Casey Luskin (May, 2005)
Intro: Recently some comments were made by Nick Matzke and someone named "Steve U." at Pandasthumb. These are some responses to their comments about me.
Question 1: Why do I choose not to participate at Pandasthumb?
I started the IDEA Club at UCSD with the desire to build bridges between evolutionists, ID-proponents, creationists, and all others in between. The spirit of the original IDEA Club at UCSD was born one night when Phillip Johnson spoke at UC San Diego. After Johnson's talk, I looked around the lecture room and saw people interspersed throughout engaged in heated conversations. My immediate thought was that there is a lot of emotion over the issue of biological origins, but that there is no reason why it can't be channeled in a positive and constructive direction. Thus, when I founded the IDEA Club at UCSD with a number of friends, our purpose was fundamentally to create a place where evolutionists, ID proponents, and people of all other views can come together to have friendly and good-spirited and constructive dialogue. Namecalling and ad hominem attacks were strictly off limits (and they still are at IDEA Club meetings). If someone started calling names or engaging in ad hominem attacks at an IDEA Club meeting, they would be kicked out by the evolutionists as quickly as they would be kicked out by the creationists. The IDEA Club I founded at UCSD thus lived by this philosophy of treating all people with respect at all times.
As a result of my desire to build bridges between ID - proponents and evolutionists, over the years I have made many valued friendships through classes and IDEA Club activities with evolutionists whom I respect greatly. I do not think that most evolutionists or scientists in general are evil nor do I think they are out there to "destroy" Christianity. I believe that the scientific data often doesn't support their hypothesis, and I believe that their Neo-Darwinism does have religious implications. But for the most part, I have found evolutionist scientists to be decent people who don't have some kind of an "agenda" and care about their scientific work deeply.
IDEA Clubs are place of bridge-building and needless to say I have been encouraged to see that this philosophy spread to other IDEA Clubs around the country. Most of my experience debating intelligent design is off the internet, and comes from real-world interactions with real and intelligent evolutionists. Thus, the namecalling and ugliness which abounds on the internet in this debate turns me off, because I know that there is a better way, and I know that people can rise above tactics and immaturity to have serious, friendly, and informed debate. I have the utmost respect for the evolutionary biologists I have encountered through IDEA activities, and have done my best to encourage others to have that same respect.
Sometimes on the internet there are people who live by a different philosophy than I do. These people are fond of calling names and making ad hominem arguments. I do my best to never call names and never engage in ad hominem attacks. (Contrary to Nick Matzke’s odd assertion here, I made no attacks whatsoever against his character.) Because my time is limited, I also choose not to participate in forums which have no serious policy against ad hominems and namecalling attacks. Such forums tend to result in bottom-of-the-barrel type posts, ending the possibility for serious debate. I'm interested in talking to people who want to be kind and civil, and who want to have serious dialogue. In short, I choose to dialogue with communities who aren't out to misrepresent me and people who aren't out to twist my views or to make me look stupid / evil. I choose to dialogue with people who uphold values of fair and civil dialogue, and respect, and purport to have standards which have the effect of always promoting serious discussion. (A great example of a forum with high standards and high quality of discussion is ISCID, a forum for anyone, but hosted by a pro-ID organization.) But these are the reasons why I don't participate at Pandasthumb. I hope things might change there, but until they do, I choose not to participate in the forum created by Pandasthumb.
All that having been said, someone named "Steve U" at Pandasthumb has been calling me a lot of unjustified names tonight. I have no ill-will towards "Steve U," and I have no idea why he has such ill-will towards me. I typically ignore these kinds of posts, but today I think that "Steve U" has asked some interesting questions that are worth addressing, even if they are coming from the bottom-of-the-barrel. So Steve, I wish you only the best and I hope that this page helps to answer some of your questions. However, it is quite fitting that the very request that I come to Pandasthumb aptly demonstrates the very reasons why I don’t go to Pandasthumb.
This first question about why I don't go to Pandasthumb, which I just answered above, was actually posed to me by poster "Steve U." "Steve U" sounded skeptical that I really want to interact with evolutionists. I'd like to note that this past fall, I invited Nick Matzke of Pandasthumb-NCSE, on behalf of the IDEA Club leadership, to come give his lecture on "The Evolution of Irreducible Complexity," hosted by the IDEA Club at UCSD. (Of course we gladly offered to pay his requested honorarium on the NCSE website, and take care of all his travel needs and expenses and show him a good time as well.) I assured him we genuinely wanted to host a bona fide public lecture where we would do our best to ensure he was given every chance to expound his views in a fair forum.
Nick replied to my first e-mail in a somewhat positive tone, and then stated he would get back to me with further information. That was near the end of 2004. Nick has since never replied back regarding our offer. So I have gone out of my way to extend an open hand to evolutionists--including prominent evolutionists at PandasthumbNCSE--to invite them to interact with the IDEA Club at UCSD. Whether an evolutionist chooses to accept that invitation is up to them. Thankfully, Nick's boss, Eugenie Scott, recently publicly condoned Darwinists getting together with students at forums like IDEA Clubs to educate them about evolution. I hope more evolutionists will take her good advice. And Nick, as far as I know, the offer still stands and you are still welcome to come speak at the UCSD IDEA Club.
Question 2: What is the testable hypothesis of ID?
Incidentally, "Steve U"'s repeated requests for a testable theory of ID, coupled with his repeated character attacks, perfectly illustrate the attacks upon the "logos," coupled with ad hominem assassinations, and which William Dembski describes as a common strategy of Darwinists:
"Usually, in keeping with the no-concession policy, an attack relating to logos starts with some blanket dismissal such as 'intelligent design offers no testable hypotheses' or 'intelligent design is just an argument from ignorance' or 'intelligent design is incoherent because of the poor design evident in biological systems.'" (William Dembski, Dealing with the Backlash Against Intelligent Design>
Question 3: Does Neo-Darwinism have mandatory implications for theism?
Yes. But I want to make 2 points clear: (1) I don't believe that it is impossible for one to believe in Neo-Darwinism and be a Christian, and (2) I'm not claiming Neo-Darwinism has religious implications because Phillip Johnson, Richard Dawkins, William Provine, or Stephen Jay Gould said so. I'm basing my argument about the metaphysical implications of Neo-Darwinism upon what I've read from one of the most eminent scholars in the field of science and religion. As an undergraduate, I read Ian G. Barbour's Religion and Science Historical and Contemporary Issues for a UCSD course on science and religion. In the book, Barbour, a well-recognized authority in the field of the interface between science and religion, sees that Neo-Darwinian evolution leaves theists with one of three options for how God must have acted in the natural world:
(Ian G. Barbour, in Religion and Science Historical and Contemporary Issues (Harper Collins 1997, pg. 238-240) )
Barbour is a theistic evolutionist, and that is fine. But he recognizes that if Neo-Darwinism is true, then it places limits on how God must have acted in the natural world. Barbour seems to indicate that under Neo-Darwinism, active intervention by God to disrupt the natural course of the laws of nature couldn't have happened during the history of life. For theists who believe that God did engage in such intervention, Neo-Darwinism opposes that belief. So, one can believe in God and Neo-Darwinism, but it is wrong to pretend that Neo-Darwinism therefore has no religious implications whatsoever for theists.
One comment by "Steve U" implied that I don't recognize that there are Christians, including evangelicals, are theistic evolutionists. I found this comment odd because I specifically wrote in my response to Allen Orr that, "I agree with Orr that it is at least possible to believe in God and neo-Darwinism." Of course it is possible to believe in Neo-Darwinism and be a Christian--and I fully recognize that there are theistic evolutionists out there (who tend to be extremely vocal, so it can be hard to judge their numbers). Nonetheless, I consider some of my closest Christian friends to be full-blown theistic evolutionists! A dear friend of mine who is a graduate student at a UC school in biology (not UCSD) is a theistic evolutionist, and we have attended the same church, Christian fellowships and Bible studies for many years. He's not an ID-proponent and we have a lot of fun debating these issues, and I simultaneously consider him a dear friend and a strong Christian believer as well. So I will be the first to admit that you can be a Christian and believe in Neo-Darwinism. My TE friend, however, presumably sees God working in one of Barbour's three options above.
Question 4: Is meteorology a false, atheistic religion?
Absolutely not! And for that matter, neither is evolutionary biology. On May 16, 2005, Nick Matzke misrepresented my views when he implied that I am one who thinks that:
or that I am one who thinks that evolutionary biologists are:
Firstly, Nick has no basis for assuming that these statements accurately represent my views. No where have I ever stated or even remotely implied that I think evolutionary biologists generally are "nasty" people or that they are collectively attempting to undermine society. In fact, I have known many evolutionary biologists and I think that for the most part, they are just normal scientists who are doing their job as they were trained to do. They are not consciously trying to “promote atheism,” nor are they “nasty” or “dogmatists.” I took a more than a few courses in evolutionary biology while I was at UCSD, and most of my professors were anything but the way Nick has described evolutionary biologists (I did have one professor who fit perfectly into Nick’s description of evolutionary biologists. Even most of my non-religious friends in this class felt he had an agenda to specifically convert people away from their religious views. But this is just one example, and I do not form my views by stereotyping groups based upon one extreme outlier.) In essence, Nick has misrepresented me as if I have a very dim view of evolutionary biologists. But Nick Matzke doesn't speak for me and he has misrepresented my views.
There is no doubt that there are some vocal dogmatic secular materialists out there who are evolutionary biologists (to her credit, Eugenie Scott acknowledges this point and regularly scolds the Dawkins's, Gould's, etc., for mixing science with theology). However, I do not think that evolutionary theory in general is promoted by such idealogues.
While I don't think evolutionary biologists are generally nasty, etc., I do believe that they are locked into a materialistic mindset for explaining biological origin under which they were trained. I am not making any moral judgment about them nor am I insinuating they are involved in a conspiracy. Rather, this is just a fact of reality: most evolutionary biologists, wittingly or unwittingly, operate under the assumption that explanations for biological origins should never incorporate intelligent agency and should be wholly subsumed by purely materialistic mechanisms. But that doesn't mean that I think they are responsible for undermining the morals of society, nasty, etc., as Nick purports I do.
Response to Nick's Substantive Points:
1. A point of agreement with Nick:
Firstly, I’d like to state that I agree with Nick that most Christians of all major stripes (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) probably see the weather as a place where God is working "behind-the-scenes" through natural processes. I also agree with Nick that the weather is a chaotic system, and so it's entirely possible that God's action, if it is there, could go completely undetected by scientific inquiry.
2. Points of disagreement with Nick:
Nick seems to be operating under the assumption that scientific theories which operate under naturalistic assumptions pose a threat to my Christian belief system. He seems to assume that neo-Darwinism, if true, poses a threat to my Christian faith. This is another completely wrong assumption on the part of Nick. Neo-Darwinian evolution poses no threat to me being a Christian whatsoever. God could have created however He wanted to do so, and could have used Neo-Darwinian evolution if that's what He wanted to do. For me, the question of what God could have done is a very uninteresting question (because God could do anything He wants to do). I'm interested more in what the evidence says actually happened, rather than abstract questions about what God could or could not have done. This pulls the rug out from under Nick’s argument because it means that my critique of evolution is not based upon theology, but rather upon science.
Nick seems to suggest that I would not infer design in the weather because I'm a typical Christian who sees meteorology as God controlling a natural process, but then I would inconsistently infer design in the history of life because of theological motivations, because I'm a Christian who thinks that God can't create through evolution. As I already noted, evolution poses no threat to my Christian belief system whatsoever and I am not a person who thinks that God could never create through evolution (I just think that the evidence says He generally did NOT create through evolution). So, if I think God didn't create through evolution, that belief would be based upon scientific reasons, not theological motivations.
So why shouldn't we infer design in meteorology? I don't think we should infer design in the weather because I think that we are able to account for its processes through chance and law. I quoted Psalm 135:7 in my defense of Wells to point out that if God could be controlling the weather even if we can't detect it. (Nick and Wesley Elsberry have compiled a nice list of many other passages of the Bible where God also controls the weather. Nick says “According to a literal reading of the Bible, the evidence that God controls the weather is, if anything, much stronger than the Biblical evidence that God specially created organisms.” But if it’s the number of verses on a topic which determine if that is something God has been doing, I could easily find an order of magnitude more verses about God “creating” or “making” organisms than I could find about God controlling the weather. But quantity makes a poor hermeneutical argument, so I won’t confuse things by creating such an enormous list of passages from the Bible which talk about God creating organisms.) I am never denying that God can work through natural processes. And I'm not saying that evolution is necessarily atheistic. All I'm saying is that there is nothing wrong with a Christian accepting the findings of modern meteorology believing that God affects the weather in an undetectable manner using natural processes. (I think Nick is correct that most Christians take this view). Similarly, if one accepts neo-Darwinism, then Ian Barbour tells us that theists must then accepts that God has guided biological origins through some kind of an undetectable manner using natural processes.
Could God act in this undetectable manner when creating life? Sure! But just because God can act through some natural processes (like the weather) doesn't mean that he therefore must always use natural processes (in biological origins). Whatever God did do doesn't threaten my Christian faith at all, because I believe God can act however He wants. The point of Nick's article escapes me: he seems to simply be claiming that if I think evolutionary biologists are dogmatic atheists for not appealing to God, then I must think that meteorologists are dogmatic atheists for not appealing God. I'm not saying anyone is a dogmatic atheist, and I'm not saying that meteorologists are doing anything wrong by appealing to material mechanisms to explain the weather. The only difference is that I think meteorology is justified (for non-theological empirical reasons) in appealing to purely natural processes because that is the best explanation for their observations, while evolutionary biologists are not justified (for non-theological empirical reasons) in appealing to purely unintelligent processes because such an explanation is not the best one to explain our observations in biology.
Nick seems to fail to grasp that ID is a viable hypothesis which can be applied to various disciplines, and that it is to be applied when it is scientifically warranted, not when it is theologically warranted. If the design inference isn't warranted, after empirical study, in meteorology, then I suppose it isn’t applicable in that field. If the design inference is warranted in biology, for empirical reasons, then let's make use of it. I'm interested in what the evidence implies, not what theology dictates:
I will make one retraction, however: I actually don't like one of my arguments in the passage Nick quotes from me at all. It's my mistake so I'll take responsibility for it. Nick quotes me saying:
In conclusion, if we use Dembski's explanatory filter, I think the design inference is not warranted in the case of the meteorology, but it is warranted in the case of, say, the origin of the bacterial flagellum. This has nothing to do with theology or theological expectations. It has everything to do with science and empirical investigations, and applying intelligent design theory in various fields of science. I hope that I have made it clear that I have a consistent empirically-based methodology for why I would not infer design in meteorology, but would infer it in biology.
Nick has tried to paint me as one who has a very dim and terrible view of scientists, particularly evolutionary biologists. What he has said has hurt me and badly misrepresented my views and the way I try to conduct myself in this debate. A long time ago I hurt Nick Matzke in a way which I today regret. I publicly apologized for what I did. Nick can now do what he sees is best. Regardless of what Nick does, his insinuations about my views about scientists and evolutionary biologists are patently false and completely abhorrent and antithetical to my actual views.
It is saddening that some have brought this debate to this level, but I suppose it is appropriate that I say the following for the record:
In conclusion, I have no ill-will towards Nick, and I am saddened by how he has portrayed my views. However, again, I would like to extend to Nick an open hand of friendship:
Addendum: Added June 11, 2005:
I was deeply saddened that Nick chose to respond to my above-stated concerns not by issuing any sort of a public or private apology or public effective retraction, but rather by himself making an allegation that I had "rather deliberately and blatantly mischaracterized" his own views in my defense of Wells. However, Nick has every right to be represented accurately, and I sincerely hope I have never misrepresented him. What follows documents my attempt to ensure that Nick's views were not, and not currently misrepresented:
Regarding Nick's recent allegation that I "deliberately ... mischaracterized" his views, I would first point out that my defense of Wells was written over 3 years ago (in March of 2002). I have no desire to misrepresent Nick's views, and I never intended to misrepresent his views. If I did misrepresent his views, it was not intentional or "deliberate" whatsoever. If there was any misrepresentation, it was completely unintentional and accidental. Yet, after 3 years, Nick has now alleged a serious misrepresentation of his views, despite the fact that he never contacted me or said anything about this all these years since I first posted the alleged misrepresentation. I take very seriously any charges that I may have misrepresented someone's views, and thus I immediately took steps, as documented below, to attempt to rectify this situation to ensure that Nick's views were not being misrepresented.
Unfortunately when Nick made his allegation, he went into essentially no detail about how what I wrote misrepresented his views, other than providing the alleged location of the misrepresentation. He did not explain what he originally had meant, and he did not explain how he interpreted my representation, and thus he did not explain how my alleged representation of him misrepresented his actual views. Thus I was left trying to figure out how my statements ever misrepresented Nick's views. So, after investigating this issue a bit on my own, and after Nick responded with his own allegation that I "deliberately misrepresented" his views, I contacted him privately with an e-mail making the following primary points:
The e-mail I sent to Nick is thus reproduced below, edited only for spelling errors (so readers don't see how embarrassingly bad my type-o's were in the e-mail I sent Nick):
Unfortunately Nick responded to this e-mail by telling me that I should not expect a response to him regarding resolving these issues. Thus, this situation currently stands as follows:
So this is where the situation currently stands. If Nick contacts me privately in the future regarding this situation and explains to me if I actually did actually misrepresent him, then my promise stands that I promise to promptly amend my defense of Wells so that there is no longer any misrepresentation of his views.
In conclusion, as I stated earlier, I have absolutely no ill-will towards Nick whatsoever and I hope this matter can be resolved in a mutually agreeable manner. However, I am saddened to see that this incident is playing itself out as a dead-on example of what William Dembski described in Dealing with the Backlash Against Intelligent Design:
"Hardcore critics who’ve adopted a zero-concession policy toward intelligent design are still worth engaging, but we need to control the terms of engagement. Whenever I engage them, the farthest thing from my mind is to convert them, to win them over, to appeal to their good will, to make my cause seem reasonable in their eyes. We need to set wishful thinking firmly to one side. The point is not to induce a cognitive shift in our critics, but instead to clarify our arguments, to address weaknesses in our own position, to identify areas requiring further work and study, and, perhaps most significantly, to appeal to the undecided middle that is watching this debate and trying to sort through the issues. (William Dembski, Dealing with the Backlash Against Intelligent Design, emphasis added)
I leave it to the undecided middle to decide who is serious about discussion and accurately representing the other side. And Nick, my offer to take you to lunch still stands, and I sincerely hope for the opportunity to do so. I'll be in the San Francisco Bay area in early August. firstname.lastname@example.org