Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Expelled and the spectrum of thought on origins

A spectrum of views on origins:
..1... 2.................... 3 .......................4 ..........................5

1 = Atheistic Evolutionists
2 = Deistic Evolutionists
3= Theistic Evolutionists
4= Progressive (Old-earth) Creationists
5 = Young-earth Creationists

Ben Stein's recent big-screen documentary Expelled (released in theaters April 18), is giving the public a glimpse of something opponents of Darwinism have long known first-hand: Darwinists are not interested in free speech or diversity on the question of origins, and are willing to be heavy-handed in enforcing their viewpoint.

I know a number of Christians and other dissenters in America who have lost their jobs, been drummed out of graduate schools, been denied tenure and just generally be harassed beyond any reasonable boundary by the Darwinian thought police. One, a mathematician who lost his job for pointing out the mathematical impossibilities of Darwinism, commented that he would not be going to see Expelled because it was too painful a subject for him. The creation/evolution conflict is not just a battle fought out in armchairs over idle conversation - as my aquaintances' experience reminds me, it is a battle with very real consequences for those who are risking their livelihoods to challenge a Stalinist police state that now exists in the tax-funded halls of academia.

When I began my own study of origins in the early 90's, I quickly became aware that, as I put it at the time, "there's no idea about origins so odd that there isn't someone who believes it, usually someone with a Ph.D. in the appropriate field." In other words, Darwinian fundamentalists would have the public believe that there are only two camps - Darwinists and young-earth, biblical creationists - but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Darwinists try to sustain their simplistic dichotomy because, as the polls I relate in my other posts show, only around 10% of the U.S. believes them. Only 10% believes natural laws plus chance can completely explain life and the universe generally. The rest are in the Intelligent Design camp. And so Darwinists have very cleverly fought to maintain their privileged status as the sole recipients of tax-payer funding by portraying ANY dissent from Darwinism as automatically being from the extreme far opposite end of the spectrum. We have to enforce dogmatic naturalism (that is, only natural, evolutionary explanations) in origins science because the only alternative is some horrid kind of biblical creationism, and that would be even worse, right?

It's a desperate strategy, but a necessary one in a democratic society where only 10% really agrees with you. And it has been successful thus far, in tricking most of the 90% into voting against their own beliefs in places like Kansas. It has been successful because the 10% control not only academia but also the most influential news media - and are vicious about squashing anyone who deviates from the party line, as Expelled relates. They have been successful in portraying, however dishonestly and improbably, theistic evolutionists and old-earth creationists as if they were biblical creationists.

Of course, out here in the real world this is absurd. Some theistic evolutionists (deistic evolutionists would be a better term in their case) operate with the 10% in methodological naturalism, saying God is irrelevant to explanations of nature. But many others believe in God and evolution (despite criticisms from both sides), and trying to lump them in with six-day creationists like myself is patently absurd. They do not accept the plain words of Scripture as a historical framework for understanding natural history, and it is dishonest to imply that letting the public hear them would lead to that end, an end to which they themselves are opposed. And one need hardly be an expert in the creation/evolution conflict to note the frustration and poor relations between young-earth and old-earth (or 'progressive') creationists. The notion that Hugh Ross is secretly fronting for Ken Ham should be enough to send anyone into gales of laughter. Are you listening, Eugenie Scott?

One of the funny things about the impact of Expelled has been watching how half the Darwinists in the country have been running around loudly denying that non-Darwinists are being persecuted (i.e. the Michael Shermer camp), whereas the other half have been loudly proclaiming that yes they are successfully squashing non-Darwinists and that it is noble and right to do so (the Eugenie Scott camp). Guys, this is what happens when you don't agree on your script ahead of time.

At any rate, now that Richard Dawkins (the unlikely star of Expelled) has admitted that we can look for evidence of intelligent design in biology, the only real question is how can we reliably detect the evidence of a designer. This is a question scholars like Dr. William Dembski have already gone far in answering. It will be interesting to see if Dawkins is really willing now to grapple with their work. Or will we continue to be told that manufacturing plants and engineers are figments of creationists' imaginations?

PS: Dr. Provine, I prayed for you in 1998, and I'm praying for you again now, in case you should happen to see this.

Some Random Q and A:

Q. What is Intelligent Design (ID)?
A. Darwinists commonly claim that ID = creationism, which is nonsense the minute you begin to examine the relevant subject matter. Intelligent Design theory revolves around the question "how do we detect design?" Creationism, as it has come to be commonly understood by folks from across the origins spectrum, refers specifically to people who take the Bible as an accurate historical record of our origins, though some 'interpret' that history very loosely in terms of a naturalistic historical framework.
So are creationists IDers? Yes, ID is part of the toolkit for creation, but it is also part of the intellectual toolkit of anyone else investigating what they believe is a potential intelligent design. For example, criminal forensics experts (whether theist or atheist) use ID methodology to determine whether a person died by accident or by design (murder), or to detect fraud (stock market manipulation) versus just 'bad luck.' Archeologists use ID to determine whether a given object is a rock or an arrowhead, a tool or a meaningless scrap.

ID is only controversial when it is applied to biology and the overall structure of the universe, because in doing so it challenges the religious worldview of atheists (and deists). See for example the foundational book on ID, The Design Inference by William Dembski, published by Cambridge University Press. Only a few pages of the entire book even mention anything relating to biology or origins.

Q. Is ID science or religion?
ID has religious implications. That is, if ID detects evidence for an intelligent designer in Earth's biosphere, then that fact must be accomodated by atheists, for example. They could do this by postulating that an unknown alien race, themselves presumably lacking in that same evidence, are responsible for the intelligent design. This would be an ad hoc explanation, but it shows how atheism can in principle accomodate itself to ID (and is basically where Dr. Dawkins was heading at the end of Expelled).
Likewise, if we find that natural law plus chance is sufficient to explain all features of life, then that also has religious implications. So ID is not "religious" but does have religious implications based on what ID investigation methods reveal. The same can be said of Darwinian research.
Is it science? My own definition of science restricts it to the study of observed nature (that is, what the world IS), and the natural, repeatable patterns operating in the world (natural laws). Consider two statements:
1. Water boils at 100 C at 1 atmosphere pressure.
2. Bob boiled water last Tuesday.
Statement #1 is a scientific statement - it can be tested and judged true or false. But #2 is a historical statement, not a scientific statement. We can drag Bob into a lab on Wednesday and make him boil water all day long, and that will not prove whether #2 is true. But if Bob for some reason proves hopelessly incompetent at boiling water on Wednesday, it does cast doubt whether he did so on Tuesday.
This is the relationship of science to history. Science can judge whether a given explanation, made solely in terms of natural laws, is a plausible one historically. It cannot prove that the historical explanation is accurate, only that it is plausible. Note that science also cannot evaluate those aspects of historical explanations that do not involve natural laws.
For example, We can evaluate a claim that a waterfall has eroded a given gorge over X period of time by measuring the current rate of erosion and assuming that erosion rate was the same in the past. But if the erosion rate was different in the past because any of the causes of erosion (such as rainfall, drainage pattern, velocity of water due to the slope of the riverbed, etc.) were different, the answer will be off. And a claim that space aliens blasted out the river gorge is not "false" scientifically, but simply outside the ability of science to fully evaluate.
The idea that something outside of science is 'false' is a fallacy of scientism (the belief that only science provides real knowledge), a popular if shallow belief held by many Darwinists. But beliefs that cannot be directly investigated scientifically can still be investigated using other, rational, tools. This is where ID comes in, as part of the toolkit for investigating claims that are (at least partly) beyond the scope of science. Just as historical documentation (such as a contemporary diary) can support or contradict a theoretical model about a past historical event based on current evidence, ID research can support or contradict a claim about whether a given biological feature is the product of natural law alone or intelligent design.
So to the answer: Is it science? I would respond: ID utilizes scientific principles to understand what nature can and cannot do. If nature cannot do X, and we find evidence for X, then ID has found evidence for an intelligent design of sufficient competence to produce X. It cannot prove anything about the design beyond the level of competence required to produce X, not can it prove anything about the specific historical scenario involved in producing X. It is simply a design-detection tool that uses science to do its job. In that sense ID is very much science, with historical and religious implications.

Myth: ID (or creationism) denies the fact of evolution.
Answers: ID is explicitly and clearly open to explaining nature in terms of natural processes. If such processes are sufficient to explain all natural phenomena, then this should be detectable using ID tools, and will result in the ID explanation being superfluous.
One of the great myths propagated by Darwinists is that any kind of change automatically proves Darwinism, and that all opponents of Darwinism believe in stasis.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Many ID theorists are themselves evolutionists (just not '100%' evolutionists). And even from the young-earth, biblical creationist camp you will find that we definitely believe in biological change over time.
For the biblical creationist, Genesis describes an original world created perfect, which then fell and was cursed and has been degenerating ever since. This fall and curse is explicitly described as involving biological changes (introduction of death, thorns, loss of serpent limbs and so on) in Genesis, so clearly creationists cannot believe in stasis!
The difference is that creationists believe in 'de-evolution' over time, and are skeptical of the idea that natural laws plus chance can competently create anything significant in the way or new biological systems or functions. As a creationist I don't 'deny' evolution, but I am interested in gaining insight into what in biology is the result of God's original creation, what was introduced at the Fall, what has changed due to natural processes since then, what is the result of pre-loaded, latent adaptations, and so on. This is a rich field for investigation, and much more intellectually interesting to me than a blanket dogma of 'it all evolved by chance' would be.