Would You Like Fries With That Theory? Part Three

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July 19, 2010 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

Would You Like Fries With That Theory? Part Three

We often hear about the virtue of “teaching the controversy” when it comes to origins. The strategy is to lay out various options to students--options on which “experts” disagree--and let them make up their minds. This proposal appeals to America’s sense of fair play. America, from the days of its founding to its dynamic entrepreneurial culture of today has always celebrated the ability to break free of traditional ideas and boldly go where nobody has gone before.

The anti-Darwinians would have us view evolution the same way the founding fathers viewed the yoke of British colonialism. Just as the heavy hand of Britain had to be removed, so the yoke of Darwin must be cast aside as well, if we are to be truly liberated to find the truth. And what better way to find the truth than to have the options laid out in front of us, like the entrees on a menu waiting to be selected, or the candidates on a ballot waiting to be elected to office?

Despite the generous tone of such a proposal, it is a recipe for the production of widespread scientific illiteracy. Sending the message that we can “choose” our preferred science from a roster of options undermines the entire concept of science for it makes science seem like politics. Science is nothing like politics. Politics, at its best, is all about trying to create a society where people will be happiest. And the criteria for that change from time to time. Once upon a time women could not vote and that seemed OK. Now it is not OK. Once upon a time, education was not universally available and now it is. Politics is all about figuring out how things should be, based on how we would like them to be.

Science is the opposite of this. Science is about finding out how the world is whether we like it or not. And the lesson of history is that science is often not what we want it to be. Galileo’s arguments for the moving earth were not greeted with a chorus of “Amens” by his colleagues in Rome. John Donne expressed the concern of that generation when he wrote that this “new philosophy casts all in doubt.” Galileo’s ideas became the consensus slowly because they were true, not because they made people happy, or got selected by the majority from a roster of options.

The same thing is true of the Big Bang theory. Countless scientists went on record opposing the strange idea that our universe emerged in some kind of transcendent explosion beyond the reach of science. The Steady State Theory was developed by some leading cosmologists specifically to oppose the Big Bang because many scientists did not like it and wanted it to be false. But facts are facts and gradually a consensus emerged that the Big Bang was true.

In a more interesting development, we have watched “scientific racism” gradually be undermined by advances in genetics. It was once believed that certain races, like Australian aborigines, Africans, or Native Americans were demonstrably inferior. The textbook from which John Scopes supposedly taught evolution made this claim explicitly. But scientific advances in our understanding of human origins destroyed the foundations of these racist notions. All scientists though, did not welcome these advances. Racism runs deep and it was hard for some people to accept that their racism was based on an irrational and ultimately immoral prejudice and not on science.

But, once again, a consensus emerged that “race” does not have a biological basis. Many scientists are justifiably proud that science has dealt such a blow to humanity’s greatest social plague. This happened, though, through the achievement of consensus, as opposing viewpoints were undermined and the reluctant holdouts gradually came on board.

The same is true for evolution. Darwin’s ideas were not met with universal and unbridled enthusiasm. In fact, his key idea of natural selection was ignored for decades because most biologists thought it was too feeble to do the work Darwin assigned to it in The Origin of Species. The consensus about evolution that exists among biologists today took about a century to achieve. Thousands and thousands of reluctant, often brilliant, frequently cranky, scientists had to “come around” to Darwin’s view.

This is the meaning of “consensus” in science. Thomas Cudworth, on the Uncommon Descent blog, describes the embrace of consensus as “prostration before a self-selecting clique of experts.” This he says, “is repugnant to good science, to good philosophy, to the ideal of the university, and to the ideal of an open, free and democratic society.”

This does not make sense to me. Tens of thousands of biologists at thousands of universities spread around the planet are hardly a “self-selecting clique of experts.” And what does “self-selecting” even mean in this context? I would love to “select” myself to a tenured position at Harvard but I am unaware that such an option is available to me. The claim that the standard methods of science are “repugnant” to a “democratic society” is, alas, completely true. If only we could “vote” on what we wanted to be true, rather than have it imposed on us by the way things are.

Science is anything but democratic. Mother Nature casts the only vote and it is the job of science to determine how she voted. She votes only once and never changes her mind.

The scientific community is filled with creative, obstinate, and highly independent personalities. Anyone who attends a scientific meeting can see this clearly. Scientists dress strangely, have irregular hair, and are often socially odd. They can be abrasive and obnoxious. They despise convention and disrespect tradition. If there is any group that would be unwilling to bow before a “self-selecting clique of experts”, it is scientists.

A scientific consensus represents a hard-won victory over every imaginable sort of opposition. We should not set aside such consensus just because a tiny group of articulate outsiders offer us some ideas that we might like better. The ID movement has people with Ph.D.s to be sure. And a few of them have conventional scientific posts. But their pleas that we set aside scientific consensus must be ignored.

Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

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Rich - #23929

July 29th 2010


I’m not concerned with how much or how little ID or TE people talk about theology.  That’s their business.  What I’m concerned with is what both sides say when they *do* talk about theology.  And I’ve heard people from *both* sides talking rot.  But I notice, on the TE side, that often there’s an “attack dog” mentality, whereby TEs will argue in this way:  “... thus, Behe’s argument is bad science.  And it’s also bad theology, because ... ”  There then follows (typically from a cell biologist or physicist or computer-builder) a string of false, dubious, self-contradictory or weakly supported theological statements, showing little or no knowledge of primary texts, languages, or good secondary sources.  Yet the statement is issued in tones of certainty that would be appropriate only for someone on the level of Calvin or Augustine.  I find this an extremely irritating and pretentious aspect of much TE discourse.

penman - #24028

July 30th 2010



Perhaps so. Let’s grant it. I still can’t help feeling that TE has grave rhetorical disadvantages.

Thus: in the Christian world, you have three main identity markers for views on the issues we discuss here. Put them like this:

Young Earth Creationist
Old Earth Creationist
Theistic Evolutionist

That means that rhetorically, I’ve been booted out of the creationist camp. Why am I the only one not allowed to identify myself as a creationist? I believe in God the Creator as much as my YEC & OEC brethren. I feel rhetorically disadvantaged! It’s awful how in churches today someone can solemnly be accused of “not believing in creation”.

Gregory - don’t keep me in the dark - if there’s a better term than Evolutionary Creationist, give it to me QUICK!

gingoro - #24061

July 30th 2010

penman @24028

“if there’s a better term than Evolutionary Creationist”

I accept that God created all that is, and so I describe myself as a creationist who accepts an old earth and common descent with modification.  Since that is a long description I might use the “ec” label but in lower case.  I do that because I want to differentiate my self from TE/EC leadership that appears to discount many/most of Christ’s miracles.  The only one that all of them seem to accept is the resurrection. 
Dave W

gingoro - #24062

July 30th 2010


As I recall you live in UK.  Do you know what Dennis Allexander accepts wrt miracles.
Dave W

penman - #24078

July 30th 2010



Well, in his book “Creation or Evolution” he speaks of miracles recorded in the Bible as though they actually happened. E.g.-

“When Jesus intervenes to turn water into wine, or calm a rough sea, or raise Lazarus from the dead, these miraculous signs stand out as such because they are so different from God’s normal way of working in creation” (p.38).

I’ve looked up all the index references to miracles in the book, & I can’t find anywhere that he denies them or explains them away. On p.41 he labels as “theological liberals” those who “deny miracles in the name of science” (& pretty clearly indicates that he’s not one of them).



That’s a bit depressing. No virgin conception? No feeding of the 5000? No raising of Lazarus? I can’t myself see why accepting some evolutionary account of life would lead to that scepticism. Is there anywhere on BioLogos where such views are articulated?

Rich - #24090

July 30th 2010


In answer to your question to gingoro, bear in mind that gingoro has been in dialogue with TEs for a number of years, before Biologos even existed.  Only a small fraction of the world’s TEs post columns on Biologos.  There are many prominent TEs who have expressed (usually in a guarded and circuitous manner) doubts about a good number of Biblical miracles.  There is a special tendency among some to minimize or explain away OT miracles.  There is also a tendency among some to avoid direct answers to questions.  E.g.:  “Did Jesus walk on the water?”  Answer:  “It doesn’t say “water”, it says “sea”.  In the Old Testament, symbolism regarding God’s power over the sea is very important (scholarly dissertation) ...”  And the question remains unanswered.  It’s such things that gingoro is talking about.

It sounds as if Alexander is less skeptical than many American TEs regarding the Biblical miracles.

Evolution in itself does not require skepticism about Biblical miracles.  But both evolutionary theory and the higher criticism of the Bible which cast doubt upon miracles sprang from the seed of naturalism.  In some TEs (discussed above) the influence of that naturalism affects the reading of miracle stories.

Gregory - #24337

August 2nd 2010


wrt your question about a “better term than Evolutionary Creationist”, I´d drop most of the labels that have arisen in the context of discussions in North America on this topic. They are highly saturated in scientism most of the time. If not that, then they are positivistic, following the empirical and pragmatic schools in North American thought. And if that´s not enough, there´s a school of Christians -Calvin College- that arose in the United States in the 1980s, trying to legitimatize what it calls “methodological naturalism” as the founding principle of natural-physical sciences that is ´friendly´ to theists and theism.

I´ve been saying this for a couple of years, an alternative is just to label yourself, penman, as a Christian or theist who believes in God´s creation & in human creativity & who accepts certain aspects of biological evolution. Calling oneself a ´creationist´ is unnecessary & unhelpful except as a password for fundamentalists - like a secret handshake. ; )

It´s almost as if some people would like a disaclaimer attached to every single journal article & book published by natural-physical scientists that says: “This scientific theory about nature is *open* to miracles!”

Gregory - #24339

August 2nd 2010

Rich wrote:
“What I’m concerned with is what both sides say when they *do* talk about theology.”

The issue with ´intelligen design advocates,´ & I include you & Bilbo in this meaning, Rich, is that they rarely speak about the connections between ID & theology. Sure, there are examples of most ID leaders stating the ´designer´ is probably the God of the Bible. Dembski is quoted even more directly as speaking about the design of divine logos. 

But from my observation, there has been no attempt to introiduce ID into systematic theology. Do you know of anyone who is doing this, Rich?

It is easy to point out that TE &/or EC likewise doesn´t have a clear statement of what defines their ´evolutionary theology´ from say ´open theology´ or ´process theology.´ But I have read TEs rejecting the latter two, while dancing with words about how ´evolutionary biology´ supposedly fits more appropriately into their systematic theologies than does ´design´.

In so far as what penman wants is apologetics, either ID or TE/EC can be employed, depending on situation & person. But ´creationist´ is banned as taboo!

Just curious: would you like to see the IDM more active in the realm of theology, or not, Rich?

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