Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Intelligent Design: an alternative to science or atheism?

Noting a thread on Uncommon Descent and a few parallel comments at AtBC, and knowing that there is a problem with moderation that prevents direct communication between some people, I thought this might be useful.

A few random thoughts: Kristine remarked "Gods are man-made", and I find the suggestion that religious belief (gullibility even) has an evolutionary advantage in promoting social organisation quite compelling. Dawkins takes this further with his idea that children benefit from not questioning parental teaching. John Davison might say we are predetermined to believe.

Maybe there are alleles for the "believing-what-you-are-told" gene. Scientists tend to have inquiring minds and question assumptions. Does this explain why scientists are accused of being atheists?


Kristine said...

Okay, let me start this out. Erm-hmm.

Gods are man-made because they change as our ideas change. The best illustration of this for me is the fact that so many original thinkers and artists (with whom I identify rather than church ladies) were considered demonic in their own time by their contemporaries, but became celebrated after they died and were safely in the grave. Most of the criticism directed at them has to do with what God doesn’t allow, but somehow, once humanity gets used to this new idea or music or poetry, humanity changes its view and apparently, so does God! Get it?

Someone at UD said that “we study music, not random sounds,” but when Handel’s Messiah, Bizet’s Carmen, and Debussy’s and Shostakovich’s music was performed people said that it was just random sounds! Now, it’s music. So what is going on here? (What about John Cage or Phillip Glass?)

If one views life as a cosmic crossword puzzle, all laid out in advance and requiring only that one fill in the appropriate letters, this person may think that he or she is “learning” but in reality this follower is only experiencing the pleasure of discovering somebody else’s rules. That’s not learning. True learning is open-ended inquiry. If the creative people of the world listened to the cross-word puzzle solvers of history we would all still be shivering in the forest without fire. (Don’t you think that fire was considered heretical when it was first harnassed? Imagine how alarming that power must have seemed.)

As I said at UD, life is to be lived. I live first; I don’t sit around and think of reasons to live. My relatives will get into protrated debates about the nature of the Trinity and to be that’s blasphemy, to sit inside on a beautiful day and debate the Trinity. What a drag! And if anyone tells me, “Well, God made this beautiful day,” my answer is, “Well, why don’t you at least pretend to appreciate it, then?”

But wanting is more pleasurable than having, and so thinking about heaven in the future, or about some all-encompassing “design” in the past, is more fun than living life right now. This mentality may have been evolutionarily advantageous in our past but now it is maladaptive. It’s also what contributes to the destruction of our planet, as if anybody at UD took that seriously.

I don’t think religion will go away but I do predict that religious thinkers will someday christen Richard Dawkins as closer to being a “true Christian” than all the people who denounced him, because that’s the way it always works—God changed His mind again.

Evolution in action, folks.

Anonymous said...

My mouse finger was just itching, but being banned from UD meant that I could not post anything. I resent the notion that atheists are stingy, selfish, and uncaring. We don't "tithe" to a church, but give generously to various local programs. This is not because we feel we are being watched and will hopefully get "tapped" for a place in heaven (I suspect I'd be going to hell, if I believed it it) I believe that generosity, empathy and love are human attributes, not the result of any religion. In fact, look at those who have disgraced themselves by scamming the elderly and the gullible in the name of religion. Perhaps religion is one manifestation of these characteristics, and, as Kristine pointed out, religious ideas change as society changes.

I found Sam Harris' book "The End of Faith" thought provoking and, well, scary. There isn't a better time in human history for the voice of reason to ring out.

lkeithlu (aka KL)

Kristine said...

I have thought it over and I wonder if I got smacked with the “prove that life has meaning”/“Cough up some atheist charities” double whammy because in giving the personal answer that I did I got too close to other people’s personal issues. Then they launched an attack.

In my opinion, anyone who says that without God no one can have a moral compass is either someone who is profoundly divorced from his/her real emotions, or some who is afraid of them, and afraid that were their secrets (which are probably no different than other people’s secrets) to be revealed the whole world would shun them in horror. I understand that fear. (After all, fat lot of good it did me to bare myself at UD.)

One thing I know for sure about people is, they don’t believe in themselves enough.

For example, me the class dork goes to her twenty-year high school reunion. Since I had a terrible experience in school it was a really scary thing for me to do. There I am with the girl voted most likely to succeed, who is now a stay-at-home mom (nothing wrong with that) really into Bible study and such. I’m telling her about Paris and Vienna and Jamaica and such, and she says, “I could never do those things!” What! Of course she could!

Considering what a social disaster I was in high school, anyone can handle Paris if I can. But people don’t believe in themselves. They’re afraid of risk, and of the unknown (and I am afraid, too, but I don’t let it control me). They don’t believe that they are good. But holy crap, look around you, if the human race were as bad as religion makes us out to be we would have killed ourselves off long ago.

Maybe it’s unrealistic for me to expect others to live without the constraints that I can’t tolerate. Some people need security, routine, simple answers, and don’t handle uncertainty well.

I finally read a book that I said I was never going to: Goddesses in Everywoman. I objected to the book because I thought myself too male-identified, but it deals with tomboys as well as church ladies. It deals with being a pretty little girl who gets attention from boys/men (and the hate-stare from girls/women). It deals with wanting from childhood to be a mom (not me), with dreaming of your wedding day (not me), and with being the strange girl with your nose in a book all the time (guilty). Both this book and Gods in Everyman make it clear that there are different personality types, and this drives people’s religiosity or not, their inhibitions or lack thereof, their dreams and goals, and their attitudes toward other types. I think maybe that’s what was going on at UD and I highly recommend these books.

Anonymous said...

I've been following the conversation over at "Uncommon Descent," but a few months ago I'd vowed never to return -- and I think that was a wise decision on my part -- so I didn't get sucked into the most recent round of atheism-bashing.

I regard myself as an atheist. I have been for a long time -- half my life, come to think of it. (For a while I'd referred to myself as a theist, since I do take my religious identity quite seriously. But this was a mistake on my part, and led to serious confusions.)

But I don't think that atheism is a more rational metaphysics than theism, or pantheism, or whatever. I'm increasingly skeptical about the confidence with which we can evaluate metaphysical systems in terms of what is 'rational,' or better confirmed. In this respect I would like to distinguish between scientific theories, which can be evaluated in those terms, from metaphysical systems. So while I regard my preference for post-neo-Darwinian-whatever-ism over intelligent design as rational, and those who prefer the other as not having a rational preference, I don't regard my preference for atheism over theism as rational.

On the other hand, I do think that we need some way of evaluating and comparing metaphysics. I'm somewhat tempted by Nietzsche's recommendation that we evaluate them in terms of how much they "enhance" "life" -- that is, how much they contribute to a sense of vitality, empowerment, creativity, and joy.

In those terms, I tend to think that atheism succeeds where traditional theism fails -- although no doubt there are many "Christians" who would take issue with me on precisely this point.

At work here are some deep intuitions about authority -- what it is, whether we need it, and what kinds of authority we need. Atheism is, as I practice it, at bottom an anti-authoritarian metaphysics -- a metaphysics that dispenses with both the cosmic sovereign and with the justification of those who claim to speak in his name. In this sense I regard atheism as a necessary condition of ethical and intellectual maturity.

(Although atheism in that sense is compatible with a wide variety of personal and collective habits and practices, some of which are obviously "religious," others not.)

Kristine said...

Jujuquisp, you are no more a hypocrite than anyone who is religious who checks out books from the public library and supports it with tax dollars (or the atheist reference librarian who helps a religious patron).

No more than an atheist who rescues old Bibles and religious tracts and pocket-sized devotional books (some dating to the 1930s) from the trash and from the "free box" at garage and estate sales. (Yours truly!)

Anonymous said...

Alan said in the OP:

Maybe there are alleles for the "believing-what-you-are-told" gene. Scientists tend to have inquiring minds and question assumptions. Does this explain why scientists are accused of being atheists?

I am no expert on these matters, but since I am more sociologically than biologically oriented, I sincerely doubt this.

Anyway, as a child I never did, what I was told to do, so of course I may be the odd one out.

But notice that among theists authority plays a much larger role than among atheists.

Creationists frequently attack Charles Darwin's person and The Origin of Species, probably because they think of Origin as the evolutionists' 'Bible' and Charles darwin therefore as the evolutionists' god, the author of the Bible.

Does any evolutionist consider Origin to be infallible?

I don't think so.

Concerning the question in the thread title: I rather think of ID as 'creationism-light', not as an alternative to science or atheism.

But I might be wromg there certainly :-)

Anonymous said...


Heck, I'm an atheist, and I observe all the major Jewish holidays (including Shabbat).

The chief problem with Christianity, from my outsider's perspective, is that it insists on conflating religion and metaphysics. (Considered historically, one might even say that that conflation is the very point and essence of Christianity!) Whereas other religions make it possible to distinguish between religious practices on the one hand and metaphysical doctrines on the other.

Intelligent design is nota scientific theory, but a metaphysical doctrine. It's perfectly appropriate in philosophy classes, but not appropriate in science classes. I teach the argument from design when I teach Hume, and I do my best to show why it's an argument worth taking seriously. (If it weren't worth taking seriously, there wouldn't be any point in criticizing it, either.)

Dembski claims that his version of intelligent design is immune to Hume's criticisms. This may very well be true -- I haven't looked at it carefully enough -- but that doesn't mean it's not invulnerable to other criticisms. In fact I've learned a fair amount of philosophy of science by following the ID debate.

On the origins of religious practice and "belief": I appreciate Pascal Boyer's work on the cognitive archeology of religion. Morris Berman's Wandering God is not scientific or rigorous, but there are some deep insights there into the psychoanalysis of authoritarianism. I haven't yet read Dennett's Breaking the Spell, which I've heard is worthwhile.

Kristine said...

Thanks Carl, Wandering God sounds fascinating: "Counterculture scholar Morris Berman goes counter-counterculture, taking on such hallowed figures as Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell...taking us back not to the early civilizations and their myths but to our Paleolithic ancestors. While debunking Jung and Campbell, Berman draws on a range of anthropological studies to show civilization itself to be pathological, and religion and mysticism to be a coping response. What is natural, he says, is living in paradox, with a heightened sensitivity to our surroundings, in the timeless uncertainty of moment-to-moment living." Whoa. I like Jung but I certainly think he needs some debunking.

When we were at Yellowstone National Park almost two years ago the ranger described what a group of bison did after the wolves, which have recently been reintroduced to the park, killed one of the bison. After the wolves fed they wandered off, and the bison came back, formed a circle around the carcass, and stood there for a long time. The group of humans listening to this fell silent. Who is studying the spiritual life, if any, of animals? If it turns out that they have a form of proto-spiritual behavior, wouldn’t that put a religious sensibility, like consciousness, on a continuum across species?

Any ethologists who can speak to this?

Unknown said...

Alan Fox calling me a nigger was uncalled for..That type of hate should not be totlerated!!