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Brownback on Evolution:

At the first Republican Presidential debate, Senator Sam Brownback was among those who raised his hand when asked if any of the candidates did not believe in evolution. Today Senator Brownback takes to the New York Times op-ed page to try and explain his position.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

Senator Brownback wants to argue that religious faith in a divine creator is compatible with the science of evolution, but he can't bring himself to embrace any aspects of evolutionary theory that are rejected by creationists. He explicitly accepts microevolution and rejects evolution insofar as it entails "an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision," carefully eliding over his views of evolution's role in speciation. It's as if he wants to appear to take a position while leaving plenty of room to spin his views to various constituencies -- or, as Jack Balkin suggests here -- pretend to engage the subject with intellectual sophistication while continuing to reject the scientific validity of evolution.

FC:
Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.
5.31.2007 3:07pm
uh clem (mail):
For more details, see
Blogs 4 Brownback
.
5.31.2007 3:15pm
wm13:
I would think a more plausible suggestion would be that an op-ed piece isn't exactly the forum for intellectual sophistication. If you want to defend evolution, why don't you write a refutation of Phillip Johnson's books, rather than shooting fish in a barrel by nit-picking over an op-ed piece by a politician?
5.31.2007 3:27pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
"As if"?

N.b. that he rejects "a stark choice b/t evolution and creationism," but then goes on to pose a simplistic choice between microevolution (i.e., rejecting Darwin) and "an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world" (i.e., atheism). What pitiful rhetoric.

The elementary confusion, of course, is to confuse the scientific perspective, which just *is* "materialistic and deterministic" by definition, with the *entire* perspective -- that is to say, Brownback repeats the error that Dennett and Dawkins are usually said to commit. He just errs on the other side of the line.
5.31.2007 3:30pm
Rick Wilcox (www):
Well, I just looked at the Blogs 4 Brownback link. The disingenuousness, straw men, false dichotomies, and fatal misunderstandings of scientific fact are beyond my mortal ken.

And that was just Brownback's statement. His commenters remind me of the teenagers I keep seeing on another forum who repeatedly have to be reminded of How Science Works. The "sandwich" argument made me laugh, though - I just can't be bothered to comment there since I know I'll never go back.
5.31.2007 3:30pm
neurodoc:
How would you like to have to do the dance(s) the GOP candidates have to do in order to satisfy those who will decide the contest among them? Brownback probably does believe a great deal more of what he says about "social issues" in the course of campaigning than does Guiliani, so it isn't as hard for him. And undoubtedly it was the consultants who had to wrack their brains to craft the apologia, not Borwnback himself.

Kansas has been a great battleground over the teaching of evolution in the schools. I expect that along the way this senator from Kansas has weighed in more than once much more clearly on behalf of the anti-evolution crowd than he would like a national audience to know now.
5.31.2007 3:31pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
I'm just wondering what he means by "deterministic" -- the idea that evolution has a direction or goal is the stuff of bad science fiction, and seems much more compatible with the religious (at least deistic) than scientific.
5.31.2007 3:33pm
Colin (mail):
"Who here believes in evolution?" is only a stupid question if you can rely on the panel to give you a sane answer. The fact that even one hand went up among the highly educated people on that stage is appalling, and shows that it was certainly not a stupid question to ask. It showed who the panderers and fools are among the Republican candidates.

The most appalling statement in his confession of ignorance is this:

"Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."

In other words, scientific theories that he subjectively interprets as "undermining" his faith should be "firmly rejected" despite the objective accuracy and factual basis for those theories. Deplorable.

It's interesting that this is a backpeddle; Brownback now contends that he does believe in evolution, just not in the parts that creationists can still pretend don't exist. (He makes the typical insipid "macro/micro-evolution" distinction.) He wasn't being entirely straightforward when he raised his hand to the question, then. He was simply pandering, with the depressing assumption that his base is too ignorant or too dishonest to care about his own ignorance and dishonesty on this issue.
5.31.2007 3:36pm
uh clem (mail):
At the risk of speaking for Mr Adler, the point of this blog post is not whether evolution is correct or not (that's a long settled question and fairly boring to debate), the point is Sen Brownback's stance on it.

And the stance is quite clear - he rejects the theory of evolution.
5.31.2007 3:39pm
Colin (mail):
neurodoc,

We shouldn't give Brownback a pass for doing standard political theater if he's chosen to encourage ignorance and suppress science for naked political reasons. I'm sure it would be hard to take the honest and ethical road, and that it would cost him some votes. But surely the fact that doing the wrong thing is easier or more profitable than being honest shouldn't stop us from criticizing his performance.

Sean O'Hara,

I don't think he means anything by it; I think he's merely trying to use vaguely ominous words without establishing a more discrete position than he absolutely has to. Note, for instance, that he attacks evolution as being both "the chance product of random mutations" and a "deterministic vision of the world." I don't think he has a coherent, principled, intellectual position on this issue. He appears to be engaging in pure FUD, without a logical or rational argument underlying his scary rhetoric.
5.31.2007 3:43pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
At the first Republican Presidential debate, Senator Sam Brownback was among those who raised his hand when asked if any of the candidates did not believe in evolution.


Who were the others?

FTR: if in the unlikely event Sam Brownback is the Republican presidential nominee, I will not be voting for him in 2008.
5.31.2007 3:44pm
r78:
Brownback has much to learn. The right answer to the question is: "Every time we discuss evolution, we encourage the terrorists."
5.31.2007 3:47pm
Roundhead (mail) (www):
The whole “debate” about Darwinism vs. creationism is shot through with bad faith – on all sides, but especially the liberal-left, which is hypocritical here as most elsewhere.

On the one hand, liberal-leftists (and yes, I’m generalizing so don’t remind me that I’m generalizing) will screech from their high horses that the Darwinian theory of natural selection is irrefutable, but then turn around and propose anthropological and sociological theories that are, in their essence, creationist (ie. That there are no differences between the sexes, that human behaviour is infinitely mutable, etc.). These same spokespeople for scientific truth will fight like holy warriors to have natural-selection theory accepted into the curriculum, but then call; any attempt to make people more free as “social Darwinism.” I doubt, if you asked many of them, to explain just what Darwin’s theory is all about, that they would be able to explain it to you, even in basic outline….

And don’t even get me started on the assertion that Republicans and conservatives generally are “at war on science”…

This comes from someone who does not believe in God, the divinity of Jesus, Christian ethics, that God created the world in 3,196 BC or whenever.
5.31.2007 3:47pm
Nels Nelson (mail):
Thorley: Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo were the others, according to http://blogs.kansas.com/weblog/2007/05/brownback_incre.html.
5.31.2007 3:52pm
uh clem (mail):
Who were the others?


Sen. Sam Brownback, Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Rep. Tom Tancredo.
5.31.2007 3:52pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
It was a loaded question meant to bait the candidates. May I ask whose idea it was to ask it? That's the real story here.
5.31.2007 3:55pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
The other two candidates who said they don’t believe in evolution were Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo. Governor Huckabee elaborated on his answer in USA Today:

Huckabee, in a conference call with reporters, complained that the debate format didn't give him a chance to elaborate on his views about evolution.

"And the main thing ... I'm not sure what in the world that has to do with being president of the United States," said the former Arkansas governor.

Huckabee said he has no problem with teaching evolution as a theory in the public schools and he doesn't expect schools to teach creationism.

He said it was his responsibility to teach his children his beliefs though he could accept that others believe in evolution.

"I believe that there is a God and that he put the process in motion," Huckabee said.
5.31.2007 3:55pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

I hate to say it but I agree with Governor Huckbee in that I’m not sure what this has to do with being President of the United States. Could you imagine if at the next Democrat debate the moderator asked the candidates “who among does not believe in God” or “who among you does not believe that God created the world?”
5.31.2007 3:58pm
Ken Arromdee:
On the one hand, liberal-leftists (and yes, I’m generalizing so don’t remind me that I’m generalizing) will screech from their high horses that the Darwinian theory of natural selection is irrefutable, but then turn around and propose anthropological and sociological theories that are, in their essence, creationist

In a way that's true. But it's like saying "leftists will screech that the roundness of the Earth has been demonstrated by science, yet propose sociological theories that are in essence nonscientific".

Evolution, like the round Earth theory, isn't a leftist idea, it's an "everyone except certain religious fanatics idea".
5.31.2007 3:59pm
Colin (mail):
It was a loaded question meant to bait the candidates. May I ask whose idea it was to ask it? That's the real story here.

No, a loaded question would be, "Do you still beat your wife?" But that wasn't the question that was asked. The candidates were asked, "Who here beats their wife?" Three people raised their hands. That's not the questioner's fault.
5.31.2007 3:59pm
frankcross (mail):
Maybe it's used as a cue for whether the candidate is intelligent or openminded.
5.31.2007 3:59pm
Roundhead (mail) (www):
Ken –

In a way that's true. But it's like saying "leftists will screech that the roundness of the Earth has been demonstrated by science, yet propose sociological theories that are in essence nonscientific". (?????)

I don’t understand your reasoning: the left-wing refutation of sex-differences and of human nature (yes, I know I’m generalizing again, it is a fair generalization), is concerned directly with natural selection theory, whereas their beliefs or those of others are in no way relevant to the roundness of the earth.

thanks
5.31.2007 4:10pm
byomtov (mail):
It was a loaded question meant to bait the candidates.

Why? Seems to me it raised the important question of whether they are willing to let evidence sway them from their preconceived notions. Tancredo, Brownback, and Huckabee failed the test.
5.31.2007 4:11pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Right, well we should always abjure stark choices. Like, say, with gravity: Either the planets' orbits around the sun are a function of gravity, or else the earth is at the center of the universe. To the extent the former entails "an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision," naturally, it should be resisted. What conclusion to draw? I suppose only that the truth must lie somewhere in between universal gravitation and geocentrism.

Such is the "complex interaction" between faith and reason. Let's take the "sophist" out of "sophisticated," shall we?
5.31.2007 4:12pm
Esquire:
I'm always disturbed at dogmatism in science...if we say it's intellectually legitimate to believe in a virgin birth, a resurrection, walking on water, and countless other "non-scientific" tenets of certain faiths, then why draw the line at whether a Creator could have reasonably done something else inconsistent with the "evidence?"

Admittedly, the Dawkins types do indeed go "all the way" and denounce religion althogether -- but it seems that's what you'd need to do...
5.31.2007 4:13pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
liberal-leftists (and yes, I’m generalizing so don’t remind me that I’m generalizing) will screech from their high horses that the Darwinian theory of natural selection is irrefutable

Name one.
5.31.2007 4:13pm
Roundhead (mail) (www):
name one of whom?
5.31.2007 4:19pm
uh clem (mail):
Right, Anderson.

The Darwinian theory of natural selection is refutable. Refutability (or to use the more common term "falsifiable") is what makes it a scientific theory, rather than a faith-based assertion.
5.31.2007 4:20pm
r78:

It was a loaded question meant to bait the candidates. May I ask whose idea it was to ask it? That's the real story here.

Would it be a "loaded" question to ask the candidates which of them believes in astrology? Magical dwarves?
5.31.2007 4:21pm
uh clem (mail):
name one of whom?

Name a liberal-leftists who is screeching from a high horse that the Darwinian theory of natural selection is irrefutable.

C'mon, you're not that dense. You've set up a strawman and are being called out to provide an example. Don't play dumb.
5.31.2007 4:24pm
Roundhead (mail) (www):
well - clem and anderson maybe...
5.31.2007 4:33pm
plunge (mail):
"I hate to say it but I agree with Governor Huckbee in that I’m not sure what this has to do with being President of the United States."

Like it or not, Presidents are involved in the process of setting, for instance, education policy. Or bills concerning federal research funding. And appointing people to run agencies that rely on having good sound science (of which our current President has had many nepo-failures).

So, yes, it does have some impact.
5.31.2007 4:41pm
Peter Young:
liberal-leftists (and yes, I’m generalizing so don’t remind me that I’m generalizing) will screech from their high horses that the Darwinian theory of natural selection is irrefutable

Name one.


Hee, hee, the old cross-examiner's trick, and I saw you use it on the VC once before.

It was used in the Pentagon Papers trial. Leonard Boudin, one of Dan Ellsberg's lawyers, had a government national security expert on the stand. He asked him if he kept up with the literature in the field, had read the recent books. The expert, of course, said yes. Boudin said name five. The expert struggled mightily and came up with one of marginal relevance. He was destroyed, in his own eyes as well as the jury's; he was deflated and remained crestfallen for the rest of his stay on the stand.

It's a gamble, of course, because there are some real experts out there. You have to know your blowhards when you see them.
5.31.2007 4:43pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Q the Enchanter with the post of the day!

Of course it's a fair question. There is, in fact, a chunk of the Republican party that is at war with science; one example of that relates to denial of evolution; and if even if you think, "well, gosh, creationism may be a denial of basic science, but the President doesn't have much to do with what school boards do," consider the horrific Terry Schaivo debacle, forged of scientific ignorance and the fealty of too many Republican leaders to the fringe of the Christian right. And this question was a good way to suss out which candidates had such fealty.

Beyond that, Colin is absolutely right in writing the following:

The most appalling statement in his confession of ignorance is this:

"Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."

In other words, scientific theories that he subjectively interprets as "undermining" his faith should be "firmly rejected" despite the objective accuracy and factual basis for those theories. Deplorable


That's the part of Thompson's article that appalled me the most, too: "here's what I think religion dictates, and if 'science' says otherwise, why it's 'athesitic' and must be rejected." Shameful and scary.
5.31.2007 4:54pm
CJColucci:
What many of the commenters are missing, but JA seems to have picked up on, is that Brownback is not merely making a vapid defense of theistic evolution or "non-overlap[ping magisteria," but talking in code. The code is familiar to his base and to anyone who follows the issue, and the coded message is this: Sam Brownback believes in almost nothing contained in the modern theory of evolution by natural selection. The "microevolution" references, for example, are code for "every species was created directly by God, 'each according to its kind.'" Human beings are not descended from a common ancestor we share with our fellow primates.
For obvious reasons, Brownback doesn't want to say that too loudly outside the hookworm belt, where actual grownups might hear him, but he does want to reassure the rubes who know what he's about while trying to keep the city slickers from realizing just what he is.
5.31.2007 4:55pm
uh clem (mail):
You have to know your blowhards when you see them.

Well, this one wasn't exactly hiding it under a bushel...
5.31.2007 5:01pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
On the one hand, liberal-leftists (and yes, I’m generalizing so don’t remind me that I’m generalizing) will screech from their high horses that the Darwinian theory of natural selection is irrefutable,


Gould? Dawkins? No, wait, they disagree with Darwin on key points. As does every evolutionary biologist since Watson and Crick.
5.31.2007 5:43pm
Roundhead (mail) (www):
which key points do they disagree on?

I could reword it: "the theory of evolution based on natural / environmental selection"... which is of course what liberal-leftists don't acutally believe in...

thanks
5.31.2007 5:54pm
Colin (mail):
Roundhead, it sounds like you're accusing "liberal-leftists" of believing in biology generally, but not supporting a specific application of evolutionary theory. What's wrong with that? The fact that we support science doesn't mean that we must accept every argument that claims support in that science. Does the specific application you're talking about (I'm not clear on what that is) have the same sort of evidentiary support as the TOE generally? I think you're straining very hard to shoehorn a "sauce for the gander" argument into this. There's a difference, though, between the (alleged) argument that a specific assertion isn't scientifically supported, and the assertion in question here, that science and empiricism as a whole must be disregarded where it conflicts with faith.

As for your confusion about why and how scientists refute "Darwinism," please recall that Darwin wrote his books without any understanding of DNA or genes. The synthesis of Darwin's TOE and Mendellian genetics was a huge event, scientifically speaking. It overturned some of Darwin's assumptions and provided a fertile practical framework for understanding the mechanics of evolution, about which Darwin could really only guess. That's a gross generalization, of course. For specifics, try "What Evolution Is" by Ernst Mayr. It's well-written and relatively concise, and does a good job of settling misconceptions about evolution.

More generally speaking, no scientific theory is "irrefutable." Being refutable is one of the common requirements of a scientific hypothesis. Evolution is refutable. It hasn't been refuted. There's a rather large distinction.
5.31.2007 6:27pm
Michael B (mail):
"The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it." Brownback

Here Brownback is simply contrasting what might be characterized as the polar extremes of a continuum. He is not rejecting evolution. Likewise, that he singles out microevolution at one point does not imply he rejects the scientifically valid aspects of macroevolution.

"Senator Brownback wants to argue that religious faith in a divine creator is compatible with the science of evolution, but he can't bring himself to embrace any aspects of evolutionary theory that are rejected by creationists." J. Adler

Simply not true. I don't agree with all of Brownback's formulations, albeit in a manner that depends upon how some terms are defined. Still, in general terms, Brownback pointedly affirms both reason and faith and his primary complaint is not against evolution per se, rather it is against, in Brownback's own words, "an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world."

Too, it serves as a study in contrasts that Brownback's commentary all too predictably invokes the standard materialist/deterministic pitchfork-and-torch crowd, while I've yet to see any of the laughable philosophical arguments made by a Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, et al. contested in the least at this forum - which latter claims, presumably, serve to inform a prominent aspect of Brownback's own skepticism.
5.31.2007 7:22pm
Cornellian (mail):
Too, it serves as a study in contrasts that Brownback's commentary all too predictably invokes the standard materialist/deterministic pitchfork-and-torch crowd, while I've yet to see any of the laughable philosophical arguments made by a Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, et al. contested in the least at this forum

Perhaps that might have something to do with the fact that only Brownback is running for President? People here at VC didn't seem to care about Brownback's views on the subject before he started running.

Brownback's views, by the way, were nicely summed up on another blog today as "I don't believe my religion and science are in conflict, but if they are, my religion is right and science is wrong."
5.31.2007 7:35pm
Michael B (mail):
Cornellian,

But the subject has been invoked, at this estimable forum as at others, more broadly and not merely vis-a-vis this latest bid for the presidency.

Too, your "nicely summed up" characterization doesn't hold up to close scrutiny and additionally requires the standard pejorative take, set of assumptions, on what Brownback actually states. In the end though I can only defend my own positions, hence I stated I don't agree with all of Brownback's formulations.

But back to that latter characterization. I'd like to see you reason to that end rather than merely positing it as some type of obvious or dogmatic given. After all reason is germane to the discussion herein.
5.31.2007 8:06pm
Recovering Law Grad:
Sen. Brownback begins by saying:


The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two.


Howevever, he culminates his piece with:


It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.


As well as with:


Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.


I have no complaing with Brownback's first point, that science and faith can coexist. I struggle to see how they can do so on a very defined and specific issue such as the origin of man, but I can imagine that someone could make a fairly compelling and interesting argument on the point.

However, Brownback's first point is flatly contradicted by his second and third. Brownback wants science and faith to coexist. Fine. But, in Brownback's view, science and faith can only do so until science goes too far, in which case Brownback has a problem and science must be rejected. Well, of course, this isn't coexisting at all - it's just the opposite.

Additionally, Brownback's second comment is patently absurd. Science does not overreach by *failing* to take into account faith - science is fundamentally unconcerned with faith and, if it were to become concerned with it, the overreaching would really begin.

On the whole, Brownback's piece is garbled and misconceived and, ultimately, simply an immature piece of writing.
5.31.2007 8:22pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Given that many people do think the most reasonable interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis is that the world was really created in six days 10,000 years ago (note: I don't think this is the most reasonable interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3, given its poetic elements), I can understand why he might genuinely feel conflicted, resulting in the following views:

1. Whatever the Bible teaches is true.
2. The Bible's teaching is consistent with the consensus among contemporary scientists.
3. Science isn't infallible and has often been very wrong even when scientists are correct at the time to think their best information leads them to that view. Most of the time these are minor variations, but sometimes they are major overthrows.
4. The most plausible interpretation of the Bible conflicts with the contemporary consensus.

I can easily see why an intelligent, informed person who knows all the science and understands why the consensus holds what it does might still refrain from holding any belief whatsoever on whether speciation occurred in the way the consensus says it did. The key is to insist both that (a) our interpretation of the scripture might be wrong and (b) our science has at least some chance of being wrong, while insisting that (c) whatever the Bible does say is true and (d) whatever a perfect scientific study would result it will almost certainly be correct.

Only if you assume from the outset that divine revelation about such matters is impossible could you end up concluding that such a person is irrational.
5.31.2007 8:28pm
plunge (mail):
Michael B, sorry, but yes it does. That's exactly what the "on the other hand" construct means and implies. This is a very very common rhetorical trick by creationists: contrast what they term their own "see, I am reasonable" concession of microevolution with basically dumping everything else into the category of godless atheism.

If Brownback had wanted to agree that common descent is well established and human beings are, in fact, a subgroup of great apes, he could have said that and maybe you'd have a case. But he didn't. He doesn't even say that the Earth is not, in fact, 6000 years old. He merely says that not all creationists believe that.

"while I've yet to see any of the laughable philosophical arguments made by a Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, et al. contested in the least at this forum"

If they were brought up, would you continue to argue against them in this vague, content-free way, or would you actually address their real positions?
5.31.2007 8:30pm
Ramza:

Brownback's views, by the way, were nicely summed up on another blog today as "I don't believe my religion and science are in conflict, but if they are, my religion is right and science is wrong."

Thats the scary part about it. It is okay to say you are agnostic or you simply don't know or don't care. (My life will not mean less if it is evolution by random chance or divine interference at critical junctures to create humans or god created the system and the system is beautiful). It is okay to say you are ignorant about the finer details of the subject and only know what you were taught in high school 20-50 years ago.

Thing is Brownback doesn't do that, he is saying if the two things are in conflict religion always trumps science. He is saying this before he sees the evidence. It is like saying we are going to have a trial, but if the person I want to be found guilty or not guilty is found the opposite, well the trial doesn't matter for I said so.

It means he is closed off from ideas that challenge his own (or at least ideas that seriously challenge his view on how the world works).

---------------------------------------

I can not vote for a man who said what Brownback did. There is no possibility that his religon can be wrong.

I can not vote for an athiest who announces in his mind there is no theoretical possibility of a God (not necessary a Christian god). There is no possibility that he can be wrong.

I can vote for a politician if he said something like Pope Benedict said. (In my words summing Benedict, that all this talk about evolution vs intelligent design vs creationism, misses the larger point, we are too focused on what can be proven or not proven and lose sight of the larger picture)

I can vote for a person who is ambivalent on the matter, or he admits he doesn't know.
5.31.2007 8:34pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

Your pejorative characterization not withstanding, mine was rather obviously a general comment and as such one that is entirely reasonable. Or are you declaring yourself immune from and above such general statements? Put differently, your "vague" and "content-free" characterization is merely a sneer. But the answer is yes; though too Dawkins, Dennett and Harris and crew have been brought up, but never with much specificity and never critically that I've observed. Or can you point me to a post, or a comment of your own that would suggest otherwise?

As to Brownback, certainly he answered in the manner of a politician and as I have already re-emphasized, I disagree with his some of his formulations, depending upon how some terms might be defined. Too, in the end I can only defend my positions, not someone else's. Though I can reasonably and rationally argue against the way Brownback has been characterized in many comments in this thread.

Btw and for yet another study in contrasts in terms of politicians' responses. Can you point to a Left/Dem type of politician who argues strictly for a materialist/deterministic conception of evolutionary theory, that is to say scientific theory adumbrated with an atheistic theory? In terms of a politician's response to this topic, that too would reflect a relevant contrast. But that's something we're unlikely to see addressed to a set of Democratic hopefuls.

Telling, that. Revealing of an aspect that is being omitted from the set of debates and overall discussion vis-a-vis Democratic contenders, while its obverse phrasing is pointedly asked of Republican contenders.

As with science and philosophy, omissions can be just as telling, even moreso, as what is included in a discussion.
5.31.2007 9:03pm
neurodoc:
JosephSlater: ...consider the horrific Terry Schaivo debacle, forged of scientific ignorance and the fealty of too many Republican leaders to the fringe of the Christian right. And this question was a good way to suss out which candidates had such fealty.
I followed the Schiavo case closely, discussed it with someone who examined her and testified in court about the neurologic findings and their implications; rebutted the arguments of a prominent academician who maintained she was in a persistent vegatative state; attended a Senate hearing on the matter and listened to Senator Burr (R-NC) demand to know why a PET scan was not; etc. From every possible standpoint (Constitutional/legal; medical; political; ethical; etc.), I was appalled at what the politicians, almost all Republicans, "contributed." (There may be better reasons than the Schiavo case to vote against Jeb Bush should he ever be a candidate for office again, but none come to my mind.)

I do agree with you that the "evolution" question really functions as a surrogate for other issues, "fealty...to the fringe of the Christian right" important among them. Having said that, I would ask you; Colin, who seems reasonably well-informed about the relevant science; and anyone else who wants to take a crack at it, of what importance is the matter of acceptance or rejection of evolution in and of itself, that is not as a surrogate indicator of general "scientific ignorance;" "fealty...to the fringe of the Christian right," with whatever implications that may carry; etc.?

Can't one manage pretty well, even within professions based in science, even biologically related ones like medicine, without accepting evolution, however inconsistent with science such non-acceptance might be? What exactly is an understanding of evolution foundational to? I would be very disinclined to vote for a presidential candidate who pronounced him/herself a "non-believer" in evolution for a number of reasons, including "bad role model," but I can't say it would be a like having a president who was a total ignoramus about economics, international relations, other aspects of biological and physical sciences, etc.

Sherlock Holmes did not know something so fundamental as that the earth revolved around the sun and didn't care to know anything about astronomy or a great many other subjects that he saw as irrelevant for his purposes. And yet, he managed to be a superb detective. (Yes, I know he was a fictional character.) Why shouldn't someone be able to manage very well, even as POTUS, with a few figurative brain lacunae, so long as those lacunae did not pertain to anything very relevant to what they were charged with doing? I have no trouble seeing that someone with a very low level of competency in mathematics would not be well-suited to too many productive undertakings, but it is not clear to me, someone reasonably well-educated in science, why lack of knowledge about evolution per se or disbelief in it need matter very much for most purposes. Such a person ought not be teaching introductory biology but could teach organic chemistry, couldn't they?

Practically speaking, is "evolution" really central or is it really peripheral?
5.31.2007 9:16pm
plunge (mail):
"Your pejorative characterization not withstanding, mine was rather obviously a general comment and as such one that is entirely reasonable."

You asserted that those three have said laughable things... without actually citing any. I've seen this treatment and accusation against these people before: similarly content-free. If you want to justify your claim do so: claiming I'm sneering or being pejorative just pointless distraction.

"Though I can reasonably and rationally argue against the way Brownback has been characterized in many comments in this thread. "

I can reasonably argue that you are wrong and that the characterization was fair. I can't believe we are actually discussing THAT instead of arguing the issue directly. In fact, you seem to have managed to get through yet another post without actually addressing the substantive subject under debate or defending your assertions.
5.31.2007 9:17pm
George Stanton (mail):
Many of the posts critical of Mr. Brownback seem to take for granted their belief in evolution, and dismiss belief in God. I think it is important to recognize that belief in God can also be a rational belief. For a person who believes, the evidence of God is present everywhere. There are even people who have witnessed unexplained ( so far ) and miraculous events. Many of the greatest Western thinkers and philosophers were religious. When considering this question, it might be instructive to think of it from the point of view of a religious person, without dismissing that perspective as irrational.

Consider Mr. Brownback's dilemna. He truly, and probably rationally, believes in God. He also has been told that there is much evidence to support evolution. How can he reconcile these beliefs in a consistent way without dismissing either? ( It seems to me that he's given it a more thoughtful try than many people). Why does everyone say he must reject his belief in God? What makes a naturalistic worldview inherently more valid than a Deistic one?

Both views involve certain basic assumptions, they are merly different ones. I think it is clear that a naturalistic worldview gives predictable results. But that does not prove that is true in the sense that it represents the way that the cosmos is actually constructed. Only that it is useful.

I for one believe that there is an overall purpose to the Universe, and that evolution is a product, or maybe a mechanism of that purpose. I also believe in God as the architect and caretaker of that purpose.


(fyi, I would vote for Brownback if he is the Republican nominee, but at this point I prefer Romney or Giuliani.)
5.31.2007 9:29pm
plunge (mail):
"How can he reconcile these beliefs in a consistent way without dismissing either?"

The problem is more that he is not willing to reconcile them. His belief in is NOT rational if it is entirely immune to question and challenge. A rational person needs to be open to EITHER being wrong, and then go out and LOOK and LEARN and find out which is correct.

"Why does everyone say he must reject his belief in God? What makes a naturalistic worldview inherently more valid than a Deistic one?"

You're buying into exactly the dichotomy that he is falsely establishing (and others here are trying to pretend that he has not). You do not need to believe that there is no God to accept that the scientific evidence supports evolution via common descent: and supports it very strongly from virtually every angle you look at the issue.
5.31.2007 9:51pm
Recovering Law Grad:
George -

Brownback can believe whatever he wants. Belief in God does not disqualify one for elected office. I would submit that Brownback's statement - that science goes too far when it refuses to consider creationism - is indefensible on any reasonable level and *does* disqualify Brownback from office, as it reflects a fundamental ignorance. (To be clear: my point isn't that belief in creationism is necessarily "bad," just that a failure to understand that science is - and should be - unconcerned with creationism is very, very "bad.")
5.31.2007 9:54pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

This will be a startling revelation to you no doubt, but I feel much the same about your own comments. I don't find you to be probative or reflective of much depth in the least, even to the contrary I find your assumptions very often to be superficial and tendentious, even comically so at times.

And I noticed you avoided pointing to any of your own (specific) arguements, as I had requested. Or are asking such questions deemed to be appropriate you thee, not for others who would presume to question your high opinion of yourself? Again, if I'm wrong, provide the link or reference. First demand of yourself what you would demand of others, either that or admit you have no such comment you can readily link to. This is not a one-way street.

But I can at least begin with a quick link, as the attribution states written by "Patrick McNamara, [an] Assistant Professor of Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and the VA New England Health Care System. He recently edited the three-volume series Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion."
5.31.2007 9:57pm
Jam:
An evolutionist is elected POTUS and seeks to stop Federal funding of science because it is not a Constitutionally delegated authority.

A creationist is elected POTUS and seeks to stop Federal funding of science because it is not a Constitutionally delegated authority.

What is the difference, in terms of governance?

After all the Constitution only delegates to the Central government the auhority to "promote science and useful arts" by granting copyrights and patents. No funding nor the establishing of policies or curricula.
5.31.2007 10:07pm
Jam:
If evolution is true, then, are not all the discussions in this here forum (all actions) the product of random chance?
5.31.2007 10:16pm
Michael B (mail):
An Alvin Plantinga review of Dawkins, Plantinga is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Good place to start is the fifth paragraph down, excerpted below:

"Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he's a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying. I shall put irritation aside, however and do my best to take Dawkins' main argument seriously."
5.31.2007 10:52pm
plunge (mail):
Michael, "This will be a startling revelation to you no doubt, but I feel much the same about your own comments. I don't find you to be probative or reflective of much depth in the least, even to the contrary I find your assumptions very often to be superficial and tendentious, even comically so at times."

The difference between you and I, however, is that I take time to lay out my arguments, and spend the lions share of my time presenting reasons and arguments to support my positions. I would say that, objectively, MOST of your posts are just long diatribes in which you talk about the person you are arguing with instead of addressing any of their arguments.

"And I noticed you avoided pointing to any of your own (specific) arguements, as I had requested."

I'm not sure what you mean. You did at one point say "Dawkins, Dennett and Harris and crew have been brought up, but never with much specificity and never critically that I've observed Or can you point me to a post, or a comment of your own that would suggest otherwise?" But I never suggested otherwise in the first place, so I'm not sure why you want me to argue a position that you yourself were the only person to bring up, seemingly out of left field. I have no idea whether or not this blog discussed those guys at any length, and I never claimed that they had. All I asked was a little argument before a blanket condemnation.

"Or are asking such questions deemed to be appropriate you thee, not for others who would presume to question your high opinion of yourself?"

This is what I'm talking about. I don't really think anyone cares to listen to us debate what my opinion of myself is, and really, I have no interest in the topic either. Sentences like this are overdramatic and add nothing to the debate.

"Again, if I'm wrong, provide the link or reference."

To what? I am not obligated to answer a question I never asked in the first place. You seem to have basically been so confused by your own unnecessarily verbose verbiage that you decided that a claim you had made which I never discounted in the first place demanded a refutation from me.

I'm also not sure why you think googling and posting the arguments of others is a worthwhile contribution to the debate: we can all google pretty well on our own, thanks. Why not summarize your original thoughts, in your own words?

And, as far as it goes, I'm already well aware of Plantinga, and I find his arguments unconvincing and generally off-target. In his discussion on Dawkins' argument regarding complexity, for instance, he simply leaves out the core idea of the claim: that it is originally THEISTS who claim that complexity demands explanation, and Dawkins is exploring that stated idea. Without that idea, Dawkin's premise might look at little odd, but simply misrepresenting someone is not a good way to deal with their arguments. And his take on the anthropic principle is just shockingly bad: on the order of the classic mistake of asserting that after a nearly infinite number of games of poker we should still be shocked when a royal flush is dealt. I honestly had to read it several times when I first heard it to make sure it was really reading it correctly. Of course, he here also leaves out any number of Dawkin's objections here in any case, yet again.

Finally there is the issue of simply declaring arguments to be terrible simply because we can make objections to them. Well, anyone can make objections to anything, and if the target is a book, it cannot directly and immediately respond. I'm not sure I see any grounds there to AGREE with the claim that you've done a good job in showing that the arguments are bad, and certainly not before the other parties have responded and the whole thing has been debated and hashed out in full.
6.1.2007 12:46am
plunge (mail):
"Jam: If evolution is true, then, are not all the discussions in this here forum (all actions) the product of random chance?"

No. Again.

First of all, evolution is not the idea that there is no God and/or no hidden purposes of some higher agent. That belief is potentially compatible with evolution, though not supported by it.

Furthermore, evolution on its own is not, in fact, a theory of mere random chance in any case. To think of it like that is simply to misunderstand it.

Finally, even if we were to think that all biological origins were the result of random chance, asserting that things like our intentionality and thinking and reasoning is itself nothing more than meaningless happenstance is simply an example of the genetic fallacy.
6.1.2007 12:52am
Michael B (mail):
"I'm also not sure why you think googling and posting the arguments of others is a worthwhile contribution to the debate: we can all google pretty well on our own, thanks. Why not summarize your original thoughts, in your own words?" plunge

No. Didn't google a thing, had them at hand. Regardless, that's a convenient way to be merely dismissive of the substance of the arguments instead of confronting and engaging them. Additionally, in this case, the expertise of a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine can be relevant, both in terms of their bona fides and in terms of the specific arguments they lay out. That's why, in this case, I offered those particular arguments. It's odd that I need to defend that choice and I make no apologies for doing so.

You're the one who stated: "If they were brought up, would you continue to argue against them in this vague, content-free way, or would you actually address their real positions?" So it's ironic that once the arguments are supplied you choose to ignore or dismiss them. First pointedly dismissive of the general statement as being vague and "content-free," then dismissing the specific arguments, even going so far as to suggest they're not "worthwhile."

Too, I did not recognize Plantinga's arguments in anything you characterized as his. To more seriously engage along those lines you'd need to supply excerpts and/or links and then reason from those specific points of view. But I suspect you can be dismissive of that idea as well.
6.1.2007 9:01am
Roundhead (mail) (www):
A little late but...

"More generally speaking, no scientific theory is "irrefutable." Being refutable is one of the common requirements of a scientific hypothesis. Evolution is refutable. It hasn't been refuted. There's a rather large distinction."

It's precisely my point that left-liberals (don't ask me to "name one", I'm speaking here about left-liberals as a group, it's a fair generalizaion) accept the theory of selection by enviornmental factors as an irrefutable faith, and not a theory at all...

thanks
6.1.2007 10:33am
plunge (mail):
Michael: yet ANOTHER three paragraphs in which you don't even once actually address any substantive argument. Yet somehow you manage to accuse me of the same. And in fact I DID respond to some of those arguments, even though they were not, in fact, your arguments, but the arguments of other people. That's still not a very honest way to debate: should I simply toss out a bunch of links to the thoughts of others and ask you to respond to them? I'm here debating you: if I wanted to debate Plantinga, I'd go debate him. You say you don't recognize his arguments... and yet you never specify what I got wrong, the way I specified it. Again, you really are attempting to be nearly content-free om your responses, and, frankly, just wasting my time and anyone else who bothers to read your posts.
6.1.2007 11:14am
plunge (mail):
Roundhead: "It's precisely my point that left-liberals (don't ask me to "name one", I'm speaking here about left-liberals as a group, it's a fair generalizaion) accept the theory of selection by enviornmental factors as an irrefutable faith, and not a theory at all... "

Well, I suppose you can claim that. So what? Seems like most people don't think it's true, not even most non-creationist people politically opposed to "left-liberals." It doesn't really seem like you know precisely what you are talking about either. If its all a faith, why is there so much debate and presentation of evidence involved? Why are textbooks on evolution filled with evidence instead of bare claims?
6.1.2007 11:23am
Michael B (mail):
No plunge,

You're the one who continues to dodge and avoid. And again I do not apologize - even to the contrary - for referencing the arguments I did, as already explained. You're being confronted with ideas and a set of arguments, precisely what you were previously bemoaning was lacking, and once confronted you've since run from those arguments and ideas rather than facing them, engaging them. (And since I don't so much as recognize his arguments in what you've stated, how on earth could I correct your characterizations? That's why I noted that if you wished to more seriously engage you should supply relevant excerpts/links and then reason from that point forward.)

But instead you offer a tactical ploy in the form of ad hominem inferences, along with your now standard dismissiveness.
6.1.2007 11:45am
plunge (mail):
"You're the one who continues to dodge and avoid."

I've presented substantive arguments in every single one of my posts to you, and you have not responded to the vast majority of them. I think it's pretty clear who is dodging what.

"And since I don't so much as recognize his arguments in what you've stated, how on earth could I correct your characterizations?"

The only way you could not recognize them is if you hadn't actually read them. Plantinga spends several paragraphs talking about Dawkin's argument about probability and complexity: how could you miss that? It's like, almost a third of the article!

This is what I mean about lazily tossing out some arguments from others when you aren't willing to present or defend any of your own. First you do that, and then you complain that I have to sit down and explain to you the article that YOU tossed out! It's a great tatic... for stalling. Not for having an honest discussion.

And I'm not going to play it. Please state, in your own words, an argument that YOU find compelling for the position you are taking. If it's a modified form of one someone else made, fine, but at least put it in your own words and take a stand on it rather than just making me explain your own articles to you.
6.1.2007 11:56am
Roundhead (mail) (www):
"Seems like most people don't think it's true, not even most non-creationist people politically opposed to "left-liberals." It doesn't really seem like you know precisely what you are talking about either. If its all a faith, why is there so much debate and presentation of evidence involved? Why are textbooks on evolution filled with evidence instead of bare claims?" (????????)

You really need remedial writing, don't you plunge? what the hell are you saying?
6.1.2007 12:05pm
Jam:
plunge: I am reading on the "genetic fallacy."

So far I do think that what I wrote falls under the genetic fallacy.

If we are the product of random processes, all processes within ourselves must also be random. Any percieved organization arising from random could not be discerned unless we can understand what is organization. Can random porocesses "create" understanding of "organization?"
6.1.2007 12:16pm
Jam:
genetic fallacy: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/genefall.html

"For example, the chemist Kekulé claimed to have discovered the ring structure of the benzene molecule during a dream of a snake biting its own tail. While this fact is psychologically interesting, it is neither evidence for nor against the hypothesis that benzene has a ring structure, which had to be tested for correctness."

I agree with the above but that is not what I asked or inferred. What I am asking is for an explanation on the human ability to percieve organization if we are the product of random chemical processes.
6.1.2007 12:21pm
plunge (mail):
"If we are the product of random processes, all processes within ourselves must also be random."

First of all, as I said, we are not the result of "random" processes. We may be undesigned, but that is not the same thing as us being all "random." Evolution, in fact, is not simply a random process: it is, in fact, a specific algorithmic process.

"Any perceived organization arising from random could not be discerned unless we can understand what is organization. Can random processes "create" understanding of "organization?""

The basic issue of the genetic fallacy is the idea that the historical origin of something is relevant to whether or not its current state is true or possible. Even if we were the result of random processes (and we're not), that still doesn't preclude some emergent order or organization from arising out of it. It's origin does not determine its potential.

"What I am asking is for an explanation on the human ability to percieve organization if we are the product of random chemical processes."

But the argument you seem to be making by implication is that the ability in question cannot first not exist and then come to exist because it was once "random" or is derived from random events at some level. But why not?
6.1.2007 12:31pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

No games and there's nothing to "play." Again, what has been presented are arguments and ideas. And I fully recognize Plantinga's arguments; I don't recognize your characterization or adaptation or whatever it is and you haven't explained anything to me in terms of those arguments, that's one of the points being made. Perhaps I'll condense one or two of Plantinga's arguments, not sure since you haven't been willing to more seriously address them to this point, instead oddly choosing to refer to a lack of "honesty" along with other ad hominem snipes.
6.1.2007 12:47pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Neurodoc:

Don't know if you're still reading this thread, but I'll try to answer your quite reasonable question: of what importance is the matter of acceptance or rejection of evolution in and of itself, that is not as a surrogate indicator of general "scientific ignorance;" "fealty...to the fringe of the Christian right," with whatever implications that may carry; etc.?

For me (perhaps not surprisingly) being THAT scientifically ignorant generally and willing to show complete feality to the fringe of the Christian right would be sufficient not to vote for someone. But is there more? Sure, one could believe in the Virgin Birth, or that God cares whether we eat shellfish, and while I find both beliefs improbable at best, I doubt they would interfere with the day-to-day running of the country.

Evolution is different, however, in at least two ways. First, it represents a live political issue in this country. Yeah, maybe the feds aren't primarily responsible for local education, but see No Child Left Behind, schools run by the feds on army bases, etc. So this is not only an issue of "X believes something I think is scientifically wrong," it's an issue of "X believes something that the scientific communtity has entirely rejected, yet X will work to try to force that believe into the science curriculum of our public schools."

Second, this is not a matter, as I take your various examples to be, of someone simply not being an expert on something, not being up on the latest research, living in an era before we learned some stuff, etc. This is somebody who is specifically rejecting what is essentially the consensus belief of the relevant community of experts. Sure, I don't think Presidents need to be experts in engineering to authorize federal construction projects, but that's different from a President publically denouncing scientific principles underlying engineering.

Here, Brownback is rejecting basic scientific beliefs for no good reason (aside from ignorance and/or pandering). It's not as if he has better science. He says, essentially "I won't believe science about the natural world if it conflicts with what I think my religion tells me about the natural world." That's not a quality I want in a President.
6.1.2007 12:50pm
plunge (mail):
Michael, I'm not going to waste any more time responding to anything other than you answering my substantive arguments, or presenting some of your own. Either put up or shut up. You've managed to waste pages and pages worth of distraction psychoanalyzing me and making off-topic accusations. I made the mistake of trying to argue with your insults and characterizations, but this was exactly the distraction you seem to have wanted. Instead, I'm simply going to ignore any off-topic diatribes. Either you present an argument to respond to, or respond to my actual claims.
6.1.2007 1:09pm
Hewart:
It's as if he wants to appear to take a position while leaving plenty of room to spin his views to various constituencies -- or, as Jack Balkin suggests here -- pretend to engage the subject with intellectual sophistication while continuing to reject the scientific validity of evolution.


I'd say that about covers it.
6.1.2007 1:50pm
Colin (mail):
Neurodoc, I'm sorry to take so long getting back to you; I've been travelling. Essentially, if we disregard the question of Brownback's statement as a surrogate for his rationality/honesty generally and take it purely on its own merits as a statement of scientific literacy, then no, it's not that big a deal. This requires us to lop off the last paragraph of his NY Times piece, though, in which he explicitly says that this isn't just about evolution; he disregards science generally whenever it conflicts with his faith. It's not that he happens to be ignorant, but that he chooses to be ignorant and touts it as a virtue.

In other words, if he had said, "I don't know about evolution; it's not my line of work," then I wouldn't care very much. He's right. As a politician, he'll have people to tell him what the science says. He made an affirmative statement, though, that reveals that he's either irrational, stupid, or dishonest. And those are important qualities to watch out for in powerful men.

Can't one manage pretty well, even within professions based in science, even biologically related ones like medicine, without accepting evolution, however inconsistent with science such non-acceptance might be?

I have a little bit of trouble with this statement. Frankly, no, I wouldn't want to be treated by a crackpot like Egnor. I'm sure he can slice and dice as well as any more rational physician, but if he rejects inconvenient science about evolution, what else does he reject? There's a strong corrolation between ID and HIV/AIDS denial, after all, and epidemiology requires a basic understanding of evolutionary principles. I'm sure an individual physician could go his entire career without ever applying evolutionary theory, just like a lawyer could go his entire career without ever handling a tax problem. But I wouldn't want a tax protestor lawyer any more than I'd want a tax protestor President... some viewpoints are impossible for educated people to hold without serious character flaws that matter to me. A president doesn't need to understand evolution, and that ignorance is no big deal, but he can't be a creationist, openly flouting his denial of science, without being *willfully* ignorant, dishonest, or stupid. And willful ignorance, the most benign option, is a disqualifying factor for me. I wouldn't vote for Brownback anyway, but now I see him as absolutely unqualified for a public trust.

As an aside, I just read the Holmes stories a few months ago. The very first story establishes Holmes' amazing ignorance of physics and astronomy. But it seems like, after reading the rest, he was probably pulling Watson's leg (assuming Doyle didn't just change the character over time). Holmes often uses knowledge outside his specialty in criminology to solve cases, and seems pretty broadly read. But, more importantly, Holmes uses logic and reason to solve mysteries; he doesn't deny that the Earth revolves around the sun, he just claims not to know or care about the subject. Here, again, is the distinction between ignorance and willful ignorance; he can be ignorant about astronomy and still be a great detective, but could he be a great detective (or president) if he ignored proven facts that were contrary to his preconceptions?
6.1.2007 2:41pm
Colin (mail):
It's precisely my point that left-liberals (don't ask me to "name one", I'm speaking here about left-liberals as a group, it's a fair generalizaion) accept the theory of selection by enviornmental factors as an irrefutable faith, and not a theory at all...

Rounhead, your point is wrong. "Left-liberals" (you wouldn't have to keep apologizing for generalizing if you'd stop doing it and name an example) don't accept any scientific theory as "irrefutable." Nor do you understand what a "theory" is in this context. You might Google the Talk-Origins FAQ; I imagine it could clear up a few misconceptions for you.
6.1.2007 2:43pm
Jam:
"But the argument you seem to be making by implication is that the ability in question cannot first not exist and then come to exist because it was once "random" or is derived from random events at some level. But why not?"

Why yes? How does, for example, the ability to concieve of something we define as a diety arise from random processes?
6.1.2007 2:57pm
plunge (mail):
Jam, you are the one asserting that it cannot do so: you are the one who needs to establish why it can't: on what grounds? And why do you keep talking about random processes when I've made it pretty plain that evolution is not simply a random process?
6.1.2007 4:42pm
Jam:
Evolution is not a random process? Are you saying that evolution is an organized system? Which arose from:
a) a random process, or
b) from an already organized process.

Evolutionitst are the ones claiming organizatin out of randomness. I am just pointing it out. The burden is on your back, buddy.
6.1.2007 5:06pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

Your tactic is noted: studied avoidance, ad hominems and rank dismissiveness. Your characterization of Plantinga's arguments is either obtuse or more consciously you have in fact chosen to avoid what is being presented. The logic of what is presented is plain enough in the link provided and I'm not going to waste my own time redacting any of his arguments - they are already concise and to the point, each one of them.

I'll repeat my own claim that it serves as a study in contrasts that Brownback's commentary all too predictably invokes the standard materialist/deterministic pitchfork-and-torch crowd, while I've yet to see any of the laughable philosophical arguments made by a Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, et al. contested in the least at this forum - which latter claims, presumably, serve to inform a prominent aspect of Brownback's own skepticism.

Fact is, Richard Dawkins' philosophical notions are represented well by Plantinga. Too, the logic is not at all difficult to follow, another reason I'm not going to reduce them

They are, as previously indicated, laughably sophomoric, and it doesn't take a prominent logician to take note of that fact.
6.1.2007 5:44pm
Colin (mail):
Jam,

Evolution is a selective, not a random, process. Natural selection selects for reproductive fitness. Selection operates on the mostly-random procession of mutations, but also on non-random factors such as geographic sorting. Even when selection operates purely on random mutations, the result--evolution--is not random.

As an example, flip a coin 50 times. A list of the overall heads/tails distribution would be a random result. Now select only the heads results, and write those down. The randomness of the original process has some influence on the new result, for instance by determining the length of the new list, but that new list could not seriously be called random in and of itself. More importantly, the process of selecting only the heads results wouldn't be random.

I recommended the Talk-Origins FAQ to Roundhead. You might enjoy it, too; it would clear up some of the misconceptions you have about biology.
6.1.2007 6:44pm
plunge (mail):
Colin is correct Jam.

The burden is on you, because you are claiming that if the origin of something is random, it can never be anything but.
6.1.2007 9:22pm
plunge (mail):
"Your tactic is noted: studied avoidance, ad hominems and rank dismissiveness."

As I said, I'm not going to respond to these pointless accusations. Anyone can CLAIM that their opponent is doing it, but it means nothing unless they actually show it with an argument. I showed how you were doing it with arguments. You are simply repeating the accusations but without any of the justification for making those claims.

"Your characterization of Plantinga's arguments is either obtuse or more consciously you have in fact chosen to avoid what is being presented. The logic of what is presented is plain enough in the link provided and I'm not going to waste my own time redacting any of his arguments - they are already concise and to the point, each one of them."

Ok, well, I already rebutted two of them, and I'm not going to continue to spend time doing so until I have some reason to believe that you are actually willing to engage in a discussion as to the validity of those arguments. You can feel free to CLAIM that I was obtuse and missed the mark, but like I said: anyone at all can make such claims. Without actually demonstrating that they were, it means nothing.
6.1.2007 9:33pm
Jam:
But a coin has no memory. It is still a 50/50 proposition.

I'll try get back later. Gotta go.
6.1.2007 10:50pm
plunge (mail):
"But a coin has no memory. It is still a 50/50 proposition."

That wasn't the point of the example. The point is that there is a selection process imposed on top of the randomness. The result is something that is somewhat unpredictable in some respects, but definitely not fully random.
6.1.2007 10:58pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Plantinga does not argue that unguided natural processes could not possibly lead to intelligence, reliable sense-perception, and so on. That argument does indeed commit the genetic fallacy, and Plantinga would admit that. What he argues is we have no reason to expect unguided natural processes to lead to intelligence, reliable sense-perception, and so on. It is unlikely to unguided natural processes would lead to such capabilities, he says. Given that, he thinks we can make an inference to the best explanation and conclude that in all probability there must have been some guiding of those processes or intent behind them. That argument is much different from the one Jam has been presenting, and it's a much better argument (even if one ultimately rejects it).
6.2.2007 9:09am
plunge (mail):
"Plantinga does not argue "

Who said he did?

"What he argues is we have no reason to expect unguided natural processes to lead to intelligence, reliable sense-perception, and so on. It is unlikely to unguided natural processes would lead to such capabilities, he says."

This is, of course, an exceedingly weak argument, because he cannot do the math, nor can he explain exactly what a reliable sense perception is (this is the fatal flaw in virtually all claims that supernatural causes can "better" explain things like consciousness or morality btw: they never actually explain anything at all about what those things are or what "the" mechanism for them is). How can he claim to know anything about their likelihood of arising in ANY way without that (this is the core problem with the fine-tuning around as well: it pretends to calculate probabilities without having any clue whatsoever what the possible parameters and their scopes are)?

Dawkins is far more precise: he gives good evolutionary reasons why our sense perceptions should be well tuned and reliable to the scale in which we live within the physical world (AND reasons why we should suspect our intuitions outside of that scale).

And if they are not, well, then we're basically in the "brain in a jar" territory, and its not like that's a win for Plantinga either. We generally simply all assume that we are not brains in jars, not because we can prove it, but because if that were so, either our inquiry would be at an end, or we could just say that we are still interested in exploring the nature of the PHONY world of unreliable perceptions since they are all we have to work with anyway.
6.2.2007 12:35pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

In fact you've proven yourself to be a fideist vis-a-vis Dawkins and anti-rational and anti-intellectual vis-a-vis Plantinga's arguments, which you have yet to grasp or effectively deal with.

You've convinced yourself otherwise, little or nothing more than that.
6.2.2007 4:07pm
plunge (mail):
Like I said Michael: bring some arguments to the table. Characterizations of me personally, and vague characterizations of my arguments that do not respond in any substantive way are useless. Anyone could copy and paste your accusations in response to any argument. Accusations are not arguments.
6.3.2007 1:31am
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

It wasn't a characterization (and it most certainly wasn't a "personal" characterization, a charge that yet further suggests you're being evasive), nor was it an "accusation," it was a description, and an accurate one, of what has transpired herein.
6.3.2007 3:22pm
Michael B (mail):
sb, It wasn't merely a characterization ...
6.3.2007 3:44pm
plunge (mail):
No, Michael, it is an accusation, because you merely claiming it does not make it true. You need to make an actual argument demonstrating that your accusation has some merit. That you have not done.
6.3.2007 6:42pm
James Collins (mail):
If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a 'simple' living cell. This should be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the 'simple' cell.

After all, shouldn't all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago,according to the evolutionists, having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely then the evolutionists scientists today should be able to make us a 'simple' cell.

If it weren't so pitiful it would be humorous, that intelligent people have swallowed the evolution mythology.

Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so. It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of all the evidence CONTRARY to evolution that is readily available: Try answersingenesis.org. The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence 'FOR' evolution for THEMSELVES.

Build us a cell, from scratch, with the required raw material, that is with NO cell material, just the 'raw' stuff, and the argument is over. But if the scientists are unsuccessful, perhaps they should try Mother Earth's recipe, you know, the one they claim worked the first time about 4 billion years ago, so they say. All they need to do is to gather all the chemicals that we know are essential for life, pour them into a large clay pot and stir vigorously for a few billion years, and Walla, LIFE!

Oh, you don't believe the 'original' Mother Earth recipe will work? You are NOT alone, Neither do I, and MILLIONS of others!
6.4.2007 3:44pm
Colin (mail):
Thanks to Professor Volokh for giving us the proper term for commenters like Mr. Collins (no relation): The man has his own, special learning curve.

He reminds us all that Senator Brownback is too rational for some voters. Darwin have mercy on us all.
6.4.2007 4:39pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

You failed to seriously grapple with the original arguments; if you ever do evidence a more serious response I'll be more than happy to respond in turn, but I'm not going to be baited into taking you seriously in terms of what you've presented to this point. Vis-a-vis the Plantinga arguments you've offered nothing that anyone beyond the credulous can take seriously.

I'm not going to do your intellectual work for you.
6.4.2007 6:10pm
plunge (mail):
James: "If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a 'simple' living cell. This should be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the 'simple' cell."

Well actually, no we don't, which is why it isn't, at the least, easy. I wouldn't hold out too much on the hope that it won't be done: plenty of people are working on exactly that, and making some fairly steady progress.

"After all, shouldn't all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago,according to the evolutionists, having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely then the evolutionists scientists today should be able to make us a 'simple' cell. "

I'm not sure why you think this argument makes any sense. Just because a process was without intentions doesn't mean that it is somehow less "intelligent" than us and so us smarty pants folks should be able to do it easy: it's not a matter of intelligence, but rather a process. You might as well ask why we don't have controlled fusion when stars can do it so easily.

And that process, by the way, is well known to come up with solutions to problems that even great engineers never thought of: that's why genetic algorithms are actually used to help design things and solve problems.

"It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of all the evidence CONTRARY to evolution that is readily available: Try answersingenesis.org. The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence 'FOR' evolution for THEMSELVES."

The claims made on this site have been well debunked, with resources easily findable on the internet. Just remember that the fact that someone can make arguments that sound plausible to a layperson does not mean that they are good arguments, that they are dealing with all the evidence or describing it accurately.
6.4.2007 6:37pm
plunge (mail):
Michael, I did answer the arguments, and I made many arguments besides, none of which you even attempted to address. Your entire participation in this thread has been almost 100% to call people names and accuse them of this and that. Until you actually start dealing with my arguments, and stop this silly game of parroting my well-founded accusations back at me without any of the similar foundation, there's really nothing more to say to you. It's your move: say something substantive, respond to one of the many arguments I made (you can start with the very first ones I made and move on from there, since you haven't addressed any of them), and then maybe we can get a discussion going.
6.4.2007 6:40pm
Michael B (mail):
Then we simply disagree as I too would like you to forward something more substantive; if you cannot elucidate an argument better than you have, in a far more cogent manner, I'm not taking the bait. Your presumption and accusations (you need to look in the mirror a bit) only add to that reluctance.

Better clarify what you consider to be your single best argument and if it possesses more cogent appeal I will respond. Or don't.
6.4.2007 7:41pm
Michael B (mail):
Btw plunge, your very first attack on the arguments given, the one concerning complexity, is a total and absolute miscomprehension of what was presented, not even in the ballpark. That's why I won't bother with it. That is one example only, but a salient one.
6.5.2007 12:23am