Rejecting the Sullen: Beyond the Science v. Religion Debate, Part III

By Adam Frank | February 3, 2008 11:43 am

Adam FrankAdam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester who studies star formation and stellar death using supercomputers. His new book, “The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate,” has just been published. He will be joining Reality Base to post an ongoing discussion of science and religion—you can read his previous posts here, and find more of his thoughts on science and the human prospect at the Constant Fire blog.

I asked the bartender, what do you see?

Part man, Part Monkey.


—Bruce Springsteen

Last week, I started laying down an argument that it was time to leave the traditional science v. religion argument behind. There were, I said, far richer and more compelling ways of thinking about these great human endeavors than tired combat between tired polarities. Now it’s time to get specific. I can’t go any further, though, without defining who and what the “traditional debate” means.

We begin with the most well known, vocal, and pointless promulgators of the traditional debate—those I call the Sullen. The Sullen are biblical literalists of one sort or another, and their descendants are in the Intelligent Design movement. They are “the Sullen” because of their anger at science for ignoring their imagined urgencies, and its continual ability to trash their arguments. It is the Sullen who have turned the metaphor of warfare between science and religion into a political reality.

The very public rise (and first fall) of the Sullen came in March of 1925 during the infamous Scopes Trial. The Tennessee General Assembly had just published the Butler Act making it illegal to teach “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” The ACLU jumped in and offered defense to anyone prosecuted under the new statute. In a towering act of cynicism, George Rappleyea, a businessman in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, saw gold in them there creationists and convinced his colleagues that the controversy of a trial would put the small town on the map. He was right.

After convincing John Scopes to teach Darwin in the local high school, Dayton soon got all the publicity it dreamed of as the trial became an early media circus. It ended as a widely perceived failure for the forces of “creationism,” but the circus never really stopped. Half a century later, the Sullen would return with no new claims to truth but something far more effective for their agenda: political power that was willing to flex its muscles on an issue that science had decided long ago.

You don’t need me to detail the Sullen’s very public war with evolution theory. What matters in getting beyond this sad story of political bullying is how the Sullen stand as arbitrary rejectionists in their relationship to science. There are, after all, lots of Christians who have no problem with evolution (this includes the last Pope who, last time I checked, called himself a Christian). The Sullen take a particular interpretation of their scriptures and then pick and choose what’s allowed and what’s rejected.

For instance, they want to fly in jets, so aerodynamic theory is o.k. They want to use cell phones, so electromagnetic theory is o.k. Evolution, on the other hand, runs afoul of their narrow literalism so it’s out the window. The hypocrisy is maddening, as well as  damming for the rest of us: The power of the Sullen has risen to levels that present a clear danger to U.S. efforts and preeminence in science. As any scientist who has traveled abroad over the last 10 years will tell you, no one is fighting this public war in other scientifically ambitious countries. These are, of course, the same countries that would be happy to beat the economic pants off of us with the innovation and technical creativity we are about to cede.

On a deeper level, the wealth and political power the Sullen marshaled in their pointless rejectionism has all but consumed the public discourse on science and religion. When I told a colleague I was writing a book on the subject, he said, “Oh so you are doing a critique of Intelligent Design?” It’s as if we cannot collectively imagine that there is anything else to think about in these domains. Without doubt, the battles with the Sullen over school boards and science curricula must be fought until their wave of power passes. We should not forget, however, that they represent an extreme. More importantly, we should not let them force us into an equally false extreme.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
MORE ABOUT: Adam frank, creationism

Comments (43)

  1. Steen

    The sullen are driven by fear. They have no concerns about reality or evidence other that in the form of sophistry. They are worried about Biblical salvation, nothing else. If they fight for God against the “ungodly” science as a modern version of ill-conceived crusades, then God will give them expedited access to Heaven. And if they are not strong enough, then God might reject them. And if Science shows something contrary to their faith, then they feel extremely threated. For them, the only purpose of Science is to confirm God. Evidence for God makes them feel safer, just like the Israelites needed the golden calf.

    Against such a fear, little in the current world matters much other than as evidence that God is real and will give them an eternal afterlife. Creationism in its derivatives is the modern version of the golden calf.

  2. Daniel Rose

    Agreed. I still think a key to levelling the discussion is to equate the nature of belief and how it influences both religion and science. As I mentioned in a previous comment, belief manifests itself in science as assumption, usually very hidden because no one has identified it. Such assumptions are often bound in strong emotion. Science progresses when one of these hidden assumptions is identified, dispensed with (sometimes with an emotional catharsis), allowing the resulting discoveries to manifest.

    Religion, which is largely founded on often (but not always) emotionally charged belief, also progresses when outmoded and non-functional beliefs are recognized and properly placed in the human context. The fundamental belief in all religion, that there exists a purposeful agency that somehow organizes the entire universe, does not conflict with any aspect of science, because this belief (as has been noted) responds to a possible reality outside the domain of direct scientific inquiry. However, from this foundational belief often come other contextual beliefs that are accepted as a matter of tradition, and that may come to hinder the religion’s objectives (if, indeed, they ever helped), which I believe are to promote greater human durability.

    Such beliefs, for example, that have been productively dispensed with are some of the literal prescriptions of religious texts that modern exponents of their faith no longer take as literal prescriptions. An example from the Abrahamic faiths is the practice of stoning for certain crimes that are no longer considered crimes in many places today. This is just one small example. Another concerns Jewish dietary laws that had a function in ancient times that no longer applies today.

    The point, here, is that religion may well have a function that can and does progress in the interests of humanity, just as science does all the time. And we know that even science has had its own examples of the Sullen, where science has morphed into the pseudo-scientific and even dangerous (for example, phrenology and eugenics).

  3. Jason Heldenbrand

    An animal species lives on an isolated island, cut off from most of the known world. One day, a bird drops a seed on the island that creates a new form of plantlife that wipes out the indigenous plants over many centuries. During that period the animals in question adapt to consume the new plants, but to do so they’ve had to grow longer beaks.

    What was the intelligent designer? Was the bird who dropped that seed sent there by God or was it merely a random chance? How about the animals that adapted to the new plantlife? Did God do it or did those with longer beaks manage to eat more with access to the other food supply that was relatively untouched, thus propogating more and more until the other short-beaked animals eventually were replaced?

    This encompasses evolution, random occurances and environmental factors that spur a particular trait while stemming another. It is methodical, it is reasonable and that is exactly what the ‘Sullen’ are not. There is no reasonable belief in God, because God is not reasonable. Yes, there are questions yet to be answered in full by science but all things take time. God is a quick and easy answer, but nothing worth having is ever quick and easy.

  4. Ronnie

    “Consider this: When your doctor prescribes a ten-day course of antibiotics to you, he insists you take all ten days worth of pills, even if you feel fine after two days.

    This logic is derived directly from Darwin’s theory of natural selection. If you only take two days of antibiotics, you are likely to kill just the bacteria most vulnerable to the medicine and leave alive the most antibiotic-resistant germs. If you keep doing that, you may accidentally create a new version of the bacteria that can’t be killed by the antibiotic.

    The good news is that there are no Creationists so dogmatic that they preach taking only two days worth of penicillin on the grounds that Darwin must have been wrong. Indeed, the logic of natural selection is widely recognized to be virtually tautological.

    Darwin seems to lose out with the public primarily when his supporters force him into a mano-a-mano Thunderdome death match against the Almighty. Most people seem willing to accept Darwinism as long as they don’t have to believe in nothing but Darwinism. Thus, the strident tub-thumping for absolute atheism by evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins, whom the new issue of Discover Magazine rightly criticizes as “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” is self-defeating.

    Instead, what excites vast controversy is the issue of whether Darwinian selection explains everything. Nobody doubts that selection explains the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and much else. But many doubt it can explain every single feature we see about us. Biologists, in contrast, typically assert that Darwinism can explain all of life, with no need for any miraculous interventions.”

  5. Steen

    What excites great controversies is that creationists lie. They lie about Evolution, they lie about evidence, and they lie about Science and the fundamentals about the Scientific Method.

    Is there a possibility for meaningful interaction with liars? Not at all.

  6. Alikar

    Yes, because calling creationists the “Sullen” is really moving beyond the debate. *sigh*

  7. Daniel Rose


    Well, it at least invites creationists to offer why they believe that their rejection of science is NOT sullen.

  8. I don’t think there is any real debate or discussion to be had with the Sullen. That is my point about moving beyond the established polarities. Its just people yelling past each other.

  9. Daniel Rose


    True, if you define the Sullen as those who are permanently attached to their anti-science beliefs. I guess I was allowing for the possibility that at least some among the Sullen (and commentary has at least suggested as much) might awaken to their condition.

    I was also trying to say something about instances of Sullenness in the history of science, where some scientists have wandered afield into whole studies that were unscientific (like eugenics). Of course, by definition, one can say, those who so wandered were not scientists at all, and would probably not be capable of changing their view, especially if there was something in it (money or attention) for them.

  10. Malwae

    I saw the headline and immediately assumed that I was in the camp of the Sullen – that is, those with criticisms of religion that go beyond “but it doesn’t make sense” to “it has done horrible, horrible things to humanity in the past and will continue to do so if not exposed for the fraud it is.” Because let me tell you, whenever I listen to the religious right, “sullen” is definitely an appropriate label for my mood.

    I have a feeling that my knee-jerk emotion that religion is going to doom us all is probably just as unproductive as the views of my counterparts in the opposing camp who worry that all the nonbelievers are going to bring down the wrath of the lord their god, yea, even unto the nth generation. Not sure where a productive dialogue can start, but acknowledging that the surly and sullen live on both sides of the arguement might be a good start.

  11. Charles Schmidt

    The problem as I see it is that you cannot reason with unreasonable people that can not and will not allow facts to get in the way of what they think, say or do. That too is a problem on both extremes of the discussion and the majorities of people are on neither end but more toward the middle and can be objective in their looking at evidence and it is those that must say enough of the extremes.

  12. Gottschalk

    Hi- I just found you guys today, this is exciting. I’m trying to get my blog online (three days and the url still isn’t read even though blogger okayed everything aaaarg) where I hope I hope to be part of this conversation.

    In my thinking, I draw from disciplines of theology, existential psychology, science/engineering, art and literature.

    For instance, I would argue that the theology behind Christ supports the evolutionary dynamic; a core thought behind Christ’s work is that each person gets to thrive as an autonomous being in a fitting and supportive connection to others. The genius represented in this evolutionary dynamic is that life as we know it depends on each element in its organization to likewise be able to autonomously express itself in full communication. Indeed, natural life relies on this autonomous expression that fits together freely, and not forced from something outside.

    I would offer that only the real can be real. The Bible doesn’t have the power to make something real- and for that matter, neither does science. All either can do is illuminate what is real.

    If things about “God” are real, they’ll be real at a structural level, not only in a religious world view. Like wise, just because something can’t be seen by scientific method doesn’t mean something can’t be real. Has anybody seen energy? Or have we really only seen the effects of energy?

    I watch both “sides” see only what is prescribed by their institutionalized beliefs, as well as watching both sides fear looking beyond their respective beliefs. But now we’re entering the existential dimensions of human being which is another part of this conversation, just not now.

    Finally, we participate in a uniquely human irony: even after understanding all that could be understood about how all this works, we’re still left with the question, “what do we want to do?” Mechanics and even conceptualizing human being in mechanical terms doesn’t rid us of this question. This aspect of human being is not found in nature except in human being. I think that this fact gets lost and is ultimate, and is cool.

  13. Roger Saturn

    Did you know that there are public high schools in Chicago’s suburbs that still are afraid to teach evolution? Even in its biology classes!

  14. kanimal

    There is very little doubt that evolution within a species exists as demonstrated by Darwin and the finches that inhabited the Galapagos islands. On a larger scale there is very little, if any, evidence to support inter-species evolution. i.e. a rat becomes a primate. Some of the other problems with Darwin’s theory (it is still a theory) is that it doesn’t address the origin of life, only the evolution of it. At the time Darwin wrote his thesis there was very little that was understood about the cell. It was thought to be a simple life form. However, with modern technology and much closer examination of the cell it is now recognized to be far more complex than what we knew even 20 years ago. From my understanding of the complexities, the odds of the proteins aligning in such a way to create a cell are trillions and trillions to one. In other words, the odds of them combining over time would take far longer than the life span of our sun. Another problem with Darwin is that part of his theory deals with random mutation causes by environmental factors such as radiation. If this is the case then why have species such as the shark and alligator not changed in millions of years? Are these creatures not subject to evolving? Are they perfect animals therefore random change does not affect them? I believe the author should look into the basis for intelligent design before dismissing it out of hand and address the complexity of the cell. The author may think that intelligent design is a Christian back door with science but it is clearly not. It does not mean there is a single creator. It could easily be that we were jump started by fragments carried on asteroids or comets and it could also mean that an alien species designed us (not to get all Art Bell on the subject). Just like Newton’s theory on gravity was thought to be correct but when applied to the earth and the moon was shown to be wrong, we need to be sure that when Darwin is taught that it is taught as theory not fact.

  15. kanimal

    Here are some questions for you, Dr. Frank. How many proteins have to be in exact alignment to create a self-replicating cell? What are the odds of those proteins aligning themselves? What is the origin of DNA? What is the origin of RNA? I challenge you to answer these questions.

  16. Ian

    The thing with this type of debate is that it is very easy to tar everyone with the same brush. In my experience I see that the Catholic Church has not moved, only because it does not need to move – it does not follow a SOla Scriptura view of interpreting scripture. It is so-called Evangelical wings of the Christian church which remain Creationists.

    Conversely I see Dawkins et al, not moving at all, despite evidences for the God given in reason … metaphysical proofs, a priori and a posteriori cosmological evidences, teleological evidences, all of which are just rebuffed.

  17. Ian

    And by the way, I believe ID does have a lot to bring to this debate. They after all are pushing for the use of critical analysis – and not just acceptance of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as fact.

  18. Steen

    And here is an example of the creationist insanity. kanimal indignantly rattles off a long list of stuff, much of which has absolutely nothing to do with evolution. Hint, kanimal, the actual origin of life is not about evolution. You insisting that is should is like complaining that your glass of water at home is not good at harvesting crops.

    And the other usual suspects are there. The incredibly ignorant “only a theory” remark showing that kanimal never even bothered to find out what the Scientific Method is and thus clearly that he has no interest in the science itself other than to “trap Darwinists” with sophistry.

    The rambling statistics, the insistence that the current cells of 4.6 bill years of evolution are to complex to have arisen de novo (Of course, kanimal. That’s because they evolved all that time).

    The “but sharks haven’t evolved” nonsense (yes they have, and if he had bothered to actually study this he would know)

    All in all, the ignorant, lying sophistry of creationists are exposed. There is no reasoning with liars.

  19. Gottschalk

    Steen- I enjoy your fire and I agree with your summary arguments against creationists. For myself, being an aspiring follower of Christ, and not a creationist, as well as being a lover of science, puts me at odds with both sides of this ‘debate’; either way, I’m considered a heretic.

    I choose to be a heretic though; I feel like this is the only way that I can engage fully with the true and real, to borrow Adam’s phrase.

    The only problem that I have with scientific method, and its use by scientists, is a belief that has come to pervade all of our western culture: the belief that scientific method is the only means of discovering the true and the real.

    Just one way this shows up is in how we believe that reality symbolized by math is more pertinent than reality symbolized by words; come to think of it, intelligence expressed through mathematics is considered a higher form of intelligence than that expressed through words- carte blanche.

    ‘Numbers don’t lie’, but, numbers distort the true and real that is more accurately seen through what I might call, a “poetic method”. The true and real discovered by scientific method is a different kind of true and real discovered by poetic method. Both are necessary, but I’d argue that in our culture, we are suffering from our imbalance of these ways of seeing. I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this.

  20. Neill Raper

    It’s important to note the difference between an extreme point of view and a minority point of view. The label “extreme” seems to indicate that it is fringe. So yes, in a way their views are extreme, but they are not on the fringe they represent the majority of religious opinion in America. The main differences I think lie in the degree to which they are committed to their religious whackiness.

    “Spiritual experience” may be real experience and if we ignore the word “spirit” (which I am perfectly prepared to do) and define it broadly it is a very important experience. But the brute fact is most of the religious are not going to be interested in this conversation because they don’t see their religious beliefs as a cultural strategy for fulfilling a spiritual need. They see them as the truth, as dictated by the creator of the universe. Until this is corrected this (very interesting) conversation cannot take place outside the overlap between the subcultures of science and “spirituality”.

    I’m not saying shut up, I find this all fascinating. I’m just saying that I don’t think we can move beyong the current debate, I see no reason why they can’t occur at the same time.

  21. Mike Gottschalk

    Neill, I am very interested in the conversation. Though I predominantly come from the “spiritual” side of things, I agree with your assessment of cultural forms; as a theological thinker, I see one thing that’s not realized by religious culture, is the idea that ‘God’, the more sophisticated, is limited to the conceptual frameworks of the less sophisticated when ‘communication’ takes place. ‘Revelation’ is considered a pure dictation and not an interaction within human conceptual structures of a time. (Or space-time if you will).

    But I don’t think we can out of hand ignore the word spirit with out first discerning whether or not the underlying reality is true and real. In the same manner that Adam gets frustrated at how new age culture uses quantum mechanics, I get frustrated at how the word spiritual gets used – people talk about being spiritual without understanding its etymology. Christians especially.

    The words we translate from the hebrew, greek and latin, all have to do with breath. And this makes sense when you consider its context: one day, your friend is alive, the next he’s dead. Not only is he no longer breathing, your friend looks ‘gone’ even though he’s still ‘here’ lying in front of you.

    Breath, something intimately concrete, is elevated to a symbol- spirit- in order to identify something more than concrete. What’s this something more?

    Let me approach this from another angle. Consider molecular activity in two different levels of order- marble and the gray squirrel. Within both orders atoms as all their parts are in constant motion. However, in a handful of years, the order based on squirrel will dissipate while the order based on marble sculpted into ‘David’ has remained intact for centuries now. In both cases, the constituent atoms remain intact and in motion.

    It’s this level of order of ‘something more’ represented by the gray squirrel contrasted to marble that the word spirit is trying to illuminate.

    This is the origination of the word spirit and therefore its context for discussion. Based on this, we could begin the question of spirituality with the questions like, what does it mean to be alive? How does this ‘breath’ look different among individuals, animals and places? (We can identify a spirit of a person that is unique to them; a spirit of a hawk has hawkness and is distinct from squirrelness; and a blue’s bar has a spirit -and spirits- ((distilled)) distinct from an art museum).

    Now people can identify spirituality any way they want to, but then they’ll be misusing language in the same way people misuse quantum mechanics.

  22. I have to agree that this conversation can’t really go anywhere because we aren’t talking about ideas we are talking about beliefs. The creationists you’ve labeled the sullen and the die hard darwinists will always fight because they believe that they have to. One side is arguing on behave of god while the other argues for science and only those in between will ever understand them both. Honestly I think that both sides are overpationate to the point where they won’t even give the other side the benifit of the doubt because to do so would undermind those same beliefs. Science is a great way to discover how things work but rarely if ever why. The “Sullen” need to understand that science merely describes god’s methods and therefore do not threaten theology in the slightest.

  23. kanimal

    To Steen:

    I am not a creationist. And Darwin’s theory is just that. A theory. Of course it can be shown there is evolution within a species but inter-species evolution is still a theory. I should have been more clear on that point. My apologies to the readers. I know sharks have evolved within their species as demonstrated that 7 gill sharks have a much older heritage than the 4 gill members of the species but it doesn’t seem to me that that is ‘random’ mutation. Also, I would like to think that the first cells to appear 4 billion years ago or so were self replicating and quite complex to begin with. I was hoping that readers would understand that when I was writing about cells, I was not inferring cells today but the first ones to appear. Now that I have spelled that out for you, maybe you’ll understand where I was coming from.
    Your attempt to marginalize me with attacks that I am a ‘creationist’ ,ignorant and lying just shows your inability to address inter-species evolution as a theory because it IS a theory. It is also clear that your hatred of religion blinds you to even look at the intelligent design theory. You, just like the author, dismiss it out of hand. That is truly ignorant. But it is the worst kind of ignorance. Willful ignorance. I am at least willing to listen to all sides, pose questions, poke and prod, and maybe throw a few monkey wrenches. I am also willing to be wrong. Are you?

  24. Jen

    Right on Adam Frank.

  25. amphiox

    Um, kanimal, hate to break this to you, but 7 gill sharks and 4 gill sharks are DIFFERENT SPECIES! (And there are many different species of each)

    Why are you so certain that the first self replicating cells had to be complex? Or even that the first self-replicating entity had to be a cell? This is an area of active research right now, and we already know with absolute certainty that the minimally complex system required for self-replication is orders of magnitude less complicated than a modern cell. Abiogenesis theory in its current form proposes that the first self-replicating entity was NOT a cell, but something much simpler.

    Darwin’s theory is a theory (there is no “just” to theories in science). In fact it has been partly falsified and replaced with a broader evolutionary theory (which incorporates that parts of Darwinian theory that are supported by evidence). Biology hasn’t stood still in the 150 years since the publication of Origin. Darwin’s mechanism of heredity was flat wrong, and natural selection is not the only mechanism for evolutionary change.

    But Intelligent Design “Theory” isn’t even a theory. It makes no testable hypotheses, provides no insight into mechanisms, and offers no guidance for further lines of inquiry. In its entire intellectually impoverished history it has provided no unique contributions of its own beyond a series of weak critiques of evolution such as irreducible complexity which have been thoroughly (and easily) answered.

    The only thing the Intelligent Design movement has ever said in its entire existence has been endless variations of “because of X, Y could not have arisen by evolution. Therefore, Design.” And for every specific example of X and Y that has ever been proposed, their statement has been proven false. In many instances it was already proven false before they uttered it, but the IDists were too lazy to look it up for themselves.

    On the other hand, there are countless features of living things that don’t make any sense at all in a design paradigm. If they were the product of design, the designer would have had to be, by human standards, a lunatic. These same features, on the other hand, make perfect sense when thought of as features that developed incrementally over time from a pre-existing precursor. Evolutionary theory provides us with mechanisms that explain how the precursor could have become the current feature. Design “theory” cannot do anything remotely equivalent.

    It is not that scientists have not looked at design theory. They have, quite thoroughly, and have found it to be useless.

  26. amphiox

    And, kanimal, one more thing.

    Whether you are or are not a creationist is irrelevant to this discussion. That is between you and your god (or whatever equivalent you have, if you have one), and none of us here can know it.

    But what we can know, is what you write. And Steen is 100% correct. What you have written is classic creationist insanity.

  27. kanimal

    Thank you, amphiox! I appreciate what you have written and the more friendly tone of it’s prose. My ignorance on the shark example was well pointed out but not the thrust of my argument. I enjoyed what you wrote about Darwin, and again, thank you.
    And to make something clear that I had not earlier is that, at this time, I do believe Darwin was mostly correct (without even knowing the specifics in your piece) and I am curious in the statistical probabilities of evolution as presented by ID not only in the creation but also in the evolution of life. It’s a wonderful universe we live in regardless of origin.

  28. Robert Johnson

    How can smart people be so deluded? If you are going to “move past established polarites” then why not do so? Because this is not “moving past established polarities” it’s continuing the argument. And what better way of maintaing a polarization than name calling. This is a barely concealed ad hominem attack.

    This is a feel good piece about how good and logical we in science are and how sullen these poor deluded fundamentalists are. I take the side of science. Self delusion like this, also doesn’t do anything to further our cause.

    Moving past established polarities would involve some sort of Novelty and Inventive step. Or just stepping away. Disengage maybe? No. Let’s just come up with a negative connotation and slap it on the other side. Voila! Progress! Fabulous!

    There is nothing of the kind here. The closest that anyone has come to actually making it so that we could move on was Stephen J. Gould. This reads far more like Dawkins, who although brilliant, has alienated far more people than he has convinced. Why not just call yourself a “Bright” and get it over with?

  29. Mike Gottschalk

    To All of you,

    I’m perplexed at the lack of engagement with my comments as I thought I was thinking toward a new ground. Instead, as Robert Johnson noted, people seem to be interested in the polarities.

    Maybe if I make some of the implications of my thoughts more explicit I would make them clearer.

    I am in no way trying to prove or disprove ‘God’ or any mechanism of life establishment. And for the record, I don’t relate to Christ as a “savior” but as a hero of being human.

    I think that an amazing feature of human being is that we can make ideas, and from these make lives and worlds. Ideas are accessible for exploration if our sense of self (and God) is larger than our ideas. In dialogue, god is an idea.

    To argue a side of which is true, god or evolution in all its forms, ignores the fundamental effect of these world views: we interact with these as ideas, and as such, we see through them. I could state this in another way: as eyes are to brain, so ideas are to mind. I think it becomes more fruitful to then, to ask questions like, what is it to look at life through Darwinian theory, or what is it to look at life through a god? Something like this better fits this genius within the human being doesn’t it?

    For instance, when I look through ideas of evolution, I notice that life evolves in human being to a level of complexity that allows us to have a say in how we evolve. Or, when I look through an idea of god, I can look at intention rather than natural selection; doing this shifts my inquiry from how does this work to, what might be possible?

    However we got here, as human being, we hold a genius that in this world is unique to us. And in our unique genius, we have the ability to look into our selves in terms of machinery with the hopes of finding the right lever to pull or gear to adjust to solve our problems. Arising from this, is the paradox that if there were such a lever, who will pull it? The genius present in human being runs deep and amazes me constantly.

  30. kanimal

    As I had thought previously Intelligent Design is NOT creationism as assumed by the author. It is an attempt to discredit ID by scientists who do not wish to question some of the tenants of Darwinism. Any scientist who says that ID is religiously based is flat wrong since the people who are studying ID specifically say that it is not. And who are YOU to say they mean otherwise? To top it all off the author is an astrophysicist not a molecular biologist, of which there are many who are intrigued by ID, as am I (I am not a molecular biologist but I do listen to what they have to say).
    What amphiox stated that what I wrote was ‘classic creationist insanity’ is also wrong. I would suggest that amphiox talk to molecular biologists to get their take instead of trying to dismiss ID in a paragraph or two. I didn’t buy into what amphiox wrote about ID and neither should anyone reading this series of posts. Look into it for yourself. Go to the ID website, see what they are talking about and make up your own mind. Don’t let yourself be blindly led around by scientists just because they have PhD’s. They can be just as wrong as anyone else and have been.
    This will be my last post (to the relief of some, I’m sure) since I was excited about the author’s intent but after reading the ‘Silly’ blog realized that the series is just that.

  31. kanimal

    To Mike Gottschalk:

    Beautiful post!

    PS this is my last one. 🙂

  32. Steen

    Hi Gottschalk. I agree with your view of Science as not all-encompassing. You are correct about there being other ways of exploring and evaluating the world. Science has a very limiting scope in exploring the world; namely the part that can be objectively measured. The rest of what we seek answers to leaves Science utterly impotent. That’s why Dawkins, while very knowledgeable about Evolution and Science, ends up significantly overstepping the boundaries and venturing into philosophy when claiming that Science disproves God or makes God unnecessary, or however he choses to put it on any day.

    The CORRECT way of expressing it would be that Science has not found Evidence for God, like so many other things it has not found evidence for. It would be correct that Science has no evidence for or against God, mainly because exploring God through Science is operating outside the parameters of science. It would be similar to claiming that since you can not divide a number by zero, that zero doesn’t exist. Rather, it would be correct that mathematics is unable to confirm or deny any numerical relationship requiring division by zero.

    You see the pattern? To say that Science disproves God is a lie. To say that science makes God unnecessary is philosophy and is not borne out by Science. To say that Science is so limited and weak in exploring subjects outside of what is measurable and testable that it is unable to make any determination about God, that would be correct.

    Whenever you hear somebody making arguments about Science proof and God, just think about dividing by zero. It is an invalid application.

    Science does nothing for evaluating prose or what is the imagery of poetry. Science does little for evaluating subjective experiences in life, the very subjective experiences that give joy and spice to life.

    So no, Science is effective but only in limited spheres. Science is the WHAT and the HOW. It is not at all about the WHY about the subjective life and experience. On the other hand, Religion is especially suited to explore the WHY.

    There is no competition between the two but rather a complementary synergy where the two together are more than the sums of the parts. The problem arises when you try to use one to explore the other. Because then you are back to the equivalent of dividing by zero, regardless of whether done by dawlins or creationists.

    I have my knowledge and my Faith both. They are not in conflict but in congruence. (I am not a theistic evolutionist. My views on Evolution is based only on science, and my Faith is based not on science).

  33. Steen

    kanimal, you continue to post nonsense. While your clarifications were helpful, thank you, you continue to express a horrendous ignorance about Science. You still talk about a Scientific Theory in the realm of “only a theory,” solidly showing you have no clue about the Scientific Method and therefore about anything in Science to begin with. Claiming that you are not a creationist reads as bogus. We are back to the quack like a dog type of observation of your posts.

    Likewise, the attempt at limiting evolution to only intraspecies, for one is a strong admission of error of your argument being contrived, because you admit that Evolution is real. When you get to that point, you will have to actually show what the limiting bottleneck is, making the speciation impossible.

    What you DO forget in your fervor to discount Evolution in your solidly creationist arguments is that speciation has been directly observed.

    And the most spectacularly described examples are those of ring species. Since their evolution INTO NEW SPECIES (the very process you declared an impossibility, thus making you look ignorant and ridiculous) is geographic rather than in time, you have both species existing AND you have every one of the intermediaries, each transitional species still living. Creationists dishonestly argue about “no transitional fossils.” Well in ring species, the transitionals are all alive and well and directly observable. These species are in the here and now divided by location, not time. So you can continue to insist that it is “still a theory,” obviously inferring “ONLY a theory.” As it is false to begin with, it merely underscores either you being incredibly ignorant of the subject you are trying to argue against, or outright dishonest in that argument. Neither ignorance, nor false witnessing is an appealing prospect. In either case, what you say is useless and irrelevant, and the world pass you by in your fervor to push an already invalidated point.

    It is like you making arguments against the space shuttle by going with the Wright Brother’s early papers, utterly useless.

    “””It is also clear that your hatred of religion blinds you to even look at the intelligent design theory.”””

    Given that I am a Christian, your argument remains utter nonsense. And while your arguments for “design” certainly is an argument, trying to use the term “theory” here as if on line with a SCIENTIFIC THEORY, that just further demonstrate your ignorance of Science (Not to mention, it underscores your creationist leanings, as it is the bread-and-butter argument of creationists). Your silly, and frankly STUPID idea that only creationists are Christians, just show what a fringe loon you truly are.

    “””You, just like the author, dismiss it out of hand. That is truly ignorant.”””

    No, we dismiss it per having looked into it and seen the lack of actual Science (Again, per your ignorance of the Scientific Method, you might not understand this. I suggest you educate yourself soon, before further ridicule is heaped on your head. It is NOT wise for you to fervently argue against something you show yourself utterly ignorant off).

  34. Steen

    “””kanimal Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 3:49 am
    As I had thought previously Intelligent Design is NOT creationism as assumed by the author. It is an attempt to discredit ID by scientists who do not wish to question some of the tenants of Darwinism.”””

    You never checked the trial in Dover and the Manuscripts of “Of Pandas and People,” did you. “Intelligent Design” was merely substituted with a spell checker where previously “creationism” had been used.

    “””Any scientist who says that ID is religiously based is flat wrong since the people who are studying ID specifically say that it is not. And who are YOU to say they mean otherwise?”””

    I take it that you never heard of the “Wedge Document” from the Discovery Institute, the premier proponent of ID (And, incidentally, funded by a Dominionist, THAT’S the crowd you support here). The Wedge Document clearly shows ID to be warmed-over creationism. It specifically stated:
    “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.

    Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud …..
    …Finally, materialism spawned a virulent strain of utopianism. Thinking they could engineer the perfect society through the application of scientific knowledge, materialist reformers advocated coercive government programs that falsely promised to create heaven on earth.

    Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature. …”

    THAT’S what the ID movement is all about. Your dishonesty is thus exposed.

  35. Mike Gottschalk


    Well put. Poetic even. Though I’ve been thinking about this stuff for years, I’m only writing about it now and this is my first foray into blog dialogue. Thanks for interacting with me. I’m seeing that what blogging lacks though, is the ability to fluidly skate across dense ideas and disarm loaded words. And beer.

    Since you identified yourself as a Christian, I’d like to share an example of some of my thinking that speaks to the Christian world view.

    One difference between theological thinking and scientific thinking lies in the questions that are asked. While science mainly asks, what is, theology can ask what could be, or could have been?

    So, when I listen to Christians talk about ‘heaven’, their affection for it boils down to seeing themselves in a place where order is free and their are no felt effects of existing as dissipative structures. (This leads to my confronting them with, “sure, you want heaven as long as it’s free; but if you have to spend yourself to create such an order, you’d rather rely on a world view that justifies your inaction.”

    Another aspect on this theme is this sense that heaven is a place of perfection. And because life on earth is not perfect, it means that earthly life is intrinsically faulty; thus the only solution is to suffer ourselves until the imperfect is changed out for the perfect.

    But when I look at the aspects of reality that science uncovers, I would argue that the above is a fatal view of perfection; perfection can only exist in a state that remains a potential state. When a state becomes actual, perfection results in chaos. As a simple illustration: imagine everybody in this heaven where everything is perfect. As I walk past you, my foot begins on a trajectory loaded with a point force for your toe; (Ouch!) but wait- because things exist perfectly, a force arises to change my foot’s trajectory! Injury averted! Except this alien force translated awkwardly through my body which shifted my trajectory toward your favorite sculpture ensuing plot lines from 1920s era silent movies.

    As I see it, in a state of actuality it is impossible for perfection to exist. What can exist in this state of actuality however, is something that we could call elegance. What this means, is that yes, we will at times, step on toes; so we apologize and forgive. Elegant.

    Christians have been wrongly locked into a world view that stifles the genius inherent to this life that we as human being get to participate in so uniquely. I think that one of Jesus’ central arguments that he voiced as “the kingdom of God is at hand” could be voiced today as, ‘the difference between heaven and earth is real estate. There is nothing in heaven that is not available here on earth; heaven is not a place as much as an emergent phenomenon- not characterized by perfection but by elegance. Elegance there, elegance here. So what keeps us from pursuing elegance?

    Anyway, I’m not expressing this to you in any personal way. But I want to highlight just one example of my interaction with science and religion.

  36. tresmal

    To Kanimal and many many MANY others: THEORY. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.
    Plus now that Steen has brought it up here’s a link to the Wedge Document.
    Additionally, I have been to ID sites and the their most obvious feature is how religion soaked they are.
    ID is exclusively a religious and political movement and any IDer who says otherwise is lying.

  37. Steen

    Religion, and Christianity, are many things. A very fluid unit. Unfortunately, many Christians, especially of the fundamentalist type, have never learned critical thinking, nor ever learned the Scientific Method.

    Especially protestant church schools but also Catholic ones, and Christian home schooling serve only the purpose of “protecting” children from a materialistic world of facts and exploration. Remember that to those, more right-wing churches, the purpose of life is ONLY to be “saved.” Facts and reality matters nothing, only the afterlife “in eternity.” All they got is fear of not making it to Heaven.

    (Ironically, those people are focused very much on a material after-world. They see “Heaven” as an actual, physical place where they will walk around in their own bodies).

    So in a sense, your experience with Christians may indeed mirror that sentiment. I know that I have rallied against that absolutist perversion of Scripture as a text book for decades.

    In a previous post I talked about the WHAT/HOW vs the WHY and how when a fundamentalist uses the WHY sources to claim the WHAT, nonsense results. That’s why you end up with nonsense drivel from creationists and similar. Are they delusional, ignorant or outright lying? I feel they are a mixture of all three. Those are the “sullen” of the original entry. They are the ones who seek “Science” as proof for God, the ones whose Faith cannot tolerate Science. They need the physical manifestation of God. They’re like the Israelites building the Golden Calf. Especially creationism today resembles this. Creationism is the modern golden calf.

    And yes, I often have a lot more in common with science than with the fundie Christians. I accept the Scientific Method and its results based on the Science; I am not inserting God anywhere (ie. the “God might have started evolution” and other such irrelevant insertions). Yet, I still have my Faith, a faith not based on science, nor on theistic paranoia. The New Testament is an instruction manual from God. Not God of proven existence, but rather God of Faith, the God presented through Jesus.

    And yes, even that is problematic. The New Testament shows inconsistencies. Set up the parts attributed to Jesus and the parts attributed to Paul, f.ex. They don’t even look like the same message. **IF** you can get a fundamentalist to at all focus on the New Testament rather than some Old Testament fire-and-brimstone intrusive intolerance, then it is almost certain that they will be pushing Paul rather than Jesus. The Bible is a political document, after all. Generated through committees. Just like in Science, the source matters.

    So I’m not surprised you have trouble reconcile Christian beliefs with reality. I have the same problem for some beliefs expressed as Christian.

    Sorry if this is rambling.

  38. Michaelov

    I really can’t help but laugh, listening to “Religion vs. Science” arguments. Science, Religion, you guys is brothers… Why you fighting? You aren’t even asking the same questions? The scientist wants to know how, the religious person wants to know why. Any argument about it is one of ignorance and arrogance. I am a religious scientist (notice my head hasn’t exploded) and I don’t see where there’s an argument. Religion trying to answer the “how” is superstition. Science answering the “why” is petty futility. Let the scientists ponder how old the earth is, or how man came about, and let the theologians wonder why. There is no argument. So knock it off…

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