A question of bias
|April 13, 2014||Posted by vjtorley under Intelligent Design|
In a recent post, Professor Moran issued me with a challenge:
Vincent, let’s test your honesty. Considering the two sides of this debate, do you honestly think that evolutionary biologists are more likely — or at least as likely — to be swayed by ideological bias and emotion as the creationists who argue against evolution?
In today’s post, I’d like to explain why I believe that evolutionary biologists who regard evolution as an unguided process are more ideologically biased than people who believe that God made us – whether through a process of (a) direct creation or (b) guided evolution. The distinction between the latter two positions is totally irrelevant, from Professor Moran’s perspective: he has written that he regards even biologist Ken Miller as “a creationist of the Theistic Evolution flavor,” adding that “If you are entirely convinced of the truth of evolution then you can’t be a creationist.” To be entirely convinced of evolution, according to Moran, means that you cannot believe that God guided the process, even in an way undetectable to science. As he puts it, in a recent post of his (Clergy discuss the relationship between science and religion, January 10, 2014):
One of the most important lessons of science is that life evolved from simple primitive organisms over a period of at least three billion years. The history of life can be fully explained by natural causes without any need for miracles or divine intervention. We have learned that the evolution of life on this insignificant planet, in an ordinary galaxy, in a vast universe, has no purpose or goal.
There aren’t many religions that can accommodate those facts.
Moran is declaring here that it’s a scientific fact that evolution has no purpose or goal – in other words, it is unguided.
1. Evolutionary biologists have an a priori commitment to materialism
There can be no reasonable doubt that evolutionary biologists have an a priori commitment to materialism, as is perfectly illustrated by the following quote from Harvard evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin:
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”
The above quote was taken from Lewontin’s review of Carl Sagan’s last book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (“Billions and Billions of Demons” in the New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997).
I would ask my readers: if this is not a clear-cut example of ideological bias, then what is?
2. Leading evolutionary biologists refuse to be swayed by any evidence for God
Skeptics are fond of mocking the Aristotelian philosophers of the 17th century who, according to popular legend, refused even to look through Galileo’s telescope, because they feared that it might falsify their theories. (By the way, that story is apocryphal – see here.)
More recently, creationist Ken Ham was widely ridiculed when he stated, in a recent debate with Bill Nye, that nothing would convince him that Christianity was false. “The answer to that question is, I’m a Christian,” said Ham. “And as a Christian, I can’t prove it to you, but God has definitely shown me very clearly through his word, and shown himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Bible is the word of God. I admit that that’s where I start from.” However, at least Ken Ham’s refusal to abandon Christianity was not based on any a priori considerations, but rather on what he regarded as overwhelming evidence for the truth of the Christian world-view, which not even the findings of science could possibly trump. Ham did not say whether this evidence was based on his subjective experience of God’s grace, or his experience of public events, such as miracles or prayers being answered. Personally, I suspect it was a mixture of both. In any case, the point I would like to make here is that Ken Ham does not reject atheism on a priori grounds, but on a posteriori grounds: he thinks the evidence points the other way, overall.
However in recent years, leading evolutionary biologists have declared on a priori grounds that nothing could possibly convince them of the existence of God. This is about as clear-cut an example of ideological bias as you could get.
One of these evolutionary biologists who maintains that there’s no possible evidence that would convince him of God’s existence is Professor PZ Myers. In a post over at Pharyngula, titled, It’s like he was reading my mind (October 9, 2010), he argued that there could be no possible evidence for the existence of God, since (a) the concept of God is so slippery that it cannot be falsified, so by the same token it can’t be verified; and (b) any evidence for God’s existence would have to be scientifically replicable and hence natural, which by definition, God is not:
Steve Zara has a nice article at RD.net that is actually saying the same thing I’ve been arguing at recent talks: There is no possibility of evidence to convince us of the existence of a god.
I propose a new strident atheism. No playing the games of theists. No concessions. No talk of evidence that can change minds, when their beliefs are deliberately placed beyond logic, beyond evidence. Let’s not get taken in by the fraud of religion. Let’s not play their shell-game.
The nature of this god is always vague and undefined and most annoyingly, plastic — suggest a test and it is always redefined safely away from the risk. Furthermore, any evidence of a deity will be natural, repeatable, measurable, and even observable… properties which god is exempted from by the believers’ own definitions, so there can be no evidence for it. And any being who did suddenly manifest in some way — a 900 foot tall Jesus, for instance — would not fit any existing theology, so such a creature would not fit the claims of any religion, but the existence of any phenomenon that science cannot explain would not discomfit science at all, since we know there is much we don’t understand already, and adding one more mystery to the multitude will not faze us in the slightest.
So yes, I agree. There is no valid god hypothesis, so there can be no god evidence, so let’s stop pretending the believers have a shot at persuading us.
Incidentally, I should point out that Professor Myers’ assertion that belief in God is unfalsifiable is factually incorrect. In my post, My faith is falsifiable, Professor Coyne. Is yours? (October 12, 2010), I listed no less than seven observations that I believe would falsify theism, as well as some observations that would falsify Intelligent Design. Additionally, Myers’ assertion that any good scientific evidence would have to be replicable begs the question. There is no reason in principle why a single observation could not establish the existence of a supernatural Agent, provided that it was sufficiently well-attested. (For instance, if a very large number of people observed and videotaped the resurrection of a corpse on just one occasion, that observation alone would warrant the conclusion that a supernatural Agent was responsible, since such an event would constitute a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is something that no natural agent could possibly bring about.) Finally, Myers’ argument that if an observation is scientifically replicable, it must be natural, merely establishes that a supernatural Being cannot be observed. What Myers fails to consider, however, is the possibility that a scientifically replicable measurement of some property of the cosmos as a whole (e.g. its fine-tuning, or its finite age) might lead us to infer that the cosmos itself was designed. Anything which designed the cosmos as a whole would of course be a supernatural Agent.
Professor PZ Myers is not alone in his conviction that nothing could possibly persuade him of the existence of God. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins recently made the same frank admission – which is rather surprising, as he had previously described himself as 6.9 out of 7 on a seven-point scale of religious belief, ranging from strong theism (1) to strong atheism (7). But in a December 2013 interview with atheist philosopher Peter Boghossian, Professor Dawkins forthrightly declared that there was no conceivable evidence that would convince him of the existence of God. (The relevant portion of the interview starts at 12:30 and continues to 15:30.)
In the clip, Dawkins claimed to have been persuaded by Steve Zara (a regular contributor to his blog) that even if he were to witness what appeared to be a sign from God, either hallucination or trickery by technologically advanced aliens would be a more probable explanation for the phenomenon. When Boghossian pressed him, “What would persuade you?”, Dawkins replied (15:10), “Well, I’ve started to think nothing would, which in a way goes against the grain, because I’ve always paid lip service to the view that a scientist should change his (sic) mind when evidence is forthcoming. The trouble is, I can’t think what that evidence would look like.” As one reviewer summed it up (Dawkins Finally Admits He is Closed-Minded About the Existence of God, December 20, 2013):
This is a video clip that should be shown in churches everywhere. Dawkins, with agreement from Boghossian, has just admitted that if God Himself were to appear to Dawkins, complete with mind-boggling displays of miraculous power, all during the second coming of Christ, he would NOT consider that evidence for God’s existence. Well, if an empirical demonstration of God and miracles would not count as evidence for God’s existence, then nothing will. And that is essentially what he confesses at the end of the clip.
Two leading evolutionary biologists, PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, have both publicly stated that no amount of evidence could persuade them of the existence of God. I ask: how much more ideologically biased could you get than that?
To be fair, I should point out that evolutionary biologist and Gnu Atheist Jerry Coyne has publicly stated that he could be convinced of the existence of God by sufficiently strong evidence, although he adds that in his opinion, no good evidence has been forthcoming. Coyne’s article is well worth reading: he has put some serious thought into the matter.
3. Professor Michael Behe explains why theists are less biased than scientific materialists
In an Apologetics 315 interview with Brian Auten on August 28, 2013, Intelligent Design advocate and biochemist Michael Behe made a highly persuasive case that theists are less biased than scientific materialists when examining the question of how life emerged on Earth, since theism does not rule out Darwinism, whereas materialism precludes the possibility of Intelligent Design at the very outset:
BA: Well, we mentioned there how hotly some of these issues are debated, and when I’m thinking about this I wonder, you know, why does this issue get so passionate? So, what do you think is at stake here? Are you just this foolish dissenter? Are you attacking the foundations of science? My question here is, why do you think the arguments against your view are so heated?
MB: I think the answer is pretty straightforward, and that is that the idea of intelligent design has implications for outside of science as well. But many scientific ideas have implications outside of science too. For example, one obvious one is the Big Bang theory. It used to be thought a hundred years ago that the universe was eternal, unchanging. Then the Big Bang theory was proposed, and a lot of scientists didn’t like it, it turns out, because it suggested some sort of creation event. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. So, that has some philosophical implications. But nonetheless, I think intelligent design has even more perhaps compelling implications, and some people just don’t want the world to be like that. Some people don’t want the world to have be designed. Many people, especially many prominent scientists, simply don’t want there to be a god. They want science to figure out how everything was put together, and if God had a large roll in the putting together of life, then science is kind of assigned to a secondary role. So, it’s kind of like that. Also, for political reasons to tell you the truth. Some people think that for some reason that the idea of intelligent design is a politically conservative idea, and is associated with conservative political elements, and they don’t like that. But, there’s no reason why one should think that that’s the case. Design is design, it could easily fit with any types of political philosophies, and as a matter of fact, the lawyer William Jennings Bryan, who was the defendant in the Scopes trial, or was the opponent of evolution, he was a political liberal. He didn’t like Darwinism because he thought it lead to war, and he thought it lead to a neglect of the poor and other kind of baleful social effects. So, it touches a lot of basic issues that people feel very strongly about, and people do get red in the face and hop up and down when you talk about it.
BA: Well, I can imagine a lot of people are going to claim your belief in God or your personal agenda is driving your argument here. Of course that cuts both ways and could be said of any view, but putting that motivation element aside, I want to focus in and ask what role do you think someone’s philosophical presuppositions play in their analysis of the data?
MB: Well, it depends. It depends on how tightly they will hold onto them. If you absolutely, positively refuse to believe that there’s anything beyond the universe, or any being intelligent and powerful enough to have made life, or directed the making of life, or directed the making of the universe, then no amount of evidence by definition will convince you otherwise. You could think that all the things we discovered in science are illusions, or that there’ll be some explanation coming down the pike in the future, and of course the future never comes so you’re pretty safe. So, philosophical presuppositions can short circuit a decent idea in science. In my mind at least, a Christian or theist, is in best position in discussions of evolution because, at least as far as I can see, God could have used Darwinian processes to make life if he wanted to. Who am I to say that he couldn’t? But he didn’t have to. I don’t know what he did, and so I go out and look, and a theist can go out and look, and kind of evaluate the evidence, whereas somebody who rules out God from the start is in a bind. Then they have to simply shoe horn all of the data into this worldview where the only thing around at the beginning was mindless energy and matter. So, I think theists have an edge in this discussion.
Some readers may object that some fundamentalist Christians are just as biased against evolution as Richard Dawkins is biased in favor of it. I’d like to make three points in reply.
First, the terms of Professor Moran’s challenge make no reference to fundamentalist Christians; they simply refer to “evolutionary biologists” versus “creationists who argue against evolution.” And as we’ve seen, Professor Moran interprets the term “creationist” very broadly, as including not only Intelligent Design theorists but also the biologist and Darwin-defender Ken Miller.
Second, fundamentalist Christians are open to a certain degree of persuasion: while they hold fast to the inerrancy of Scripture, they are willing to allow that their particular interpretation of Scripture may be mistaken.
Third, fundamentalist Christians do not claim that you can’t be a Christian unless believe in Young Earth (or Old Earth) creationism, whereas evolutionary biologists like Professor Moran are adamant that you can’t be an evolutionist unless you believe that the process of evolution was entirely unguided. It’s not hard to see who’s being more intolerant here.
4. Evolutionary biologists as thought police: further proof of ideological bias
Queen Elizabeth I is supposed to have once famously remarked, “I would not open windows into men’s souls.” But today’s evolutionary biologists apparently think otherwise. Some of them have gone on the record as saying that science students who hold personal beliefs (e.g. a belief in creationism) which are at variance with the currently accepted findings in their field of science, should not be allowed to graduate, no matter how well they understand the science in their field. That means that if you’re a biology student at university and you get 100% on all your examinations, and you also happen to be a creationist or an Intelligent Design theorist, then you shouldn’t be allowed to graduate.
Eugenie C. Scott, a former executive director of the National Center for Science Education, openly admitted as much in an interview with Cornelia Dean of the New York Times (Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules, February 12, 2007):
…Dr. Scott, a former professor of physical anthropology at the University of Colorado, said in an interview that graduate admissions committees were entitled to consider the difficulties that would arise from admitting a doctoral candidate with views “so at variance with what we consider standard science.” She said such students “would require so much remedial instruction it would not be worth my time.”
That is not religious discrimination, she added, it is discrimination “on the basis of science.”
Professor Moran shares the same bias. In a post dated December 29, 2007, he declared that he would flunk any student of his who admitted to being a creationist, even if that student was able to demonstrate his/her understanding of evolution:
As we’ve seen time and time again on the blogs (and elsewhere), the Christian fundamentalists have erected very strong barriers against learning. It really doesn’t matter how much they are exposed to rational thinking and basic scientific evidence. They still refuse to listen.
This is one of the reasons why I would flunk them if they took biology and still rejected the core scientific principles. It’s not good enough to just be able to mouth the “acceptable” version of the truth that the Professor wants. You actually have to open your mind to the possibility that science is correct and get an education. That’s what university is all about.
Of course, we all recognize the problem here. How do you distinguish between a good Christian who is lying for Jesus and one who has actually come to understand science? It seems really unfair to flunk the honest students who admit that they still reject science and pass the dishonest ones who hide their true beliefs.
And in a post titled, Flunk the IDiots (November 17, 2006), relating to students at the University of California, San Diego, who were forced to attend a lecture against Intelligent Design, even though 40% of the freshman class at UCSD reject Darwinism, you wrote:
I agree with the Dembski sycophants that UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place. Having made that mistake, it’s hopeless to expect that a single lecture — even one by a distinguished scholar like Robert Pennock — will have any effect. The University should just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students who have a chance of benefiting from a high quality education.
And as if that were not enough, Professor Moran spelt out his policy with crystal clarity in his post, Michael Ehnor gets it right (April 4, 2008):
Michael Egnor has posted a number of quotations from me about how I would deal with people who don’t understand the basic principles of science [Dr. Larry Moran and Censorship of Intelligent Design].
He get it mostly right. If they are undergraduates who don’t understand that evolution is a scientific fact, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, then they flunk the course. If they are graduate students in a science department, then they don’t get a Ph.D. If they are untenured faculty members in a science department, then they don’t get tenure.
Finally, Professor Moran defended the right of a Ph.D. committee to question a candidate regarding his “true opinions” – exactly the kind of inquisitorial process that Queen Elizabeth I rejected 400 years ago – in a 2007 post discussing the Ph.D. candidature of Kirk Durston:
The next hurdle will be the Ph.D. oral exam. Members of his committee know that he has been making very vocal claims about the significance of his Ph.D. research. They know that he has been making claims that the work refutes evolution even if that’s not what’s in the thesis. Should they question him about the difference between what he says in the thesis and what he says on the lecture circuit? Do they have a right to fail him if they think that what’s in his thesis does not reflect his true opinion about the science — and that his true opinion is scientifically invalid?
I think the committee has this right and I think that a Ph.D. candidate should be prepared to defend any “scientific” claims they make outside of the lab.
Professor Moran’s views are not at all uncommon among evolutionary biologists. Biology professor Michael Dini of Texas Tech University openly espouses the view that, in order to receive a letter of recommendation with his signature, a student should be required to “truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer” to the question: “How do you think the human species originated?” On his Website, he wrote: “If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences.”
Writing in Evolution in the News (February 2003), reporter Do-While Jones made the following telling observation:
Dr. Dini believes that Christians cannot be good doctors. We find that ironic because the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital refers the most difficult cases to the (Seventh-day Adventist) Loma Linda University Medical Center. Isn’t it strange that Dr. Dini doesn’t believe that creationists can be good doctors when one of the finest medial institutions in the world is run by a Christian church that believes in a literal six-day recent creation?
Leading atheist spokesman Austin Cline apparently concurs with Dr. Dini’s views, writing that trainee doctors who don’t wish to learn about evolution “should be denied a medical license of any sort,” and adding: “If you can’t accept the reality of evolution, then you are so disconnected from reality that there’s no way you can be an effective physician and I don’t think that you’ll have anything to offer any other scientific field either.”
One wonders whether Dr. Dini or Austin Cline would have awarded a medical license to leading pediatric surgeon and Seventh Day Adventist Dr. Ben Carson.
5. Nobel Prize winning scientists betray their ideological bias, by publicly declaring that evolution has no purpose
In 2005, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity organized the Nobel Laureates Initiative, which consisted of a petition (available online here) that was sent by 38 Nobel Laureates (most of them scientists) to the Kansas Board of Education on September 9, 2005, asking the Board to vote against the inclusion of intelligent design in the academic curriculum. The petition contained the following statement:
Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection. As the foundation of modern biology, its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA. In contrast, intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent.
Note those words: “an unguided, unplanned process.” Do they not bias the whole discussion? It is one thing to say that belief in evolution is “logically derived from confirmable evidence.” It is quite another thing to assert that the belief that evolution is unplanned is logically derived from that same evidence – particularly when there are eminent scientists, such as Simon Conway Morris, who argue that the pattern of convergence in the paleontological record suggests that the evolution of intelligent beings, over the course of time, was inevitable, and that evolution has a built-in bias towards the production of intelligent life-forms. As a trained scientist, Morris categorically rejects the view that evolution is an unguided process.
To be sure, the Nobel Prize-winning authors go on to say in their 2005 letter to the Kansas Board of Education that “Science and faith are not mutually exclusive,” but I would respectfully submit that by excluding the possibility of God-guided evolution at the outset, the authors have effectively consigned God to irrelevance: He may exist, they say, but if He does, then He has nothing to do with us.
In short: it’s quite obvious that the letter to the Kansas Board of Education by Nobel Laureate scientists promoting the teaching of evolution betrays an ideological bias on the part of its authors.
The authors of the letter are also incorrect in their assertion that the concept of a supernatural agent as scientifically untestable. An argument demonstrating that even the multiverse must have been incredibly fine-tuned, in order to generate our universe, constitutes powerful evidence for a supernatural Designer of Nature. Dr. Robin Collins mounts such an argument, in his essay, The Teleological Argument. Dr. Collins goes even further in his new paper titled, The Fine-Tuning for Discoverability, which puts forward a new fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, to the effect that some of the laws, initial conditions, and the fundamental parameters of physics were deliberately set in order to make the existence of an Intelligent Designer of the cosmos more easily discoverable by the embodied conscious agents (such as human beings) living in the cosmos. If the universe is indeed fine-tuned for discoverability, than that’s a finding which points to the existence of a transcendent Author of Nature.
Finally, I should add for the record that Intelligent Design theory does not address the question of whether the Designer is supernatural; it merely stipulates that the Designer is intelligent. The Nobel Prize-winning authors misrepresented the character of Intelligent Design, in their letter.
Professor Moran’s claim that scientific observations point to evolution being unguided
Professor Moran evidently shares the views of the 38 Nobel Laureates who petitioned the Kansas Board of Education. In a post titled, Is “Unguided” Part of Modern Evolutionary Theory? (August 28, 2012), Professor Moran acknowledged that “it isn’t true that the history of life has to be devoid of purpose or guidance,” adding that “There could well be evidence that god intervened.” However, Moran reiterated his view that there was “no evidence whatsoever” that the history of life on Earth was “guided in any particular direction or that there was any underlying purpose.” Hence the conclusion that the evolution of life on Earth was unguided was “a tentative conclusion based on fact and observation and not on ‘the theory of Darwinian evolution.'”
In his final paragraph, Moran wrote:
“The history of life looks exactly like it should if it were the result of accident, contingency, and evolution.”
I have to respectfully disagree with Professor Myers’ assessment of the evidence. To me, the history of life on Earth doesn’t look anything like the result of an accident. If the development of life on Earth were due to an accident, then I certainly wouldn’t expect to find a digital code in the DNA of living things. Nor would I expect to find genetic programs controlling the development of organisms. And I wouldn’t expect to find any sentient creatures at all, let alone self-aware beings like Homo sapiens.
Let me put the question differently, by posing a little thought experiment. Suppose you learned that scientists had finally discovered a planet outside our solar system with organic life on it, after a painstaking process of spectroscopic analysis identified a signal that pointed to the presence of organisms very similar to Earth bacteria on that planet. How confident would you be that the planet also had: (a) complex animals; (b) creatures that were conscious; and (c) creatures that were self-aware and capable of critical thinking? Not very confident, I would imagine.
It takes a deeply entrenched ideological bias to be able to look at the four-billion-year geological record of life on Earth and say: “The history of life looks exactly like it should if it were the result of accident, contingency, and evolution.”
6. The epistemological bias underlying biologists’ rejection of God
The real reason, I would suggest, for the hostility shown by evolutionary biologists towards the very concept of a Creator is the notion that religious belief is based on a flawed epistemology.
Professor Moran, who denies that there are “there are ways of knowing other than science (evidence + rationalism),” articulates his views on epistemology succinctly, in a post of his, dated February 4, 2010:
It’s much more probable that all theologies are wrong because they rely on faith and not evidence. Like it or not, faith is blind and irrational. And that makes it incompatible with science.
Moran elaborates on this point in a subsequent post, directed at fellow atheist John Wilkins, titled, Who’s the Grownup in the Science vs Religion Debate? (March 7, 2010):
I claim that science is a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence.…
I do assume that science is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge but that’s a testable assumption—at least in theory. All one has to do to refute that argument is demonstrate the existence of valid forms of knowledge that cannot possibly be derived from the scientific approach AND ARE COMPATIBLE WITH SCIENCE AS A WAY OF KNOWING…
You don’t have to accept my assumption that science is a valid way of knowing. That’s not the point. I agree that that the assumption cannot be justified as “scientific” since that’s a circular argument much like the one you used to dismiss Popper. The point is that once you make that assumption and become a scientist, you can’t just arbitrarily pick and choose how you are going to apply that way of knowing… You can’t be consistent if you say that science helps you understand evolution but you need to shift to another way of knowing when trying to decide whether you have a soul that lives on after you die…
When it comes to the bigger picture, I’m participating in a debate about rationality and superstition. The evolution/creation debate is a subset of that much larger debate. My allies in that large debate are fellow atheists and skeptics and we are fighting against superstitious beliefs of all kinds. My allies are people like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Jerry Coyne (among others). Many of the superstitious beliefs are religious. My enemies in that debate are all those people who promote superstition and irrational (IMHO) worldviews. Those “enemies” include [theistic evolutionists] Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris as well as [Intelligent Design theorists] Michael Behe, Bill Demski (sic), and Paul Nelson.
In a similar vein, Professor Jerry Coyne also maintains that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible, and in a recent post, endorses Alan Sokal’s view that the real conflict between science and religion is about what constitutes good evidence, and that only “publicly reproducible sense experience (that is, experiments and observations) combined with rational reflection on those empirical observations” should legitimately count as evidence- a claim which excludes at the outset not only the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge, but also knowledge of singular, irreproducible events.
As I pointed out in a recent post titled, Why science cannot be the only way of knowing: A reply to Jason Rosenhouse (March 22, 2014), “science cannot possibly be the only way of knowing, since the way in which we know the background assumptions upon which science rests is necessarily different from the way in which we know facts which we discover by applying the scientific method itself: the former mode of knowledge is better described as meta-scientific.” Meta-scientific knowledge, then, is one form of knowledge that cannot be derived from science, but is clearly compatible with science as a way of knowing.
For example, the scientific enterprise presupposes a meta-belief in the reality of the external world, in laws of Nature, and the existence of other individuals (e.g. scientists) who have minds. It also presupposes a meta-belief in the reliability of induction – a belief which can only be justified if we assume that there is a God, as I argued in a post titled, Does scientific knowledge presuppose God? A reply to Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins and Loftus (November 23, 2013), and elaborated on in a follow-up post titled, Is God a good theory? A response to Sean Carroll (Part One) (see here for Part Two, which discusses the fine-tuning argument, and here for Part Three, which discusses the problem of evil). Professor Moran reviewed my November 23 article in a post titled, You simply won’t believe what the IDiots are saying now! (November 24, 2013) and wrongly interpreted it as stating that “I have to become a believer in God in order to continue doing science,” but that wasn’t what I was saying at all. On the contrary, I believe atheists can do very good science. Rather, what I was arguing in my post was that only belief in God can justify the practice of relying on scientific induction. In my article, I also explained why attempted justifications such as the past success of science (“Science works!”), Noether’s First Theorem, and the philosophical arguments put forward by Donald Williams and D. C. Stove, all fail to provide a proper grounding for belief in the reliability of scientific induction.
Many philosophers also maintain that we are capable of something called synthetic a priori knowledge, of statements which, while not true by definition (as analytic truths like “All bachelors are unmarried” are), are nevertheless knowable by us independently of our experience. For instance, you surely do not need experience to tell you that causes cannot follow their effects, that space might (for all we know) have extra dimensions but cannot possibly have -17.3 or four-and-a-half dimensions, and that the same object cannot be red all over and green all over, at the same time.
I should add that Professor Moran misrepresents religious claims to knowledge when he says that they are based on faith or on private revelation (which he describes as “listening to imaginary voices in your head”). This is nonsense. Religious arguments for the truth of this or that religion are typically based on a very public revelation that is vouchsafed by large numbers of eyewitnesses who attest to having seen or heard it – for example, the Israelites who were supposed to have heard the voice of God when He spoke to Moses (see Exodus 20:22, Deuteronomy 4:33), or the 500 witnesses who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 15: 6). In that case, the credibility of the religious claim can be assessed by performing Bayesian logic on the testimony itself, as well as any supporting documents (manuscripts containing records of that testimony). In addition, a prior probability needs to be assigned for the supernatural claim in question e.g. a resurrection form the dead). I address the question of how prior probabilities for miracles should be assigned in my post, Why science cannot be the only way of knowing: A reply to Jason Rosenhouse (March 22, 2014), where I also argue that the prior probability of a miracle should not be set to zero, as this would violate Cromwell’s rule.
Professor Moran also maintains that belief in science precludes belief in miracles. For a refutation of this view, readers are invited to peruse my post, Whose side are you on, Professor Coyne? What Anatole France really said about miracles. Briefly: even if Professor Moran were right in saying that whatever happens, happens in accordance with some law of Nature, what he fails to realize is that this argument against supernaturalism only holds if scientific reductionism is true. In other words, Moran is assuming that there are no higher-level laws of Nature (perhaps known only to the Author of Nature) which govern rare and singular occurrences, and which cannot be derived from the lower-level laws which support the regular order of Nature. I ask: what is so absurd about the concept of a singular law, or more generally, a law which does not supervene upon lower-level laws? And how exactly should a miracle be defined? Should it be defined as the violation of the laws of Nature, or should it be simply be defined as an event at variance with lower-level laws, which support the regular order of things? Perhaps the latter definition would be more fruitful.
7. Venom as an indicator of bias among evolutionary biologists
Evolutionary biologists display a real venom towards prominent scientists who espouse Intelligent Design theory and/or creationism. If venom is any indicator of bias, then evolutionary biologists possess far more bias than their scientific opponents.
Jonathan McClatchie, in a post over at Evolution News and Views titled, Colliding With the Pharyngula: My Encounter With PZ Myers, reported on a talk given by Professor Myers to Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub, on 6 June 2011:
PZ Myers projected a slide displaying a portrait of Jonathan Wells, noting that “I have to single out this man, whom I consider the most contemptible, despicable, cruel, and vicious evil liar in the creationist movement today,” apparently spitting the words out one by one. He paused. And then, as if to emphasise the point, said, “Yes. He’s a nasty, nasty person.” This was met with rapturous applause.
Read those words again: “contemptible, despicable, cruel, and vicious evil liar.” When was the last time you read a leading spokesperson for the creationist or Intelligent Design movements say anything like that?
I put it to my readers that on any reasonable assessment of the evidence, evolutionary biologists who regard evolution as an unguided process are far more biased than the creationists and/or Intelligent Design theorists whose views they disparage.