Re: Schools and NOMA (was Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Sat Oct 24 2009 - 07:56:37 EDT

Heya Cameron,

Some comments below.

I hope you are right. I hope that the new insights of science will push out
> the older ones. But I don't think that it's all that clear which path the
> intelligentsia of the modern world are going to take. And the
> intelligentsia -- by which I mean the self-appointed leaders in journalism,
> law, education, social thought, public perception of science, etc., some of
> whom are professors but many of whom are not -- are the crucial group,
> because their ideas ultimately "filter down" to the general educated
> population through the New York Times and The Atlantic and Harper's and
> NOVA television and through the teaching in universities and seminaries and
> law schools and high schools and so on.

Well, I think that's another disagreement we may have between us: I'm not
all that concerned about the intelligentsia. Well, let me qualify that - I
-am- concerned, of course, in the sense that I disagree with them on many
things, and think many of their claims are either unsubstantiated or
flat-out wrong. At the same time... I think the world doesn't work quite as
neatly as that anymore. Maybe 20+ years ago. But now? Newspapers are in
lower and lower circulation every year. Popular media across the board is
regarded as obviously biased by most, and as a result media now caters to
such biases more than ever. And the internet has helped that along, further
fragmenting the population - so biases do "filter down", but it's no longer
monolithic. There's multiple "intelligentsia", with varieties of bias, that
filters down in various ways - some crossing over, some not.

So, I think our approaches converge on some points, diverge on others. Both
of us think the more educated, thoughtful population at large are critical
and important to reach. Your approach seems to be that the best way to reach
them is to persuade 'the intelligentsia' to change their minds, or at least
establish some more diverse thought in said intelligentsia. My approach is
to encourage what's going on - namely, this wonderful, beautiful fragmenting
of culture, so that there IS no longer some monolithic 'intelligentsia'. (I
say this, of course, realizing I'm just one guy with a pseudonym on the
internet - it's not like I play a very big role in this.) Instead, there's a
broad, broad diversity of views coming from every which-way, allowing (for
example) ID perspectives to get put in the running with other views.

> Certainly I agree that many of the subtler discoveries of modern science,
> to a thoughtful and reasonable person, tell against the crude materialism
> and mechanism of 19th-century physics and 20th-century biology and
> psychology. But not all of the intelligentsia have got the message yet.
> Many of the rank and file specialists are behind the times, and still think
> in terms of the older ideas. And even many of the leaders in thought still
> do: Weinberg, Provine, E. O. Wilson, Singer, Dawkins, Dennett, etc., not to
> mention loudmouthed (and my opinion second-string) scientists who don't
> qualify as leaders in thought but merely as cheerleaders (P. Z. Myers,
> etc.). If you look up the debate with Egnor that I mentioned, you will find
> that rank materialism is still very much alive in neuroscience and
> psychology, and if you track down the reviews for Mario Beauregard's *The
> Spiritual Brain*, which argues against the modern reductionism of mind to
> brain, I bet you will find more of that rank materialism.

Subtler discoveries? There was nothing subtle about discovering the genetic
code, or quantum physics, or the elevation of information- and
computer-study to a scientific discipline. There's nothing subtle about the
problem of intentionality, the hard problem of consciousness, or even the
argument from reason. There's little subtle about holism, horizontal gene
transfer, epigenetics, etc.

Now, I'm not denying I will find 'rank materialism' in various disciplines,
or certain intellectual environments. But I don't think it's as prevalent as
you may think - indeed, I question whether the men you list really are
"leaders in thought" anymore, for some of the reasons I just mentioned
above. The mere fact that Michael Egnor (whose writings I admire) is treated
as someone who must be debated, must be answered, should put the lie to the
idea of this monolithic intelligentsia. Why can't they just label him a
crackpot and be done with it? Precisely because the world's changed, and
consensus of peers no longer has the same pull that it may have once upon a

Let me be clear here. I agree with you that materialism (among other things)
are a problem, and should be answered and resisted. On the other hand, I
think this is being done - indeed, I think it can hardly keep from being
done anymore. And I think skepticism of scientists - certainly of professors
and journalists - has been chugging along quite nicely, and properly. I
won't pretend that every development has been negative for materialists or
positive for those of other views. But on the whole, in a popular sense? I
think the playing field is shaping up in a good way. Just watch what many
materialists have to talk about nowadays to maintain their worldview
(Multiverses, there's nothing mysterious about consciousness, "well I know
panpsychism and neutral monism and even outright dualism used to not be
naturalism but now we've changed our minds!", etc.)

> I've already mentioned, many times before, an uncomfortable fact which many
> here don't really like thinking about, i.e., that something like 90% of
> those who specialize in evolutionary biology self-identify as agnostics or
> atheists -- a higher percentage than in other sciences. The question
> arises, did the evolutionary biology cause the atheism? Or is it more that
> atheists tend to select evolutionary biology? The latter explanation is
> possible, but not entirely satisfactory. For one, what is stopping
> religious believers from doing Ph.D.s in evolutionary biology in numbers as
> large as the atheists' numbers? Supposedly over 80% of Americans believe in
> God, and supposedly over 50% self-identify as Christian. In principle,
> then, the religious believers could vastly outnumber the atheist/agnostic
> evolutionary biologists in every university in the land. Why don't they?
> And second, even if it is the case that the atheism is the cause of the
> career choice, not the other way around, what is it about evolutionary
> biology that is of perennial fascination for atheists? Why are they
> *always* attracted to it, and *never* attracted to design arguments? If ID
> is the "God-friendly" theory, doesn't it seem as if many interpret evolution
> as the "atheist-friendly" theory? And even if we grant (as I do) that many
> forms of evolution are compatible with belief in God, at least one form --
> the neo-Darwinian -- appears to be fly-paper for atheists. Why is that?

Because if evolution happens to open the door to teleology in even the
slightest way, or even in potential, then so much of the fun and
attractiveness of their scientific discipline goes down the toilet, perhaps.
Let's face it - the 20th century really hasn't been kind to atheism.
Evolution is THE central issue for the committed atheist or anti-theist, the
one topic they really enjoy bringing up because of the popular Christian
hostility to it. So they cling to it, they defend it desperately even if
they don't understand a thing about it (Of course I'm talking about many
atheists here, not evolutionary biologists) because it's the closest thing
they have to a religious idol. What's their next best scientific argument
against Christianity or theism if evolution goes down the tubes or turns out
to be supremely compatible with teleology, purpose, and therefore
intelligence? Multiverses? Please.

As for why there isn't a higher representation of theists in evolutionary
biology, who knows. Certainly there's some self-selection going on there -
fly-paper for atheists, as you say. Quite a large chunk of Americans are
skeptics of evolution, so even if they go to college why would they be drawn
to a career path they think is either wrong, fishy, or quite possibly silly?
And let's say someone like Denton, or a mild-mannered questioner like Mike
Gene chooses that as his career path. Do you think there will be any
problems or discouragement for someone who rejects neo-darwinism - indeed,
who may expressly propose or believe in an intelligence behind evolution -
continuing down that path? Keeping in mind that even agnostics (I assume)
like Lynn Margulis have encountered some serious professional problems
merely for questioning natural selection, sans speculations of minds?

Perhaps I'm missing something. But it seems akin to asking me why
conservatives are so wildly underrepresented in the field of 17th century
feminist poetry. There's that statistical argument - conservatives make up
(for the sake of argument here) 25-33% of the population. Yet I'm willing to
bet the number of conservative professors in that discipline is, shall we
say, skewed towards a minority. Why? Somehow, I think it's more complicated
than 'there's something about 17th century feminist poetry that tends to
turn conservatives liberal'.

> More generally, it seems that atheist materialism/mechanism these days,
> while found in scientists from all disciplines, and in philosophers of all
> sorts, and in social scientists of all sorts, has a sort of "power base" in
> biology and psychology/psychiatry. In both of these fields there is still a
> strong tendency toward reductionism and what we have called here "nothing
> but-tery". So I think that the materialism battle, while still going on in
> all the sciences, has shifted its main front to the human and life
> sciences. And I think that reductionist, materialist thinking still has
> powerful clout there. And from there it percolates down to the masses.
> Witness that Ken Miller's textbook spoke of "unguided" causes until he was
> challenged on it, and the public statement of one of the big groups -- maybe
> NABT or AAS, I can't remember -- also spoke of "unguided" or "unplanned"
> evolution until it was challenged and changed. Probably in both cases, and
> certainly in the latter case, the change was an act of political prudence,
> not really reflecting any alteration of attitude in the authors of the
> statements. More generally, the reading, middle-class public has for many
> years been given the impression by many of the loudest and most articulate
> public spokespersons for "science" -- psychologists, sociologists, education
> theorists, biologists, cosmologists, many of them attractive and engaging
> popular science writers when not professoring (think Bertrand Russell,
> Asimov, Jastrow, Sagan, Wilson, Dawkins) -- that science is brilliant at
> "explaining away" things, i.e., reducing the high to the low, freedom to
> chance and necessity, choices to drives and selfish genes. And that public
> impression is still pretty broadly held, since it was formed between about
> the 1930s and 1980s, and the newer scientific thought you are talking about
> takes time to percolate down. Maybe 25 years from now, the thoughts you are
> speaking about -- non-reductionist ones -- will be commonplace among the
> reading middle class (if anyone still reads books by then), but for now, I
> would guess the educated middle class, other than those who are strongly
> religious and very suspicious of modern thinking generally, still tends
> consciously or unconsciously towards a reductionist view of mind, life,
> nature, etc. So I think that the jury is out on which way it is going to
> go.

I think a lot of this falls under responses I've already given, so I won't
repeat myself. Keep in mind, it's not as if this 'power base' has only
recently appeared - indeed, I think it's fairly obvious that if anything
they're in a weaker position now than they had been in the past. And that
was a past where they failed to convince much of anyone to be certain of
their claims, or even make much of a dent that way.

Now, I think skepticism is going to grow - but I think it's going to grow
across the board, as it's been doing for well over a decade now. Indeed, I
think the 'popular science' end of things is already showing some
interesting fragmentation here and there. Have a look at the (I think) New
Scientist cover from the beginning of this year. Have a look at the 'popular
science' book I mention in another thread (Re: Gribbin and ID). Maybe I'm
overly optimistic, of course. But I think some optimism is good now and then
- if you did not crack a smile when Richard Dawkins, valiant knight of
science, saw his namesake award being given to Bill Maher, alternative
medicine proponent and mainstream medicine critic.. well, what can I say.
Sometimes, you just gotta laugh.

> ID is important in this context, because it holds the feet of the
> mechanist-materialists to the fire, and it attacks them at what they believe
> to be their strongest point, the centre-piece of their doctrine: Darwinian
> evolution. If the public comes to believe, due to ID attacks, that
> Darwinian mechanisms are bogus, or even just highly questionable regarding
> their potency, then, since even reductionist psychology depends partly on
> Darwinian perspectives for its persuasive force, modern
> mechanism/materialism will be severely wounded. Hence ID evokes not just
> laughter, or even just contempt, but rage, from the neo-Darwinians. Just
> read the sneering at Behe's books on the internet, on Wikipedia, in the
> mainstream media, and from scientists like P. Z. Myers, Dawkins, Coyne,
> etc. Even non-biologists, like Jason Rosenhouse and Jeffrey Shallit
> [mathematicians] and Sean Carroll [the physicist one, I mean, not the
> biologist one], Mark Chu-Carroll [a computer programmer] get into the act,
> not to mention a horde of reductionist philosophers like Dennett. And their
> anger is *not* primarily over "church and state" worries; they are
> *not* really very much afraid that if ID is believed, there will be a
> fundamentalist theocracy in the United States and school prayer will be
> brought back in, etc. They are raging simply because the cornerstone of
> their materialist-reductionist world-view, the thing that made it finally
> possible to be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist", is being challenged,
> and that the public is paying some attention to the challenge.

I'm not sure Dennett is reductionist as you think, actually. Indeed, he
love-love-LOVEs evolution, but more than a few of those 'reductionists' and
'materialists' have felt uneasy with the language he's used to describe
evolution, and the interesting powers he's conferred upon "mother nature".
But, that's a whole other topic.

I agree with you on pretty much all points here - I think the 'science
education' claims are bunk for the most part. The 'theocracy' claims are
downright laughable.I think ID encourages a perspective that they find
downright threatening, on a cornerstone they will protect at all costs. In
fact, you know what? You've said it all for me. I agree with you entirely,
especially how ID provokes rage. (What got me interested in ID was literally
exactly that. When I noticed that, while YECs were mocked, and laughed at,
and dismissed... ID proponents made the same people downright furious. As if
a nerve was hit. Oddly enough, I suspect they're more spooked by ID
proponents who accept evolution than those who reject it.)

> Now I know full well that many people here believe that even if
> neo-Darwinism is true in its entirety, faith and morals are not threatened,
> because they hold to a "two truths" notion which allows them to believe in
> scientific and metaphysical conclusions that point in opposite directions.
> I've already explained at length, and bored and irritated people here too
> many times by doing so, why I don't accept that mode of reconciling
> neo-Darwinism with traditional faith and morality. I don't want to restate
> my arguments here. I suspect that I have already persuaded everyone that I
> am going to persuade, and that the others will not be budged. But the point
> is that, whatever the 60 or so people who contribute to this list may think,
> large numbers of people out there in the public -- and I don't mean
> benighted fundamentalists who think they've found a piece of Noah's Ark, but
> middle-class, educated people -- teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants,
> plant managers, computer programmers, junior executives, etc. -- do accept
> the account of the issues in which the two relevant positions are
> anti-design (Dawkins & Co. on one hand), and design (Behe & Co. on the other
> hand). Some here may lament that way of framing the issues, but it is a
> fact that many in the educated public do frame the issues in that way. And
> at that level of the culture war, the secular level, which is my concern (I
> leave to others here to sort out what's going on in fundamentalist and
> evangelical churches), I think ID is doing a great deal of good, by causing
> hundreds of thousands of educated readers to wonder why so many modern
> scientists are so sure about their reductionist, materialist program.

I agree that ID is doing a great deal of good. I have criticism of ID, some
strong, but on the whole at the end of the day I think they offer a valuable
perspective. Even if ID isn't 'science' by my measure, they're providing
something that was lacking. May it continue to spread, provoking new
perspectives, new approaches, and challenging the increasingly empty
materialistic view.

> Anyhow, to come back to your main argument -- I hope you are right. I hope
> that more subtle notions of nature permeate the culture, and filter down
> from the non-dogmatic thinkers of our day to the middle class and beyond.
> But in the meantime, I see no harm if one group of people, the ID people,
> takes on as its task the the exposure of the weaknesses of the old way of
> thinking about nature. A mind that has been prepared by Behe and Dembski to
> doubt the certainties of materialist/reductionist "science" will be all the
> more ready to apprehend the new visions of nature that you rightly direct us
> to.

I see no harm either. Indeed, my main criticism of TEs is that they should
be - even if they disagree with the DI, and with the claims of ID as science
- be coming to bat more strongly for design in nature, even if they
stipulate it as the stuff of philosophy, or even theology.

And I'd just like to say in public, Cameron - it's a pleasure to discuss
this with you as ever. I appreciate the opportunity.

> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
> *To:*
> *Sent:* Friday, October 23, 2009 2:12 AM
> *Subject:* Re: Schools and NOMA (was Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru
> Behe's books....)
> Heya Cameron,
> Zeroing in on one thing you've written here. Some comments below.
> My own example was not a historical one but one drawn from science, or at
>> least from the alleged results of science. A certain group of scientists
>> (including some psychiatrists, psychologists, evolutionary psychologists,
>> anthropologists, neurosurgeons, etc., aided and abetted by some
>> philosophers) believes that science is very close to being able to disprove
>> the existence of things like "free will" and "the soul", and to prove that
>> even the deepest parts of ourselves -- courage, love, altruism, patriotism,
>> religious belief, curiosity, the capacity for shame, etc. -- are entirely
>> explicable in deterministic terms, and that entities such as "free will" and
>> "soul" are metaphysical baggage from the past that have no intellectual
>> value for understanding what we really are. Now, as you know, I do not
>> accept that these people have proved their case or come anywhere near
>> proving it, but many observers think that they have, and it is likely that
>> the number of people who think that they have is going to increase.
>> Employing "methodological naturalism", which everyone here seems to insist
>> is the right method for studying nature, these reductionists have built up
>> their case, and I think it's not inconceivable that as time goes on they
>> could greatly strengthen that case. And I believe that once that case
>> reaches a certain level of strength -- if it ever does so -- it will pose a
>> real threat to traditional Christian teaching or religious teaching of any
>> kind. In other words, I believe that the NOMA partition would break down at
>> that point. I believe that in that case, with respect to one and the same
>> object, i.e., human beings, science and religion would be saying two
>> incompatible things, and one would be forced to choose which to believe.
> Disproving free will and the soul is going to be a tall order, considering
> there's been tremendous debate about these things and their particulars
> since the beginning of Christianity itself - and when that category expands
> to philosophy in general, the question gets even more complicated.
> (Compatiblist views on free will, for example.) There are some extremely
> varied views of the soul as well, from cartesian dualist to hylomorphic
> dualism (where what's specifically immaterial are intellectual operations,
> like grasping universals and more abstract thought), etc. I'm sure you're
> aware of them - as well as the recent despair on the part of some otherwise
> committed "materialists", some of whom suspect that mental properties may be
> fundamental to the universe (panpsychism, modern envisioning of neutral
> monism, etc) or cannot be understood by us (Colin McGinn and other New
> Mysterians) unless "we" become something very different from human (!!!).
> In other words: I agree with you that the people you speak of have "far
> from proven their case". Where I differ from you is the conclusion that "the
> number of people who think they have is going to increase". If anything, I
> suspect the opposite - first, I think that psychologists, evolutionary
> psychologists, and psychiatrists typically have views that the general
> public takes with a grain of salt to say the least. Indeed, the whole field
> of psychology has a certain hazy reputation, it seems, even among other
> scientists - and aside from a general commitment to not using language and
> terminology that is spiritually loaded (other than, at times, to deride a
> caricature of it), they typically have some harsh disagreements with each
> other. Indeed, in recent years they've quietly expanded the categories of
> "naturalism" and even "physicalism" (the latter of which still hasn't
> recovered from the first quantum mechanical discoveries) to include
> explicitly dualistic views. Witness Galen Strawson referring to panpsychism
> - making consciousness a fundamental property of the universe - as "real
> materialism". Witness David Chalmers out and out rejecting materialism, and
> calling himself - without any noticeable objection from peers, I note - a
> "naturalistic dualist". Jaegwon Kim, similar - he thinks qualia and
> consciousness are irreducible to the physical, yet I'm sure he'd still
> identify as a naturalist. Along those same lines, other philosophers (Edward
> Feser comes to mind here) have noted that in recent years "materialist"
> philosophers have sought to explain nature in terms of algorithms,
> information, etc - and in the process have unknowingly reintroduced a
> broadly Aristotilean worldview of formal and final causes, complete with
> implicit teleology.
> So oddly enough, I'm in the position here of thinking that science has, in
> many ways, just gotten progressively worse for naturalists - and that quite
> a lot of the "We're right on the verge of disproving the soul and free
> will!" claims are not merely bluster, but defensive bluff. Similar to how
> it's often claimed that science has been one long march of vindicating
> materialist claim after materialist claim for the past few centuries, but
> suspiciously absent are the discoveries at the beginning of the 20th century
> which blew apart classical materialism, and the resulting modern definition
> of 'materialism/physicalism' being so broad as to many times be practically
> meaningless. (Note, for example, the seeming popularity of non-reductive
> materialism among philosophers, and even many scientists. Then realize that
> non-reductive materialism is hard to view as anything but oxymoronic. For an
> even simpler example, just watch some materialists try to define what matter
> is!)
> As a matter of fact, Cameron, I'm curious: Isn't your real problem here not
> so much that "science is triumphantly claiming area after area for itself"
> as much as the fact that naturalists and atheists tend to yell about the
> successes of science as part of their unofficial PR machine? In other words,
> it's not that science has "disproved the soul", or is "on the verge of
> disproving the soul", or even "is anywhere near disproving the soul", but
> that some of the more obnoxious (and typically philosophically uninformed)
> scientists and (many times, even worse informed of both science and
> philosophy) skeptics just plain love to yell "science has disproved the
> soul!", and that some naive people may believe that because, hey, they're
> scientists! ? And if so, doesn't that have far less to do with ideas like
> NOMA specifically, and more to do with the problems of public naivete and
> pop science / science journalism?
> I mean, to use a comparable example: Is science really on the verge of
> creating artificial intelligence that will lead to fully sentient
> robot-machines that will start the coming Singularity and lead us into an
> age of immortality and space colonization? There are some scientists and
> philosophers who think, or at least claim that. But should we really be
> talking about possible threats posed to Christianity by the coming
> Singularity? Or should we be talking more about the problem of science
> journalism and hype?

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sat Oct 24 07:56:58 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sat Oct 24 2009 - 07:56:58 EDT