@Eddie, you have a lot to say, and much of it is important. You are also very verbose, and I am not sure many people are reading you fully. Here is my questions. I am hoping you can answer briefly and concisely. This will help me understand you.
Can you make a list of the 3 to 5 things that you think are most important for the Peaceful Science community to know? This might be topics that come up frequently, things you feel you must repeatedly correct, or some other insight you think might be most helpful to us. This last one might be most useful. What do you think would be most important for us to understand crystal clear from you to really enable our success?
Your natural instinct is to be verbose. Here I want something different. Please clearly indicate which question you are answering, and limit each of your answers to 200 words or less. Think of this as a game of golf. The lower the number of words the better.
I also ask that everyone hold off till @eddie and I can go back and forth a bit. @eddie, please think about “evergreen” issues, not specific annoyances you are feeling right this second. Focus on things you informed by the last several months, or even years, of knowing me and watching this effort.
I’ll compromise with you. I’ll make each point 200 words or less.
First Question: Things I think the Peaceful Science community should know about ID, and should know about my position in order to interpret my posts properly:
While the majority of ID people are anti-evolution (in the fullest sense, from bacterium to man), many of them affirm, or are open to, evolution in that extended sense. And that includes some of the most prolific authors, Behe and Denton, the latter heavily promoted by Discovery. So the charge that ID per se is anti-evolutionary is false.
ID per se is a theory of design detection, and in itself has nothing to do with what should be taught in public school science. Some ID proponents are heavily involved in public school science debates, and Discovery as an organization has been involved in such disputes, but ID as such is a theoretical position on the causes of biological (and cosmic) order, not a political movement (even if the DI sometimes acts politically). All one has to do is read the works of Denton to see that ID arguments can be completely separated from American debates about high school science classes. There is no political or cultural stuff in any of his books.
Discovery repeatedly advised Dover not to to ahead with its science policy. Discovery may be guilty of other things, but not the Dover policy. Discovery’s policy about ID in the schools is that it should not be mandated until such time as ID is more accepted in mainstream science and more high school teachers know enough about ID to teach it properly. If some fundamentalists are calling for ID to be taught as an alternative to evolution in the science curriculum, they aren’t speaking for ID, or even for Discovery – or for me!
I personally am not opposed to evolution, not even from bacterium to man; nor do I think that evolutionary means are incompatible with God’s ends, or against the teaching of the Bible. I don’t read Genesis 1-3 as a news report from 4004 B.C. I think there is some figurative language in the Garden story, and I think that Genesis 1 is cosmological (in the original sense) rather than cosmogonic (in the sense of rivalling the Big Bang or some other theory) – about the structure and order of the world, not about the physical steps by which it emerged. So imputations of fundamentalist, anti-evolutionary motives to me are completely out of place.
I don’t personally care whether or not anyone here accepts ID, and I intend to make no detailed arguments about irreducible complexity, information theory, etc. All those arguments are better made by others. I do care that ID is fairly represented, and not mischaracterized. So generally, if someone says, “I don’t think design is necessary to produce a flagellum,” I won’t enter the debate, certainly not in any detail, but if someone mischaracterizes what Behe says about the flagellum, I will. I will ask “show me where he says this” questions.
Second Question: What Will Help Peaceful Science Succeed?
That depends on Peaceful Science’s goals. I would like to see them more clearly defined. It is not that the statements offered so far are unclear, but that more is desired.
If Peaceful Science’s goal is to bring atheists, creationists, IDers, TEs, etc. together into one big happy family regarding origins questions, there is a problem. The atheists (at least those who are doctrinaire atheists) will join hands with you in demanding “good science,” but they won’t really be interested in harmonizing science with Christian faith, or any theistic faith. So while I have nothing against atheists personally (some of my best friends are atheists), and have nothing against atheists contributing facts and arguments here, and pointing out scientific errors made by some Christians, I have not figured out what purpose they are to serve in the overall architecture of Peaceful Science. I need more understanding on this point.
If Peaceful Science’s goal is to come up with a better synthesis of Christianity and good science than others have so far come up with, then I think it has a chance of success, because all Christians share certain things in common. Consensus will still be tough to achieve, but there is a common basis for dialogue – belief in God, and belief that the Bible is (in some sense) true. That doesn’t mean atheists can’t play a key role in PS discussions. In Lewis’s Space Trilogy, the unbeliever (agnostic?) MacPhee is a valued part of the good guys’ side, but the overall goal of the group is Christian. I’m not saying that anyone here should have to accept that Christianity is true, but only that if the purpose of PS is to achieve a Christian synthesis, then non-Christians and anti-Christians who participate will have to accept that, and not constantly buck against it.
A practical point follows. When YEC and OEC folks read PS exchanges, how will they interpret the strong presence of atheist scientists who vigorously reject design in nature? Will they be turned off? Will this deter some of them from wanting to engage with PS? I don’t know the answer to this; I’m just pointing it out as a possible concern.
Now, I am going to reply in a series of posts, one for each point, with an analysis, and a suggestion of how we handle it going forward. @eddie, I expect you to reply to them as you see fit, but here are the rules:
All responses less than 200 words.
Do not mix issues. Stay 100% on topic, only responding to a single of my posts.
If this ends being productive, we will split this thread in to multiple threads, each one focused on a single issue raised.
Going forward, you can and should link to this threads when you think they are relevant, rather than reiterating ad nausea in future exchanges.
I hope this sounds like a good plan to you.
(S. Joshua Swamidass)
Split this topic
This is a very good question. You are certainly not the only one asking this question. Let me several reason why I think secular scientists are important in Peaceful Science. “Secular,” also, is a more neutral term than “atheist,” and should generally be preferred. I also point out that the particular brand of “atheist” that is finding their home here are scientists.
Secular scientists here are evidence we are finding a public confessional voice in the scientific world. All corners of origins are seeking a public voice on faith, and they each have different theories of how that voice arises. I publicly explain why I am a Christian, pointing to the evidence of the Resurrection, and I am tolerated and even at times celebrated by secular scientists. Without seeing, most would not even believe this was possible. This is a better way forward than the current impasse. This is a better way forward, and the atheists in community with us are evidence of this.
Secular scientists are drawn to the grand questions too. Origins brings us to grand questions, such as: what does it mean to be human? We should expect people of all stripes to congregate here, because all sorts of people are drawn to the grand questions alongside us. Just like everyone else, scientists are drawn to these questions too.
Secular scientists here are critical allies. Some atheists (and secular) scientists are very intent on finding a harmonization between Christianity and science, for the purpose of serving the common good. They want to remove barriers for religious folk in engaging with mainstream science, and they value what we are doing here. I hope Peaceful Science could be a base camp for scientists of all stripes that seek to effectively engage the religious public with mainstream science. Wouldn’t it be great, for example, if the next “Richard Dawkins” respects religious belief, even if he is an atheist, as he or she promotes good science? That is what I am hoping for, along with others.
Secular scientists have been neglected in the conversation. Origins (to a Christian) is usually primarily either (1) an internal Church debate, or (2) a challenge to mainstream science. I’m not interested in either really. I’m more interested in how we can live together, across disagreements, in a common society. My theory, my hypothesis, is that we can all gather around the grand questions, and that we all have stories to tell, including secular scientists. I do not want to turn them away, or ignore them.
Secular scientists here are a critical Red Team, that ensure I’m putting forward ideas that are not scientific incorrect or offensive to my colleagues. Moreover, some of the ideas I put forward initially seem “out there.” They need to question me on the particulars before they can be sure I’m not wrong, and I need to ruthlessly shed my bad arguments. This is a critical check I need. I am looking for room in the mainstream account of science, from within mainstream science, and not as a challenge to mainstream science.
Engaging science requires engaging with secular scientists, because most scientist are secular. Science is embodied in scientists. The origins debate is driven by theories of science engagement, and their engagement with atheist scientists is telling. For example, AIG is arguing for a Christian’s to run society, and take it back from atheists. ID (the movement) is connected to conservative politics and also wants to reclaim science from “atheists.” In contrast, RTB and BioLogos both see atheists as colleagues and friends. RTB has tried but struggled to connect with secular biologists, and BioLogos has invested no effort in engaging them. I, however, think that secular biologists are the missing peace to solve the challenges here.
It is right to welcome secular scientists with hospitality. Many atheists have been injured by Christians. I want them here so we can undo some of the damage. I will treat them with utmost respect. I will hear them out. I will even apologize for the wrong done to them, especially if they are still angry about it. This is what it means, at least for me, to follow Jesus. Even if secular scientists were not helpful to our mission (but they are), I would welcome them with hospitality. This is the right thing to do.
Will there be costs to including them here? Perhaps. Some people will distrust me just because I get along with secular scientists. I am playing the long game here. We have already seen how some are appalled by the fact that I “eat with sinners.” In response, I would not that I also face the opposite criticism of associating with ID advocates, calling them my friends. Some secularists (not usually scientists) are also appalled that I “eat with sinners.” I suppose I am, now, willing to pay that price. Perhaps I am even without a choice in the matter. I’m not sure I would be acting with integrity if I disassociated from either secular or ID scientists, even though I both do not agree with either atheism or ID.
Ultimately, there is an overwhelming advantage to working from within mainstream science, while also doing the difficult work of following Jesus. We are just getting started. YEC has had about 60 years to have a go at it. ID has had about 25 years. BioLogos had a 10 year go at it, and still has not engaged with secular scientists. Give me and Peaceful Science, which includes you, give us 15 years. Let us see who gets farther at that point.
If we come together now, I think we can do much better.
(In this case, please keep all responses to 200 words max each).
And, with Thanksgiving in mind, I want to let everyone on the forum know that I am thankful for you this year. It has been an interesting ride, a helpful experiment, to start this forum. I am glad you are here.
All I would say is that when Christians are seeking an understanding of God’s relationship to his creation, it’s distracting constantly to have to argue the toss against those pouring scorn on the very idea. I don’t usually find it helpful to ask my neighbours in for a family discussion.
Another reason why Christians (and other believers) should want secular scientists to engage here at PS is that it is an opportunity to improve their opinion of Christianity and Christians. Just as with atheists, sometimes the most spotlight-grabbing members of the Christian community are very extreme in one way or another and don’t represent most members of the group very well. Because of this (and because of some very specific political organizing by the “Christian right”), many in the scientific community have very low opinion of Christians and don’t think they have much to offer when it comes to the big questions of life. PS and BL are an opportunity for secular scientists to observe Christians wrestling with big questions in a thoughtful, non-idealogical, and evidence-driven way. That’s great PR for Christians and helps to undercut the mistrust that has built. Even more powerful is when Christians here say offensive things to atheists and their fellow Christians step up to defend the atheists and rebuke their fellow believers for their close-mindedness. Again, great PR and strikes a blow against the “us vs. them” mindset that is too common on both sides.
If you want to use science in seeking an understanding of your God’s relationship to the world, it is very important to stick with MN because that is how science does it. After you understand (and accept) the science as provisional truth, you can then determine your own personal understanding of how your God is related to the world. Beliefs are a personal choice.
The atheists (at least those who are doctrinaire atheists) …
We could have weeks of argument over just what “doctrinaire atheists” is supposed to mean, but that would be off-topic.
In response to B1: All science is an excerize in methodological naturalism*. It doesn’t matter if you are atheist or YEC, or anywhere in between. I have worked with hundreds of scientists and the question of religion never comes up unless it is a data point relative to the question of interest. The closest I have come to a matter of belief was in helping to design a study on the effect of homoepathic remedies (on plants).
* I am aware that @swamidass disagrees with the term, but i haven’t got a better one.
Bravo! More importantly Just as important, Christians have been injured by Christians. Some of those are driven to become atheists, which is beside the point. That kind of abuse shouldn’t be happening in the first place, and certainly not in the name of religion.
I do not feel threatened by religion. I don’t think religion is in the slightest bit threatened by science (or if it is, then something is wrong). Atheism is certainly no threat to religion, despite all the noise from anti-theists. I do have some criticisms of religion, but whenever I have shared my criticism, I find that most Christians share the same concerns. Even as an agnostic, I still share a lot of common ground with Christianity.
@EddieI am here as an ally of science and education, and I think the atheists here also fit that description. I neither desire nor expect anyone to abandon their beliefs, but hope they might come to a better understanding of science. I think I can help make that happen.
@Eddie: A challenge! What purpose do you serve here, in 20 words or less. I stated mine in 10 words and 36 letters!
Most atheists here are respectful of these conversations, and do not pour scorn on the very idea. Going forward, I hope it will be shared goal to respect conversations on theology, even if we personally are not religious. I’ve been surprised to learn, however, that there are many non-religious that really want to participate in theological conversations. Let us see how it goes from here, and ensure that these conversations can be protected too.
I also don’t think true religion is threatened by true science.
Atheism is not a threat to religion if it’s simply a private opinion; it can become a threat to religion if it permeates (though not under its own name, and thus invisibly) the school system, the legal system, etc. That’s what many of the creationists are (rightly or wrongly) worried about – that the ethos of society is slowly becoming atheistic and materialistic.
Yes, some atheist and agnostic criticisms of religion are shared by religious people themselves. However, in most of those cases, the origin of the moral positions which the atheists and agnostics take lies in Christianity (or Judaism). When they lash out against statements in the Bible that seem to make God cruel or tyrannical, they are, ironically, asking religious believers to make their God and their holy books more “Christian.” If Bertrand Russell had been raised as a high-caste Hindu in the 13th century, would he have had the same set of moral convictions about how all human beings should be treated? I don’t think so. I think his British, hence Western, hence Christian-influenced moral and intellectual background had a great deal to do with his moral convictions.
I say these things not to refute your own statement, but to throw in a few other considerations.
And yet Patrick’s immediate reply to my complaint was to make a point about (in effect) the merely personal subjectivity of religion and the need to start with science.
Were the thread actually about how God objectively governs his creation, I would either get diverted into another basic philosophical argument about why God is not just a comforting private construct, or simply shrug and make my arguments elsewhere. Either way the progress of the thread is scuppered.
At BioLogos, it often felt hostile territory in presenting orthodox Christian teaching. It would be a shame if the same were to happen here - I note that within the last 24 hours, Ann Gauger, as a Christian ID woman scientist, has felt threatened, whereas several atheist males have said what a good forum it is. Is that the right balance?