Thursday, November 03, 2005


Desperation, Thy Name is Discovery

It is well known by our readers that RSR does not find much to praise about the Seattle-based intelligent design think tank, the Discovery Institute. That being said, we think it only fair to occasionally take note of the more admirable qualities of the prophets of Puget Sound.

Today, we come to praise Discovery for their seemingly boundless confidence that no reader of their Evolution News and Views blog will ever, under any circumstances, actually consult the primary source material to which the posts that appear on the site refer.

Now, Discovery is not exactly known for its rigid adherence to logic, gathering evidence or making observations before coming to the conclusions they reach, but in this case we think they have fairly sound reasons for believing that their readers are a rather incurious lot who can be counted on to accept without question anything they are told.

A case in point is Robert Crowther's Nov. 1 post, "Silber's "attack on Darwinian pretensions." Cowther, alerted in this case by David Berlinski, reports on an article by John Silber, a philosopher and President Emeritus of Boston University, in the New Criterion titled, "Science versus scientism."

Berlinski, according to an excerpt from a note Crowther includes with his post, believes the Silber article "is evidence that the walls of Darwinian orthodoxy, once supposed to be impregnable, are now sprouting very serious holes all over the place," and he suggests that intelligent design's "real problem is less how do we make our case and more what do we do with the victory once it has been officially ratified?"

Berlinsky, like so many creationists and other practitioners of the paranoid style of American politics over the years, is living at the turning point when the final victory will be won. Never mind that this battle has been going on, in one form or another, for centuries, now, and will continue for many more.

Most of Crowther's post is taken up with crowing about the great victory this new turn of events represents, but near the end of his post he does, finally, get around to citing this passage from the Silber article:

"The critical question posed for evolutionists is not about the survival of the fittest but about their arrival. Biologists arguing for evolution have been challenged by critics for more than a hundred years for their failure to offer any scientific explanation for the arrival of the fittest. Supporters of evolution have no explanation beyond their dogmatic assertion that all advances are explained by random mutations and environmental influences over millions of years."

But, Crowther, supremely confident that his readers just won't go there, does not bother to cite this passage from Silber's piece which comes in the previous paragraph of the article:

It is impossible to confront facts objectively and deny that species have evolved. The evidence showing developments in physical structure that relate the human species to hominids is compelling, and the similarities in the DNA of humans and chimpanzees provide undeniable scientific evidence of their kinship. Thus far, evolution is not merely one theory opposed to another but a scientific truth amply confirmed by facts. And there is convincing plausibility to the idea that physical or intellectual advantages have survival value. We can accept without credulity that those species have survived which possessed qualities lending them a clear advantage over the species that have become extinct. An animal that can see, for example, is clearly advantaged over those that are blind. Survival of the fittest based on specific advantages provides factual support for the process of evolution.

Here's the paragraph that follows the one cited by Crowther on Evolution News and views:
Creationists cannot deny the fact of evolution—the development over extended periods of time of new forms of life and the survival of those forms that are the fittest. These aspects of the theory of evolution are adequately confirmed by facts and must be accepted as facts by rational observers. Those who insist that human beings were originally created in their present form are as irrational as those who believe the world is flat.

Irrational as those who believe the world is flat... if the readers of Evolution News and Views actually clicked on the link to Silber's article and read it from end to end -- yes, yes, we know there's not the chance of snowflake in hell they'd actually do it -- how much comfort do you think they'd take from that passage -- conveniently left uncited by Crowther?

Now, Silber, clearly is not a big fan of evolution. He demands a role for God at the beginning. In this sense, he strikes us as being very much in the mold of Cardinal Schoenborn. Moreover, Berlinsky and Crowther undoubtedly take comfort from the fact that Silber gives a nod of his head in the direction of Michael Behe. And here, Silber, demonstrates a certain confusion about how random mutation and natural selection work hand in hand as the motor force of evolution.

Taking all that into consideration, however, Silber is not really a potential recruit to the intelligent design cause. He is, rather, a garden variety theistic evolutionist, albeit one who tilts in his thinking more to faith than science -- just as you might expect in a former seminarian.

Although he may not find as much personal comfort in a laboratory as in a church, he has not yet been able to bring himself, as the denizens of the Discovery Institute have, to completely disregard the evidence.

Silber's article is really a condemnation of biblical literalism, on the one hand, and reductionism, which he equates with scientism -- and here, he means, science as the absolute and only justifiable way to truth -- on the other. In the end, what Silber wants to do is leave room for faith, as he says, "those who believe that an intelligence or some formative principle has guided the development of new forms of life have a right so to believe."

RSR does not believe it, but we do agree with Silber that theistic evolutionists do have a right to believe, and that is where Crowther, Belinsky, and the Discovery Institute have a problem, because they think people who think like Silber are just plain wrong to believe in God, as Silber passionately does, and to accept the facts of evolution.

"Consistent theists will therefore accept Darwinist claims for the creative power of mutation and selection only insofar as those claims can be supported by evidence, That isn't very far at all," says Phillip Johnson in "Creator or Blind Watchmaker."

Perhaps, Silber, despite his strong faith, is simply an inconsistent theist in intelligent design terms. We suspect, Silber is not lining up to be a member of the Richard Dawkins fan club, but he and Ken Miller might have much to discuss.


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