April 24, 2004

AN ALTERNATIVE CREATION MYTH:

Why is Evolution Believed in More Firmly than the Evidence Warrants? (J. P. Moreland, April 2004, Boundless)

[S]cientific naturalism includes three claims. First, scientific knowledge is vastly superior to all other forms of knowledge. Second, the scientifically authorized story of how all things came about revolves around the atomic theory of matter and evolutionary theory. According to the atomic theory of matter, all chemical change is the result of the rearrangement of tiny little parts — protons, neutrons and electrons. According to evolutionary theory, random mutations are largely responsible for providing an organism with a change in characteristics; some of those changes provide the organism with a survival advantage over other members of its species; as a result, the organism’s new traits eventually become the norm for all members of the species. The important thing about naturalism’s second claim is that its creation story is a purely mechanical, physical story with no need or room for miraculous divine activity. Third, the picture of reality that results from this creation story (which is, in turn, the only story alleged to have the support of scientific ways of knowing) is physicalism: the belief that the physical, material cosmos is all there is, was or ever will be.

It is important to note the relationship between these three claims: Most naturalists believe that the physical cosmos is all there is, was or ever will be because their creation story allows no room for miraculous divine activity. And most naturalists believe in a creation story with no room for divine activity because (a) their theory of knowledge says that it’s irrational to believe in things that can’t be tested scientifically with the five senses, and (b) because they believe that divine activity can’t be so tested. Thus most naturalists believe Claim Three because they believe Claim Two, and they believe Claim Two because they believe Claim One.

Curiously, naturalism’s theory of knowledge (i.e., Claim One, according to which a belief is rational only if it is scientifically testable) is not itself scientifically testable. Thus the naturalist’s theory of knowledge fails to pass its own standard of acceptability and refutes itself. But this leaves many naturalists without any basis for believing Claim Two and, therefore, without any basis for believing Claim Three either.

With this background in mind, let us recall that our present question is not about the scientific evidence for evolution. I think this evidence is quite meager. In any case, even if we grant (for the sake of argument) that there is a decent amount of evidence for evolution, the degree of certainty claimed on its behalf and the widespread negative attitude toward creationists are quite beyond what is warranted by the evidence alone. What is going on here? [...]

Evolution functions as a myth for secularists. By “myth” I do not mean something false (though I believe evolution to be that) but, rather, a story of who we are and how we got here that serves as a guide for life. Evolutionist Richard Dawkins said that evolution made the world safe for atheists because it supposedly did away with the design argument for God’s existence. In graduate school, I once had a professor say that evolution was a view he embraced religiously because it implied for him that he could do anything he wanted. Why? Given that there is no God and that evolution is how we got here, there is no set purpose for life, no objective right and wrong, no punishment after death, so one can live for himself in this life anyway he wants. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer made the same statement on national TV. Dahmer said that naturalistic evolution implied that we all came from slime and will return to slime. So why should he resist deeply felt tendencies to kill, given that we have no objective purpose or value and there is no punishment after death? I am not here arguing that secularists cannot find grounds for objective purpose and value in their naturalistic worldview, though I believe that to be the case. I am simply pointing out that evolution functions as an egoistic myth for many intellectuals who have absolutized freedom, understood as the right to do anything one wants. Philosophical naturalists want evolution to be true because it provides justification for their lifestyle choices.


You can hardly begrudge people the need for a religious myth--we all share that. The problem is the indecent purposes to which they seek to put theirs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2004 7:01 AM
Comments

So based on his experience with one college professor and what he read about Jeffrey Dahmer, Mr Moreland figures that he has all materialists figured out. Prejudices are very comforting, and mr Moreland is obviously a man who enjoys the comfortable. By his line of reasoning, it is obvious that he rarely engages in debate with real materialists, preferring the strawmen of his imagination.

"And most naturalists believe in a creation story with no room for divine activity because (a) their theory of knowledge says that its irrational to believe in things that cant be tested scientifically with the five senses, and (b) because they believe that divine activity cant be so tested. Thus most naturalists believe Claim Three because they believe Claim Two, and they believe Claim Two because they believe Claim One. "

(b) is a given. If there were such a test, noone would be a believer, since we would either all know that God exists, or we would all know that He doesn't. That is why we talk about religious belief, and not religious knowledge.

Evolution is not so much a creation story as it is a historical narrative. It doesn't preclude a super-natural, divine act of creation, it just has nothing to say about it. If they choose not to entertain such a divine origin, it is because they know that whatever is said about such a divine act will have its origin in the imagination, and they would rather not elevate their imagination (or someone else's imagination) to the status of knowledge. That way lies delusion.

If I'm only denying the divine in order to be free of all restraint, then I am one sorry hedonist!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 24, 2004 10:38 AM

" they know that whatever is said about such a divine act will have its origin in the imagination, and they would rather not elevate their imagination (or someone else's imagination) to the status of knowledge."

But that's precisely what you do, using Darwin's imagination. The parallel to religioous revelation is exact.

Posted by: oj at April 24, 2004 10:49 AM

Moreland is a pluperfect example of the desperate religionist. We materialists cannot possibly mean what we say -- which is that we take the Universe as God gave it to us to study -- so we must have some ulterior motive.

Furthermore, since we do not know Jesus, we must be miserable and evil.

I grew up among people like him. They're pathetic. And worried.

Unstated is his darkest fear: we're getting laid way more often than him and having fun.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 25, 2004 12:28 AM

...Because clearly the only things that matter are Sex, Me, and Sex & Me. Project much?

Posted by: DM at April 25, 2004 4:12 PM

If Moreland can make up motivations without evidence, why can't I?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 25, 2004 7:57 PM

You can, you just happen to be writing about yourself, the only topic that interests you.

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2004 8:04 PM

"First, scientific knowledge is vastly superior to all other forms of knowledge."

"Claim One, according to which a belief is rational only if it is scientifically testable."

These two sentences are sadly typical of the whole piece. Either he has no idea what he is talking about, or does, and confuses straw men with logic.

He needs to rewrite the first sentence as "First, the scientific method is vastly superior to all other approaches to attaining knowledge of material phenomena." And then rewrite the second sentence to say "Claim one, according to which a belief is material only if it is scientficially testable."

Then he would be either less ignorant, or less a liar. Either way, the rest of the piece would collapse of its own dead weight.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 25, 2004 9:18 PM

Jeff:

Your rewrite is identical

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2004 10:56 PM

DM:

You are selling Harry short. You forgot he rounds out his life's meaning with his life-enhancing automobile. A real Renaissance man, our Harry.

Posted by: Peter B at April 26, 2004 6:33 AM

OJ:

"... all other forms of knowledge ..." is a far cry from "material phenomena." As is "rational" from "material."

His failure to make that simple distinction makes the whole essay an utter failure. Unless, of course, his point was to illustrate the dishonesty of strawmen arguments.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 26, 2004 7:42 AM

Jeff:

Okay, if you're willing to concede that irrational beliefs untestable by reason are the equivalent or even superior to scientific knowledge that's great. Personally, I think astrology inferior to chemistry.

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2004 8:02 AM

Jeff:

As I recall, a few weeks ago you were pressed to identify what aspects of life and existence you felt were not explained by materialism. As I recall, your answer was the otter. So would you be happy if we agree rationalism encompasses materialisn plus the otter?

Posted by: Peter B at April 26, 2004 8:03 AM

OJ:

I am not willing to concede beliefs untestable by reason are de facto irrational. In fact, I am willing to assert that unless a belief is amenable to testing by reason it is impossible to conclude the belief is irrational.

Astrology is amenable to testing by reason, and fails spectacularly. It is an irrational belief.

Believing there is one God, or 400, or none, is not irrational. No conclusion is testable in any way. My belief that there is none, or at least not one that gives any particular darn, is completely immune to reason. But so is your belief that there is only one that cares a lot. Neither of us is irrational, and we could quite easily both be wrong. Whose to know?

Which makes this article nonsense. He shamelessly posed a strawman.

Peter:

Well, your recollection is a little off. Harry mentioned otters as an example of non-humans engaging in an activity purely for the heck of it. His point being (I think) that many--heck, virtually all--characteristics of mammalian brains exist along a continuum. Human brains may have hypertrophied in some aspects, but even where the differences are huge, they are more of degree than kinds.

In answer to your question, rationalism encompasses only those things that are amenable to materialistic inquiry. That is far from the complete set of all the questions out there (see Gods, existence and quantity of, above).

I would be happy to agree that rationalism is useful only for materialistic phenomena, and, at any given moment, only those phenomena open to our sensing (a technology dependent quantity).

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 26, 2004 9:09 PM

How is astrology testable by Reason?

Posted by: oj at April 26, 2004 10:48 PM

OJ

Well, you could get a sample of astrologists to make predictions, then assess their predictions against observed results.

Would seem a colossal waste of time, but you could probably get an EU grant for it without too much sweat.

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 4:24 AM

What Brit said.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 27, 2004 7:27 AM

Brit:

But you can't do that for Darwinism, so isn't it not testable?

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 7:55 AM

What about the genome project? That tested Darwinism.

Posted by: Brit at April 27, 2004 10:39 AM

Brit:

?

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 12:52 PM

OJ:

Prior to the genome project people, many people, including Ventner (I hope I have the name right) predicted there would be more than 10 times the number of genes that turned out to be the case.

That in and of itself doesn't say anything about Darwinism. But known rates of genetic drift put an upper limit on the number of genetic difference between humans and chimps, our closest genetic relative.

As it turns out, the number of genes, the percentage difference between chimps and humans, and known rates of genetic drift are completely consistent with the previously established time since our last common ancestoor with the chimpanzee.

Does that prove Darwinism is correct? No. But it is clear from that example that Darwinism is falsifiable. Had there been 3,000 gene differences, Darwinism would have been promptly relegated to the ash heap of history.

What Darwinism required to be true what completely consistent with what turned out to be the case.

Wouldn't be the first time.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 27, 2004 8:18 PM

Whoever Ventner is he's an idiot. No one would be so inefficient as to have that much variation within a system. Why reinvent the wheel?

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 8:27 PM

Ventner is the guy who figured out an extremely efficient way to make the genome project work.

For an idiot, he is quite brilliant. His estimate was in line with what a great many people thought. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and Darwin right.

Your comment seems a bit hasty. Unless, of course, you know what the correct amount of variation in the system is. Before a scientist tells you, of course.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 27, 2004 10:45 PM

Jeff:

Darwinism would posit that early divergence and drift should have introduced some considerable variation, but instead the DNA will eventually hardly any from species to species. People get all worked up about us sharing 98% of our DNa with a chimp, but then have to ignore that we share just as much with the mouse, the worm, etc. A Cathedral may not look like a wall, but they're both just stacked stones.

Posted by: oj at April 27, 2004 11:02 PM

We don't share just as much with mice. We share a lot with mice, but not nearly as much as with chimps.

Chimps are closer to humans than chimps are to any other ape.

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 4:47 AM

Also, genetic difference correlates with the phylogenetic tree, and cladistics.

Score two more for Darwinism.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 28, 2004 8:11 AM

Brit:

98% vs. 99%--damned inconvenient for Darwinism but pretty efficient of a creator.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 8:40 AM

On the contrary.

Damned convenient for Darwinism and frankly bizarre of a Creator.

Posted by: Brit at April 28, 2004 8:42 AM

Brit:

When you're writing a grocery list and a poem do you use wholly different languages for each?

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 8:52 AM

OJ:

You have really mixed that up.

Given the number of ways amino acids can be constructed, there are about 64,000,000 different ways to build amino acids for DNA.

All life uses just one. That argues very strongly for a single occurrence of first life on Earth, however it might have happened.

Your grocery list/poem analogy is completely inappropriate.

The correlation between genetic difference and branches since the most recent common ancestor is exact.

Damn convenient for Darwinism.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 28, 2004 5:46 PM

And they've not diverged at all.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2004 9:09 PM
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