Monday, April 14, 2008

Filmed for creationist DVD

Yesterday I spent a few hours being filmed in an interview for a DVD being put out by Creationist Ministries International, a 20-year retrospective on the 1988 debate at the University of New South Wales between Duane Gish and Ian Plimer. I went back and forth a few times about whether I should do it, finally concluding that it would be worthwhile.

I have no fear of an "Expelled"-like distortion in this case--the questions were provided to me in advance, and I negotiated the terms of the release agreement and had my attorney review it. I have the right to use the full footage myself (to put on YouTube or otherwise distribute or broadcast), so if I were to find myself misrepresented through creative editing (which I don't believe will happen), I would be able to demonstrate it.

My involvement was requested because of the role I played in criticizing Plimer and certain of the Australian Skeptics for misrepresentations of the creationists, which I wrote about first in the article "Some Failures of Organized Skepticism" in The Arizona Skeptic, and later in "How Not to Argue with Creationists" in the Creation/Evolution journal, "How Not to Respond to Criticism" which is available online through the talkorigins.org website, and in my review of Plimer's book Telling Lies for God, on my website. In preparation for the interview, I dug out my file folders regarding these articles, which amounts to a stack of paper
about six inches thick. Reviewing the files, I re-read some of the correspondence I had with Mark Plummer, then president of the Victoria Branch of the Australian Skeptics, and former executive director of CSICOP (now CSI). At some point, I should put some of that stuff online--it was quite unbelievable.

I thought it went pretty well, though it took me several takes to get through some of the questions, and I didn't say everything I wanted to say. The one item that I kick myself for forgetting to say was to emphasize the point that Duane Gish, debater for young-earth creationism, has two things that he always refuses to debate--the age of the earth and flood geology. Those also happen to be the two main areas of positive claims that make up young-earth creationism, which he rules out of court at the start of every debate.

The interviewer, Tim, is a CMI supporter who once applied for a job with Answers in Genesis and is now happy that he didn't get it, since he feels he was deceived by them about their split from CMI. The cameraman, Mike, who was hired for this job, was also a Christian, but didn't seem to be a young-earth creationist. He frequently films both interviews and outdoor nature footage, often for science documentaries, and he expressed his love for knowledge and science. We had an interesting discussion after the interview about creationism, Christianity, and science.

Tim took the position that young-earth creationism is an essential part of Christianity, because God must have been able to communicate his word accurately in the first place, because Jesus endorsed the truth of Genesis, and because death before the Fall in Eden would imply that God didn't create a perfect universe. He also holds the position that only "operational science" is valid science--that which can take place in the laboratory and be "directly observed" (which philosophers of science know is very little, since instrument-assisted and even naked-eye observation is "theory-laden"). (Tim's view of science, where it came from, and what's wrong with it is the subject of Christopher Toumey's excellent book, God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World.) I pointed out to him that that's the kind of choice--young-earth creationism or atheism--that helped drive me to atheism.

Mike, by contrast, didn't think young-earth creationism was essential to Christianity, but that the discoveries of science open more possibilities for religious interpretation. Today, I agree with Mike--given what I know about religions and how they work, Christianity is not defined solely in terms of the content of the Bible, even for evangelical Christians. Fundamentalism as it exists today didn't exist until the early twentieth century. And even within evangelical Christianity, there are those who have argued very forcefully against young-earth creationism (I pulled out my copy of Daniel Wonderly's Neglect of Geologic Data: Sedimentary Strata Compared With Young Earth from the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, and could have also pointed to Davis Young and Howard Van Till's Science Held Hostage: What's Wrong with Creation Science and Evolutionism, or pointed to Mike Beidler's blog, "The Creation of an Evolutionist").

I think it's interesting that if all Christians took Tim's viewpoint rather than Mike's, there would probably be a lot more atheists and a lot fewer Christians.

UPDATE (January 1, 2009): I wrote up my initial reaction to the completed documentary here, and you can view the video yourself here.

20 comments:

Ktisophilos said...

JL: "The one item that I kick myself for forgetting to say was to emphasize the point that Duane Gish, debater for young-earth creationism, has two things that he always refuses to debate--the age of the earth and flood geology."

A good point to make. Dr Gish's presentations were basically Intelligent Design — long before anyone had ever heard of Johnson, Dembski, Behe et al.

JL: "I pointed out to him that that's the kind of choice--young-earth creationism or atheism--that helped drive me to atheism."

Yeah yeah, and if you had been presented with theistic evolutionism in your youth, you would have found ways to reject this too. Maybe you would have wondered with Darwin why a God of love would create a germ as a pathogen and kill his 10yo daughter Annie. Maybe you would have argued with his bulldog T.H. Huxley:

‘I confess I soon lose my way when I try to follow those who walk delicately among “types” and allegories. A certain passion for clearness forces me to ask, bluntly, whether the writer means to say that Jesus did not believe the stories in question, or that he did? When Jesus spoke, as of a matter of fact, that “the Flood came and destroyed them all,” did he believe that the Deluge really took, place, or not?’

‘If Adam may be held to be no more real a personage than Prometheus, and if the story of the Fall is merely an instructive “type,” … what value has Paul's dialectic.’

Maybe you would have severely quizzed TEs with Monod:

"Namely, selection is the blindest, and most cruel way of evolving new species, and more and more complex and refined organisms … .

"The more cruel because it is a process of elimination, of destruction. The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process, against which our whole modern ethics revolts. An ideal society is a non-selective society, is one where the weak is protected; which is exactly the reverse of the so-called natural law. I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is the process which God more or less set up in order to have evolution."

Or finally with the believer in the Vast Jewish Conspiracy, Richard Dawkins:

‘Oh but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn’t it? Symbolic?! Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual. Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than barking mad!’

But when you find an argument for theistic evolution strong enough to convince you of its truth, please be sure to post it on your blog ;)

JL: "Fundamentalism as it exists today didn't exist until the early twentieth century."

Yet most church fathers and reformers who commented on Genesis 1 argued that it taught creation in six-normal length days. Even the fathers who allegorized Genesis explicitly taught a young earth. See for example Robert Bradshaw's documentation at The Days of Genesis 1: The Early Church & the Age of the Earth. Those who commented on the Flood taught that it was global.

Ron Numbers' revisionist history of YEC, blaming it on the SDAs, ignores all this.

Jim Lippard said...

It's quite possible I would have still ended up an atheist--I did spend some amount of time as a generic theist before atheism.

I don't expect to see an argument specifically for theistic evolution strong enough to convince me of its truth, but I can conceive of the possibility of arguments or experiences or a combination of the two which would convince me of the truth of theism involving a creator god, which I would believe in conjunction with evolution.

Your point that Dr. Gish's presentations were intelligent design is, I believe, accurate--because intelligent design is nothing more than the same tired and poor creationist arguments against evolution, just as the NCSE maintains and just as Judge Jones ruled in the Dover case. There could perhaps be some positive theory of intelligent design, if Dembski could actually come up with an "explanatory filter" that worked, or if Behe could have proved that irreducibly complex structures can't evolve, but they haven't, and we still wait for a scientific theory of intelligent design or a scientific theory of creationism.

Ktisophilos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ktisophilos said...

Yeah, the ID claim to be pioneers is somewhat suspect, although I might put it a bit differently ;)

But really, you expect an Australian to take the opinion of an American judge seriously? We are talking about the country of the Stella awards, and inventing consitutional rights unknown in the Federalist Papers, but miraculously found in emanations upon penumbras in your Constitution.

And about an issue in science, when according even to Time's fluff piece, Jones':

‘previous claims to fame were a failed attempt to privatize Pennsylvania’s state liquor stores as chairman of the Liquor Control Board—and banning Bad Frog Beer on the grounds that its label was obscene.’ LOL!

Jim Lippard said...

Ktisophilos: It's interesting that you advocate "small tent" Christianity which drives something of a reverse-wedge strategy, in opposition to the "big tent" views of the ID advocates. While the ID advocates want to only reject evolutionary biology, you also want to reject large parts of physics, geology, and astronomy, as well. In that way, YEC certainly clashes with some ID advocates, such as Behe. You are insisting that Christianity requires adherence to a very long string of conjunctions of views that are patently absurd, on the grounds that without those string of conjunctions, some part of Christianity will fall prey to contradiction. My view is the modus tollens to your modus ponens, and that we should believe *none* of those absurdities. Those Christians who reject YEC and those Christians who accept evolution fall somewhere in between--you and I both agree that they are likely believing things which are inconsistent, but I think I'm more open to the possibility that some of them may not be than you are. But contra Mike Beidler (I suspect), I think they have to give up biblical inerrancy.

Your argument about Judge Jones and the U.S. is nothing more than ad hominem. (It's interesting that when he was selected, creationists like Dembski were proudly touting him, since he was a conservative Bush appointee; after his decision, creationists have looked for ways to ridicule him, and he's been the recipient of death threats.) Regarding Constitutional rights, you are implicitly taking an enumerated rights view (and ignoring the 9th Amendment), and rejecting an enumerated powers view (of the sort explicitly argued for by Madison and Jefferson, among others). It seems to me that if you want to reject Jones' reasoning you should do so with an argument directed at his reasoning; but my point here is that you have taken a position which *agrees* with one of Jones' conclusions!

Jim Lippard said...

"Yet most church fathers and reformers who commented on Genesis 1 argued that it taught creation in six-normal length days. Even the fathers who allegorized Genesis explicitly taught a young earth. See for example Robert Bradshaw's documentation at The Days of Genesis 1: The Early Church & the Age of the Earth. Those who commented on the Flood taught that it was global."

I don't find it at all surprising that members of a pre-scientific culture had no notion of geological time and thought that the local region was the whole world. Those are far from their only false beliefs.

Ktisophilos said...

Jim, I never claimed to be a Bush fan, or a fan of his judicial picks (Harriet Myers). Jones would hardly be the first Republican judicial pick to disappoint (Warren, O'Connor, Souter ...). The most interesting explanation is found in Thomas Sowell's Knowledge and Decisions, which discusses the incentives and constraints involved in decision making. Judges have their own incentives. Jones surely knew that by basically parroting the ACLU deposition, he would reap plenty of psychic rewards in the media and the lecture circuit. A ruling against the ACLU, as per Judge Richard Suhrheinrich in ACLU vs Mercer County (KY, 2005) would not have the same effects:

‘[T]he ACLU makes repeated reference to “the separation of church and state.” This extra-constitutional construct grows tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state … our Nation’s history is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some cases, accommodation of religion.’

It may be ad hominem, but it's not abusive ad hominem to point out that Jones has no history as a great thinker, let alone on science. So it's amusing to see people cite a local judge's ruling as definitive evidence.

So how does "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people" refute anything I've said? This is quite different from claiming new rights in emanations upon penumbras, or that the Constitution is "living" and "evolving".

Jim Lippard said...

The "emanations and penumbras" language comes from William O. Douglas' opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut, which claimed to find a right to privacy in the "penumbras" and "emanations" of other protections. The concurring opinions from Goldberg, Harlan, and White were more explicit, with Goldberg finding it in the 9th Amendment and Harlan and White finding it in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Black and Stewart dissented.

Douglas' position was effectively an endorsement of Goldberg, Harlan, and White.

In my opinion, the use of contraception is a freedom that falls under the 9th Amendment in the absence of an enumerated power for Congress to prohibit it.

There are arguments for strict separation and for some degree of accomodation on the First Amendment's establishment clause; I side with Madison and Jefferson on the stricter side, as do many state constitutions including Arizona's.

Ktisophilos said...

The point of citing of the Church Fathers and Reformers is manyfold:

Strongly indicates that Scripture really does teach YEC, since that is how people understood it through the ages. I am an originalist when it comes to Scripture and the American Constitution, a more accurate term than "literalist" or "strict constructionist".

So argue all your want with chronological snobbery, since at least this is more honest than pretending that Scripture says something it plainly does NOT. Such pretence served only to annoy Huxley and Dawkins.

Refutes Ron Numbers' claim that YEC is a recent invention. Yet his book is parroted as virtually verbally inspired by enemies of YEC.

Refutes Hugh Ross's claim that the majority of Church Fathers taught long creation days.

Refutes Dembski's error by omission when he claimed that the Church Fathers allowed for allegorizing: i.e. he failed to mention that even the minority that did allegorize were staunch YEC.

Ktisophilos said...

BTW, American readers might be interested in what Plimer is doing now. He seems to have given up being a vociferous public anticreationist, and is now instead better known for being a prominent skeptic of global warming alarmism. So of course is no longer such a media darling.

He has argued in Global warming zealots are stifling scientific debate:

‘Groups like BAMOS and the IPCC deny, minimise or ignore significant recent climate changes that gave us the Roman Warming, the Dark Ages, the Medieval Warming and the Little Ice Age. Both history and archaeology show that in previous warmings, temperatures were far higher than at present. Populations and the economy thrived. Previous coolings led to famine, depopulation and social disruption. History shows that it is dangerous to ignore history.’

And in Professor Plimer hits carbon dioxide doomsayers at Paydirt confab:

"We need to be far more realistic and educative about where the CO2 comes from that we blame as the causative factor behind global warming.

"The human contribution is minor. The majority of CO2 in the crustal atmospheric layers comes from volcanoes, earthquakes, pulling apart of the ocean floor, metamorphism, hot flushes of the Earth, ocean degassing, plant bacteria and comets," he explained.

"Super volcanoes such as Toba, Yellowstone, and Taupo have been the worst offenders. Just one volcano alone, Milos (Greece), produces 2% of the Earth's CO2 atmospheric levels from a hot spring the size of a table", according to Plimer. "Few people realise that water vapour in the atmosphere provides 96% of the greenhouse effect, raising temperature from minus 18 degrees to 15 degrees Celsius."

Professor Plimer also challenged that, even if his beliefs were wrong, two factors — India and China — would prevent any major turnaround in global warming.

"If we think the citizens and governments of India and China will forego wealth and a higher standard of living for the good of the world, then we have kangaroos in the top paddock," he declared. "Whatever Australia does will have no effect on India and China, will have no effect on global atmospheric emissions and will only contract our economy.'

"Until we know how climate changes naturally, then it would be folly to make structural changes to the economy based on incomplete scientific data."

Jim Lippard said...

I'm also an advocate of originalism (original meaning vs. original intent); I find Randy Barnett's position in his book Restoring the Lost Constitution (link is to Amazon.com where I have the top-rated review) largely persuasive. (Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars also argues forcefully for such a position.)

I think the position also makes sense for biblical interpretation, but I don't think Christianity needs to require inerrancy. (Though I question the retention of falsehoods for anything other than historical interest.)

Interesting that Plimer is a climate change skeptic, as is another geologist I know. I have much sympathy for his last three paragraphs--certainly radical intervention makes no sense from a cost-benefit perspective even if the IPCC is correct, as the cure would be worse than the disease. (I previously touched upon this subject on this blog here.)

Mike Beidler said...

Jim,

Sorry to take so long to get back to you on this. Firstly, thanks for the HT toward the end of your post.

Secondly, I guess I should address your statement that "... contra Mike Beidler (I suspect), I think they have to give up biblical inerrancy."

It all depends upon how you define "inerrancy" and to what degree it's applicable. As you can see, the concept is entirely too nebulous to be of any practical use, theologically speaking. I certainly believe the Bible is inspired by God and infallible in matters of faith and practice, but I would be intellectually dishonest with myself if I were to apply an attribute to the Bible (i.e., inerrancy) that the Bible does not claim for itself. So, to answer your question bluntly, yes, I deny inerrancy as defined by 1978's Chicago Statement.

Rather, I appeal to the "principle of accommodation," in which God accommodates theological truths to His people in terms that they can understand and to which they can relate. For example, the creation story was couched in mythical terms with which the Jews were already familiar, but "inspired" as necessary to demonstrate the theological truth of monotheism.

Here's another example: was the crucifixion of Christ and the shedding of His blood necessary for redemption? Was there something magical about His blood? Honestly, I'd have to answer "no." However, the act itself, couched in terms that the Jews could understand, did serve a purpose. It demonstrated the extent to which God was willing to reconcile Himself to His people, i.e., the sacrifice of Himself -- the Passover lamb.

Does that make any sense?

Jim Lippard said...

Mike: Thanks for the further explication of your views--I'm sorry I mistakenly attributed inerrancy to you.

I think the route you've taken is the only one that can sensibly cohere with empirical knowledge that we've accumulated in the last couple thousand years, but I'm not sure I find it any more plausible.

How do you distinguish your accomodationist interpretation from special pleading in order to save religious doctrine from what looks to me more like refutation? Have you written any blog posts about that?

Mike Beidler said...

How do you distinguish your accomodationist interpretation from special pleading in order to save religious doctrine from what looks to me more like refutation? Have you written any blog posts about that?

Not quite sure I understand the question. Can you rephrase?

Jim Lippard said...

You've adopted the views you have in order for your religious views (your interpretation of the Bible's content) to cohere with your knowledge of science, whereas taking that biblical content at face value would mean something has to give. I interpret it as meaning that the Bible contains glaring falsehoods, and that its doctrines are false. You reinterpret the doctrines to avoid what seems to me to be relatively obvious refutation by the science (including archaeology, historical records, etc.). Is there any criterion or standard that you appeal to in order to justify salvaging the religious doctrine rather than throwing it out? And by the same token, if there is such a standard, is it one where you could find that the religious doctrine doesn't meet it, and is jettisoned in toto, concluding that there is no baby in the bathwater?

When I look at Mormons who accept that Joseph Smith was a con artist, that parts of the Book of Mormon were plagiarized from other sources, and that DNA evidence shows that Native Americans are not descendants of the Lost Tribe of Israel, yet still say they believe in the Mormon religion, I have the same reaction. Seems to me that's far beyond the point where the rational response is to throw the whole religion on the trash heap.

Steve Douglas said...

Hi Jim,

For me, it's rather like being in a relationship. Laying aside any skepticism about how I know I'm in a relationship (which is a different issue), let's just say that I believe that I've been interacting with God, or with His system at least, for some 25 years. Whatever He is, be it delusion or metaphysical Being, I have far too much experience to let hard intellectual questions wipe that all away in a moment of indignation. When all one has is an intellectual assent to something as an idea, I can see that it would be easy to throw intellectual wrenches in and destroy the construct. But with any system, you've got to do more than invalidate certain non-essential concepts within it to issue its death certificate. Inerrancy is a non-essential, as God never in Scripture or logically was required to give us a magic book; on the whole, His modus operandi seems to have been partial revelation to fallible men who remain fallible, otherwise we should have a great deal more than one easily corruptible book.

It's much as though someone tried to convince me that someone I trusted quite a lot subscribed to a philosophy that I disapprove of: I would give them the benefit of the doubt, and even try to disprove the report, but if in the end I found that the report was accurate, I would not begin to believe that the person in question did not exist. Rather, I would come to grips with the fact that the person didn't exist as I had perceived him. I had preferred that God might have given us an inerrant magic book; when I discovered that He didn't, that didn't mean I should have automatically assumed that my whole experience with Him and His ways was a lie. Coming to an understanding of how He runs it actually deepens my faith because it brings it into better focus.

I am aware that some Christians don't see it this way. They view any attack on anything they believe as having the potential - even the likelihood - of undermining their whole construct, and this sort of Christianity, a rigid, brittle tower of crystal, often comes crashing down because there's no way we can expect all our beliefs to be right. This, I believe, is mostly responsible for setting up the choice you were talking about. I think we should view the faith not as a magic gift but as any other philosophical proposition. Christianity is not a crystal tower but an organic, living system, like a hearty animal. No given scratch or puncture of its hide necessarily spells doom for the whole beast.

Even just on the intellectual side, what large and intricate system of belief is to be thrown out the window as soon as our inaccurate misunderstanding of it is exposed? The theory of evolution is robust: just because Darwin may have been wrong about something here or there, there is a kernel of truth within it that remains. Something so useful for explanation and predictions as Newtonian mechanics has not been discarded completely by scientists just because quantum mechanics contradicts parts of it: the Newtonian system is still the best explanation of certain facts. In short, it is only a rational humility to recognize that our understanding is always incomplete, so we are never justified in throwing the proverbial baby out when we find a fly floating in the bathwater.

Joseph Smith? His is a religion built entirely upon the veracity and truthfulness of Smith himself; these have come crashing down. Hubbard, same thing. If someone were to be able to prove that Jesus knowingly lied and deceived us when he proclaimed that he was sent from God, that would be the bullet in the heart of the beast for me.

Sorry this was so long! :)

Jim Lippard said...

Steve: Could that be summed up as saying that the central support for your belief is a matter of religious experience rather than intellectual argument?

What's interesting is that I think that's also the reasoning of the Mormons who accept that Joseph Smith was a con artist, who maintain that he nonetheless managed to find deeper religious truths. It's slightly different from the case where Jesus himself were found to be a liar, since Smith didn't himself claim to be god incarnate, he claimed that he was a prophet and that Mormons would have the opportunity to *become* gods. If God can work through Satan, couldn't he work through a con artist?

Personally, I'm suspicious of any justification which seems to me works just as well for Mormonism or any other religion, which seems to me to be the case for religious experience as a justification. I believe there are such things as religious and mystical experiences, but I don't think they support or are accurately explained by religious interpretation.

Steve Douglas said...

Jim,

Could that be summed up as saying that the central support for your belief is a matter of religious experience rather than intellectual argument?

No, but religious experience was the way in which I was inducted to the belief in the first place, and is a component that helps prompts me to give the faith the benefit of the doubt when intellectual arguments are raised by unbelievers. I didn't start off tabula rasa and reason myself through to faith. I grew up in a Christian household, but by adolescence I was already starting to test the boundaries of its intellectual sustainability. Religious experience without sustainable intellectual arguments are unsustainable. I have been sufficiently satisfied that my belief system and my religious experience buttress one another.

If God can work through Satan, couldn't he work through a con artist?

Excellent question! God used Satan against Satan and for His purposes. He used Pharaoh against Pharaoh and for His people. He has used pride and self-ambition to expose the truth, not serve as an avatar for it. Moreover, although He could, as a sovereign Being, work through (i.e. in spite of) a charlatan, what kind of monster would He be to expect of us to believe forgeries done in His name? That is against His character as established by the witness of believers from the beginning ("The Lord detests lying lips") but being sovereign He must be able to work around and through human error when necessary. He was in no need to use a deceiver like Joseph Smith to reveal new truth, and would not have, since within our system, it doesn't comport with His character to present falsehoods as fact.

Personally, I'm suspicious of any justification which seems to me works just as well for Mormonism or any other religion, which seems to me to be the case for religious experience as a justification.

Here again, religious experience must correlate with an intellectually sound basis. As long as there is a coherent, internally consistent intellectual system that can explain religious experience, one is fully justified rationally to accept it, even if it doesn't decimate all other systems by a simple logical necessity. No worldview, theistic or atheistic, has a silver bullet that blows everyone else's system out of the water. It's the system that's the most coherent and internally consistent and has the ability to provide and explain religious experience that one should look for, and that I as a Christian believe that I have found.

Einzige said...

As long as there is a coherent, internally consistent intellectual system that can explain religious experience, one is fully justified rationally to accept it

And your claim is that Christianity fits the bill as a "coherent, internally consistent intellectual system"?

What if Hinduism were to be found to also be a "coherent, internally consistent intellectual system"? Would the Hindus in India who claim to have religious experiences be justified in repudiating the divinity of Jesus? Based on their testimony, they certainly seem to think that Hinduism explains their experience.

How does one choose between "coherent, internally consistent intellectual system[s]"--or is there, in truth, only one of these?

Jim Lippard said...

Einzige: If internal consistency is the only requirement, I suspect there's a lot more than one possible.

And in reality, I don't think that complete consistency is a requirement for actual beliefs that a person holds, since we're looking for good enough to get by, not perfection. Of course, if we see obvious inconsistency, that's a good thing to try to eliminate.