Good arguments and straw men

We seem to have quite a number of posters here who are happy to defend  ID, as well as a number (myself included) who are happy to defend evolutionary theory.

I’m posting this as a kind of straw poll for people to state what they think the major claim of their own position is, and why they find it persuasive; and also what they think the major claim of the opposite position is, and why (if they do) they find it flawed.

It might be interesting to count the straw men standing by the end 🙂  More to the point, it might stop us talking past each other quite so much, and perhaps understand the other side’s position a little more.

Full disclosure: I don’t think myself that the two positions are symmetrical.  But I am constantly brought upn short by the realisation that ID proponents also perceive an assymmetry, but see it as the mirror image of mine.  So I wait enlightenment 🙂


108 thoughts on “Good arguments and straw men

  1. There are atheist evolutionists and there are theist evolutionists; there are theist ID’ers…but where are the atheist ID’ ers? There is an asymmetry here and I think it warrants investigation.


  2. William J. Murray: The former.

    Theism, because you would believe in god whether, in your mind, NDE theory was valid or not. Correct? IOW, correct me if I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter to you in any existential or deeply emotional sense if NDE is true or not, but it does matter to you in a deep and profound way if there is a god or not.

    I’m not sure about this question. Clearly the issue of “if there is a god or not” is personal in a way that “is this scientific theory true” is not. But they are quite different questions anyway – I don’t think science, or reason for that matter (pace Anselm) can tell us “if there is a god or not”. It’s a matter, literally, of faith. As my favorite theologian said (don’t have the book to hand so this is a paraphrase) an atheist isn’t someone who says “there is no god” but someone who doesn’t see that the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” is a valid question.

    I don’t entirely agree, but I did go from thinking it was a valid question to thinking it wasn’t.

    I get a thrill out of beautiful scientific theories that explain and predict the world. I also get a thrill out of the goodness of people. Both are “deep and profound”. The first is about science, the second is closer to being about what some people call God, even if no longer do.

    But what matters to me is whether something makes sense, not on whether it gives me “warm fuzzies” . Although I’ve been accused before now on evaluating things by fuzziness – actually I hate fuzziness (apart from penguins). Precision is my thing.

  3. fG: “There are atheist evolutionists and there are theist evolutionists; there are theist ID’ers…but where are the atheist ID’ ers?”

    I’m close to being an “atheist IDer” in a way. I reject theism not as wrong, but as generally meaningless or incoherent. I (like Petrushka above) am a monist (a neutral monist, which may be related to Petrushka’s pantheism, but not the same). Anyway, I’m convinced that consciousness is the central mystery of all of this, that physics has run into the strange loop of matter giving rise to mind, which somehow realizes matter, and that all this is somehow related to fine-tuning and the existence of life. I believe we understand so little of it that the best label for my beliefs is mysterianism, which holds that it is currently irrational to believe we have any understanding of either consciousness or origins.

    What I always argue for on these boards is humility in the face of deep mysteries. Historically we see that science consistently overstates its certainty (e.g. Lord Kelvin’s pronouncements that physics was complete, on the eve of the relativity and quantum revolutions), and clearly there is at most one true religious dogma, so of course it is highly likely that none are true.

    We need to accept our ignorance and agree to make our decisions without absolutism, and continue to eke out what knowledge we can.

  4. I believe we understand so little of it that the best label for my beliefs is mysterianism, which holds that it is currently irrational to believe we have any understanding of either consciousness or origins.

    I like the word mysterianism. I would modify the part regarding consiousness to say I believe we might someday make consciousness and thereby understand it. I am somewhat pessimistic about when this might happen. Not, I suspect, in the next thirty years, which is my maximum realistic lifespan. I think even if we had the hardware that consciousness has to evolve.

    I had something like an out of body experience a kid undergoing surgery while in twilight sleep (ether). My experience has absolutely no intellectual content, but it helped me understand the allure that LSD had for kids of my generation. It simply shapes my attitude toward life and death without providing any ideology or theology.

    The best visual analogy I can offer to my experience would be the animated videos that pull away from the earth, the solar system, the galaxy and so forth. It was more of an out of universe experience. Ether used to be a recreational drug, and it probably would have caught on except it has the nasty side effect of making you forget to breathe.

    At any rate, I am sympathetic to religion, except when it dabbles in science or politics. Subjects where it has not much positive to offer and a long history of ill effects.

  5. I’d agree with a lot of what Elizabeth has said in her last two comments. I’m a professional ecologist and I get a lot of enjoyment out of my work – the science of seeing how the world works. This is an emotional response, but it’s different in quality, not just quantity, than other emotional experiences. It’s great fun surveying wetlands and seeing what plants grow in one but not the other and trying to figure out why. The enjoyment here comes from several sources, including puzzle solving, wonder at biodiversity, and appreciation of natural beauty.

    So we would agree that the way people approach or believe in God or evolution is different intellectually and emotionally. However, your initial point was that we should just have a theism vs. atheism argument. That fundamentally, the evolution vs. ID divide mirrors those divisions. As I’m absolutely not in the ID camp and you’ve identified me as being in the theism camp, then you’ve just undermined your central argument, haven’t you?

    ID vs evolution is a hot, emotionally charged argument in part, yes, because many adherents are theists on the one side and atheists on the other. But the fact that there are many TE’s active in the debates shows that the heat derives from other sources as well, perhaps mainly. I’d repeat my argument above that it’s the political element that does so.

  6. I don’t think the division between ID and evolution follows any organized political boundaries.

    It may appear to follow right wing and left wing boundaries, but it does not. I know many political conservatives and libertarians who adamantly support evolution in the political and scientific debate. I also know of many people I would describe as political liberals who would not accept evolution. Then there’s Islam, which is largely opposed to evolution. I admit that I know nothing about the variations in Islamic thought, and the current political climate tends to give the loudest voice to extremists.

    I’ve been in the internet debate for 12 years and have not met an ID supporter who was not also a religious conservative. By which I mean someone who believes a deity actively injects himself into the world and does miracles. Suspends or overrides the regularities we call the laws of nature.

  7. I agree, Petrushka, the divide isn’t so much between theism and atheism, but between conservative fundamentalism and everything else.

    And yes, there are some political liberals who are religious conservatives.

  8. aiguy

    Interesting take. Are you saying that if ID changed its name to CD – Conscious Design – you would have less of a problem with it?

    And I agree with you that being ignorant of our own ignorance can be a real problem, but one that is impossible to self-identify! What strikes me on the ID side is that they appear to be so curiously incurious. If I had the eye-opening moment that life is intelligently designed, I would be intensely curious of how that had happened, and when, and where. Yet ID prides itself on not going there. Remarkable, unless one thinks one knows it all already. But how does that square with the designer being unknowable?



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.