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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

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Brian John Schuettler

What a great interview! I am going to push this one right to the top of my reading list...as soon as I finish The Geneology of Nihilism.

MenTaLguY

I still find myself supicious of the assumption among Discovery Institute types that science and reason must be coextensive, which I think leaves one of the fundamental errors of materialist science unchallenged.

Rather than tossing out Bacon and Aquinas in search of a new "holistic" science, can't we make a place for philosophy again?

MenTaLguY

That's not to say my opinion of the interview was entirely negative. I liked this bit, for instance:

Why, for example, does a particular Mozart piano concerto exist? The capacity to make pleasing noises proved beneficial for survival insofar as pleasing noises made by males were attractive to mates. But does that really explain the existence of the concerto?

He does a neat job of skewering the silliness that passes for science under the banner of "evolutionary psychology" these days. I suppose one could even push it a little further: why do we find a Mozart concerto pleasing? It's evidently not because the cadenza is a viable reproductive strategy.

Kevin Jones

I'm wondering if believers in meaninglessness are playing off of a fundamental ambiguity in the concept of "meaning" itself. To ask what meaning means is a moebius strip of a problem in which many can lose their way.

Brian John Schuettler

"I'm wondering if believers in meaninglessness are playing off of a fundamental ambiguity in the concept of "meaning" itself. To ask what meaning means is a moebius strip of a problem in which many can lose their way."

Only for pseudo-intellectuals and the insane.

Jeff Grace

For a great paper, actually delivered as a talk, on the Catholic view of evolution, check this out by Fr. Michael Dodds, OP.  It will serve to counterbalance that mess o' stuff coming from the Discovery Institute and their lot. 

Jeff Grace


I meant to include the entire page in that last post... there's some good stuff there! Check it out...

Carl Olson

It will serve to counterbalance that mess o' stuff coming from the Discovery Institute and their lot.

Very well. But do you have any specific objections to what Dr. Wiker says in his interview? Or is he not to be taken seriously because he is part of the Discovery Institute?

Carl Olson

Jeff,

For example, take this comment by Dr. Wiker:

"I certainly believe that there has been evolution. That is undeniable. So in that sense, we must affirm, with John Paul II, that evolution is more than a hypothesis. But when you really spend time looking at the facts and failures of evolutionary theory, you find that it is not at all clear how much more than a hypothesis. But Darwinism, I would say, is the equivalent of fundamentalism in religion, a blind faith in a theory, regardless of the facts."

What is your reaction to that mess of stuff?

Jeff Grace

To be frank? I think it's pointless to try and equate evolution with fundamentalism. If, however, he refines his attack and focuses on the real problem... the problem being the atheistic philosophy (ie, "evolutionism") that some people think is supported by the reality of evolution, then he'd be spot on. However, he commits the same errors as the atheists when he insists that science can deliver evidence for or against the existence of God.

A bad argument advanced for a good cause serves to invalidate the cause. That's why I'm always flapping my jaws about these blokes... they are arguing for a good cause with bad arguments.

Carl Olson

However, he commits the same errors as the atheists when he insists that science can deliver evidence for or against the existence of God.

But what Wiker says is this:

"Obviously, from the last sentence, [Benedict XVI] clearly recognizes that the reductive account of science generally accepted in the west yields a stunted view of the universe, in fact, one that (as we mentioned above) supports nihilism. He adds to this, a point that we cover in our chapter on mathematics. Mathematics has proven to be a surprisingly powerful too in unlocking some of the aspects of nature. That in itself should be enough to convince us that a Designing Genius contrived nature to be amenable to mathematical analysis." (emphasis added)

Jeff Grace

Well, that mathematics is such a powerful tool does tell us one thing... it tells us that the universe is orderly and runs by laws and principles. The problem is, though, that you don't need to be a theist to affrim that. So while it might offer rational support for a theist, it doesn't do much to persuade an atheist who aknowledges the existence of regularity and order in the universe. It also doesn't do much to alleviate the presence of a long history of hits and misses... the sloppy and haphazard way life evolved over time.

Mark Brumley

I'm not sure how much more I know after having read Dr. Wiker's comments and the posts here than I knew before I read them.

It would probably help advance this discussion if we could have some commonly agreed upon definitions of terms. Or at least a common understanding of how the respective parties are using terms.

For instance, what do we mean by "evolution"? By "Darwinist"? By "intelligent design" (as opposed to "unintelligent design"?)?

Reading Dr. Wiker and the posts it seems that a lot of talking past one another is taking place.

Dr. Wiker says:

"I certainly believe that there has been evolution. That is undeniable. So in that sense, we must affirm, with John Paul II, that evolution is more than a hypothesis. But when you really spend time looking at the facts and failures of evolutionary theory, you find that it is not at all clear how much more than a hypothesis. But Darwinism, I would say, is the equivalent of fundamentalism in religion, a blind faith in a theory, regardless of the facts."

When Dr. Wiker says that he believes that there has been evolution, inquiring minds want to know what he means. Does he mean "evolution" in the sense that we now have poodles and hound dogs and rottweilers, etc. where we once did not, i.e., evolution within species? Or in the sense that we now have apes, humans, monkeys, etc., where once there was a common ancestor that was none of the above, i.e., evolution into different species?

He goes on to say, "But when you really spend time looking at the facts and failures of evolutionary theory, you find that it is not at all clear how much more than a hypothesis."

Again, what does he mean by his statement that it is not at all clear how much more than a hypothesis evolution is? Does he mean it is not clear that there is sufficient evidence to warrant his conclusion that it is undeniable that there has been evolution? Surely something the existence of which is "undeniable" is clearly "much more than a hypothesis". Or is he using evolution in two senses: (1) "evolution" that he holds undeniably occurred and (2) "evolution" that he is unsure of how much more than a hypothesis it is? If so, it would sure help those of us on the receiving end of his remarks to know the above.

Then there is the Darwinist business. I can only assume--because we're not really told--that by "Darwinist" he means someone who thinks that evolution wholly and exhaustively accounts for the diversity of species on this planet and who holds that evolution disproves or at least gravely weakens the case for God as creator. If so, it would help the discussion greatly if that point were made and if such a definition of "Darwinist" were distinguished from "proponent of the theory of evolution" or "evolutionist", who, if we are to believe John Paul II, needn't deny God as creator in order to affirm evolution.

Finally, I won't try to tackle the muddle of "intelligent design". I only hope that people will eventually distinguish what the Discovery Institute people mean by that expression--whether or not they are ultimately right or wrong--and the so-called "design argument" for God. What Benedict XVI did at Regensberg was to restate, in an highly abbreviated form, a type of "design argument" and link it to a form of what is sometimes called the Mental Argument, the argument that the validity of human reason rests on a larger Reason, even an ultimate, transcendent Reason.

The last point would require a lot of unpacking. I only mention it to help distinguish what seems to be going on with Pope Benedict XVI from what many proponents of ID espouse. Since Dr. Wiker isn't clear about what he understands by ID, it is hard to say to what extent his views coincide or depart from Benedict's.

Jeff Grace

Mark, excellent points... as usual :>

I am convinced that Pope Benedict is even more supportive of evolution... more so than John Paul the Great. I base this on the texts he wrote and oversaw that addressed the topic over the years he served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (See In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. and "Communion and Stewardship: Human Beings Created in the Image of God" issued by the International Theological Commission.)

I am also befuddled by Wiker's (supposed) affirmation of evolution in one breath and his disavowal of it's validity in the next.

As far as what "brand" of evolution he affirms, there's really only one brand: the type elucidated by Charles Darwin...and this includes macro and well as micro evolution. The mechanism of evolution is still debatable, but the fundamental framework is accepted by all those who are evolutionist. There really aren't "various forms" of evolution...even if there is a debate over how it happens. We all share a common ancestor.

I think B16 as well as John Paul the Great both opposed the philosophical interpretations that claim evolution as their foundation... those schools of thought known as "scientism" and "evolutionism" or "materialism". It would, however, be a big mistake to take this to mean that either of them opposed the legitamacy and value of sciecne qua science or evolution qua evolution. I don't see any reason to believe that either of them see (or saw) any sense or reason in attacking science, including biology and evolution, as a discipline.

I think this really does need to be emphasized. This is the Catholic position, regardless of what folks at the Discovery Institute are saying.


Carl Olson

So, if I understand correctly, Jeff is saying that Wiker is clearly wrong, while Mark is saying that Wiker isn't clear. The reason I am playing devil's advocate is because I sense, in Jeff's statements, this logic:

1. Everything coming from the Discovery Institute is wrong because they say, "X," although it's not clear to me, in reading some of the DI folks that they do say, "X."

2. Ben Wiker is a fellow at the Discovery Institute.

3. Therefore, everything Wiker says is wrong, regardless of what he actually says.

Believe me, I don't have any ponies in this race. Yes, I interviewed Dr. Wiker; I read his book and thought it was worth the read. But Mark puts his finger, as usual, on the most frustrating element of all of this: the need to agree on definitions and terms. And if that is the case, then it might be that writing off everyone from DI is a bit premature.

Jeff Grace

Carl, Benjamin is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. Therefore, I find the attempt to disassociate him from their goals and mission a bit incredulous. Even so, what I complained about was what he said, which is right in line with those goals and mission. I just think it's important to note that this isn't the Catholic take on evolution.

Brian John Schuettler

Having read the comments of both Jeff Grace and Mark Brumley the first question I have is whether either of you gentlemen have read Dr. Wiker's book. To draw such sweeping conclusions in regard to the author's definitive views on evolution, evolutionism, neo- darwinian evolution et al is, to my mind, a rush to judgment. If neither of you have not yet read the entire book and other works of Dr. Wiker then it is rather foolish to make these comments within the context of a rather short interview the purpose of which was to give a flavor of the book for those who might want to go deeper into Dr. Wiker's position. The work of the Discovery Institute is not to be taken lightly in that very intelligent and highly educated individuals from various disciplines are attempting to present cogent and logical arguments relative to the source and meaning of life that helps many people, many of whom are not Catholics, to at least think about the most central and defining questions of their existence.

Carl Olson

Carl, Benjamin is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

Agreed!

Therefore, I find the attempt to disassociate him from their goals and mission a bit incredulous.

But that's not what I did. Nor am I satisfied that you've accurately portrayed what the Discovery Institute does, or is seeking to do. Again, I have no vested interest in DI or ID, but I don't think you are being entirely fair to what they are about.

Even so, what I complained about was what he said, which is right in line with those goals and mission.

I've not been convinced that you've accurately summarized what he said. And you agreed with Mark, as do I, that there is much that would need to be futher clarified. Which is why, I suppose, Wiker wrote his book.

I just think it's important to note that this isn't the Catholic take on evolution.

As far as I know, there is no definitive "Catholic take" on evolution. There are varying opinions, some of which are very close to one another; some of which clash with others.

Mark Brumley

Since I wasn't commenting on Dr. Wiker's book but on his comments in the interview, I am wondering why I am being asked whether I read his book, in order to justify my comments about the interview. And why I am being accused of rushing to judgment or drawing sweeping conclusions regarding his views expressed in his book. (For that matter, I am perplexed to be accused of making any judgments--rushed ones, sweepingly general ones, or otherwise--other than that Dr. Wiker isn't clear about certain points in his interview and that clarity on those points would be helpful to the readers of the interview.)

I haven't finished reading his book--although I have read other books he has written, one of which he cowrote with Donald DeMarco and published with Ignatius Press, and I have read at least some of his articles. I would be happy--given the time and an appropriate venue--to opine about them, but that wasn't what I posted about here.

In any event, I don't see how my not having read the whole book yet is relevant to my comments regarding his remarks in the interview. Is it a short interview? Yes, but not so short as to require ambiguity on the points raised.

Maybe when I have finished the book I will comment on the book. Maybe. Meanwhile, when I comment on an interview, I think it only reasonable that someone wanting to take issue with my comments should do so with reference to the interview and my comments regarding it, not by referring to a book I have said nothing about.

Since I said nothing in my post about the Discovery Institute--of which, by the way, I am very familiar--except that I hope that people will eventually distinguish its position on "intelligent design" from the classical "design argument", I can say nothing in response to criticisms of other comments if those criticisms are supposed to be directed at me regarding other things about the Discovery Institute. That's a race in which I entered no horse.

Brian John Schuettler

Carl writes in response to Jeff Grace's comments:
"I've not been convinced that you've accurately summarized what he said. And you agreed with Mark, as do I, that there is much that would need to be futher clarified. Which is why, I suppose, Wiker wrote his book"
Which is why, I suppose, he wrote his book...my point exactly. When dealing with such a complex subject the author, of necessity, sometimes gives a quick summary of a difficult point and expects that the reader, if uncertain or confused, will go to the primary source for clarification i.e. the book under discussion. The interesting and thought provoking questions you raised, Mark, could only be answered by reference to the book. Therefore it seemed to me that in asking such questions it is legitimate then for another to ask whether the questioner has read the book and after reading it still finds an ambiguity.
Other than inquiring as to whether or not you read the book, Mark, the thrust of my comment was addressed to Jeff Grace since he is the one who made comments in reference to the Discovery Institute and you did not.
I hope that you do opine upon the book when you finish it as I am certain that your observations will be very enlightening.


Jeff Grace

Carl,

Jeff said: "Therefore, I find the attempt to disassociate him from their goals and mission a bit incredulous."

Carl replied: "But that's not what I did. Nor am I satisfied that you've accurately portrayed what the Discovery Institute does, or is seeking to do. Again, I have no vested interest in DI or ID, but I don't think you are being entirely fair to what they are about."

All I've said about the Discovery Institute is that they are advocates of the ID movement and that I oppose it. I think the ID argument is bad theology mixed with pseudo-science

Jeff said: "Even so, what I complained about was what he said, which is right in line with those goals and mission."

Carl replied: "I've not been convinced that you've accurately summarized what he said. And you agreed with Mark, as do I, that there is much that would need to be futher clarified. Which is why, I suppose, Wiker wrote his book."

I replied to your summarization, if you read back. I didn't attempt to summarize Wiker. I opened up saying I think there are better ways of understanding evolution... better arguments than those offered by the Discovery Institute, especially if you're Catholic. In the interview it's clear to me that he argues the same line as the DI... which should be no surprise since he's a senior fellow there.

Jeff said: "I just think it's important to note that this isn't the Catholic take on evolution."

Carl replied: "As far as I know, there is no definitive "Catholic take" on evolution. There are varying opinions, some of which are very close to one another; some of which clash with others."

I think it's clear what the last 5 or 6 popes have said on the matter, and it's not what we get from the DI nor from the ID argument...

Jeff Grace

Ok, the last post I made was supposed to have closed with this witty little bit:

(Jeff moves away from Carl, in order to avoid lightning bolt which is surely on it's way...)

Carl Olson

(Jeff moves away from Carl, in order to avoid lightning bolt which is surely on it's way...)

LOL. Actually, no lightning or thunder. Just mild rain, as befitting someone who lives in western Oregon. If nothing else, our little conversation indicates 1) how much more I need to read and ruminate, and 2) how good it would be if a book of essays were published in which Catholic scientists/theologians would have a high level discussion of these many topics. Or has it already been published and I've missed it?

Jeff Grace

That would be a great book! Good question... I'll have to scout around and see if such a critter exists already out there somehwere...

Hey, we probably will get some rain this weekend in SF. It always seems to wait for the weekends. ;)

Mark Brumley

Brian,

We'll have to agree to disagree about whether Dr. Wiker could reasonably be expected to be clear on the points mentioned in the space he was alloted. It seems to me that someone who writes a book on the subject of meaning that is worth reading should be able briefly to tell us what he means by such controverted terms as evolution, Darwinist, and "intelligent design". And it seems to me that he would want to do so if he wants his words to be regarded as ... meaningful ... to his readers. If I could make the distinctions I made about the terms "evolution" and "Darwinist" in the relatively short post above, it is hard for me to understand why Dr. Wiker couldn't explain his terms and why, in order for readers of the interview to understand what he means by such controversial subjects, we have to read his book.

Brian John Schuettler

I see your point, Mark. In re-reading the interview I came to realize that Dr. Wiker could have been more precise and a bit more detailed in his replies to Carl and could have avoided the ambiguity that you addressed. If you do find to time to do so, I really would look forward to a review of A Meaningful World by you something in the future.
Thanks.

Mark Brumley

Thanks, Brian. I'll see what I can do. All I need is time.

Brian John Schuettler

Dr. Wiker was on EWTN is week, btw, with Marcus Grodi. He is a convert to Catholicism from the United Methodists. Good story...

Chuck O'Malley

It may be helpful to make a distinction between Darwinian theory and Darwinism.

Darwinian theory attempts to answer the biological question: How?

Intelligent Design theory attempt to answer the metaphysical question: Who?

These two disciplines, Darwinian theory and Intelligent Design, are not necessarily incompatible. Both may be correct. The Who – God, may have decided his work of art be accomplished by evolution.

Darwinism, however, attempts to elevate the simple Darwinian biological theory into the metaphysical arena and give its anwer to the question Who”? And it boldly answers, “Nobody.”

Darwinism is beyond its wheelbase as a philosophy. Like Bill Russell, the great center for the Boston Celtics, said to the rookie after jamming the rookie’s shot down his throat, “Don’t bring that cheap stuff into the paint, kid!”

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