Dr. Jim West has implicitly claimed that because evolutionists often defend the theory of evolution so passionately and vociferously (or as he puts it, with "religious zeal"), then that must mean that evolution is "doctrine" [1. in this argument, I am only referring to the common usage of doctrine meaning "dogmatic system of beliefs" as opposed to the more innocuous "codified system of teachings". Of course evolution is a codified system of teachings. But it is a system that inherently acknowledges its own fallibility and tenuous nature]. (his post title: If It’s Not A Doctrine, Why Are People So Defensive?).
I hear this argument all the time, in multiple variations - claiming that because we defend evolution passionately, that means that evolution is "dogmatic" or "religious."
This is specious logic at best. I originally responded to his post in his own comment section, and I reproduce my thoughts here:
1) Just because someone is vociferous and passionate with any sort of claim, defense, proclamation, or simple statement, that does not have any bearing on its “religiosity”. Calling a passionate response “religious zeal” is simply an attempt to obfuscate the language and warp the debate.
2) Equating the passionate nature of a subject’s defense with anything concerning the nature of that subject is simple fallacious logic (i.e. what the hell does passion of a response have to do with whether or not it is doctrine?)
I will agree with the philosophical premise that ALL scientific knowledge is predicated on the prime assumption that sense relates to reality. Thankfully, simple pragmatism allows us to build science from the fact that it seems to work.
However, neither science nor evolution can be considered “doctrine” for the simple inherent acknowedgement within the scientific epistomology that it will always be possible that the prime assumption might be false. This is why science “fact” isn’t based on provability, but by falsifiability. Even the falsification of any scientific hypothesis is always considered inherently tentative. You cannot call something doctrine if that doctrine implicitly acknowledges its own fallibility.
(note: obviously in this argument, I am only referring to the common usage of doctrine meaning “dogmatic system of beliefs” as opposed to the more innocuous “codified system of teachings”. Of course evolution is a codified system of teachings. But it is a system that inherently acknowledges its own fallibility and tenuous nature.)
(Update: he has deleted my comments multiple times - maybe the word "hell" offended him? Or perhaps he couldn't argue?
Update 2: now they are online - apparently he doesn't like people to use pseudonyms. I guess I could have made up a name, but oh well - My name is easy enough to find.)
Let me first say that in essence, and in principle, I am in complete agreement with PZ. Liberals, progressives, and the Democratic party that we liberals, in general, vote for would serve in an ideal world as the pusher of the rational, scientific, and secular agenda. Instead, what we have seen with Barack Obama is a re-cooption of the Christian and evangelical vote – or at least an attempt to get those voters back – by reemphasizing the Democratic Parties Christian roots.
However, from purely a practical standpoint I think this is the only way we can ever hope to have our government even begin to govern in the progressive way we think it should. Before I expound upon this, I want to mention Obama’s Faith-Based Initiatives plan.
Obama’s Faith-Based Initiatives
When I first heard that Obama wanted to expand Bush’s Faith-based initiatives, I was initially disgusted – for about thirty seconds. The time of disgust was so short because I learned what he really wanted to do. I found out about it by listening to his speech. In it, what he basically says is that the Faith-Based Initiatives were never run properly – they were only a photo-op for Bush to continue to receive evangelical support. Obama, on the other hand wants to rebuild the initiaives. He wants to support compassionate work and community service that these religion-backed organizations claim to want to work for. That’s fine with me for this reason:
“I'm not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I'm not saying that they're somehow better at lifting people up. What I'm saying is that we all have to work together – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and non-believer alike – to meet the challenges of the 21st century…
…First, if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we'll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.”
He’s essentially tearing down the faith-based initiatives and instead building secular-based initiatives, with the religious folks doing the work. Works for me. Personally, I could care less what your beliefs are if your focusing on helping others, regardless of their own faiths. If religion must exist – that’s the direction that I think it needs to focus its efforts. Personally, I think this was a genius move on Obama’s part for the reasons below.
Based on everything I’ve read of Obama, I don’t believe that he is in reality a Christian. Everything about him (except what he actually says on the subject) screams agnostic. But he knows that this is a Christian nation (about 75%). You CANNOT get elected President if you are not Christian or at least deeply religious. So he has spent years crafting his Christian beliefs, developing his Jesus cred. And I’m glad he did.
Only by reclaiming the Christian vote can progressives ever hope to reshape this country. Thus, by highlighting the commitment and accomplishments of the Faithful within the Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention, the Party may yet recapture those religious votes (or at least a small proportion of them).
Once we get more progressives in place, we can fix this fucked up educational system we have (No Child Left Behind? Don’t even get me started). Only by actually getting rational-minded people into office can we hope to erase the anti-intellectual blanket that has fallen over this country. It may be slow – or it may not happen at all – but you can be guaranteed that the Republican party cares not an ounce about education on true science, intellectualism, and reason.
Thus, the Democrats must, at minimum, act Christian. They must, as Obama has done many many times, proclaim that they have accepted Jesus Christ into a personal relationship. Some may believe it – others may do it for political reasons. But there is no doubt that this is absolutely necessary.
It would be nice to maintain my principles and say “no – we should not put faith and religion on a pedestal – we must not even allow it place within our politics.” But I feel this is naive (Note: I do NOT mean to imply that PZ Myers is naive - we absolutely NEED people like PZ in this world and in this debate - He understands all this much better than I, I'm sure. But he honorably sticks to his principles). Most adults in this country are too indoctrinated to ever be swayed with rhetoric. Most don’t even know what science really is. Consider the fact that somewhere between 50 to 70% of this country believes God had a direct hand in our own creation (depending on the poll), while a reciprocal percentage believes in evolution. Do you really expect that any of these people will vote for a self-proclaimed atheist?
This is obviously not a new argument. Everyone knows (everyone who cares anyway) that every President we’ve had has been Christian (at least in the public eye). Our only hope is to get our people into office by whatever means necessary, and hope we can train the next generation to use their brains properly.
Side Note: Some Christians may read my argument and say "Oh, so Democrats are only fake Christian." To that I would respond that to a large degree, most of the truly Christian Democrats I know walk alot closer to the line Jesus walked than most Republicans I know. Just take our Commander in Chief for example. I don't believe for one femtosecond that he was ever "born again". He, and every other publicly visible Christian in his administration act about as far from the actual teachings of Christ that you can get. How many people have died in Iraq now? Somewhere between 30,000 and 150,000? Oh that's right - according to Gen. Tommy Franks this administration doesn't "do body counts." And it is a well known fact that Karl Rove orchestrated his "brilliant" scheme to get the religious right behind Bush. This is why Democrats should continue with the course they are on with regards to religion. Bush and Rove already proved that Christian voters, by and large, are incredibly gullible.
You thought Bush was a leader Jesus would vote for?
C. L. Hanson over at Letters From a Broad: The Adventures of a Friendly Ex-Mormon Atheist Mom Living in France Switzerland (I love that title) has composed the 98th biweekly edition of Carnival of the Godless, a blog carnival containing a myriad links to thoughts on atheism or tangentially related topics. This edition is particularly well done, and contains hours worth of edifying reading and links to make your brain cells hurt.
Graciously included in this latest edition is my own previous post, Hope in the Black Void of the Unknowable, in which I muse on whether we really want every human on earth to see the Universe and ourselves as science sees us, namely "no more than blips of energy in an inconsequential cosmic blink."
Check it out, and if you have your own musings on issues relating to an absence of God, go to Carnival of the Godless and find out which blog is hosting the latest edition and submit your stuff to them.