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More ID Critic Fun

Here is a jolly little article by an ID critic who has dispensed with actual argument and has gone straight for personal attacks! In good junior high fashion, serious intellectual issues are getting boiled down to: “ID is stupid! ID is dumb! ID is so uncool! All the cool kids are Darwinists!”Let’s be clear. If you are an American who thinks any deity or non-material force exists in the Universe and that you can tell it, then these folk dislike you. Don’t fall for the divide and conquer strategy that tries to paint ID as the preserve of “fundie Christians.” (Of course, you should ask yourself if your views of fundie Christians aren’t media creations themselves . . . part of the soft bigotry of the establishment.)My comments, as usual, are in italics.WASHINGTON DIARISTCreationsby Leon WieseltierPost date: 08.12.05Issue date: 08.22.05The cunning souls who propound intelligent design are playing with fire, because they have introduced intelligence into the discussion. It is a standard to which they, too, must be held.When you grow up, you are no longer allowed just to say, “Suzie Smith is a stupid, stupid, stupid!” You must develop good, passive voice ways of saying it. Otherwise everyone will know that you just don’t like Suzie Smith and all that college education will have been wasted.The theory of intelligent design must itself be intelligently designed. I cannot judge the soundness of their science, but that is not the only standpoint from which they must be judged. Their science, after all, is pledged to a philosophy.We could question a literary editor’s ability to do philosophy, but let’s not quibble.Philosophically speaking, I do not see that they have demonstrated what they congratulate themselves for demonstrating. The “argument from design,” the view that the evidence for the existence of God may be found in the organization of the natural world, is an ancient argument, but philosophers have grasped, at least since the sixth section of the third chapter of the second book of the Critique of Pure Reason, that it may establish only the wisdom of a creator, and not the existence of one.Someone should have told Al Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Edward Wierenga, and the hundreds of modern theistic professional philosophers that the whole philosophic debate on this topic was finished by Kant. Here is a good rule of thumb: philosophical debates improve over time (good intelligent selection!), but they are hardly ever “over.” Super-philosopher X may have wiped out one version of an idea, but a new X resistant strain is almost surely on the way.Some versions of the argument to design have been defeated. Other versions are under discussion. Outsiders may view all this discussion as futile, but progress is made! The version of theism now defended by philosophers is far more robust than that defended by even such greats as Aquinas, because we stand shoulder to shoulder with the many philosophers that have come since.It isn’t ID folk who are not up to date in philosophy, but their critics.It is impossible, of course, not to marvel at the complexity and the beauty of the natural order; but marveling is not thinking. The mind may recoil from the possibility that all this sublimity came into being by accident, but it cannot, on those grounds alone, rule the possibility out, unless it is concerned only to cure its own pain.However, it might motivate a person to do hard philosophy to see if what seems to be true is. Writers like this one seem to think that just saying a thing could be true, or could be contrary to what seems to be true, is enough to show that it probably is the case! Amazingly, what seems true, usually is. The burden of proof is on the person who thinks the watch is not designed not on the rest of us who think it is. There is nothing wrong with siding, at the first, with common sense.Of course, someone will point out things can go against common sense. Well and good. Show us, my dear Darwinist, why we should assume it in the case of life. The burden of proof is on you to show why a thing that you agree appears to be designed cannot be . . . and give us a widely agreed on naturalistic mechanism to produce it. That is unless you simply want us to assume naturalism of the metaphysical sort is true, force us to be methodological naturalists in science, and leave it at that.(Cosmic accident is also an occasion for awe.) Intelligent design is an expression of sentiment, not an exercise of reason. It is a psalm, not a proof.No. It isn’t. Dembski’s book may be wrong for all I know, but it is not a psalm. One could point out; however, that awe can be awful. The fact that theism produced modern science, great psalms, music, art, and philosophy points to the usefulness of the idea. Atheism has not managed to produce much culture worth thinking about outside of very narrow fields.Intelligent design was conceived as the solution to a religious problem, not a scientific one.We will wait eagerly for the writer to give us a way to demarcate religious questions from scientific ones. If he cannot, and he cannot, then we might next wonder what happened to trans-disciplinary study as a good goal. Why is religion the only field not allowed to interact with science?The problem is that the cosmogony in Genesis does not resemble what we know about the origins of the world.Someone should have told Plato this when he was writing his design argument in Laws X. We are about to get a conflation of “design theories” with creationism. Now as a matter of fact, I think the Bible account truer than most of the modern myths that educated people believe today. I am a creationist and I believe in design.However, when I had rejected Christianity, I was still a design person (though not a creationist) on neo-Platonic grounds. I would have been (and was) just as hostile to the position of this article at that time.The author is conflating two different things. Creationists are likely to believe that God left evidence of His creative act, though in fact not all creationists believe that to be true. They are likely to believe that design will be needed to explain all the workings of the cosmos. So most theists are creationists and most creationists are design folk.However, one could believe in design without believing in creation. Not all design theorists believe in God. Neo-Platonists might believe merely in the World of Forms that actualizes our own order by its mere existence. (See Timaeus, second creation account.) In the US most people are theists and Christians (close to 80%). Therefore, it is not shocking that almost all US design theorists (though not all!) are theists and even Christians.Which is to say, intelligent design was prompted by the consequences of literalism in the interpretation of Scripture.This is just a lie. Of the ID scholars I know, few fit this religious description.This fact is so obvious that it should not need defense. To give but one example: Prominent design theorist Michael Behe is a Roman Catholic. That Church is not known for “literalism” when it comes to Scripture. Behe is certainly no fundie.Some ID folk are “literalists.” However, one must define the term literalist as well. The author of this piece is very mistaken about even those folk. Those who believe the Bible without error adopted this statement. Read it and see if you recognize what is about to follow.Now, there is no more primitive for
m of monotheistic religion than this. If you believe that the world was created by God in six days because the Bible says so, then you must also believe that the Israelites saw God’s hand, because the Bible says so, and that Moses spoke to God face to face, because the Bible says so, and that God’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, because the Bible says so, and so on.This is wrong and can be proven wrong with Google in moments. No person who is an orthodox Christian believes God has a physical hand. All take account of the literary genre of the books of the Bible.I quote from the Chicago Statement of scholars who believe the Bible is without error: We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historicaI exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. Of course, none of this has the first thing to do with intelligent design. Design theorists have been pre-Christian pagans (Platonists), Christians who were not literalists (Thomists), non-Christians (Islamic philosophers), and Eastern (some Indian philosophers). Given US and Western demographics most design theorists here are Christians, some traditional Christians who think the Bible without error.The intellectual integrity of monotheism depends upon the repudiation of such readings. Sanctity is not an excuse for stupidity. But once the legitimacy of figurative reading is admittedWhich every group involved in the discussion does.. . the fabled dissonance between science and faith, the fundamentalist melodrama, evaporates.If the trouble with Darwinism were this way of reading Scripture, than my entire church (Orthodox) would have no problem.The question is: how should Genesis be read in its literary context? Just because one can use a figurative reading (and we all agree you can), does not mean you should.In fact, I personally think Darwinism is not compatible with a careful and literary reading of Genesis. I have good, traditional Christian friends who disagree. If I wished, I could adopt their view. My faith is not on the line here.The problem is that I do not think the evidence for Darwinism (minus its philosophical props) is compelling. I don’t think it true. I don’t have a harmony problem to begin with . . .Was the world made in six days? Then “days” must not mean days, and may mean many millions of years.It might shock the author to note that this very view is that of the “Fundamentals” published out of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in the early part of the twentieth century. This is the book that helped give fundamentalism its name.The problem with Darwinism is not the age of the earth. Google Hugh Ross. Philosophically the problem (as men like Hodge pointed out in the last century) is that while Darwinism does not entail atheism it seems naturally have flow from it. Since atheism appears to be false (given theistic arguments and experience), as does naturalism and materialism, a theist must ask what the evidence for Darwinism actually is. Is it true stripped of the desire to get rid of a god?The answer for a divine theorist in philosophy is, “No.”The scientist is also allowed to say, “This appears designed. I can use normal ways of telling designed objects from those not designed. It does not seem to be the sort of thing that is likely produced by nature alone. That is where the evidence has led me.” Otherwise, scientists must be forced to wear naturalist blinders and keep looking for the naturalist answer . . . even when she does not think there is one there.(Naturalists are of course free to keep looking . . . perhaps forever . . . for a way that design can be reduced to material causes.)Was man “formed … of the dust of the ground”? Then “formed” must not mean whole and at once, and “the dust of the ground” must refer to some unspecified variety of physical origination. Otherwise Scripture is wrong–but according to the believer Scripture cannot be wrong. And so the believer may turn comfortably to science, without the dread of heresy. Truth is never heresy, except for those who make their religion vulnerable to truth.If religion is not vulnerable to truth, then it has no use. Religions make claims. Some are shown to be false. People who believe stupid things about the Bible (because they read as the author suggests they do) are wrong. They should adopt a broader religious view.Sadly for the author, design theorists do not adopt his view nor for that matter do Biblical literalists. Things are not so easy. It is just an insult to say that design theorists cannot turn to science without the “dread of heresy.” I love Socrates. I want to follow the truth where it leads. I would reject God, the Bible, and my faith if best reason, evidence, and experience told me it was false.Instead, best reason, evidence, and experience have brought me back to faith in Christ and to His church.I don’t think all atheists are stupid, just wrong. Why must atheists in mainstream publications go on insulting us? Why is there such a double standard? Ill educated theists who think atheists are just evil or stupid are not given the prestige of publication in “middle brow” journals. They are fringe and deserve to be so. Ill educated atheists are the leaders of their movement at the moment it appears.I hope my thoughtful atheist friends can begin to become the public face of atheism and not folk like this. It is not good for our democracy.I do not mean to gloat. If you were raised on Scripture as a child, if the Bible was your first enchantment, then it is not an easy matter to pull slightly away, to confer upon your improvising intellect so much power over its significations.It might also be hard as an adult, in an enclosed community that all “knows” the Bible or traditional Christianity is nonsense to pull away from the adult toys and honors and follow truth.I remember my torments, in the holy and walled city of Brooklyn, on the subject of dat u’madda, religion and science; but I recall them also as the philosophical characteristics of adolescence. There really is something childish about the notion that everything is exactly as the Bible says it is: this is the spell of fairy tales. I was eventually released from my anxiety about the freedom of my mind by a startling passage in Maimonides, who is not for children. Almost perversely, he wished his students to know that his belief in the creation of the world was not owed to the Bible’s account of the creation of the world. This is how he denied them a fundamentalist satisfaction: “Know that our shunning the affirmation of the eternity of the world is not due to a text figuring in the Torah according to which the world has been produced in time. For the texts indicating that the world has been produced in time are not more numerous than those indicating that the deity is a body. Nor are the gates of figurative interpretation shut in our faces … regarding the subject of the creation of the world in time. For we could interpret them as figurative, as we have done when denying His corporeality.” If science could prove that the world was eternal, then the eternity of the world would by some hermeneutical means accord with Scripture. If science can prove that man evolved over millions of years from other species, ditto. The gates of figurative interpretation were opened in my face, and I grew up.And since then, from the looks of this article, “I have never had another thought about religion, the Bible, and science again.” It is true that one move
s from childhood faith in just about every area. Dad says is no more a good reason for an adult in science than in religion. We mature and stand on our own feet. This process should NOT stop.I keep following the dialectic and it has led me back to a faith that is much more like that of my childhood than the “mature” faith of the author of this article. Perhaps he shook off childhood’s ways only to be stuck as a perpetual teen ager? Has he ever been skeptical of his (appropriate) teen angst or his superficial readings of a great philosopher?He is so sure . . . but nobody pursuing the divine is that sure. I think God is real, the Bible true, and the Christian faith His path . . . but I could be wrong and I live in the exciting knowledge that around any corner some evidence may make me change my mind. My joy in the journey is great . . . and so I move forward with what I have, but hold it with a loose hand in the face of the greatness of the Divine Other.There are things I think I know . . . and they turn out (splendor of truth!) to be the things I lisped as a child. The fairy tales were closer to truth than Isaac Asimov! The Bible, even read in a careful “literal” way, more true than the New York Times . . . and much less biased. This journey has been shut off by the writer of this article as if all grown ups must go his way.On July 7, The New York Times published an article by Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna. It was submitted to the paper by the public-relations firm that represents the Discovery Institute, a hotbed of intelligent design in Seattle. Denouncing materialism, the cardinal wrote to register a doctrinal disagreement: “Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense–an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection–is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.” This is scholastic smoke.Earlier we were told that the whole problem was Biblical literalism. Schönborn is no literalist. Instead of changing his mind about the nature of ID, however, the author now accuses the massively well read Cardinal of “scholastic smoke.” We know now that the first part of this article was false, the second part dealing with Schönborn proves it. ID is not all about Genesis as Schönborn has no problem with Genesis literalism (if that is a problem). How can we trust the rest of it? He has misread the Cardinal as badly as he has misread Biblical literalists. An unplanned process may also be God’s plan, an instrument of providence. God’s will may take many forms.Well, that could be true in some areas, but is it in this area? Why might Aquinas think it is not? What about souls or life might be different from lightening or other natural events?The cardinal seems to have resurrected the old Islamic idea of “occasionalism,” known in its Western version from the writings of Malebranche, to get in on the anti-Darwinist action. This was the view that the belief in natural causes is an offense to God’s omnipotence, and the acknowledgment of such causes a descent into the pagan worship of nature.No. That is not what he has done. He is giving a sophisticated Thomistic reading of causes.I had thought, in my Judaic innocence, that Aquinas had gloriously secured natural causality for the Church once and for all.Why yes, so he did. However, it might be that Schönborn understands Thomas better than you and the fact that some things can be natural caused does not mean all things can be.Now I must suppose that the Church’s unsophisticated new construction of God’s will is a manifestation of God’s wisdom.Of course the Cardinal is not unsophisticated philosophically; I would match his reading list with that of the author of this article any day. He may be unsophisticated in the sort of social circles in which this literary critic moves. There is little doubt that being a multi-lingual, Austrian Cardinal is not cool. My guess is that if invited the good Cardinal would not make good chat at a wine and cheese with the author’s friends. He does not share their worldview and has probably never even heard of the Daily Kos or TNR! His global ministry has not left him time for parochial sophistication.ID can survive that lack of sophistication.For His agents on Earth have cultural uses for anti-Darwinism. They think it will make us good, because Darwin makes us bad. No doubt this is why President Bush wants “to expose people to different schools of thought,” and have intelligent design taught alongside evolution: to retard our corruption. But isn’t the idea that morality is founded in nature itself a sin of materialism? And are we to teach other false ideas alongside other true ones? I do not want my son to waste his time on phlogiston. I mean, what is truth? The question is begged yet again, this time by the pomo of Crawford.I think the author’s anger with Bush has gotten the better of him. Bush may be many things, but the old Texan is not post-modern. Old fashioned? Medieval? Perhaps, but then we should not make arguments using a clock! Just because an idea is old does not make it bad.The rest of this makes little sense. If Darwinism is false, then it would be bad for humans to believe it.Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of TNR.I would like to invite Mr. Wieseltier to present this argument at my honors college. The faculty will simply listen. Instead, he is invited to dialectically engage with my undergraduate students. Perhaps he will teach them something. Perhaps they will teach him what well read “literalists” actually look like. He should be warned: many of them voted, thoughtfully, for Bush. Many have read from Homer to Dawkins and still believe in intelligent design.Good luck Mr. Wieseltier.

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