28 June 2008

Uncommon Descent conversation, part 5

Below is my fifth contribution to the discussion at Uncommon Descent, in the thread called "Theistic Evolutionists...we can help you." My previous post, addressed to "jerry," has not gone up on UD, for reasons unknown. Perhaps readers can spot the problem (e.g., a dirty word hidden in some scientific jargon) and UD visitors can pass that information to the UD magistrates.

Interestingly, yesterday I discovered that my comments were posted immediately, without moderation. But the contribution below is now reporting that it "awaits moderation," so I'm back in purgatory for some reason, probably related to the unexplained rejection of the response to "jerry." Anyway, here it is, and we'll see if it also appears (with the previous post) on UD.

Thomas @70:

First a note to all: I attempted to post a response to jerry here last night, but it hasn't gone up and I don't know why. You can read it at my blog, but I hope we'll get it up here soon.

I think I will let this be my last word on the topic of randomness and how various TEs handle it, and I'll try to keep it brief. But if there's something specific you'd like me to address, by all means point it out.

You have made it quite clear, I think, what you want "TEs" to do. But you have failed to convince me that this is anything but completely trivial, and I have judged your complaint to be unimportant. To summarize my own position: Darwin's "mechanism" was natural selection acting on random variation. Darwin, without any scientific or metaphysical support, added non-teleology to his mechanism, and the result is something that you and I seem to agree to call "Darwinism." Christians, we seem to agree, can't embrace that thing we're calling "Darwinism." (Non-Christians, even non-theists, might choose to reject "Darwinism" for the same reasons, namely that it incorporates unjustified metaphysical pronouncements that don't add explanatory force.) But since Darwin added his metaphysical proviso without justification, and since the proviso does no explanatory work, it can (and should) be removed as unceremoniously as it was added. The consequences of this move are of course not trivial, but the move itself is completely trivial.

Again, I don't speak for any of those other folks, but I surmise that one reason they don't provide the disclaimers you desire is that they, like me, are concerned that they will be misunderstood. The term "Darwinism" is, in my opinion, very often deliberately meant to confuse. In our conversation here, it's gone well, but only because I made it very clear, right from the beginning, what I meant by "Darwinism." This distinction is rarely made clear, but it's hugely important. Without it, a person reading your post, referring to our agreement "that the Darwinian mechanism is at least partly wrong," might reasonably conclude that I am unconvinced of the explanatory power of natural selection acting on random variation. Perhaps because I'm a scientist, I can barely imagine interpreting "the Darwinian mechanism" in any other way. But that's what you and I have done here. The potential for misunderstanding is significant, and I haven't even factored in the ID movement's fondness for martial rhetoric and propaganda.

And Thomas, I do not take seriously your comments about people like Francis Collins "poisoning the public discourse in the country." It's not that I think Ken Miller is right about everything (hardly), or that I think Collins hasn't missed some pitches. No, the basic problem is that your movement has no moral credibility with me. You are speaking from within a blog that represents everything I loathe about the movement. You are whining about "hostility" in a blog that revels in the belligerent taunting of my colleagues and that breezily describes people like me as "spineless appeasers," "Neville Chamberlains," or "dhimmis" while asserting that we have entered a "pact with the Devil." Your movement's contempt for evolutionary creation has been communicated all too clearly, and if I were you I'd be much more focused on building and maintaining scholarly relationships with those who are willing to be responsible critics, or even on forcefully disclaiming your movement’s many abuses of science and scientists, than I would be on feigning victimhood.

I am committed to working hard at maintaining collegiality in discussions with folks like you and StephenB and jerry, in my role as "friendly critic." But if you want me to be a friend, you'll have to change your approach significantly. At the very least, you should re-examine my original post, regarding some very important problems I have with your movement, and consider whether the conversation is going in the right direction.

But lest you think I'm not listening: yes, you can count on me to criticize bogus or unfair arguments by TEs, and yes, I think there are times when interesting discussions of design and God's action are lost in the fog of culture war.

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