Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More on "Creationist"

In his post Theistic Evolution and creationism, Immunologist JM O’Donnell responded to my post on the definition of creationism. I decided to return the favor.

(Note: I should also point out that others have been discussing this topic including Krauze at Telic Thoughts and Alan Gray.)

Back to JM O’Donnell. He starts off by (I’m paraphrasing) scoffing at my contention that Panda’s Thumb regulars don’t want to recognize a specific (and self-consistent) definition of “creationist” because they do not want to offend friendly theistic evolutionists, a category of which O’Donnell self-identifies. He writes:
I think David seems to believe that the PT crew would think I may get highly insulted [if called a creationist] and have a hissy fit or something.
That is exactly right. You may not be insulted, but many of the PT crew would indeed assume that you’d be insulted, given that, in their view, there is not much worse than being called a creationist.

When I was an undergrad, long before I was a Christian, I almost, almost, got sucked into the Ayn Rand cult. (Which is the most inexcusable of all cults. Ayn Rand, if she believed in individualism as much as she professed, should have been repulsed by the concept of a Ayn Rand cult or an Ayn Rand Institute—or at least she should think of them as “suckers.” Or tell them to go get a real job.) Anyway, I recall a discussion in a history class freshman year where another student, I remember she was from India, said to me, quite politely but with real concern, “I’m sorry, but you sound like a capitalist.” She was afraid that she was going to offend me by this horrible insult, but of course I was delighted that my arguments were so cogent. (The irony that she was at a university named after a pair of uber-capitalist Andrews—Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Mellon, seemed to be lost on her.) Many PTers are like that student—they could not conceive that you wouldn’t mind being called a creationist, hence they give you a way out.

O’Donnell goes on to discuss theistic evolution.
I happen to agree with the original definition as well, I am also a creationist in a sense because I view God as creating the world via natural laws (physics, evolution, chemistry etc), usually called "theistic evolution". Calling it "theistic evolution" is IMO, simply a bait and switch to simply avoid the rather distastful association with creationists like AiG and Hovind. The key difference between theistic evolution compared to standard creationism is that I do not view signs of that creation are directly and empirically visible in nature. Ergo, I don't buy fine tuning for example and most importantly, I do not want my metaphysical beliefs taught in schools.
Now, I am not sure what O’Donnell means by the “orginal definition.” If you read my previous post, I don’t know if O’Donnell means the first part of Russell’s definition, the total definition, or if he means the definition I proposed. No matter, I want to discuss his views on theistic evolution.

First, O’Donnell seems to imply that there are two types of creationists, those like himself, theistic evolutionists, and the AiG types. Clearly that is not the whole story. There are many old earth creationists, Hugh Ross comes to mind, that do not believe that the diversity and complexity of life can be explained by evolution. They are neither theistic evolutionists nor AiG creationists.

When O’Donnell points out the difference between theistic evolutionists and Hovind-ites he starts off general but then uses the word “I”, so I am not sure if he is making a sweeping statement or just speaking of his personal brand of theistic evolution. I’ll assume the former. At any rate, the difference is that a theistic evolutionist does not, according to O’Donnell, believe that evidence of creation is directly and empirically visible in nature.

This makes no sense at all. It seems to me that if one is a theistic evolutionist, then one is a theist. If you are a theist, then how can you preclude the very possibility that God has intervened supernaturally? I can understand this description:

theistic evolutionist: Someone who approaches science as if and fully expecting that only natural processes are needed to explain experimental observations, and one who may never concede (in this life) that a scientific puzzle demands the explanation ‘God did it’, and yet one who never completely rules out the possibility that a supernatural intervention by God is (a) within his power and right and (b) might manifest itself as an ultimately inexplicable observation.

A theistic evolutionist might decide to work his entire career in the hopes of explaining whatever the best example of irreducible complexity might happen to be—but in the back of his mind he must allow the possibility that it really is a supernatural discontinuity—or else he is not really a theist.

I don’t know what O’Donnell means by not buying fine-tuning. How can you not “buy” fine-tuning? You can deny one explanation for fine-tuning (ID) or a different explanation for fine-tuning (multiverse) but the fact that the constants are fine-tuned is not, these days, in much dispute.

O’Donnell doesn’t want his metaphysical beliefs taught in schools. Okay, but what does that have to do with “creationist”? Is it a requirement to be a creationist that you want your beliefs taught in public school? This is more definition-creep that then gives loopholes used to avoid collateral damage. If Hovind agreed that his views should not be taught in school, would he no longer be a creationist? Of course not—these are clearly separate issues.
In terms of what David discusses, the 'creationists' that the likes of the Pandas Thumb crew basically dislike are those pushing 'creation science' or those of the Discovery institute led ID movement. For the record, I have never been personally attacked by any atheist on the pandas thumb for my religious beliefs
That can’t be right—I’m not pushing creation science, nor am I a member of the DI. Yet I get called a creationist, pejoratively, all the time on Panda’s Thumb. Besides, if they are talking about members of the DI, why not refer to them as, oh, “members of the DI”?

I am not persuaded from my viewpoint that, on Panda’s Thumb, “creationist” means “moron” but, don’t worry, for those of you they like it doesn’t apply because (pick your loophole—e.g., you don’t advocate teaching this or that in school, or you claim this or that is not science, etc.)

The fact that O’Donnell’s faith has not been attacked demonstrates that the PTers are treating him with kid gloves. Like Ken Miller, he is useful to them—he demonstrates their laudable tolerance. I don’t fall in that category (of being useful) and have had my faith (incoherently) attacked repeatedly—even, on at least one occasion, being called a child abuser for rearing my sons as Christians.

O’Donnell writes:
For all intents and purposes a theistic evolutionist is a creationist.
Very true—but it goes beyond that. A theistic evolutionist is also a proponent of intelligent design, whether or not they want to admit it. It is self evident—if they believe God exists and created the universe, even if “only” through the natural laws, then they still affirm that the universe is the (undetectable, perhaps) result of God’s work. That is, He intelligently designed it. The only difference with standard IDers is that they (theistic evolutionists) do not expect to find any scientific evidence that requires a supernatural explanation.

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