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Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea

Submitted by on May 26, 2009 – 12:55 pm38 Comments

darwinby Phillip E. Johnson

This review of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, by Daniel Dennett, was published in The New Criterion (October, 1995) www.arn.org/docs/johnson/dennett.htm

Daniel Dennett’s fertile imagination is captivated by the very dangerous idea that the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution should become the basis for what amounts to an established state religion of scientific materialism. Dennett takes the scientific part of his thesis from the inner circle of contemporary Darwinian theorists: William Hamilton, John Maynard Smith, George C. Williams, and the brilliant popularizer Richard Dawkins. When Dennett describes the big idea emanating from this circle as dangerous, he does not mean that it is dangerous only to religious fundamentalists. The persons whom he accuses of flinching when faced with the full implications of Darwinism are scientists and philosophers of the highest standing: Noam Chomsky, Roger Penrose, Jerry Fodor, John Searle, and especially Stephen Jay Gould.

Each one of these very secular thinkers supposedly tries, as the simple religious folk do, to limit the all-embracing logic of Darwinism. Dennett describes Darwinism as a “universal acid; it eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view.” One thinker after another has tried unsuccessfully to find some way to contain this universal acid, to protect something from its corrosive power. Why? First let’s see what the idea is.

Dennett begins the account with John Locke’s late seventeenth-century Essay Concerning Human Understanding, where Locke answers the question, “Which came first, mind or matter?” Locke’s answer was that mind had to come first, because “it is impossible to conceive that ever bare incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent Being.” David Hume mounted some powerful skeptical arguments against this mind-first principle, but in the end he couldn’t come up with a solid alternative.

Darwin did not set out to overturn the mind-first picture of reality, but to do something much more modest: to explain the origin of biological species, and the wonderful adaptations that enable those species to survive and reproduce in diverse ways. The answer Darwin came up with was that these adaptations, which had seemed to be intelligently designed, are actually products of a mindless process called natural selection. Dennett says that what Darwin offered the world, in philosophical terms, was “a scheme for creating Design out of Chaos without the aid of Mind.” When the Darwinian outlook became accepted throughout the scientific world, the stage was set for a much broader philosophical revolution. Dennett explains that Darwin’s idea had been born as an answer to questions in biology, but it threatened to leak out, offering answers– welcome or not–to questions in cosmology (going in one direction) and psychology (going in the other direction). If [the cause of design in biology] could be a mindless, algorithmic process of evolution, why couldn’t that whole process itself be the product of evolution, and so forth all the way down? And if mindless evolution could account for the breathtakingly clever artifacts of the biosphere, how could the products of our own “real” minds be exempt from an evolutionary explanation? Darwin’s idea thus also threatened to spread all the way up, dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own divine spark of creativity and understanding.

The metaphysical reversal was so complete that it soon became as unthinkable within science to credit any biological feature to a designer as it had previously been unthinkable to do without the designer. Whenever seemingly insuperable problems were encountered — the genetic mechanism, the human mind, the ultimate origin of life — biologists were confident that a solution of the Darwinian kind would be found. To be sure, the cause of materialist reductionism was sometimes set back by “greedy reductionists” like the behaviorist B.F. Skinner, who tried to explain human behavior as a direct consequence of material forces. The catchy metaphor Dennett employs to describe the difference between the greedy and good kinds of reductionism is “cranes, not skyhooks.” The origin of (say) the human mind must be attributed to some process firmly anchored on the solid ground of materialism and natural selection (a crane), and not to a mystery or miracle (skyhook), but this does not mean that human behavior or mental activity can be understood directly on the basis of material concepts like stimulus and response or natural selection.

Although many aspects of evolutionary theory remain controversial, Dennett asserts confidently that the overall success of Darwinism-in-principle has been so smashing that the basic program — all the way up and all the way down — is established beyond question. Any yet the resistance continues. Some of it comes from religious people, who want to preserve some role for a creator. Dennett just brushes aside the outright creationists, but takes more pains to refute those who would say that God is the author of the laws of nature, including that marvelous evolutionary process that does all the designing. The Darwinian alternative to a Lawgiver at the beginning of the universe is to postpone the beginning indefinitely by hypothesizing something like an eternal system of evolution at the level of universes.

For example, the physicist Lee Smolin has proposed that black holes are in effect the birthplaces of offspring universes, in which the fundamental physical constants would differ slightly from those in the parent universe. Since those universes that happened to have the most black holes would leave the most “offspring,” the basic Darwinian concepts of mutation and differential reproduction could be extended to cosmology. Dennett contends that whether this or any other model is testable, at least cosmic Darwinism relies on the same kind of thinking that has been successful in scientific fields like biology where testing is possible, and that is enough to make it preferable to an alternative that brings in a skyhook. He does not attempt to explain the origin of the cosmic evolutionary process. It’s just mutating universes all the way down.

Much of the resistance to Darwinism “all the way up” comes from scientists and philosophers who deny the capacity of natural selection to produce specifically human mental qualities like the capacity for language. Foremost among these is Noam Chomsky, founder of modern linguistics, who describes a complex language program seemingly “hard-wired” into the human brain, which has no real analogy in the animal world and for which there is no very plausible story of step-by-step evolution through adaptive intermediate forms. Chomsky readily accepts evolutionary naturalism in principle, but (supported by Stephen Jay Gould) he regards Darwinian selection as no more than a place holder for a true explanation of the human language capacity which has not yet been found.

To true-believing Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, all such objections are fundamentally misconceived. The more intricately “designed” a feature appears to be, the more certain it is to have been constructed by natural selection — because there is no alternative way of producing design without resorting to impossible skyhooks. Even in the toughest cases, where plausible Darwinian hypotheses are hard to imagine and impossible to confirm, a Darwinian solution simply has to be out there waiting to be found. The alternative to natural selection is either God or chance. The former is outside of science, and also apparently outside the contemplation of Gould or Chomsky; the latter is no solution at all. Once you understand the dimensions of the problem, and the philosophical constraints within which it must be solved, Darwinism is practically true by definition — regardless of the evidence.

I call this a very interesting situation. Within science the Darwinian viewpoint clearly occupies the high ground, because nobody has come up with an alternative for explaining Design that does not invoke an unacceptable pre-existing Mind. (Dennett easily refutes such hype-induced notions as that a physics of self-organizing systems from the Santa Fe Institute is in the process of replacing Darwinism.) But the rulers of this impregnable citadel are worried because not everybody believes that their citadel is impregnable. They are troubled not only by polls showing that the American public still overwhelmingly favors some version of supernatural creation, but also by the tendency of prominent scientists to accept Darwinism-in- principle, but to dispute the applicability of the theory to specific problems, usually the problems about which they are best qualified to speak.

Dennett thinks that the dissenters either fail to understandthe logic of Darwinism or shrink from embracing its full metaphysical implications. I prefer another explanation: Darwinism is a lot stronger as philosophy than it is as empirical science. If you aren’t willing to challenge the underlying premise of scientific materialism, you are stuck with Darwinism- in-principle as a creation story until you find something better, and it doesn’t seem that there is anything better. Once you get past the uncontroversial examples of microevolution, however, such as finch beak variations, peppered moth coloring, and selective breeding, all certainty dissolves in speculation and controversy. Nobody really knows how life originated, where the animal phyla came from, or how natural selection could have produced the qualities of the human mind. Ingenious hypothetical scenarios for the evolution of complex adaptations are presented to the public virtually as fact, but skeptics within science derisively call them “just-so” stories, because they can neither be tested experimentally nor supported by fossil histories.

Many scientists who swear fealty to Darwinism on philosophical grounds put it aside when they get down to scientific practice. A good example is Niles Eldredge, a paleontologist who collaborated with Stephen Jay Gould in the famous papers advocating that evolution proceeds by “punctuated equilibria,” meaning long changeless periods which are occasionally interrupted by the abrupt appearance of new forms. “Punk eek” was widely interpreted at first as an implied endorsement of a macromutational alternative to Darwinian gradualism, a misunderstanding that led scornful Darwinists to dismiss the idea as “evolution by jerks,” but both Gould and Eldredge insisted that the unseen process of change was Darwinian. Eldredge in particular is so determined to wash away the taint of heresy that he has taken to describing himself as a “knee-jerk neo-Darwinian,” a label that seems both to protest too much and to imply a willingness to overlook disconfirming evidence.

On the other hand, Eldredge rejects what he calls “ultra- Darwinism,” the position of Dawkins and Dennett, on grounds that obscurely imply rejection of the very factor that makes Darwin’s idea dangerous, the claim that natural selection has sufficient creative power to account for design. For example, he writes in his 1994 book Reinventing Darwin that ultra-Darwinians are guilty of “physics envy” because they “seek to transform natural selection from a simple form of record keeping… to a more dynamic, active force that molds and shapes organic form as time goes by.” Eldredge has no philosophical problem with atheistic materialism; his ambivalence stems entirely from the embarrassingly un-Darwinian fossil record, as described in this typical paragraph:

No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seems to happen. Assiduous collecting up cliff faces yields zigzags, minor oscillations, and the very occasional slight accumulation of change–over millions of years, at a rate too slow to account for all the prodigious change that has occurred in evolutionary history. When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else. Yet that’s how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution.

Whatever is motivating Eldredge to give all that fervent lip-service to Darwinism, it obviously is not anything he has discovered as a paleontologist. In fact the real problem is understood by everyone, although it has to be discussed in guarded terms. What paleontologists fear is not the scientific consequences of disowning Darwinism but the political consequences. They fear it might lead to a takeover of government by religious fundamentalists who would shut off the funding.

There are paleontologists who are more supportive of Darwinism than Eldredge, just as there are other eminent scientists who are more explicit in insisting that the neo- Darwinian variety of evolution is valid only at the “micro” level. Regardless of the number or status of the skeptics, the usual scientific practice is to retain a paradigm, however shaky, until somebody provides a better one. I will assume arguendo that this “best we’ve got” policy is justifiable within science itself. The question I want to pursue is whether non-scientists have some legal, moral, or intellectual obligation to accept Darwinism as absolutely true, especially when the theory is encountering so many difficulties with the evidence. The issue comes up in many important contexts; here are two examples.

First, consider the situation of Christian parents, not necessarily fundamentalists, who suspect that the term “evolution” drips with atheistic implications. The whole point of Dennett’s thesis is that the parents are dead right about the implications, and that science educators who deny this are either misinformed or lying. Do parents then have a right to protect their children from indoctrination in atheism, and even to insist that the public schools include in the science curriculum a fair review of the arguments against the atheistic claim that unintelligent natural processes are our true creator?

Dennett cannot be accused of avoiding the religious liberty issue, or of burying it in tactful circumlocutions. He proposes that theistic religion should continue to exist only in “cultural zoos,” and he says this directly to religious parents:

If you insist on teaching your children falsehoods– that the earth is flat, that “Man” is not a product of evolution by natural selection–then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being–the well-being of all of us on the planet–depends on the education of our descendants.

Of course it is not freedom of speech that worries the parents, but the power of atheistic materialists to use public education for indoctrination, while excluding any other view as “religion.” If you want to know how such threats sound to Christian parents, try imagining what would happen if some prominent Christian fundamentalist addressed similar language to Jewish parents. Would we think the Jewish parents unreasonable if they interpreted “at the very least” to imply that young children may be forcibly removed from the homes of recalcitrant parents, and that those metaphorical cultural zoos may one day be enclosed by real barbed wire? Strong measures might seem justified if the well-being of everyone on the planet depends upon protecting children from the falsehoods their parents want to tell them.

I will pass over the legal issues raised by this program of forced religious conversion because the intellectual issues are even more interesting. Granted that Darwinism is the reigning paradigm in biology, is there some rule in the academic world which requires non-scientists to accept Darwinian principles when they write about, say, philosophy or ethics? My Berkeley colleague John Searle thinks so. In the first chapter of his recent book on The Construction of Social Reality, Searle states that it is necessary “to make some substantive presuppositions about how the world is in fact in order that we can even pose the questions we are trying to answer (about how other aspects of reality are socially constructed).” According to Searle, “two features of our conception of reality are not up for grabs. They are not, so to speak, optional for us as citizens of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.” The two compulsory theories are that the world consists entirely of the entities that physicists call particles, and that living systems (including humans and their minds) evolved by natural selection.

I think that Searle undermines his whole project by virtually ordering his readers not to notice that scientific materialism and Darwinism are themselves socially constructed doctrines rather than objective facts. Scientists assume materialism because they define their enterprise as a search for the best materialist theories, and this culturally-driven methodological choice is not even evidence, let alone proof, that the world really does consist only of particles. As an explanation for design in biology, Darwinism is perfectly secure when it is regarded as a deduction from materialism, but remarkably insecure when it is subjected to empirical testing. Given that what we most respect about science is its fidelity to the principle that empirical testing is what really matters, why should philosophers allow scientists to tell them that they must accept assumptions that don’t pass the empirical test?

Searle is a particularly poignant example, because he is famous for defending the independence of the mind against the onslaught of the materialist “strong AI” program, and also for defending traditional academic standards against the corrosive relativism of the fact/value distinction. He is so skillful in argument that he almost holds his own even after leaping gratuitously into a pool of universal acid, but why accept the disadvantage? Searle could seize the high ground if he began by proposing that any true metaphysical theory must account for two essential truths which materialism cannot accommodate: first, that mind is more than matter; and second, that such things as truth, beauty, and goodness really do exist even if most people do not know how to recognize them. Scientific materialists would answer that they proved long ago, or are going to prove at some time in the future, that materialism is true. They are bluffing.

Science is a wonderful thing in its place. Because science is so successful in its own territory, however, scientists and their allied philosophers sometimes get bemused by dreams of world conquest. Paul Feyerabend put it best: “Scientists are not content with running their own playpens in accordance with what they regard as the rules of the scientific method, they want to universalize those rules, they want them to become part of society at large, and they use every means at their disposal — argument, propaganda, pressure tactics, intimidation, lobbying — to achieve their aims.” Samuel Johnson gave the best answer to this absurd imperialism. “A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a garden.”

[Phillip E. Johnson is the Jefferson E. Peyser Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author ofDarwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education.]

Copyright © 1996 Phillip E. Johnson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

38 Comments »

  • Urmila devi dasi

    Thank you for posting this.

  • Urmila devi dasi

    Here’s a current link for the original article: http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/dennett.htm

  • Kula-pavana dasa

    P. Johnson invokes the imaginary horrors of an atheistic global totalitarianism when he writes: “Strong measures might seem justified if the well-being of everyone on the planet depends upon protecting children from the falsehoods their parents want to tell them.” He follows the views of D. Dennett, maintaining that it is a “very dangerous idea that the neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution should become the basis for what amounts to an established state religion of scientific materialism.” How likely are such scenarios?

    Personally I fear any and all state promoted religions (including “religion of scientific materialism”), as they usually tend to become quite abusive in their efforts to forcefully promote their ideas of social and ideological ‘purity’. State promoted theistic religions gave us countless religious wars, Inquisition, and Islamic terrorism, not to mention flagrant abuses of power and wholesale exploitation by the empowered clergy. Compared to those very real and historical consequences of state promoted religions Darwin’s ‘dangerous’ ideas seem… quite docile.

    • But you state that you fear state promoted religions including “religions of scientific materialism” and then conclude that Darwin’s idea, which would be the basis of such a such a state promoted religions of scientific materialism, seems quite docile in comparison to religious state promoted religions.

      You question how likely a scenario it is that such a state promoted scientific materialism is likely to ever occur. But doesn’t history speak to the very real possibility. What was Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany with its racial breeding concept, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia? If you compare the religious atrocities resulting from state run religions to the atrocities of these arguably Darwinian based state run religions of scientific materialism, you find that the horrors of the latter are far greater.

      Then again if a state run religion gone off course destroys one’s faith in religion altogether, that may be a fate worse than death.

  • Kula-pavana dasa

    Maharaja, you write: “If you compare the religious atrocities resulting from state run religions to the atrocities of these arguably Darwinian based state run religions of scientific materialism, you find that the horrors of the latter are far greater.”

    For starters, neither of these state run religions (communism and national socialism) were based on Darwinian ideas.

    Actually, nazis banned the books of Darwin and Haeckel, along with “All writings that ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institution, faith in God, or other things that are holy to the healthy sentiments of the Volk.” Nazis simply used the idea of Aryan race superiority to unify the empire they were trying to build. The ideas of racial superiority are much, much older than Darwinism. Linking national socialism with Darwinism is more or less just a propaganda tactic of the Christian right, based on very poor science and flat out misrepresentation of facts.

    While the communists used Darwinism in their fight against religion, we have to look at the bigger picture. Communism wanted to create a uniform international workers society free from any divisions. Since religion back then was often a source of conflict and division, communism set out to destroy religion. Atheism was only one of the means to reach the goal of classles, uniform society. Also, faith based political structures (Church) were clearly a political competition to the communist party and had to be destroyed. In most communist countries (including Stalinist Russia) people were free to practice religion at home, while at the same time they were indoctrinated into atheism by the state run propaganda machine.

    The common link between these very different and very abusive state run ‘religions’ is not Darwinism, but perhaps the idea that the end justifies the means.

  • Regarding Stalin, reading Darwin turned him into an atheist but he eventually embraced French evolutionist, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s version of evolution. Larmarck argued that characteristics acquired by an organism in its lifetime could be passed down to offspring, making one’s environment of equal importance to heredity, as opposed to Darwin’s natural selection. Stalin’s approach emphasized manipulation of the social environment, isolating deviants, sending adults and children possessing minds “diseased” to prison in pursuit of an evolutionary nightmare only slightly different from the Darwinian version.

    Lamarckian evolution was not a rejection of Darwinism per se but simply of the evolutionary mechanism of Darwin’s natural selection. For various reasons, Communists preferred to think in terms of environmental selection as the impersonal mechanism driving evolution.

    Rather than breeding supermen through genetics as Hitler tried to do, Soviet evolutionism sought to do so through heavy-handed manipulation of the environment, including through exile, imprisonment and murder. The “socially harmful” was both a political category but an evolutionary one.

    When viewed through this lens the Soviet state was arguably an experiment in applied Darwinism. Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who broke with colleagues to report honestly on the Stalinist terror-famine, later noted: “It is interesting to reflect that now, in the light of all that has happened, the early obscurantist opponents of Darwinian evolution seem vastly more sagacious and farseeing than its early excited champions.”

    The above paragraphs are a paraphrasing of David Klinghoffer’s blog. They are admittedly arguments from the right, but I am not sure they are that wrong. I think that while religion lends itself to an ends justifies the means interpretation, such an interpretation is a distortion of core religious principles. Whereas an ends justifies the means policy is inherently more justifiable within a social or biological notion of Darwinian evolution.

    While it is probably a stretch to say that that Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia were Darwin based regime’s (and I thank you for pointing that out), I think it is also naive to dismiss altogether the role Darwinian evolution played in them. At least Stalin and Pol Pot’s regimes were committed to a communist version of social scientific materialism, and where there is sceintific materialism, Darwin is nearby. And, again, despite what you have said about Nazi Germany, I believe it is as incorrect to say that it evolved out of Darwinism as it is to day that it was free from Dawinian notions.

    At any rate, you have said that you are just as wary of state run “religions of scientific materialism” as you are of state run religions, and the former would in our times would be naming one way streets after Charles. So I am not convinced that Darwinism is as docile as you have suggested. I suppose it is ultimately what people do with it, as is the case with religion.

  • Kula-pavana dasa

    Maharaja, you write: “despite what you have said about Nazi Germany, I believe it is as incorrect to say that it evolved out of Darwinism as it is to say that it was free from Darwinian notions.”

    Hitler was a creationist. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, Volume Two, Chapter X: “For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties. Whoever destroys His work wages war against God’s Creation and God’s Will.”

    The ideas of selective breeding are quite ancient and go all the way back to the Vedic varnashrama system. In ancient Greece Plato recommended state-supervised selective breeding of children (see The Republic by Plato, Book 5). Eugenics can be traced back to ancient Sparta. Anyway, for me the link between nazis and Darwin is pure propaganda.

    One could also look at the Darwinian ideas as a positive development. It can be argued that Darwin’s ideas paved the ground for rejection of the simplistic religious views in which for example Eve was created from Adam’s rib. Oppressive religionism is rarely good for true spirituality and Darwin’s ideas helped to retire primitive religious dogmas in the area of creation. Sort of like a buddhist rejection of Vedic ritualism used to justify animal slaughter.

    Srila Prabhupada often emphasized the scientific nature of Krishna Consciousness. Science is based on empirical proof and logic, not on rigid dogma. We know that the world was created by God (our thesis), but precisely HOW it was created is something the true science of Krishna Consciousness can (and should) address. It is quite obvious from the fossil record that in previous geological periods life on Earth did not look like it does today. Dinosaurs no longer roam the earth (aren’t we all glad?). Free thinking people looked towards the theory of evolution to explain such changes. Can we really blame them?

    Our focus should be on explaining the process of creation in a theistic but scientific way, not on Darwin bashing. We have the Vedic scriptures with their elaborate description of Creation to help us in this task. Replacing one type of oppressive religious thinking with another simply will not do.

  • My personal opinion on a scientific Darwin based naturalism is that such is not a purely objective scientific position but rather a metaphysical one, although one with considerable objective evidence on which the metaphysical speculation is based. I believe that this is the honest and objective conclusion one can reach after studying all the evidence.

    Regarding Darwin’s influence on Nazi Germany, my reading is that there was considerable Darwinian influence on Nazi policy, but that is not to say that all Darwinism leads naturally to Nazism by any means, nor that there were not may other social, economic, political, religious, etc. influences that lead to this travesty.

    As for Vedic texts and creation, I think it would be difficult to convince educated people of the Vedic theory with its cosmology and all in any detail. It’s not that easy even for the faithful to sort out exactly what it is saying. Besides its mostly a poetic attempt at describing the world as opposed to a scientific one. But in essence it posits an intelligent world with consciousness as the mover of matter, and this idea is reasonable and one that arguably brings one back to discussing evolution in terms of the lack of evidence of a connection between chemical and biological evolution.

  • Here is some evidence to consider when deciding if Darwin’s work had any influence on Nazi Germany. Note that it does not originate from the present day Christian right. In 1951 Hannah Arendt wrote in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “Underlying the Nazis’ belief in race laws as the expression of the law of nature in man, is Darwin’s idea of man as the product of a natural development which does not necessarily stop with the present species of human being.”

    Then look at the biographies of Hitler: In Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Alan Bullock writes: “The basis of Hitler’s political beliefs was a crude Darwinism.” Bullock also writes that Hitler found something objectionable about Christianity: “Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.”

    From John Toland’s Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography: “An essential of Hitler’s conclusions in this book (Second Book 1928) was the conviction drawn from Darwin that might makes right.”

    In Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris, Ian Kershaw explains that “Crude social-Darwinism gave Hitler his entire political world-view.” In other words Kershaw understood Hitler ‘s social reality to be Social Darwinism, a concept articulated by Darwin himself.

    So, again, I agree that Nazi Germany was not based on Darwinism, but its influence was not absent.

  • Kula-pavana dasa

    Darwin and darwinism often used already existing concepts (such as “Survival of the fittest”, originally proposed by Herbert Spencer and applied by him to both biology and economics). Some of these concepts are actually very much based on realities of this world. If nazis used such concepts as well, it does not really make their ideas darwinian.

    The idea of creating super-humans comes from Nietzche, one of Hitler’s favourite philosophers, who often talked of the ‘ubermensch’, a superior being (superman). And the practical execution of that idea was based on centuries old principles of selective breeding, not darwinism.

    The phrase “might makes right” is also not connected to Darwin. It was coined by the pacifist Adin Ballou in 1846.

    The attempts (of mostly Christian right) to connect darwinism to nazism are an example of ‘demonizing by word association’, perhaps similar to some devotees calling anybody who dares to talk about madhurya rasa a ‘sahajiya’. All it takes is a few vague or extrapolated ‘connections’.

    Unless creationists can reasonably explain the fossil record and undeniable changes in Earth’s fauna and flora over time, people will be attracted to ‘dangerous’ ideas such as evolution.

    Are Prajapatis really creating each and every new beetle species? Or are they simply setting in motion a chain of events and a mechanism by which all new species come into being? Now, these are indeed interesting questions…

    • I think the interesting question is how do chemicals become life. Creationists are not serious competitors with evolutionists. But intelligent design has more credibility then some would like to think. I certainly think that there is intelligence behind the world. But again, this comes down to a philosophical discussion. Science cannot answer it but it can certainly participate substantially in the discussion.

      Otherwise I think you have made some reasonable arguments against the idea that Darwin had a strong influence on Nazi Germany.

    • The idea of creating super-humans comes from Nietzche, one of Hitler’s favourite philosophers, who often talked of the ‘ubermensch’, a superior being (superman). And the practical execution of that idea was based on centuries old principles of selective breeding, not darwinism.

      We can also say that Nietzche was a rather fine philosopher, with an abundance of subtle ideas in his pockets — ideas that require a subtle shift in perspective to understand and appreciate properly.

      A mere everyday consumer of philosophy with troubled and deranged personality like Hitler, certainly didn’t get the real meaning of many of Nietzche’s thoughts, same as the rest of popular audience, then and now. We can say that if an everyday warmongering German really understood what Nietzche was talking about, he or she would be a philosopher, not quite ready to indulge in warfare Hitler advocated.

      Nietzche’s call “God is dead”, or his idea of a “super-man”, can be understood in several different ways and the literal interpretation, one most obvious to an everyday consumer that politics (or religion, or doctrine) relates to, is usually a wrong one.

      But same is in everything else, in all walks of life, and in our case how we understand and interpret Bhagavata Purana, how we understand bhakti itself, etc.

  • Kula-pavana dasa

    Creationists are not serious competitors to evolutionists because by and large they reject rational scientific thinking, insisting instead on models involving “and then a miracle occurs…” in their explanations. That does not satisfy even some people who are deeply religious. Some of the biblical creationism can be naive to the extreme. No wonder that evolution is quite popular among those who believe in God. It is the lack of viable alternatives.

    As the bodies of each individual living entity develop via a media of a genetic code, perhaps a similar process takes place when it comes to the origin of species, and a gradual emergence of more and more complex life forms takes place here on Earth. Such theories can be a part of the Intelligent Design approach, but they need to be based on solid science and fact, not wishful thinking. Only then ID may becone a viable alternative to the more rational religious people.

    Whether chemicals can ‘become life’ is part of the same general question. Afer all, our physical bodies ARE made of chemicals. At which point can we speak of life, what is life, and precisely what process makes it happen?

    Theistic science needs to grow and evolve just like the materialistic science. I believe that we can (and should) be able to compete with materialistic science when it comes to developing true knowledge of the world. After all, initially there was only one Veda (Knowledge). Simply demonizing the opponent will not work, we must provide people with a viable alternative.

    • prajyumna

      I completely agree with this. Theism needs to take the same scientific evidence and give a better alternate theories than the evolutionists do. It will not do to simply demonize the scientists. Not only will civilized non-spiritualists be offended by this but also rational spiritualists.

      The fight of creationism vs evolutionism has typically been dominated between Christianity and Darwinism. I think that the vedic voice brings a lot of much needed new fuel to the table. We need a larger theistic perspective that can embrace all the scientific evidence and can still give a solid explanation.

      • Gaura-Vijaya das

        Yes but it is not easy as new scientific evidence keeps on coming and it is not easy to bend the interpretations in bhagavat purana to all scientific evidence.

  • Kula-pavana dasa

    Zvonimir-ji,
    Upon a much closer examination a lot of things may look different to us, including those “everyday warmongering Germans” and all sorts of “troubled and deranged personalities” of that turbulent time period. That is why devotees should strive to become independently thoughtful. Otherwise, how can we become sama-darsinah?

  • Gaura-Vijaya

    I agree with you Kula-Pavana; we need some good alternative to atheistic evolution.
    This an excerpt from a debate I was having:
    There was only one evidence for God remaining to be dismantled conclusively: argument by design. After pushing all the literal stories of the Bible to the background,Christian intellectuals accepted allegorical explanations of the Bible. Atleast there was a belief that the whole creation is an idea in the mind of God( Hegel, Emerson etc also concurred with this view). But through the quest to interpret mutations as completely random and nature as completely random, people from Russell to Dawkins to Hitchens argued that it is highly improbable that there is any idea in creations. Creation is all about copying errors and mutations are mistakes. These mutations somehow through so many billions of years of evolution in one corner of the universe gave rise to structures like humans, reptiles etc. Certainly the probability of this event is very remote but the event occurred in this tiny fragment of the universe, that structure was realized. These are their views. So all these views dismantle the theory that the idea of human or any species can exist from beginning. As these are product of just error propagation in genes. And hence argument by design has been dismantled too and so has any other theory like laws of karma etc. yes there is as much probability of these things as there is of fire not burning my finger tomorrow, according to Russell. So I don;t really understand what you mean when you say science is not a problem for theology at all.

    There are some scientists, few in number, who have opposed that view. And no, I am not talking about Christian ID proponents.
    I suggest you can read, Werner Arber who was a Nobel Prize Winner and Professor of biology. Thankfully he is not a Christian or practitioner of any faith so you can rely on him more. He says, ” Evolution does not occur on the basis of errors, accidents or action of selfish genetic elements. Rather, the evolution genes must have been fine-tuned for their functions to provide and to replenish a wide diversity of life forms.”

    He adds,” According to me, the populations of living beings occasionally produce genetic variants by using three qualitatively different strategies. One is gene acquisition strategy . Second is a reshuffling of DNA segments within the genome. This process is mediated by specific recombination enzymes. The third strategy is to generate genetic variants which bring about small local changes in the DNA sequences, such as substitution of a nucleotide or deletion or insertion of one or a few nucleotides. These latter changes can occur upon DNA replication because of limited stability of nucleotides. In literature, such local changes are often described as error or mistakes. However, I consider this to be unfair interpretation of the observations. From my point of view, such local changes in DNA sequences are a direct consequence of the slight structural and chemical instability of the nucleotides. As a scientist I have learnt not to believe too much in dogmatic theories given in textbooks”.

    So these are the kinds of things I was looking for, that there are multiple interpretations of the same data possible. Obviously one of the interpretations may dominate but that can be for reasons other than objectivity. More to do with comfort level of researchers and funding direction etc.

    And then the other thing, how do you test something is random? On this account a famous physicist Wolfgang Pauli opposed the complete randomness conclusion of the biologist. Obviously the biologist with very less knowledge of math compared to him could not understand his arguments well. The defintion of randomness comes from mathematical statistics. And it is seen that complete randomness in a smaller sample space can be actually randomness with a directed distribution in a larger sample space. Similarly randomness in the human observation space could be actually directed randomness in a bigger space which is beyond human observation. This is the gist of the arguments of Pauli in my words, though his paper is very complex to understand. I

    These are some interesting comments from an interview with Charles Townes regarding the issue of evolution and intelligent design.
    The full article is found by clicking on this link http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/06/17_townes.shtml

    Should intelligent design be taught alongside Darwinian evolution in schools as religious legislators have decided in Pennsylvania and Kansas?

    I think it’s very unfortunate that this kind of discussion has come up. People are misusing the term intelligent design to think that everything is frozen by that one act of creation and that there’s no evolution, no changes. It’s totally illogical in my view. Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it’s remarkable that it came out just this way. If the laws of physics weren’t just the way they are, we couldn’t be here at all. The sun couldn’t be there, the laws of gravity and nuclear laws and magnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and so on have to be just the way they are for us to be here.
    Charles Townes
    ‘Faith is necessary for the scientist even to get started, and deep faith is necessary for him to carry out his tougher tasks. Why? Because he must have confidence that there is order in the universe and that the human mind – in fact his own mind – has a good chance of understanding this order.’
    -Charles Townes, writing in “The Convergence of Science and Religion,” IBM’s Think magazine, March-April 1966
    Some scientists argue that “well, there’s an enormous number of universes and each one is a little different. This one just happened to turn out right.” Well, that’s a postulate, and it’s a pretty fantastic postulate – it assumes there really are an enormous number of universes and that the laws could be different for each of them. The other possibility is that ours was planned, and that’s why it has come out so specially. Now, that design could include evolution perfectly well. It’s very clear that there is evolution, and it’s important. Evolution is here, and intelligent design is here, and they’re both consistent.

    They don’t have to negate each other, you’re saying. God could have created the universe, set the parameters for the laws of physics and chemistry and biology, and set the evolutionary process in motion, But that’s not what the Christian fundamentalists are arguing should be taught in Kansas.

    People who want to exclude evolution on the basis of intelligent design, I guess they’re saying, “Everything is made at once and then nothing can change.” But there’s no reason the universe can’t allow for changes and plan for them, too. People who are anti-evolution are working very hard for some excuse to be against it. I think that whole argument is a stupid one. Maybe that’s a bad word to use in public, but it’s just a shame that the argument is coming up that way, because it’s very misleading.

  • Kula-pavana dasa

    Gaura-Vijaya-ji, thank you for posting these exchanges. They raise a lot of good points.

    I have seen too many thoughtful people discouraged by the overly confrontational and simplistic views on science often presented in our preaching efforts. I do not see Vedic knowledge as dogmatic, but it can certainly be presented as such. Dogma will never be a substitute for true knowledge.

    And since we can not produce our own flying vimanas using Vedic mantras, it would be wise to give at least some credit to people who gave us modern aviation… quite obviously they know what they are doing.

  • Gaura-Vijaya has hit the nail on the head.
    “Evolution is here, and intelligent design is here, and they’re both consistent.

    They don’t have to negate each other. . .

    People who want to exclude evolution on the basis of intelligent design, I guess they’re saying, ‘Everything is made at once and then nothing can change.’ But there’s no reason the universe can’t allow for changes and plan for them, too. People who are anti-evolution are working very hard for some excuse to be against it.”

    I have read a fair amount of Daniel Dennett’s work. Although I haven’t read much of “Dangerous Idea,” it is on my bookshelf and I attended a lecture by him a few years ago and he made reference to its contents several times. He also uses the ‘universal acid’ and ‘crane vs. skyhook’ arguments in several other books and articles.

    It seems abundantly clear to me that Dennett is a very intelligent man. His theories regarding how the human mind might come to perceive itself as an individual, a person with a sense of ‘I-ness’ via a material process are not only interesting but compelling. He does a great job in refuting the concept of the Cartesian theater, the idea that at the core of a mind exists a simple witness.

    However, in the end his theories are just theories. He can’t prove much and his arguments tend to leave me feeling that he has simply adopted a dogma no better or worse than the creationists in Kansas.

    Krishna Consciousness is based on scientific knowledge because its hypotheses are proven. If you do x, y, and z, you get a particular, predictable result.

    Here is the etymology of the word ‘science,’ simply taken from the Online Etymological Dictionary: science
    c.1300, “knowledge (of something) acquired by study,” also “a particular branch of knowledge,” from O.Fr. science, from L. scientia “knowledge,” from sciens (gen. scientis), prp. of scire “to know,” probably originally “to separate one thing from another, to distinguish,” related to scindere “to cut, divide,” from PIE base *skei- (cf. Gk. skhizein “to split, rend, cleave,” Goth. skaidan, O.E. sceadan “to divide, separate;” see shed (v.)).

    The part of the entry I wish to draw attention to for this conversation says,

    Modern sense of “non-arts studies” is attested from 1678. The distinction is commonly understood as between theoretical truth (Gk. episteme) and methods for effecting practical results (tekhne), but science sometimes is used for practical applications and art for applications of skill. Main modern (restricted) sense of “body of regular or methodical observations or propositions … concerning any subject or speculation” is attested from 1725; in 17c.-18c. this concept commonly was called philosophy.

    Thus, there is a subtle, sometimes ambiguous distinction between ‘philosophy’ and ‘science.’ For instance, most people have seen a model of an atom as postulated in an introductory level chemistry class. These models typically display a sphere, the nucleus of an atom, surrounded by smaller satellites, electrons. Students are frequently given the impression that the electrons are orbiting the nucleus. Yet, they are also told that electrons from one atom ‘pair’ with electrons of another atom. Anyone with a little experience of the physical world can recognize that a satellite orbiting a sphere can not remain ‘paired,’ i.e. maintain consistent physical proximity to another satellite, orbiting a different sphere. The model, the philosophy, fails to fully describe what actually happens when atoms combine to form molecules. More complex theories are required to explain what is taking place at an atomic level when substances chemically combine. The little reading I’ve done in these areas reveals that the ‘scientists’ can often be quite speculative. Nonetheless, chemists regularly engineer different substances with work based on the atomic theory. My point is simply that a philosophy does not have to be completely accurate in order to be scientifically relevant. Imperfect knowledge can be employed to produce fairly exact results.

    Dennett’s hubris stems from the fact that he refuses to fully recognize that he has imperfect knowledge regarding the origins of life. Whereas a chemist will confess that she doesn’t fully know what is happening at a molecular level, Dennett claims to know that evolution by chance is the sole cause of all phenomena. He does not have any real evidence to support this belief. It is blind faith.

    As Prabhupada points out, no human being can take material substances x, y, and z and produce a living organism, unless those substances are already alive, as sperm and ova are, or as stem cells are. The debate between evolutionists and creationists is simply ‘tail chasing.’ They are going in circles without realizing they have no real grievance with one another. The language of sacred texts and the language of contemporary scientific journals speak within entirely different paradigms. Many theologians, particularly rabbinical scholars, have acknowledged this for centuries; why Christian Fundamentalists and even Srila Prabhupada don’t overtly recognize this escapes me.

    The existence of God as a creator, even an active actor in history, will never be proven through a study of evolution. Scientifically, the only way to verify a claim is to actually observes its factuality or at least its usefulness. Sadhana produces a genuine personal observation by the practitioner, the spiritual scientist. Evolutionary theory has also given birth to some practical results in different fields. I can only accept the notion that Gaudiya Vaishnavas possess ‘perfect knowledge’ as a working hypothesis because I recognize that I am imperfect and cannot expect to hold or understand in this lifetime all that the acharyas have offered.

    There is a vast difference between accepting that a particular body of texts contain ‘perfect knowledge,’ whatever that be, and saying, “I possess perfect knowledge” or that “S/he (the guru) possesses perfect knowledge.” Clearly, Srila Prabhupada proved he did not possess perfect knowledge in a material sense. The gurukula initiative is but one example. I refuse to believe that he had any notion that it would be such a dismal failure. Genuine scientists always acknowledge that there is still more to learn about every subject.

    There is no place for the concept of God in entry level science curricula. As Gaura-Vijaya points out, “Evolution is here, and intelligent design is here, and they’re both consistent. They don’t have to negate each other. . .” Discussions of the sort we are having do have a place in science but belong to higher realms of study such as the Philosophy of Science, certainly not in elementary schools. The existence of God has no real bearing on basic understandings of the fossil record or on the way micro-biologists conduct research and develop products. In other words, a non-specialist such as a child, in my opinion, would be best served with the truth. At temples we rightly provide theological education. In secular schools we provide education in the arts and the basic findings of material science. An inquisitive mind, like that of my ten year old, is bound to ask how all these different ideas can be reconciled. When he approaches me with such questions, as he has, my best answer is the truth, “I don’t know.” Scientists, philosophers such Dennett, and devotees will be best served by adding a bit more humility to their presentations.

    In closing, (please forgive my long winded comments) I’d like to say that in some sense Dennett is correct in describing Darwin’s idea as a ‘universal acid,’ eroding any attempt to contain its reach. However, its effect is this regard dissolves as soon as someone abandons the attempt to contain it. I sincerely wish Srila Prabhupada had fully embraced the philosophy he employed in the field of persons who criticized the preaching attempts of Mangalanda Prabhu, who initiated the use of rock music to spread Krishna consciousness. In that regard, His Divine Grace said, “Let the cows moo.” Devotees will never convince a significant number of people that Darwinism is completely wrong. There is too much evidence to support certain aspects of the doctrine. Similarly, Dennett and Dawkins may say whatever they like but they will never be able to disprove my scientific findings regarding the existence of God with the theory of evolution.

    • prajyumna

      I really appreciated Jamadagni Prabhus call for both those coming from a creationist perspective or the evolutionary perspective to have academic honesty to say, “I don’t know” when they come across a part of the puzzle for which they don’t have a piece. Saying “I don’t know” atleast ensures that there is a piece missing and that we should look for it.
      What too many so called scientists and objective acadecians from both the evolution and creation side engage in is trying to push ‘square pegs in round holes’ just to not be undone in having an argument, no matter how far-fetched it is.

      Below are my comments that I feel are relevant here too:
      http://harmonist.us/2009/06/computerized-gods/#comments

      I wonder how much politics plays in science having a mythical religioius coloring. In the current political climate, the Democratic left is counting on the public’s acceptance of evolution as a scientific theory so that they appear to have more legitimacy over the ‘religious right’ backed up more by the Bible. Since much of the American university system, including MIT, seems disproportionately influenced by the liberal philosophy, I wonder how much this comes into play when scientists take stances on evolution and how machines are viewed in society.
      In other words, priests and rabbis are accused of taking stances in favor of their religious ideals, as opposed to being ‘objective.’ Priests and rabbis are accused of have biases that are affected by their ideology. But that makes me question: does that mean that we are saying that scientists are so pure at heart that they are not influenced by their own ideologies and the politics of their respective social stances?
      Let’s admit it, as the author of the article said, scientists enjoy a certain legitimacy of being more objective and uninfluencable by social agendas that few others today enjoy.

  • It should be of interest to those who commented on, read, and found this article good or bad to read the following article on the success of Johnson’s overall strategy in all of his books (especially Darwin on Trial) of distinguishing naturalism from science.

    http://epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=66&ap=1

    The article cites numerous prominent atheists and agnostics who are now doubting Darwin and acknowledging ID as a genuine scientific enterprise. It’s a bit long but very informative.

  • Gaura-Vijaya

    Some standard responses by scientists about God and consciousness:

    Feynman said,
    “God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven’t figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don’t believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time — life and death — stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand.”

    And here says it is alright to live in uncertainity rather than turn to a provincial understanding of religion where the sole focus of God is to judge people on this tiny “earth” to go to hell or heaven. This notion is too simplistic and very unlikely according to Feynman, seeing that earth is insignificant part of the universe. He says it is better to live in uncertainty( that does not scare him) than living in certainty of something that is wrong. At the same time he admits science it all about more likely and less likely and he cannot be certain about anything.
    Here is his video on doubt,uncertainty and religion and on exist
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLaRXYai19A&feature=related

    Many people have trouble about how such an insignificant part of whole universe is so significant to demand God’s special attention. For them it is unlikely, but then unlikely events to happen :).

  • Babhru

    I have to admit that, when Swami sent me an article by Johnson, I was less than overwhelmed. I think my response to him was something along the lines of “Interesting, but is this the best they [ID folks] really have?” After a quick first look at Williams’s article, I see I need to take another look at Johnson (if I can find it). This article is long, but that’s because it must be, and it’s worth reading. When I have a little time, I’m going back to it for a more careful encounter.

  • Babhru

    A couple of things worth noting here are some distinctions highlighted, as between scienctific inquiry and committed materialism, which I think implies scientism, and which may be synonymous with the metodological naturalism discussed here. There’s a lot in this article.

  • Gaura-Vijaya

    Here is another interesting excerpt relevant to the discussion.It is Charles Townes,famous physicist behind the invention of the laser.

    Quantum mechanics and general relativity are wonderful, and tell us a lot. But it appears they are not consistent with each other. What is it we are missing?

    Science is so successful we are enthralled and believe it, but there are profound mysteries. Another mystery facing us in human life is free will. According to present science, we individuals really can have no freedom of choice, yet we think we do. And there is the question as to what really is consciousness, or a conscious being. Intuitively we think we can make some free choices, and know what consciousness is, but our present science and logic simply do not fit our ideas very well. Are there completely new phenomena and laws of science to be discovered, or can we never understand fully?

    • This is of course a good quote, but the value of the article I have referred readers to is that it is quoting very prominent atheist scientists who are active in their fields today. Their admission as to the non scientific nature of both metaphysical and epistemological naturalism along with their admission as to the place for intelligent design in science is compelling. Especially when a good number of them are just now coming to this objective position.

      There is currently also some significant work going on in the study of consciousness or philosophy of mind, wherein evidence of downward causation (mental to physical causation) that supports substance dualism (consciousness/mind is different from matter) is emerging. This verges on proving the existence of the atma. You can read about is in books like Naturalism (Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro) and Consciousness and the Existence of God ( J. P. Moreland). These books also have naturalism on the ropes.

      Theology aside, you have to give these Christians a lot of credit. The Discovery Institute, for example, is doing what Prabhupada wanted his Bhaktivedanta Institute to do and on a huge scale. And they are becoming successful in shifting the ground. ID is not synonymous with nor is it a cover for Creationsism.

      Meanwhile many Gaudiya Vednatins are merely quarreling over who is in charge and spouting fundamentalism in the name of Mahaprabhu and oozing with pride as they do so. Pathetic.

      • Perhaps I have been less charitable than warranted in my last post. GV is underfunded and very small in numbers compared to Christianity. And some of its members are working in this field to the best of their ability. Meanwhile the majority of Christians have been less than helpful.

        • Gaura-Vijaya

          I think there is some truth to your statement. It is very hard for many devotees to even do anything in this field without being looked suspiciously by the GV community of trying to be smarter than SP. As soon as you are non-literal in your interpretation the authorities clamp you down.

  • Gaura-Vijaya

    I think it will be good if ID can come into the picture in a serious way through mainstream scientists. The idea of fine tuning in the cosmological constant is strong right now, but multiverse is a way to explain away the fine tuning.
    Let us see how much inroads ID will make into science. It takes time to have a paradigm shift anyway.

  • Gaura-Vijaya

    I read the article partially and the comments in the article are synonymous with what I wrote in my review of “Nature’s IQ”. Where we have to focus our discussion is on science being based on methodological naturalism. If science accepts that fact, then scientists should agree that nature will open up according to their investigation mode. Science is not how nature is, science is how nature responds to our method of questioning.

    If science does not accept the fact that it is based on methodological naturalism, then the people who are theistic have to think about hypothesis that is empirically verifiable. Some people are trying to formulate ID as a empirically testable hypothesis and that is admirable.

    The reason why science chooses philosophical naturalism is because of Occam’s razor. The success of science has come through invoking natural explanations to all phenomenon’s to the extent it is possible. Mathematics is a language science has developed to model the world and I do not know if mathematics is suited to model supernatural phenomenon.
    Real point of thinking for theistic/atheistic(Buddhist) people is how so many alternate explanations of creation-Buddhist, Advaita, Christian, GV,Greek,Mayan etc- can form a coherent empirically testable hypothesis. The main problem of proving one’s religious faith through empirical process is coming up with something that can be tested experimentally. Maybe things can progress in this direction or atleast scientists will acknowledge their bounds in naturalism. Naturalism is most suited for empirical testing. Empirical/Scientific method itself is biased towards naturalism.

    The problem is that supernatural events do not occur consistently enough to be empirically testable. It is upto God to reveal himself, he cannot be forced to appear in the experiment.

    • You write,

      Naturalism is most suited for empirical testing. Empirical/Scientific method itself is biased towards naturalism.

      In the article we find,

      Atheist Fred Hoyle (writing with mathematician Chandra Wickramasinghe) concluded that design is the only reasonable explanation: the enormous information content of even the simplest living systems . . . cannot in our view be generated by what are often called “natural” processes . . . There is no way in which we can expect to avoid the need for information, no way in which we can simply get by with a bigger and better organic soup, as we ourselves hoped might be possible . . . The correct position we think is . . . an intelligence, which designed the biochemicals and gave rise to the origin of carbonaceous life . . . This is tantamount to arguing that carbonaceous life was invented by noncarbonaceous intelligence. . .
      Hoyle and Wickramasinghe didn’t identify their “non-carbonaceous intelligence”, but noted:
      the scientific facts throw Darwin out, but leave William Paley, a figure of fun to the scientific world for more than a century, still in the tournament with a chance of being the ultimate winner . . . Indeed, such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific.

      If that which is most suited toward empirical testing (your stated view) is so obviously wrong (Hoyle’s view), one has to wonder.

      Please keep reading the article. It gets better.

      • Gaura-Vijaya

        I am reading it and it is indeed interesting. Only way to demonstrate design is by showing that statistical probability of natural explanations accounting for current life is low and fine tuning is required. But through multi-verse and other ways one can evade fine tuning. Bradley Monton,the person who Johnson quoted above has an article on pros and cons of fine tuning. It is very useful actually http://spot.colorado.edu/~monton/BradleyMonton/Articles_files/FT%20paper%20BJPS.pdf making one realize that seeing arguments for both sides you will be agnostic. It is the feeling that makes gravitate towards atheistic or theistic interpretations of data. But like I said above theist also have a way to say that like scientists evade supernatural through multi-verse, supernatural evades the scientists by being statistically improbable in empirical results of “certain” scientists. However one looks at it, one can argue out for God.

        The main reason is that science is successful in pushing its agenda of naturalism is because of insistence of literal interpretation of scriptures. Most literal interpretations of theistic scriptures have so many defects when they are subjected to empirical testing, that religion has lost its credibility and with it the supernatural too. Unfortunately the number of literalists always dominate the landscape and even blaspheme others who are non-literal.

        • Gaura-Vijaya

          Ah an interesting catch is Dawkins himself who takes a view against methodological naturalism and obviously he believes God is a weak hypothesis in the God delusion(similar to the great Bertrand Russell). Richard Dawkins likewise rejects MN and defends the scientific status of ID:

          God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice . . . The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice – or not yet – a decided one

      • Gaura-Vijaya

        I finished the article. It is quite good. As always there are a plethora of views about everything in there. In between the article ,there was an idea about soft methodological naturalism and that is supposed to be the best approach to take.
        But like a person said,” God( as aliens can lead to intelligent design too) can never be directly inferred through empirical evidence: He is perhaps better placed through ID than evolution but who knows. It is a mesh of ideas out there.

  • Gaura-Vijaya

    I see that most people who are atheists and are supporting Johnson are philosophers not hard core scientists. Hard core scientists will excommunicated from the church of science if they investigate any supernatural hypothesis. Ian Stevenson and Michael Behe are some examples of this kind. Even Carl Jung faced stiff oppositions from scientists in his time.

    On the other hand it is a fact that many times “scientific” rationalistic thought is able to expose fake mystics, tantriks who practice levitation and witchcraft. One example of people who are skeptics are Abraham Kovoorhttp
    ://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Kovoor and Basava Premanand http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basava_Premanand
    In 1963, Abraham Kovoor offered an award of INR 100,000 for anyone who could demonstrate supernatural or miraculous powers under fool-proof and fraud-proof conditions. After the death of Abraham Kovoor in 1978, Basava Premanand continued his challenge by offering INR 100,000 to any person who would demonstrate any psychic, supernatural of paranormal ability of any kind under satisfactory observing conditions. The challenge remains uncontested.
    After his numerous encounters with god-men, astrologers, and other people who claimed to have psychic powers, he came to the conclusion that there was no objective truth behind such claims. He wrote, “Nobody has and nobody ever had supernatural powers. They exist only in the pages of scriptures and sensation-mongering newspapers.” His books Begone Godmen and Gods, Demons and Spirits, about his encounters with people claiming psychic powers, are still best-sellers in India.

    The above facts that I highlighted in bold make it hard for me to believe that supernatural events can be demonstrated through empirically repeatable events.

    Going with Dawkin’s argument that God hypothesis is unlikely, my argument is that unlikely events do happen. Even production of human beings from natural selection and mutation is a stastistical improbable event, but it has happened. Stastically improbably events do happen. Krsna himself says,” Out of thousands, one endeavors for truth and out of them hardly one knows him.” Appearance of Krsna and CM are statistically improbable events. \
    Having God realization and real mystic powers is a rare event that is not repeatable and testable by scientists. People who have them will care less to be tested by scientists. Swami Ram did allow himself to be tested and showed a lot of amazing breath control and control over brain patterns without changing scientists.

  • Daruka das

    Although it is old discussion…

    In all holly scriptures of the world there is no any evidence of evolution theory. So, why bother so much about it? If it is so, it means that that question is not significant for spiritual goal. Material world and material energy is very seductive, and it has great “gravity” force to pull us in different kind of illusions, without giving us final and conclusive answer. Point of spiritual life is to be free of such entanglement not to sink dipper in it. Holly scriptures does not speak in great details about creation of species, it means that for spiritual purpose it is not significant question and probably is out of our reach.

    Theory of evolution is more philosophy than science. What gave this philosophy scientific taste is that the theory call for scientific evidences in its conclusions, however connections between these evidences are assumption – not proved facts, although materialistic proponent of the theory try to convince or deceiving us (or even themselves) to believe that these conclusions are proved facts, just because it is made upon scientific evidences – which are facts. Scientific evidences are not problem – however conclusions based on it are! Because scientific evidences (from anthropology, geology…) are facts, however, conclusions made from it – are not necessary facts; they “can be” facts but they can be unproven assumptions, interpretations of facts in certain way. And in case of theory of evolution they are unproven assumptions, for now, and probably will stay as unproven assumptions for ever, because it can not be proven in scientific way – it is just stay in area of philosophical thoughts (or, more, speculations). And fact is one thing but assumptions are another. And assumptions based on assumptions of assumptions are third thing…

    There is no evidence that one species is evolved from another species in way theory of evolution present it. Is there possibility for that – yes, there is. Is it possibility proven – no, it is not, there is just assumptions in mind of some people, based on some (selected, fractionated, filtered from whole reality and from whole corpus of different kind of evidences…) facts. One thing is fact, another thing is interpretation of the fact. “Can be” are not same as “be”, and should not be mixed together, and after that pretend that they are in same category.

    So, if somebody really want to be rational – be really rational. Mixing philosophical speculations with science is not science. It is obvious that science have not final answer on question of “origin of species”, and probably it is out of reach for science as it is today. It has THEORY of evolution, but it has not prove that the theory is truth, or, at least part of much broader truth.

    And holly scriptures are not “theory” nor it is materialistic science based on human reachable empirical knowledge, it is above it. It is not just rational, it is over-rational. And reality is not just rational, it is more than rational, rational is just part of reality, not whole reality. As we can not comprehend whole reality just with eyes or ears… similarly we can not comprehend whole reality just with mind, or rational part of our being.

    Beings who create different kind of species (Visnu, Brahma, prajapatis, Manus…), including humans, have not sthula-sarira – grose material body,so how to apply theory of evolution on them? Material based science and spiritual science can not be mix together, it is two different cognitive systems. Material science apply just on physical part of reality, and physical reality is – reality, but not whole reality, just part of it – illusory part…

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