Well, I never thought I’d see the day when Karl Giberson criticized the Scopes Trial as a waste of time, an unwarranted incursion of scientific carpetbaggers into a sleepy Southern town best left to its own business.
But in his latest PuffHo piece, “Teaching about God and science revisited,” that’s exactly what Karl says. Giberson draws a parallel between the activities of people like me and the lawyers of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in trying to prevent creationism from being taught at Ball State University (BSU), and “carpetbaggers” like Clarence Darrow and other members of the defense and prosecution in Dayton, Tennessee. As he says,
The situation at Ball State is reminiscent of the Scopes Trial, where a tiny non-event in Dayton, Tennessee, was enlarged by early 20th century culture warriors — Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan — into an unhelpful national distraction that provided nothing but entertainment.
Non-event? Really, Karl: do you think that the Scopes trial provided nothing but entertainment?
It is statements like this that make me think Karl has completely lost the plot. When the Scopes trial is taught today, it’s not seen as pure entertainment. True, there there were entertaining aspects of the trial, as when Bryan complained that the evolutionists had man descending “not even from American monkeys, but Old World monkeys.” Or when a flustered Bryan, subject to a withering cross-examination by Clarence Darrow about whether he believed in Biblical tales like Jonah and the large fish (yes, the defense lawyer cross-examined the prosecution lawyer), said, “I do not think about things I don’t think about.”
But the Scopes Trial was far more than entertainment. It was a watershed moment in American culture: the first nationally-publicized clash between Christian fundamentalism and emerging evolutionary science. And although Scopes lost (he did violate the law by teaching about human evolution), in the end the prosecution—the creationists—were the real losers. For they came out looking scientifically ignorant and reactionary, due largely to the scathing reportage of H. L. Mencken. (Go have a look at some of Mencken’s hilarious pieces here.)
Because creationists in effect lost a nationally publicized trial, the Scopes case was certainly “helpful” in promulgating science. Does Giberson seriously think that the reams of analysis written about Scopes rest solely on its entertainment value?
Anyway, Karl, who is clearly conflicted by the Hedin case (he doesn’t like ID but is an evangelical Christian), says other dubious things in his PuffHo piece, and I have neither the heart nor the time to discuss them. In fact, they’re self-refuting, so I’ll just give a few excepts and my brief reactions:
However, I also reject the atheist claim that there is no room for discussion of God at the “boundaries of science,” as the beleaguered Dr. Hedin is trying to do. Coyne and the atheists simply don’t understand — or at least pretend to not understand — that such discussions are not necessarily religious. Nor do they understand the depth of the arguments thoughtful philosophers continue to make for the existence of God. The non-existence of God is far from a settled truth.
Discussion of God as involved in the universe isn’t necessarily religious? How can that be? And doesn’t Giberson know that Hedin’s class was a required science class (actually one of three on offer to fulfill honors students’ science requirement), not a philosophy or religion class?
As for the “depth of argument thoughtful philosophers continue to make for the existence of god,” that is arrant nonsense. There are no deep arguments, because there is no evidence for God. Which “thoughtful philosophers” are Giberson thinking of? Alvin Plantinga? John Haught? Paul Tillich? Karen Armstrong? Please, Karl, tell me which philosophers have made deep and thoughtful arguments for God.
There is in fact no new evidence for God unless Karl wants to believe the ID arguments (which he doesn’t) or the “fine-tuning” argument, which I don’t think he buys either. The non-existence of God may not be 100% certain,but I’m happy with 99.23%. I wonder if Karl could give us his figure. To my mind, the non-existence of God is as settled a truth as the non-existence of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or the china teapot orbiting the Earth.
Karl adds this:
The “God” invoked at the “boundary” of science, of course, is not the God of Christianity or any religion for that matter. This “Boundary God” is the God of deism and deism is aggressively rejected by Christianity: “Deism is belief in God based on reason and nature. The differing alleged revelations of the various revealed religions are conspicuously absent from Deism.”
In Hedin’s class the “God” invoked was clearly the Abrahamic god, not some Hindu monkey god. For crying out loud, one of Hedin’s three textbooks was explicitly Christian, and had a picture of a cross on the cover, while another other was explicitly Jewish, trying to comport science with the Old Testament. In both cases Hedin’s textbook God was personal and interactive, not deistic. Has Karl been paying attention to the contents of Hedin’s class. Did he see that book by C. S. Lewis on the reading list?
More from Giberson:
Exploring the question of whether a transcendent intelligence of some sort might be a better explanatory foundation for the world that we encounter than a purely mindless materialism is not a religious quest in any traditional sense. No religion could possibly be built on such a foundation. It seems to me that such an exploration would be akin to asking whether humans are better understood as “minds” that work top-down or “brains” that work bottom-up. Science roots for “brains,” of course, but there is certainly wiggle room in this conversation.
The notion that the existence of a “transcendent intelligence” behind the universe is not a religious question is idiotic. And plenty of religions have that idea as part of their foundation, but of course not their complete foundation.
Anyway, such an “exploration” should occur in a religion or philosophy class, not in the one science class that Honors students at BSU have to take. And about that “wiggle room”—there isn’t any, for there are no observations about science that require us to invoke a divine mind. By “wiggle room,” Giberson simply means this: “I want to believe in God, so I’ll try to fit God in anywhere that science can’t yet provide a materialistic explanation.”
Finally, here’s why, says Giberson, carpetbaggers like me and the FFRF should ride out of Muncie:
Let me speculate and reiterate why I think Hedin’s critics should back down. The minority agnostics in Hedin’s class are going to feel left out, just as southern evangelicals at Harvard or Brandeis might feel left out or Muslim students at almost any university. The minority agnostics will be socially disconnected from their largely Christian classmates who love having the professor on “their” side, even though Hedin is not promoting their shared religion in class. So the agnostic reaches outside the university for allies and ends up with some major culture warriors on his or her side — people looking for occasions to assault religion — or something close enough that they can pretend is religion.
This paragraph is complete opaque to me. I see no argument here for why Hedin’s critics should back down. Do you?
First of all, we know that Hedin is promoting the shared Christian religion in his class. There is plenty of evidence for that. The idea of the First Amendment is that nobody should feel left out—certainly not in a science class. Our intention has never been to assault religion, but to keep it out of the science classroom, particularly the public science classroom. That is simply reinforcing the U.S. Constitution. Our other aim is (and I presume Karl agrees) to keep intelligent design from being taught as respectable science.
Would Giberson feel the same way if Christians objected because Hedin was pushing a Muslim view of creationism in his classroom, and saying things like “Of course Allah was the creator. Do you think some God who can’t even decide if he’s a father, a son, or a see-through spirit could create a universe?”
Giberson wants to have his cake and eat it too. He objects to ID being taught in science classes because it’s a scientifically unsupported theory derived from religion; but when it is taught, and secular people object, Giberson tells the secularists to back off. What were we supposed to do given BSU’s initial refusal to even examine the issue?
Giberson seems to have no idea what he’s talking about. In fact, the whole article looks as if he’s confused, caught between his evangelic Christianity and his antipathy to ID, and is trying to work out his thoughts in a public essay. I’d urge him to bring coherence to his ideas before he publishes them.