Stenger on evolution and accommodationism

It seems as if Huffington Post isn’t too keen on Victor Stenger’s pieces, either burying them or relegating them to sidebars—all the while giving big play, on the “Religion” page, to the likes of Karl Giberson and a motley assortment of rabbis, nuns, and other believers.  Could this be because Stenger’s an atheist?

In his latest column, “Ignoring scientific errors”, Stenger tries to make sense of disparate results when people were polled about their acceptance of evolution.  In an Angus Reid poll,  when Americans were asked whether they thought humans had evolved from less advanced species or had been created in their present form within the last 10,000 years, the answers came out 35% for evolution, 47% for creation, and 18% unsure.

This conflicted with the numbers from a Gallup poll:

NCSE [the National Center for Science Education] compared these results with a series of Gallup polls from 1982 to 2008 that asked respondents to chose from three options: (1) Humans developed over millions of years, God-guided; (2) Humans developed over millions of years, God had no part; (3) God created humans as is within 10,000 years. The results were fairly consistent over the years, the 2008 results giving 36% for God-guided but over millions of years, 14% for the long period with God having no part, and 44% with creation as is within last ten thousand years.

NCSE concluded that 50% of Americans therefore accept evolution.

Stenger has a different take:

While it is true that there were people before Darwin, including his own grandfather, who had speculated about evolution, today the term is understood to include the Darwin-Wallace mechanism of random mutations and natural selection. There is no crying in baseball, and there is no guidance, God or otherwise, in Darwinian evolution. Only the 14% who accept that God had no part in the process can be said to believe in the theory of evolution as the vast majority of biologists and other scientists understands it today. God-guided development is possible, but it is unnecessary and just another form of intelligent design.

How does this jibe with the Angus Reid result? Notice that their poll did not specifically ask about God guidance. I am sure that a good part of the 35% of Americans who said they supported evolution would have given a different answer if they had been asked about unguided evolution. So Gallup’s 14% supporting evolution, not NCSE’s 50%, seems more likely.

Stenger faults the NCSE for deliberately misrepresenting the data, casting it in the best possible light to argue that lots of Americans really do accept evolution:

But we scientists can at least challenge false or misleading claims made by religion instead of disingenuously sweeping them under the rug. NCSE should have commented on the fact that the 36% of Americans who believe in God-guided “evolution” evidently do not understand the role of random variation and selection pressure in the actual theory of evolution, and therefore do not accept the mechanism of evolution as scientists understand it. It is not being rude or polemical to correct a public misunderstanding of a scientific theory. It is not doing your duty as tax-exempt educational organization to ignore such misrepresentations for political gain.

I’ve argued this point before, and agree with Stenger.  Those who think that evolution is guided by God, either directly or as a rigged game in which certain goals were built into the process from the outset, don’t accept evolution as it’s understood by modern science.  This also goes (as Stenger argues) for the Catholic church, which believes that evolution is basically okay with the exception of humans, who were inculcated with a soul at some point after our divergence from other great apes.  Ditto for those who agree with scientists like Kenneth Miller and Simon Conway Morris that humans were an inevitable, God-produced goal of the evolutionary process.

These people are not evolutionists in the sense that working biologists are evolutionists.  They are evolutionary creationists, for they accept that God had a hand in guiding evolution.  Indeed, Darrell Falk, president of BioLogos and accommodationist par excellence, proudly wears the label of “evolutionary creationist” when consorting with fellow Christians.

In the interests of political expediency, the NCSE and other accommodationists abandon the bedrock principle of modern science: naturalism.  As Stenger argues, by counting evolutionary creationists as evolutionists, and playing down the important disparity between their beliefs and those of real scientists, accommodationists  are simply manipulating the facts for political gain.  But the gain is illusory.

57 Comments

  1. Posted August 21, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I have a goofy poll on the sidebar of my blog and it has: “evolution happened; a deity played no role whatsoever”, “evolution happened; a deity played no role whatsoever but a deity set up the laws of nature”, “evolution happened, but it was guided by a deity”, “intelligent design” and “supernatural creationism”.
    The numbers I got don’t mean much (self selection among poll takers) but I’d count the first two categories (no god, deist god) as being “real evolution”.

    • Bill
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      That’s because there is no way to detect a difference between those two – deism like that is just orbiting teapottery. People who would accept that are just lazy closet theists or accomodationists that want to avoid an argument! Fun though – ask HuffPo to direct a link to your poll!

      • confused
        Posted August 21, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        There is a potential interpretation of the question which doesn’t result in Deism (in the sense that you mean it, at any rate). If you’re going to hypothesise a God capable of “fine tuning” the universe so that human society is inevitable, it’s not a particularily large step to go to a God who can perceive all the perturbations and can, for example, provide answers to prayer by engineering their answers.

        It might not be what many people believe, but it is certainly a way of reconciling a notion of the creator God with the evolution (and indeed, the fact that everything – even purported miracles – have naturalistic explanations). As a footnote, it also results in a sort of Calvinistic fatalism, and has serious implications for the idea of free will – but fatalism is quite well supported by the bible, so it’s not hard for some christians to come to terms with the idea.

        It’s not quite Deism, though, because as noted intercessory prayer still works, so it is in principle possible to test whether God exists or not.

        I believe that approached objectively it doesn’t (ergo no God), but if you are convinced by intercessory prayer, this seems a reasonable way of maintaining belief in a creator and purely naturalistic theories of evolution and a non-deist, interventionist God. (If you’re prepared to embrace fatalism, at any rate).

        I appreciate that I sound like an accomodationist. That’s not my intent – but just wanted to provide an example of a created but naturalistic concept of evolution that didn’t automatically assume deism.

        • gillt
          Posted August 22, 2010 at 3:20 am | Permalink

          There’s plenty of speculation of what god is or what it can or cannot do, in fact it’s all speculation. So what’s the point in making more wild stabs in the dark over something, admittedly you say, people don’t actually believe in anyway? I find this solipsistic.

    • Divalent
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I think the deist option (“a god set it up then pretty much sat back and watched”) is necessary to reconcile these poll results.

      There is a difference between a YE creationist and a deist creationist (and various strenghts of “tweaker” creationists in between), and without this option the outcome is too highly dependent on how the questions are posed.

      • Posted August 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        I also think there may be a fair amount of dissonance in the poll takers. It may be that some people understand the evolutionary process, as it has been taught to them, but add in a god mechanically because they already believe there is one. They don’t need to have put in the time to reconcile the two.

  2. Posted August 21, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    We can tell that God had a hand in evolution simply by observing harlequin ichthyosis.

    If I ever have doubt, I just think on these things.

    • Posted August 21, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Assuming the condition MUST be for a greater good, I wonder what that might possibly be?

      • Posted August 21, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Must be the fissures and respiratory failure.

  3. Jonn Mero
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Sounds like Stenger is more cynical about the level of ignorance among his fellow (US) Americans than the NCSE accommodationists and other quislings supposedly in the science camp.
    Read also Gibberishon’s drivel in the HuffPo, and had the barf bag handy.
    It was very close to being needed, like here:

    Religious belief is complex and full of mystery, paradox, and contradiction. Those without faith often seem unable to even understand it, much less enter into meaningful conversation with believers. And often they express this with caricature and ridicule. But our conversation, as shaky and precarious as it may be, should always be anchored to whatever bits of truth we can find and agree on.

    • Posted August 21, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Anchored to whatever bits of vomit that might churn up in the bag…

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Is cynical short hand for realistic?

    • Marella
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      That is the most defeatist, desperatly straw-clutching description of the religious position I’ve heard in a long time!

      • Posted August 22, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        Giberson is your typical passive-aggressive Christian–see, we are not holding it against you because you are so dense as not to understand, we grant it that our beliefs are not easy to grasp (and we are damn frickin’ proud/pleased of that also, because we can always keep our intellectually dishonest backs covered by making a big fuss/deal out of superstition as we always keep the Emperor clothed in the latest fashion, decked out in the latest ‘reasonable’ accessories!)

        By understanding, Giberson means acceptance that religious beliefs are reasonable and positive. However, many of us do understand in the real sense, for we either believed or were raised in religious communities. In addition, many of us also have had incursions into woo, so we do know the push/pull feeling of non-evidential beliefs–the irrational dance between rationalizing and having no solid reason to court and sustain such beliefs. The religious are forever copping a special plea as if their particular brand of non-evidential belief is special. Merde, such beliefs all share the same non-evidential basis, and most of us have dealt with them in some time in our lives. They are only special in their glazed-over-with-faith eyes.

        As rationalists, we made it a point for our brains not to fall out. We put our foot down, and said, we will not embrace and take to heart beliefs that have no evidence to allow us to do so. All we can see, is the religious believers do not do that, they give in to non-evidential beliefs. That realization makes them squirm with cognitive dissonance, therefore, they bleat about how difficult it is to understand their grossly non-evidential nonsense.

  4. Somite
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    That bit about god acting through randomness being undetectable is accomodationist fodder. However, why would god have to go through those lengths anyway.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      I reacted to that too.

      Stenger has to broach the subject. It is technically true that we can’t generally tell pseudorandom numbers from random, or conversely that any finite series of data can be fitted with algorithms.

      But one can dig deeper. Beneath classical systems variation and contingency (which is what select alleles in most cases) there is quantum mechanics variations. And there we can tell, as we can have no hidden variables beyond the minimal set of parameters that builds states.

      Or rather, a finite list of all states can be exhaustive, no pure (observable) system states will suddenly appear or disappear. Used to be that these were lists of local system states, but now we know that these systems can over indefinite scales as long as there is no decoherence. In quantum cryptography, kilometer scales and rising.

      Also, there are now explicit tests on many-particle systems that are known to be unrelated to localization. So we can safely drop “local”, and point out that quantum mechanics explicitly a) rejects hidden gods b) makes quantum woo such as Miller’s and Shopra’s in principle detectable.

      Likewise, while deterministic chaos eventually (pretty soon!) looses predictability, there is still a window for in principle detection.

      So the gods-of-the-gap isn’t really in the principle but in the practice. Lying godz are still lying.

      • Somite
        Posted August 21, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Precisely. If God is acting through pseudorandomness because he must then he is not omnipotent. If she does it for deceit then she is malicious.

      • steve oberski
        Posted August 21, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        It is technically true that we can’t generally tell pseudorandom numbers from random

        From a computer science perspective, any pseudo random sequence has a finite interval and should be detectable if you sample it long enough.

    • Posted August 21, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

      I thought the whole ending starting with “my book…” was extremely weak. He made his argument very well, but he flubbed the dismount.

      Does the last sentence even make sense?

    • Tulse
      Posted August 22, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Just a reminder: This is the god that allegedly parted seas, wiped out first born, destroyed cities, raised dead, fed multitudes, etc. etc. etc. It is absurd in the extreme (and intellectually dishonest) for apologists to now suggest that their god has become profoundly shy, and only works in ways that in principle cannot be distinguished from chance.

  5. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    First, Stenger’s series is a good one. It may be a bit esoteric in parts on some subjects for HuffPo readers (say, on the nature of quantum reality), but if people keep his pieces in mind they will stand the test of time.

    Second, if NCSE really explicitly equivocates between religion and science, it is terrible. Stenger does a good job, but I can’t stop with saying it is for political gain. It is promoting religious beliefs, implicitly the creationists but explicitly the accommodationist “you can never tell on gods”.

    It seems as if Huffington Post isn’t too keen on Victor Stenger’s pieces,

    Implying he is a token atheist. Still doesn’t jive with HuffPo leanings, though. It’s a mystery, now within an enigma.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Gnu Atheist sez:

    “NCSE believes in people who believes in gods.

    Quis credit ipsos credulos? So who believes the NCSE?”

    [With apologies for not speaking latin.]

  7. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Let a million perceptions bloom. NCSE has an interest in portraying opposition to biology education as a fringe position (the “political gain” being marginalizing creationism), and so they put the TEs in the not insane column. I have no problem with that. Likewise, Stenger performs a service by reminding us that the problem is worse than the Angus Reid poll conveys. Right.

    • Darrell E
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      NCSE has an interest in portraying opposition to biology education as a fringe position (the “political gain” being marginalizing creationism), and so they put the TEs in the not insane column. I have no problem with that.

      Well, for what it is worth, I do. Lying with the intent to deceive in order to support your goals is so old and stale. It does not seem to have worked very well in this particular struggle either. Just once it would be nice to forgo such bullshit and just tell the truth as best as it can be determined.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted August 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        Just once it would be nice to forgo such bullshit and just tell the truth as best as it can be determined.

        I can think of one instance in which this was done. When, in 2005, reactionaries controlled the Kansas State Board of Education, they added the following to the science standards:

        Biological evolution postulates an unpredictable and unguided natural process that has no discernible direction or goal.

        D’ya think they shared your motivation?

        • Darrell E
          Posted August 22, 2010 at 6:40 am | Permalink

          I don’t understand your point. Except that I do understand that your intent was for it to be sarcastic. Unfortunately you missed the mark.

          Maybe you didn’t understand my point either. Or maybe you did.

          So tell me, what is my motivation? And what do the reactionaries on the Kansas State Board Of Education have to do with accommodationists misrepresenting evolution to theistic evolutionists?

          It doesn’t bother me in the slightest if creationists make themselves look silly by making accurate statements that they believe support their beliefs, but which clearly don’t.

  8. Insightful Ape
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Evolution is guided by god.
    Epileptic discharges are guided by evil spirits.
    Weather systems are guided by Thor.
    Why is it all so hard to see, you blind followers of scientism?

  9. Posted August 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    There is no making sense of random variation across low-quality, non-scientific polls. It’s disturbing to see a prominent scholar being flogged for doing shady interpretations of monkey behavior, while social scientists are devolving to the point where “Dewey Wins!” will certainly happen again….

  10. mike m
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Oddly ‘guided by God’ might be the only way for humans to be Gods favorite pet in a ‘God with evolution’ scheme. Thus for prayer to work they are stuck with this idea and zero facts. It’s like they are grasping at straws as the DNA evidence unfolds.

    It’s hard to get to the real logic that everyday people are using in an idea like this (they eventually get really pissed at the questions). In my field ‘Knowledge Based Engineering” AKA Rule Based Design we have to get to all the supporting rules of an end result to write the code, we keep looking at the result to find the right questions on how they got there.

    So, the interesting question is, why do they need ‘guided by God’? Why not a God that’s busy with other things, maybe he plays piano and just peeks in once in a while. God has been such a control freak at the helm so long it might just be too hard to let go of this concept.

  11. S.K.Graham
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    I think one thing you are overlooking is a significant division between the god-guided crowd. There are those who do bad “intelligent design” science trying to prove divine intervention in evolution. Then there are those who are more “invisible hand” types who don’t expect to see evidence of God’s intervention. I would be interested in a poll that separated those two groups.

    The latter groups are just god-of-the-gaps types who will happily push god further back into the corners unknown to science. It is entirely possible (though of course baseless) that “god” subtly tweaked DNA here in there in a manner indistinguishable from (and far less often than) random mutations. I’m not saying this kind of religion or any is compatible philosophically with science, but it is entirely compatible with scientific results and doing scientific research, as it adds no new assumptions about or interpretations of empirical results.

    • gillt
      Posted August 22, 2010 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      S.K. Graham: “The latter groups are just god-of-the-gaps types who will happily push god further back into the corners unknown to science.”

      I disagree. God-of-the-gap arguments are a smokescreen to cover for a faith-based conviction, where one draws a line in the sand and says “Forget the evidence, from this point forward there be magic!”

      There is no real gap to fill that could convince Francis Collins to change his mind on human inevitability and divine command morality. The gap is him not looking at the evidence already there.

  12. Posted August 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Why spend so much of time and energy picking fights with people who don’t want to fight? If someone believes that a God somehow guided the randomness that produced human beings and doesn’t want to worry about whether such a position is empirically tenable, so what? As long as they don’t insist on teaching it in school, leave them alone.

    • MadScientist
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      It’s much more fun to point at them and laugh – and maybe one day humans will be lucky enough that few will believe in Ceilingcat.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 22, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Because not worrying about whether truth claims regarding the natural world are empirically tenable undermines the whole of science. Because such “moderates” give political cover to the extremists who do want to teach their position in schools. Because irrational beliefs based on “feelings” or “intuition” or “it makes me happy” don’t just get confined to evolution, but spread to other domains.

  13. Andy
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    HuffPo really is burying Vic’s pieces. No question about it. The last two pieces he’s written I found out about from this blog, not HuffPo (even though I go on HuffPo every day—you know, because I like driving myself nuts).

  14. MadScientist
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    That’s why I call F. Collins a creationist – he believes that a supernatural agency created the world and whatever it was that evolved into humans. Lately Collins hasn’t been too clear whether he believes (a) god created things then left them to evolve (which is what I used to think he believed) or (b) god continues to diddle DNA (which is what I’m led to believe he currently believes – in which case why do we still have debilitating genetic defects).

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      What’s your justification for attaching Collins to (b)? I’m not challenging you; I’m just interested.

  15. Posted August 21, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Jerry sez: “In the interests of political expediency, the NCSE and other accommodationists abandon the bedrock principle of modern science: naturalism.”

    Beg to differ. I don’t think science as it’s actually practiced assumes or requires metaphysical naturalism – the claim that nature is all there is – as a bedrock principle. Science doesn’t need to invoke the assumption that causes and phenomena are strictly natural in order to conduct its inquiry. Indeed, the vast majority of scientific texts, papers, experiments, hypotheses, conjectures, and napkin scribblings make no mention of the natural/supernatural distinction. Practicing scientists seldom pronounce up front an allegiance to naturalism as their guiding philosophy when laying out their methodological presuppositions (if indeed naturalism is their guiding philosophy, since a sizeable minority of scientists are supernaturalists).

    Science, seems to me, is a method that operates without any a priori ontological commitment as to what sorts of entities exist; it’s just the best means we’ve hit on to model reality reliably. However, if you stick with science as your guide to what’s factually the case, you’ll likely be led to naturalism as a defeasible, empirically grounded *conclusion* about reality, http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm#truescience, http://www.naturalism.org/Close_encounters.htm

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      For a view different from yours, see this article, in which Barbara Forrest defends philosophical natualism as a perfectly defendable extension of methodological naturalism. I pretty much agree with her.

      • Posted August 21, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I too agree with Forrest on this and have cited her article many times – required reading for naturalists. But I’d say that *methodological* naturalism is just a fancy, rather misleading name for what science does, which is to stick with what’s already been shown to exist (nature) when first forming hypotheses. As I say at http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm#_ftn2a : “The injunction of methodological naturalism to search for natural causes simply states a plausible scientific conservatism: before concocting wild and crazy hypotheses, first look within scientifically-certified nature when devising explanations.” Fair enough, but science doesn’t assume *metaphysical* naturalism, which is the claim that all that exists is nature. As you’ve often said, science can investigate putatively supernatural claims, but we can’t know for sure in advance for all time that the supernatural doesn’t exist (about which see http://www.naturalism.org/Close_encounters.htm ). Still, as I suggested earlier, if you stick with science (what Forrest calls methodological naturalism), then the current evidence all points to metaphysical naturalism, which is what she argues as well. So I’d say that science doesn’t *presume* metaphysical naturalism as a bedrock principle, rather it *leads to* metaphysical naturalism as an evidence-based conclusion.

        • Posted August 21, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

          Btw, I think what primarily characterizes accomodationists is that they buy the idea that there might be reliable alternatives to science for deciding what’s factually the case about reality – other ways of knowing, as it’s usually put. So accomodationists at the NCSE and elsewhere – wrongly, in my view, and in yours – grant (publicly at any rate) that supernaturalists are being epistemically responsible in putting stock in non-empirical justifications of factual knowledge. But they aren’t, and I suspect many accomodationists know this but won’t say so out loud, http://www.naturalism.org/epistemology.htm#rivals

          • Tulse
            Posted August 22, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink

            I think what primarily characterizes accomodationists is that they buy the idea that there might be reliable alternatives to science

            I don’t think that’s true — many accommodationists seem to believe that science is indeed the best way to understand the natural world, but for political reasons believe it is expedient to not push that view on the religious. Mooney seems to hold this view (he’s an atheist, after all), and my sense is that many folks at the NCSE think this as well.

            • Posted August 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

              Point taken, you may well be right. But we’ll never know since accomodationists will always *publicly* declare that they think other ways of knowing are valid, or at least not criticize them as defective. This failure to champion empiricism and challenge its rivals on grounds of political correctness and wanting religious allies of course hurts the cause of science, naturalism and evidence-based policy. When will the scientific community start getting serious about publicizing the merits of empiricism itself? It’s time for a public debate about epistemology conducted in ordinary language. That’s the main underlying issue in the science/religion, naturalism/anti-naturalism wars.

      • bad Jim
        Posted August 22, 2010 at 12:59 am | Permalink

        Professor Coyne, I don’t think Tom Clark is disagreeing with you. Methodological naturalism is not an a priori assumption but a description of scientific effort, since no supernatural explanation has yet been found necessary, nor any practical means of conducting supernatural observation or experiment demonstrated. After a few centuries we can conclude, tentatively but confidently, that natural descriptions suffice.

        What I find odd is the assertion, made by Josh Rosenau among others, that the natural and supernatural domains are necessarily disjoint. This doctrine (which doesn’t have a name – philosophical NOMA, perhaps?) is formally as indefensible as philosophical naturalism. It’s politically convenient, though, as it insulates religious belief from scientific scrutiny.

        • Richard Wein
          Posted August 22, 2010 at 2:28 am | Permalink

          But compatibilists do treat MN as an a priori commitment of science, not refutable by new evidence. That’s why they insist that science can say nothing about the supernatural. Unfortunately, Jerry sounds as if he is agreeing with them here.

      • Richard Wein
        Posted August 22, 2010 at 2:19 am | Permalink

        Jerry, unless I’m mistaken, you have insisted previously that science could in principle accept a supernatural hypothesis, if the evidence warranted it. I agree with that. But then methodological naturalism can only be a rule of thumb: don’t accept a supernatural hypothesis in the normal course of events, but be prepared to do so should it be warranted by extraordinary evidence. And philosopical naturalism is a conclusion based on evidence, which could in principle be overthrown by new evidence. How can either of these then be described as a “bedrock principle” of science?

        • Richard Wein
          Posted August 22, 2010 at 3:18 am | Permalink

          P.S. Jerry, have you actually read the whole of Barbara Forrest’s article?

          I think most of us here would agree with her conclusion that PN is a valid inference from the past success of naturalistic thinking in science. But she also writes a lot of very questionable stuff which I doubt you would agree with if you read it carefully. She seems to accept Strahler’s definition of the supernatural as that which cannot be “observed, measured or recorded by the procedures of science” and then proceeds downhill from there.

  16. MJ
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    This seems like bickering over semantics. Stenger is assuming “evolution” means one thing (tree of life + natural selection) and the NCSE is assuming it means another (tree of life). Or roughly something like that.

    Can’t we just forget “evolution” then and say 50% of Americans accept the tree of life, but only 14% of them accept unguided processes as the only mechanisms in play? There’s reason to make such distinctions, for there’s lots of concrete evidence that everything is related to everything, and that we’ve evolved from other species over millions of years. But, although we have lots of evidence that unguided processes have been at work, and are at work, in changing species, we don’t have lots of evidence that guided processes didn’t actually cause some of the changes. The 36% who believe in God-guided evolution are God-of-the-gaps types and no more scary (to science) than the people who think souls hide in the as-yet unexplained mind-body connection. They’re wishful thinkers, yes, but not so bad as “real” creationists.

    This may sound like “accommodationism” but I’m no fan of accommodationism. We *ought* to make fun of the God-of-the-gaps types. I just don’t think it’s useful to lump them in either with the creationists or with the physicalists.

  17. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    The reference to John Calvert in one of Tom’s links, and my previous reference to the 2005 Kansas hearings, which Calvert choreographed, lead me to a nerd confession: I listened to the full twenty hours of those hearings and read most of the accompanying exhibits. (If you ever meet Pedro Irigonegaray, buy him a beer.) While I wouldn’t recommend that anyone do the same, it wouldn’t hurt for people to be more familiar with these folks’ agenda and how they go about implementing it.

    Accommodation has multiple facets, many of which (including defamation of our honorable host) are reprehensible. But if you don’t fully understand why others consider it an essential tactic, be wary of dismissing it entirely.

  18. Andrew
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    So if a poll gave three options: (1) Lightning is caused by the Wrath of Thor! (2) Lightning is the natural result of charge movements in random atmospheric weather patterns; (3)Lightning is the natural result of charge movements in atmospheric weather patterns but if Thor wants a lightning storm, He’ll make it happen

    …and the results were 14% completely natural, 36% natural but Thor gets what Thor wants, and 50% Wrath of Thor…

    … then from the perspective of science education, I’d call that 50-50. Thorists are always going to claim that Thor can do anything he wants; as long as they are prepared to accept the overwhelming evidence for Meteorology, they’re not going to mess up the teaching process.

    50-50 is still disgracefully low, but there’s much more leverage available for shifting the “Wrath of Thor” types, because their opinion is demonstrably wrong. Why wouldn’t the NCSE focus on them?

  19. Matti K.
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    I assume from the name of the organisation, NCSE has a scpecial interest in science edudation. I think it makes sense for them to divide the target audience according to the probable receptivity for science education.

  20. SLC
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Re Ken Miller

    Ditto for those who agree with scientists like Kenneth Miller and Simon Conway Morris that humans were an inevitable, God-produced goal of the evolutionary process.

    I think that this somewhat misstating Prof. Millers’ current position. AFAIK, Prof. Miller now argues that the rise of intelligent life, not necessarily humans as we know them, was inevitable (e.g. Prof. Dale Russells’ speculation of evolution of intelligent birdlike animals from Troodons if the latter had not gone extinct at the K/T boundary). Although this is a rather shaky proposition, there is, at least, a reputable argument to be made that the necessary condition for intelligence, namely encephalization, appears to have a selection advantage. Thus, Cretaceous dinosaurs were more encephalized then Jurassic dinosaurs and present day mammals were more encephalized then their predecessors of 50 million years ago.

  21. Tulse
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    the rise of intelligent life, not necessarily humans as we know them, was inevitable [...] there is, at least, a reputable argument to be made that the necessary condition for intelligence, namely encephalization, appears to have a selection advantage. Thus, Cretaceous dinosaurs were more encephalized then Jurassic dinosaurs and present day mammals were more encephalized then their predecessors of 50 million years ago.

    By that logic, size also has a selective advantage, since the current blue whale is larger than any other creature that ever existed — perhaps Miller has misunderstood his god’s intentions? Or heck, how about parasitism being inevitable, since there are certainly more parasite species today than in the Precambrian — perhaps Miller’s god is actually the god of tapeworms.

    A variety of things may be “inevitable” in evolving systems — to say that, of all those, intelligence is somehow special is arguing backwards, and it just another version of apologetics rather than science.

  22. Posted August 30, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I find that we kind delete the possible intent in that science reveals no such intent and that such intent would contradict science rather than be compatible with it, making natural causes empty vessels that God the Captain directs- the Omphalos argument up-dated. No, as Lamberth’s atelic or teleonomic argument argues, the weight of evidence portrays a teleonomic world – no planned outcomes rather than a teleological one- planned outcomes, and such teleology violates the Razor!
    So, yes, evolutionary creationism-liberal and creationist evolution conservative are obfuscatory.
    This is where our friend Eugenie S.Scott errs in her book against creationism when she warns scientists, in effect, not to use this argument, but as Paul Draper,emailed me, she is making the demarcation mistake!
    Jerry, my friend, please delve more into this argument as you do in “Seeing and Believing ” and Amiel Rossow does in his essay on Miller.
    This,as we new atheists proclaim, is the gulf betwixt reason and faith rather than betwixt evolution and creationism. This argument eviscerates all creationisms. Creationism = theism.
    Yes, even such as Miller don’t acknowledge the power of natural selection, and then he makes the non sequirtur of convergence, which your rightly contemn!
    This is why this blog fills a valuable educational hole! We, with Victor Stenger, must eviscerate whatever woo such as John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, John Haught, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig and Keith Ward put forth in their sophisticated,solecistic sophistry of worthless words of woo!

  23. Posted August 30, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I find that we can delete…

    • Posted August 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      non sequitur Sorry for the typos. Even with spell-check and with a lack of the edit function here, I must proof-read better!
      And not only does this argument tell against all teleological ones but also any with that divine intent- no Primary Cause intende the Big Band and no Grand Miracle Monger causes miracles- just natural causes. Furthermore, all teleological arguments beg that very question of intent- agency-teleology.
      Thus arises the argument from paridolia that people see intent and design when threre are only teleonomy and patterns. Scientists are studying why people see that pareidolia of agency-intent. o, this argumen,too, has a scienttific basis.
      Theology is animism as one great spirit behind Existence rather than the many behnd parts of it, but nevertheles, the same woo!
      Jerry, you had told me to see “Seeing and Believing,” and you are ever so right!
      Skeptic Griggsy

  24. Posted September 1, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Okay, so it’s all a crapshoot. That doesn’t deny that the dice are loaded, does it?

    Let me get my religious logical-denial hat on here: What if the dice were loaded to look like they aren’t loaded?

    More seriously, even as an active Christian I have no difficulty with evolution. I have difficulty with those who deny the evidence of evolution. Surely that denial has to be the result of loaded dice somewhere — could people be so stupid, otherwise?


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