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Are Religious Liberals Useful Idiots or Just Idiots? Darwinists Debate

An enjoyable internal squabble has been going on in the overlapping New Atheist and Darwinian communities. The intensity level just went up a notch. One faction thinks religious liberals are useful to the cause, scientifically and politically, and should be treated nicely. The other side admits that while sometimes liberals can be useful, providing they accept Darwinism, they nevertheless need to be chastised for their “odious” failure to recognize the incompatibility of science and religion, as believers in atheism see it.

Today Daily Kos blogger Erratic Synapse lashes Discover Magazine blogger Chris Mooney and Barbara Forrest, author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Their offense? Calling for “civility” toward Darwin-believing religious moderates. Mooney had previously attacked biologist Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution Is True, who urges a No More Mr. Nice Guy stance. Writes Coyne: “Professional societies like the National Academy of Sciences…have concluded that to make evolution palatable to Americans, you must show that it is not only consistent with religion, but also no threat to it.” Coyne is particularly annoyed by the folks at the Darwin-defending but religion-appeasing National Center for Science Education, for “compromising the very science they aspire to defend.”
In the 2008 documentary Expelled, atheist Richard Dawkins scathingly makes a similar point about the NCSE and its ilk. “There’s a kind of science defense lobby or an evolution defense lobby, in particular,” Dawkins says. “They are mostly atheists, but they are wanting to — desperately wanting — to be friendly to mainstream, sensible religious people. And the way you do that is to tell them that there’s no incompatibility between science and religion.” 
Dawkins added, “By the way, I’m being a helluva lot more frank and honest in this interview than many people in this field would be.”


Mooney, Forrest, and the NCSE prefer to see the truth — that Darwinian theory indeed poses a threat to any meaningful theistic view — kept hidden under a heavy woolen blanket. Otherwise the word might leak out and alarm winsome and useful Christian allies like Francis Collins and Karl Giberson, of BioLogos and Beliefnet’s Science and the Sacred. Their names come up frequently in the debate. 
The Daily Kos blogger laments, “While religious moderates may accept the theory of evolution and cosmic inflation theory, their means of reconciling their faith with scientific discoveries can still be pretty odious.” He writes of one such theistic evolutionary strategy, associated with Cambridge University’s Simon Conway Morris — “the notion held by some religious moderates that the evolution of homo sapiens was inevitable,” “a claim unsupported by scientific evidence.”
And so on it goes. You can jump in in the middle of the fight, and should do so especially if you are a Darwin-believing religious liberal or moderate who’s curious what the dominant atheist contingent in the Darwin community really thinks of you. To the extent that much of the touching need to reconcile Darwin and God is driven by social and self-image worries, theistic evolutionists may as well throw in the towel. They will never safely secure the esteem of the atheists. 
Where, then, to turn? For a reasoned alternative, start by checking out Faith and Evolution.
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posted June 6, 2009 at 1:54 am

This post was originally for a few threads back, but the current one has an issue or two worthy of address, and I think this fits in here, as well.
Thank you for the answers, David.
David: An old earth is scientifically undeniable as well as being theologically inoffensive.
I do recall you saying this before. Your phraseology is interesting though, in that you add “as well as being theologically inoffensive.” It seems to me that if something is undeniable, scientifically or otherwise, it isn’t relevant whether it’s offensive or not, theologically. I mean, evil in the world is certainly undeniable, and it is offensive to theology, but that’s just too darn bad for theology! This is the reason for the existence of theodicy, which, I think, can give reasonable grounds for the seeming paradox of evil in a world created by an all-good and all-powerful God. The point it that we don’t deny evil because it makes our theology stickier–we just try to do better theology. Thus, if something is scientifically undeniable, its theological implications, inoffensive or otherwise, are not a problem for scientists–they’re for theologians to sort out.
Common descent — I guess you could say I’m agnostic. If true, it doesn’t strike at the heart of Biblical theism in anything like the way that Darwinism does.
Well, I’m glad you at least admit the possibility–unless I missed something, you hadn’t spoken to this before. In any case, many of your Discovery Institute colleagues (e.g. Michael Behe) are certainly not agnostic on this issue, and certainly do accept common descent. I’d say that whatever else one might say about evolution, common descent is pretty much scientifically undeniable, based on genetics and molecular biology. And once again, if it is scientifically undeniable, it doesn’t matter whether it ‘strikes at the heart of Biblical theism” or not. It is then for theologians to sort things out, rather than to attack the actual science.
Nuclear technology? Huh? Again, there’s no challenge to anyone’s worldview at all. It has no philosophical implications
OK, fair enough—it’s the ideological or philosophical repercussions you’re worried about. I withdraw the nuclear analogy.
But again, the sun’s being at the center of our solar system only bumps up against the most naive Biblical literalism, to which, I repeat, I have no reason to feel committed. There are no worldview implications and the scientific evidence is undeniable. (emphasis added)
I discussed this when I first brought up the analogy (I don’t remember on which thread)–some historians think there was a worldview implication. In fact, the so-called Copernican Principle states that there is no reason to consider our planet in any way extraordinary, unique, or scientifically or metaphysically special. If you read about the philosophy of science, this comes up all the time.
Many historians believe that the Copernican Principle, by knocking Earth (and with it, humanity) out of a perceived centrality in the cosmos, began a slow erosion of faith among the intelligentsia. Earth was no longer the center of the universe and the focus of God’s provident care. It was no different from any other orb. As such, it was a precursor and partial contributor to the secularism of the Enlightenment era, which gradually spread from the intelligentsia to the public at large over the course of the nineteenth century.
Now the thing is, it wasn’t the idea itself that destroyed faith, but the interpretation that was given to it. It is obviously possible to have a Jewish or Christian theology that fully accepts heliocentrism and integrates it into its belief system. Likewise, contra both you and the ID crowd on one side, and Dawkins and co. on the other, I do not think that the neo-Darwinian synthesis necessarily implies an atheistic, purely material, or at best Deistic universe, any more than heliocentrism necessarily implies the insignificance of Earth and mankind or the lack of involvement by God with both.
Regarding the current thread: No doubt both sides are jockeying for political reasons in the creation-evolution debate, but that is still irrelevant to the truth of the matter. E.g. the government, at one time, poured millions into remote-viewing and psychic warfare projects for the political reason that if it turned out that it did work, it would be an invaluable military and political weapon. Well, all such programs were closed because all the money and political support in the world couldn’t make it work! Thus, the motives of some in the evolutionary biology community may be underhanded and two-faced, but that is irrelevant to the truth or falsity of evolution or theism or any combination thereof. Heck, many of us consider that ID, for many or even most of its proponents (not you, David, but an awful lot), is just a subterfuge to get Christian theology taught in the schools (heard of the “wedge strategy”?). If that were true, I assume it wouldn’t of itself invalidate ID for you, would it? In any case, arguing the politics just takes the focus off the science which is pretty much unambiguously in favor of evolution.
To the extent that much of the touching need to reconcile Darwin and God is driven by social and self-image worries
Of course, some of us might actually believe, based on the evidence, that Darwinism and religion can be reconciled! You’re indulging in the fallacy of attributing emotional or psychological motives to people who may be committing to beliefs based on their understanding of the best evidence available.
[Theistic evolutionists] will never safely secure the esteem of the atheists.
Some of us aren’t interested in whose esteem we do or do not secure—we are interested in what we believe to be the actual case, based on evidence. Some of us don’t think that evolution and religion (Jewish, Christian, or other) are in fact in conflict.

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Glen Davidson

posted June 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm

theistic evolutionists may as well throw in the towel. They will never safely secure the esteem of the atheists.

Except that they do, when they do good science. I pointed this out in the past (re Collins, but Miller and Dobzhansky would make excellent examples as well), David never came up with any response, and he just repeats it despite the evidence. Nothing new there, he has nothing but the empty slogans of the DI to bandy about.
And to be sure, there are actually quite few atheistic scientists who even argue against tolerance for religion and religious adherents. Coyne and Myers tend to claim that they’re being told to “shut up,” because they happen to feel that their positions receive little support.
Most of all, how absurd it is to take atheistic scientists as experts on religion. David doesn’t even accept that Dawkins Coyne and Myers are experts in evolutionary science (in the sense that they come to largely correct conclusions), yet he takes their word for it that “‘Darwinian theory’ indeed poses a threat to any meaningful theistic view.” Does he also accept their word that the Bible is a collection of stories of a hideous malicious god? In other words, is he consistent in accepting the notion that Dawkins’, Coyne’s, and Myers’ theological observations are accurate?
Certainly not, he’s as consistent there as he is in his support for science, that is to say, his bias totally rules.
If I were going to bring in authorities on religion and its relationship with science, I would turn to religious scientists and theologians. They’ve actually worked with the issues, and presumably thus have some sense of what is involved. Why not ask Rabbi Slifkin, Pope John Paul II, and C.S. Lewis?
Anyway, even atheists like Coyne, Dawkins, and Myers are generally saying that science is incompatible with religion, not “Darwinism,” since the latter could not neutralize any meaningful evidence coming from cosmology, miracles, or neuroscience–if such were in evidence. So on that score, too, David misrepresents the issues.
It’s as credible to say that invoking mindless electrical phenomena for lightning is incompatible with religion as it is to say that “Darwinism” is incompatible with religion, for the real problem a number of theists have with science is that none of the sciences actually supply evidence for god. They blame evolution alone, however, because it was the last major causal gap to be filled, and because life has been more important for most religions than has, say, lightning, or the configuration of the heavens.
The real issues are science and religion, and how people conceive of religion. Trying to make this out to be “Darwinism” versus religion is only another way to bias the debate toward David’s own sectarian interests. He does not speak for religion at large, any more than Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne do.
Glen Davidson

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posted June 7, 2009 at 1:29 am

Was there any point to this lecture other than sniping at atheists?

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posted June 7, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Why should I care what hardline scientific atheists think of me? It doesn’t invalidate either their science or my religion.

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posted June 7, 2009 at 10:00 pm

What gets me is that most theists won’t look outside of their bible for corroborating evidence (even within the bible it’s sketchy) – when one makes an extraordinary claim, they need extraordinary proof.
Our vast knowledge on subjects like evolution has been corroborated not only by evolutionary biologists (like Dawkins) but by multiple disciplines of science. To properly understand it you would need a working knowledge of several disciplines like History, cellular biology, genetics, anatomy, geology, palentology, enviromental systems, atomic chemistry, taxonomy, cosmology, geography, sociology – etc…
What do theists have? A bronze age book, authored by people who thought the world was flat, spit would cure a wound, didn’t know the sun was going to rise the next day, etc.
There is no proof, it’s a faith – JUST ADMIT IT and stop trying to pass it off as truth. IT’S FAITH. It’s personal. It’s not facts. There are a series of checks and balances to prove it so. Just go through those and if in the end there is proof, then we will all believe. It’s that simple.

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Larry Fafarman

posted June 8, 2009 at 8:33 am

Winston Churchill had a good description of the theistic evolutionists who try to appease the atheistic evolutionist establishment: “An appeaser is someone who feeds a crocodile in the hope that it will eat him last.”

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posted June 9, 2009 at 3:23 pm

They hav fallen hook,line and sinker for this evovutiionists hogwash they so think that humans and apes are so related or that birds are the decedents of dinasours their so patheticly ignorant and they take everything their read on TIME,NEWSWEEK, and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC as the litteral truth its no wonder they cant do well in the SAT tests

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posted June 12, 2009 at 10:06 am

Marc –
So essentially with your comment you’re saying that people with religious beliefs are a) stupid, and b) naive, but you, of course, since you’re a scientist (are you even?) are enlightened and privileged to knowledge that those with religious beliefs do not have, because you have (as you are implying) “a working knowledge of several disciplines like History, cellular biology, genetics, anatomy, geology, palentology, enviromental systems, atomic chemistry, taxonomy, cosmology, geography, sociology – etc… ”
I hope that as a Bible-believing Christian I am never that proud. I wonder what you would say to someone like myself, who is a Theistic evolutionist. Meaning, I believe in the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ as being my Savior (and there is proof of that, even more than Napoleon ever existing) but I see no reason why creation is not able to adapt and change as needed to deal with the environment (survival of the fittest). I have to reject that humankind is just a bunch of evolved apes (and I know not all evolutionists claim this), but you must admit that there is something special and unique about humans (I would say something divine, but you would obviously disagree).
I have to ask what you mean by “truth”. Can something be true if it is not provable scientifically? If that’s your definition, then you have to rule out history as being true (because we can’t prove that it happened scientifically). You also can’t say that love really exists, or emotions, or a host of other things. But if you admit that these things do exist, then I think you need to ask if God could be true.

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Your Name

posted June 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

John, thank you for your post. You were able to clearly make your point, especially in the last paragraph and I agree that there are many things in this world that cannot be measured in a scientific experiment. Personally I am unconcerned about who is correct about creation. My purpose is to tend to my own soul and to grow spiritually and become more enlightened. How it all started is secondary. But then, I am not in an organized religion, which removes that burden from me. Why don’t we allow everyone to believe what they would like to believe and spend our energies on important matters.

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Rev. Lynn

posted June 14, 2009 at 10:49 am

My name was not published in my answer to John above

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Matthew Tripp

posted July 13, 2009 at 11:00 pm

The wheel of Buddhist terms poster Velcro modular wall mural game. Doctoral dissertation for philosophy, title: The Interpenetration of Buddhist Practice and Classroom Teaching.
PARASITIC SPECIES INFESTATION alien robot telescope spaceship: audiobook first few tracks are good, PALE BLUE DOT as we transition to a knowledge based global society
as computing power increases exponentially and ubiquitous web enabled sensors allow for immersion in context relevant buddhist or ethics perspective, national broadband plan… augmented reality sociology subject index and table of contents Chinese military intelligence genius clones life energy word abacus sustainability transmission measurement context mapping is me Google for EXTINCTCULTURE please let me know what you think about this topic (FOLDING@HOME and BIONIC software’s, engineering 450 million new species to make deserts habitable or telepathic ecosystem maintenance) autodesk inventor prototyping software for genetics use the audio book list on to build course of life coaching training young orphan people to be CIA certified ethical hackers download free at because if the current post world war 2 education system was meant to produce factory workers (not critical thinking curriculum video from best teacher nationally then teachers answer questions and do research while the kids watch, pause for Q+A, the videos podshifter software for iTunesU ) how much worse is this continuation of using the bible koran instead of critical mass ecosystem dynamics physics logistics?
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MIT OCW designing your life. The art of war flashcard deck, wikipedia article audio book the 48 laws of power… RAW stem cells movies: Eagle EYE, Minority Report, (gps and audio recording + all video survelance to DVR on web for all probation and parole ankle monitors, put more people on them and use software to monitor them, the probation or parolee pays for the ankle monitor and then gives it back to the probation office then the next probation pays for it again, thus buying another one) broadcom is makeing new version of these chips every two months now GPS + Bluetooth + WiFi + FM combo chip)
audio + video security DVR in juvinile prisons with audiobooks streaming leave the headphones you buy behind for the next inmate
web 2.0 directories: and USE THE TAGS cloud, also and SHARE

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