Intelligent Design

Why Non-Experts Care About the Controversy

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I think that a lot of Darwinists are confused as to why the public has a lot to say about origins issues. After all, the public doesn’t tend to have a lot to say about computer science topics, physics topics, or mathematics topics. The average person on the street probably doesn’t have a strong opinion on whether or not hypercomputing is a real possibility or the true nature of gravity. But they probably do have an opinion on Darwinism. This has left a great many academics puzzled.

But the answer is rather simple, and it is not religious people have some deathly fear of science, though smarter-than-thou academics seem to jump to this conclusion almost automatically.

Economist Robert Murphy is not exactly a man-on-the-street, but nonetheless Darwinism is pretty far outside his field. Why does he bother to have an opinion on evolution, but not, say, particle physics? Here’s what he will tell you:

(Quoting economist Daniel Kuehn): “We are just smart primates and should never forget that”

As I have tried a few times to ask Daniel, what does the word “just” do in the above claims? The next time a brilliant chemist gets a tough question from a wise-aleck doctoral student, he should just say, “I don’t need to answer that, since–as we learned on Tuesday–you are just a collection of molecules.”

Historically, Christians–especially the dogmatic Bible-thumpers–were threatened by Darwin’s theory of evolution precisely because they knew people would “apply” it the way Cowen and Kuehn did in the quotation above.

In short, full-blown Darwinism, taken to its full extreme, denies what we know by experience to be true about humanity. Darwinism is an easy bludgeon to use against humanity to deny people the basic truths about ourselves we can all know from experience.

A more full account of this particular problem is available in a book by Marilyn Robinson, Absence of Mind. Robinson echoes better than anyone else why this is an important issue for everyone – because the materialists are not about doing good science, they are about using pseudoscientific origins stories as a tool to neglect the value of people as people, and deny the mysteries of existence that we find ourselves in.

11 Replies to “Why Non-Experts Care About the Controversy

  1. 1
    Neil Rickert says:

    I’m puzzled that you posted this.

    You are borrowing the argument from Robert Murphy’s blog, which you quite properly cite.

    When I read that Murphy blog post, I do see where he is looking at what Daniel Kuehn wrote, and using that in his explanation of why evangelicals oppose evolution. What comes through very clearly, is that Robert Murphy’s irony detector is badly broken. When you copied Murphy’s quote from Kuehn, you gave it as “We are just smart primates and should never forget that”. You omitted the “: check” at the end. It is that “: check” which is a dead giveaway that Kuehn was being ironic.

    I would give that Murphy blog post a fail.

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    Origins of great matters is very important to everyone.
    How not?
    Its intimately personal.
    Its like the need to know ones parents.
    Origin subjects have attacked christian foundations of origins and so christianity for many.
    so those most Christian or rather those christianity founded more so on biblical truth therefore take on evolution despite ones general interests in the natural world and its workings.

  3. 3
    Meleagar says:

    The materialist origins narrative is especially useful to fascistic “state as god” politics, where the concept of unalienable rights and free will can be replaced with narratives that serve the purposes of the powerful, while simultaneously justifying any means the powerful wish to use to achieve their goals.

  4. 4
    sissoed says:

    Comment 1 above asserts that Kuehn is being ironic in saying “We are just smart primates and should never forget that” because Kuehn added the word “check” after making this statement. Comment 1 criticizes this post as being both incorrect to call Kuehn a supporter of the statement, and misleading to omit the word “check” from the quote.

    I went to Kuehn’s site to verify whether these criticisms are valid; here is the address:
    http://factsandotherstubbornth.....cowen.html

    I think that Kuehn means he supports the statement. The word “check” is intended to show that this opinion is present in the paragraph from Cowen that Kuehn has just quoted. Kuehn then tells us this:

    “The one thing that Cowen didn’t get right in my view is what I didn’t quote here – he apparently thinks Mulligan is accurately portraying Krugman’s view of Keynesianism. This is wrong, of course,”

    Therefore, Kuehn is saying that he agrees with the statement that he found in the paragraph he quoted from Cowen; his only disagreement with Cowen concerns a different statement by Cowen, which Kuehn did not quote.

    Thus I do not think that Comment 1 presents a valid criticism of the post.

  5. 5
    johnnyb says:

    Neil –

    Regardless of the functioning of Murphy’s irony detector, the point is to show why normal people are concerned about the issue. Whether or not he was understanding Kuehn correctly, they were both understanding the original quote correctly, which had that meaning.

    As a further example, you should read The Lucretian Swerve, A PNAS paper which suggests we overhaul the entire criminal justice system on the same basis. These ideas are not fringe, they are mainstream academics. And it has migrated to *all* areas of academia, including law, politics, literature, theology, art, and others. The people in these fields understand biology as much as they understand nuclear physics, but the take-home lesson being driven home by public intellectuals in biology is “evolution, evolution, evolution” and nothing else. So that is precisely what gets picked up by every other field, and precisely why normal people get nervous about it.

  6. 6
    Daniel Kuehn says:

    Actually, Bob and I have discussed this before and I was not being ironic at all in making that statement. We are smart, highly evolved primates. Where Bob regularly chooses to misinterpret me is in thinking I’m denigrating human beings by saying that.

  7. 7
    Daniel Kuehn says:

    Johnnyb –
    I’ll ask you the same question I asked Bob on his post – why are you thinking that being smart primates or being a collection of molecules is such an impoverished view. You seem to think that has to imply that there’s nothing meaningful or significant about us. Not only do I think that inference is completely unsupported on your part, but I think you’re wrong to impute it to someone like me. That’s not what I or Tyler Cowen (who I was quoting) are asserting at all.

    Your mistake is in your understandings of the implications of “full blown Darwinism” (whatever that is – Darwinian evolution is either true or it isn’t true… I’m not sure what “full blown” means here).

    Either way – if you choose to misunderstand the implications of Darwinism for the meaningfulness of our lives, you can do that. But please don’t attribute that line of reasoning to me.

  8. 8
    Neil Rickert says:

    Whether or not he was understanding Kuehn correctly, they were both understanding the original quote correctly, which had that meaning.

    It looks to me as if the real discussion was on an ideological disagreement over Keynesian economics. When such an argument uses an allusion to evolution as a rhetorical device, I think it unwise to draw conclusions about evolutionary biology.

    I took a look at that PNAS paper about “free will.” As best I can tell, arguments about free will go back hundreds of years (or longer). There’s even a branch in theology in the form of arguments about predestination. Personally, I disagree with Cashmore (the author). I’m not a mind reader, but it seems to me that the anti-free-will viewpoint is driven more by philosophy and physics than by evolutionary biology. As best I can tell, evolutionary biologists are divided on the issue of genetic determinism, with the Dawkins camp favoring one side, and the Gould camp favoring the other.

    The people in these fields understand biology as much as they understand nuclear physics, but the take-home lesson being driven home by public intellectuals in biology is “evolution, evolution, evolution” and nothing else.

    I am not a biologist. Looking from outside, it seems to me that biology is still a very diverse subject. It is far from the “nothing but evolution” that you seem to suggest. However, evolution has provided a valuable framework around which biology has organized itself. There’s no chance that ID could change that.

  9. 9
    johnnyb says:

    “I think it unwise to draw conclusions about evolutionary biology.”

    Nowhere in this post is *any* conclusion about evolutionary biology, only why people outside the field might think it important.

    “I’m not a mind reader, but it seems to me that the anti-free-will viewpoint is driven more by philosophy and physics than by evolutionary biology”

    Yes, they stem from a common source – materialism.

    “As best I can tell, evolutionary biologists are divided on the issue of genetic determinism”

    It’s not about *genetic* determinism but the presence of free will. Most non-ID evolutionary biologists don’t have a view of the organism big enough to include “free will” (neither Gould nor Dawkins did, though they differed in their views on determinism). Most evolutionary biologists who do include free will, are actually IDists.

    “it seems to me that biology is still a very diverse subject. It is far from the “nothing but evolution” that you seem to suggest.”

    I didn’t suggest it at all. I suggested that this is what the *public intellectuals* make it out to be. I am actually a huge fan of biology, even many parts of evolutionary biology. I spent hours reading and making margin notes of my copy of “Evolution: The Extended Synthesis”. But the public intellectuals just say “Darwin, Darwin, Darwin!” as if that’s the whole of biology.

    “However, evolution has provided a valuable framework around which biology has organized itself. There’s no chance that ID could change that.”

    I disagree. Instead, Darwinism has painted itself around the edges of biology’s frameworks, and the good parts really owe little or nothing to him. The driving force of biology in the molecular era has been genetics, and that came from Gregor Mendel, who developed the concepts of genetics as a repudiation of evolutionary theory.

  10. 10
    johnnyb says:

    Correcting my above post, there was one conclusion in my original post – that Darwinism (as a specific brand of evolution), when taken too seriously, leads to conclusions which are contrary to our experience of humans.

  11. 11
    Barb says:

    No less a scientist than Albert Einstein said, “The man who regards his life as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.” Darwin’s theory may propose how life-forms developed, but it doesn’t explain how life began or what meaning it has for us. A scientific theory may explain ‘how’ but the real question that nags us is ‘why’.

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