Re: on co-opting impulses towards organized religion

From: Party of Citizens (
Date: Fri Jul 27 2001 - 17:04:03 MDT

What proportion of mutations induced in laboratories are adaptive
vs. deleterious?

On Fri, 27 Jul 2001, Mark Walker wrote:

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Damien Broderick <>
> > At 07:50 PM 7/26/01 -0400, Mark wrote:
> >
> > >(BTW, I see so many strawperson versions of religion attacked as
> irrational
> > >on this list. There are some towering intellects among believers, I wish
> > >their views would be scrutinized. For example, one luminary may be found
> > >here:
> > >
> > >
> >
> > Good point, but the example is odd (I say after the briefest visit to Dr
> > Plantinga's homepage).
> It is an exaggeration to say that Plantinga is single-handedly responsible
> for making Christian analytic philosophy academically respectable. What is
> surpising is how small of an exaggeration it is.
> > Regard this strange assertion:
> >
> > ========================
> > A letter from Plantinga, a philosophy professor, and Huston Smith, a
> > religion professor at Berkeley, moved the National Association of Biology
> > Teachers to remove anti-religious language from its statement on
> evolution.
> >
> > For years, the association's official position read: "The diversity of
> life
> > on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal,
> > unpredictable and natural process."
> >
> > Recently, after Plantinga and Smith objected that "unsupervised" and
> > "impersonal" go beyond scientific evidence, the association dropped those
> > words.
> >
> > "I was a little surprised, actually, but I was very pleased," says
> > Plantinga, a member of South Bend Christian Reformed Church who came to
> > Notre Dame from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, 15 years ago. "It's a
> small
> > but significant little thing in the whole debate.
> >
> > "There is so much heat in this area -- people's faith, people's ideology
> is
> > involved-- that often straightforward, rational discussion doesn't work
> > well." Plantinga and Smith are among a growing number of Christian
> > scholars, including scientists, who challenge what they consider the
> > unscientific presuppositions of modern culture with respect to evolution.
> >
> > "I think the main thing to see about it is that it is by no means merely a
> > scientific doctrine at all," Plantinga says. "It is about naturalism vs.
> > theism, naturalism vs. American religious belief, naturalism vs.
> Christianity.
> >
> > "They think science has shown that human beings are not really created by
> > God. That's not true at all. That's not science. That's theology. It's bad
> > theology because it's theology confused with science."
> >
> > That's the point he and Smith argued successfully about the biology
> > association's position.
> >
> > "A good bit of it was theology, not science," Plantinga says. "There's no
> > way, simply on the basis of physical science, that you could have
> > discovered that the process is unsupervised or impersonal.
> >
> > "That's not part of evolutionary theory as science at all. We wondered why
> > it was stated as a piece of science."
> >
> > Unlike those who object to evolutionary theories on religious grounds,
> > Plantinga and others do not insist that the Genesis account of creation
> > must be taken literally.
> >
> > "I'm somebody who thinks God created the world," Plantinga says. "I'm not
> > sure that's what the Lord intends to teach in that part of Genesis. I
> don't
> > know exactly how he did it. It's possible he did it by evolution."
> >
> > ==================================
> >
> > So the bacteria changing rapidly in human bodies within the span of a few
> > decades might be doing so *under the personal supervision of a deity*? Or
> > is it under the personal supervision of the devil?
> I think Plantinga's view is that God has different levels of involvement:
> God might be happy to let the clock of nature wind-down on its own for the
> most part while occassionally interceding for the occassion miracle, or
> showstopper like Jesus. Thus, it is consistent with his view that Bacteria
> might evolve in humans without God directly supervising this process.
> Cf. his whimsical
> > definition:
> >
> > < alvinize, v. To stimulate protracted discussion by making a bizarre
> > claim. "His contention that natural evil is due to Satanic agency
> alvinized
> > his listeners." >
> >
> Just to be clear, this is not his own definition of himself, it is in
> Dennett's humour book.
> > I assume Dr Alvin P. does find this a bizarre assertion;
> This is a little unfair, or at least misleading. Remember the definition is
> meant to be humorous. This is a little complicated but I will try to boil it
> down: Plantinga wrote a free will defence in response to the problem of
> evil. He was responding to the charge that there is a logical contradiction
> between the assertion that God exists and the presence of evil in this
> world. He takes the point of a theodicy (he calls it a 'defense') to
> demonstrate the (mere) logical POSSIBILITY that God and evil might exist. In
> the course of this discussion Plantinga suggested that it is POSSIBLE that
> natural evil (earth quakes, etc.) are the result of Satanic agency. I agree.
> It is possible. It just seems to me that it is highly improbable. But this
> would not affect the logic of Plantiga's argument. One of the most common
> criticisms of Plantinga free will defence is that it does not go far enough:
> a theodicy should explain why God allows evil, not simply say that it is
> logically possible. (I actually think that his defense doesn't allow him to
> wriggle out of the contradiction).
> >I regard his own
> > assertion--that we might any longer regard stochastic evolutionary
> > processes as under
> > the guiding hand of a god--exactly as ridiculous. I'm ashamed that the
> > National Association of Biology Teachers caved in.
> >
> I was suprised they caved in. But then again, there are a surprising number
> of religious scientist. I think I read some stats on this in the last few
> years. Perhaps it was in Scientific American. (I only read that rag in the
> grocery store line-up).
> > But maybe Dr Plantinga has more intelligent things to say elsewhere. Got a
> > specific paper you'd recommend, Mark?
> No, just read his entire corpus. I think you can get a reasonable idea of
> his views on evolution from the following:
> I saw him give a version of this talk "An Evolutionary Argument Against
> Naturalism" (I wish the full thing was available)
> a couple of years ago at the Canadian Philosophical Association where he
> gave the Plenary address. (He was very funny. The guy that introduced him
> rambled off 18 prestigious universities where Plantinga has been a "visiting
> distinguished professor". Plantinga got up and the first thing he said was
> that being at 18 universities makes it sound like he couldn't hold down a
> job).
> > (Or am I missing a meta-point, and
> > you're poking fun at this `luminary'?)
> >
> No, you are not. We know (or more judiciously, believe) that Plantinga's
> conclusion is false. So either the logic of his argument is faulty, or one
> or more premise is false. Since Plantinga is pretty handy with logic, our
> best bet is that we disagree about the premises. But, having said this,
> Plantinga seems to me as rational as any atheist I know (and in fact, more
> so than most atheists that I know). My point is that to say that religion is
> irrational because some or even many of its adherents are not as rational as
> they might be does not show that all adherents must be. This is the strategy
> of arguing "guilt by association"--something that first year of uni is
> supposed to help us get over. I am not particularly bothered by the fact
> that many of those who are less than ideally (humanly) rational--perhaps
> through no fault of their own--believe in the religious hypothesis, indeed,
> this is perhaps quite understandable. It is when I see enormously
> intellectually gifted philosophers and scientists believing in the religious
> that I am unsettled. For then the hypothesis that it must be a failure of
> rationality on their part looks a lot more questionable. Mark.

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