CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Dinesh D'Souza, author of What's So Great About Christianity, a book I've been meaning to read, has written a blog entry on Newsbloggers entitled The Dogma of Materialism. In the blog, he discusses his upcoming debate on July 21, 2008, with Richard Dawkins, one of today's biggest popularizers of Darwinian evolution and the view the religion is bad for the world, and elaborates upon one of the issues he intends to raise in that debate: the non-theists' blind commitment to naturalism. (Should Dawkin's book have been entitled "The Blind Naturalist"?)

In the course of the blog, he points to several quotes from the bombastic Dawkins about the obvious failures of evidence to support this widely accepted theory, and then concludes with a quote that I had read previously by Richard Lewontin, Ph.D., a proponent of evolution (while criticizing some approaches to the issue), which is worth repeating (with emphasis added).

Consider [Richard] Dawkins himself, rebutting the claim that there are significant "gaps" in the fossil record. Dawkins concedes that there are such gaps, but then writes this: "The gaps, far from being anoying imperfections or awkward embarrassments, turn out to be exactly what we should positively expect."

In other words, the absence of evidence for evolution is itself proof that the theory is correct! This is so bizarre that it makes one wonder what the presence of evidence might do to this theory. Would a complete fossil record without gaps be evidence against Darwinian evolution, as we hear that Dawkins and his fellow biologists "exactly" and "positively" expect that such evidence should not be present?

Dawkins finally puts his cards on the table by saying of evolution: "Even if the evidence did not favor it, it would still be the best theory available." And if Dawkins is dismissed as a crank, here is Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker making the same point. "Because there are no alternatives, we would almost have to accept natural selection as the explanation of life on this planet even if there were no evidence for it."

We have here the weird spectacle of so-called scientists who are so wedded to a theory that they cannot even imagine it not to be true. This is a level of dogmatism that would embarrass any theist. Even the strongest religious believer can imagine the possibility that there is no God. So how can these self-styled champions of reason adopt so closed-minded an approach?

The short answer is given by Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin, who in a 1997 essay in the New York Review of Books makes a revealing admission: "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant proises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment--a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation for the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, the materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

The idea of following the evidence wherever it may lead -- something that popularizers of evolution such as Carl Sagan have promoted -- seems to disappear when the evidence leads to God. If one concludes that the evidence leads to God (or, at least, a designer of some sort), that person will be treated as if he has lost his mind (e.g., Antony Flew).

Dr. Lewontin's quote is refreshing for its honesty, and worth remembering when today's versions of Darwin's pitbulls argue that those who claim not to believe in evolution (according to Dawkins) are "ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)."

25 comments:

Even the strongest religious believer can imagine the possibility that there is no God

Anselm couldn't.

And yet there are many Christians who believe in evolution and God.

Evolution has nothing to do with my atheism.

Mike,

Yes, there are many who accept theistic evolution. I can accept that position, but I continue to disagree with it. However, without evolution, what would you turn to for an answer as to how human beings came to be?

mattghg,

Good point. However, I think that there is a difference between imagining something and saying that it is rational to believe it. Tolkein certainly imagined a very vivid world called Middle-Earth, but that is not the same as saying that it necessarily exists.

bk said "...without evolution, what would you turn to for an answer as to how human beings came to be?"

I can't say that I've ever really felt the need to seek an answer to that question.

Some agree with creationism.
Some agree with evolution.
Some combine the two.
Some just live their lives to the fullest taking each day as it comes to us and trying not to piss too many people off, and we aren't too concerned about how it all began. ;)

attghg said...

Even the strongest religious believer can imagine the possibility that there is no God

Anselm couldn't.

7/18/2008 06:02:00 AM
Blogger Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

And yet there are many Christians who believe in evolution and God.

Evolution has nothing to do with my atheism.

7/18/2008 06:03:00 AM


Misunderstanding of what he said. He said he can't imagine anything greater, he didn't say he can't image looking at the world and just asserting there is no God. anyone can do that. He was talking about if you realize what the logic of it means.

First of all, gaps in the fossil record are not a big deal. They don't prove God and they don't disprove evolution. While I hate Dawkins, I can understand what he's saying becasue we have enough transitions and enough completeness in the record that it proves evolution; we should expect some gaps. Desusa clearly taking his statement out of context.

Secondly, if evolution was disproved that doesn't mean that everyone would believe in God. the Greek anatomists didn't believe in God and they did not have Darwin.

"Misunderstanding of what he said. He said he can't imagine anything greater, he didn't say he can't image looking at the world and just asserting there is no God. anyone can do that. He was talking about if you realize what the logic of it means."

By Blogger J.L. Hinman, At 7/18/2008 09:17:00 AM

I wasn't commenting on Anselm. Many Christians seem to think that all atheists were led to atheism by evolution, I was merely pointing out that I wasn't one of them.

Some just live their lives to the fullest taking each day as it comes to us and trying not to piss too many people off, and we aren't too concerned about how it all began. ;)

Fair enough. I personally think that it is a very important question if you are going to either accept or reject the existence of God, but each of us must decide what is reality based upon what we think is important.

While I hate Dawkins, I can understand what he's saying becasue we have enough transitions and enough completeness in the record that it proves evolution; we should expect some gaps.

The problem isn't somegaps, but the fact that there is no real fossil record of any sort that shows a full evolutionary transition. It is my understanding that the closest is the horse, but there are so many morphological changes required to be shown by intermediate fossils that have yet to be uncovered that the supposed evolutionary predecessors may still be entirely distinct and unrelated species.

So, I don't agree with your statement. (And for any atheists looking in, this is another example of Christians not walking in lock-step. We disagree on many issues.)

Secondly, if evolution was disproved that doesn't mean that everyone would believe in God. the Greek anatomists didn't believe in God and they did not have Darwin.

Obviously, your statement is true. There were atheists for many years prior to the idea of evolution being promoted by Darwin. However, Darwinian evolution gives many people an unsupported belief that it all happened by chance. That's the problem with evolution.

bk said: "I personally think that it is a very important question if you are going to either accept or reject the existence of God, but each of us must decide what is reality based upon what we think is important."

I understand what you are saying, and for you it is an important question. Let me ask you this in all seriousness: have you examined all the claims of all the other religions of the world before rejecting them? I'm really not trying to be a smart ass. I reject them too, but I haven't examined them. If I were to suddenly experience God in some way I would acknowledge that.

Your faith is based on your experience and so is my atheism. Last year I would have been right here arguing on your side if I knew this site existed then. For me something changed, I awakened to a new perspective. I am not saying it is a perfect or infallible perspective, but it's the only one I have right now.

The problem isn't somegaps, but the fact that there is no real fossil record of any sort that shows a full evolutionary transition.

not necessary that there should be. But we have millions of transitional forms.we can see evolution working right now. we can see it in resistance to anti-biotic.


It is my understanding that the closest is the horse, but there are so many morphological changes required to be shown by intermediate fossils that have yet to be uncovered that the supposed evolutionary predecessors may still be entirely distinct and unrelated species.

the alternative is to think that God says "OK I'll use this horse design again and again, over and over and over." that turns God into a big building contradictor in the sky.

the only reason to beat up evolution is to save the literal reading of gensis. But that is a lost cause from a mythological stand point. Its a waste of effort becasue reading genesis from a mythogrpharical stand point doesnt' do anything to damage faith and it makes us more sophisticated in the psot modoern world.

I've been told by atheists and all kind of people over and over "I really like your ideas about genesis." I've never seen anyone tell a fundie "I see now evolution is wrong and genesis is literal."

Joe, you'd make a great atheist. Come to the dark side, we have cookies. ;)

Joe,

No one disputes that organisms adapt. Heck, that's what Darwin's finches are all about. What we don't see is evolution occuring. There is a difference.

And I absolutely disagree that "the only reason to beat up evolution is to save the literal reading of Genesis." I don't read Genesis literally and yet I see quite clearly the shell game that is Darwinian evolution.

And the fact that people tell you that they like your idea of Gensesis . . . well, I understand your ideas and continue to disagree with them. As you know, the popularity of an idea does not make it right.

have you examined all the claims of all the other religions of the world before rejecting them?

Not "all the claims of all the other religions." No one has that much time (least of all me). But I have examined the claims of the other major religions, and I do reject them.

If I were to suddenly experience God in some way I would acknowledge that.

I'm curious . . . when you were a Christian, you never experienced Christ in any way? Ever? Why, then, were you a Christian? Because you were raised in the church?

BK said: "I'm curious . . . when you were a Christian, you never experienced Christ in any way? Ever? Why, then, were you a Christian? Because you were raised in the church?"

It would have been silly of me to stay in it for over 20 years if I didn't experience anything. I was raised in a Presbyterian USA church, but didn't really start getting into my faith until I was in my mid to late teens. I really came to terms with who Christ was in my late teens, and really began to devour scripture. The way I felt like I experienced Christ was through the Bible, certain passages would just jump out at me, or the meaning of a difficult passage would just become clear. I felt experienced Christ in worship, and in fellowship, when I would feel his presence and he would let me know the right thing to say to friends in need. I experienced Christ in prayer, kneeling at the foot of the cross daily, confessing my sins and praying for my faith to be stronger and for the needs of others.

All sorts of wonderful things that could have been attributed to anything, but at the time I attributed them to Christ.

Interesting. Since you had the experiences, and since you said, "If I were to suddenly experience God in some way I would acknowledge that", what exactly made you conclude (contrary to your understanding) that these wonderful things were not attributable to Christ?

Because there wasn't a single one that couldn't be a simple coincidence.

Mike,

Thank you. You said that you early on felt/experienced "his presence" in worship and in fellowship, and that "he would let me know" the right thing to friends in need. Could this be mere coincidence? I guess it could be coincidence if you really don't mean that you felt/experienced His presence but rather you only thought you felt His presense because of the heightened emotional state of the church service. I guess it could be coincidence if you really don't mean that He would give you insight, but only that you came up with insight that you attributed to God.

But that's the real question, isn't it? Obviously, at the time you accepted that these were feelings and insights from God. Yet, in retrospect you have chosen to disregard this earlier understanding in favor of mere coincidence, and the reason that you give is that "there wasn't a single one that couldn't be a simple coincidence." Okay, but there is also not a single one that couldn't actually be God. So, why fall on the "it's coincidence" side despite your clear belief at the time that you were experiencing something real?

Because you could make identical arguments for any religion, any spiritual experience. That, plus, I experience all those same things now. Now if one were to make the argument that all those experiences are God, it would seem much more reasonable to me. I have more of an objection to one who claims they have The One True Religion, than to someone who believes in God, in fact I have no objection to someone who believes in God.

J.L. Hinman said: First of all, gaps in the fossil record are not a big deal. They don't prove God and they don't disprove evolution.

The big deal is that they don't disprove God and they don't prove evolution. I think you're right that that isn't a big deal — scientifically speaking; but because "evolution" has been hijacked as a philosophical Trojan Horse (actually, the other way around, to be historically correct, but I think you know what I mean), it is a big deal sociologically.

While I hate Dawkins, I can understand what he's saying becasue we have enough transitions and enough completeness in the record that it proves evolution; we should expect some gaps. Desusa clearly taking his statement out of context.

D'Souza's whole point is that Dawkins takes his own points out of context (certainly out the context in which they would be legitimate). We definitely do not have enough transitions to "prove" evolution. Of course, there's never enough evidence to prove any scientific claim in a mathematical sense, because mathematical proofs don't work by evidence; evidence is always subject to correction or refinement. But presumably you meant "proof" in the sense of "scientific demonstration", i.e. enough evidence of a given hypothesis to explain all the other evidence we have. Evolution doesn't pass this test: there isn't enough evidence to explain all the things it needs to explain. (That doesn't mean the theory is false! It just means there isn't enough supporting evidence to say it's "proven".)

Secondly, if evolution was disproved that doesn't mean that everyone would believe in God. the Greek anatomists didn't believe in God and they did not have Darwin.

Well, they didn't have Darwinism, but there were ancient theories of evolution. You're right that "God" isn't automatically the only alternative, but we can roughly lay out the two possible alternatives as "natural" and "supernatural". Evolution is (currently) the only serious contender on the purely natural side (unless you believe that living creatures have been around forever, which people who believe in Science pretty much do not or can not accept); God is the leading contender on the supernatural side, although there are of course people who believe in souls or spirits without believing in the ultimate Spirit. (Whether such a view is defensible is another story.)

not necessary that there should be [fossils showing a full evolutionary transition]. But we have millions of transitional forms. we can see evolution working right now. we can see it in resistance to anti-biotic.

You're shifting the meaning of "evolution", which is one of the biggest problems surrounding this whole issue. As BK pointed out, "adaptation" is scientifically "proven" and universally accepted: so micro-subspecial evolution is evident. Macro-trans-special evolution — that is, evolution of one species into another — is something nobody has seen. Note that BK isn't saying there needs to be a complete set of fossils of every single animal going from one species to another, just that there needs to be enough fossils to trace the full transition — no missing links. Millions of transitional forms just aren't enough for a theory that depends on billions of transitions. At the best, so far all we could say is "the evidence hasn't ruled out evolution yet" (and frankly, even that is a pretty generous reading, because there is evidence that is problematic for the evolutionary theory).

the alternative is to think that God says "OK I'll use this horse design again and again, over and over and over." that turns God into a big building contra[di]ctor in the sky.

I don't see the contradiction. =) Why shouldn't God use similar designs again and again? (He's God, He can do whatever he wants!)

the only reason to beat up evolution is to save the literal reading of gensis.

Nah, there are plenty of reasons. Such as not being true. There are lots of ways macro-evolutionary biology/Darwinism could be wrong that still don't fit a literal Genesis.

But that is a lost cause from a mythological stand point. Its a waste of effort becasue reading genesis from a mythogrpharical stand point doesnt' do anything to damage faith and it makes us more sophisticated in the psot modoern world.

Gosh, I'd say "making us more sophisticated" is reason enough right there to reject it! =)

I've been told by atheists and all kind of people over and over "I really like your ideas about genesis." I've never seen anyone tell a fundie "I see now evolution is wrong and genesis is literal."

Well, this is your lucky day! I used to accept "evolution", more or less, because science had demonstrated it, right? Can't argue with scientific evidence. But then I started looking into it, looking at the actual science (or lack thereof) behind evolution, and the meaning and interpretations of Genesis, and I ended up believing that in fact the creation story is literal. Of course, I might be wrong — perhaps some day we will find empirical evidence of those millions of missing links, or we'll find a better scientific theory than Darwinism, or more persuasive metaphorical readings of biblical creation; but for now, I believe that a literal interpretation of Genesis is the most likely to be true.

Black people have black skin, designed so that they could live in Africa.

White people have lighter skin, designed so that they could live in temperate climates.

Theists can explain this easily.

Acts 17:26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.

Atheists reject the obvious teleology of God's design of black people so they can live in Africa.

They consider that people have a perfect right to fly in the face of God's plans for black people, and live in other parts of the world, despite being designed to live in Africa.

I'm sure D'Souza does not have a blind faith in naturalism and has his car exorcised by a priest every time it breaks down, rather than take it to a garage.

A short while ago some people in a car stopped and asked me for directions to a church.

They were all priests.

I asked them if they had prayed for guidance.

Amazingly, they thought I was being sarcastic!

But surely a True Christian does not rely on naturalism. He prays for guidance rather than buying a map or a Sat Nav.

But if you seriously suggest to a religious person that he actually puts into practice the things he says with his mouth, you will soon be accused of 'ridiculing' them.

Carr embarrassed himself: "Atheists reject the obvious teleology of God's design of black people so they can live in Africa."

What, you're saying they're not black, or they can't live in Africa??

You'd better stop pretending to speak for atheists before they pop you in the nose. (Hey, it would be one thing theists and atheists can agree on.)

Carr erupted: "A short while ago some people in a car stopped and asked me for directions to a church. They were all priests. I asked them if they had prayed for guidance."

Alas, ye of little faith. That was a test; they were asking not for their own benefit, but for yours.
Guess it didn't work. Don't worry, God won't give up on you!


"Amazingly, they thought I was being sarcastic!"

That is amazing. You have about as little eptitude for sarcasm as for reading.

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