15 October 2008

And we're back!

Okay, wow, that was a long hiatus. I can explain, really I can. Here's a report on my activities in the last six weeks.

1. I wandered into Telic Thoughts in search of intelligent intelligent design advocates. It went okay -- there was real discussion (because TT actually wants dialogue) but it was painfully difficult to get through some major misconceptions (created by Michael Behe). The painful part was in the thread called Behe's Test, Take 2, in which some of us tried to explain the relevance of some recent work on bacterial antibiotic resistance to "Darwinian" evolution. I'll repost one of my contributions here soon.

2. Some months ago, after hearing Richard Colling give a talk at Calvin (on his ideas set forth in his book Random Designer) my colleague and friend Randy Pruim (of the mathematics and statistics department) and I decided we should get some people together to get serious about this whole question of randomness and God's action. We got a grant from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship to fund a yearlong reading group. We've met once already, and it was a blast. I'll separately post on our activities and ideas and my thoughts. Randy, by the way, is also the director of our new HHMI-funded Integrated Science Research Institute (ISRI), and he's devoted a page to our reading group, affectionately known as Random Readers.

3. My blogging buddy over at Clashing Culture, Mike Haubrich, had me as a guest on his cool radio show (Atheists Talk) in the Twin Cities. The subject was "Defending Theistic Evolution," broadcast October 5. It was fun, and I even took an email question from PZ Myers. (Well, it was more like the abstract of a dissertation than a radio show question, but maybe Mike will have me back and we can talk longer.) Some of the questions we discussed:
  • How do you separate your science from your belief?
  • What is your take on theistic evolution?
  • Were humans the goal of creation?
  • "All of the facets that shape evolution involve lots of cruelty and pain only partially tempered by the joy of sex. I have trouble reconciling a loving God with what we know about evolution. How do you defend this view of evolution?"
You can listen to the interview at the Atheists Talk page.

4. I'm not the only one who was dumb enough to think that Uncommon Descent is a place where people might be able to intelligently discuss evolution, design and faith; Ted Davis made the same mistake (and I do think we were mistaken to go there in the first place). Last month, Ted engaged in an interesting discussion there, for a time, with two other commenters, going by the names of Jack Krebs and Timaeus. They were soon all banned, because Uncommon Descent is not, and does not pretend to be, a place where thoughtful adults hold discussions. But Ted persuaded Timaeus to come to the ASA email list instead, for the purpose of examining and addressing the perceived animus held by "theistic evolutionists" toward ID proponents. (Note: if you follow any of the links to read Timaeus' posts, you'll see a lot of odd characters, which result from the unwise use of Microsoft Word (!) to compose email.)

The conversation began about 3 weeks ago, and peaked about a week and a half later. It's not over, but everyone seems to be taking a breather. I would say that it's going better now than it did at first, though it still seems that Timaeus (a defender of ID) is not able to understand the reasons why Christians like me can see no good reason to suppose that Darwin's theory is inherently or necessarily atheistic or a-teleological. Timaeus is (by his own admission) a non-scientist, and it shows when he mentions evolutionary theory or quotes the usual ID suspects. (He repeats the "Darwinists never studied non-coding DNA" myth, and is unjustifiably impressed by Denton, Behe and even Egnor.) He has a penchant for propagandistic rhetoric, exacerbated by his shallow understanding of the science that is misused by ID apologists. At first, I thought it was pretty clear that he had come to the ASA to argue for ID, and not to listen to the responses of people who have thought about all of this before. And it's still not apparent that Timaeus understands or respects the evolutionary creation position, or that he finds any significant value in listening to what knowledgeable scientists say about ID proposals. But the last few exchanges have been quite a bit better. When the subject is just plain design, and not science or religion, actual dialogue seems to happen, and we're currently discussing Del Ratzsch's work on the nature of design and the marks it might leave.

Talking to ID apologists about design itself is hard enough without all the pollution of anti-science propaganda and theological incompetence. But maybe there can be some progress, at least toward peaceful coexistence of Christians who do and don't prefer certain types of explanation. So watch for updates on the Random Readers, and I'll post any further discussion with Timaeus here.


Steve Martin said...

Nice bibliography for your reading group! I'm shocked that O'Leary's "By Design or by Chance" didn't make the cut - was it considered too intellectually challenging?

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen

Good to have you back. Been missing your thoughtful commentary.


John Farrell said...

Glad your back! (now get to work...)


Telic is an interesting site. I like Mike Gene, if for nothing else, for his sense of humor!

John Farrell said...

What's fascinating about the Telic thread where you posted, Steve, along with the others, is it really shows the damage that Behe causes with his argumentation to Christians who don't have any exposure to the science themselves: the Telic types who are now sold on Behe's 'expertise' get really ruffled--if not offended--when you point out Behe's dishonesty. I don't blame them for investing too much credibility in the guy--I blame him, and his work needs to be repudiated.

RBH said...

Welcome back. I enjoyed your bit on Atheist Talk and hope the hour-long version comes through.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed listened to you on Atheist Talk as well. Great job!

Anonymous said...

I have been enjoying the civilized discussion on the ASA list with Timaeus and others. It is kind of slow but the responses are so thoughtful and generally polite. I would thank all of the participants.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,

I'm looking forward to hearing updates about # 2 and the reading group. Sounds exciting!