BioLogos reviews my book!

I was vaguely aware that BioLogos was writing something about WEIT, but given the source I hadn’t paid much attention, and didn’t read it until today. (I was, however, curious to see how they’d deal with a book that contains straight science with very little mention of religion.) I now see that the review is in three parts (1, 2, and 3 at respective links); let it not be said that BioLogos does a cursory job. The review is by Robert Bishop, a professor of philosophy at Wheaton College (Illinois), a Christian school not far from Chicago.  Bishop also has a master’s in physics and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin.

I don’t have a lot to say about the review, which is largely accommodationist drivel, but would like to highlight a few items.

Part 1 is generally positive, and emphasizes some of the “myths” that Christians have about how evolution works (e.g., “it all happens by chance”).  That’s all good.  Bishop notes:

The breadth and clarity of Coyne’s explanation and discussion of the evidence supporting evolution is impressive. Christians who have even a passing interest in science should give what he has to say careful, prayerful reflection.

Well, I’d much prefer scientific rather than prayerful reflection, but I’ll take what praise I can get.

In Part 2, Bishop becomes more critical, raising a point that is often made about WEIT by either theologians or creationists:

Two brief comments: First, although Coyne doesn’t own up to it, all of his comments about a designer are theological rather than scientific. After all comments about what a good or bad designing god would do are statements about the character, wisdom and plans of such a god. Such comments don’t tell us anything about the existence of such a designer. If anything, they only tell us about how Coyne appraises the work of such a designing god. . .

. . .The second problem is that Coyne–along with many Christians–treats evolutionary explanations as competing with or replacing God’s activity in creation. However, that is a theological interpretation of evolutionary theory, an interpretation that presumes God can’t or wouldn’t be involved in evolution.

No, I don’t own up, and won’t, to having made theological rather than scientific arguments.  The arguments are purely scientific, in the sense that features of organisms violate the empirical expectations we’d have if they were designed by a beneficent and wise creator.  True, the arguments don’t bear on the existence of a designer, but they weren’t meant to. They were meant to say something about the nature of a designer if you assume one exists.

Organisms are full of flaws.  Considering only humans, we have descending testicles that can cause problems, very difficult childbirth in females, vestigial wisdom teeth (and appendixes) that can become impacted or infected, and our recurrent laryngeal nerve, which, instead of connecting the brain and larynx by the shortest route, loops way down around the heart and comes back up again.  These are not features an intelligent designer would have given us. But those features are completely understandable in light of evolution.  The nerve, for example, was constrained to form a long loop because a blood vessel moved backwards during our evolution from fishy ancestors, forcing the nerve (which once lay next to that vessel) to elongate around it to retain its connection with the larynx. (More about this tomorrow.)

I used this argument for several reasons.  First, it is empirical, because it shows something about the nature of a designer if a designer was responsible for animals and plants.  It shows first that the designer was not “intelligent,” in the sense of not setting up body plans in an efficient way. Second, and more telling, if animal body plans do reflect design, then we can conclude that the designer wanted to make things look as though they evolved.  For these flaws are not just flaws—they are flaws that are completely understandable in light of evolution!  There are comprehensible evolutionary reasons for all of these flaws, involving our ancestry or developmental/genetic constraints. We have vestigial tailbones because our ancestors had tails, our wisdom teeth are remnants of when we were more herbivorous primates with larger jaws, and so on.

It is perfectly proper procedure to infer something about a designer from the results of design.  Archaeologists do this all the time.  So if we must think, as many Christians do, that organisms were designed by a celestial being, we can use the characteristics of those organisms to infer something about that being. That’s an empirical procedure.

Finally, I used this argument for historical reasons: it was one that Darwin employed repeatedly throughout the Origin to cast doubt on creationist explanations.  One reason why Darwin was so successful in convincing his contemporaries (and not just the scientists, either) of the truth of evolution was because his observations were inconsistent with the view of God that many people then held.  Throughout the book Darwin keeps asking, rhetorically, “Why would the creator do stuff like this?”  And none of that “stuff” made sense if you conceived of God as a wise and careful designer.  Now theologians can, and have, re-envisioned God as someone who designed evolution and then let it take its course. What choice did they have in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence?  But Darwin’s “theological” argument is still powerful, as witnessed by the many creationists who tie themselves into knots trying to explain evolutionary “design flaws” as the product of God’s wisdom.

In part 3 of his review, Bishop wishes fervently that scientists and Christians could engage in mutually respectful dialogue:

Imagine that Coyne and I engage in genuine conversation about science and Christianity. I try to understand more fully his view that there is no God at work in nature and that science has no need of countenancing a being who is neither necessary for scientific practices nor observable by scientific methods. He tries to understand my view that God is at work through natural processes so that everything that happens in nature is both fully natural and fully Divine (concurrence), and how that leaves everything in the theoretical and experimental practices of science unchanged from how we’ve conceived them since the beginning of the Scientific Revolution (in short, this is because the natural processes science studies are God’s typical mode of mediated action in creation). I get clearer on his worries about what he perceives as a threat to scientific explanations if there is a God who has the power to circumvent natural processes and their regularities. Coyne gets clearer on why the picture of concurrence doesn’t offer theological explanation as an alternative to science, but instead offers a theological interpretation of science.

Such a dialogue could never occur, at least on my part.  For the first thing I’d ask Bishop would be this, “What is your evidence that there is a god who is at work through natural processes?”  He would either cite the Bible or his own personal revelations, and that would be the end of that.  Without evidence for a god, there’s no point in having such a discussion.  And I don’t reject God because he’s a “threat to scientific explanations,” either.  Like Laplace, I reject a god because it’s unnecessary in scientific explanations, and because there’s no evidence for a god.  And if a god did intervene in a way I could study—if, for example, prayers worked—I would find that even more interesting.

Bishop goes on at length about why science and religion are compatible.  Most of his evidence rests on the fact that some scientists in the past were religious:

The historical proof that science and Christianity aren’t fundamentally incompatible is the Scientific Revolution itself. Its architects were both methodologically and theologically serious and were theistically rather than deistically inclined (deism in the European tradition arose in the 18th century). They saw no fundamental inconsistency between science (or reason) and a God who could intervene in the world if God so desired (e.g., Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton).

This, of course, misses the whole point: I see science/faith incompatibility as a philosophical and methodological issue, not a historical one.  Just because Newton could rely on revelation at some times and hard evidence at others doesn’t mean that he was using compatible methodologies.

And, at the end—as we see so often these days at BioLogos—Bishop lapses into JesusSpeak:

As long as Coyne and so many others continue to view the relationship between science and religion as a matter of integration rather than the reconciliation characteristic of actual relationships, acrimony will continue and we’ll miss out on the reconciliation science and faith already have in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:20).

I’m supposed to be an accommodationist to help bring people to Jesus?  What is Bishop smoking?  Oh, and some “actual relationships” aren’t characterized by reconciliation.  When people are incompatible, they often get divorced.

60 Comments

  1. Tyro
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    They saw no fundamental inconsistency between science (or reason) and a God who could intervene in the world if God so desired (e.g., Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton).

    Whenever they raise this point, it’s always scientists from the 1600s and 1700s. Far from making their point, it should just remind us that the more we learned about the world, the less religious scientists have become. Within any given year, the more scientific knowledge a person has, the more likely that person is to be an atheists.

    When I see Newton used as an example of how religion can help science, I see how religion is killed by science.

    I’m supposed to be an accommodationist to help bring people to Jesus? What is Bishop smoking?

    What, you mean that citing the bible isn’t convincing? The passage reads:

    For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Sooo… science and faith are compatible because Jesus bled? Riiiiight, perfectly clear. Someone notify Chris Mooney, we’ve got a slam dunk here.

    • Tim
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      I watched that supreme idiot, Dinesh D’Souza, make this same stupid appeal to authority wherein he claims (perhaps even correctly) that Newton spent more ime on his Christian delusions than he did on physics. The best response is, “Really, what a shame. This of how much more he would have accomplished had he not wasted his time on such crap.” I had fun one evening drive his moron acolytes crazy with fleshing this argument out: Ask any Christian, how did Newton’s views on religion influence your religious life? What original contributions did he make thart left an imprint? The answer, of course, is nothing, nada, zip, … – because there are no contributions to make. Religion is intellectually dead.

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 28, 2011 at 2:40 am | Permalink

        … how did Newton’s views on religion influence your religious life?

        Oh, I like that! *files it away for future use*

      • Tyro
        Posted May 28, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        Ouch, I like it! Definitely have to remember that.

    • Posted May 28, 2011 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      The funny thing about citing Newton as an example of this science-religion compatibility is that modern-day trinitarian Christians would not consider his to be a Christian.

      Newton held to an Arian Unitarian theology that one should not worship Christ because that was a form of idolatry.

  2. Sajanas
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Does he not realize that if Dr. Coyne were religious, he’d be Jewish (well, mostly likely anyways)?

  3. KP
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    …we’ll miss out on the reconciliation science and faith already have in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:20).

    Cuz Jesus was a great scientist who thought the moon gave its own light (Matthew 24:29).

    And if Jesus reconciles all things (Col. 1:20), why do so many Christians disagree with each other on theological details?

    • Posted May 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Here’s the full context:

      “15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

      Perhaps the most striking thing about this passage is its geocentric, Ptolomeic astronomy. Notice it doesn’t say “in the heavens” but “in heaven” and the only things on earth it concerns itself with reconciling with are authority figures.

  4. Becca Stareyes
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I’m supposed to be an accommodationist to help bring people to Jesus? What is Bishop smoking?

    I’ll take ‘belief that the only thing holding atheists back from theism* is a belief that science and faith cannot be reconciled’. Since Bishop sees you as a reasonable and moral person, you must be willing to accept Jesus once he can convince you you don’t have to give up evolutionary biology.

    Never mind that you might have formed your own opinions on Christianity that disagree with Bishop’s and are based on more than just ‘well, someone told me that science and faith disagree so I pick science’.

    * Moreover a specific kind of theism.

  5. Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Coyne gets clearer on why the picture of concurrence doesn’t offer theological explanation as an alternative to science, but instead offers a theological interpretation of science.

    So whatever is found will be attributed to his god (not the one they talk about outside of these conversations with nonbelievers, but…), though he can’t say how precisely, or even what this god is, and nothing can be inconsistent with it. That’s not an interpretation. That’s just stupid.

  6. Jeff Engel
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I think it’d be fair to call the argument about what we can say about a designer (if any) based on the actual design of animals theological – but that’s a matter of good old-fashioned natural theology, which isn’t something that contrasts with empirical or scientific argument at all. It’s just that you get a conclusion that rules out the sort of God revealed theology classically presented.

    It’s ironic, when I’d think BioLogos would be all about insisting that natural theology is good empirical science. But that goes by the board in a rush when the answer comes out “wrong”.

    • Jeff Engel
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Grr. Well, I imagine you can emphasize what you should without working italics breaks.

  7. Insightful Ape
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    So, in order to show the compatibility between science and faith, he quotes the book of Colossians, which, according to historical-critical analysis, is a forgery and was not written by Paul?
    Oh irony.

  8. AT
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I love this post!

    I have finally got to understand Jerry’s personal motivations behind engaging into telling the faithfull that they have no clue and that the faith and science are not compatible

    I would like to comment on the following statement

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I see science/faith incompatibility as a philosophical and methodological issue, not a historical one.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    If one extrapolates history through the present into the future it can be _scientifically_ proven that over geological time-frame religion will _vestigialize_

    In other words we can expect that at some point in the future the default human condition will be such that children will have no chance to be exposed to “faith” and therefore the whole issue will be no longer an issue

    Of course this is the matter of very distant future and the planet will be vastly different then (no biodiversity with very limited human population) but the time will come

    Big thanks to everyone who are on the side of scence when we talk about religion

    I think we should not stop at religion and look into our other “beliefs” and see if we are on the side of “science” or “faith” on those topics as well

    (of course not at this forum as this forum is only dedicated to “science/religion” debate)

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Since the amount of information in the world is doubling now, every five years or so (and accelerating) and the internet is reaching further and further into the lives of the entire population of the planet, I suspect single-deity-religion will be mashed down to the “Horoscope” and “Santa Claus” level by 2025.

      The Internet: Where religions Come to Die

      • AT
        Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        i would not be so optimistic as to the time when religion vestigialize

        religion has been “an explanation” of why things are the way they are long before mankind finally arrived to science some 200 years ago

        babies first learn from the goo of institutionalized ignorance that surounds them in the form of the beliefs they hear from their parents, peers, girlfriends and boyfriends.

        if integrity of learning is not addressed over formative years the individual’s chances to arrive at scientific thinking when the brain matures are very low

        the overwhelming majority of mankind _never_ uses scientific thinking; even when they think they do

        look into professional scientific community: those who are adamant about upholding science/religioon incompatibility are the small minority

        among this minority even less people (if any at all) understand how faith-based institutions make up the fabric of our life and how the governemnt and human condition consists of and perpertuates faith-based thinking

        this is why the process will take much longer than 25 years and probably will not even properly begin until “spaceship Earth” crashes down under the burden of unsustainable overpopulation (some time over next 50 to 100 years)

  9. reginaldselkirk
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    The review is by Robert Bishop, a professor of philosophy at Wheaton College (Illinois), a Christian school not far from Chicago. Bishop also has a master’s in physics and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin.

    So he’s qualified in everything except biology, the topic of the book.

    • Posted May 28, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

      I wonder if you would have observed this should his review have been positive?
      I suspect not.

      • TruthOverfaith
        Posted May 30, 2011 at 2:37 am | Permalink

        M.K.Gray
        If mistakes are made in a review of someones work,it’s fair to point them out, regardless of the disposition of the reviewer.

  10. reginaldselkirk
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    The historical proof that science and Christianity aren’t fundamentally incompatible is the Scientific Revolution itself…

    This is something resembling the genetic fallacy. He says science began in a religious context, and the people who began it were not anti-religious, therefore modern science could not possibly have strayed from those properties over the course of several centuries, and those persons could not possibly have been mistaken about the inevitable results of science.

    • reginaldselkirk
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      And considering his qualifications in philosophy, he should understand what the genetic fallacy entails.

  11. Kevin
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    What a curious thing to say to a Jew, in any event.

    Doesn’t he recognize that even if you were a theist, you wouldn’t be a Christian theist?

    It’s the mind-numbingly dense arrogant self-centeredness of it that gets me the most.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Yes, and an arrogance that the writer seems to be wholly unconscious of, just as he seems to be whollu unconscious of the smug and saccharine sentimentality of his words about the ‘reconciliation science and faith have in Jesus Christ’.

  12. Derek W
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    They were meant to say something about the nature of a designer if you assume one exists.

    I think it’s difficult to assess or rate a biological design as ‘flawed’ or ‘good’ without an accepted baseline and context. A more informative grade might be given with respect to the survivability/adaptability of that design (entire organism) to the creature’s environment. While organisms/nature have ‘flaws’ I think from a shared human perspective this world is one helluva beautiful creation/existence (including cats!) Now assuming a designer exists what does that say about him/her/it?)

    • Douglas Kirk
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      That it is extremely comfortable with a whole lot of collateral damage and doesn’t much care about the pain and suffering of any individual of any individual species it created. Especially ones with cancer.

    • wilzard
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      It says the “entire organism” is extremely wasteful, considering almost every single species that has ever existed in the history of life on this planet is now extinct.

      It says the mechanism the “designer” used, if a designer even exists, is flawed considering all the biomass of waste that has cumulatively lead up to the modern world in which we live.

  13. paul01
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    One comment on the supposed theological nature of some of your statements, as mentioned in the review, and in other creationist polemics:

    I noticed in The Origin of Species that Darwin comments on the difficulties of explaining some features of the natural world under “the ordinary concept of creation”. It seems as if Darwin knew there could be rarefied concepts of creation that might generate endless philosophical debate, but it sufficed for his purpose to undermine the “ordinary” concept.

    In this light, I would think that your comments on creationist theory are in fact scientific, after all.

    • paul01
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Here is one such reference from OS:

      “It would be difficult to give any rational explanation of the affinities of the blind cave-animals to the other inhabitants of the two continents on the ordinary view of their independent creation.”

      • Jeff Engel
        Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        I think “ordinary” here refers to the view – it was a commonplace one – as opposed to that of natural selection. It doesn’t read as though it’s a contrast with eccentric creationist options, e.g., ones that include common ancestors for the blind cave-animals and their seeing near-neighbors outside the caves.

        Of course, the other reading may apply in other contexts in the Origin.

        • paul01
          Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

          I see your point. I have searched the whole book and in the 15 or 20 instances where he uses ordinary in relation to special creation, it appears that one could replace the word ordinary with something like “standard”. It is interesting that in one of these cases he condemns the whole theory as “not scientific” because it appeals to the intentions of a creator.

  14. S.K.Graham
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Any time theists claim evidence for a designer in biology, they are, a priori, assuming that we (humans) know what to look for when deciding if something is “designed”. Often theists use examples like a “watch” or a “painting”.

    If theists want to claim that their “designer” acted so subtly as to be indistinguishable from natural processes, then they cannot claim “design” in nature to be evidence for an intelligent designer.

    I haven’t read your book, but it sounds like you took a reductio ad absurdem approach. A startling number of inteligent people seem to get lost if you take more than two sentences to complete such an argument.

    • Tyro
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Yeah. Their argument often boils down to: “We know this watch must be designed because it looks so different than this rock which is definitely not designed. DNA looks designed therefore God exists. God has a plan for everyone and designed everything. Therefore this rock is designed.”

  15. Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I want to write a book and have it reviewed by a Creationist! You lucky bastard!

  16. Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    The historical proof that science and Christianity aren’t fundamentally incompatible is the Scientific Revolution itself.

    Wha…?

    Last I checked, Christianity has as its fundamental core tenets some decidedly wacky bullshit notions about human male parthenogenesis, zombies, talking animals, global aquatic submersion, and more. Each and every one of them is profoundly anti-scientific, thoroughly debunked by investigation, and impossible based upon all current and long-standing scientific understandings of the universe.

    If Bishop wants to claim that Christianity is compatible with science, he’d do well to start with an explanation of how the Resurrection was compatible with the conservation of energy. I can’t think of anything more fundamental to either science or Christianity, and I’m at an utter loss to think of a way they could possibly be reconciled.

    Note that this is entirely the Christian’s problem. A rationalist simply recognizes that Christianity really is bullshit and leaves it at that — there’s no need to reconcile reality with fantasy.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 28, 2011 at 3:00 am | Permalink

      …human male parthenogenesis…

      :)

      Similarly,I’ve always liked Dawkins’s characterization of that “event” in his introduction to Dan Barker’s Godless:

      …a man fashioned from clay and a woman grown from him as a cutting…

      Must be the botanist in me…

  17. wonderer
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    LOL @ Bishop

    The guy is trying to find holes in physics for ontologically emergent souls to inhabit.

    He actually writes (emphasis added):

    “It is not clear why such large-scale, nonlocal influences
    should not be viewed as cooperating with the laws governing the system constituents, filling the
    gaps
    left by the underdetermination of these forces, as opposed to viewing such influences as
    somehow overruling these forces.”

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 28, 2011 at 3:03 am | Permalink

      LOL! We’re gonna have to start calling God Gog (God Of [the] Gaps).

  18. Phere
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Like Tyro said in the first post, the fact that some scientists from the Sci rev were highly religious is not impressive to me. They were at the beginning stages of acquiring modern knowledge and had no idea of genes, multiple galaxies (much less an expanding universe), quantum theory, so on and so forth – would these same scientists in light of everything we know today stubbornly clutch on to their spiritual beliefs? Perhaps, but more probably they would fall into the same percentage of atheists we have in the sciences today.

    • JRB
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      It also baffles me that people who love to bring up how religious Isaac Newton was never seem to mention that he was also really into Alchemy.

      I mean, what’s the difference between saying “’[Newton] saw no fundamental inconsistency between science (or reason) and a God who could intervene in the world if God so desired’ and therefore we shouldn’t either” and “[Newton] saw no fundamental inconsistency between science (or reason) and a Philosopher’s Stone that could turn lead into gold and therefore we shouldn’t either”?

      The man contributed many important ideas to science but there has been 400 years of research between him and us – just because Newton was able to do some very good science does not mean everything he thought was scientific.

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 28, 2011 at 3:05 am | Permalink

        Hard as it is to imagine, we’re probably gonna look a bit primitive ourselves in another 400 years. :D

  19. jose
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    “I get clearer on his worries about what he perceives as a threat to scientific explanations if there is a God who has the power to circumvent natural processes and their regularities.”

    - Why don’t you include Batman in your theological system of christianity?
    - lolwut
    - Aha! You’re afraid. Batman is a threat to your worldview!

  20. GordonWillis
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Imagine that Coyne and I engage in genuine conversation about science and Christianity. I try to understand more fully his view . . . He tries to understand my view

    Good-oh. The point the good doctor misses is that it is one thing to understand a view and another thing to agree with it. One can reasonably agree or disagree with a view when one knows exactly what it is. Dr Bishop seems to have missed that bit. He obviously thinks that if only JC would understand his view he would agree with it. Per contra, it often is the case that the more one understands something the more one realises that it’s hopelessly wrong.

    I get clearer on his worries about what he perceives as a threat to scientific explanations

    I suspect that Dr Bishop just assumes from the outset that such worries must exist (otherwise JC would embrace JHC and fall down and worship, naturally). Where have we seen this before?

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/i-was-wrong-biologos-promotes-jesus-not-evolution/

    It doesn’t look the same. Falk is talking about the crutch atheists need to enable them to deny god. But it is the same, in the sense that it’s theists looking for an explanation for the perversity of atheists. These theists’ capacity to understand the atheists’ position is nonexistent. They’re so sure that if we atheists took the trouble to understand them we would agree with them. They cannot understand that we do understand them, and they are too arrogant to take the trouble to understand us.

    Or maybe they’re just too afraid? Well, no, I suspect that it’s the former, not the latter. Being afraid only starts when you think there might be something in what the opposition are saying after all: and you have to understand (or at least have an inkling of) what they’re saying in the first place. My impression of BioLogos is that they are a million miles from any such perspective, because they take it as declared by Almighty God that the unbelievers are arrogant, and are therefore blind to their own arrogance. Faith is blind, it demands blindness, otherwise how will it survive the onslaught of mere reality?

    • wonderer
      Posted May 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Or maybe they’re just too afraid? Well, no, I suspect that it’s the former, not the latter. Being afraid only starts when you think there might be something in what the opposition are saying after all: and you have to understand (or at least have an inkling of) what they’re saying in the first place.

      Actually many are afraid of finding out that theism is false. I engage in a lot of discussions with those who understand ‘sophisticated theology’ at William Lane Craig’s forum. With some effort I could dig up lots of posts exemplifying fear on the part of theists that their worldview is based on nothing, and how totally psychologically unacceptable that would be to them.

      Christianity provides a means of escaping their existential fears through denial, so they generally don’t recognize the fact that they live their lives in fear. The fear is there however. And many who study theology are doing so precisely in order to keep such fears at bay.

      • GordonWillis
        Posted May 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        You may be right. I wouldn’t like to opt for one single answer. There are many reasons why people believe. One of them is power. I first realised this when I went to university back in 1971 and met christians of a type I never knew existed: born-again, bible-packing, cross-toting, leaflet-waving: and discovered how power and authority can easily be had in a world of make-believe. Maybe those people are afraid of losing their sense of authority. Then, maybe lots of people are afraid for entirely personal and understandable reasons. And maybe some people are just so sure of themselves that they cannot entertain the possibility that they are mistaken.

        I think that this “crutch” ploy of Falk is an attempt to turn the tables on those atheists who see religion as a crutch for the existentially challenged. Maybe he is afraid. Or maybe not.

        • wonderer
          Posted May 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

          True. There are a lot of different reasons.

          I’d guess the domineering Christians you encountered were likely Calvinists, who believe that the particularly are God’s elect, and those who aren’t among the elect were created by God with the intention that they would be damned for eternity in hell. The kind of people who can bring themselves to worship a God like that, don’t tend to have much of an issue with trampling the depraved subhuman unelect under foot.

          Check out puritanboards.com if you want to observe the creepy process of natural human empathy being browbeat out of people.

          • GordonWillis
            Posted May 28, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink

            Yes, there was a lot about Calvinism and predestination etc. Still, they did me a service by making me discover what was wrong with religion (i.e. the believers themselves).

            Check out puritanboards.com if you want to observe the creepy process of natural human empathy being browbeat out of people.

            I’ll have a look. Thanks.

            • wonderer
              Posted May 28, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

              I checked, and it is puritanboard not boards. I hadn’t looked in there in probably well over a year. The place is horrific. The average Christian at WLC’s forum looks like a scientific geniuses in comparison to the fractal wrongness at PB.

              • GordonWillis
                Posted May 28, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                Don’t worry, I found it. I had a quick peek before work this morning. The first thing I saw was a link to a post called “Baptism and Circumcision Compared”. I don’t know if I dare look any further. Should I laugh or weep? When I knock off later this evening I shall gird up my loins and harden my heart and read some of it. I’m sure it is all good for my education.

  21. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    In Part 2, Bishop becomes more critical, raising a point that is often made about WEIT by either theologians or creationists…

    What a pity they don’t read any of that there sophisticated evolutionology.

  22. 386sx
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Robert Bishop said: First, although Coyne doesn’t own up to it, all of his comments about a designer are theological rather than scientific. After all comments about what a good or bad designing god would do are statements about the character, wisdom and plans of such a god. Such comments don’t tell us anything about the existence of such a designer.

    They tell us about the existence of Robert Bishop’s designer. They don’t tell us about the existence of just any ol’ designer. They tell us that Robert Bishop needs to change his mind about his not-so-nice designer, if there is one. That’s something Robert Bishop won’t own up to.

    • Posted May 28, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink

      This is what I also came to comment on. Saying something about the existence of X without saying anything ABOUT X is futile at best.

      • Posted May 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        Can anyone define,/i> this more sophisticated version of God? Is S/He?It omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent?

        And if S/He/it is so sophisticated (or sophistical) that S/H/I can not be said to exist, then what can it mean to say
        “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

        And what can it mean, to worship S/H/I?

        • Posted May 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          You see what I did there.

  23. Clive Durdle
    Posted May 28, 2011 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    The theological arguments have also been shown to have evolved! The supernatural was invented in the Middle Ages!

    http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item1164345/?site_locale=en_GB

    “How did people of the medieval period explain physical phenomena, such as eclipses or the distribution of land and water on the globe? What creatures did they think they might encounter: angels, devils, witches, dogheaded people? This fascinating book explores the ways in which medieval people categorized the world, concentrating on the division between the natural and the supernatural and showing how the idea of the supernatural came to be invented in the Middle Ages. Robert Bartlett examines how theologians and others sought to draw lines between the natural, the miraculous, the marvelous and the monstrous, and the many conceptual problems they encountered as they did so. The final chapter explores the extraordinary thought-world of Roger Bacon as a case study exemplifying these issues. By recovering the mentalities of medieval writers and thinkers the book raises the critical question of how we deal with beliefs we no longer share.”

  24. Dominic
    Posted May 28, 2011 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    Nominative determinism – Bishop is religious…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism

    I know it sounds superior, but ‘prayerful reflection’??? Dear oh dear…

    • Posted May 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Groucho Marx noted the absurdity of “military intelligence”. I give you
      “true religion”.

  25. Posted May 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    As well as the poor design of individual organisms, may we not say that the Designer did a remarkably inefficient job of creating a Universe whose chief purpose was that Man (and to a lesser extent Woman) might worship Him/Her/It?

    Ignoring the Cosmos, which might habour other God-worshipping organisms, the Earth is for the most part hostile to life, and the proportion of the biota that has any bearing on H. sapiens is quite small. (This is where I came in to this train of thought, with T H Huxley’s observation about the Creator’s inordinate fondness for beetles.) It might have seemed to desert peoples that all life had relevance to humans (though the question arises, why make unclean animals?) but only because in a desert, you make use of what you can. I bet the relation of humans with their deities was, pre-Western-invasions, very different in Amazonian rain forests.

  26. GordonWillis
    Posted May 29, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    @ wonderer.

    I am now a little more educated, and can confirm that you are right about the identity of the Christians who put me off Christianity. I couldn’t see any evidence of the fear you mentioned, but then it’s a big forum. I did start collecting gems of shoddy thinking, however, but I won’t post any as I realised that the entire board is a monument to self-righteousness masquerading as humility, unconscious cruelty and moral idiocy. ‘Nuff said, I think.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Posted on May 28, 2011 by Marc Alan Di Martino Jerry Coyne has a post commenting on a review of his book Why Evolution Is True at the BioLogos site. Jerry is always funny, and not at all deserving of his [...]

  2. [...] professor of the history and philosophy science at Wheaton College in Illinois, a religious school, I decided to respond.   Although much of what Bishop said was positive, I didn’t much care for his argument (a [...]

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