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April 19, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

Wendy Wright vs Dawkins Debate on Teach the Contraversy, Evolution, and Darwinism

In large regards I tend to agree with David Wilkins. However, I would point out a number of issues he wasn’t able to discuss–and I’m going to try to be as honest and unbiased as I can be and using Mr. Wilkin’s analysis as a jumping off point. I’m an evolutionary theist and old earth creationist, so I fall somewhat squarly between the two points of view–as such perhaps more objective–particularly about what Dawkins is talking about.

Teach the Controversy Debate
First, the way she frames the debate and her movement as “teaching the controversy”–so it would be a mistake to frame this as only an evolution vs. creation debate. Given this, you might say that Dawkins misses the point of the discussion. However, to complete this argument, she perhaps should go beyond the 2 examples she points to (the teeth issues and the Haeckles). She makes an argument for critical thinking (and further testing) and Dawkins even slightly conceeds this point. Dawkins even points to the gradual versus punctuated jump.

Dawkins Argument Coopted
Second, her appropriation or cooption of evolution allows her a lot of flexibility to access the reasons evolution is true while also being able to criticize it. I’ve only been able to watch the first two videos, so I don’t know if she takes advantage of it. She even points out that her orientation allows from flexibility and less dogmatism (or as she says “creativity”). In fact, Dawkins says “science flourishes on points where more work needs to be done.” She also points out, “they shouldn’t be hemmed in by the current zeitgeist” and Dawkins rightly agrees. (9:00 in video 3)

Macro-Evolution & Intermediaries
Unfortunately, the discussion about intermediaries is rather painful to watch–because Dawkins probably wins this point. However, it kind of depends who the “burden of proof” falls on in these types of discussions–those who want to prove evolution or those who want to disprove (or poke holes via science, logic, history, philosophy, or ethics). Showing five or six intermediaries versus 50% or more are two different standards of proof. Equally, unfortunately, this issue isn’t brought up or discussed.

Clarity of Terms–Clarifying the Ultimate Goal

Terms were unfortunately not defined on either side really:

* Evolution
* Science/Materialism
* What it means to “Teach the Controversy?” until later.

The failure to define these 3 terms is a bit of an elephant in the room and erodes the usefulness of the exchange in terms of clarifying the issue. Further, she is also in a position where she can win only part of her “Teach the Controversy” argument and still “win” as its divisible into parts (teach criticism of Darwin/evolution which is internal to science + teach ID).

She probably could have done a better job of explaining the nature of materialism as a worldview and worldview in general in terms of creating assumptions, although she does parallel it to religion. Although that essentially just levels the playing field a bit.

Dawkins and DNA
To be fair, Dawkins argument about DNA is one of assumed causality. The similarity is a result of macro-evolution–not a causal one. If he did it again, he might have been able to frame this discussion better so that it fit (at some level on both sides this is going to be just a level above a bumper sticker level of argument–if only to make it accessible to the larger public).

Whiter Materialist Ethics: Are Humanism & Materialism Philosophically Compatabile?
The fallacy of sweeping generalization that David Wilkins points to is actually a pretty unfair criticism, particularly of the particular ideological orientation of the philosophy and science with which Dawkins is associated (as such it seems more than fair)–although he seems more reasoned and reserved that Mr. Hitchens and others with whom he associates. It is the case that if she had a statistic about the number of materialists who weren’t humanist it would make a stronger case. I think she’s also making the argument that these people have inconsistent views based on their understanding of science. Moreover, she makes the argument that they can only be utilitarian in their views, not encompass human rights, dignity, and more Kantian notions. Whether or not this argument is true–is certainly up for debate.

And also to be fair, there were ad-homs on both sides, but I would also highlight that both seemed to maintain their emotions. And Dawkins never answers the issue of evolution from primordial soup to my knowledge (arguing about the failure to re-create living matter from non-living matter as represented in the Miller-Urey experiment). Whether or not this is true, Dawkins never responds with argument or evidence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mil…

The Dangers of Relying only on Experts
Unfortunately, the experts aren’t always right. Dewey referred to occupational psychosis and even Steven Kuhn (famous philosopher of science known for coining the word paradigm shift) knew that worldviews could create blinders for people’s understanding of issues like materialism, Darwinism, and macro-evolution. We can’t fall into the cult of expertism, where we only allow experts to be the ones who speak or discuss such issues. That takes rationality and reason out of our hands and places it into semi-unaccountable hands. It also has the adverse effect of constraining science. It ultimately has the paradoxical effect of constraining discussion and the marketplace of ideas around science.

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Below you will find other dialogs which I’ve engaged in about related issues…….you may also want to use the search box on the right hand side to find more of my writings on the topic….

Dawkins rationalization that’s what people did in the Victorian age equally changes the entire trajectory of your long list of historical wrongs. I could increase the list to balance it out–to include Tuskeegee, nuclear testing, Stanford prison experiments, and the military-industrial complex and any number of pre World War II studies which didn’t respect the dignity and autonomy of the participants.

Moreover, no true Christian is going to rationalize those as consistent with the Christian faith–and in those 3% of cases in which they might–its on incredibly throrny and complex issues that non-believers would have equal problems with. The crusades prove the value of the New Testamament. They prove we need ethical standards to prevent war and discourage conflict–and the sin and temptation of power is real. Its real in history. Its real in science. Its a foundational part of the human experience that must be confronted.

To judge people a group of people by their worst acts when you don’t want others to judge you by your worst acts seems a bit misguided. I realize she mentions the agnostic & atheistic dictators–I think the internal link between those is much higher.

* I could arguably omit some of the examples I chose (ie nuclear testing)–although its probably not the intrinsic nature of the nuclear testing–but the way in which it was done.

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The point I was making was that the first order purpose and nature of the Bible isn’t science–its ethical and character based living. It does have some scientific insights–that then could be confirmed via science. For instance, the work at Berkeley or Stanford on the nature of a good life basically puts the insights of the Bible and wisdom books to the scientific test and it passes as far as I can tell–especially compared with other philosophical alternatives.

To be quite honest, although I know what is spiritual in my own life–saying exactly what it is complex. For instance, Dawkins had difficulty expressing both conciousness but more importantly what he meant by soul. I’m not saying thats wrong, but just that its something that you have to grapple with. However, something about the human mind is immaterial and transcends the exacting of chemistry and physics–or at least the ability of any one field to grasp it. To return to the work on the Greater Good at Berkeley…it proves that we aren’t just evolutionary beings–but something far deeper and meaningful and valuable…..and with so much more potential for imagination and connection and community. As humans we fundamentally stand apart from the rest of the animal kingdom in evolution–in my opinion by orders of magnitude. This complexity and awesomeness and creative potential is what the text means when we are said to be made in the image of God. In other words, we too are creators and we too are responsible beings who have a spiritual side. The fact that we have stories and experiences that are part of the human community0–that others can identity–empathize–and understand speaks volumes about the nature of existence and speaks volumes about what it means to be human.

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Well, there are at least four insights there. First, that the universe is ultimately a spiritual and not a physical existence. Second, that living the good life includes attention to love, compassion, brotherhood/sisterhood, responsibility, service, and forgiveness for others. Third, it explains the very nature of existence in terms of temptation and sin–which is the heart of humanities existential crisis. The ways in which the prophesies of the Old and New Testaments fit together. In addition, book like Psalms, Proverbs, 2nd Peter, Romans, Ephesians, and the Gospels all include a reminder to maintain a commitment to virtue and character.

The worldview of faith makes more sense than the worldview of materialism–I find skepticism to debilitating intellectually and spiritually. It doesn’t tell us why we are here and it can’t answer the biggest questions in the universe. It doesn’t make sense that a chaotic universe would have created an earth with fundamental scientific laws–much less what you’d call the “fine tuned universe.”

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