Scientists Are Not Anti-Creation

Theology
Science

(John Harshman) #21

I don’t find it plausible for a number of reasons. But neither is there scientific evidence that it didn’t happen, and in principle there could not be. Note: it is not a scientific hypothesis; it’s a theological hypothesis designed not to contradict science. Usefulness? Not to me, but it could be useful in reducing cognitive dissonance between biblical literalism and science, for those who would like to entertain both perspectives. Motivation? Not my problem, but I think the motivation is in reducing that cognitive dissonance.


(Kenneth Turner) #22

@eddie, doesn’t Darrel Falk personally favor some kind of tinkering with the creation of Adam–not to the extent you mention here, but at least in a way that is beyond natural processes? (I’m sorry I can’t recall where I read this, but it stuck in my mind b/c it shocked me. I either read it on BioLogos or heard it from him at a BioLogos conference. Maybe it’s in the new book too.)


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #23

It’s almost if you are routing for them to be intolerant. What does it mean if you just end up being wrong here? What would you learn from it?


(Edward Robinson) #24

Dave:

Again, I agree with your point, so far as it goes. We are simply emphasizing different things.

The “common ground” you are talking about may be valuable for the sake of avoiding certain frictions, but it doesn’t amount to much, theoretically. For even if Genealogical Adam solved the conflict problem for Adam and Eve, there are still hundreds of other miracle stories in the Bible and in other religious texts and traditions which provide potential conflict between science (not limited to evolutionary science) and religion. At some, point, it simply has to be acknowledged that there are a lot of scientists in the world who think that miracles never happened and never will happen, and in my experience there are not a few of them who would say miracles can’t happen (even if no one here makes that claim). All I’m asking Joshua to acknowledge is that there a heck of a lot of scientists out there like that.

Of the secular scientists I know personally, the ones who think belief in miracles is unwarranted, irrational, and detrimental to science, are definitely the majority. I don’t see the point in belaboring what simply an observation on my part any further. If Joshua’s experience is different, all I can say is that the numbers must vary depending on where one is. There is nothing to debate here, if it comes down to “my experience of secular scientists is different from yours.” Both of us may be recording our experiences correctly. What more can be said?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #25

You are going for agreement. I’m going for tolerance. These are very different things.


(Edward Robinson) #26

I agree with you, but not all secular scientists do.

One of the most intelligent (and genial) atheists I ever “met” on the internet was Lou Jost, an evolutionary biologist doing fieldwork in the upper Amazon. Before becoming an evolutionary biologist he had been a theoretical physicist, working and grand questions of matter, energy, the Big Bang, the universe, and everything. He said that admitting any miracles would undermine the reliability of the enterprise of science. I countered that science would not be threatened as long as the universe worked regularly most of the time; operational science could carry on fine if miracles were very rare, and even more so if the age of miracles ended in about the second century (as some Christian theologians hold). He admitted that routine physics, everyday lab physics, could survive with a few miracles that were never likely to occur in a physicist’s lifetime, but insisted (on his authority as a theoretical physicist) that theoretical physics could not allow them, because the structure of theoretical physics is so tight (I’m paraphrasing) that not even God could play around with parts of the universe while holding everything else stable. He told me I needed to understand that theoretical physics is something very close to pure mathematics, and consists of interlocked necessities. You can’t just arbitrarily make the sun stand still or turn water into wine, he argued, without destroying the whole interlocking necessity across the universe. Therefore, he argued, miracles are completely inadmissible (according theoretical physics, which is a natural science, and a prestigious one at that). So he thought that a scientist (theoretical physicist) could know for certain that the Biblical miracles didn’t happen; they didn’t happen because they couldn’t happen. So “science” says that the special creation of Adam and Eve is out.

Do you see the problem here? The internet is filled with the strong opinions of scientists, like yourself, Lou, Larry Moran, Joshua, T. aquaticus, Jerry Coyne, P. Z. Myers, etc., who claim (directly or by implication) to be speaking for “science” and to say what “science” knows or cannot know, etc. Yet those strong opinions sometimes differ. You are saying that Joshua’s position can’t be disproved by science. Lou would say it can be, by the very fact that it allows miracles. I have no reason to think that you are any more competent in scientific practice or accomplishment than Lou is, and presumably he knows theoretical physics better than you do, and I can’t answer his argument from theoretical physics. So do I go with him, or with you?

I’m inclined to go with you, because I have come to a similar conclusion by my own reasoning. But regarding you as an expert on things scientific won’t help me, because Lou is also such an expert. So should I just forget what the experts say and trust my own reasoning, and affirm that science cannot rule out the possibility of miracles? Then what should I answer Lou if he shows up here?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #27

I think the cognitive dissonance is just impossible to sort through for you right now. If all your analysis about ID is correct, Peaceful Science should not exist. At sometime you will have to come to terms with this, it seems.


(Edward Robinson) #28

Exactly. Tolerance is a social virtue, not a theoretical virtue. I’m all for tolerance in social situations – letting different people live differently, vote differently, go to different churches, live together without wedlock, etc., as far as such liberty is consistent with social order. But scholars and scientists are supposed to be uncovering the structure of reality – what is true about nature, about history, about ancient texts, whatever. Some statements about reality are true and some false. In debating such statements, we should take care to be polite and to give the other person a fair hearing. People should be allowed to put forth whatever theses they want. But “tolerance” for flawed ideas and arguments has no bearing in the academic arena. It just doesn’t apply. It’s a social concept that doesn’t belong in the intellectual realm.


(Daniel Ang) #29

Eddie, I’m not sure what your goals of arguing here are. Seems that Josh and you are not that far apart in substance. Of course many atheists regard miracles as impossible, that Scripture is not a reliable source of knowledge, that religious experiences are purely naturalistic psychological phenomena. That’s by definition, otherwise they wouldn’t be atheists. Yet the fact remains that many atheist scientists are aware that some of their colleagues are earnestly religious and don’t have a major problem with that.

Some atheist scientists might even strongly believe that the occurrence of even a single miracle would undermine science. But there’s a difference between believing that, and believing that religious scientists who believe in the possibility of miracles are no longer good scientists. Why is that the case? I suspect that part of that is because deep down, they know that these strong opinions about miracles are not strictly necessitated by the experimental data. They are on a different sort of scientific footing compared to the fact that, say, the g factor of the electron is 2.002 319 304 361 82 (52).

Of course there are a few people with more extreme opinions like Coyne, Dawkins, Stenger and co. who are anti-religion in general. But in that case, Josh’s Genealogical Adam proposal doesn’t really significantly worsen the situation. Even so, they certainly can see the difference between Francis Collins and Ken Ham. Exhibit A: @Patrick here, who is a hard-nosed atheist and admirer of Jerry Coyne, affirms that Josh and Francis Collins are still solid scientists, despite their Christianity.

Thankfully, militant atheists are not the norm in science. They tend to be heard more on the internet, just like creationists seem to be heard more than Francis Collins.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #30

Well that is the issue. This is why ID is not tolerated, but I am. I’m not making bad arguments. That is the key piece.

Even the militant atheists have been kind to me.


(Edward Robinson) #31

Thanks, Kenneth. Jon Garvey and I have followed Falk’s various statements for years, often to our bewilderment, but here is the closest I can give you to a full and clear account of what he has said on BioLogos (whatever he might have said elsewhere).

Falk always has allowed that God could tinker with the evolutionary process, supplementing natural causes with supernatural nudges. But the general impression he has left is that he thinks there is no evidence that God has ever done that, because Darwinian mechanisms (in his view) adequately account for all of macroevolution without such extra involvement.

However, a few years ago, before I was banned from BioLogos, a Christian scientist who knew Darrel personally, reported on his website that he knew that some of the scientists at BioLogos, despite their tendency to portray God as “hands off” in evolution, privately believed that God did some tinkering, but withheld that opinion due to pressure from a “BioLogos orthodoxy.” I can’t remember whether he named Falk publicly, but I wrote to him and Falk’s name came up. Anyhow, I posted a link to the claims on BioLogos, and it caused a furor behind the scenes (I imagine that the moderators Brad and Jim were particularly pissed off with me for opening the can of worms; they were always pissed off at me, by a kind of Pavlovian reflex). Eventually Falk heard about it, and made a public statement, admitting that he had talked to the other scientist, but saying that the other scientist had misunderstood him. He denied that he had ever told this scientist that he secretly affirmed “tinkering” or experienced pressure from BioLogos, and he repeated his former consistent public stance, i.e., that God, being free, can create any way he wants, and could if he chose supplement natural causes with special interventions, but that he, Falk, saw nothing as a biologist that would indicate that God had done so. In essence, this was exactly the position consistently taken by Dennis Venema during his whole tenure at BioLogos.

On the other hand, I have been told by someone who knows the American TE/EC scene intimately (in fact, likely knows it better than anyone else on the planet), that both at BioLogos and in other places (e.g., the ASA), there are many TE scientists who privately believe that God is involved in evolution not just in sustaining natural laws but in special interventions. They don’t often make this belief public, my source said, but it is the belief that they hold. So the Venema/Falk position isn’t necessarily the only position held by BioLogos people – but you never hear anyone officially affiliated with BioLogos utter the alternate position.

I know my source is well-informed and I know he is not a liar. Therefore, I regard it as certain that some TE/EC leaders, at BioLogos and/or in the ASA, deliberately withhold their belief that God “tinkers” or miraculously steers the course of evolution at some points.

This leaves unanswered the question why, if they truly believe that, they don’t have the courage to say it, on BioLogos and everywhere else. I can’t answer that on an individual basis, because I don’t know all the personal quirks of the individuals involved. But it’s a very reasonable inference that if these evangelical scientists are feeling pressure not to say they think God tinkers, it is because they fear the ridicule of secular scientist colleagues who are convinced that God never does. Why else would they hold back their belief? Who else would object to it? I can’t imagine the average butcher or florist or bus driver or nurse in their churches would object to giving God a “hands-on” role in evolution.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #32

Because just about everyone misjudged my secular colleagues as intolerant? I’m telling you that you got it wrong here. Scientists are tolerant of religious belief. Just don’t make dumb science arguments, and they treat you with respect.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #33

OR, because we don’t expect science to detect God’s tinkering, and Darwinism is dead any ways.


(Dave Carlson) #34

The main point is that Josh isn’t claiming that GA is a scientific idea. Most secular scientists are not going to get up in arms regarding an attempt to reconcile evolution and scripture that we don’t personally agree with if it’s not seen as an intrusion into the scientific sphere. Like Josh alluded to before, it’s not hard to tolerate ideas you may disagree with when they’re not doing any harm. Moreover, GA may have the potential to actually be helpful if it removes one reason that some folks have for rejecting evolution.

Not every atheist may see it that way, but we’re an ideologically and temperamentally diverse bunch.


(Edward Robinson) #35

I agree with all of this, Daniel. If Joshua had stated clearly what you said in your third sentence, we could have ended this sooner. But I get the strong feeling that he is resisting your generalization (which is also mine). Maybe it’s just his oblique way of writing (I’m in favor of the more direct approach), but he seems to be saying that I have grossly overestimated the number of scientists who are atheist/agnostic, and I don’t think that I have.

Most of the rest of your post I completely agree with.

The other point I objected to was merely a small one: he said that the Genealogical Adam thesis was faring well “in science.” I said that was a huge and unsafe generalization, given that the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists haven’t yet even heard of it. But that is a small point, and not worth extended argument. He could at least have granted it, though.


#36

I am an atheist and admirer of all three of them - Collins, Swamidass and Coyne. Why is that odd as I really don’t judge a person on his/her religion/beliefs? That to me wouldn’t be right. I also don’t judge people based on race, color, national origin, gender, sexual preference or whether they play golf or not.


(Edward Robinson) #37

I’m describing the action of cowardly TE scientists, not my own approach. I would shout to the rooftops if my view was that God intervened in evolution, and if secular scientists told me I was a scientific incompetent for believing that, I would tell them to go climb their thumbs.

I think I’m describing the TEs’ behavior correctly, and I’ve been interacting closely with the TE leaders for many years.

You’re saying the TE leaders should never have feared the reproach of the secular scientists. Well, tell that to Francis Collins, whose appointment to the NIH was originally opposed, or loudly groused about, by Jerry Coyne. Coyne said that no one who could believe a man rose from the dead should be the head of a publicly funded scientific organization. (I paraphrase.) So the attitude that Christian scientists are smart when they do good science, but dumb when they affirm miracles, is out there, whether you care to admit it or not.

I never said they weren’t “tolerant” in the civil, political sense of allowing or permitting religious belief among their colleagues. But many of them think that other scientists who hold those religious beliefs are brain-dead – with respect to those religious beliefs, that is. That is, they privately think and say things like, “Gee, that Francis Collins is a good geneticist; too bad he believes all that unscientific rubbish about Jesus rising from the dead.” I have met scientists who talk and think this way. Are you denying that any such scientists exist? If not, just say, “Yes, there are lots of such scientists around,” and we can be done with this trivial discussion.

The bigger issue, the elephant in the room, is that Genealogical Adam, whatever its merits, puts a finger in only one hole of the dike. There are lots of other holes to be plugged. I grant entirely that you can produce some atheist scientists who will not openly challenge Genealogical Adam, because it stays away from denying genetic science. But what if somewhere else on the science/theology front, a challenge arises that isn’t amenable to such a peacekeeping approach? What if there is an area where science and theology can’t agree to walk peacefully on the other side of the road from each other? In such areas, the “tolerance” model is useless. In such areas, the truth has to be determined, and one side will end up wrong, the other right. I predict that if and when such things come up, the atheist friends who are now giving Christians no trouble over Genealogical Adam will give Christians trouble – will ask them to abandon or modify particular Christian doctrines in order to agree with scientific conclusions, and will mock them and declare them ignoramuses if they don’t comply. You have found one fortunate area where the disagreement is neutralized, but that may not always be the case; in fact, it is likely that it won’t often be the case.

I’m not advocating abandoning Genealogical Adam. I’m merely saying I think you are far too sanguine about what the lack of overt opposition to the idea means. I’m glad atheists aren’t tearing it apart. I don’t trust them to act in the same way in all cases in the future.


Did Eddie Need to Apologize to Coyne?
Did Coyne Oppose Collins as NIH Director?
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #38

Don’t you know that many have come after me one by one, to find out what I am putting forward is solid? They come in swinging, thinking I am a YEC, then find out they are getting schooled on science.

Of course atheists will opposite before they understand it. The point is that it is good solid science, even if you don’t believe in miracles. It is a Theological hypothesis, but it isn’t coupled to dumb arguments.


(Edward Robinson) #39

I have never expressed any doubt that your genetics is solid. If you win the day with the geneticists, my hat is off to you. My point is that the temporary favor you are in with atheist scientists may not last, when religion/science questions other than Genealogical Adam come up. Be prepared for a cold shock down the road.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) split this topic #40

2 posts were split to a new topic: Did Coyne Oppose Collins as NIH Director?