Sunday, April 26, 2009

This week in Austin: yet another evolution/ID debate

Christians still don't seem to have gotten the memo from Dover that ID is dead deader deadest, and they're still trying to find public forums in which to flog its corpse. I'm not sure they should be accorded the courtesy of a debate by legitimate scientists any more. More and more I tend to agree with the views of those who say these debates, by virtue of occurring at all, send a message that ID must have some scientific legitimacy, otherwise why would major universities be hosting the debates in the first place.

That's not the case, of course. Any student group can book facilities at their university, and so another one of these debates is taking place this coming Tuesday at 7. Skeptic magazine editor Michael Shermer will be one of three folks on the pro-science side, taking on two creationists, Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana, of Reasons to Believe. These guys, like Behe, have scientific backgrounds, and I know Shermer and Ross have debated before. Despite Ross's CV's, though, I must say, I've seen some episodes of the Reasons to Believe show on TBN, and was, let us say, amused. On one episode as I recall, Ross tried to answer one aspect of the problem of evil — that of "natural" evils like earthquakes — in this way: that God needs earthquakes because that his way of moving minerals through the Earth's crust.

I wish I could make stuff like that up, people.

As for Shermer, well, here's the deal. I like the man, like what he does to promote skepticism, have liked some of his books. I also worry about how he'll handle himself in this debate, because he's the kind of guy who — well, I don't know if it's too strong to call him a "Neville Chamberlain atheist," but he is inclined towards trying to find a conciliatory middle ground between religion and science that I just don't think works. I'll post a review of his book Why Darwin Matters soon to explain what I mean.

Whatever Shermer ends up saying, I know we won't have to worry about such "we are the world" namby-pambiness from another of the pro-science debaters, Sahotra Sarkar. This guy takes the gloves right off. In early 2002 he debated that supreme nitwit Kirk Durston at UT, and utterly shamed him. I suspect Ross and Rana will be licking their wounds after a few rounds of Sarkar's debate-fu.

Of the third pro-science debater, Kenneth Diller, I know nothing. I don't know if he'll be moderating the debate and the CFI site has him mis-listed as a participant, or what.

Now here's the sad bit: I'll be out of town for this. So we'll have to rely on a report from Kazim or Matt or someone else on the crew. But I'm sure it will be a night to remember.

One complaint a lot of us have already made: The title of the debate is "Was Darwin Wrong?", which is a fine example of that problem Kazim has discussed here, which is that so many of these debates — planned as they tend to be by the religious side — come front-loaded with assumptions favoring the religious position. Was Darwin wrong? About what? There were several things Darwin was wrong about. But evolution by natural selection isn't one of them, as 150 years of solid science have shown. A better title might have been "Which has greater evidence, evolution or intelligent design?" But that would put poor Reasons to Believe at a serious disadvantage, I suppose, and reveal their reasons to believe are fragile things indeed.


  1. "Was Darwin wrong?"

    Seriously??? Man we really need to learn how to hold proper debates. Like this one:

  2. I hate debates almost on principle since I've come to see them as just a revivalism of sophistic bullshit. It basically seems like an institutionalized form of truthyness (Screw you Firefox spell check, it IT s a word), that is taken as 'proof' and has no real integrity since the moderator NEVER holds anyone to stay in facts and reality. If the moderator actually was doing fact checking and calling bullshit then it might have some reality it's just a place for people to shovel bullshit.

  3. I agree Ing. I always wondered what a moderator actually DID, because in any debate I've ever seen, all they do is ask a few questions and let the two go at each other. I always thought a moderator know, moderate and keep one side from getting out of hand or spewing bullshit. Apparently we're just so bad at it here that the moderator doesn't even moderate. Yay...

  4. It is to be expected that they ask the question in absolute terms. "Was Darwin wrong?" is a pointless question. He was more right than many of his contemporaries and the basis of his theory was confirmed by further studies. Every scientist gets it wrong at some point or another. And I agree with Ing, these debates are just sophistic in disguise.

    A question which I think I asked before: does anybody here became an atheist through another mean than science? Sometimes I feel that I am the only non-scientist atheist here.

  5. Guillame: I don't consider myself a scientist. I mean, I like science...and I like to know as much of it as a can/need to know, but it's not in any way my career. It certainly didn't lead me away from belief in god, in fact it had zero to do with it. I stopped believing in god because, while dealing with the death of a grandmother, I realized that holding onto belief in a deity actually made it INFINITELY harder to deal with. As soon as I realized that my grandma died of cancer she'd gotten from smoking her whole life, I started applying that more simple, direct approach to other things and it just snowballed.

  6. Sparrowhawk-I should have said it differently. I meant that I have the feeling that many here are either scientists or have a strong interest in science. What you said is interesting, but I think science still had some indirect kind of role in your deconversion. In my case, it was history and literature.

  7. A question which I think I asked before: does anybody here became an atheist through another mean than science? Sometimes I feel that I am the only non-scientist atheist here."

    So many people give their conversion/deconversion story that I was not going to do mine, but since you asked...

    I was actually a scientist in that I believed in science and was persueing science for a long time, while also being a christian. I was raised in a mix of Anglican/Methodist and it was never a very offensive religion or philosophy. In fact I *Still* rather like the Methodist and have nearly NOTHING but fond memories of my church. There was nothing about hell or really sin or anything, the main focus was on a spiritual transformation, what I'd guess is what Matt would call the newy-agey crap, but I still appreciated it and think that the MESSAGE may have some value. The central theme was "the story of the butterfly" so the idea of transformation and improvement and striving for morality and harmony with others. It was a liberal church, very multi racial, multi-cultural. Long before it was legal we had a gay "marriage" ceremony for a couple that were common law/civic unioned. Bible was treated as a book of poetry more or less so it never came into conflict with the real world. For a brief time after that I actually got into what I THOUGHT was fundamentalist christainty, in that I wanted to follow exactly what the early church was then I started reading the bible and trying to find what it METAPHORICALLY met to fit with how I knew the history of the world was like. I read the left behind series but never finished it because a friend of mine was Buddhist and atheist and the fact that jews/atheists/other non-believers did not get into heaven was not matching my religion and I eschewed the books. During that time it NEVER occurred to me that anyone would really find fault with Christianity or the like. I briefly even wanted to maybe be a minister. however, due to the openness I learned about ALL religions with actual open mindedness. Anyway, then I went to a catholic school for highschool. Very nice private school that was nice enough to accept me despite me not being the usual wealthyness. Again, almost nothing but good memories, lots of good teachers who encouraged critical thinking and chanalged beliefs. 4 years of religion class was required, of which I loved, World religion in which we learned about all the other beliefs fairly and open (save you know...bullshit like scientology) there wasn't any "Catholicism is right though. Philosophy and ethics, where learned about the foundations of logic and hilariously even dismissed objective morality as impractical. Then was the bible class where we read the whole bible. THIS is where problems arose for me. For was shocking. We read the WHOLE bible in its historical context. All the shit that was NEVER actually read outloud was found out. I remember being horrified and CRYING over the verses where genocide and rape was ORDERED. I didn't think a good god would allow it or that it was my God and despereately wanted an excuse but it STILL upset me. I didn't know why but it did profoundly. That was also the time that a) creatonism was taking center stage AGAIN b) The war to Iraq was building up and Christians were saying God wanted us to KILL KILL KILL instead of turning the other cheek, C) I started watching the 700 club. All in all, I fell out of the religion because I was disgusted. I didn't WANT to be assosiated with those people. I kept I guess a theist idea in the back of my mind, and would defend to my atheist friends that theism and evolution could co-exist. Really the point just arrose, everything I believed did the most good and was the most responsible was secular. The idea of the after life was all I clung on to. Eventually my conceptions on atheism were challenged and since it was clear that it wasn't the horrific caricature it's presented, there was no reason not to just accept that fact.

    What really was the eureka moment was actually from my "religion" ie, buddhist teaching which I still like. There is a story that people cosntantly baggered Guatama for his insight on the after life. Guatama responded that it didn't matter. The moral right way the live (the middle path) was what would bring a happy tranquil and fullfilled life. If there is a supernatural and divine after life then it is also the way into heaven/nirvana/escape reincarnation so great. If not, then it is the best way to maximize the one life you have. Whether a God exists or not is a moot point. It isn't important.

    So yeah, despite me loving science..I 'became' atheist for philosophical, literature and religious reasons.

    Thanks for bearing with me and sorry for chewing the scenery. My ultimate point was that I think MOST people even the 'science' atheists, do not become so just because of the anti-intellectual movement Christianity and Islam is pushing but because of philosophical and moral reasons.


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