Wednesday, January 25, 2006

False Thinking, Science and Faith revisited

A little while ago, LaShawn Barber graciously replied to an email I had sent her. In it, she asked if I had written anything on Intelligent Design (ID) and evolution. When I replied back I linked to my earlier essay False Thinking, Science and Faith. Today interestingly enough, while I was following a link from Stephen Green I found this article titled “What Are Creationists Afraid Of?” by Edward Hudgins in The New Individualist.

Mr. Hudgins’ essay is interesting, and he does address some of the issues concerning morality that Christians have brought up in response to Darwinism in a very understanding way:

“… those who take a rational approach to knowledge must understand that deep moral concerns motivate many creationists, and that these concerns should be addressed. They fear that if humans are merely animals produced by material processes, then there is no firm foundation for ethics; indeed, some see the social breakdown around them resulting in part from the teachings of Darwin. Since they reject moral relativism, they believe they must reject evolution….”

This is indeed one of the reasons why some who believe in God reject Darwinism. But quite frankly, the issues of Evolution vs. a belief in a Creator God are almost entirely political in nature (not as in party politics but method of argument). To quote Timothy Birdnow:

“The fact is, as Jonas Salk pointed out to Herb Meyer, the left tries to use Darwin to fight an either/or battle over the validity of the Bible, and by extension the existence of God.”

This is the dynamic that has provoked Christians to question how science is taught to our children, and to provoke some into the extreme position of rejecting some parts of science.

I would consider Mr. Hudgins article on the whole to be a good faith effort on his part to address the evolution/creation controversy, and he deserves respect for that. However I might point out a number of things from his essay that seem to reveal how deeply entrenched atheistic thought patterns have become in the Darwinist’s side of the debate.

In one place, Mr. Hudgins equates a belief in the necessity of a Creator God with communistic central economic planning:

“It is also strange to see conservative creationists adopting a policy practice that was central to Stalinist Russia

….Communism is, of course, contrary to human nature—most of us look out for ourselves rather than contently sacrificing for the 'common good.' But the Reds thought that by changing our political-economic environment, we could simply will a change in our nature to make us into post-capitalistic, altruistic, socialistic men.

Scientific evidence did not support this belief, but the Bolsheviks did; so they mandated that this ideological article of faith be taught in schools, and they simultaneously repressed the critical, empirical approach to biology.

Anti-communist creationists certainly have disagreements with Darwin that are different than (Communism). But creationists also hold beliefs based on ideology rather than the scientific process and wish to foist those beliefs onto the science curricula by power of law. No, they are no longer pushing to ban the teaching of evolution from classrooms, as did their predecessors in many states, including John Scope’s Tennessee. But their political pressure has had a chilling effect on textbook publishers and teachers, making them reluctant to openly discuss the purely rational pursuit of knowledge.”

It would be just as respectable a comparison as equating Stalinism with science, because some scientists ridicule a belief in God and there is a current bureaucratic trend toward ejecting all discussion of a belief in God from the public arena and in schools, in deference to those who don’t believe. (It could also be said that this has had a ‘chilling effect’ on textbook publishers and teachers who wished to teach theology.) Since the communists suppressed religious belief - then science could be equated with Stalinism. This is such an obviously false and idiotic argument as to be rejected out of hand. My question is, why is the reverse comparison any less ridiculous?

The above quoted comparison, which verges on an ad-hominum attack on faith, would seem to reveal Mr. Hudgins’ biases. Now, I don’t deny Mr. Hudgins the rights to his biases and beliefs, as it is simply impossible to exist in life without them (meaning bias in the strictly neutral moral sense). However it behooves all of us to admit them, both to each other and more importantly to ourselves, if we want to have a true discussion. That he would make such a false comparison in an otherwise cogent and, as I have previously said, understanding essay makes me think that Mr. Hudgins may not have made such admissions to himself, at least not fully.

Now, as to the matter of teaching creationism or Intelligent Design as a science, well I would agree (as a Christian) with Mr. Hudgins that it is not science. However, it is a legitimate philosophic question (I refer you again to my essay). To deny that it is a valid question, and to obscure the focus of the debate by making attacks on either science or faith is the worst form of anti-intellectualism. Since science claims the high ground of intellectual endeavor it is then lowering itself to use such tactics (or more often, to allow others such as the Media, teachers unions, and the academic humanities to use such tactics without rebuke).

In another part of his essay, Mr. Hudgins takes on the issue of Morality, and it’s nature. In it, he has many excellent thoughts that are worth looking at, and which certainly show his optimism about what it means to be human:

“We humans are what we are today regardless of whether we evolved, were created, or were intelligently designed. We have certain characteristics that define our nature.

We are Homo sapiens. Unlike lower animals, we have a rational capacity, an ability to fully, conceptually understand the world around us. We are self-conscious. We are the animal that knows—and knows that he knows. We do not survive automatically, by instinct, but must exercise the virtue of rationality. We must think. We must discover how to acquire food—through hunting or planting—how to make shelters, how to invent medicines. And to acquire such knowledge, we must adopt a rational methodology: science.

Furthermore, our thinking does not occur automatically. We have free will and must choose to think, to focus our minds, to be honest rather than to evade facts that make us uncomfortable—evolution, for example—because reality is what it is, whether we like it or acknowledge it or not.

But we humans do not exercise our minds and our wills for mere physical survival. We have a capacity for a joy and flourishing far beyond the mere sensual pleasures experienced by lower animals. Such happiness comes from planning our long-term goals, challenging ourselves, calling on the best within us, and achieving those goals—whether we seek to nurture a business to profitability or a child to adulthood, whether we seek to create a poem or a business plan, whether we seek to design a building or to lay the bricks for its foundation.

But our most important creation is our moral character, the habits and attitudes that govern our actions. A good character helps us to be happy, a bad one guarantees us misery. And what guides us in creating such a character? What tells us how we should deal with our fellow humans?
A code of values, derived from our nature and requirements as rational, responsible creatures possessing free will.”

I am warmed by Mr. Hudgins optimism on human nature.

Unfortunately, the history of the 20th century (and all of history for that matter) shows that there is a real need for an external, objective and absolute moral force outside of man. History itself proves the contrary to Mr. Hudgins’ argument that our capacity for using our human minds for more than physical survival provides for the moral interaction of human kind. Not only that, but his argument on the condition and ends of moral character are questionable.

Does “a good character help us to be happy, and a bad one guarantee(s) us misery?” Can we prove that Stalin was any less happy than Mother Theresa? Did Sharon Tate’s moral character guarantee the misery of being brutally slaughtered at the behest of Charles Manson? Are the miseries of destruction by hurricane and typhoon the result of the bad characters of people in Bangladesh or New Orleans? (I seem to remember some recent outrage at the last suggestion.)

Without an external, objective and absolute moral force which is above human philosophy, authority and argument then any form of morality becomes subject to human agreements. And what if I individually do not agree? On what basis can it be proven that my morality is in error?

The excesses of communism and nihilism (which Mr. Hudgins alludes to) show the possible end of human based morality, that would either be morality based on the rule of the gun, or no morality at all. For morality to be anything but mere sophistry there must be an absolute moral force of some kind.

An example of this lack of morality is provided by, and refuted by Mr. Hudgins. Speaking of Clarence Darrow's court defence of the murders Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb:

“He argued that the killers were under the influence of Nietzschean philosophy, and that to give them the death penalty would hurt their surviving families. 'I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all,' he said. 'I am pleading that we overcome cruelty with kindness and hatred with love.' This is the sort of abrogation of personal responsibility, denial of moral culpability, and rejection of the principle of justice that offends religious conservatives—in fact, every moral individual, religious or atheist.”

Mr. Hudgins is quite right to disdain such amoralism, but he glosses over the fact that it is the natural result of the abrogation or abandonment of a superior external moral force.

Whether you call such an external moral force God or something else is a matter of theological and philosophical discussion. The human need of such a force is by nature a discussion of the need for morality itself.

I agree with Mr. Hudgins that Homo sapiens is unlike the ‘lower’ animals. Homo sapiens is the only animal that knows how to fully extinguish itself, to create a ‘speciecide’ of ourselves and potentially all other life. The propensity of humans to embrace evil for our own short term gain even to the point of self annihilation makes us the only animal that actively and regularly plots its own anti-survival. Ironic for the species that could envision Darwinism.

The need to consider and embrace a Creator God is more than an issue of what to teach in schools, it is an issue of the survival of the species.

I’d further suggest for reading, Paul Shlichta, here and here and Jonah Avriel Cohen here

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Blogger pk said...

Hi. Just to tell you that I think virtually all the linkies you posted in this entry are a bit malformed.

:- )

[and ps. You might consider changing the preferences so that commenters have to put in a code, otherwise you WILL end up getting comment spam]

6:46 AM  
Blogger Jerub-Baal said...

Thanks PK, the links are now fixed, although why they didn't work before, I have no idea. The code looked right. I have also enabled word verification as you suggested, and also email notification for comments so that if anyone else notices a problem and comments I will get to it sooner. (It's not like I'm being overwhelmed with comments yet.)

11:08 AM  

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