Replies to Commentators on Mere Theistic Evolution

In this essay we respond to the comments of Tom McCall, William Lane Craig, and Stephen C. Meyer on mere theistic evolution.

A general comment: I don’t really see why Stephen C. Meyer is invited to participate on any panel that aspires to legitimate scholarly discussion. He clearly has not earned a spot.

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Possibly because he was one of the editors of Theistic Evolution, the book that started this whole ball rolling.

Oh, and I now see that issue is somewhat alluded to:

One last thing. I think that one thing you hear from Meyer and many of those who are part of the intelligent design movement is that they feel that their arguments are unfairly excluded because they’re not willing to drink the naturalist’s Kool-Aid. To some extent I think that’s true. There are certainly people who don’t give them a fair shake. You can read reviews of their work in scientific venues that clearly are not giving them a fair hearing, and probably not giving them a fair hearing because the ID folks haven’t drunk the naturalist’s Kool-Aid.

No, Meyer is dismissed mainly because he habitually makes statements regarding scientific fields, in which he has no expertise, that are absurdly and obviously wrong, yet refuses to correct these. In that respect, I would agree that he is not being given a fair hearing, but not in quite the way that the authors mean. By involving Meyer in legitimate scholarly discussions it helps promote the misconception that Meyer is a legitimate scholar and therefore makes it more likely that people will be misled by his propaganda. He should be treated in the same manner as someone like Ken Ham or Kent Hovind would be. I never see them invited to some scholarly panel.

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I think that in this we see the success, and the real danger to our culture, of the ID Creationist movement.

Creationism has always been about fooling rubes. But the DI recognized, at some point, that the classic “I ain’t kin to no monkey” rube simply doesn’t have a lot of money to spare. Meth is expensive, and the taxes on chaw have been rising, too.

Stephen Meyer’s dishonesty is of a higher grade. His books are written carefully to address an audience which is somewhat literate in general terms but illiterate in science, and which isn’t sharp when it comes to spotting mountebankery. And who falls right in his wheelhouse? People who debate propositions like “theistic evolution” are the ideal mark. They elevate pure, non-evidence-grounded speculations about the divine to a sort of comical simulacrum of an intellectual pursuit. They uniformly fail to appreciate that there is simply no point at all in discussing what gods, monsters and vampires want, or how they would or wouldn’t create life or universes or bicycles, unless one knows something, in more than a speculative “what-if-these-fairy-stories-from-the-Bronze-and-Iron-ages-were-true” sense, about what those gods, monsters and vampires are like, what sorts of things they characteristically do, and what sorts of things they are known to have done.

And so here you have Stephen Meyer’s ideal mark: someone who is literate in a general sense, and woefully naive about everything bearing upon science. Someone who has never seen a hypothesis burst upon the rocks of contrary data. Someone who, poor dear, thinks that thinking about things which you have NO reliable data about is somehow worthwhile, and thinks that what you produce when you do it will be of use, somehow, to someone.

Now, why shouldn’t Stephen Meyer be invited to a scholarly panel? There are lots of good reasons. But the kind of people who convene a panel to discuss this sort of topic are precisely the kind of people who could never, never understand any of them.

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The phrase “reviews of their work” is pretty silly, as Meyer hasn’t done anything resembling scientific work. I’m not denying that there’s work involved in fooling people, though.

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Not naming names, but might you mean someone who would defend one of Meyer’s most blatant falsehoods for months without bothering to learn what is false about it?

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There’s not MUCH work, though, in fooling the kind of people who speak of such things as “the naturalists’ Kool-Aid.” What Kool-Aid, pray tell, is that? Bearing in mind that the reference here is to the mass suicide of the Jim Jones cult, I’m guessing it’s supposed to be quite the drink.

But, of course, it’s not. It’s the kind of “Kool-Aid” that consists of propositions like “if you want your views on questions of fact to be taken seriously, you should probably have some evidence that suggests they are correct.” Or “phenomena in the physical world can be evaluated to determine what conditions cause them to occur, and what happens as a result of them.” Or “theories about biology which make sense only if one first adopts a series of poorly evidenced propositions arising from Bronze-age folklore are not to be given priority over other theories which, instead, make sense in light of the data.” It’s THAT kind of Kool-Aid.

Now, Kool-Aid is really not the name for that, in my opinion. As a fan of traditional British beer who would never turn down the chance to discuss actual biology with an actual biologist in an ancient pub over a pint of Wadworth’s 6X, I would propose that it is the “Naturalists’ Real Ale.” Emphasis, in both senses, upon the “Real.”

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I think a large part of the problem is that both Murray and Churchill appear to be Philosophers of Religion with, it would appear, at-best superficial exposure to actual science. I think that this meant that they would be less-than-well-prepared to defend the scientific aspects of a position on “Mere Theistic Evolution” was foreseeable. As it turns out this made it easy for Meyer (who, for all his crimes-against science, is a philosopher of science by training, and therefore likely the most familiar-with-science of the trio) to outflank them on the scientific side, and makes it difficult for them to provide a scientifically-literate response.

I think the conclusion here is that, given the subject material, they should have included a philosopher of science and/or a theist evolutionary biologist in their project.

I have to wonder how much of the ‘Science and Religion’ field comes from philosophers of religion and/or theologians, with superficial exposure to science.

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I agree, but you do not go far enough. I think they should have realized that, having no knowledge of biology, they themselves had absolutely nothing to say about evolution (theistic or otherwise) that was worthy of anyone’s attention – even their own.

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Let me know when you stop the universe from moving. :smiley:

Because I think you’ve got a better chance of doing that than keeping people from wanting to venture an opinion on subjects they are thoroughly less-than-well-informed on. Getting them to collaborate with people who can fill in their areas of ignorance seems, at least to me, as a slightly more practical solution to this intractable problem.

I have to ask if science isn’t more important to religion, than religion is to science, that philosophers of religion seem far more concerned about portraying religion as scientifically respectable, than philosophers of science are with portraying science as religiously respectable.

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Ha! Indeed. Will do.

I find it really surprising that religious philosophers/theologians/necromancers/hillbilly prophets and their allied professions do appear to think they have something to say relative to human origins. They really don’t. Where we came from is not a question of how one feels about it, and it’s certainly not a question on which ancient speculations or folklore can shed any light. The only question people in those lines of work can legitimately answer is “how much of this did our traditions get wrong, and why?”

But, yes. Getting them to listen to people who actually do know something about these things is a start. And it bears mentioning that there are a lot of Christians who understand this, and who do not think that their traditions have any bearing upon what science tells us. But they are not the loudest voices in the room. They’re not even the loudest voices in the Capitol – whether during the course of ordinary business or of insurrection.

That may be. I think, in part, the answer lies in the fact that so much of prominent religion is so morally odious that nobody who is not stuck deep in it could wish to be respected by it. Who, for example, could possibly wish to be “respected” by William Lane Craig, or Albert Mohler, or Franklin Graham? What sorry creature would not see that respect as an insult-by-embrace?

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In my video debate with @Ahmed_AbdelSattar I tried to broach this issue in a different way, though not very successfully, by raising the question of whether the biological origins of our physical bodies is even pertinent to the issues that religion and theology are meant to address. If our essence is found in our immaterial soul, then this soul could just as easily have been added to the body of a chimpanzee or an alligator or a fruit fly or whatever. I believe @swamidass is trying to make a similar point with GAE.

In that regard, we have the odd situation in which the ID Creationists take the same position as atheistic evolutionists like Dawkins, Coyne and PZ Myers i.e. that acceptance of theism is not compatible with acceptance of evolution, and one has to choose between the two.

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I guess the thing is that there are people who think that these are PRECISELY the issues religion is meant to address. Those are the people who are the targets of much of what the so-called “New Atheists” wrote about, and they fit very well the Sam Harris notion that religions are “failed sciences.” I’m not a Sam Harris fan in general, but that designation DOES accurately characterize the religion of one hell of a lot of people.

The more frustrating point is when people object to those types of characterizations and insist that they have a more sophisticated theology, and then, when they think nobody is looking, start making the claim that their religion is relevant to issues like how humanity originated, et cetera. My sense is that it’s like inscrutability of the gods: it’s not what believers mostly actually believe, because if they really did they’d be deists. Rather, it’s what they say they believe when they wish OTHERS would not scrutinize their beliefs. Gods are scrutable as all heck when you’re reading the Bible and figuring out what you think it means and muttering to yourself about how obviously very, very, very, very true it all is, and completely inscrutable when someone says you’re wrong.

I don’t think I see GAE that way. I think he’s saying that if we make the empirical claim (creation de novo of two people at an unknown point in the past, with no necessity that this leaves any discernible evidence in any population anywhere) small and inconspicuous enough, we can render it untestable by science, and that this then allows us to believe what we want. I find that solution mostly a kind of not-a-solution, in that there is no reason to believe that the thing claimed actually happened, so while one “may” believe it, all possibility of having a reason “to” believe it has now vanished in a puff of reason. I’d hate to find myself saying, “well, okay, there’s no reason to believe what I do, but there’s a tradition of believing it and a round of folkloric tales around it, so I believe it.” If I’m gonna do that, I’d rather believe the miracle tales in Viking sagas, which are more pleasant anyhow.

I’m not entirely sure that any of them actually say that. It seems to me, though it’s been a long time since I read Dawkins, that his whole issue was with theism which denied evolution – he would, I think, admit that if one has a scrutiny-evasive theology which makes no empirical claims contrary to evolution, then that theology is compatible with evolution. He wouldn’t find anything to believe in it, and he wouldn’t subscribe to it, but I don’t think he’d say that such a belief is incompatible with evolution. I’m not very familiar with Coyne’s views on religion. PZ Myers has said all kinds of things over the years, so I suppose he may have said that somewhere along the way.

But, you know, speaking for myself rather than for them: I find these complex epistemological structures which allow one to choose one from column A and two from column B a bit bullshitty at times. I think that so long as we are thinking in the world of facts as opposed, say, to values and morals, there really isn’t room for more than one kind of epistemology to live in the same person’s head. I think that may be the one thing which I agree with some of the YECs on. When people start to talk about poetic, cultural, spiritual or methamphetamine-driven truths, I tend to think that all of those things may make sense in their own context but they are not even close to being the same stuff as facts. Facts have a 360-degree engagement with external reality, not just some kind of perceived internal consistency, and that sets them apart.

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By the way, if this was the debate I viewed, I have to say that to whatever extent you were unsuccessful, it largely was the product of constant interruptions which seemed designed not so much to make a point (he really didn’t have points to make) as to prevent you from making one. I thought you conducted yourself very well, and found myself wishing there were a moderator who could tell him to sit down for a minute and let you finish a sentence or two.

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