Tag Archives: Wedge strategy

Theistic science? No such thing

I came across this interesting observation in Elaine  Howard Eckland’s book  Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think:

“believers did not consider their traditions and beliefs influential on how they conducted their research. None of the religious scientists I talked to supported the theory of intelligent design”

This conclusion is based on her extensive survey of academic scientists in the USA.

It’s interesting because it confirms that those theologians and “philosophers of religion” who advocate abandonment of “materialism” or “naturalism” by scientists are barking up the wrong tree. Even scientists who have strong god beliefs don’t allow these to interfere with the way they do their science. In fact, if they did they would no longer be doing science.

Mind you, the conclusion is not at all surprising to anyone working in a scientific environment. We know from experience that religious scientists don’t change their methodology because of their ideological beliefs or world view.

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So you want a conversation?

Book Review: Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong About the New Atheism by Phillip Johnson and John Mark Reynolds

Price: US$10.20; NZ$29.97
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Intervarsity Press (May 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0830837388
ISBN-13: 978-0830837380

This book’s subtitle intrigued me – “What’s right and wrong about the new atheism.” Has Phillip Johnson, the “Godfather” of “intelligent design” and harsh critic of evolutionary science and “scientific materialism” got something positive to say about “new atheism?” Does he think people like his arch-enemy Richard Dawkins have something right?

Johnson claims in the book’s introduction: “our intention is not to attack the atheists but to explore the case they are making.” And: “the arguments for atheism should be taken seriously and considered both respectfully and critically.”

Now that would be a change, wouldn’t it? Many religious authors jumped on the bandwagon of analysing and criticising “new atheism’ after publication of the best-selling books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in recent years. But their bias, personal attacks, straw clutching and straw mannery make most of them useless. Perhaps Phillip Johnson will break ranks and honestly elaborate on his philosophical differences with science and atheism instead? Perhaps he will admit the popularity of these books may be because they have identified some real problems?

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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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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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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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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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