Tag Archives: Christian apologetics

Distorting Darwin

Poor old Charles Darwin. In this year of celebration, when we mark the 200th year since his birth and the 150th year since the publication of his great work The Origin of Species, he is being subjected to a real deluge of misrepresentation. The ideological opponents of science, particularly evolutionary science, have been working overtime to quote him out of context, to cherry pick quotes, to “prove” he was a horrible person and that the “materialist” heart of science must be ripped out.

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Einstein on Galileo’s contribution

Some religious apologists just can’t leave Galileo alone. They are unhappy about the fact that most people accept that the Church behaved badly in sentencing Galileo for heresy. (He got house arrest for the rest of his life and bans on his books, one of which was suppressed for 200 years). So in a manner which reminds me of modern day Stalinists trying to make excuses for the Stalin Terror, or to claim it wasn’t as bad as people believe, the apologists have been busy rewriting the history of the Galileo affair.

For example, they promote a document describing Galileo’s “imprisonment for his heretical ideas of a heliocentric solar sytem” as a myth! (see On the crushing of historical fables about religion, science and culture and Mythbusting: Historical fables about Christianity and Science).

In my previous post Blaming the victim I included this quote from the the Inquisition’s sentencing of Galileo which clearlyshows it is the apologists who promote myths:

“You have rendered yourself vehemently suspect of heresy, namely of having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the Sacred and Divine Scriptures, that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west, and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world; and that one may hold and defend as probable an opinion after it has been declared and defined contrary to Holy Scripture.”

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The philosophy wars

Book Review: Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Monthly Review Press (November 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1583671730
ISBN-13: 978-1583671733

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Scientific writers usually critique intelligent design (ID) creationism using scientific facts. And why not? After all, as the saying goes, “we have the genes and we have the fossils.” And creationist arguments often do rely on flagrant distortion of the facts.

This doesn’t get to the real emotion and ideas motivating supporters of creationism. So we sometimes need to deal with personal beliefs and feelings. The question of randomness behind evolutionary mutations. The violence and waste implied by “survival of the fittest.” And the unwarranted application of “social Darwinism” to society.

But this book takes the struggle to the most fundamental level. That of the philosophical approaches underlying science, on the one hand, and teleological explanations preferred by religion on the other. This struggle has been going on for millennia, and will no doubt continue for a long time yet.

It’s an important struggle because of the current attacks on science.  But the struggle is wider than that – it is central to the “culture wars” of today. Read the Wedge Strategy and you can see that ID is also attacking society, religion and freedom.

Scientists have usually not bothered to engage with ID philosophically. So it is refreshing to read a book which takes these design arguments head on.

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Disputing respectfully?

Here’s an interesting article by Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance (The Grid of Disputation). It could be topical here because some have suggested that I may have been a bit harsh in my criticism of theists who have, in my view, been giving an incorrect description of science.

Sean provides a grid of the possible disputes one could get into. The implication is that it is pointless arguing with young earth creationists and similar crazies. “Victories” are easy and meaningless. The more fruitful discussions are with the “worthy opponents” – those capable of listening and making reasonable rejoinders. Often we can learn a lot from such discussions – both about our opponents thinking and about subtleties of our own position.

There is also the implication that the debate itself should be respectful, not derogatory. However, Sean is clear that mockery does have a place. I agree – sometimes the only way one can handle a silly idea is the mock it or use sarcasm. And, often one should call a spade a spade.

PZ Myers, noted for his humorous and often sharp debating style on his blog Pharyngula, comments on Sean’s article in The dilemma of the anti-creationist. He basically agrees , but does wonder if restricting discussion only to those “worthy opponents” could make for a boring life.

See also:
Thank You, Richard Dawkins
Blogging Heads: Science Saturday – The early Universe: Sean Carroll & Mark Trodden

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Theistic mental gymnastics

I have recently been debating some anti-science theists who want to see some changes made. They would like to make science more “theistically friendly.”

First, they were insisting we should include “theological evidence”! However, they couldn’t actually think of any examples of such evidence so the fall back demand was for incorporation of “theological claims and propositions”. So they are demanding science incorporate theological claims and propositions for which there is no evidence? Talk about demanding a free ride.

I am reminded of a comment by Rinny Westra, a former Presbyterian pastor in New Zealand, in his book The Disappearance of God:

“After years of struggling with theological questions and frequently enjoying myself doing so, I have to conclude that theology is not a proper academic discipline but a self-serving and self-authenticating project with little or no scientific integrity.”

Such incorporation would certainly create a mess. Imagine what they could then “discover” and “prove” using their “theistic science”.

You can’t? Well have a look at this video which uses “theological claims and propositions” to conclude that US President Obama is the devil – and his election was prophesied by Jesus!

See also:

Did Jesus actually reveal name of the ‘antichrist’?
Viral video makes Hebrew word connection to latest White House occupant
From the people who brought you the Birthers: Obama is probably the Anti-Christ

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Epistemolo-what?!!

Kim-il-sung

Kim Il Sung giving "on the spot guidance" to collective farmers. When asked the farmers were unclear about his message

One of the biggest complaints of New Zealand scientists working in the Crown Research Institutes is bureaucracy. Or, at least that was the case during my time.

You know – stupid bureaucratic requirements like time sheets. At one stage we were being forced to break our time down to 6 min intervals! I used to say that science is a creative process and this was as silly as getting artists to fill in time sheets. Then we had financial managers, commercial managers, human resources people, communication managers, etc. making extra demands on our time. Creative people forced into an accounting role. Publications having to be vetted for intellectual property (IP) before publication – and sometimes prevented from being published so that IP could be “captured”. “Innovative thinking” and “customer management” courses imposed on researchers. Commercial managers preventing proper communication of science to the public (see the example of Jim Salinger in Clamping down on science communication).

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Logical atheism

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Book Review: The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God by Geoffrey Berg.
US$14.50
ISBN-10: 0954395662
Published May 29, 2009
Temple DPS Ltd

Website:http://www.thesixwaysofatheism.com/

Like many non-theists my attitude to the god hypothesis is the same as to any question of fact. It’s based on evidence and experience, as well as logic. There is no doubt that arguments based on logic alone are susceptible to subjective distortions. And we should be aware there are limits of common sense logic when confronted with the most basic questions about reality (see Different ways of knowing? ). So, it’s unavoidable that I see limits to an approach based purely on logic – as the arguments in this book are (obvious with a subtitle New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God).

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Science-religion conflicts. Who’s responsible?

tysonThere does seem to be a blog war these days on the science-relgion conflict. There even seems to be a debate within the separate camps about the tactics used by the participants. And then there are other’s who find the whole issue embarrassing. They seem to wish everyone would just shut up or cover their ears (eyes and mouths).

It’s worth asking, though, who is responsible? Who is feeding the conflict and why?

I thought Neil deGrasse Tyson put it very well in a recent talk. Responding to a question about the evolution-creation conflict he put some questions to the audience:

“Do you see scientists demanding that their science be taught in Sunday schools? Do you see scientists parading with placards outside Churches? Do you see scientists appearing at Church governing bodies demanding a determining role in Church dogma?”

The answer is no, of course. And that tells you something.

By the way, this was a great talk. He was in great form, using a lot of humour to discuss recent findings in astronomical physics. He was speaking to the Commonwealth Cub in California on his book Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries. His talk is available as a video (mp4), in audio (mp3) and as a  Transcript (pdf). Well worth watching, listening to or reading.

See Video: FORA.tv – Neil deGrasse Tyson: Death By Black Hole.

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Different ways of knowing?

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roveplatoIn discussions with  religious apologists we often hear the claim that “there are different ways of knowing!” This is often used as a counter to science. It amounts to claiming knowledge which is not based on evidence and not testable against reality.In many cases it’s a defensive argument, a retreat. It’s claiming a logic or justification for the theist belief without allowing the normal checking that should go with knowledge claims. That’s OK –  if it is just personal justification. We all do that from time to time.

However, sometimes religious apologists will go on the offensive with this argument. They use it to justify a knowledge claim that conflicts with scientific knowledge. In fact, they will use it to claim they have access to knowledge which is more reliable than scientific knowledge.

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The entropy fib

The local Christian apologetics blog “Thinking Matters” appears to have made a policy decision to outsource most of the content. Specifically to the subcontinent (where else do New Zealanders outsource to) and a Walter Mitty type of character, Johnson Philip.

Philip claims to be “a physicist, with expertise inter alia in Quantum-nuclear Physics, and has worked extensively on the inner quark-structure of Protons and Neutrons.” However, as he doesn’t appear to have published anything in a scientifc journal I think the more relevant part of his CV is that he “has also specialized in Christian Apologetics, Biblical Archeology, Journalism, Alternative Medicines, and several other fields.” He has written extensively in those areas.

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