Stephen Webb’s summary of my argument doesn’t come close to anything I said. It is an absurd caricature. In citing the fact that many religious scientists believe in evolution, I was not saying “gee, they must all be right” because “all those good people seem to agree about something, so they can’t all be wrong.” That, of course, would be completely idiotic. Webb professes “respect” for my “writings on science and religion.” I wonder how he can have such respect and yet think me capable of such inanities as the arguments he attributes to me.

The main point of my post was that generally speaking one cannot talk about “the” philosophical implications of a scientific theory. The same set of scientific facts can be looked at in very different ways. I gave many examples. Some people saw materialist and atheist implications in Newtonian physics, whereas others did not. Some see quantum mechanics as pointing towards idealism or even subjectivism, others do not. I cited the example of my Catholic scientist colleagues primarily to illustrate the same point: Among believers in the theory of evolution one can find a wide spectrum of philosophical views, from atheism to orthodox Catholicism, and just about everything in between.

In his first answer to my “specific complaints,” Webb says, “I don’t agree that the idea that Darwinism has philosophical, moral, and theological implications is obvious and trivial.” I didn’t say that that idea was trivial or obvious. What I did say is trivial and obvious is that “an idea cannot be separated from its implications.” (I refer people to the actual text of what I wrote.) Again, I only ask that people who disagree with me disagree with what I actually say.

Webb quotes a statement from my post and then explains my meaning as follows, “In other words, there are no philosophical implications of any scientific theory except the philosophy that is imported into the scientific theory.” However, I did not make such a sweeping assertion, but indeed qualified what I said rather carefully. I said, “But rarely is it the case that one can talk about “the” philosophical implications of any scientific theory.” I said “rarely”, Webb interprets this as never. I also said, “The philosophical conclusions people reach from a scientific theory depend to a large extent on the philosophical assumptions they begin with.” Note that I said “to a large extent”; Webb interprets this to mean entirely.

Despite what Webb says, the example of Laplace has everything to do with the topic at hand. One of the pillars of modern atheism is the belief that we can explain the world adequately with scientific theories and therefore don’t need to invoke God as an explanatory hypothesis. The remarkable explanatory power of Newtonian physics (which was greater than even Newton realized, as Laplace, among others, showed) gave powerful impetus to such atheist ideas. One can make just as good a case that Newtonian physics contributed to the spread of atheism, agnosticism, and deism in the centuries that followed as that Darwinism has contributed to atheism.

I have heard anti-Darwinists argue that natural selection is not a “cause”. I guess it depends on how one is using the word “cause”. That word is not a term of art in modern science in the same way that it was in Aristotelian science. If the word “cause” is used by scientists nowadays, they are using it as in ordinary speech, where it has a broader range of meaning than some philosophers give it. It is probably better to use the word “explanation” than “cause” when discussing the theories of modern science.

Finally, I don’t see what is gained by ridiculing people as “Emmas.” That is an argumentum ad hominem . And this brings me to a second reason that I mentioned my Catholic scientist friends and other scientists who are devout religious believers. It is my impression that many Christian anti-Darwinists give almost no respect or attention to their co-religionists who are scientists. The disrespect is palpable in many things that I have read. Religious scientists who believe in the main outlines of Darwinian evolution are spoken of as the intellectual equivalent of Uncle Toms.

They are regarded as either cowardly sell-outs or people who have been hoodwinked. I think I catch a whiff of the latter view in Webb’s posts, as in this remark: “I find that scientists often just do not see some of the fundamental problems with Darwinism.” I don’t argue that when lots of people believe something, they “can’t all be wrong”, which would be just plain dumb. But I do say that when there is a strong consensus among experts, it means something ; it cannot simply be brushed aside. In some instances, what it means is that ideological passion or prejudice is at work. (The often touted consensus on global warming might be an example of this. I have my suspicions in that regard.)

The trouble with attributing the overwhelming scientific consensus in favor of Darwinian evolution to ideology is that it doesn’t account easily for the fact that scientists of all stripes join in that consensus including evangelicals like Francis S. Collins and Catholics like Kenneth R. Miller. Many of them are quite brave in declaring their religious beliefs in the sight of their scientific colleagues. They are not the kind of people who are afraid to buck a trend. It is far too easy to say that most of these people are philosophically and theologically naive, as many do say. The reason religious scientists should be paid at least a little more attention to than they are at present is not that they “are very nice people . . . and nice people don’t believe in bad things,” as Webb sarcastically puts it. Many of them are also very thoughtful and reflective people who are far from naive philosophically and theologically. They don’t deserve to be called Emmas, any more than all those skeptical of Darwinian evolution deserve to be called yahoos.

blog comments powered by Disqus