Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Myths We Believe … (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

Today we conclude our look at the recent book by Elaine Howard Ecklund Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think. The earlier installment are here: first, second, third and fourth. The book relates various insights about science and religion that emerged from her interviews with 275 scientists in seven departments at 21 “elite” universities. This book is worth serious consideration by both Christian and non-Christian scholars. It will prove invaluable for any one involved in campus ministry or a church near a university campus.

In chapter 8 Ecklund discusses what the scientists in her survey see as ways to improve (or not) the interaction between science and religion. In chapter 9 she pulls it all together. Stepping out of the role of objective observer she looks for ways forward, for ways to engage in more productive dialog.

One important myth is that many if not most scientists are actively working against religion, deeply hostile. Yet of the 275 interview conducted, only 5 were actively hostile. This is ~2% of the cohort.

Another myth is that there are no religious scientists, especially at our elite Universities. Yet Ecklund found that 18% of the scientists attended religious services at least once a month. About 7% are conservative to moderate Protestants or Catholics, about 17% are liberal Protestants or Catholics.

On the other side … some scientists seem to think that all religion is “fundamentalism” and that all evangelicals are against science. There is no appreciation for the depth of thinking or diversity of views. Caricatures dominate the face of religion. Bradley Wright, in a soon to appear book: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, presents sociological research dealing with this myth and presenting a more accurate view of Christians (Scot “blurbed” the book).

And another critical myth: If we ignore “it” – “it” will go away. But the religious public cannot afford to ignore science, and the science community cannot afford to ignore the impact of religious belief in our society.

So what could we or should we be doing?

Ecklund suggests – from her conversations with scientists – that there are many things that scientists are doing wrong but could be doing right. One of the major errors is thinking it is enough to “just do science”, talk primarily with one another, and present a fait accompli attitude to the general public.

[One biologist] said rather strikingly that he is “really pissed off at [his] colleagues for behaving like scientists, for behaving so arrogantly in response to [religious challenges to science].” Then I asked him what specifically he thinks his colleagues could be doing better:

I would want them to try to sell science on its true merits, which is the skeptical improvement of all knowledge. That’s what science is all about – resting it on the evidence. And the evidence is never perfect. Every fact can be overturned, and we all know this. But when it comes to talking publicly about creationism … suddenly evolution is a fact. Darwin is completely right.

By this he means that scientists should be honest with the public about the uncertainties of science but that many aren’t. (p. 132)

Another error arises from either misunderstandings or disagreements about the limits of science. Some scientists do take a view that scientific ways of looking at the world are ultimate and that meaning or purpose are non sequiturs. One neuroscientist in Ecklund’s study:

[He] took his beliefs about science being the only type of knowledge worth pursuing to their logical conclusion. Because science is capable of comprehending the totality of life, humans are separate entities pursuing their own rational outcomes. Higher questions of meaning and purpose are not important. Human life is no more noble than that of a cockroach. (p. 18)

Now the comparison to a cockroach was made in a joking manner – but the point is clear. Meaning and purpose are questions without base. Because they are not reducible to laws of chemistry and physics they make no sense.

Many of the scientists in Ecklund’s study took objection to this kind of thinking. One political scientist noted that “science [should] not pretend to solve spiritual or ethical problems and not pronounce on things it has no authority to pronounce on.” … He really wants to see people “reject the scientist mentality as opposed to the scientific.” (p. 138)   Several biologists expressed views questioning the purely biological answer to the meaning of life … we are not simply here to make more copies of our genes. We are here to make the world a better place – in quality, not quantity. To mix purely biological answers concerning mechanism with philosophical and religious questions of ethics is to make science address questions it is incapable of answering.

What is the bottom line? Both Christians and Scientists are complex groups of people with a broad range of positions and opinions.  The groups also overlap with some 24% of scientists at these ‘elite’ instutions claiming some kind of Christian position – conservative to liberal. An adversarial approach is championed primarily by those at the extremes of both groups.

Speaking as a scientist, the adversarial approach empowers and legitimizes those who take extreme anti-science positions. An adversarial approach also endangers the scientific quest for knowledge by undermining societal
support for science.

Speaking as a Christian, an adversarial approach hinders the spread of the gospel by attaching it to unnecessary defeaters, enabling persons to easily dismiss the whole for the failure of a portion. It falls into the trap discussed by Augustine a mere 1600 years ago or so in “The Literal Interpretation of Genesis”:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the
heavens, and the other elements of this world, … If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they
themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about
our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters
concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and
the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of
falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience
and the light of reason?  (Vol. 1, CH. 19:39).

Ecklund has some specific suggestions for scientists – but I would like to turn this around here.

What approach should we, as Christians, take toward science? What is an appropriate approach, consistent with the aim of the preaching and teaching of the NT?



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DRT

posted June 1, 2010 at 7:22 am


You must have been reading Dilbert. Check out today’s (this is too funny).
http://www.dilbert.com/fast/2010-06-01/
Dave



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Ray Ingles

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:51 am


Here’s a suggestion for Christians, and the religious in general: try to honestly represent, or at least understand, the positions of those you disagree with.
For example… name one prominent scientist, or even scientific popularizer, who says that “Darwin [was] completely right.”



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Michael W. Kruse

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:02 am


“One of the major errors is thinking it is enough to “just do science”, talk primarily with one another, and present a fait accompli attitude to the general public.”
“Speaking as a scientist, the adversarial approach empowers and legitimizes those who take extreme anti-science positions. An adversarial approach also endangers the scientific quest for knowledge by undermining societal support for science.”
And this the big challenge with climate change. When experts demand discussion end because they have ordained the matters settled … when skeptics are equated with holocaust deniers … it really makes little difference how good the actual science is. Anytime experts behave in this manner, the general public is going to interpret this as defensiveness and overreaching. The science community needs to make better use of PR firms. ;-)
See http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/05/st_essay_sciencepr/



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DRT

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:21 am


Michael,
“The science community needs to make better use of PR firms. ;-)”
Didn’t Al Gore try that? :)
Dave



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David P Himes

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:31 am


Christians have nothing to fear from a honest scientist. And scientists have nothing to fear from honest Christians.
If Christians truly believe what we say we believe, all a scientist can discover is the details of the mechanics of how God implemented what we believe he did. How can that be a threat to our faith?



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DRT

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:42 am


I don?t particularly like where I personally end up on this question. I end up with some sort of statement that says
?The bible contains the representative wisdom on the way things are up through the time of Jesus. That is, it is humanity?s best wisdom from that region. To top it off, I suspect that it might be true that Jesus is the son of God and redeemer of the world. If that really is true, then I need to give it a prominent place in my education. If he is the son of god and we pass this by it would be a terrible oversight so I am willing to take that chance and pursue it passionately.?
That is, more or less, the perspective that I have and the way I pursue Christianity.
Dave



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RJS

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:15 am


Ray,
The quote you appear to be complaining about was made by a non-Christian scientist speaking with Ecklund. He was complaining about his colleagues. It is not a scientifically precise statement – it is a complaint about arrogant attitude and this attitude certainly exists.
No one thinks Darwin had it all right. Come on – he knew next to no chemistry (no one did), no molecular biology (no one did), nothing about DNA or RNA or quantum mechanics (yes this plays a role).



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Ray Ingles

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:11 am


RJS – My point was that the person complaining about polarization was being polarizing themselves. He excoriates his ‘colleagues’ for not presenting things honestly… by dishonestly presenting what they say. It’s an example of taking an ‘adversarial approach’.
And it’s just not fair. When talking about creationism – as in, ‘the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and there was a global flood’ – saying “it’s certain that is wrong” is not being ‘arrogant’. Whatever may be wrong in the details of the current – and revisable – account of human evolution, we really can be sure – as sure as humans can ever be of anything – that young-Earth creationism is just plain wrong.



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:24 am


No RJS, it is not “arrogant” to state that evolution is a fact.
1) The facts underlying evolution, being the genetic, fossil and biogeographical records are voluminous to the point of being mountainous. Although these facts are not themselves the theory of evolution, not only does that theory explain them, but it is the only hypothesis that attempts to engage more than a minute fraction of it (I doubt that an attempt has been made to make Lamarkism, ID or YEC Creation Science explain as much as 0.1% of this record.)
2) The theory of evolution has been tested and confirmed with such frequency and in such detail, that calling it itself a “fact” is barely an exaggeration. It would not be stretching things much more to call a measurement based upon a microscope merely a ‘theory’, dues to the theories underlying its operation.
It is therefore more “scientifically precise” to state that “evolution is a fact” than that scientists believe that “Darwin is completely right” (given that the points on which he was wrong, either by commission, e.g. pangensis, or omission, e.g. genetic drift and recombination, are significant, and widely accepted).
This has all been true for some time, but until dishonest creationists started claiming that evolution is “only a theory” (and thus purportedly of negligible scientific stature), this has not been something that scientists needed to emphasise to the general public. To do so now is not ‘arrogance’, but merely an honest attempt to correct a misconception.



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RJS

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:27 am


Ray,
I rather doubt that the “creationism” referred to was YEC. These interviews were conducted around the time of the Dover trial and the “creationism” complained about in most of the interviews was Intelligent Design.



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:29 am


Also, if “every fact can be overturned”, then what is even remotely “arrogant” about stating that “evolution is a fact”?



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RJS

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:34 am


Hrafn,
Read the post and make sure you understand what is actually been said before commenting.
Also pay attention to what is my statement – what is Ecklund’s statement – and what is a quote from a scientist (a non-Christian scientist) from the survey. Italics, page numbers, and indenting should make this clear.



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:41 am


“An adversarial approach is championed primarily by those at the extremes of both groups.”

I don’t think that this is quite accurate. I do not think you could find anybody on the evolution-creationism continuum that did not either have a scientific opposition to a religious position (creationism) or a religious opposition to a scientific position (the theory of evolution).
I think that most people would see that a degree of “adversarial approach” is unavoidable, given the range of religious views and scientific fields. It’s simply that the non-extremists don’t see this as pervasive (i.e. that it generally only applies to a minority of religious views and/or a minority of scientific fields).



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:48 am


RJS — I am not claiming that the quoted scientist is a Christian (and I never did make that claim — kindly read my comment) — just hopelessly confused.
1) “Evolution is a fact” is mostly true (about as true as most four word soundbites can be).
2) That “Darwin is completely right” is a hopelessly inaccurate encapsulation of the beliefs of the vast majority of scientists.
3) “Evolution is a fact” is a legitimate correction to the creationist “only a theory” propaganda.



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Ray Ingles

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:55 am


RJS –

These interviews were conducted around the time of the Dover trial and the “creationism” complained about in most of the interviews was Intelligent Design.

Not having access to the book, I’ll take your word for that. (Of course, even at the Dover trial, there was a great deal of discussion about whether ‘intelligent design’ as presented there differed greatly from ‘creationism’. The whole ‘cdesign proponentsists’ bit, for example.)



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:58 am


I would further suggest that “evolution is a fact” is about as “honest with the public about the uncertainties of science” as you can get, without getting into far more obscure and technical detail on evolutionary biology and philosophy of science than the general public can cope with.
What accessible “uncertainties” are you, Ecklund and or the “one biologist” suggesting that evolutionary biologists are downplaying to the public?



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm


(16 2nd para should read “accessible ‘uncertainties’ about evolution“)



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:28 pm


Ray:
ID is a subset of creationism, explicitly one that purposefully avoids making claims about the age of the Earth (or whether the Genesis Flood occurred) or making explicit mention of God.



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RJS

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm


Hrafn,
The “hopelessly confused” biologist you complain about is a professor at one of the top Universities in the country. If there is anything I am sure about it is that he is not “hopelessly confused” about biology, evolution, or what his colleagues say in the privacy of each others offices.
I would like to know what you are responding to in this quote – is it a fear that the quote opens a door for “creationists” to claim that evolution is untrue?
If so – then this is exactly his point. There is both an arrogance and a fear among scientists that talking about evolution as we might anything else in science leaves an opening for “THEM” (the creationists). This fear is not unfounded as we see when quote-mining and inflammatory articles are written by anti-evolutionists in response to the honest back and forth of the scientific endeavor. (The discussion around Tiktaalik roseae provides an excellent case in point.)
Evolution and common descent is as proven as anything in biology can be – but all the details are not worked out and there are still surprises and conundrums.
He is saying – and I agree – that it is far better to try to honestly teach the general public than to try to maintain a wall. To teach means to open up some of the back and forth as well as to present as fact what is securely understood.



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm


RJS:
Are you claiming that “a professor at one of the top Universities in the country” cannot be “hopelessly confused” from time to time?
If stating that “evolution is a fact” is in some way not being “honest with the public about the uncertainties” then why did Stephen Jay Gould write a book entitled Evolution as fact and theory stating “Evolution is a theory. It is also a fact.” (in 1981 before ID came on the scene)?
“What [I] am responding to” is the ludicrous situation of a scientist complaining about a statement that is 99% correct, when creationists make thousands of claims (‘evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics’, ‘Neanderthal skeletons are just modern humans who had rickets’, ‘if the Earth were millions of years old, the seas would be far more salty’, etc, etc, etc) that are 100% wrong.
You provide no evidence of undue “arrogance”, just as you have provided no evidence of significant dishonesty “with the public about the uncertainties of science”.
“Evolution and common descent is as proven as anything in biology can be…” Then what is wrong with saying that “evolution is a fact”?
“…but all the details are not worked out and there are still surprises and conundrums.” Does this mean that gravity wasn’t a fact until Einstein came along and ironed out a few of the (by that time) more obvious “surprises and conundrums”?
“He is saying – and I agree – that it is far better to try to honestly teach the general public than to try to maintain a wall.”
Show me where scientists are dishonestly teaching the public.
“To teach means to open up some of the back and forth…” Here’s some “back and forth for you:
Dishonest creationist:

Evolution is only a theory.

Honest scientist:

Evolution is a fact.



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm


On the “uncertainty” issue, may I again quote Gould:

Moreover, “fact” does not mean “absolute certainty.”



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DRT

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm


ARL,
In fact we are not riding on the back of a giant turtle, it is something that more closely resembles a Horta. For those who are unfamiliar with this wonderful creature?.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horta_(Star_Trek)
Now please get this back on topic.
Dave



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm


In fact scientists have been calling evolution “a fact” at least since 1951, when paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson stated that Darwin “finally and definitely established evolution as a fact, no longer speculation or an alternative hypothesis for scientific investigation.” So there is nothing “sudden” about this statement. Another point on which the “professor at one of the top Universities in the country” was hopelessly confused somewhat less than accurately articulating the state of play.



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Hrafn

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm


(#27, the “hopelessly confused” was meant to be overstriken — apparently beliefnet’s blog engine doesn’t accept html for overstriking)



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Chris Schaffner

posted June 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm


Thanks for getting this discussion going Scot. Looking forward to hearing what everyone else has to say.



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Ray Ingles

posted June 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm


There is both an arrogance and a fear among scientists that talking about evolution as we might anything else in science leaves an opening for “THEM” (the creationists). This fear is not unfounded as we see when quote-mining and inflammatory articles are written by anti-evolutionists in response to the honest back and forth of the scientific endeavor.

I think that there’s a whole lot less ‘arrogance’ than fear. It’s not just “not unfounded” – creationists do quote-mine. The “Discovery Institute” – the prominent ID proponents these days – do quote-mine. Scientists do have to be careful discussing evolution because – unlike most other scientific topics – evolution has been politicized. Chiding scientists for being defensive when they actually are being attacked seems… misguided.
Another unsolicited suggestion for Christians – when you see your compatriots engaging in quote-mining and misrepresentation, call them on it. Publicly. If you want honest discussion with scientists, show that you won’t accept dishonest discussion.



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Daniel

posted June 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm


From what I have read today in this post, we have the same problem that Scot was alluding to: we aren’t listening to one another. The discussion going back and forth has gotten bogged down in semantics, which is what usually happens.
Hrafn, the honest religious person would make the statement, “I don’t have it all figured out, because God is so much greater and more mysterious than I can imagine.” (Yes, that is religious from Judeo-Christian perspective, but it is my heritage and worldview so bear with me.) Honest religious people (can I just say Christians) have a fundamental belief in the God who is. Some argue for literal 6-day creationism; others leave room for creative evolution or see God’s hand in the evolutionary process. The honest Christian is always seeking and searching for Truth, for the unexamined faith is not worth having.
The honest scientist would also make the statement, “I don’t have it all figured out” also. Scientific certainty exists until someone comes along and dismantles it with the latest theory to explain how things work. Scientists are always looking for new ways to understand what they see; the honest scientist will tell you they are still growing and searching.
Can science and faith coexist? Absolutely yes. Is it always easy? Absolutely not. Are we sometimes at odds? Sure.
The most important thing we can do is first LISTEN to one another openly. Too often we listen to the other’s point of view while simply building up our arguments in our mind, so we never actually actively hear what the other person is saying. We simply argue out our points: “Evolution is fact!” “NO! Evolution is theory!” Yet we never actually say much of anything worthwhile. We don’t even defend our positions well, we just dig deeper trenches. (Don’t worry, we do the same thing in politics, too.)
Sorry if I rambled, but I just wish we could have deeper discussions on the differences and similarities between science and religion, looking to where we can coexist and peacefully deciding where we might agree to disagree. Will it ever be 100% harmonious? No, but I think it could be a lot better.



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RJS

posted June 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm


Hrafn,
You have not answered my question – only upped your defensive reaction a notch. Why does this quote drive you to this reaction?
See – the fellow who made this comment is on your side on all the details (wrt evolution so am I for that matter). But it seems to me that if you want to teach the first thing to learn is that the bullied shove it down their throat approach won’t work. When you are right you have the luxury to argue patiently with the facts. But turning it into a culture war won’t work because then people think and respond from the gut instead of the head.
Personally this is how I would take the message behind that quote.
And … I don’t know your background, but from where I sit arrogant can be a pretty good descriptor for a large number of professors — it seems to come with the territory. And these are my colleagues, peers, and friends.



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Joshua Wooden

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:26 pm


“One important myth is that many if not most scientists are actively working against religion, deeply hostile.”
I am curious how Ecklund determined whether a scientist was “actively working against religion, deeply hostile”- was it a straightforward question (“Are you actively hostile to religion), or did she discern for herself?
“Another myth is that there are no religious scientists, especially at our elite Universities.”
I’d like to know what the motives, or driving force, is for these professors. How do the balance science and faith considering that some hostility, however small (in Ecklund’s words), exists nonetheless?



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Joshua Wooden

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:42 pm


In response to RJS’ main question (which has been largely dismissed in favor of other discussions):
“What approach should we, as Christians, take toward science? What is an appropriate approach, consistent with the aim of the preaching and teaching of the NT?”
As Christians, I believe we should have a more open position towards science (and academia generally). In my experience, most people that I meet on a day-to-day basis are not well-educated. Of the ones that are, I can hardly tell- they just aren’t very critical. It is unfortunate that most of the time it is due to laziness, apathy or complacency- they just plain don’t care to learn. This, I have found, is largely true regardless of any personal beliefs (ignorance seems to be a human problem). However, as Christians (in light of what Augustine said), we simply cannot afford to be anti-intellectual. To be against the sciences is to isolate ourselves from intelligent people (particularly those at the higher echelons of academia as it seem Ecklund’s study reveals to some degree), and this should not be. What helped for me was to take science courses at a Christian college. It was here that I was better able to reconcile evolution to active faith. But don’t stop there: take classes in the Old Testament, too. I think many Christians (and atheists for that matter) may just be surprised at how many Old Testament scholars reject the belief in a literal 6-day, 6,000 year old earth interpretation of the Creation Narrative on non-scientific grounds. In other words, they believe it is a misunderstanding of what the first eleven chapters (this includes the flood narrative) are really about (I believe Augustine says something about this in another book: his Confessions). That’s what helped for me personally. I think if I went to a college where the professor was openly hostile to religion (which is something Ecklund touched on, I believe), I would have been turned off to science, and would probably be a very staunch anti-science, anti-intellectual Christian. As it is, I am not, but I am still very much a Christian.



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Joshua Wooden

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:55 pm


I now realized that I did not actually respond to the “teaching and preaching of the NT” part of the question. Instead, I amended the question to be the OT (Old Testament). I am not sure what this changes for teaching of the NT, seeing as, for Christians, the debate centers around the scientific/historical validity of the first eleven chapters of Genesis (creation narrative, the Flood, Babel, etc.). I think I did my part in answering how I have dealt with that, but I don’t personally see how this relates to NT interpretation and teaching. RJS, did you mean to say OT and accidentally said NT, or do you see any implications for how this debate should inform our teaching/preaching of the NT, or the Bible as a whole?



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AHH

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:03 pm


Seems like this veered off on a strange tangent, but from where I sit as a scientist I think the original point was not that scientists should refrain from advocating the facts, but rather that they should not overstate the degree of confidence, we should be willing to admit when things are maybe at a 95% level rather than beating people over the head as if they were at 100% certainty and those who disagree are stupid and/or evil.
Now of course there are some things that are facts, as close to 100% as finite humans can attain.
The Earth is not flat, and it is billions of years old. Life is related by common ancestry.
But it is not scientifically honest to say that we know about the origin of life with that level of certainty, or the detailed progression of hominid evolution, etc. Better to show some humility about things that are not 100% certain — that will make people more likely to listen when things are stated as certainties.
Similarly with climate change. Yes, it is 100% established that human activities are increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, and pretty close to 100% that this is warming the planet. But there is uncertainty about the rate at which this is happening, and the consequences. And (going into areas far beyond climatology) uncertainty about the best course of action. It is a disservice when scientists present things that are uncertain (i.e., warming is causing more hurricanes, we must institute cap-and-trade) as though they were as clear as the established fact of global warming.
As was pointed out, scientists being more forthcoming and humble about loose ends and uncertainties opens the door for dishonest “quote mining” by anti-evolutionists, climate-change denialists, etc. (even more than they do already). But I think that (and watching for such quote-mining and calling them on it) is a necessary price to pay — because “I’m a scientist and you must believe everything I say because it is 100% certain” isn’t working very well.
But RJS asked what could be done on the Christian side to help in this area. A few thoughts:
1) Pastors and other leaders should let scientists in their congregations inform them in their areas of expertise. When climate change came up in our church a few years ago, I was glad that our pastor actually listened to the climate scientists in our church, and was not overly swayed by a few prominent amateurs in the congregation who got their science from Rush Limbaugh.
2) The whole idea of “warfare” as the paradigm for the relationship between science and faith needs to be opposed on all fronts.
3) When Christians engage in the “quote-mining” behavior mentioned above (for example, using quotes from Steve Gould about controversy within evolutionary theory as though they called into question the big picture of evolution, or the way some ID propagandists quoted recent comments at a Biola event by Calvin College’s Steve Matheson [see his blog for details] to falsely make it sound like he said that ID was the best explanation), the church should call them on that sin of bearing false witness.



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JHM

posted June 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm


AHH,
I agree very much.
One question regarding point 1, what should pastors whose congregation doesn’t have a “local” climatologist/evolutionary biologist do?



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el chupacabras

posted June 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm


Being a follower of Christ and coming from a science background I feel oh so qualified to speak for God in this matter. [running for cover for the bolts of lightening]
Anyway, let me say this, God is a God of order. We know there is a plan, we can see that plan. Its amazing and complex, yet simple and perfect. We KNOW this, we can see it.
Now, if God is a God of order, doesn’t it stand to reason he would create some set of rules, lets call these rules Science, to create his masterpiece, the universe. Could we not also assume that if God used this Science that we, participants in that universe, might be able to see this Science in our day to day lives?
The fact is, at least in my opinion, we will have the opportunity, those who are followers of Christ, to ask the Big Man himself how he did it. I think the answer will once and for all show that science and the bible are the truth and they fit together in a completely unexpected and beautiful way.
Remember this, the church has tried to silence science for a long time now, and we have almost always been wrong (ie the earth is flat, the earth is the center of the universe, witches float….).
Can’t we just all get along?



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AHH

posted June 2, 2010 at 12:08 am


JHM asks a good question about my previous post,
what should pastors whose congregation doesn’t have a “local” climatologist/evolutionary biologist do?
This is of course especially relevant for smaller churches, but even for larger ones in many communities (I happen to live in a high-tech community with a large university)
I have a couple of immediate ideas, but maybe others will have better:
1) Even if there is not a specialist, maybe there is a real scientist of some sort (as opposed to somebody with a B.S. who reads blogs about issues) who can help separate the wheat from the chaff. I am in neither a climatologist nor an evolutionary biologist, but (RJS has referred to this) working scientists at the Ph.D. level develop the ability to generally tell good science from bad science from pseudoscience. And often that is enough.
2) Many denominations (especially the mainlines) have resources about such things. I am personally aware of groups in the PCUSA and the ELCA who seek to help the church deal with science, and I’m sure there are others.
3) There may be people in other churches in the community, or (gasp) outside the church whom a pastor can turn to for conversation and clarification. This might be another way in which a non-hostile unbelieving scientist can have an influence — be willing to have a respectful and honest conversation about such things with your neighbor the pastor (who, if he or she is being “missional,” will be open to such conversations).



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 1:23 am


RJS (29):
I am objecting to the premise that you base your question on: namely that the biologist’s comments are an accurate characterisation of what “scientists are doing wrong”. As I have demonstrated above, this characterisation is woefully inaccurate (i.e. “hopelessly confused”) in that (i) scientists have good reason for stating that “evolution is a fact”, (ii) they did not start doing so “suddenly” (and have good reason for putting greater emphasis on the point now) and (iii) that they do not believe that “Darwin is completely right” (or anything close to this). My “reaction” to it is similar to what my reaction to the statement/question “the moon is made of green cheese, therefore what do you think we should do about lunar exploration?” The opening statement is so ludicrously inaccurate that it does not form a legitimate basis for common discussion.

“See – the fellow who made this comment is on your side”

Only to the extent that he’s not a theist (but that would put Ken Ham on “your side”). On “all the details”, I (along with a number of prominent scientists) think that evolution can legitimately be termed “a fact”, he clearly disagrees.

“But it seems to me that if you want to teach the first thing to learn is that the bullied shove it down their throat approach won’t work.”

Again, I reject your premise. Stating that evolution is a fact is not bullying. Stating that universal common descent has been overwhelmingly established is not bullying. Stating that natural selection is a major driver of evolution is not bullying. This is all well-established scientific knowledge. This contrasts rather strongly with the following:
Legislative bullying:
* Tennessee’s Butler Act (1925)
* Louisiana’s Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act (overturned in 1987)
* (and a whole heap of state laws in between)
Schoolboard bullying:
* Dover’s ID statement policy
* Cobb County’s sticker policy

“When you are right you have the luxury to argue patiently with the facts.”

Are you really this naive?
1) Being right doesn’t help you if people aren’t willing to listen to the scientific evidence (as the Scopes Trial wasn’t and as most creationists aren’t).
2) Being right doesn’t help you if the forum gives equal (or greater) time to people who are commitedly and confidently wrong (scientific studies have shown that people will accept complete rubbish if confidently and professionally presented). (E.g. most debates and the Kansas evolution hearings.)
3) Being right won’t help you if you cannot hold people’s attention for long enough to get your message across. If you are being attacked with a five-word soundbite (“evolution is only a theory”), it is ineffective to repond with the “luxary” of a ten-page essay.

“But turning it into a culture war won’t work because then people think and respond from the gut instead of the head.”

Get a clue. Scientists did not ‘turn it into a culture war’. William Jennings Bryan tunrned it into a culture war. Geroge McCready Price turned it into a culture war. John Morris turned it into a culture war. Phillip E. Johnson turned it into a culture war. Ken Ham turned it into a culture war. Read Ron Numbers’ The Creationists. Don’t blame scientists because, finding themselves in a culture war, they belatedly respond by stating and defending scientific knowledge.
I would suggest that the quote’s “message” is hopelessly garbled by the inaccuracy of its underlying (explicit and implicit) assumptions.
I would further suggest that any (generally well-founded) ‘arrogance’ that professors have, about their field of expertise, is dwarfed by the towering, ill-founded hubristic arrogance displayed by individual creationists and state legislatures.
This is not to say that scientists do everything right. For one thing, it is a difficult balancing act between attempting to get your own message across clearly and suscinctly and attempting to avoid giving undue publicity to a bunch that has no scientific credibility whatsoever. Being human, they have probably lurched from going to far to the latter to too far to the former.
However, (given the quote’s inaccuracy) you have provided no factual basis for what “scientists are doing wrong”. Therefore it is difficult to suggest what they ‘should be doing’ differently. One thing that I would suggest that they emphatically should not be doing is to take Daniel’s advice and simply say “I don’t have it all figured out” — when the points of disagreement are on issues that scientists have very thoroughly “figured out” (the areas which they haven’t figured out being generally areas which the public has never heard of, and which their creationists opponents have little knowledge or understanding of).



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 1:55 am


To those complaining about the ‘arrogance’ of scientists, I would recommend that you read this essay on “Self-Appointed Experts” by Steven Dutch from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay.
He starts out with:

The Script

‘m sick and tired of self-appointed so-called experts and their know-it-all, arrogant attitude. Why don’t you people stay out of things you know nothing about? To hear you tell it, you know everything and the rest of us are stupid.

I’ve seen this script before. At this point I’m supposed to get all humble and apologetic and say “There, there. We didn’t mean to make you feel bad. You’re really a good person and a valuable human being and your opinions do count.”

Then lists 9 points why he thinks that the attitude embodied in this ‘script’ is wrong. His tone isn’t exactly conciliatory, but I think it encapsulates a legitimate point. These experts have expended significant time, money and effort in learning their fields of expertise in great depth, and in testing this knowledge against the wider body of scientific knowledge. To not place a reasonably high level of regard for their expertise, whilst not being willing to gain the depth of knowledge, and put it to the test, yourself, seems foolish.



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RJS

posted June 2, 2010 at 2:00 am


Joshua (#30),
Ecklund conducted in depth interviews (an hour or more) with 275 scientists who answered the initial survey (almost 1700). As far as I can tell she discerned whether the scientists were actively hostile from their answers during these interviews.
With respect to the second question – motives and driving forces for the ca. 7% or so religious scientists. Ecklund deals with this somewhat in the book – but I would say that the driving force for studying science and becoming a professor is much the same as for others … pursuit of answers, the fascination of discovering something new, solving complicated puzzles, understanding. It is a great job in many respects.
Religion need not come up in the course of most disciplines (I mentioned this in an earlier post) and faith does not change the approach to the methods of the discipline. Most are simply rather quiet about their faith – Ecklund refers to this as a closeted faith.



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RJS

posted June 2, 2010 at 2:14 am


Hrafn,
Read AHH’s comment #33 – he gets the point this biologist was trying to make and expands on the ideas. It seems to me that you are so deep in the culture war you can’t look past it to see a way forward.
This is also the point that I am trying to make – as one of those real experts, one who has spent the last 30 years at so-called ‘elite’ institutions – all the way from graduate student to Professor – my goal is to try to make some impact (little though it may be) explaining why the positions are held, how to evaluate evidence and so forth. Perhaps I will at least encourage some to think twice with some understanding. I would rather use my real expertise than stand on it and proclaim.



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 2:58 am


AHH:
I would suggest that we have “veered off on a strange tangent” because the conversation was premised upon a bad example of “overstat[ing] the degree of confidence”.
I know of no scientist who states that “we know about the origin of life with that level of certainty” or that our idea of “the detailed progression of hominid evolution” (as opposed to the fact that humans and other great apes share a common ancestor within the last few million years, which is certain) is fixed. These would therefore appear to be strawman examples. Please state (preferably with a reference) a significant example of “overstat[ing] the degree of confidence” that would illuminate this discussion.
No, we don’t have certainty as to the exact “rate at which [global warming] is happening”, However, I have seen no indication that this level of uncertainty calls into doubt whether it will have a significant deleterious impact on ecologies — the “uncertainty” appears to be between “very bad” and “extremely bad”. As an example, I saw a documentary last night that had as a major focus the fact that a small (1.5C) rise in average Southern Ocean temperatures off Tasmania caused a 95% decrease in giant kelp forests. Does it really matter if the temperature change was 1.4C or 1.6C or if the decrease was 90% or 99%?
How many members of the general public have any understanding of the hypothesis of punctuated equilibria, one of the more notoriously quote-mined ‘uncertainties’ to have arisen over evolution in recent decades? How then is being spontaneously “forthcoming” on it adding to public understanding? Neither the general public, nor creationists, actually care whether evolution is steady or “slow, slow, quick-quick, slow”. If a scientist made an attempt to give a legitimate explanation of what this hypothesis means, Joe Public would be bored to tears, and quickly forget it. It is only when Gould’s statements about it are misinterpreted to mean that evolution couldn’t happen that it generates any general interest. My impression is that the general public is more interested in simplistic truths confidently stated than in the “forthcoming and humble” equivocation about peripheral “loose ends and uncertainties”. In any case, I see few prominent religious figures who are willing to be “forthcoming and humble” about the many “loose ends and uncertainties” about religious interpretations, and this lack appears to help rather than hinder their ability to gain adherents.



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 3:19 am


RJS:
I have just demolished AHH’s points, so no, I don’t think I’ll reread them.
What legitimate point can the biologist be making when pretty much everything he said was FACTUALLY WRONG?
As far as I can tell, you are a ‘real expert’ whose area of expertise has never been the subject of largescale unprovoked attack by culture warriors. I would therefore be surprised if you knew much more about how to handle it. Biologists certainly didn’t appear to, when they first encountered it, and it took them many years to learn the ropes of defending against a culture war, and there is still a widespread disagreement over strategy.
But my basic point is that scientists generally have far more solid a basis for being “certain” of their pronouncements than politicians and religious leaders who are very frequently exhibit an ironclad certainty about their pronouncements, so it is unreasonable to expect scientists alone to be equivocally “forthcoming and humble” about (generally irrelevant) “loose ends and uncertainties”.
Neither you, nor AHH, have provided any evidence that scientists have been illegitimately arrogant, or that they have been bullying, or that a more humble approach would garner greater acceptance.



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RJS

posted June 2, 2010 at 3:48 am


No Hrafn, you didn’t demolish AHH’s points – rather you indicated once again that you are unable to carry on a reasonable conversation with an intent to persuade. You respond and continue to respond from the gut not the head to a misconstrual of what this biologist said in his comment.
Of course scientists generally have a very solid a basis for being “certain” of their pronouncements … I have never suggested otherwise. There is a robust method and a real reason for most conclusions. But I don’t walk into my classes give students a bunch of facts and tell them to take my word for it. I teach – I attempt to turn students into peers (eventually). I suggest here that the “take my word for it” approach works no better in the general public. We have to take an approach of trying to teach.
With respect to the second comment – “Neither you, nor AHH, have provided any evidence that scientists have been illegitimately arrogant, or that they have been bullying, or that a more humble approach would garner greater acceptance.”
On a macroscale – no, perhaps not … but on a microscale (the scale on which most of us operate) I have tried to do this in the conversation on this blog over the last couple of years. Perhaps I have persuaded some who will then go to their congregations etc. with a more open mind. I doubt the problem will be resolved on any kind of short time scale, but we will move forward.
I would also suggest that the truly damaging part of the “climategate” snafu of last December was the result of arrogance. Now private e-mail should remain private, but we all know (or should know) that this is not really true and we must be careful what is said in a potentially public form.



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 3:54 am


Let’s take the biologist’s first statement:

I would want them to try to sell science on its true merits, which is the skeptical improvement of all knowledge.

Does he really believe that the process of science is of wide public interest? That the public isn’t really just interested in the latest, greatest scientific discovery rather than how it got here? My understanding of the state (and no-scientific-experience-needed status) of scientific reporting, as well of the general public’s attention span, is otherwise. Can anybody provide contrary evidence?



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 4:48 am


RJS:

No Hrafn, you didn’t demolish AHH’s points

*”we know about the origin of life with that level of certainty” — strawman
*”the detailed progression of hominid evolution” — strawman
*”uncertainty about the rate at which this is happening, and the consequences” — uncertainty is not of sufficient magnitude to call into doubt whether it will have a significant deleterious impact on ecologies
*”more forthcoming and humble about loose ends and uncertainties” — no indication that this would work, and some counterindication to suggest that it wouldn’t.
If that’s not a real demolition, then it’ll do untill the real thing comes along.

But I don’t walk into my classes give students a bunch of facts and tell them to take my word for it. I teach – I attempt to turn students into peers (eventually).

And do you really think that your approach would work in just a few column inches, and lacking a considerable body of prerequisite knowledge in your audience? Please offer an example where this approach has been tried, successfully, on the general public.
In the age of the internet it is generally possible to trace brief mentions of the a fact in newspapers to a more detailed “bunch of facts” in a science magazine or book, and sometimes to the original journal article that treats the reader like a “peer”. This however requires that the reader is interested enough to do the finding.

I suggest here that the “take my word for it” approach works no better in the general public.

Really? It seems to work fine for politicians and religious leaders. How many of them treat their audiences as “peer” and engage in detailed economic and exegetic discussions with them?

… but on a microscale…

Anecdotal evidence is seldom of much value. Vaguely cited and untested anecdotal evidence is of no value.
Scientists do research to obtain a reasonable level of certainty, and when they are certain they announce their findings. Sometimes these findings slay the sacred cows of others — be they a young Earth or homeopathy. That does not turn scientists into “bullies”.

I would also suggest that the truly damaging part of the “climategate” snafu of last December was the result of arrogance.

I would suggest that with most groups, in a sufficiently adversarial arena (be it politics, business or religious apologetics), similar ‘evidence’ of arrogance could be found if you looked hard enough, and if their opponents were sufficiently motivated to present their comments out of context. Some people are jerks. That means that some scientists are jerks. But it also means that some politicians, businessmen and religious leaders are jerks as well. Your “microscale” has not demonstrated that scientists are worse than any other public figures.



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RJS

posted June 2, 2010 at 5:14 am


Hrafn,
I don’t think that scientists are any worse than the general public in arrogance or any other property.
The problem is that the stakes are relatively high. We need a diplomatic approach not a nuclear bomb approach – or even smart missles. The bomb approach won’t achieve the desired result – which is convincing the general public of a truth many are currently unwilling to accept and many are unwilling to even consider.
The “take my word” approach doesn’t work for religious leaders or politicians either. Good politicians know this (that is why they are good politicians). Many religious leaders do understand it and many do not. Religious leaders who do not understand this only preach to the converted – and lose the thinkers. As a scientist I do not want to communicate only with the already converted. I would like to communicate with those who are predisposed to doubt and dismiss everything I have to say. This, of course, requires both patience and work (I have to do my homework).



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 5:22 am


RJS:
Here’s a suggestion. Pick a controversy where scientists disagree with a significant body (in terms of size and fervency) of the non-scientific community. Try to write a reasonably short newspaper article or op-ed that would (i) treat the reader as a “peer”, (ii) make fairly limited assumptions (e.g. high school science, at most) about the reader’s knowledge, (iii) elucidate the controversy & (iv) maintain the interest of the average reader.
If you can do a job of meeting all four of these objectives, then I’d suspect that you’d make an outstanding science writer.



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 5:26 am


(“If you can do a job” = “If you can do a good job”)



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 5:28 am


Good politicians know this (that is why they are good politicians). Many religious leaders do understand it and many do not.
Examples of prominent politicians or religious leaders who “treat their audiences as ‘peer’ and engage in detailed economic and exegetic discussions with them” (or similar)?



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 6:57 am


(Sorry, I missed a close-blockquote tag in #49)

The problem is that the stakes are relatively high. We need a diplomatic approach not a nuclear bomb approach – or even smart missles. The bomb approach won’t achieve the desired result – which is convincing the general public of a truth many are currently unwilling to accept and many are unwilling to even consider.

Firstly, we have no evidence that “the stakes are relatively high.” Yes, there are some people who don’t believe science about some things. But there have been people who don’t believe science about some things for centuries. Baldly stating that “the stakes are relatively high” is hardly providing useful parameters for the scope of the problem — or even for demonstrating that a problem even exists.
Secondly, inflammatory rhetoric like “nuclear bomb approach”, lacking any accurate concrete examples to ground them, adds nothing whatsoever to the conversation.

The “take my word” approach doesn’t work…

Yet you (and to a lesser extent AHH, give or take some strawmen and the like) have been employing nothing but a “take my word” approach.
‘Take my word for it that scientists are arrogant, bullies, etc.’
‘Take my word for it that a “humble”/”forthcoming”/”peer” approach will work with the general public than forthrightly stating science’s well-established facts and conclusions in a confident manner.’
‘Take my word for it that a “take my word” approach doesn’t work.’
No specific accurate examples, no psychological studies, just the word of RJS & AHH.
I’m sorry, this is not a general-readership newspaper. I am not the great unwashed, happy to be told what to believe, what to fear and what to buy. So I’m not buying it.



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 7:16 am


Let’s take a recent example:
Andrew Wakefield was recently struck off by the British General Medical Council and the Lancet journal that published his paper, that started the whole anti-vax scare, has recently retracted it.
Wakefield is still a hero to the anti-vax movement, and this is arguably more of a ‘nuclear option’ than most flare-ups I’ve seen in the evolution-creationism controversy. Yet in the wake of it, the anti-vax movement seems to be running out of steam — a recent attempt at a major rally (with Wakefield and other luminaries in attendence) yielded only a couple of hundred attendees (with empty display tables, unused signs, etc), and a reasonably significant counter-protest.



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Hrafn

posted June 2, 2010 at 7:39 am


Let’s take another recent example:
On 19 April 2008, Simon Singh wrote the following:

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

The British Chiropractic Association sued for libel. There was a “furious backlash” and a flurry of scrutiny on the BCA and its claims (most of it adverse), and they eventually withdrew their lawsuit.
It would appear that on this occasion “forthrightly stating science’s well-established facts and conclusions in a confident manner” worked rather well.



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Joshua Wooden

posted June 2, 2010 at 11:13 am


RJS: Thanks for the response. I haven’t read the book but, thanks to you, I guess I have to now…. :)



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pds

posted June 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm


The Design Spectrum
Hrafn is a very good example of why many Christians are rightly skeptical when dogmatic scientists speak.
AHH #33,
We also have to avoid false accusations of “quote mining.” I can pretty much assume that if I quote Gould for any proposition, I will be accused of “quote-mining.” It happened right here on this blog not too long ago.



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Hrafn

posted June 3, 2010 at 1:29 am


PDS:
No I am not (more on this below). You are however “a very good example” of why scientists have a very low regard for bigoted religious fanatics who hold that their anachronistic, ethnocentric, egocentric misreading of bronze and iron age Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek syntheses of pre-existing traditions in some way refutes the mountains of evidence and scientific analyses.
“Dogmatic”?
None of my statements were on the basis of “dogma”, but on scientific data and analysis. Where new data contradicts the analysis, the analysis will be updated (as was the case in the issues I raised in refuting “Darwin is completely right”). However, it is entirely unlikely that creationist/AGW-skeptic/etc efforts, citing no relevant new data (and doing no primary research) will move analysis based upon a mountain of data by so much as a millimetre.
Gould
I will allow Gould himself to answer this:

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists — whether through design or stupidity, I do not know — as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. The punctuations occur at the level of species; directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups.



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pds

posted June 4, 2010 at 6:48 am


Hrafn,
Well, that quote is pretty typical. What does it prove?
“it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists — whether through design or stupidity, I do not know — as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms.
But that is often not the proposition for which he is quoted. That’s my point. Even if you quote him accurately, you still get falsely accused of “quote-mining.”



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