On Naturalism, Human Dignity Disappears

Charles Darwin at age 51, just after publishin...

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This isn’t too surprising, since matter and laws of nature are incapable of generating value, regardless of how they interact or what levels of complexity they achieve.  Value or worth is never the product of a chemical reaction or the movement of particles, or the conclusion of an equation.

On naturalism, man is simply one animal among many, with no special moral status, as philosopher James Rachels articulates:

The traditional supports for the idea of human dignity are gone.  They have not survived the colossal shift of perspective brought about by Darwin’s theory.  It might be thought that this result need not be devastating for the idea of human dignity, because even if the traditional supports are gone, the idea might still be defended on some other grounds.

Once again, though, an evolutionary perspective is bound to make one skeptical.  The doctrine of human dignity says that humans merit a level of moral concern wholly different from that accorded to mere animals; for this to be true, there would have to be some big, morally significant difference between them.  Therefore, any adequate defense of human dignity would require some conception of human beings as radically different from other animals.

But that is precisely what evolutionary theory calls into question.  It makes us suspicious of any doctrine that sees large gaps of any sort between humans and all other creatures.  This being so, a Darwinian may conclude that a successful defense of human dignity is most unlikely.

– James Rachels, Created from Animals (Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 171-172.

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Scholarly Essays at the Biologos Foundation

The logo for the BioLogos Foundation
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A nice collection of papers here on the relationship between Christianity and evolution.  A few reflect a theistic evolutionary point of view, while others defend skepticism towards a Darwinian approach.  The titles that look especially interesting are

  • “Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview” by Mark Noll

In this paper, Mark Noll — University of Notre Dame historian and author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind — looks at 15 of the attitudes, assumptions and convictions considered the most influential in inciting anti-intellectual sentiment among evangelical Christians. He also traces the historical background of when these ideas became prominent and suggests how they still affect contested issues of science and religion.

  • “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process: I. Concerns of the Typical Evangelical Theologian” by Bruce Waltke

In this white paper from the November BioLogos workshop, evangelical and renowned Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke looks at eleven barriers that prevent evangelical theologians from accepting evolution as a possible means for creation and what we these barriers tells us about the tensions between science and religion perceived by many evangelicals. Waltke’s work is based on a survey forwarded to presidents of the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents and their faculty, asking them to identify the reasons that they do not personally accept evolutionary theory.

  • “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process: II. Concerns of the Typical Parishoner” or “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople” by Tim Keller

In this paper, considers three main clusters of questions lay people raise when they learn of anyone teaching that biological evolution and biblical orthodoxy can be compatible. Keller offers some ideas on how to provide responses that take these concerns seriously.

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Jerry Coyne on the Craig-Ayala Debate on Intelligent Design

I haven’t been able to find the original source of this quote, but it was cited by someone asking a question on William Lane Craig’s website.  The following is the question, quote, and Dr. Craig’s reply.

*UpdateIt turns out that this quotation actually came from a review Coyne posted of Ann Coulter’s book Godless.  Apparently, someone (the questioner or his/her source) replaced Coulter’s name with Craig’s in the quote.  Coyne brought this to Craig’s attention, and Craig removed the original post.  See their exchange here.


Question 1:

Jerry Coyne replies to your recent debate:

“What is especially striking is Craig’s failure to tell us what he really believes about how the earth’s species got here. It’s clear that he thinks God had a direct hand in it, but beyond that we remain unenlightened. IDers believe in limited amounts of evolution. Does Craig think that mammals evolved from reptiles? If not, what are those curious mammal-like reptiles that appear exactly at the right time in the fossil record? Did humans evolve from ape-like primates, or did the Designer conjure us into existence all at once? How did all those annoying fossils get there, in remarkable evolutionary order?

“And, when faced with the real evidence that shows how strongly evolution trumps ID, he clams up completely. What about the massive fossil evidence for human evolution — what exactly were those creatures 2 million years ago that had human-like skeletons but ape-like brains? Did a race of Limbaughs walk the earth? And why did God — sorry, the Intelligent Designer — give whales a vestigial pelvis, and the flightless kiwi bird tiny, nonfunctional wings? Why do we carry around in our DNA useless genes that are functional in similar species? Did the Designer decide to make the world look as though life had evolved? What a joker! And the Designer doesn’t seem all that intelligent, either. He must have been asleep at the wheel when he designed our appendix, back, and prostate gland.

“What’s annoying about Craig is that he demands evidence for evolution (none of which he’ll ever accept), but requires not a shred of evidence for his alternative hypothesis.

“Scientists gain fame and high reputation not for propping up their personal prejudices, but for finding out facts about nature. And if evolution really were wrong, the renegade scientist who disproved it — and showed that generations of his predecessors were misled — would reach the top of the scientific ladder in one leap, gaining fame and riches. All it would take to trash Darwinism is a simple demonstration that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, or that our closest genetic relative is the rabbit. There is no cabal, no back-room conspiracy. Instead, the empirical evidence for evolution just keeps piling up, year after year.”

Care to respond?

Tom

Dr. Craig responds:

I wasn’t aware that Coyne, a prominent biologist at the University of Chicago, had taken any cognizance of my debate with Francisco Ayala on “Is Intelligent Design Viable?” His response is precious because it illustrates so clearly exactly what I said in the debate: Darwinists tend to confuse the evidence for the thesis of common ancestry with evidence for the efficacy of the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection. Did you notice, Tom, how all of Coyne’s remarks pertain to the former, not the latter? And yet it was precisely evidence for the latter that I was asking for in the debate. It just amazes me how such brilliant men can be so inattentive to the structure of an argument. As for his other questions, I addressed them specifically in the debate and the public Q & A that followed.


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Review of Craig vs. Ayala Debate on Intelligent Design

Luke at Common Sense Atheism gives a good and fair review of the recent debate between William Lane Craig and renowned biologist Francisco Ayala on the viability of Intelligent Design theory.  Luke previously provided a humorous but incisive review of the Craig-Hitchens debate earlier this spring.

Despite his indisputable debate skills, Craig has never debated or published on biological arguments about intelligent design. So with Ayala’s 930 papers and 30 books – mostly on biology and philosophy of biology, with several specifically about intelligent design – this debate was a sweeping victory for Ayala, right?

Wrong.

Ayala may have all the right information in his head somewhere, but once again he did not bother to properly prepare for a debate with Craig. How many more opponents of Craig must embarrass themselves before they take my advice?

Ayala knows how to lecture. He does not know how to debate.

Ayala’s presentations were meandering musings on evolutionary theory, the history of science, and anecdotes about Darwin. Ayala also discussed the evidence for common descent, apparently unaware that intelligent design theory is compatible with the existing evidence for common descent. In his opening speech, during which he was supposed to present the case against intelligent design, Ayala did not even mention intelligent design.

Craig, as usual, cut very clearly to the heart of the disagreement between Ayala and Intelligent Design theory. He then showed how Ayala’s objections to intelligent design were invalid. (Continue)

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Atheists Against Darwinism

Some fascinating work here on Intelligent Design by Peter Williams, from the EPS blog.

Allow me to draw attention to this paper recently published on the EPS website:

Atheists Against Darwinism: Johnsons’ “Wedge” Breaks Through

Abstract

Intelligent design theory claims that 1) empirical evidence warrants 2) a scientific design inference using 3) reliable design detection criteria. Philosophia Christi published my paper “The Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside the Intelligent Design Movement: A Critical Review” (Philosophia Christi, Vol 9, Number 2), which defended the third of these claims by reviewing the work atheists and theistic evolutionists. This paper defends the second of these claims, likewise by reviewing work by agnostics and atheists.

Hence this paper rounds off a two-part defence of the philosophical elements of Intelligent Design Theory (claims 2 & 3), and does so in two phases. Phase one focuses upon the growing acceptance of Phillip E. Johnsons’ analysis of the role played by methodological naturalism in buttressing Darwinism, while phase two focuses upon Thomas Nagel’s positive interaction with Michael J. Behe’s argument in The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2008). I argue that Nagel’s reticence about embracing ID is philosophically inconsistent.

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New Series at Truthbomb Apologetics

Chad at Truthbomb Apologetics invites dialogue on the question below.

This post is the first in what I hope will become a series entitled Questions to Ponder. My hope is to get some dialogue going (via the comments) between like minded persons on apologetic topics, beliefs, and arguments that are widely used or well-known. Believers and non-believers are welcomed to comment!

Celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins is well-known for the following infamous quote (and many others!):

“An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: “I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.” I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” [1]

So, my question is, “Was Richard Dawkins right when he said that ‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist?’ Or, in other words, if Darwinism was true beyond reasonable doubt, does atheism logically follow?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments!

1. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 6.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Teleological Arguments, Part 1

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William Paley, Wikipedia

Since we touched briefly on the ontological and cosmological arguments earlier in the week, it’s a good time to cover another of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, the teleological argument.

The name derives from the Greek word telos, meaning goal or purpose.  The argument contends that as we observe certain features of ourselves, the world, and the universe, we have the strong intuition that these features were designed to achieve some special purpose or goal.  Many thinkers have asserted that these instances of design point to an incredibly powerful and intelligent designer – God.

Scripture seems to validate this intuition in passages like Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:19-21.

Famously, the design argument was the fifth of Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways of rationally discerning God’s existence.

We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God (Aquinas, Article 3, Question 2).

Historically, the teleological/design argument has taken two main forms.  The first is an argument from analogy that attempts to compare man-made objects (e.g., tools, machines) to objects in nature (e.g., an eye), and concludes that, since like effects have like causes, the design in nature (like design by man) reflects the work of a purposeful designer.

David Hume notably claimed that the analogy between man-made objects and features of nature was too dissimilar to succeed.

If we see a house,… we conclude, with the greatest certainty, that it had an architect or builder because this is precisely that species of effect which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause. But surely you will not affirm that the universe bears such a resemblance to a house that we can with the same certainty infer a similar cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect (Hume, Dialogues, Part II).

A second form of the argument was championed by William Paley (sometimes mistakenly described as an analogical argument as well).  Paley sought instead to discern reliable indicators of intelligent design such as fitness to accomplish a purpose and specific arrangement of parts necessary to bring about the purpose.  Paley used the example of a watch, which performed the function of keeping time and exhibited a specific and essential arrangement of parts to accomplish this.  He wrote:

Every indicator of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation (Natural Theology: Or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature [Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1867], 13.)

Critics of this form of the argument have claimed that an intelligent designer is not the only or even most probable explanation for apparent design in nature.  Such critics frequently cite Darwinian evolution and natural selection as natural processes that can readily account for what appear to be cases of design in the natural world.

Stay tuned for Part Two, where we’ll look at more recent developments in the design argument.

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