Monday, March 29, 2004

Insanity from World Mag Marvin Olasky is the delightful fellow who gave us the phrase "Compassionate Conservatism". He edits a sordid little right-wing magazine called, World. Their cover story this week bears the title "Darwin's Meltdown." That story is available here.

Actually, there is a touch of good news. Inside the mag the editors are kind enough to concede that Darwin's demise has not actually happened yet. They are merely predicting that the long awaited design revolution will have happened by the year 2025. And they have asked four leading design proponents to write about how that revolution, er, will have taken place.

I can do no better than Pharyngula's characterization of the little symposium: A very creepy wankfest. He has already dismantled Jonathan Wells' contribution.

Here is my take on Phillip Johnson's essay.
Johnson is sort of the intellectual grandfather of the ID movement. He is a former professor of law at Berkeley and the author of Darwin on Trial. I will consider his essay in its entirety.

The first thing I noticed was that the Johnson of 2025 sounds an awful lot like the Johnson of 2004. Apparently, a quarter of a century from now, we can look forward to him pounding the same talking points he is pounding now. Perhaps answering his charges really is an exercise in futility.

Now for the specifics:

IN 1980, ASTRONOMER CARL SAGAN commenced the influential national public television series Cosmos by announcing its theme: "The cosmos is all there is, ever was, or ever will be." Sagan's mantra was spoken more than 20 years before the landmark Santorum Amendment to the Federal Education Act of 2001 encouraged science educators to teach students to distinguish between testable scientific theories and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science.

In those unsophisticated pre-Santorum years, celebrity scientists like Sagan freely promoted a dogmatic naturalistic philosophy as if it were a fact that had been discovered by scientific investigation-just as previous generations of celebrities had promoted racism, class warfare, and Freudian fantasy in the name of science. The celebrities felt themselves free to ignore both evidence and logic, because the approval of the rulers of science, who had a vested interest in persuading the public to adopt a philosophy that maximized their own influence, was all that was needed to induce the media to report an ideological dogma as a scientific conclusion.

Of course, there is no Santorum amendment. Johnson is referring to a proposed amendment to Bush's No Child Left Behind Act that, under cover of various ID weasel words, attempted to require teachers to introduce ID in their classrooms. Have a look at Ken Miller's very useful discussion of this proposed amendment here. The amendment was subsequently voted down, but some of its language still appears in the conference report attached to the bill, where it has no force of law.

As for the second paragraph, I find myself at a loss. I'll keep it in my files just in case I find myself forgetting what mendacious bastards the leading ID proponents truly are. I would point out that World is a magazine read primarily by Christian fundamentalists. Note how when they are preaching to their choir, ID proponents see no need to put a happy face on their malice.

Millions of schoolchildren and credulous adults were led to accept the voice of Sagan as the voice of science and thus to believe that scientists had proved that God does not exist, or at least is irrelevant to our lives. In brief, the message of this government-promoted television series was that philosophical naturalism and science are one and the same. The series did contain scientific information, much of it inaccurate or misleading, but primarily it was an appeal to the imagination, promoting the worship of science and the adventurous vision of exploring the universe.

Of course, Sagan's line about the cosmos being all there is was intended as a suitably dramatic introduction to the series, not a celebration of atheism. Sagan himself routinely described himself as an agnostic, and believed that the question of God's existence is inherently outside science.

As for scientific inaccuracies, Johnson is a fine one to talk. In his books you can go for pages at a time without encountering anything that's true. Have a look at this short review by Eugenie Scott for a few examples. Somehow, the picture of Johnson critiquing Sagan's astronomy is almost too amusing to contemplate.

The perennially popular Star Trek television series further conditioned the youth of America to dream of a technological utopia in which disease and distance were conquered and the great adventure of mankind was to explore the many inhabited planets supposedly existing throughout the universe. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, which we now know as the "century of scientism," the popular media relentlessly pursued the theme that liberation and fulfillment are to be found through technology, with the attendant implication that the supernatural creator revealed in the Bible is a superfluous and obsolete entity doomed to expire from terminal irrelevance.

Well, I suppose Johnson has a point here (and please forgive me for this little bit of Trek geekiness). No doubt he has seen episode 32: Who Mourns for Adonais? In it, Kirk and company are merrily flying around when a gigantic green hand stops them dead in their tracks. Wow! From light speed to dead stop in about two seconds. How they avoided flying head-first through the windshield is beyond me.

Kirk is suitably pissed, and upon beaming down to a near-by planet they discover that the source of the hand was none other than Apollo. For real! The actual Greek god. Apollo performs a bunch of intimidating parlor tricks for Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Chekhov, and some random female officer who provided a one-episode love-interest for Scotty but was never heard from again. Totally unimpressed, Kirk informs the would-be God that the clown who performed at his fifth birthday party did better magic tricks. Apollo makes himself twenty-feet tall and demands that the Enterprise folks bow down to him.

Pshaw, says Kirk. Unfazed even for a minute, he dispatches the female officer to keep Apollo busy while he confers with Spock, who is still on the Enterprise. They ultimately discover that Apollo's power comes from a parthenon-like structure, which they proceed to destroy with a prolonged phaser blast.

Apollo, now defeated and depressed, then says (roughly): ``Was it so much I asked of you? I would have given you everything. I only wanted you to worship me.''

To which Kirk replies: ``We've outgrown you.''

Huh. Captain Kirk: Vile atheist scum.

On the other hand, in the same episode Kirk, when asked if the Enterprise crew no longer had room for Gods in their lives, replies: ``We find the one sufficient.'' So maybe it was only polytheistic religion that we've outgrown, a message that Johnson ought to like.

Social scientists further affirmed this myth with their secularization thesis, which predicted that supernatural religion would steadily lose adherents throughout the world as public education enlightened the multitudes, and as people came to see scientific technology as the only route to health, happiness, and longevity. Problems such as pollution and warfare were acknowledged, but these too could be mastered if we insisted that our politicians heed the advice of the ruling scientists.

The cultural path that led to this apotheosis of scientific naturalism began just after the middle of the 20th century, with the triumphalist Darwin Centennial Celebration in 1959 and the 1960 film Inherit the Wind, a stunning but thoroughly fictionalized dramatization of the Scopes trial of 1925. The real Scopes trial was a publicity stunt staged by the ACLU, but Broadway and Hollywood converted it to a morality play about religious persecution in which the crafty criminal defense lawyer Clarence Darrow made a monkey of the creationist politician William Jennings Bryan, and in the process taught the moviegoing public to see Christian ministers as ignorant oppressors and Darwinist science teachers as heroic truth-seekers. As the 20th century came to an end, science and history teachers were still showing Inherit the Wind to their classes as if it were a fair portrayal of what had happened in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925.

Pollution and warfare are consequences of science? I think the sort of extreme, exclusivist religion Johnson preaches is a more proximate cause of warfare. As for pollution, somehow I don't think Johnson really wants to go back to a time before the Industrial Revolution. And science has made it possible to make use of our natural resources far more efficiently and responsibly than in any pre-Industrial revolution society.

The real Scopes trial was not a publicity stunt. Tennessee's Butler Act, violated by Scopes, was a real law and it was really unconstitutional. It is true that the newly-formed ACLU wanted to call attention to themselves, but in this they were partners with the town of Dayton, Tennessee, the site of the trial. Dayton wanted to put themselves on the map, and famously became outraged when other Tennessee cities started talking about putting on their own anti-evolution trials. Check out Edward Larson's Summer for the Gods for a look at the history of the Scopes trial.

Incidentally, the play Inherit the Wind was intended as a parable about the evils of McCarthyism. It was never intended to tell the history of the Scopes trial.

Superficially, it seemed that scientific naturalism was everywhere triumphant at the start of the 21st century. Scientific rationalists were nonetheless uneasy, for two reasons.

First, literary intellectuals had pushed naturalism to the limits of its logic and drawn the conclusion that, since an uncreated nature is indifferent to good and evil, all values are merely subjective, including even the value of science. It seemed to follow that nothing is forbidden, and pleasure can be pursued without limit. Both highbrow literature and popular entertainment became strongly nihilistic, scorning all universal standards of truth, morality, or reason.

Second, public opinion polls showed that a clear majority of the American public still believed that God is our creator despite the heavy-handed indoctrination in evolutionary naturalism to which they had been subjected for several decades in textbooks, television documentaries, and museum exhibits. The seemingly solid wall of Darwinian orthodoxy was crumbling under the pressures described in the accompanying article by Jonathan Wells.

First, I defy Johnson to produce even one example of a scientist who ever reconsidered anything on the basis of what ``literary intellectuals'' said or did.

Second, the idea that evolution implies atheism is simple nonsense. Johnson and his ilk like to denigrate any religious faith not as extreme as their own, but the fact remains that many scientists and mainstream Christian denominations find nothing threatening in evolution.

As for the nonsense promulgated by Dr. Wells, follow the link mentioned earlier to Pharyngula's blog.

Naturalism was losing its essential scientific backing, and then it also suddenly lost its hold on the popular and literary imagination, as the American public tired of nihilism and began to count the cost of all that had been destroyed during the century of scientism. New historical scholarship reflected in a stunning PBS television documentary exposed the Inherit the Wind portrayal of the Scopes trial as a hoax, kicking off an era of historical revisionism in which book after scholarly book exposed how propaganda techniques had been employed to create a mythology of inevitable progress toward naturalism, similar to the governing mythology of the Soviet Union, which had proclaimed the inevitable replacement of capitalism by communism.

As already mentioned, ``Inherit the Wind'''s portrayal of the Scopes trial was not a hoax. It was a parable. Anyone thinking they were getting actual history should be given a lesson about why they should not be learning their history from the movies.

The PBS documentary on the Scopes Trial, suffice it to say, showed that there were many historical inacuracies in the movies. For that matter, there are scientific inaccuracies as well, as when we learn that Darwin theorizes about the origin of life in the Origin of Species. You shouldn't learn your science or your history from movies.

Also notice Johnson's fanatical obsession with linking evolution with Communism, atheism, and any other unpleasant ism. This is chum for the fundamentalist sharks for whom he is writing.

The collapse of the Soviet Union put an end to the Soviet myth, just as the scientific collapse of Darwinism, preceded as it was by the discrediting of Marxism and Freudianism, prepared the way for the culture to turn aside from the mythology of naturalism to rediscover the buried treasure that the mythology had been concealing. A hilarious Broadway comedy titled Inherit the Baloney enacted a sort of Scopes trial in reverse, with the hero a courageous Christian college professor badgered incessantly by dim-witted colleagues and deans who keep telling him that the only way to preserve his faith in a postmodern world is to jettison all the exclusivist truth-claims. They wanted him to admit that Jesus was sorely in need of sensitivity training from some wise counselor like Pontius Pilate, because "nobody can surf the web every day and still believe that there is such a thing as 'truth' or goodness." Overnight, the tendency of naturalistic rationalism to decay into postmodern irrationalism became a national joke.

See previous comment, and add ``Freudianism'' to the list.

Then the rise of Islamic extremism at the start of the new century came just as scholars and journalists were finally taking notice of the rapid spread of active, vibrant Christian faith in Africa, South America, and Asia, especially China. The secularization thesis was consistent with the facts only in a few parts of the world where long-established Christian churches had succumbed to complacency and the slow poison of naturalism. Where life was hardest and persecution frequent, the flame of faith burned brighter than ever. For those with a global outlook, the question was not whether God was still important in our lives, but rather, "What does God want us to do?" Once Darwinism had joined Marxism and Freudianism in the dustbin of history, the entire world seemed new and full of exciting possibilities.

New and exciting possibilities? By returning to the religious doctrines of the Dark Ages? How about old and mercifully forgotten possibilities. And I hardly think the answer to Islamic extremism is Christian extremism.

The crucial turning point in America came in the year 2004. In that year the "same-sex marriage" explosion, abetted by public officials, brought to public attention the extent to which long-settled understandings of law and morality had been undermined as judges, mayors, and citizens internalized the nihilistic moral implications of naturalistic philosophy. That same year, with the spectacular success of two great movies, The Return of the King and The Passion of the Christ, it became clear that the public was hungering for art and entertainment that affirmed traditional values rather than flouted them. Surprise: The Bible still provided, as it had for many centuries, the indispensable starting point for the artistic imagination.

Artists and humanities scholars recognized that the human imagination had been stunted by blind adherence to a philosophy that denied the artist or poet any sense of the divine power that gives meaning to the realm of nature. As sanity reasserted itself, even the secular intellectuals saw that the fact of creation provides the essential foundation not only for the artistic imagination, but even for the scientific imagination, because science itself makes no sense if the scientific mind is itself no more than the product of irrational material forces.

Science makes sense because it renders the natural world predictable and controllable. That is a simple empirical fact, not one dependent on God's existence. Also notice that evolution, as the foundation, in Johnson's mind, for an atheistic wordlview, is now casually described as insane.

As that insight spread, naturalism became yesteryear's fashion in thought, and the world moved forward to the more realistic understanding of the human condition that we in 2025 now take for granted. Only the fool says that there is no God, or that God has forgotten us. Folly like that is as dead today as the discredited Inherit the Wind stereotype, which fit the facts of history no better than the secularization thesis. We no longer expect to meet intelligent beings on other planets, for we have learned how uniquely fitted to shelter life our own planet has been created to be. Now we have a much more exciting adventure. We can dedicate our minds and our courage to sharing the truth that makes us free.

Add ``fool'' to ``insane''. No atheists in 2025? Only time will tell.


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