Tag Archives: Phillip Johnson

The materialist label

Dale, at fruitful faith.net, has a new post, moral things, with which he hopes to extend recent discussions on morality. Unfortunately he has somehow activated a log-on requirement which I can’t penetrate. Hopefully this is an error and he will correct it soon as I think he makes some interesting points worth discussing.

At this stage (and in the hope he finds this here) I want to comment on the use of labels. Dale is interested in understanding how ‘materialists’ “arrive at their value-judgements.” I think he wishes to call people like me ‘materialists’ although he acknowledges that I do “not accept the label.” Lets clarify this.

I think we can get by without labelling people and I usually resist such temptations. In fact, I don’t think I often feel that temptation. However, I have noticed that several people commenting here wish to apply labels to me and other commenters (I wonder if this is a form of judgmentalism?). The problem, of course, is that people interpret labels like ‘materialist‘ differently. This results in people setting up straw men. It’s best just to discuss the real issues and positions – not the imagined ones.

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Expelled – no integrity exhibited

I was recently approached by Stacy Schlicht from the firm Rogers & Cowan who are the publicity agent for the film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” Stacey offered me the chance to interview one of the filmmakers Ben Stein. I accepted the offer, which quickly became a “teleconference” open only to an “exclusive” group selected on the basis of submitted questions. After dutifully submitting my 5 questions I am informed that the teleconference planned for yesterday has now been postponed until the 18th – the planned launch date for the film.

FlunkedThe film’s promotion appears to be in disarray – maybe because it faces legal action for copyright violations. It has also faced strong criticism from reviewers who have been shown the film (see Expelled Exposed for links to a number of reviews). There has also been a lot of publicity generated by eviction of scientists from pre-screenings and the outrageous claims made in the film (Darwin is responsible for the holocaust!). While the filmmakers and the creationist colleagues have been arguing that “no publicity is bad publicity” it seems clear that the publicity will reduce the film’s effectiveness by creating a cynical attitude amongst film goers.

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Intelligent design and the threat to Christianity

Intelligent design (ID) is not a scientific discipline. It’s a political, social and religious movement – and this is sometimes admitted by their spokespersons. For example, Phillip Johnson said in 1996: “This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science . . . It’s about religion and philosophy.” As such ID/creationism is more of an issue for Christianity than it is for science.

The attacks made by ID/creationism on evolutionary theory are often interpreted as arising from a conflict between religion and science. A conflict arising from a discrepancy between scientific knowledge and religious beliefs. But that is too simpleminded as many Christians don’t see a conflict between their beliefs and scientific knowledge.

These attacks on science are really attacks on pro-science Christianity. The rise of modern science in Europe several hundred years ago was paralleled by the rise of a pro-science theology within Christianity. This was a theological acceptance of a god-created universe which is ordered and “law-abiding.” Further, it accepted that humanity was able to investigate and understand reality. Of course, this conflicted, and still does, with theological ideas which deny a “law-abiding” universe, which uses supernatural explanations and denies the possibility of humanity ever understanding important aspects of reality.

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Intelligent design and scientific method

The intelligent design movement (ID) is not a school of scientific research – more a political, social and religious movement. IDs initiator and main theological guru, Phillip Johnson, admitted this in 1996 when he said: “This isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science . . . It’s about religion and philosophy.”

However, ID does aspire to change the whole way we do modern science. It has a declared a Wedge Strategy which includes the aim of replacing the modern scientific method with a “theistic science” (see, for example, The Wedge Document). Alvin Platinga (a major ID supporter) also used the terms “unnatural science”, “creation science”, or science “from a Christian perspective” to describe this (see Why Faith and Reason Clash). Phillip Johnson also used the term “Theistic realism.”

Despite this lofty plan, ID proponents reveal little of what they mean by “theistic science” and characteristically will not clearly respond to requests to do so. You have to sift through their documents for evidence and be aware of the context of their statements. Doing this you start to realise that ID people are attacking the heart of modern science, the empirical, evidence-based, methodology which makes it so powerful. They, in reality, wish to return science to the stagnant days of the pre-enlightenment.

This hostility to science is not isolated to the ID movement. As Paul Bloom points out “the battle between evolution and creationism …. is where science takes a stand against superstition” (in What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable). The hostility is common to those who prefer superstitious, spiritualist and supernatural explanations. It’s worth, therefore, considering the ID attack on science as a specific example of a more widespread problem.

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