1/24/2008

DENYSE CAN'T DENY

A little kerfuffle: Denyse O'Leary, ID-sympathetic 'knight of the keyboard' raises the question about the number of evangelicals on the Discovery Institute 'Fellows' list, and this seems to raise the hackles of DI spokespeep Rob Crowther:

"...As if she would know, as if it even mattered. No one asks how many staffers at the NCSE are atheists, so why should anyone care about Discovery Fellows?"

Golly. Where's Richard Dawson when ya need him? Anyway, I just couldn't resist weighing in with my own 'survey says' in this potential Family Feud. I left my two cents at Denyse's blog and decided to cross-post here, in case she, um, decides not to take my pair of Mr. Lincolns. Call me paranoid, but it seems like things disappear at an Uncommonly Indecent rate at some places in cyberspace. Anyway, my little offering:

Denyse, I'm a high school biology teacher, enthusiastic Darwinian and sincere Christian. I don't see the point of this post. There are many plumbers who are Christian, but I doubt those plumbers waste much time consulting their Bibles when turning a spanner. They might, I suppose, wonder what the original plumber was thinking, or whether the plumbing was intelligently designed, but as a practical matter, worldviews aren't of much use in plumbing. Or in evolutionary biology.

What matters is not what DI's Fellows believe as a personal matter, but what evidence do they possess that would cause workers in biological fields to reconsider their commitment to evolution as the central organizing principle of biology? A few hundred signatures from various academics, many not scientists and precious few biologists, doesn't add up to a revolution. And let's be honest: if the DI wasn't talking up ID, there would be precious few outside of evangelicals who would care, and their motivation doesn't proceed from some philosophical cavils about how science should be conducted.

No, that bunch is motivated by the same things that motivated Henry Morris and George Macready Price, which is the question of the Bible's inspiration and inerrancy from Genesis onward. Whether you like it or not, most of your allies are not principled academics, they are Bible-thumping yokels.

8 comments:

Stan said...

Somehow I don't think your juxtaposition of the plumber example with the need for Dawkins-to-the-rescue is very coherent. Dawkins hasn't done any "plumbing" for many years; he has engaged in assaults on his "enemies of reason", and he advocates totalitarian interventions on those with whom he disagrees. Is ID that much of a threat, or is it Dawkins, spewing his intolerant hatred of religion (except of course humanism).

Science? That's not the issue with Dawkins. Dawkins wants to protect metaphysical naturalistic atheism, and to destroy metaphysical anything else. ID is not nearly the threat that dictated "truth" is. The cover of science for the dictation of metaphysical naturalism is actually unconscionable.

The teaching of science, according to the list you posted earlier, contains many "factoids", and virtually no instruction that I could see in the skill of logical, rational discrimination in thinking. The severance of science factoids from rational process is a disservice. If I am wrong, please point out the error.

ID might be fatuous; if it threatens science, then science is too weak to survive. Bullies generally are weaker than they admit. The "yokel" attack admits to weakness, in my opinion.

bpabbott said...

Stan wrote: "[...] metaphysical naturalistic atheism [...]"

Huh? ... what is "metaphysical naturalistic atheism"?

Quite the oxymoron, yes?

Dawkins doesn't promote metaphysics of any kind. If he promotes anything it is the search of evidence/facts and the development of scientific understanding of that evidence/facts.

Spurge said...

Hey bpabbot

Did you post to the yahoo science boards?

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Uh, Stan, I don't believe my comments referenced Dr. Dawkins or any other atheist. I certainly don't feel the need to be 'rescued' either from theism (which I subscribe to) nor the various species of creationism (which I reject). I'm not sure what your point is, other than to project your anxiety about flavors of non-belief that make you uncomfortable.

As for coherence, I'm just affirming, in a jocular way, my conviction that science can be practiced in a worldview-neutral way, and that the practice of science doesn't entail the adoption of a metaphysical stance. Science, by definition, is an atheistic enterprise; so is plumbing, but of course plumbers and scientists and all manner of persons still harbor beliefs.

As for the teaching of science, well, it's certainly true that there is no end to the 'factoids' prescribed by the state of California, and I agree that a curriculum that was devoid of critical thinking skills, etc. would be deficient. I would ask you to note, however, that my summary did, in fact, reference some basic philosophy of science stuff that actually goes beyond what most kids get in their high school science classes: for example, Popper's falsifiability criterion. It would be a mistake to judge my curriculum from a few isolated posts on my blog.

As for ID threatening science, it is not the scientific project of ID which threatens science, but the way that some (not all) ID advocates are attempting to run an end-around the scientific community in order to get their ideas into the curriculum. Let's ignore the fact that the courts have ruled repeatedly that the various flavors of creationism (including ID) are sectarian religion, and hence run afoul of the Establishment Clause. My concern is deeper than that. In an attempt to establish a toehold for ID, the Discovery Institute and its fellow travelers have attempted to redefine science to admit claims that can't be tested. To me, that's a no-no, and categorically different from the sort of axioms that you and I have been discussing, and I'm resolutely opposed to them because I believe that they are 'science-stoppers'. If you have some compelling argument to the contrary, I'd be interested in hearing it.

As for yokels, present company and Denyse O'Leary excluded, if you like. But the general correctness of the observation is not only undeniable, but aimed pointedly at the DI. The point is not that Bible-thumping yokels exist (which is doubtless), but that the DI is largely dependent on such. The DI would not exist if it were not for evangelical Christians, who supplied the bulk of the funding, the leadership and the agenda, as revealed in the 'Wedge Document.' The continued support of ID by evangelicals is not based on any nuanced take on the philosophy of science, much less actual work in the life sciences. It's based on their religious beliefs, which I regard as misguided, ill-informed and provincial.

So, if saying so comes across as bullying to you, well, I'm flattered. After all, I'm just a high school science teacher and the DI's a fancy-schmancy 'think tank' with millions of Howard Ahmanson's dollars. Imagine what I could do with a little pocket change!

On a more practical note, why don't we just continue our exchange on my blog. Send me a specific comment about axioms and I'll print it verbatim, without comment, and provide a link to your blog. Then I'll reply in the next post, and so forth. Hey, it's free advertising, and probably a better deal than you would get from any of those dang 'evolutionists'....

Stan said...

bpabbott:
Let's see, Atheism is naturalistic, but not in the voluntary sense which is adopted by empiricism. Atheistic Naturalism is declared true, despite the complete inability to prove it. So it has to be accepted as an article of faith, and it is therefore metaphysical. Atheism itself cannot be proven empirically, and is therefore accepted as an article of faith. To argue for Atheism, one must argue against some obvious, empirically valid entities (to be addressed later in the conversation with Scott).

And yes, almost everything Dawkins promotes cannot be proven empirically, except his attacks on Christianity, some of which are valid, but inconsequential except to an evangelical Atheist. Things that cannot be proven empirically include "selfish genes", "memes" and the belief in paternity of one set of fossil bones to another set of fossil bones.

He is a preacher, filled with contempt with those who disagree (they are "fleas"). He is entirely intolerant and evangelical in his pursuit of spreading his form of intolerance, including removng children from homes that teach religion. Maybe he is a "yokel"?

Stan

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Things that cannot be proven empirically include "selfish genes", "memes" and the belief in paternity of one set of fossil bones to another set of fossil bones.

That's true, but not terribly relevant in any case, as I shall explain.

1) The 'selfish gene' doesn't really imply the genes are selfish, nor is it some dogma. It's simply a viewpoint (one among many) within evolutionary biology about how to best interpret the units of selection. And, the question of whether or not selection occurs at the level of the gene in individual cases is, in fact, testable.

2) 'Memes', as Dawkins has been at pains to say more than once, were not meant to be taken as anything other than a metaphor. Saying that 'memes' are not testable is like saying that Einstein's Gedankenexperiment or Descarte's evil genius is untestable.

3) No paleontologist, to my knowledge, has ever seriously claimed paternity from one fossil to another; rather, what is claimed is that different specimens have shared derived characteristics.

So I don't really see the relevance, frankly. The sentence I quote above seems more like a rhetorical flourish around 'tit for tat'.

Finally, I note again that I don't see why Dawkins is coming up in this post. I just don't see the relevance to what I was posting about, which was my cheeky take on the question of how many of the DI Fellows are evangelicals. My point was that it doesn't matter that Michael Behe is Catholic or Jonathan Wells is a Moonie; rather, what matters is that the DI itself would not exist if it were not for evangelicals, and that ample evidence exists that shows the latter do not have a scientific agenda for promoting ID.
What does Dawkins, and his personal crusade against religion have to do with that?

christ davis said...

Stan, he referenced Richard Dawson, the past host of Family Feud, not Richard Dawkins. Then he used the actual name of the game show Dawson hosted, in the same paragraph! Try to read before replying next time, in the interest of coherency.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Oh, man, is my face red.

Christ Davis, a gold star for actually paying attention to the original post. And welcome, by the way!

Stan, I apologize, I should have realized the source of our mutual confusion: Richard Dawson, not Dawkins (head slapping sound!)

Just goes to show how folk (me included) tend to make assumptions when we're looking at stuff we're invested in.