Peter Hitchens can’t leave well enough alone, and so has sent yet another reply to my critiques (here and here) of his views on evolution (he doesn’t accept it, and is sympathetic to intelligent-design creationism [“ID”]). This is the last time I’ll put his responses above the fold; from now on they’ll go in the comments. But since I did criticize his views in a post, I will not prevent him from responding however he wants.
Here’s Hitchens’s latest salvo:
Funny , isn’t it? First, I am even in some way condemned for actually replying to a personal attack on me, posted in a public forum and advertised on Twitter with the suggestion that I am a ‘moron’. Wouldn’t it be more reprehensible to ignore it? I’m a journalist and a debater. It’s what I do.
You can’t win, with such people. Everything you do is automatically wrong, unless you are of their faith.
You’d never guess from the bilious railing and lecturing above that what I say, repeatedly, is that ‘I am quite prepared to accept that the theory of evolution by natural selection may be true’. In other words, to my opponents I say gently and generously ‘Yes, you might be right’.
This isn’t enough for the devotees, who would never under any circumstances say the same to me. As is the case with all fanatical creeds, these cultists cannot stand even the slightest doubt (being so burdened with their own doubts) and demand actual professions of belief. By the way, which theory of evolution am I supposed to believe in absolutely? Gould’s? Or Dawkins’s? The existence of this choice, and of the disagreements between these two, seems to me to give every reasonable person room for a little doubt.
If the ID theory, which I regard as an interesting sceptical current, has made the open declarations of religious purpose of which it is accused above, could someone please give me the references and quotations? My understanding is that it has taken great care not to do so.
I do smile at the heaps of praise for my late brother’s supposed scientific knowledge. Neither he nor I ever counted the sciences as our most successful subjects at school or since,to put it mildly. But (like me) he instantly understood the significance of evolutionary theory for theism.
Scientists did indeed uncover the Piltdown fake, but not for some time. They wanted, passionately, to believe it to be true. Had they not wanted to believe it, they would have seen the fake far more quickly. That is the point of the story.
As for my own faith, I acknowledge it as such. I make no claim to *know* its truth. I don’t attack other people for not holding it, though I will defend it against attack, and against intolerant attempts to suppress it and drive it from public discourse.
Mr Coyne can say what he likes – now – about what he meant when he said that God ‘took’ the ‘wrong’ Hitchens. I bet he privately regrets making this crass and contemptible remark, and will be more careful with such language in future.
I repeat my strictures about the Christopher Hitchens Fan Club. I know perfectly well (better than almost anyone living) that these people have no real connection with my late brother. The fact that they behave as they do is proof enough of that.
My responses will be as brief as possible:
1. My tone: Hitchens is still peeved that I made fun of him. I don’t regret that, for mockery was, I think, appropriate in a situation where an intelligent, well-educated man with a huge public platform says absolutely stupid things about evolution. I don’t take back what I said, nor do I retract my statement that if we could have only one Hitchens in this world, I would choose Christopher. That’s simply a truth, though it may sound unkind. Again, I have no wish to see Peter exit this mortal coil, yet he’s still banging on about how I want him dead.
Let me add that I also leveled substantial criticism at P. Hitchens’s views on evolution, and he still has not responded to any of those save for his brief statement about Piltdown Man above.
2. Piltdown Man. As I’ve said before, Piltdown Man was initially accepted as a real hominin fossil, possibly our ancestor, but soon after its discovery it was suspected to be a hoax—an amalgam of different bones, some of them from other primates (orangutan and chimp). Greg Mayer posted here about Piltdown Man last December, and noted that most paleontologists had concluded by 1916—four years after its discovery— that it was a fake “fossil”. By the 1950s it had been thoroughly debunked. All of the debunking was done by scientists. So much for Mr. Hitchens’s claim that scientists took forever to uncover the hoax because they “passionately wanted it to be true”!
Obviously, the “passionate will to believe” of scientists wasn’t strong enough to overcome their passionate will to find the truth. It’s odd that Hitchens offers up this story as a caution for science, as it’s far more of a caution for his faith (Anglican) than for science.
Let me rephrase his critique, then: “Hitchens wants, passionately, to believe that his religion is true, and that Jesus Christ is our savior. Had he not wanted to believe it, he would have seen the delusional nature of this view. That is the point of this story—and the sad nature of faith.”
3. Hitchens’s lack of intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness about evolution. As the video below shows, Peter Hitchens is espousing exactly the same views on evolution and intelligent design (ID) as he did in 2008. (This is from a debate between Christopher and Peter Hitchens on April 3, 2008.) The video is over two hours long, so just go to the relevant part, which is between 1:29:45 and 1:36:45.
As Peter Hitchens notes in his response to a rather incoherent question about ID, he views it as an “interesting skeptical current” that has been brutally suppressed by British bookstores and publishers. He then mutters about how the Scopes Trial was misrepresented in the movie “Inherit the Wind” (true, but so what?), and decries the “intolerance and rage” of the Darwinists about ID, which, curiously, leads him to believe that ID proponents “might have a point.” His brother Christopher then takes him apart.
Peter’s views on ID are exactly what they were five years ago—a long interval during which he’s had time to examine the “evidence.” Surely “intolerance and rage” of evolutionists about faith-based incursion into science education aren’t sufficient for P. Hitchens to remain sympathetic to ID, are they? As a good journalist, shouldn’t he have looked at the evidence in the interim?. But over those five years, ID arguments have not changed, have gained no more credibility, and the promised “ID research program” has produced—nothing. Surely in 2013 Peter Hitchens could give us a more informed assessment. But he doesn’t: he obviously has read nothing and knows nothing about evolutionary biology, and likes ID simply because it supports his faith.
(The debate, by the way, is worth watching in its entirety. We can once again relive Christopher’s powerful intellect and rhetorical skills, and perhaps get an inkling of why his brother engages in so much post-mortem criticism of the “Christopher Hitchens Fan Club.”)
Peter Hitchens also claims that he is “quite prepared to accept that the theory of evolution by natural selection may be true.” But he was saying that five years ago. I guess that Peter is still in the state of “preparing to accept it.” Well, Mr. P. Hitchens, you’ve had time in the intervening five years to look at the evidence. When will you stop preparing to accept evolution and simply either accept it or reject it?
As for what we mean by “modern theory of evolution,” I’ll lay it out:
- Organisms evolved over time; life on Earth is very different from life millions of years ago
- The lineages of organisms also split, producing new lineages and the present diversity of species on Earth
- That splitting means that all species, living and dead, are related.
- An important means of evolutionary change, and the only evolutionary process that can produce the appearance of design, is natural selection
- Evolutionary change is slow, but the changes we can see in our lifetime, or that occur over decades or centuries (“microevolution”) add up over millions of years to big changes (“macroevolution”). There is no discontinuity in process between micro- and macroevolution.
Those are the parts of modern evolutionary theory that are widely agreed on. Gould and Company disagreed with #5 alone, but their claims that “punctuated equilibrium” is a non-“Darwinian” process, and that macroevolution is not an extrapolation of microevolution, have been soundly refuted. What remains of punctuated equilibrium is the claim of pattern rather than process: that species evolve at uneven rates, with lineages often remaining largely unchanged in morphology. That may well be true, but the reason for that is not that some new, paradigm-busting evolutionary process is involved in macroevolution. Just because Gould and Dawkins disagreed on the evolutionary causes responsible for a “jerky” fossil record in some groups does not mean that one must doubt the fundamental claims of modern evolutionary theory. Did we discard all of quantum mechanics because there’s a disagreement on how to interpret its meaning?
So, Mr. Hitchens, if you want to weigh whether or not to “accept” evolution, I suggest you ponder the five points above—something you apparently haven’t done in the last five years.
Oh, and British publishers and booksellers did not suppress ID. If you look on Amazon.com.uk, you’ll see that the ID book Darwin’s Black Box has been on sale at Amazon UK since 1996, and another well known ID book, Icons of Evolution has been on sale at Amazon UK since 2001. I haven’t looked at other ID books, like Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, but I suspect they were also available in the UK from nearly the beginning. To the extent that British bookstores didn’t carry as many ID books as evolution books, it was probably because of lack of interest and scientific merit, not censorship!
4. The religious nature of intelligent design. This is obvious to anyone who examines the evidence objectively and dispassionately. ID proponents, of course, cannot “openly” declare that it’s religious, as that would defeat their cause of getting it taught in the public schools. (Such teaching is forbidden in the U.S. because the courts—obviously more observant than Peter Hitchens—have descried ID as a religiously-based movement, not as secular science.)
Hitchens asks for references for the religious nature of ID and the “designer” saying that “If the ID theory, which I regard as an interesting sceptical current, has made the open declarations of religious purpose of which it is accused above, could someone please give me the references and quotations? I will answer that. After this, I never want to hear him argue that ID isn’t a religiously-based theory, and that the designer isn’t the Abrahamic God.
What is the evidence that ID is religiously based? There’s plenty. For starters, ID advocates admit it when speaking to a religious audience. I quote from an email by Jason Rosenhouse, an expert on ID and creationism and author of Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Lines:
The usual dodge the ID folks use is to argue that while a Christian would naturally be sympathetic to ID, the fact remains that the science of ID (in their view) only gets you some sort of intelligent designer. Could be a really powerful alien, for all the science can tell you. They generally don’t deny that most of the major ID proponents do, in fact, believe that the designer is the Christian God, but they claim instead that this conclusion goes beyond what the science can say. That’s what they say in public, anyway. When they are speaking to religious audiences they happily burnish ID as a powerful apologetic weapon.
Here’s but one example from Wikipedia about William Dembski, perhaps ID’s most famous spokesman:
Dembski has also spoken of his motivation for supporting intelligent design in a series of Sunday lectures in the Fellowship Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, the last of which took place on Sunday, March 7, 2004. Answering a question, Dembski said it was to enable Yahweh to receive credit for creation.
Dembski has also made this famous statement:(from Wikiquotes):
The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory. (From: Signs of intelligence: understanding intelligent design. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press. 2001).
Phillip Johnson, generally seen as the father of ID, has made it manifestly clear in his writings that ID is an apologetic weapon. The “Wedge Document”, prepared by the Discovery Institute (an ID-creationist “think tank” in Seattle), makes the religious motivation clear (the link in this sentence goes to the document). Note in particular this sentence from the document’s “Five Year Strategic Plan Summary”:
Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.
Any question about who the “designer” is now, Mr. P. Hitchens?
The wedge strategy is a political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and “reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” The strategy also aims to affirm God’s reality. Its goal is to change American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian, namely evangelical Protestant, values. The wedge metaphor is attributed to Phillip E. Johnson and depicts a metal wedge splitting a log to represent an aggressive public relations program to create an opening for the supernatural in the public’s understanding of science.
Need more evidence for the religious nature of ID, Mr. Hitchens? How about this statement from another ID bigwig and Discovery Institute member Jon Wells, an adherent of the Unification Church, explaining why he got his Ph.D. in biology? This is from my review (Nature, 2001) of his ID book Icons of Evolution.
In 1976, Jonathan Wells a student in Moon’s seminary, answered his leader’s call. Wells writes, “Father’s [Moon’s] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me to enter a PhD program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.” The University of California supplied Wells with his weapon, a PhD in biology and, with Icons of Evolution, Wells has fired the latest salvo in the eternal religious assault on Charles Darwin.
Want still more? Here’s an excerpt from the cross examination of ID advocate Michael Behe at the Dover trial on Oct. 18, 2005 (pp. 99-103, I’ve filled in the identities of the discussants):
LAWYER: “ . . . Thus, in my judgment it is implausible that the designer is “a natural entity.” You don’t absolutely rule it out, but you’re not taking it very seriously, are you?
BEHE: Well, I’ve said that quite a number of times. I think I said that at the beginning of my testimony yesterday, that I think in fact from — from other perspectives, that the designer is in fact God. But if you turn back to page 699, there is a section entitled, “Is it possible that the designer is a natural entity?” And I won t quote from it, but I come to the conclusion there that sure it’s possible that it is, but I do not — I myself do not find it plausible.
. . . LAWYER: Now, you’ve said in your testimony today and yesterday you personally believe the designer is God.
LAWYER: And in this article in fact you say for purposes of the discussion I’m going to assume the supernatural entity is God, right?
Then, posted at the site of the National Center for Science Education,we find the famous “Cdesign propnentsists” episode, when Barbara Forrest discovered that the ID textbook Of Pandas and People was simply a thinly-revised version of an earlier creationist textbook. The garbled two words above represented an unsuccessful attempt to replace the word “creationists” with “intelligent design proponents.”
Finally, Mr. P. Hitchens, if you aren’t convinced by all this, read Nick Matzke’s essay in the anthology edited by Michael Ruse and Rob Pennock, But is it Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Science Controversy. There Matzke shows quite clearly that intelligent design was simply a legal strategy devised to replace young-earth creationism after the latter suffered various legal setbacks in the 1980s. If you have any remaining doubts about the religious nature of ID, that should dispel them—assuming, of course, that you have an open mind.
5. “The Christopher Hitchens Fan Club.” P. Hitchens argues that his fans have “no real connection” with Christopher Hitchens, and that is why we (yes, I’m a fan) behave as we do. I’m not sure how our behavior comes from our lack of “real connection” (I suppose P. Hitchens means sharing actual DNA, which he does), but I would argue otherwise. I claim that those of us who share many of Christopher’s views have a more real connection with him than you do. For ours is an intellectual connection—the only kind of connection that Christopher saw as meaningful. It is we, not you, who share his dislike of religion, his love of science and evolution, and his willingness to follow the path of rationality wherever it leads. Yes, Peter Hitchens, you may have his genes, but you don’t have his eloquence, knowledge of science, or inability to shake yourself free from the shackles of superstition. And, unlike your brother, you are intellectually dishonest.
h/t: Jason Rosenhouse, Grania Spingies