Saturday, August 08, 2009


Theological Revelations


The Discoveryoids are in a theological dispute with the "theistic evolutionists" that, quite appropriately, clearly reveals the religious roots of Intelligent Design Creationism. The latest feeble bow shot is by David Klinghoffer, who once again demonstrates that he has an intellectual range that is both an inch deep and an inch wide.

Quite apart from the slapstick of citing Whittaker Chambers as if he was a seminal figure in conservative thought, Klinghoffer is once again reduced to beating his little tin drum to the tune that "Darwinism," itself a parody of science, is nothing but a variation on Epicurean philosophy and that the only choice is between "scientific utopianism," unguided by moral purpose, and a belief in "'unchanging human nature,' the 'soul,' [and] traditional morality," rooted in "Biblical religion."

As always, though, the only matters of real intellectual value at Klinghoffer's blog appear in the comments, where "Turmarion" points out the real dispute, as revealed in a piece by West:

West (grudgingly!) admitted the following, with emphasis and brackets added: "I accept Collins' proposal [that God works through "random" factors] as a logical possibility. In the abstract, God could have chosen to create a guided process that looks to us as if it is unguided. The relevant question for a Christian or Jew, however, is did God create life in that way based on what we know about His character and own self-explanations to us?...While Collins' view is logically compatible with the idea that God actively guides the development of His creation, it is still in tension with the traditional Biblical understanding of God."

After bloviating for two and a half essays, then, West gives up the game by admitting that he has neither scientific nor philosophical grounds on which to refute the view of Collins (which he shares with Barr and myself) that God works through "random" processes. Unable to refute this, he falls back on arguing about how we understand God. The problem is in what he doesn't say: Among Christian and Jewish theologians and philosophers, almost none outside those who hold the untenable belief of young-Earth creationism (which to your credit, David, you reject) have a problem with evolution! Now unlike West, I'm not arguing reality based on a "majority vote" of theologians and philosophers. My point is, however, that West seems to imply that it is self-evident that the traditional understanding of God excludes evolution and that the fact that almost no non-young-Earth theologians and philosophers agree with him indicates that it's not as self-evident as he seems to think! I might also point out that there are theists who are not Jews or Christians, and for them, West's argument here will obviously seem much less than compelling.

In other words, West is conceding that science's methodologically naturalistic approach produces a plausible account of life on Earth but the main objection that he and other IDeologists have with it is that it conflicts with their Judeo-Christian understanding of "His character and own self-explanations [i.e. revelation] to us." But ID has nothing to do with religion ... nosiree!

Indeed, West goes on to say:

No one I know doubts that God acts through secondary causes. The issue is whether human beings can discern evidence of God's activity in nature through the things He created. Darwinists deny this, and Collins and Barr seem to as well (at least in the area of biology).

Again in other words, ID is neither more nor less than an attempt at the "natural theology" project of finding evidence of God in nature, with the added motivation to either disguise that project or to redefine science to include such an attempt, or both, in order to avoid Constitutional strictures against teaching a particular theology in public schools as true.

West does have one "fair cop" against the TEers, though:

Joe Carter is exactly right that the Collins' position seems strangely similar to the view embraced by some Biblical creationists that God has misled us by creating things that look like they are ancient even though they aren't. Similarly, Collins and Barr suggest that God created life through a process that looks "random and undirected" even though it's not.

That's a fair enough theological point but the difference is that the TEers have the advantage and the virtue of trying to fit their theology into our best understanding of the real world and how it works, while the YECs -- and the IDers! -- are trying to cram, forcibly if need be, our best understanding of the world into what they have already decided is how it ought to work.

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I do find it fascinating that Klinghoffer, and for that matter the rest of the Discovery Institute fellows, continues to conflate Epicureanism and Darwinism. Sober does a nice job of illustrating why this is mistaken, but much more could be done -- and the error of this conflation needs to be put in a format that's digestible by people who aren't professional epistemologists.

I also find it very interesting that the main argument which the Discovery Institute has appropriated for its anti-Epicureanism is the argument from design. I find this interesting because this argument has its origins in Stoicism, and there's some evidence to suggest that it was initially formulated as anti-Epicurean argument. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was re-activated, so to speak, as a Deist argument -- one that Paley (among others) incorporated into Christianity. There are precious few hints of it in classical and medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The kalam argument, for example, is not a design argument, because the kalam argument is a priori, not a posteriori as the design argument typically is.
This recent book claims that the argument from design dates back to Socrates:

Sedley, D. N.
Creationism and its critics in antiquity
Berkeley : University of California Press, 2007.

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