Thursday, April 01, 2004

Is the NCSE Promoting Religion? The good folks at National Review Online (NRO) have come up with a novel attack against people defending the teaching of evolution in public schools. You can find it here. I'll let them make their point in their own words:


The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is on the front lines of the battle to keep religion out of the nation's science classrooms. A group whose self-described mission is "Defending the Teaching of Evolution in the Public Schools," the NCSE routinely condemns anyone who wants to teach faith-based criticisms of evolutionary theory for trying to unconstitutionally mix church and state.

But in an ironic twist, it now turns out that the NCSE itself is using federal tax dollars to insert religion into biology classrooms. Earlier this year, the NCSE and the University of California Museum of Paleontology unveiled a website for teachers entitled "Understanding Evolution." Funded in part by a nearly half-million-dollar federal grant, the website encourages teachers to use religion to promote evolution. Apparently the NCSE thinks mixing science and religion is okay after all ?— as long as religion is used to support evolution.


Teaching faith-based criticisms of evolutionary theory is indeed an unconstitutional mixing of church and state, but that is not the reason for keeping them out of the classroom. Rather, they should be excluded because such criticisms have no place in a scientific discussion. If one side is arguing that the latest data from paleontology, genetics, and molecular biology is entirely consistent with evolution, and the other side is arguing that a particular interpretation of the Bible says evolution did not occur, then one side is behaving scientifically and the other side is not.

Even here, though, I would only object to a teacher presenting faith-based objections as if they had any legitimate scientific standing. Certainly if a student brings up the issue I'm all in favor of the teacher taking the opportunity to explain more about the nature of science, and why supernatural hypotheses are generally considered suspect.

So is the NCSE encouraging teachers to use religion to promote evolution? Of course not. We learn the basis for the charge later in the article:


But the strangest part of the website, by far, is the section that encourages educators to use religion to endorse evolution. Teachers are told that nearly all religious people, theologians, and scientists who hold religious beliefs endorse modern evolutionary theory, and that indeed such a view "actually enriches their faith." In fact, teachers are directed to statements by a variety of religious groups giving their theological endorsement of evolution.

For example, educators can read a statement from the United Church of Christ that "modern evolutionary theory... is in no way at odds with our belief in a Creator God, or in the revelation and presence of that God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit." Needless to say, statements from thoughtful religious groups and scholars who critique Darwinism because of its claim that the development of life was an unguided process are not included. Nor is there any indication of the fact that, according to opinion surveys, the vast majority of Americans continues to be skeptical of Darwin's theory of unguided evolution.


The website in question can be found here. Here is what it says about evolution and religion:



Response: Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.

The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive. Most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.



Notice how the statement that ``Most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict...'' got transformed into ``...nearly all religious people, theologians, and scientists who hold religious beliefs endorse modern evolutionary theory...''. Also notice that this section is labeled as a ``Response.' It is labeled that way because it is being offered as a response to certain misconceptions that students are likely to have. Teachers are not being instructed to present religious viewpoints as part of their lesson. But if they are confronted with students who have always been told that religion and evolution are incompatible, it is certainly reasonable to point out that, actually, they are compatible.

The NRO says that ``In fact, teachers are directed to statements by a variety of religious groups giving their theological endorsement of evolution." There is indeed a link to the NCSE's website, where they maintain a list of statements from religious organizations defending the teaching of evolution. In context, these statements are offered to back-up the claim that most mainline denominations have no trouble with evolution. They are not there so teachers can include them in their lesson plans.

The article closes with the usual self-righteousness of ID proponents. There is a curious thing, though. The author of the article, John West, is a representative of the Discovery Institute. Discovery is usually at great pains to claim that their objections to evolution are entirely scientific. Yet here he is arguing that public-opinion polls and faith-based objections should be part of the curriculum.

The reason he argues in this way is the he is writing in NRO, which appeals primarily to very conservative readers. As I've noted many times, when preaching to their choir ID proponents remove their masks of civility and objectivity and expose themselves as the dishonest, religious charlatans they actually are.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Dembski in World In Monday's entry we mentioned this collection of articles from the current issue of World magazine. There, I considered Phillip Johnson's essay. Now we move on to William Dembski's musings on the subject.

Given the complete lunacy of Dembski's recent writings, it is easy to forget that not too long ago he was the most serious of the ID proponents. He was the one who managed to get a technical monograph (in philosophy) published by Cambridge University Press. He was the one who claimed to have developed a rigorous mathematical framework for detecting ID. It was Dembski who claimed that obscure mathematical theorems were the final death knell for Darwin's theory. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but he even suckered me in to thinking he was a serious fellow. In a review of his book Intelligent Design that I wrote in 2001 for Skeptic magazine (available here), I wrote:


Despite this, I do give Dembski credit for two things. He does not simply sling mud at evolution in the hopes of establishing creationism by default. Rather, he makes an affirmative case for what he actually believes. His work is also relatively free of the righteous invective so typical of creationist literature. For these reasons I believe his books are worth reading and considering.


In my defense, this came after a lengthy essay in which I strongly criticized every one of his major ideas. I suppose it represents some sort of milestone that I have now been writing about this subject long enough to be embarrassed by things I wrote several years ago.

Well, the serious Dembski is dead and gone. He has been replaced by the hysterical, cartoon Dembski, who simply repeats the standard anti-evolution tropes of his more articulate forbears. His pathetic, recent attempt at propping up the idea of irreducible complexity, and his recent Q&A book The Design Revolution are exhibits A and B in that argument. Exhibit C is his essay in World. We consider it in full:


AT THE TIME OF THE SCOPES TRIAL, and for the remainder of the 20th century, science was wedded to a materialistic conception of nature. The architects of modern science, from Rene Descartes to Isaac Newton, had proposed a world of unthinking material objects ruled by natural laws. Because these scientists were theists, the rule of natural law was for them not inviolable-God could, and from time to time did, invade the natural order, rearrange material objects, and even produce miracles of religious significance. But such divine acts were gratuitous insertions into a material world that was capable of carrying on quite nicely by itself.

In the end, the world bequeathed to us by modern science became a world of unthinking material objects ruled by unbroken natural laws. With such a world, God did not, and indeed could not, interact coherently, much less intervene. Darwinian evolution, with its rejection of design and its unwavering commitment to purely material forces (such as natural selection), came to epitomize this materialist conception of science. If God played any role in the natural world, human inquiry could reveal nothing about it.


Science is not ``wedded'' to any particular conception of nature. Scientists focus their attention on naturalistic forces because those are precisely the ones amenable to study in the field and the lab. Supernatural forces are, by definition, the ones that can not be tested under controlled conditions. When people talk about evidence for the supernatural, what they have in mind are phenomena that seemingly defy any naturalistic explanation. That is not a style of argumentation that carries much weight with scientists.

Science bequeathed us a world of unthinking material objects because by its very nature that is the only sort of world it could possibly bequeath. The surprising thing is that science has been so successful at explaining so much, that it now seems illogical to invoke the supernatural to answer what questions remain. That is why science is sometimes perceived as a threat to religion It's not that any particular finding of science is inconsistent with a theistic worldview. Anything scientists discover could just be God's way of working in the world, after all. Rather, it is that the overwhelming success of science in rendering the world controllable and predictable has made religion seem superfluous as a way of understanding anything.

Finally, it's just silly to talk about Darwinian evolution ``rejecting design'' and having an ``unwavering commitment to purely material forces''. Evolutionists invoke purely material forces for the same reason all scientists invoke such forces: they are adequate for explaining the phenomena at hand. And evolutionists do not reject design. They merely argue that natural selection working over vast periods of time can result in objects giving the appearance of design. What they reject is the idea is that you must invoke a supernatural designer to explain the adaptations of organisms.


This materialist conception of the world came under pressure in the 1990s. Scientists started asking whether information might not be the fundamental entity underlying physical reality. For instance, mathematician Keith Devlin mused whether information could perhaps be regarded as "a basic property of the universe, alongside matter and energy (and being ultimately interconvertible with them)." Origin-of-life researchers like Manfred Eigen increasingly saw the problem of the origin of life as the problem of generating biologically significant information. And physicist Paul Davies speculated about information replacing matter as the "primary stuff," therewith envisioning the resolution of age-old problems, such as the mind-body problem. Thus he remarked, "If matter turns out to be a form of organized information, then consciousness may not be so mysterious after all."

Such speculations became serious scientific proposals in the first decade of this century as proponents of intelligent design increasingly clashed with Darwinian evolutionists. The irony here is that the very sorts of arguments that Darwinists had been using to try to discredit intelligent design and relegate it to the sphere of religion rather than science ended up discrediting Darwinian evolution itself and exposing its unscientific presuppositions.


I haven't the faintest idea what Dembski is talking about here. First, ID proponents have offered no serious proposals for turning vague musings about information into scientifically useful hypotheses. Second, the arguments that evolutionists use to discredit ID have to do with the manifest falseness of the specific claims ID proponents make. Claiming that ``Irreducible complexity poses no challenge to natural selection'' or ``The NFL theorems have no relevance to assessing the viability of current evolutionary theories'' have nothing to do with any blinkered view of information or relegating ID to the sphere of religion. They have to do with the fact that ID's are intellectual charlatans, who routinely talk about things they know nothing about.

What does relegate ID to the land of religion is its reliance on supernatural forces to explain aspects of the natural world. Until they can tell us how the action of the supernatural designer manifests itself in the world in some predictable way, ID will not be scientific. Finally, ID's seem to think that information has some mystical quality to it that means it must be treated by techniques foreign to modern science. They frequently talk as if the irreducibility of information to the medium that contains it somehow means that information has some mystical quality to it. Of course, what Darwin's theory explains is how a small amount of information encoded in an early genome could have changed over time to produce what we find in nature today. Once again, it is not a theory about the origin of life. The origin of the first genome remains mysterious, but there is nothing in the nature of information or any other current scientific finding to suggest that naturalistic forces could not have brought it into being.


To see how this happened, recall how exchanges between Darwinists and the early design theorists used to go. The design theorists would go to great lengths to analyze a given biological structure, show why it constituted an obstacle to Darwinian and other materialistic forms of evolution, and lay out how the structure in question exhibited clear marks of intelligence. To such carefully drawn lines of scientific argument and evidence, the Darwinist invariably offered stock responses, such as, "There you go with your religion again" "You're just substituting supernatural causes for natural causes" "You just haven't figured out how evolution did it" "You're arguing from ignorance" "You're lazy; get back in the lab and figure out how evolution did it."


Oh, man. After this paragraph the only question remaining is whether Dembski constitutes a threat to himself, or whether he can continue to live independently. The trouble is that many of the people who read magazines like World believe such things unwaveringly, and absolutely refuse to educate themselves on the issue.


These responses were effective at cowing critics of Darwinism so long as the scientific community agreed with the Darwinists that science was about understanding the natural world solely in terms of unguided material processes or mechanisms. But in the first decade of this century it became clear that this definition of science no longer worked. Science is, to be sure, about understanding the natural world. But science is not about understanding the natural world solely in terms of material processes.

The problem is that material processes, as understood by the Darwinists and most of the scientific community at the time, could not adequately explain the origin of biologically significant information. Darwinist Michael Ruse saw the problem clearly, though without appreciating its significance. Describing the state of origin-of-life research at the turn of the century, he remarked: "At the moment, the hand of human design and intention hangs heavily over everything, but work is going forward rapidly to create conditions in which molecules can make the right and needed steps without constant outside help. When that happens, ... the dreaming stops and the fun begins."


At the risk of being repetitive, evolution has nothing to do with the origin of life. It is not clear to me why Dembski thinks the Ruse quote is helpful to his case. Yes, origin of life research has a long way to go. Many of the results produced to date, while interesting and suggestive, do require scientists to create potentially unrealistic conditions in the laboratory. As we get more data on the likely environment of the early Earth, and on what sorts of chemical reactions take place under what conditions, we will come up with better and better scenarios for how life emerged. Isn't that obvious?

There are many hypotheses for explaining the origin of life. They all have their problems, but none of them invoke anything that's known to be impossible, and that is sufficient to rule out the necessity of invoking supernatural forces. And, obviously, invoking supernatural forces as the origin of biological information explains nothing and gives no insight into anything. As I've said before, nothing that was formerly mysterious becomes clear by invoking the supernatural.


Sadly for the Darwinists, the dreaming never stopped and the fun never began. Instead, the work of theoretical and applied intelligent-design theorists went forward and showed why scientific explanations of biologically significant information could never remove the hand of design and intentionality. The watchword for science became information requires intelligence. This came to be known as the No Free Lunch Principle, which states that apart from intelligent guidance, material processes cannot bring about the information required for biological complexity.


As already noted, the claim ``information requires intelligence'' is totally false. As George Williams has pointed out (see pp. 551-552 of Intelligent-Design Creationism and its Critics, Robert Pennock, ed.) He was actually replying to an essay written by Phillip Johnson, but the point he was replying to is the same as Dembski's (ID's are very good at staying on message):



Johnson's argument is based on some obvious fallacies, such as information requiring an intelligent author.
The pattern of slow-moving waves in sand dunes records information about what the wind has been doing lately. Their shadow pattern observed late in the day is information about the structure of the dunes and less directly about the wind. The only author here is the wind. Similar patternings must arise in any complex molecular mixture, including the prebiotic. If one kind of molecular pattern influences others in ways that increase the incidence of that pattern, a hypercycle subject to natural selection has arisen. This would be analogous to some pattern of dune shadows making it more likely that the responsible winds would occur more frequently. That the author of genetic information is as stupid as the wind is apparent in the functionally stupid historical constraints discussed in chapter 6 of my 1992 book.



That Dembski would actually use the phrase ``theoretical and applied intelligent-design theorists'' is one more piece of evidence that he is, indeed, a threat to himself. Let's go back to his essay:


The No Free Lunch Principle led to a massive change in scientific perspective. One notable consequence for biology was a thoroughgoing reevaluation of experimental work on prebiotic and biotic evolution. Invariably, where evolutionary biologists reported interesting experimental results, it was because "intelligent investigators" had "intervened" and performed "experimental manipulations" that nature, left to its own devices, was utterly incapable of reproducing.


Nothing much to reply to here, but why the sneer quotes? Is Dembski suggesting that the investigators are actually not that intelligent? That would seem to hurt his case, wouldn't it? Did they only sort of intervene? Were the manipulations not really experimental?


This led to an interesting twist. Whereas Darwinists had been relentless in disparaging intelligent design as a pseudoscience, Darwinism itself now came to be viewed as a pseudoscience. Intelligent design had been viewed as a pseudoscience because it refused to limit nature to the operation of blind material processes. Once it became clear, however, that material processes were inherently inadequate for producing biologically significant information, the Darwinian reliance, and indeed insistence, on such processes came to be viewed as itself pseudoscientific.


Case closed. Get this man a straight jacket. ID is viewed as a pseudoscience because its chief claims are false, it offers nothing useful that can be brought into the lab, and survives only through generous helpings of arrogance, puffery and propaganda. If the entire modern theory of evolution collapses tomorrow, ID will still be pseudoscience.


What would you think of a chemist who thought that all explosives were like TNT in that their explosive properties had to be explained in terms of electrostatic chemical reactions? How would such a chemist explain the explosion of a nuclear bomb? Would this chemist be acting as a scientist in requiring that nuclear explosions be explained in terms of electrostatic chemical reactions rather than in terms of fission and fusion of atomic nuclei? Obviously not.

Scientific explanations need to invoke causal powers that are adequate to account for the effects in question. By refusing to employ intelligence in understanding biologically significant information, the Darwinian biologists were essentially like this chemist, limiting themselves to causal powers that were inherently inadequate for explaining the things they were trying to explain. No wonder Darwinism is nowadays considered a pseudoscience. It does not possess, and indeed self-consciously rejects, the conceptual resources needed to explain the origin of biological information. Some historians of science are now even going so far as to call Darwinism the greatest swindle in the history of ideas. But this is perhaps too extreme.


Dare I state the obvious? Fission and fusion of atomic nuclei are themselves material processes and as such are amenable to scientific study. The chemist trying to explain a nuclear bomb via chemical reactions would indeed look pretty foolish, but so would the ID theorist trying to explain a nuclear bomb in terms of poltergeists.

Maybe I'm being too hard on Dembski. I mean, look how gracious and magnanimous he is in that last sentence.


The information-theoretic perspective did not just come to govern biology but took hold throughout the natural sciences. Physics from the time of Newton had sought to understand the physical world by positing certain fundamental entities (particles, fields, strings), specifying the general form of the equations to characterize those entities, prescribing initial and boundary conditions for those equations, and then solving them. Often, these were equations of motion that, on the basis of past states, predicted future states. Within this classical conception of physics, the holy grail was to formulate a "theory of everything"-a set of equations that could characterize the constitution and dynamics of the universe at all levels of analysis.

But with information as the fundamental entity of science, this conception of physics gave way. No longer was the physical world to be understood by identifying an underlying structure that has to obey certain equations no matter what. Instead, the world came to be seen as a nested hierarchy of systems that convey information, and the job of physical theory was to extract as much information from these systems as possible. Thus, rather than see the scientist as Procrustes, forcing nature to conform to preconceived theories, this informational approach turned the scientist into an inquirer who asks nature questions, obtains answers, but must always remain open to the possibility that nature has deeper levels of information to divulge.


Whatever.


Nothing of substance from the previous "mechanistic science" was lost with this informational approach. As Roy Frieden had shown, the full range of physics could be recovered within this informational approach (Physics from Fisher Information: A Unification, Cambridge University Press, 1998). The one thing that did give way, however, was the idea that physics is a bottom-up affair in which knowledge of a system's parts determines knowledge of the system as a whole. Within the informational approach, the whole was always truly greater than the sum of its parts, for the whole could communicate information that none of the parts could individually.

The primacy of information throughout the sciences has had profound consequences for religion and faith. A world in which information is not primary is a world seriously limited in what it can reveal about God. This became evident with the rise of modern science-the world it gave us revealed nothing about God except that God, if God exists at all, is a lawgiver. But with information as the primary stuff, there are no limits on what the world can in principle reveal about God. Theists of all stripes have therefore found this newfound focus of science on information refreshing.


Since we have already established that information can come about via purely material forces, it is not clear how Dembski's information-theoretic viewpoint, to the extent that it is coherent, tells us anything about God.

The recent propaganda of ID proponents has been so strident and silly that I actually find myself vaguely encouraged. They seem to have abandoned the idea of doing serious scientific work altogether, and seem content to deal in propaganda and bloviation. They are quickly de-evolving back into the nothingness from which they came.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Another Milestone Reached! As of this writing, EvolutionBlog received 323 hits for the day. That's a new record. To all the new readers, welcome! I suspect many of you followed the link from my posting at The Panda's Thumb. It's amazing what a little advertising can do!

Evolution and Georgia According to this short article in the New York Times, the National Science Teachers Association is holding a major conference in Atlanta starting April 1. It's an ironic choice of venue given that earlier this year Georgia's Superintendant of Schools tried to have the word ``evolution'' removed from the state science standards. The article is quick to point out that the site of the conference was chosen years in advance. Here's an excerpt:


The date and site were chosen seven years ago, long before Georgia considered removing the word ``evolution'' from the state curriculum. But the recent debate has made Atlanta an interesting setting for a meeting of the nation's science teachers.

The role of evolution in state science standards will be part of several panel discussions for the 15,000 science teachers attending the four-day conference that begins Thursday at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, the event sponsor, said there are at least 10 U.S. cities wrestling with the evolution issue, so those at the conference will be anxious to hear what's going on in Georgia.

``The challenge is to know what good science is,'' Wheeler said.

Over the last year, officials in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Montana and Ohio have all grappled with the issue of how to teach evolution in the classroom.

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.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

With Friends Like These I just made my inaugural entry over at The Panda's Thumb. What a rush. I criticize certain defenders of evolution for offering flabby, inept arguments that ultimately do more to help ID folks than they do to defend evolution. You can find the whole article here.