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Wright Does the Right Thing, Reinstates Behe on Intelligent Design

posted by David Klinghoffer

When I wrote earlier on the Stalinist erasure of John McWhorter’s interview with biochemist Michael Behe on Bloggingheads.tv, I began by saying, “Wow.” I will say that again: “Wow.” Why wow? Because Bloggingheads editor-in-chief Robert Wright was, as I’d suspected, out of the shop when it happened — on a silent meditation retreat, in fact — and on returning he reversed his staff’s Orwellian move and put the interview back up. Way to go, Mr. Wright! 

There are three orders of business here. First, congratulations to Robert Wright, whose very interesting book The Evolution of God I’ve commented on before. He writes sensibly in explanation of what happened, making clear that the censoring of Behe was indefensible without publicly condemning his subordinates, which would have been ungracious:

This diavlog has now been re-posted. The decision to remove it from the site was made by BhTV staff while I was away and unavailable for consultation. (Yes, even in a wired world it’s possible to take yourself off the grid. Here’s how I did it.) It’s impossible to say for sure whether, in the heat of the moment, I would have made a decision different from the staff’s decision. But on reflection I’ve decided that removing this particular diavlog from the site is hard to justify by any general principle that should govern our future conduct. In other words, it’s not a precedent I’d want to live with. At the same time, I can imagine circumstances under which a diavlog would warrant removal from the site. So this episode has usefully spurred me and the BhTV staff to try to articulate some rules of the road for this sort of thing. Within a week, the results will be posted, along with some related thoughts on the whole idea behind Bloggingheads.tv, here.

Just so you know, Wright is no intelligent design fan, as he makes clear in The Evolution of God. He’s a Darwinist, including on evolutionary psychology where Darwinism becomes even harder to defend than in other areas, but a fair-minded one. He’s no theist either and writes frankly of himself as a materialist, but neither is he prejudiced against religion. An interesting person, a little bit in the William James mold. (James, by the way, had some intriguing reservations about scientific materialism.)
So saying mazal tov to Wright is point one. Point two is that this should be a lesson for him and everyone else, underlining the unthinking prejudice that Darwin-doubters face. Someone at Bloggingheads muzzled McWhorter for allowing a full and friendly presentation of Behe’s ideas on irreducible complexity. The interview went up and then was taken down in the space of about six hours. That’s fast. Not only was the interview erased but sufficient pressure was brought to bear on McWhorter that he wrote, or allowed someone else to write, an apology for conducting the interview in the first place!


Why would he concede so quickly? It can only be that he felt threatened in some way. If he refused, he must have thought, he would lose something of value. Probably something having to do with his livelihood. I can’t imagine he’s afraid of negative comments left on Bloggingheads by anonymous Darwin believers, or by snarky, obscene bloggers like Abigail Smith. (For the record, he did not respond to an email request from me for his own take.)

The lesson is that this is how Darwinism works, intimidating anyone who might publicly dissent. This time there was a Robert Wright to set things right. But as I said before, he stands out from other Darwinists by his open-mindedness. This was a decent thing he did. It’s the exception that proves the rule. The rule is that Darwinism will not tolerate being questioned.
Point three is that now Wright has ruled that in his shop, it’s not forbidden to question Darwinian evolution, why not let more flowers bloom? Wright is a materialist and thinks a modern scientific outlook necessitates a materialist view. (Maybe he’d put it differently himself.) That’s an opinion worth a serious discussion. It would make for a fascinating conversation. What I’d love to see is a dialogue on Blogginheads between Wright and Stephen Meyer (Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design) or David Berlinski (The Devil’s Delusion) on materialism itself.
Alternatively, more of a debate between Meyer or Berlinski and the Darwinist of Mr. Wright’s choice, if any would dare. How about it, Bob?
Note: This entry is cross-posted at Evolution News & Views.



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Turmarion

posted August 31, 2009 at 6:45 pm


David: When I wrote earlier on the Stalinist erasure of John McWhorter’s interview with biochemist Michael Behe….”
Still calling names.
Reductio ad Stalinem.
Point two is that this should be a lesson for him and everyone else, underlining the unthinking prejudice that Darwin-doubters face.
Playing the victim card again. Poor, poor Darwin-doubters, oppressed by the nasty Stalinist (or is it Nazi? Or Manson family?) Darwinists.
Not only was the interview erased but sufficient pressure was brought to bear on McWhorter that he wrote, or allowed someone else to write, an apology for conducting the interview in the first place!Why would he concede so quickly? It can only be that he felt threatened in some way. If he refused, he must have thought, he would lose something of value. Probably something having to do with his livelihood.
All speculation and innuendo. Short of McWhorter telling us himself, we don’t know, do we? More unfounded slurs.
The lesson is that this is how Darwinism works, intimidating anyone who might publicly dissent.
Still more slurs. There’s plenty of ID sites and institutions and books around, and I don’t see evolutionary biologists firebombing DI headquarters or staging bookburnings, do you?
Point three is that now Wright has ruled that in his shop, it’s not forbidden to question Darwinian evolution, why not let more flowers bloom?
Sure, why not? Just as flat-Earthers and geocentrists and advocates of perpetual motion are free to make themselves seem as fringe as possible by goofy arguments, so should anyone else. It’s not the pseudoscience per se that bugs a lot of us, but the deceptive smear campaign to advance what at its root is a relgious, not scientific, movement.
Alternatively, more of a debate between Meyer or Berlinski and the Darwinist of Mr. Wright’s choice, if any would dare.
If by “Darwinist” you mean “evolutionary biologist”, the history has been of ID proponents avoiding such encounters, but I’d say, by all means, bring it on! Let the public see and decide for themselves.



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Glen Davidson

posted August 31, 2009 at 6:50 pm


Oh yes, preferring science to superstition is Stalinist. And since the DI and David are 100% against having to back up their assertions, David will feel no compunction at all to support his baseless claims.

Point three is that now Wright has ruled that in his shop, it’s not forbidden to question Darwinian evolution, why not let more flowers bloom?

Yes, it’s time to note that Ovid’s Metamorphoses is every bit as scientific as ID. May the Stalinists/Nazis/liberals stop persecuting the adherents to Greek mythology, along with the believers in “forms.”
Gee, I will bet that David won’t support either formists or metamporphicists, but one has to at least try.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Turmarion

posted August 31, 2009 at 7:11 pm


Almost forgot:
David, in his post on Francis Collins: “On the other hand, that life has an evolutionary history including billions of years of change — that is unassailable as science and unobjectionable to me as a Jew.” Please explain to me how this is one whit different from theistic evolution. David, you said on that same post that you’d like to see someone debate Collins or ask him some pointed questions; yet you resolutely avoid all such questions and attempts at debate here. This one, which seems to me a statement of what almost anyone would refer to as theistic evolution, is especially egregious.
In that regard, your statement on the last thread that theistic evolution cannot be compatible with both science and religion is a mere assertion without explanation, as I addressed there. That is not an answer.
Finally, you still have never given a real response to what we’ve been asking you about Maimonides (at your request, I recapped and expanded on this a few threads ago, remember?). We’re still waiting. Also, I’m still waiting to hear you speak to the issues of randomness [I’ll modify this since you suggested the West articles, but you haven’t answered my critique of them yet] and alien intelligence vis-à-vis the “image of god”.
I think anyone reading this will agree that I’m not using nasty language and that I’m being perfectly polite. Don’t you think the civil thing is at least to acknowledge the questions, even if for some reason you don’t want to answer them? And if you don’t want to answer them, you might at least give us an idea why not.
I might also point out that in this article which you linked to awhile back, you’re on record as saying, “Normally, I think it’s best for friends of ID to avoid a defensive posture and generally let critics say what they want without our always feeling obliged to respond.” (emphasis added) You obviously hew closely to that ethos, but is that anything like the real debate, discussion, or dialogue you claim to want? Is this how you view what you’re doing–assert and assert and assert, ignoring all calls for answers, responses, or dialogue? If this is how you view things, why have a blog with responses at all?



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David Klinghoffer

posted August 31, 2009 at 7:26 pm


Turmarion, on theistic evolution, why don’t you read the articles collected on the subject here:
http://www.faithandevolution.org/questions.php
Regarding your Maimonides question, it’s on my list. Because you ask a question, that doesn’t oblige me to address it by any particular deadline. Try to remember you’re not my employer or my parent.



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Turmarion

posted August 31, 2009 at 8:57 pm


I will read the articles on theistic evolution that you link to and get back on them. However, I was interested in your opinion on it, given the ambiguity of your statement, as posted above. It doesn’t seem to me that writing a couple of paragraphs in response would be that difficult, but whatever. I might point out that that and Maimonides weren’t the only questions, btw.
Regarding your Maimonides question, it’s on my list. Because you ask a question, that doesn’t oblige me to address it by any particular deadline.
Fair enough. I might point out that never in the past have you said anything such as, “You know, that’s a good question and I’m working on it. I’ll get back to you when I can. If it’s a long time, feel free to remind me, but I’m not forgetting,” or “You know, I’m not sure–I’ll have to look that up and get back to you,” or “That’s none of your damn business,” or such. Not only have you refused to answer relevant questions when I and several others have asked them, but you have until now steadfastly refused even to acknowledge them. Hence the prodding.
I might note that there are plenty of other posters here on both sides who are able to discuss back and forth in a time frame less than several months, and yes, most of us actually have jobs, families, and responsibilities and still fit it in. However, your schedule is your schedule. I look forward to a discussion of Maimonides, especially in terms of your previous quotes of him.
Try to remember you’re not my employer or my parent.
Touchy, touchy! I would point out many, many other blogs (including those of your Beliefnet colleagues Rod Dreher, Brad Hirschfield, and Steve Waldman, just to name a few) whose moderators are actively involved on a fairly regular basis in the comboxes and who will usually clear up misunderstandings or respond to serious questions in a fairly timely way. However, it’s your blog, so whatever.



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Turmarion

posted September 1, 2009 at 8:26 am


As promised:
Well, David, I must say that I’m not any more impressed by the articles on theistic evolution you linked to this time than the set by West you sent me before. This batch contains the same set of themes the last batch did.
1. What is the “theism” of theistic evolution? “Does theism require a God who actively and intimately guides the development of life? Or does it allow a passive God who may not even know how the development of life will ultimately turn out?” (from here. The latter certainly is Deism, not theism. There are probably deists among evolutionary biologists, as well as atheists, agnostics, Jews, Christians, etc., but those who are true theists do by definition believe that God interacts with the cosmos in some manner.
2. Obfuscations about “directed” and “undirected”: “But how can God ‘direct’ an ‘undirected’ process? Modern theistic evolutionists do not offer clear or consistent answers to this question,” from the same article in 1. Well, no one can offer “clear or consistent answers” as to how God works–no finite creature can! However, as I’ve pointed out many times, “random” and “undirected” are meaningful only to humans. From the Divine perspective, nothing is random, and thus God can quite well work through what we term “random” events. How does God direct the “undirected”? Well, I can’t bind the Pleiades or loose Orion’s belt–how am I to answer this question? Do IDers claim that they know how God works? Come on!
3. The real kicker is when they go on about how TE violates Jewish or Christian theology. From the same article again, emphasis added: “While some contemporary proponents of theistic evolution maintain that their views are consistent with traditional Christian theology, many others have made clear that embracing theistic evolution requires radical revisions in how one views God.”
See, this is getting it precisely backward. It could be cogently argued that the Copernican model of the solar system and Newton’s gravitation were not “consistent with traditional Christian theology” as it was understood at the time. The problem was that the evidence for these was unimpeachable and unavoidable. Thus, it was necessary for what some at the time saw as “radical revisions in how one views God.” For example, the geocentric cosmos was held to show God’s providence and love of mankind by putting him literally at the center of the Universe; and the angelic work of moving the celestial spheres was held to show how God providentially maintains an active interest in the cosmos and is constantly active in it. As wonderful as these views were, and as much as they reinforced the Judeo-Christian view of God, they were no longer tenable in light of the findings of science. Thus, the Galileo affair was the last gasp of authority fighting against such new ideas before it became necessary to accept them. The theology had to be redone, but life went on.
The other important thing to note is that in the material it puts out for public consumption, the DI and allies always say that intelligent design is a scientific hypothesis with no religious implications per se. In effect they distinguish two parts to ID: one, the “observed facts” that only design can account for the cosmos, and two, the implications as to where that design came from. They insist that the latter is not necessarily God, since science can’t make that leap. It could be, as Behe says, God or the Gnostic demi-urge, or aliens, or (as I might add) the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Well, it is certainly true that science itself can’t make a leap to the Divine–that’s not its area. However, no one at the DI really thinks that the Designer in fact is the Demiurge or aliens from Sirius or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. With possibly one or two token exceptions, they all agree it’s God. When they start using the tenets of Judaism or Christianity to argue against theistic evolution, the whole game is up and the cat’s out of the bag. See, if there really is no implication at all as to the Designer’s identity based on ID principles, then using any theology to argue against TE is invalid–it must be argued on the science. That is, TE accepts fully standard evolutionary theory, so the question then becomes, “Which is more scientifically robust, ID or standard evolutionary theory?” By the IDers own principles it is illegitimate to use Christian (or any other) theology to argue against TE.
Thought experiment: Say that ID eventually becomes accepted and displaces TE and “Darwinism”; but suppose that (for whatever reason) the prevailing interpretation comes to be that the Designer was aliens from Sirius. Would that really make David and crew happy? What do you think?
4. Pointing out things they find theologically objectionable in the views of some TE proponents. Well, that’s philosophical. I don’t agree with all aspects of the theology of TE advocates, any more than I agree with the theology of all my fellow Christians. A total red herring; although I’m not completely sure that this article represents Miller’s thought with complete accuracy. I’ll have to go back and re-read it.
5. Arguing that TE is not a “majority view” among evolutionary biologists. It’s not. So what? Is truth a matter of majority vote? If all evolutionary biologists were atheists or agnostics or Presbyterians or Karaites or Scientologists or rock worshippers, it would mean nothing as to whether any of those beliefs is true. Of course, the subtle implication is this: “See, all those evolutionists are atheists or skeptics because of their belief in evolution!” Well, this wouldn’t account for the preponderance of atheism in most areas of science, a preponderance that historically is noticeable even before Darwin. I’d trace it back to the Enlightenment, when the intelligentsia (e.g. the French philosophes), for complicated sociological and historical reasons, began to embrace atheism or at least skepticism. It gradually became de rigeur for the educated to be skeptics; and since scientists were educated perforce, the trend began for scientists to be skeptics. In a sociological setting in which the educated class were Zoroastrians, most scientists would probably be Zoroastrians. It’s not about the evolution.
6. The argument that Christian history requires observable design, as in (from this article here) this: “The observability of design was a key theme in the writings of the early church fathers as well…. What were these “works” through which we could see the intelligent activity of God? Theophilus went on to list the regularities of nature from astronomy, the plant world, the diverse species of animals, and the ecosystem.”
First, as I’ve shown, if the ID crowd really believe that ID makes no implications as to who or what the Designer is, this is an invalid line of argumentation. However, let that slide. I’m sure that these quotes and all the other lengthy list of quotes from the Fathers that the DI site gives could be and almost certainly were used in support of geocentrism and the theory of angelic motion of planets. That didn’t make those ideas right.
What a lot of moderns, especially those who have not studied theology, don’t realize is that the Fathers were highly sophisticated thinkers. I can’t speak for Jewish theology and philosophy, since as a Christian that’s not an area I’ve studied. However, in the Christian context, the Fathers were almost all well-trained in Greek philosophy and used the perspective of neo-Platonism, Stoicism, and Artistotelianism as a way of understanding their faith. They inherited the Greek allegorical method of exegesis; therefore, they were always prepared to allegorize anything that violated the known science of the time. For example, with the exception of one or two obscure cranks, they all rejected any notion of God’s corporeality and any notion of a flat Earth, despite the fact that both of these are supported by a literal reading of Scripture. In fact, in some places they are even a bit derisive, arguing that such literalism is only for the simple.
Thus, as a conterfactual thought experiment, I have not the slightest doubt that, had the heliocentric cosmos and evolutionary biology been scientifically established at the time that Christianity began, the Fathers would have accepted them without batting an eye and proceeded to allegorize accordingly; and TE would have been the dominant outlook of believers.
Now since I’m not David’s mother, I don’t expect him to respond to or even acknowledge any of this; but I think it pretty much demolishes the DI articles on theistic evolution. Frankly, I didn’t expect a complex excursus, but the shallowness and brevity of the articles did manage to stun me a bit. I didn’t expect good science, but I thought there just might be a little bit of serious theology or philosophy, a little mental elbow grease. I mean, they didn’t even try to marshal a really good argument. It’s doubtful that such an argument could be made, really, and very few mainstream Jewish or Christian theologians would do so; but the DI folks could have at least tried. On the other hand, I guess it is all of a piece: junk science, junk theology, junk philosophy. At least it’s consistent.



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Turmarion

posted September 1, 2009 at 9:10 am


David, my last post was link-rich and is being held. Please get it up here when possible. Thank you.



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Glen Davidson

posted September 1, 2009 at 11:27 am


Try to remember you’re not my employer or my parent.

Try to remember that intellectual honesty means backing up your claims, David.
That’s your problem, David, you think you have no responsibility to treat others with respect, tell the truth about them, or to forge an honest personal philosophy.
It’s why your writing is only vapidly partisan.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Mergatroid

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:10 pm


“Try to remember that intellectual honesty means backing up your claims, David.”
vs.
“David, you think you have no responsibility to treat others with respect, tell the truth about them, or to forge an honest personal philosophy.”
Wow, I’d swear it should be impossible for one person to have written both these sentences.



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Glen Davidson

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:21 pm


Wow, Mergatroid, you sure don’t follow logic very well.
I’d say that I can’t believe you would find those two statements to be at all problematic, if I didn’t already know that you believe in the ridiculous nonsense of ID. So why not more ridiculous nonsense from you?
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Glen Davidson

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:27 pm


And btw, Mergatroid, David has demonstrated his lack of respect for both honesty and others again and again.
If you missed that, you’re nearly brain-dead.
I don’t actually feel the need to repeat the many ways in which David has failed to demonstrate intellectual and personal honesty, just because you’re either too dumb or too lazy to pick up on such a steady pattern of defamatory and dishonest statements from David, particularly with respect to evolution.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Glen Davidson

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:48 pm


Just for instance, this is a bunch of dishonest twaddle from David, quite visible above:

The lesson is that this is how Darwinism works, intimidating anyone who might publicly dissent. This time there was a Robert Wright to set things right. But as I said before, he stands out from other Darwinists by his open-mindedness. This was a decent thing he did. It’s the exception that proves the rule. The rule is that Darwinism will not tolerate being questioned.

David repeats this drivel to the point that it’s possible he even believes it (but if he does, it only shows that he’s lacking in integrity to the core). But he can’t back it up, and won’t even try, since he’s merely a partisan drone.
An intelligent person would have picked that up, Mergatroid. There are some things that don’t need to be pointed out to decent and knowledgeable folk.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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