:10 And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die"

Note that you are a "Strict Constructionalist" you also have to destroy entire cities where God has been rejected, as well (Deuteronomy 13:12-17)

Your argument about diet was apparently meant to diffuse the question of whether a President who was a "strict constructionist" about the Bible would have to ban shell fish at state sponsored dinners. Oh, if only such minor quibbles were the worst case. Your point that Christians don't have to follow Jewish dietary restriction ignores all the other gems that are part of the Old Testament that Acts doesn't rescind.

Now back to mere diet, rather than exhortations by an all loving deity to kill people for their belief, here is, perhaps, the salient portion of what you were referring to:

"10:13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
10:14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
10:15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."

Of course, this isn't entirely new, since in the Old Testament God told Noah:

"Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you." Genesis 9:3

But, that promise didn't last long. What was good for Noah apparently not so good for Moses.

"Nevertheless, these shall ye not eat, of them that chew the cud or of them that divide the cloven hoof; as the camel and the hare, and the coney; for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof; therefore, they are unclean unto you. And the swine, because it divideth the hoof, yet cheweth not the cud, it is unclean unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, nor touch their dead carcass." Deuteronomy 14:7-8

The Bible is really not a good source for consistency.

Of course I'm sure you will want to point out that Christians really don't believe that they need to kill their wives if they are unbelievers. Well, why not? This takes us back to the selective adoption of the Old Testament by Christians. I would point out that the degree to which the Old Testament Law applies to Christians has been a continuous and unsettled debate among Christian factions. It is generally a case of cherry picking combined with selective theology.

e.g.

Psalm 119:151-2 Clearly states that the Old Testament shall apply forever:

"Thou art near, O LORD; and all thy commandments are truth. Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever."

Whereas
Corinthians 3:14
"But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ."

Naturally there is a great deal of theology to explain away these contradictions and I'm sure you have something to say about them but that does not negate the fact that they exist in the first place, nor does your opinion on the matter settle the issue between Christians or explain why Genesis applies but the inviolable Biblical laws demanding the death of fortune tellers ("dreamers) do not .

Anyway, all of these quotes and the Bible itself are irrelevant in regards to evolution, which is based on empirical evidence not the tortured excuses of millennia of theological discourse.

"faith |fāθ| noun
1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something : this restores one's faith in politicians.
2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof."

You are conflating the two separate definitions. Used in the religious context, as you were doing and as I was responding in kind, faith isn't a synonym for "trust," it is an irrational belief.
6.1.2007 6:15pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

In fact, inherent in what was stated with the Copernicus example, there was an answer to your questions. Essentially, it depends upon the meaning associated with the terms stipulated or inherent in those questions (the meaning to be associateed with terms such as: faith, act, argument, abstraction, rational). (E.g., scote's definition of 'faith' is comically tendentious and self-serving in the extreme. So in all this I'm assumming a more serious approach is intended.)

But essentially, at the level of pure abstraction or syllogism, or whatever form the would-be arguments might take, no faith would be evidenced. Excepting a type of rudimentary "faith" in the logic attempted, which might be discounted since faith generally implies something more robust, an act or action taking place and not mere passiveness and abstraction. Still, what constitutes an "act," or "faith" can be problematic rather than obvious, it is the subject of lengthy disputations. Or perhaps you have the one, true definition in mind? In the end, certainly someone with solipcistic inclinations, can define it in any manner they choose. But if reason and intelligence are to be applied, something more rigorous and probative would be needed, which is to say probative at ontological levels.

Regardless though, time for the weekend.
6.1.2007 6:41pm
scote (mail):

(E.g., scote's definition of 'faith' is comically tendentious and self-serving in the extreme. So in all this I'm assumming a more serious approach is intended.)

Ah, forgive me for using the reportive definition of faith, clearly "self-serving the extreme."

If faith is a strong belief without proof then it is an "irrational" belief, that is one believes without rational proof. One can argue that it is "rational" to believe on blind faith, but I think such a position would have no truth value as to the veracity of the belief only a value as to the comfort or social value of the belief.
6.1.2007 6:51pm
Colin (mail):
It doesn't change my point that Darwin himself predicted the gaps in the fossil record to be filled in. Go look at the data yourself or ask any HONEST evolutionist.

This is typical creationist misdirection. Science, unlike religion, does not proceed from the words of revered elders. It proceeds from the evidence. Darwin was wrong about lots of things, and lacked evidence for others. The theory he expounded is well supported by physical evidence, though, so his mistakes don’t matter at all to his successors. Only the evidence matters, and the evidence of the fossil record soundly supports evolution. Gaps are an expected consequence of the rarity of fossilization, and new discoveries fit neatly within those gaps, proving the validity of the theory as discoveries conform to the predictions of empirical scientists. Creationists? Not so much.

Whenever I have raised this in graduate study classes, always the graduate students think the fossil record is fine, but the honest professors shamefacedly agree with me and then start with the EXCUSES.

The difference between EXPLANATIONS and EXCUSES is your refusal to follow the evidence when it contradicts your preconceptions. Nor do I believe that honest professors are “shamefaced” about the fossil record.

Your confession of baraminology should be an embarrassment to a trained academic. I’m extremely skeptical about your claimed credentials. Where did you do your graduate biology work? Where, and what, did you teach? Someone else guessed BIOLA; that sounds about right, given your refusal to deviate from your pre-confirmed ideology. It’s equally likely that, like Behe, you were involved in a tangential field that never required you to rigorously engage the field of evolutionary biology.

I can’t see a trained biologist writing claptrap like, “When considering the fossil record, it more closely matches the predictions of the creationist model developed from Genesis than it does the classical Darwinian model.” That’s pure baloney. The creationist model doesn’t explain the existence of ‘transitional’ forms such as Tiktaalik, or the conservation of biological features. In the creationist model, bats would be more similar to birds than to squirrels, and there is no reason for bats to share mammalian wrist and hand structures. Biology explains those similarities; creationism excuses them.

It’s not a conspiracy, as you suggest. You’re just wrong.
6.1.2007 7:19pm
Esquire:
200...wow.

:)
6.1.2007 7:56pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Unlike Miller, I have read Mayr, and I have read the creationists, and I have attended lectures by Morris.

I can tell when somebody's faking it.

Besides, nobody who has time to read creationist tracts can possibly plead 'too busy.'
6.1.2007 8:32pm
Colin (mail):
To be fair, Eager, they're short, illustrated, use small words and smaller ideas. It doesn't take much time to read Big Daddy.
6.1.2007 8:50pm
plunge (mail):
Miller: "Look, most of you have jumped on your favorite dogma and have forsaken critical thinking."

You are so eager to jump right to this accusation that it's a little suspect. But of course, anyone can accuse others of dogma and a lack of critical thinking. In fact, such an accusation is the hallmark of psuedoscience.

"It doesn't change my point that Darwin himself predicted the gaps in the fossil record to be filled in."

Your point is a falsehood. Darwin never expected a complete fossil record and no one who knows the first thing about fossilization ever expected it or said that evolution required it or predicted it. In fact, Darwin never even expected the fossil record would be as rich as it has turned out to be.

"Go look at the data yourself or ask any HONEST evolutionist."

I've looked at the data, and I resent the idea that the vast majority of evolutionary professors, academics, and practicing scientists are not honest. This is again, another bold accusation that isn't worth the electrons its recorded in just because you CAN make it.

"The PE model describes long periods of Darwinian evolution which are punctuated by explosive periods of rapid evolutionary change. The trick then becomes how to explain the sudden and rapid changes. On the other hand, a purely Darwinian model is different than PE. The predictions of the fossil record and the kinds of empirical evidence are different."

Again, no: this is simply laughably misinformed. PE is a response to phyletic gradualism, not to the "purely Darwinian model."

" When considering the fossil record, it more closely matches the predictions of the creationist model developed from Genesis than it does the classical Darwinian model."

This is pure nonsense. The fossil record shows branching trees of ancestry: descent with modification. It shows this time and time again, at every level. It does not show degrading kinds. It does not show complex forms appearing and then degrading. Period. Anyone who claims this has no expertise with the fossil record.

"However, PE modifies the Darwinian model in a way that more closely matches the predictions of the creationist model."

Again, this is a complete misrepresentation. PE suggests nothing of the sort. PE asserts that the pace of change is not constant. This has nothing to do with set kinds degrading over time.

"Note, however, that this has been done in an ad hoc fashion in response to seeing how the evidence support Darwin."

Again, nonsense. It is part of an argument over the ways and pace at which large morphological changes happen within lineages.

"I do hope some of you will study a little deeper and think more critically and honestly."

It is precisely because people studied deeper and thought more critically that they are able to see through the nonsense you are pushing. You can't support it, so you run off.
6.1.2007 8:59pm
plunge (mail):
Michael, Michael, you don't need two paragraphs to concede the point, unless of course you are TRYING to bury it in obscure verbiage. The issue was simply and clear. I pointed out that we cannot glibly declare that strong atheists are acting on faith when they say that their claims are based on arguments. You got all huffy about that. But now you seem to grudgingly concede it, albeit in the most roundabout way imaginable.

Ok? So now there is really nothing more to say on that point. Now you can move on to the next issue.
6.1.2007 9:05pm
markm (mail):
Considering how many other politicians either believe things that are provably untrue, or don't care what the truth if ignoring it gets votes or campaign funds, I'm not worried about Brownback's God-delusions in themselves. However, I wouldn't want him running the schools.

So, if he's for abolishing the federal dept. of education, he just might get this atheist's vote.
6.2.2007 11:09am
markm (mail):
David Miller: Haven't you ever read the Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin? It is amazing to me how many evolutionists I have met who have never read it.

What's amazing about working biologists not reading a book that's a century and a half out of date? They aren't doing the history of biology, but rather they're working to fill in the details of the science accurately. It's only "amazing" if you think the way to truth is to read some 1900 year old text...

Darwin made some very clear predictions about how the gaps in the fossil record would fill in and prove his theory to be true. His prediction was false. Obviously, Darwin wasn't right about everything. Scientists build on their predecessors work by collecting new data, comparing it to existing theory and hypotheses, and making modifications as required, so each generation creates a more complete and accurate picture. Apparently your religion works very differently - does it ever admit to making a mistake?

If one cannot reference a Deity in his model of explanation, then the discipline is atheistic. No, David, not everything is about your God. Most people are neither with you nor against you, but just don't care at the moment.
6.2.2007 4:08pm
Michael B (mail):
scote,

The word you've come closer to defining is fideist, not the far more problematic word you believe you've defined.
6.2.2007 4:10pm
markm (mail):
Joeseph Lieberman, as a traditional Jew, follows the Biblical rules you outline, among others, and doesn't eat selfish. If he had been elected Vice-President, presumably shellfish wouldn't have been served at state dinners. Would you be less inclined to vote for him over this?

If I understand Judaic traditions at all, it matters not a whit to the observant Jew that others don't follow their ways. Lieberman isn't going to try to ban shellfish, or more to the point, two things that I eat frequently, porkchops and bacon cheeseburgers, he will just avoid eating them himself. So his Kosher diet doesn't affect whether I will vote for him. Why I'm likely to vote against him is because he has voted to interfere with my freedom in other ways in the past (e.g., he voted for McCain-Feingold), and I suspect that if the Democrats continue on their present course, someday he might even join them in voting to ban french fries "because they aren't good for us".
6.2.2007 4:22pm
scote (mail):

Michael B (mail):
scote,

The word you've come closer to defining is fideist, not the far more problematic word you believe you've defined.

I'm always happy to learn more and I certainly acknowledge that saying that "if faith is belief without proof that it is, therefore, irrational belief" will result in a push back from some. However, I think arguable point of that statement is not that faith is belief without proof but the definition of "rational." To call belief in God "rational" does it merely have to make sense socially or does the belief have to be based on logical interpretation of sound empirical evidence which proves the existence not only of the possibility of god but of the existence of one in particular? It is the equivocation of rationality that you may hang your hat on, I think.

Clearly a "fideist" is someone who argues for their beliefs on an irrational basis, and then some, but I don't think we must limit the concept of irrational believers to such extreme examples. The ordinary faithful and fideists both base their belief on God based on faith without proof. Fideists just take the application of their knowledge from faith one step further. Either way the belief in God is one deliberately made in spite of proof. I think this fits the definition of irrational, you apparently think that believing in God without proof is rational. There we disagree.
6.2.2007 5:39pm
plunge (mail):
As someone who's actually read Origin, I challenge Miller to actually quote the sections he's talking about. I think it should come to no ones surprise that his characterization of what Darwin predicted and what later occurred are false.
6.3.2007 1:33am
Michael B (mail):
scote,

No, I'm speaking to an appreciable qualitative difference between the two terms. Obviously, anyone or any group can define the terms as they like, to suit whatever agenda they might have in mind. But "fideist" or "fideism" tends to have a simple, commonly accepted sense associated with it. "Faith," and again, assumming one wishes to take the subject seriously, is qualitatively problematic in a manner that reflects ontological and epistemological depth.

For example, there is certainly an arational quality associated with belief. But that's true of a theist, and it's also true of one who positively disbelieves, an atheist or anti-theist; neither can submit a proof in support of their position or belief on purely rational grounds. By contrast, an agnostic who states she does not believe either way (is neither a theist nor an atheist/anti-theist) may be stating nothing more than that she is aware of the fact that no formal proofs are available, either pro or con - i.e. merely conflating their epistemological awareness with their beliefs.

On the other hand, due to the ontological and epistemological limitations we face, such (the agnostic's position) obviously doesn't mean that we can suspend our existence, in time. Time marches on, we continue to face the challenges before us, choose whom to love and associate with, etc. Hence unless we opt for apathy and resignation we are "forced" to express some type of faith by dint of our positive actions in the world, in the various aspects of our lives, certainly so if we seek a certain fecundity in our lives and are willing to work toward those ends.

Thus the recent exchange between Habermas and Ratzinger/Benedict, thus notable aspects of Benedict's Regensburg's address, thus the entanglements someone like Tariq Ramadan presents to western interlocutors and policy makers, thus sundry assaults on rationalism from post-modern and other quarters, etc.

Thus the problematic character of faith, more seriously apprehended and apperceived.
6.3.2007 3:10pm
scote (mail):

But that's true of a theist, and it's also true of one who positively disbelieves, an atheist or anti-theist; neither can submit a proof in support of their position or belief on purely rational grounds.

Indeed, however disbelief is the rational zero point as I can summarize with two words: Tea Pot. I'm sure you recognize the reference.

Atheism and agnostic are problematic words since different people use them in different ways. I'll use them in the manner Dawkins does. Atheism is a pragmatic position. It is not faith based because it does not require "faith" to disbelieve in the absence of evidence. Dawkins atheism does not assert that there can be no god, only that there is no sound reason to believe that there is and even less so to believe in any specific, detailed claim of god such as the god of Abrahm. In this sense, atheism is more of an Asymptotic agnosticism.

Atheism is not solipism. It is not necessary to disprove all possible things, for that is what you are implying--a sort of antithesis of solipsism.. The God of Abraham is only one possible idea of god and yet the faith component in theism is the belief in a particular god rather than the corollary disbelief in the infinite number of alternate possibilities. I think you mangling the definition and use of the word "faith" to near unrecognizable proportions.


On the other hand, due to the ontological and epistemological limitations we face, such (the agnostic's position) obviously doesn't mean that we can suspend our existence, in time. Time marches on, we continue to face the challenges before us, choose whom to love and associate with, etc. Hence unless we opt for apathy and resignation we are "forced" to express some type of faith by dint of our positive actions in the world, in the various aspects of our lives, certainly so if we seek a certain fecundity in our lives and are willing to work toward those ends.

Thus the recent exchange between Habermas and Ratzinger/Benedict, thus notable aspects of Benedict's Regensburg's address, thus the entanglements someone like Tariq Ramadan presents to western interlocutors and policy makers, thus sundry assaults on rationalism from post-modern and other quarters, etc.

Thus the problematic character of faith, more seriously apprehended and apperceived.

Or "Yada, yada, yada." Which is all to say that while you are perfectly willing to criticize my definition of the word "faith" you still decline to provide an improved one of your own, instead rambling on and saying nothing but that faith is "problematic." Color me unimpressed.

It isn't that I lack the capacity for nuance or an unwilling to adopt new and better positions but that you have failed to actually say anything even while saying nothing in a very erudite manner.
6.4.2007 2:56am
Michael B (mail):
scote,

I don't mind provocations if they eventually lead to something more fruitful, unfortunately yours do not. Firstly, I wasn't attempting to "impress," was more simply noting your reductionist and tendentious view of the matter. Too, I would never describe atheism per se as a solipsism, atheism can be, at least potentially, a perfectly valid and respectable intellectual position.

Finally, your recourse to Russell's "teapot" formulation, putatively reflecting a "rational" zero point of belief/disbelief (Dawkins' "pragmatic" view), is not an argument that can be taken seriously. Instead such comprehensions reflect a set of assertions and rhetorical flourishes which you've apparently accepted dogmatically, on faith, as a type of creed you ascribe to. (Or if you think you've accepted them because they are solid arguments I'd challenge you to work through those arguments rather than merely repeating the assertions as some type of creed in which you indulge.) In the following I'll abbreviate another's argument (the whole of which is here), feel free to attempt a proof to the contrary:

The burden of proof aspect of Russell's "teapot" argument (or Edward Abbey's unicorn, or Dawkins' purported "pragmatic" position) is reasonable enough - as far as it goes. (If the existence of something - whether god or a unicorn or a celestial teapot - has not been disproven then such does not imply that that something does in fact exist.) Again, from the point of view of abstract, logical argument, well and good - though only as far as it goes.

But Russell and Dawkins and crew are not stopping there, they are attempting an vast equivocation; they are attempting to adumbrate a gross equivocation onto the otherwise perfectly valid formal logic. It's as if they are saying "I cannot disprove my friend Rick is not behind a building, therefore he is behind said building" is on the same footing with the notion that "I cannot disprove that an angry unicorn is not behind a building, therefore it is behind said building."

The two statements are equal in terms of their logical structure, they are not equal in terms of the subject matter they are attempting to equivocate.

Certainly, it's true that I know Rick exists (empirically) while I don't know God exists in that same manner. But here it's a matter of substituting what can be reasonably believed (theism) vs. what cannot be reasonably believed (celestial teapots and unicorns). To substantiate the reasonable aspect of that belief I'll recourse to these theistic arguments by Plantinga.

Hence you're the one indulging in the "yada, yada, yada" and are the one indulging in a fideism, albeit one reflecting an uncritical faith in Russell, Dawkins and co. But again, if not, I'd like to see you refute such an argument, though not with recourse to more assertions and dogmas, rather with recourse to an attempt at a more rigorous counter-argument.
6.4.2007 5:52pm
scote (mail):

I don't mind provocations if they eventually lead to something more fruitful, unfortunately yours do not.

I feel the same way about your arguments. I glad we can finally agree on something.

Certainly, it's true that I know Rick exists (empirically) while I don't know God exists in that same manner. But here it's a matter of substituting what can be reasonably believed (theism) vs. what cannot be reasonably believed (celestial teapots and unicorns).

Well, I'm certainly enjoying your clear argument, for once. However, you are practicing what you accuse Russel and Dawkins of, equivocation on a vast scale. You equivocate believing in a person (vast empirical evidence for the existence of actual people) and believing in God (no empirical evidence and many religions reject the idea that belief in God should be based on anything but pure faith.)

Your assertion of "what can reasonably be believed" is presumptive and without support from you. Your argument against Russel's "Teapot Atheist" is nothing more than pure assertion. You simply assert that theism is reasonable to believe but that unicorns are not reasonable to believe in. This argument by assertion fails to make any claim of how the two kinds of belief are different nor how they may be differentiated. Providing a link to Alvin Plantinga's Lecture Notes does not address this difference with any specificity nor does it remove your obligation to make your own case. It is not up to me to wade through the link sifting through the text to see if you might get lucky with a 9,200 word bulk citation. If there is a specific section of his notes that supports your position, you should cite it to prove the point that you are supposedly making, otherwise the link is merely specious.
6.4.2007 6:47pm
Guest101:
Michael,

But Russell and Dawkins and crew are not stopping there, they are attempting an vast equivocation; they are attempting to adumbrate a gross equivocation onto the otherwise perfectly valid formal logic. It's as if they are saying "I cannot disprove my friend Rick is not behind a building, therefore he is behind said building" is on the same footing with the notion that "I cannot disprove that an angry unicorn is not behind a building, therefore it is behind said building."

The two statements are equal in terms of their logical structure, they are not equal in terms of the subject matter they are attempting to equivocate.

In addition to scote's point above about your complete failure to establish that theism is any more "plausible" than belief in unicorns, the plausibility criterion that you attempt to inject into your equivocation argument is a completely baseless ground for distinction between the two bolded statements. The statements above are equally valid-- the fact that you (presumably) have evidence of the existence of the subject in the first statement but not the second is entirely irrelevant to the question whether the conclusion (X is behind the building) follows from the premise (I can't disprove that X is not behind the building) in either statement.Thus, even if belief in God is "plausible," as you assert, there is still no rational justification for holding that belief in the absence of empirical evidence in its favor-- just as there is no rational justification for believing that your friend Rick is behind a building in the absence of any empirical evidence in support of that proposition.
6.4.2007 7:04pm
Michael B (mail):
Rather light on any rigorous quality or serious attention at all to what's been presented; instead, refusal. But essentially, no, not in the least, you're not grappling with the logic being presented and instead are retorting with the "assertion" label, along with other rhetorical flourishes. If you don't comprehend the commensurate quality and correspondence between the empirical example (Rick) and the rational example (God), vs. the irrational teapot, then it's a reflection of the fact that you're merely continuing to channel Dawkins' and Russell's creed rather than thinking very seriously and critically. It's not merely a coincidence that empiricism and rationalism, both, are two primary cornerstones of science and critical thinking in general.

You haven't grappled with what's been presented. You're in a rut, a fideist rut, and resolutely refuse to acknowledge that. Your god - Dawkins and crew - has been found wanting, yet you refuse to so much as see it much less fully appreciate that fact and additionally acknowledge it.

Critically, you seem to miss the point vis-a-vis Plantinga's theistic arguments, quite obviously they are not going to be persuasive to anti-theists/atheists, they are exhibited to reflect the reasonable/rational quality of said belief - not any decisive quality anymore than an atheist can present a decisive argument to support their belief/faith. Hence the cogent appeal of those arguments; correspondingly the lack of any cogent arguments in favor of a celestial teapot of unicorn. The fact you steadfastly refuse to seen all this is reflective of the deep-seated quality of your own fideism, channeling that rather than reviewing it critically.

Again, both empiricism and rationalism are foundational. You're a believer, a true believer, something of a dogmatist and fundamentalist, steadfastly refusing to examine your core beliefs, subjecting them to a critical review.
6.4.2007 7:25pm
Michael B (mail):
Guest101, much the same, you don't understand that Rick is mere analogy and likewise you don't understand the underlying rational appeal of what is being offered. You evidence a defensive/reactionary quality. I didn't simply assert that belief in God is rationally defensible, I witnessed to the rational/cogent arguments in the link presented. By comparison, for example, no one has pointed to a cogent argument in favor of unicorns, etc. You fail to grasp and fail to think critically about your own underlying assumptions and beliefs.
6.4.2007 7:31pm
Guest101:
Michael,

Perhaps your approach would be more effective if you stopped trying to impress us all with your big words and explained a little bit more of what your point is supposed to be. You appear to be attempting to rebut Russell's teapot argument with the observation that belief in God is "rational/cogent." This is either misguided or entirely irrelevant. If you're arguing that there are good empirical reasons to believe in God, then you're right that that argument is not susceptible to a Russell's Teapot objection-- but no one, Russell or otherwise, ever claimed that it is. On the contrary, if you're arguing that Russell's Teapot applies to unicorns but not to God because belief in God is more "plausible" or "rational" than unicorns, then you simply miss the point of Russell's thought experiment, which has nothing to do with how objectively plausible the object in question is.

To illustrate this latter point, let's move the teapot from orbit into the cupboard. Say you walk into a middle-class American house and know nothing about its inhabitants. In the kitchen is a cupboard. Are you justified in believing-- not acknowledging the theoretical possibility of, but adopting an affirmative belief in the actual reality of-- the proposition that a blue china teapot is inside the cupboard? It's certainly plausible that such an item exists, but I think you'll agree with me that you have no basis whatsoever for forming a rationally-justifiable belief that it does in the absence of any evidence one way or the other. And therein lies the death knell of your apparent objection to Russell-- the fact that the existence of an object or entity is conceivable, even plausible, is not in itself sufficient to justify an a belief that the entity actually exists in the absence of affirmative evidence in support of that proposition.


You fail to grasp and fail to think critically about your own underlying assumptions and beliefs.

This seems to be a very popular ad hominem among the theists and creationists in this thread; as has been pointed out above, it's a very easy accusation to make. You seem to have trouble supporting it with more than empty conclusions.
6.4.2007 7:43pm
Michael B (mail):
But I'm an evolutionist.

As to the remainder, you still are not grappling very seriously with what was actually said and instead are reverting to formulaic responses and assumptions.
6.4.2007 7:49pm
Michael B (mail):
Btw, you are hung-up on this "accusation" thing. Quite obviously if I state my opinion in a summary fashion (e.g., that "You fail to grasp and fail to think critically about your own underlying assumptions and beliefs") then all that is is a general comment or summary of what I an thinking, a kind of general indicator. You can take it or leave it but to describe it as an "accusation," as if I'm accusing you of a crime or am calling you, as a person, "stupid" (which obviously would be an unhelpful accusation and comment) is simply inane, it makes you look incredibly defensive and reactionary.
6.4.2007 8:01pm
Guest101:

But I'm an evolutionist.


And an atheist? If not, then I don't see how that rebuts my point.


As to the remainder, you still are not grappling very seriously with what was actually said and instead are reverting to formulaic responses and assumptions.


Then stop telling me that I'm not smart enough to understand and explain it a bit better. What part of my response above regarding your argument misunderstands your point? How do I misunderstand or mischaracterize what you're saying? How is the fact that belief in God is (arguably) more "plausible" or "cogent" than belief in unicorns in any way relevant to Russell's point about the burden of proof necessary to sustain affirmative belief in any entity or phenomenon, as illustrated by the teapot example?
6.4.2007 8:01pm
Guest101:

Btw, you are hung-up on this "accusation" thing. Quite obviously if I state my opinion in a summary fashion (e.g., that "You fail to grasp and fail to think critically about your own underlying assumptions and beliefs") then all that is is a general comment or summary of what I an thinking, a kind of general indicator. You can take it or leave it but to describe it as an "accusation," as if I'm accusing you of a crime or am calling you, as a person, "stupid" (which obviously would be an unhelpful accusation and comment) is simply inane, it makes you look incredibly defensive and reactionary.

I don't believe I used the word "accusation" at any point, and if you're suggesting that the statement "You fail to grasp and fail to think critically about your own underlying assumptions and beliefs," is not an ad hominem argument, even as a "summary of what [you are] thinking," then we apparently have different definitions of "ad hominem."
6.4.2007 8:04pm
scote (mail):

If you don't comprehend the commensurate quality and correspondence between the empirical example (Rick) and the rational example (God), vs. the irrational teapot,

I comprehend your assertion but find argument by assertion to be unpersuasive.

I was fooled by your apparent erudition. I thought, for a moment, that I should have to work hard to oppose devastating argumentation to maintain my position. Alas, such was not forthcoming.


Critically, you seem to miss the point vis-a-vis Plantinga's theistic arguments, quite obviously they are not going to be persuasive to anti-theists/atheists

Perhaps that is because they don't support your position. Your bulk quote was also unpersuasive. I might as well refer you to entire books, except I realize that wouldn't substitute for actually making my case.

You haven't actually quoted one word of the theistic arguments that you think would be so devastating, nor have you made one iota of effort to explain how the arguments for the reasonableness of theism would distinguish a unicorn from theism for purposes of "reasonability" of belief.


I didn't simply assert that belief in God is rationally defensible, I witnessed to the rational/cogent arguments in the link presented.

Actually you did simply assert that belief that belief in God is rational. "Witnessing" a link is not valid argument, especially a 9,200 word bulk link that wasn't written to specifically support the argument you are supposedly attempting to make.

You need to at least attempt to make your argument here. Your attempt to argue "Link, QED" is intellectually lazy, disingenuous and invalid.

By comparison, for example, no one has pointed to a cogent argument in favor of unicorns, etc.

The burden of proof is on you. I don't claim god exists nor do I claim unicorns exists. You are the one making the claim that it is rational and reasonable to believe in "theism" and claiming that such rationality is different manifestly different than belief in other supernatural or utterly unprovable objects or beings--with absolutely no justification for the distinction. You still fail to make the distinction and propose to make the failure of your argument by assertion the fault of others. Such a claim necessarily fails because there is no need to disprove a point you haven't succeeded in making. Argument by assertion is not a valid form of logical argument.

You fail to grasp and fail to think critically about your own underlying assumptions and beliefs.

Good Grief. Physician, heal thyself.
6.4.2007 8:22pm
Michael B (mail):
"And an atheist? If not, then I don't see how that rebuts my point."

Please, slow down a bit. I wasn't sure what exactly you intended, I can't read your mind, so minimally I was offering that information. And if you didn't intend the two together, in an additive sense, then why didn't you simply state the one without the other? Regardless, the following is more important.

"How is the fact that belief in God is (arguably) more "plausible" or "cogent" than belief in unicorns in any way relevant to Russell's point about the burden of proof necessary to sustain affirmative belief in any entity or phenomenon, as illustrated by the teapot example?" Guest101, emphasis added

Let's take this one step at a time to see if it's worth going further with this:

Do you accept, or believe, that a belief in God can be more cogently and plausibly argued than a belief in a celestial teapot or an angry unicorn on the other side of the moon? (And again, the Plantinga link was provided to substantiate that aspect of what was previously presented.)
6.4.2007 8:25pm
scote (mail):

Do you accept, or believe, that a belief in God can be more cogently and plausibly argued than a belief in a celestial teapot or an angry unicorn on the other side of the moon?

No.

Why on earth would you find it more plausible to believe in the existence of an Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent, Omnipresent being who exisits outside of time and space and created all things and all life so that he could have pets to reward and punish for all of eternity but couldn't just make the bad people disappear so he had to flood the entire earth than a teapot in space. The teapot requires a whole lot fewer assumptions and is far, far more plausible.

Now your turn. Why is it "reasonable" to believe in "theism" but manifestly irrational to believe in unicorns--and no blind links to what's-his-name, make your argument yourself.
6.4.2007 8:35pm
Michael B (mail):
"No." scote

Well, I was asking Guest101, who at least began to suggest otherwise.

Regardless though, then we have nowhere to go from here, unless you can offer similarly cogent arguments in favor of a plausible and reasonable belief in unicorns or celestial teapots. Similar, that is, in terms of cogent appeal, of reasoned and rational appeal, as compared to Plantinga's arguments vis-a-vis theism. That gets to the crux of the argument first made immediately upthread, here, that crux being that the formal logic of the arguments are equivalent, certainly, but the equivocation between the two arguments is nothing more than a sleight of hand maneuver. Hence you repeated assignation of "argument by assertion," when in fact the original argument presented is well reasoned.

Too, when you launch into your "Why on earth would you find it ..." graph, you are reflecting the degree to which you continue to grasp the logic and reasoning in the original argument presented.

Guest101,

Well, you did speak of accusations. And yes, we certainly have a different conception of ad hominem inferences and attacks. I was characterizing something about your thinking or beliefs or acceptance of a certain underlying mode of rationalization you're using, entirely germane, not about you personally, as a whole, or however you'd care to put it.
6.4.2007 8:59pm
Michael B (mail):
sb, "... you are reflecting the degree to which you continue to fail to grasp the logic and reasoning in the original argument presented."
6.4.2007 9:02pm
Guest101:
Michael,

You're right, I did use the word "accusation." I didn't notice that in my review of my earlier comment. I continue to feel justified in that characterization-- if I were to say something like "You fail to see my point because you're obviously a moron," I don't see how that would be any less an ad hominem simply because I characterize it as "something about your thinking or beliefs or acceptance of a certain underlying mode of rationalization you're using, entirely germane, not about you personally, as a whole," but in any case that's a bit of a distraction.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that belief in God is more plausible than belief in unicorns. How does that obviate the need for affirmative evidence to justify a rational belief that a concededly (arguendo) "plausible" entity exists in reality?
6.4.2007 9:16pm
scote (mail):

Regardless though, then we have nowhere to go from here

Indeed, you continue to fail to back up your argument by assertion, though once again nominally citing the alleged " Plantinga's arguments" as "proof" of your argument. BTW, you have never actually quoted one word from these supposed arguments to your point. I've called you on this so you can't pretend the omission is by accident and you can't say that Plantinga's arguments prove your points since you've never actually specifically citied a single one of them.


Hence you repeated assignation of "argument by assertion," when in fact the original argument presented is well reasoned.

Uhm, so you assert.

You fail utterly to explain how belief in theism is reasonable and unicorns is not. You are now actively avoiding such argument to the point that I must consider the possibility that you are being either intellectually dishonest or are cognitively dissonant.

I was looking for an argument on the merits. I think you are, perhaps, too used to winning by obfuscating verbosity, confident unsupported assertions, vague citations and by blaming others for the failings of your own arguments. Such is not a valid substitute for logic and proper citation.

That you can't recognize the logical fallacy of your argument by assertion (or even the fact that that is what you are doing) and start on a new tact that might actually be fruitful is disappointing.
6.4.2007 9:19pm
scote (mail):
PS,
I don't think "assignation" is the word you are looking for...
6.4.2007 9:40pm
Michael B (mail):
scote,

I was looking for something more substantive as well. Never happened. In fact, you never grasped the import of the original argument. Then, most recently you failed to offer any cogent examples of arguments in favor of the celsetial unicorn or teapot, which would possess the merit of being compared to the Plantinga arguments, in terms of rational appeal or cogency, vis-a-vis theism. Instead you offered: nada.

Further still you have additionally failed to offer any arguments in favor of your atheism/anti-theism position. Not a lone, single solitary example, not one.

Guest101,

If I offended you personally, on purely personal grounds, I can honestly say it was not my intent; my intent was trenchant commentary on what I percieve as a critical/pivotal weakness in your reasoning and likewise in your failure to self-critique at a more basic, a more fundamental level. But too, I mean good grief, you think I haven't been variously offended as well in all this; normally I wouldn't bother mentioning it, but geeez.

"Let's assume for the sake of argument that belief in God is more plausible than belief in unicorns. How does that obviate the need for affirmative evidence to justify a rational belief that a concededly (arguendo) "plausible" entity exists in reality?"

That positively is the argument being made. The argument is not to convince an atheist to become a theist nor is it to convince a theist to become an atheist (because conclusive arguments on purely rational grounds, in either direction, cannot be made). The argument being made is that the equivocation used by Russell and Dawkins and co. is what invalidates the comparison. If we were dealing with pure abstraction and formal argument only then that would be the end of it. But again, and as originally noted when the argument was first presented directly upthread, Russell and Dawkins and crew adumbrate a massive equivocation onto the pure logic of the argument. Once you make the concession you just made, my argument is, eo ipso, granted its due. It's over and done with.

(Too, you stipulate "for the sake of argument" and that is fine in terms of what we're discussing here. Still, no one has forwarded equally plausible arguments in support of a belief in unicorns or celestial teapots.)
6.4.2007 9:58pm
Guest101:

That positively is the argument being made. The argument is not to convince an atheist to become a theist nor is it to convince a theist to become an atheist (because conclusive arguments on purely rational grounds, in either direction, cannot be made). The argument being made is that the equivocation used by Russell and Dawkins and co. is what invalidates the comparison. If we were dealing with pure abstraction and formal argument only then that would be the end of it. But again, and as originally noted when the argument was first presented directly upthread, Russell and Dawkins and crew adumbrate a massive equivocation onto the pure logic of the argument. Once you make the concession you just made, my argument is, eo ipso, granted its due. It's over and done with.

This may be my last attempt at this. Despite this rather lengthy monologue, you have explained absolutely nothing about whatever it is that you apparently think you've demonstrated here. Russell's "'rational' zero point of belief/disbelief," as you characterize it, is simply an illustration of the point that it is irrational to ascribe affirmative belief in an untestable or unprovable proposition (or, in weaker form, to a proposition for which one lacks any affirmative empirical evidence). Your repeated references to "adumbrat[ion of] a massive equivocation" really are just argument by assertion, or rather by obfuscation, because I still don't have a terribly clear idea of what you're talking about, or what "equivocation" you believe the Russell's Teapot//unicorn argument is guilty of. (You do realize that the term "equivocation" refers to the fallacy of using the same term in two different ways, not to the often valid substitution of one term for another to prove a general point, correct?). Maybe I'm just not clear on what you're trying to prove here, since, as I think I demonstrated pretty clearly with the teapot-in-the-cupboard hypothetical, the fact that a particular proposition is or is not plausible in some intuitive sense has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Russell's point still applies to it. Nor do I think that my concession (for the sake of argument only) above in any way validates your argument that Russell's Teapot is not a valid epistemological objection to faith-based belief in God. But we seem to be going in circles here, and I'm not sure what else there is to be said.
6.4.2007 10:34pm
scote (mail):

In fact, you never grasped the import of the original argument.

It isn't possible to grasp something that isn't there.

Then, most recently you failed to offer any cogent examples of arguments in favor of the celsetial unicorn or teapot, which would possess the merit of being compared to the Plantinga arguments, in terms of rational appeal or cogency, vis-a-vis theism.

Not my job and you know it. You were arguing against the Teapot Atheist position by asserting that belief in theism is reasonable and that belief in unicorns is not. QED. Never, not once, did you explain why belief in theism was reasonable but that belief in unicorns was not. Since this unsupported argument by assertion was your entire answer to the problem of the Celestial Teapot and since the argument failed utterly by fault of argument by assertion, you have never gotten past the Celestial Teapot argument and there is nothing of yours to refute.

What in your mind must have been a brilliant argument flourished fabulous proofs of the "reasonability" of theism was in fact mere illusion, like the memory of a drunk who is under the delusion that he was the articulate life of the party. However, you are not a theistic Christopher Hitchens and logic does not bend to your will. Perhaps when you wake up tomorrow, you will realize the horrendous error of your imagination, where you think you have insightfully articulated the position of Plantinga but instead only provided an unsubstantiated link. One can hope that your senses will return and that your level of logic can rise to equilibrium with your vocabulary, but hopefully not the other way around.

Further still you have additionally failed to offer any arguments in favor of your atheism/anti-theism position. Not a lone, single solitary example, not one.

Your answer to my position was your failed Celesital Teapot refutation. Your orthographic imperative aside, you are the one who has yet to answer.

Reasonableness of theism: nada. You just keep repeating your link but never actually selecting an argument from the source and arguing for it

Explanation of your unsupported assertion that theism is "reasonable" but belief in unicorns is not. nada.

"Let's assume for the sake of argument that belief in God is more plausible than belief in unicorns. How does that obviate the need for affirmative evidence to justify a rational belief that a concededly (arguendo) "plausible" entity exists in reality?"

That positively is the argument being made.

It is? You have yet to even make that case, constant non-specific references to "Plantinga arguments" don't count as actual argument.

The argument being made is that the equivocation used by Russell and Dawkins and co. is what invalidates the comparison.

To amplify Guest101, you do realize that argument by valid analogy is not equivocation, right?

Russel and Dawkins are merely pointing out if it is a valid position to not believe the unsupported and untested claim that a teapot orbits the sun that it is equally valid to have the same attitude towards theism.

Your figurative response of "Plantinga. Plantinga! PLATINGA!!!" is non-responsive. If Plantinga makes a valid point it is up to you to find it and explain it here. That you don't suggests that your sacred Plantinga doesn't have the devastating argument you pretend he does.
6.4.2007 11:51pm
Michael B (mail):
Guest101,

Then I suspect you don't understand aspects of Russell's argument or the import Russell is giving his argument. Russell is not forwarding a premise or law of logic as such, a formal form of argumentation. Russell is forwarding an epistemological and ontological result on the basis of two propositions: 1) the form of the argument/logic he is using, together with 2) the analogy. Both, together, comprise his method of arriving at his desired end. (1) is sound as a formal piece of reasoning/logic per se, (2) is not, and that's what invalidates the epistemological and ontological end Russell is seeking. (Russell, in his text, uses his own rhetorical flourishes, a subtle hint perhaps that he senses the insufficiency in his reasoning.)

Finally, your cupboard example misses the point, in fact it serves to prove the opposite, in part because in moving the teapot to somewhere in the kitchen, at least as a possibility, you've eliminated the absurd quality of the celestial teapot in an elliptical orbit around the sun.

To wit, you state "it's certainly plausible that such an item exists [in the cupboard], but I think you'll agree with me that you have no basis whatsoever for forming a rationally-justifiable belief that it does in the absence of any evidence one way or the other." To which I would agree (with this analogy of the theist's position and faith). However, you should also agree that "it's certainly plausible that such an item does not exist, but I think you'll agree with me that you have no basis whatsoever for forming a rationally-justifiable belief that it does not exist in the absence of any evidence one way or the other." (Which is to say the analogy with the atheist's position and faith.) The two are obverse sides of the same coin.

Once you remove the teapot from its celestial orbit, therein removing the absurd quality Russell is invoking, both the faith inherent in the atheist's position and the faith inherent in the theist's position are rendered equally apparent for all to see - as perceived from a purely rational/empirical perspective, which is to say a perspective that is curtailed or delimited to a materialist metaphysic.

Once again: Q.E.D.
6.4.2007 11:54pm
scote (mail):

Once again: Q.E.D

Snigger. You love argument by assertion that you just have to assert quod erat demonstrandum. Pretty ironic for someone who is so given to believe that he has demonstrated what he has merely asserted.

Finally, your cupboard example misses the point, in fact it serves to prove the opposite, in part because in moving the teapot to somewhere in the kitchen, at least as a possibility, you've eliminated the absurd quality of the celestial teapot in an elliptical orbit around the sun.

This is, I'm afraid, the first thing you have said that makes at least some sense. Now if only you could do it again.

Although generally Guest101 has you over a barrel, I think there is a flaw in the cupboard argument. There is a reason Russel didn't propose a teapot in a cupboard where one could reasonably assume a teapot was likely to be.

However, although Guest101's cupboard argument was weak, your original "refutation" of the Celestial Teapot was fatally flawed because your premises were merely asserted in to existence. Any flaw in Guest101's cupboard argument is irrelevant to the fatal flaws in your argument by assertion and it remains dead.

which is to say a perspective that is curtailed or delimited to a materialist metaphysic.

Ohhhh, fancy...too bad this assertion doesn't prove your point, either.
6.5.2007 12:11am
Michael B (mail):
"Not my job and you know it. You were arguing against the Teapot Atheist position by asserting that belief in theism is reasonable and that belief in unicorns is not. QED." scote

A repetition, and a repetition only, of your underlying creed or faith in Russell's argument.

Of course it is your job. If you believe otherwise then it's not apparent you understand the rudimentary logic at play here. The challenge there is to come up with a reasonable/rational support for the celestial teapot in a manner that is commensurate with the arguments forward by Plantinga given their own cogency. Lacking that serves as dispositive proof that the analogy is in fact far fetched and incommensurate, to be over-kind.

Too, I've not only never accepted the celestial teapot comparison, I've successfully refuted it. (And merely whining about referencing someone else's perfectly valid arguments doesn't bode well for your own reasoning ability.)
6.5.2007 12:12am
Michael B (mail):
"... because your premises were merely asserted in to existence."

Hardly. You've repeatedly demonstrated that you don't know how to think critically, addressing the most fundamental issues that are at play in what we've been addressing. Vanity.

But good day.
6.5.2007 12:30am
Guest101:
Michael,

Once you remove the teapot from its celestial orbit, therein removing the absurd quality Russell is invoking, both the faith inherent in the atheist's position and the faith inherent in the theist's position are rendered equally apparent for all to see - as perceived from a purely rational/empirical perspective, which is to say a perspective that is curtailed or delimited to a materialist metaphysic.

I feel quite confident in saying that I understand Russell's argument as well as, if not better than, you do. I do think I finally see the point you're driving at-- and let me add, you've done an awful job of articulating it. So your point is, it's just as much a leap of faith to believe that there is no teapot in the cupboard as to believe that there is? In other words, the "strong" atheist position of "I know there is no God" is just as much a leap of faith as the theist position, "I know there is a God"? Well, obviously. There are probably some who would dispute that, but it's not a great insight, and it certainly isn't a rebuttal of Russell's position, because Russell is simply demonstrating (whether the teapot is in the cupboard or in orbit) that without an affirmative reason to believe something, the rational default position is one of non-belief-- whether you're talking about God, about teapots, or about your friend behind the building. This is simply an application of Occam's Razor-- the principle, essentially, that you need a reason to be rationally justified in ascribing belief to a proposition-- and is a far cry from an affirmative position of non-belief. To offer another example-- do I believe that there is a man named Jack Jones who lives in St. Louis and works as a car mechanic? No-- I have no reason to, as to the best of my knowledge I just made him up. Do I believe, however, that there's not such an individual? No, I have no reason to believe that, either. However, until I have some affirmative evidence in favor of Mr. Jones's existence, I'm going to persist in my state of non-belief--call it passive disbelief or agnosticism if that helps clarify the point conceptually-- as the rational default position. Otherwise we'd be justified in believing all sorts of sheer nonsense with no basis in reality. This is particularly true-- and this was the crux of Russell's hypothetical in which the teapot was beyond the scope of our most powerful telescopes-- about empirical propositions that are not only unknown, but unfalsifiable.

I still don't see what plausibiliy, or lack thereof, has to do with any of this.
6.5.2007 12:54am
scote (mail):

But good day.

If you were John Houseman that might have been a witty retort.

Since there are no referees or judges here you, will unfortunately for yourself, never realize how completely flawed your arguments are. You are clearly going to believe that you have made sense. In this small forum this cognitive dissonance will do you no harm, but in any field where truth and logic are judged on merit rather than rhetorical obfuscation and self-delusion you may find yourself at a serious disadvantage. For your own edification and betterment you may wish to learn the skills of logic you imagine you have so that you may make sense to others they way you imagine you do in your mind.
6.5.2007 3:04am
plunge (mail):
Since the comments have closed on the prior thread Michael, I should probably take the time to say that it's been a complete waste of my time trying to get you to argue cogently, and I would recommend that others not waste their time as well. I do not know if you are intentionally trolling these threads in order to derail substantive discussion, but regardless of your intentions, that is your effect.

I keep challenging you to rebut my arguments or at the very least explain WHY they are ill-formed, misaimed, or whatever your accusation of the moment is. You never do. You insist on discussing things on only the shallowest level of mere characterization, never of actually addressing an argument and showing why you think it's false. There's just no point to that. A computer with no comprehension of anyone's arguments could do what you are doing: simply respond over and over with pre-programmed variations of "you don't know what you are talking about, you're wrong, you're irrational." Most of your posts don't even give any clear evidence that you've actually even read what you are responding to.

It's a pity.
6.5.2007 2:16pm
scote (mail):

I should probably take the time to say that it's been a complete waste of my time trying to get you to argue cogently, and I would recommend that others not waste their time as well. I do not know if you are intentionally trolling these threads in order to derail substantive discussion, but regardless of your intentions, that is your effect.

This sounds familiar. It is like boxing with someone who never lands a single blow but vociferously insists he is victorious and is now busy running victory laps around the ring.

You can't have logical argument with someone who isn't.
6.5.2007 2:42pm
Michael B (mail):
Guest101, that you "feel quite comfortable" with your beliefs is all too apparent. It very much is that comfortable quality that is front-and-center in virtually everything you've offered.

scote, likewise, you fail to see the depths of your misapprehensions.

plunge, pitiable, certainly. Repeating the same charge and never coming to terms with the arguments presented, never responding to the substance of what had been laid out. Presumption and evasiveness, together with disdain, then endlessly repeated, don't add up to sound arguments or serious engagement; what they do add up to is avoidance and self-blinded, truncated analyses. Hence the continued ad hominem inferences and charges in lieu of more seriously grappling with the arguments presented; intellectual disengagement, fronted with anemic protestations, self-regard and disdain.

Pitiable is the right word, and such will be apparent for anyone with a critical acumen who cares to review what has transpired.
6.5.2007 3:56pm