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Origins + Science

Richard Dawkins on Baffling Quantum Phenomena

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Quantum theory is counterintuitive to the point where the physicist sometimes seems to be battling insanity. We are asked to believe that a single quantum behaves like a particle in going through one hole instead of another but simultaneously behaves like a wave in interfering with a nonexistent copy of itself, if another hole is opened through which that nonexistent copy could have traveled (if it had existed). ¶ It gets worse, to the point where some physicists resort to a vast number of parallel but mutually unreachable worlds that proliferate to accommodate every alternative quantum event. Other physicists, equally desperate, suggest that quantum events are determined retrospectively by our decision to examine their consequences. Quantum theory strikes us as so weird, so defiant of common sense, that even the great physicist Richard Feynman was moved to remark, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Yet the many predictions by which quantum theory has been tested stand up, with an accuracy so stupendous that Feynman compared it to measuring the distance between New York and Los Angeles accurately to the width of one human hair. On the basis of these stunningly successful predictions, quantum theory, or some version of it, seems to be as true as anything we know.

Richard Dawkins on Science vs. Relativism

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How should scientists respond to the allegation that our “faith” in logic and scientific truth is just that — faith — not “privileged” over alternative truths? An obvious response is that science gets results. As I once wrote, “Show me a cultural relativist at 30,000 feet, and I’ll show you a hypocrite… If you are flying to an international congress of anthropologists or literary critics, the reason you will probably get there — the reason you don’t plummet into a ploughed field — is that a lot of Western scientifically trained engineers have got their sums right.” Science supports its claim to truth by its spectacular ability to make matter and energy jump through hoops, and to predict what will happen and when.

Richard Dawkins on Science

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Is it just our Western scientific bias to be impressed by accurate prediction, to be impressed by the power to sling rockets around Jupiter to reach Saturn, or intercept and repair the Hubble telescope, to be impressed by logic itself? Well, let’s concede the point and think sociologically, even democratically. Suppose we agree, temporarily, to treat scientific truth as just one truth among many, and lay it alongside all the rival contenders: Trobriand truth, Kikuyu truth, Maori truth, Inuit truth, Navajo truth, Yanomamo truth, !Kung San truth, feminist truth, Islamic truth, Hindu truth. The list is endless — and thereby hangs a revealing observation. In theory, people could switch allegiance from any one “truth” to any other if they decided it had greater merit. On what basis might they do so? Why would one change from, say, Kikuyu truth to Navajo truth? Such merit-driven switches are rare — with one crucially important exception: switches to scientific truth from any of the others. Scientific truth is the only member of this endless list that evidentially convinces converts of its superiority. People are loyal to other belief systems because they were brought up that way, and they have never known anything better. When people are lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to vote with their feet, doctors prosper and shamans decline. Even those who do not, or cannot, avail themselves of a scientific education choose to benefit from technology made possible by the scientific education of others.

Joe Firmage on Scientific Knowledge

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You are not alone in a lack of understanding about the nature of inertia. Physicists do not know why objects resist acceleration — why objects push back when pushed. They do not know for sure why your head snaps back when your car speeds up. Inertia “just is.” Also, contrary to popular assumption, scientists don’t understand the mechanism that causes matter to attract itself — the force of gravity that makes objects fall to the ground. To be sure, scientists have painstakingly measured the rates of fall and resistance, and so we can build all sorts of technology that work flawlessly within the equations of these everyday forces. But we do not know why these forces work the way they do.

Nancy R. Pearcey on Science Education

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One recent poll found that 79 percent of all Americans want creation taught in the school, which was almost as many people who support teaching evolution in school (83 percent)… What is more, 30 percent do not want creation relegated to history or social studies courses; they want it taught as a scientific theory. Critics charge this would inject religion into the science classroom. But the idea life exhibits design is a timeless observation that has been held by religious and non-religious alike since the time of the ancient Stoics. Contemporary “design theory” relies on scientific evidence to determine whether an event is caused by natural or intelligent causes — just as a detective relies on evidence to decide whether a death was natural or murder, or an insurance company relies on evidence to decide whether a fire is an accident or arson.

Academic Fray over Kansas Decision

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Following the recent Kansas decision eliminating Evolution from state testing, Time Magazine invited Stephen Jay Gould to reaffirm a complementarity view of the interaction between science and religion and the unflagging support for Evolution by the scientific community. After a furious call to arms in the Wall Street Journal editorials, the dauntless Phillip Johnson explained what he sees as the real issue. Leadership University has reprinted Johnson’s article as part of a special focus on Evolutionary hegemony. Nancy Pearcey attempts to clarify the decision and lessen the hysteria in, “The Sky is not Falling.” *Also see: “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore”

Evolutionary Origins of Morality

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Four principal papers and a total of 43 peer commentaries on the evolutionary origins of morality. To what extent is human morality the outcome of a continuous development from motives, emotions and social behaviour found in nonhuman animals? Jerome Kagan, Hans Kummer, Peter Railton and others discuss the first principal paper by primatologists Jessica Flack and Frans de Waal. The second paper, by cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm, synthesizes social science and biological evidence to support his theory of how our hominid ancestors became moral. In the third paper philosopher Elliott Sober and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson argue that an evolutionary understanding of human nature allows sacrifice for others and ultimate desires for another’s good. Finally Brian Skyrms argues that game theory based on adaptive dynamics must join the social scientist’s use of rational choice and classical game theory to explain cooperation.

Phillip E. Johnson on Science Education

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What educators in Kansas and elsewhere should be doing is to “teach the controversy.” Of course students should learn the orthodox Darwinian theory and the evidence that supports it, but they should also learn why so many are skeptical, and they should hear the skeptical arguments in their strongest form rather than in a caricature intended to make them look as silly as possible. They should also learn that there really is a tension between the idea that a supernatural being called God brought about our existence for a purpose and the contrasting idea that we are products of an unguided and purposeless material process. Why else would persons who want to mock the Christian fish symbol choose to decorate their automobile bumpers with a fish with legs? You can paper over the tension by saying that some scientists are “religious” in some vague sense, but why not face up to the problem and educate people about the various options?

Phillip E. Johnson on SETI

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[I]ntelligent design theorists need to explain why the vast majority of evolutionary scientists refuse to consider evidence of intelligent design in biology, scornfully dismissing the entire concept as “religion” rather than “science.” [It] is because they identify science with naturalism, meaning that only “natural” (i.e., material or physical) forces may play a role in the history of life. Where the designer is itself some natural entity, such as a human being, evidence for design is welcome. Space aliens are also permissible entities, and so Carl Sagan’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) radio telescopes scan the sky for signals, which they could identify as products of intelligence by precisely the same methods which intelligent design theory applies to biology. The difference is that scientific naturalists want to find evidence for extraterrestrial life, in part because they would count it as evidence that natural laws produce life wherever favorable conditions exist and hence as clinching the case for naturalism. They don’t want to find evidence for what they think of as an “interfering” God, meaning a God who does not leave everything to law and chance. Hence they will refuse to see evidence of design that is staring them in the face until they are reassured that the designer is something whose existence they are willing to recognize.

Phillip E. Johnson on Evolution and Ethics

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The logic implies that it may be only natural for robot vehicles [us] to murder, rob, rape or enslave other robots to satisfy their genetic masters. Indeed, ruthless extermination of rival genes should be nearly as powerful an imperative as propagation of one’s own. Modern Darwinism seems also to leave no basis for valuing the humane arts like poetry and music except to the extent that such things are useful in spreading the genes by (for example) building tribal solidarity. Nineteenth-century Darwinists, writing for European gentlemen who took their own social order for granted, might have been able to shrug aside such objections on the ground that science requires that we take an unsentimental view of the realities of life. Darwin himself coolly predicted in The Descent of Man that the most highly developed humans would soon exterminate the other races because that is how natural selection works. Such casual references to genocide only began to seem reprehensible after Hitler, Stalin and Mao demonstrated what they meant in practice. Nowadays even the most uncompromising Darwinists have to make some concessions to morality, even at the cost of logical contradiction.

Phillip E. Johnson on the Scientific Community

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Darwinists can take in stride any debates over the particulars of their theory, however strident, so long as the underlying principle of naturalistic explanation is not threatened. That is why the blatant heresies of Stephen Jay Gould, to take one example, were cheerfully tolerated until very recently. As John Maynard Smith, the British dean of Darwinists, famously summed up the professional judgment after Gould finally pushed the envelope too far, “The evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed [Gould’s] work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists.” Gould’s anguished response went to exactly the same point: “We will not win this most important of all battles [against the creationists] if we descend to the same tactics of backbiting and anathematization that characterize our true opponents.” Everything is negotiable except the vital objective of keeping God out of objective reality. As Gould’s ally Richard Lewontin put it, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door…. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.” In the materialist mentality, the appearance of the Lawgiver is equated with the disappearance of the laws.

Phillip E. Johnson on Public Relations

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When Darwinists are worried about popular revolt, they tell the Darwinian story with a mildly theistic spin. They realize that it is safer to allow God a shadowy existence in human subjectivity than to run the risk that this very threatening presence will burst into objective reality. That is when we hear the standard vague reassurances that “many people believe in both God and evolution,” or that “science does not say that God does not exist,” or that “science and religion are separate realms.” That is also when modernist leaders of mainstream denominations come for ward to denounce those “fundamentalists” who are bringing Christianity into disrepute by mindlessly opposing “scientific knowledge,” such as the knowledge that mosquito populations evolve a resistance to DDT. Once the danger is past, the reassurances will be put back on the shelf, and we will again hear that a proper understanding of “evolution” requires us to recognize that humans are just another animal species which, like all the others, is an accidental product of a purposeless cosmos.

Martin Rees on Universes Coming from Nothing

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Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise "from nothing". But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk down to a "point", it is latent with particles and forces — still a far richer construct than the philosopher’s "nothing". Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundamental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what "breathes fire" into the equations, and actualised them into a real cosmos. The fundamental question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" remains the province of philosophers

Phillip E. Johnson on Darwinism as a Pseudoscience

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In the final analysis, it is not any specific scientific evidence that convinces me that Darwinism is a pseudoscience that will collapse once it becomes possible for critics to get a fair hearing. It is the way the Darwinists argue their case that makes it apparent that they are afraid to encounter the best arguments against their theory. A real science does not employ propaganda and legal barriers to prevent relevant questions from being asked, nor does it rely on enforcing rules of reasoning that allow no alternative to the official story. If the Darwinists had a good case to make, they would welcome the critics to an academic forum for open debate, and they would want to confront the best critical arguments rather than to caricature them as straw men. Instead they have chosen to rely on the dishonorable methods of power politics.

Richard Dawkins on Science and Meaning

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Accusations of barren desolation, of promoting an arid and joyless message, are frequently flung at science in general … But such very proper purging of saccharine false purpose; such laudable tough-mindedness in the debunking of cosmic sentimentality must not be confused with a loss of personal hope. Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway? Of course we don’t; not if we’re sane. Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions. To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously mistaken, so diametrically opposite to my own feelings and those of most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I am wrongly suspected. … The feeling of awed wonder that science can give is us one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that makes life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living it is finite.

Phillip E. Johnson on Journalistic Narratives

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The creation-evolution controversy is one of those subjects that has become standardized in the press. I sometimes have the impression that journalists just click on a “bash creationism” macro in their word processors and sit back while the printer pours out a string of cliches: the Catholic Church persecuted Galileo, the Scopes trial in 1925 should have settled this matter, the Bible is not a scientific textbook, scientists agree that “evolution has occurred,” mainstream religious leaders say that God and evolution are compatible, and the country will fall into ruin if evolution is not emphasized in the schools. Even the feeble witticisms are standardized, as columnists either exploit the irony that “creationism is evolving” or speculate that the next creationist move will be to declare the earth flat, while the editorial cartoonists caricature opponents of Darwinism as apemen. The journalistic macro learned what little it knows about the subject from polemics by scientific materialists like Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, who are accepted by journalists as impartial authorities because they speak in the name of “science.” So the macro defines creationists as Bible thumpers who either are ignorant of the scientific evidence that contradicts their position or choose to disregard it. From that starting point it is inconceivable that creationists could have any rational arguments to make, and you can cite just about anything you like, from fossils to finch beaks to pesticide resistance, to make them look like people blind to facts. There is no need to try to understand the dissenting point of view because according to the macro all doubts about evolution are irrational by definition.

Phillip E. Johnson on Teaching That God Played No Role

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It is not surprising that in a country where the vast majority of citizens believe in God, it is controversial to require that the public schools teach as fact (or as implicit in the very definition of “science”) that God played no discernible part in the creation of plants, animals and human beings. It is also not surprising that many citizens, unpersuaded by official reassurances that “science and religion are separate realms,” suspect that a religious or antireligious ideology lies behind the enormous importance science educators attach to persuading young people that evolution is their creator.

Matsumura Disputes Scientific Status of Design

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TJ Walker’s Web Radio Show is currently featuring a very interesting interview with Molleen Matsumura (link expired), a member of the National Center for Science Education (an organization promoting, in particular, evolutionary education). Her disregard for the “Intelligent Design” movement is an enlightening glimpse of its continuing perception among evolutionists. Cross reference her primary contention — that Intelligent Design theories are not genuine theories because they fail to have explanatory power — with Stephen Meyer’s, “The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent,” on explanation, and Dembski’s “The Explanatory Filter,” on her God of the gaps concern. Since the concerns Matsumura raises have been so thoroughly discussed by the Intelligent Design movement, it is hard not to wonder why she exhibits no familiarity with their proposed solutions. David Kornreich’s, “Why Creationism is not a Science,” (link expired) seems equally oblivious to these discussions. Behe’s Empty Box, on the other hand, is a glimpse of the possible dialogue prompted by taking Intelligent Design theorists’ criticisms seriously.

Gene Edward Veith on Cosmology

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Scientific evidence for the "Big Bang" becomes more and more theological. According to "cosmic inflation" cosmology, as Mr. Easterbrook explains it, "the entire universe popped out of a point with no content and no dimensions, essentially expanding instantaneously to cosmological size. Now being taught at Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other top schools, this explanation of the beginning of the universe bears haunting similarity to the traditional theological notion of creation ex nihilo, "out of nothing".

Consilience

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The biologist Edward O. Wilson is a rare scientist: having over a long career made signal contributions to population genetics, evolutionary biology, entomology, and ethology, he has also steeped himself in philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences. The result of his lifelong, wide-ranging investigations is Consilience (the word means “a jumping together,” in this case of the many branches of human knowledge), a wonderfully broad study that encourages scholars to bridge the many gaps that yawn between and within the cultures of science and the arts. No such gaps should exist, Wilson maintains, for the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give understanding a purpose, to lend to us all “a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws.” In making his synthetic argument, Wilson examines the ways (rightly and wrongly) in which science is done, puzzles over the postmodernist debates now sweeping academia, and proposes thought-provoking ideas about religion and human nature. He turns to the great evolutionary biologists and the scholars of the Enlightenment for case studies of science properly conducted, considers the life cycles of ants and mountain lions, and presses, again and again, for rigor and vigor to be brought to bear on our search for meaning. The time is right, he suggests, for us to understand more fully that quest for knowledge, for “Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us…. Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.” Wilson’s wisdom, eloquently expressed in the pages of this grand and lively summing-up, will be of much help in that search. ~ Amazon.com

The Darwinian Revolution

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Originally published in 1979, The Darwinian Revolution was the first comprehensive and readable synthesis of the history of evolutionary thought. Though the years since have seen an enormous flowering of research on Darwin and other nineteenth-century scientists concerned with evolution, as well as the larger social and cultural responses to their work, The Darwinian Revolution remains remarkably current and stimulating. For this edition Michael Ruse has written a new afterword that takes into account the research published since his book’s first appearance. "It is difficult to believe that yet another book on Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution could add anything new or contain any surprises. Ruse’s book is an exception on all counts. Darwin scholars and the general reader alike can learn from it." ~ David L. Hull, Nature

Academic Integration and the Christian Scholar

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Thoughtful Christians are agreed that an important component of Christian scholarship is the integration of faith and learning, as it is sometimes called. Because Christians are interested in the truth for its own sake and because they are called to proclaim and defend their views to an unbelieving world and to seek to live consistently with those views, it is important for members of the believing community to think carefully about how to integrate their carefully formed theological beliefs with prominent claims in other fields of study. As St. Augustine wisely asserted, "We must show our Scriptures not to be in conflict with whatever [our critics] can demonstrate about the nature of things from reliable sources."1 However, the task of integration is hard work and there is no widespread agreement about how it is to be done generally or about what its results should look like in specific cases. In what follows, I shall do three things to contribute to the integrative enterprise: 1) describe the relation between integration and spiritual formation; 2) discuss current integrative priorities for the Christian scholar; 3) analyze the epistemic tasks for and models employed in integration.

The Fine-Tuning Design Argument

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Suppose we went on a mission to Mars, and found a domed structure in which everything was set up just right for life to exist. The temperature, for example, was set around 70o F and the humidity was at 50%; moreover, there was an oxygen recycling system, an energy gathering system, and a whole system for the production of food. Put simply, the domed structure appeared to be a fully functioning biosphere. What conclusion would we draw from finding this structure? Would we draw the conclusion that it just happened to form by chance? Certainly not. Instead, we would unanimously conclude that it was designed by some intelligent being. Why would we draw this conclusion? Because an intelligent designer appears to be the only plausible explanation for the existence of the structure. That is, the only alternative explanation we can think of — that the structure was formed by some natural process — seems extremely unlikely. Of course, it is possible that, for example, through some volcanic eruption various metals and other compounds could have formed, and then separated out in just the right way to produce the “biosphere,” but such a scenario strikes us as extraordinarily unlikely, thus making this alternative explanation unbelievable.

The Incompatibility of Naturalism  and Scientific Realism

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Whenever philosophers bother to offer a defense for philosophical naturalism, they typically appeal to the authority of natural science. Science is supposed to provide us with a picture of the world so much more reliable and well-supported than that provided by any non-scientific source of information that we are entitled, perhaps even obliged, to withhold belief in anything that is not an intrinsic part of our our best scientific picture of the world. This scientism is taken to support philosophical naturalism, since, at present, our best scientific picture of the world is an essentially materialistic one, with no reference to causal agencies other than those that can be located within space and time. This defense of naturalism presupposes a version of scientific realism: unless science provides us with objective truth about reality, it has no authority to dictate to us the form which our philosophical ontology and metaphysics must take. Science construed as a mere instrument for manipulating experience, or merely as an autonomous construction of our society, without reference to our reality, tells us nothing about what kinds of things really exist and act. In this essay, I will argue, somewhat paradoxically, that scientific realism can provide no support to philosophical naturalism. In fact, the situation is precisely the reverse: naturalism and scientific realism are incompatible.

Darwinian Natural Right

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This book shows how Darwinian biology supports an Aristotelian view of ethics as rooted in human nature. Defending a conception of "Darwinian natural right" based on the claim that the good is the desirable, the author argues that there are at least twenty natural desires that are universal to all human societies because they are based in human biology. The satisfaction of these natural desires constitutes a universal standard for judging social practice as either fulfilling or frustrating human nature, although prudence is required in judging what is best for particular circumstances. The author studies the familial bonding of parents and children and the conjugal bonding of men and women as illustrating social behavior that conforms to Darwinian natural right. He also studies slavery and psychopathy as illustrating social behavior that contradicts Darwinian natural right. He argues as well that the natural moral sense does not require religious belief, although such belief can sometimes reinforce the dictates of nature.