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Sometimes you just have to beat them.

March 5, 2010

Today I am inspired by PZ Myers. I started some comments over there, but rather than just clutter up his comment section trying to keep up…I’ll blog about it.

So PZ has an issue with Ken Miller. And by extension some reporter who interviewed PZ and then used one lone comment to characterize all of ‘new atheism’. We’re just such a bunch of meanie-heads, eh?

A flush-faced Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, shook his finger at Miller during a tense panel discussion at New York University a few years ago.

He shook his finger! He shook his finger!! Fiery debate! Just a reminder, folks, that journalism is not always about the noble search for the truth; it is storytelling in pursuit of an agenda, and that agenda may be as simple and ignoble as getting more papers sold, or more eyeballs on a webpage.

No more noble than my own efforts I suppose, but I’ll own up to that. Well, I was going to add some profanity to the ‘shook his finger’ bit for emphasis, but it’s just not my style…blame my mother. Just imagine some rage and then a chuckle. Ridiculous.

I did take the time to read the newspaper article, though, curious about the other side. And it’s interesting to see the flaws in Ken Miller’s argument as revealed, unwittingly perhaps, by the reporter interested in casting Miller in such a friendly light. Again drawing from the newspaper article.

Miller leans, first, on biologist Stephen Jay Gould’s florid contention that the two realms are “non-overlapping magisteria.” Religion, Miller argues, addresses questions of purpose and meaning that science simply cannot approach.

But the cell biologist also makes explicitly scientific arguments: maintaining, for instance, that quantum indeterminacy — the ultimately unpredictable outcome of physical events — could allow God to intervene in subtle, undetectable ways.

So this immediately raises the question of course, how are they non-overlapping if Miller reserves things like ‘meaning and purpose’ for religion, but freely mixes the BS of religion into his science? This non-overlapping crap is flowing through a one-way valve! And the reporter chronicles this hardly new idea in the form of Jerry Coyne’s remarks.

“By discussing science and religion together and asserting that science more or less points you to evidence for God, he blurs the boundaries between science and faith,” says Coyne, “boundaries which I think have to be absolutely maintained if we’re going to have a rational country and we’re going to judge things based on evidence rather than superstition.”

While the reporter characterizes this a tactical critique, this fails to dismiss the objection. And this consistent failure on the part of the religious to honor their supposed boundaries between science and religion — except when it suits them — comes up again with the subject of ‘Intelligent Design,’ which I will put in quotes because it is neither.

And after all the blather about how the extremists on both sides feed on each other’s efforts, he couldn’t have ended with a better ironic joke, although I am skeptical that the reporter meant it as such.

In Finding Darwin’s God, Miller recalls running into Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, the morning after a debate over evolution in Tampa, Florida. Sitting down to breakfast he asked Morris, “Do you actually believe all this stuff?,” half-expecting a wink and a nod. But he got no such thing.

“Ken, you’re intelligent, you’re well-meaning, and you’re energetic,” Morris said, in Miller’s recollection. “But you are also young, and you don’t realize what’s at stake. In a question of such importance, scientific data aren’t the ultimate authority.”

Like PZ, I can respect people like Ken Miller for the good work they do, even if (on his terms) it is Old Earth Creationism vs. Young Earth Creationism. How can anything I say reinforce how incompatible science and religion are for the likes of Henry Morris? For these creationists, there is no argument. It is the bible first over everything. Need some credible evidence?

He was one of the founders of the Creation Research Society and the Institute for Creation Research.

Interesting that the ICR’s FAQ no longer exists, eh? I had a look, at least, couldn’t find it. But there is an internet archive. Following the links, we can see why it’s gone.

ICR holds to certain tenets. By Biblical Creationism, ICR believes:

  1. The Creator of the universe is a triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is only one eternal and transcendent God, the source of all being and meaning, and He exists in three persons, each of whom participated in the work of creation.
  2. The Bible consisting of the thirty-nine canonical books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven canonical books of the New Testament, is the divinely inspired revelation of the Creator to man. Its unique, plenary, verbal inspiration guarantees that these writings as originally and miraculously given, are infallible and completely authoritative on all matters with which they deal, free from error of any sort, scientific and historical as well as moral and theological.

There is no arguing with creationists like these. Not even from Ken Miller. And this is tactical, it does sound like a battle or a war, and it is. Indoctrination vs. education. And maybe Ken Miller feels like he’s doing some good, that he’s fooling some people with his supposedly-christian god of quantum indeterminacy.

Although I have been a skeptic longer than I ever was a xian now, and I don’t feel like a particularly ‘new’ atheist, at least they recognize the obvious truth here. These creationists, and ID-wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing, are rhetorical Terminators. Which gets me back to the title of this post. As far as I’m concerned, this is what they will do to science and reason if someone doesn’t step up.

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.


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