Thursday, April 05, 2012

Paleontologist Robert Asher's accommodationism

In his Huffington Post article Science, Religion and the First Amendment, paleontologist Robert J. Asher writes "Never mind that the winning side of major U.S. court decisions supporting evolution in public schools has regularly featured experts who recognize compatibility between science and religion. If they are 'creationists,' then so was Charles Darwin." Unlike Darwin, these experts sometimes claim that ancient miracle stories, such as the resurrection and the divinity of Jesus, are true. These experts who claim compatibility between their own religious beliefs and science make arguments in defense of their claim that are in conflict with the overall evidence. In contrast, Darwin stopped attending church and stopped calling himself a Christian. He wrote "Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake." Given the contexts that atheism was a crime in those days, and that we know so much more today about plausible materialistic mechanisms for origins than we did in those days, Darwin expressed views that hinted his beliefs leaned in an atheistic direction, even though he was a Christian as a younger man.

Robert Asher then wrote: "However, it is not 'creation' itself that conflicts with science, but the implication of certain processes (involving for example a ridiculously short period of time) by which this 'creation' took place." Although theists will deny it, the implications of our knowledge about the universe are also unfavorable for a creation of humans by deity process. The evolutionary process replaces
as creator of humans with biology and natural selection. To keep insisting that a god created humans is thus also similarly ridiculous. Theism requires almost as much mental gymnastics to refuse accepting the evidence to the contrary as does belief in young earth creationism.

Robert Asher continues: "Asserting that a deity is behind a given process leaves the material basis for that process completely open to further investigation." This is true to the extent the person making the deity assertion is willing to abandon that assertion if the evidence better fits the assertion that no deity is behind a given a process. Evolution is behind the process of speciation. So asserting that God is behind the process of speciation can, and sometimes does, close the material basis referred to as biological evolution from at least some further investigations.

Robert Asher then argues: "Analogously, regarding Thomas Edison as the inventor of the light bulb says nothing about how it actually works, and no reasonable person would conclude his non-existence from our understanding of electricity. In other words, understanding a natural mechanism is generally independent of a potential agency behind it." Obviously, there is no conflict between a scientific understanding of electricity and the existence of Thomas Edison. On the contrary, we are rationally compelled to believe in the existence of Thomas Edison because the evidence for his existence is very strong. But it would be wrong to assert that a deity is responsible for the light bulb instead of Thomas Edison and it is similarly wrong to assert that a deity is responsible for homo sapiens instead of biological evolution. We should always be following the evidence instead of contradicting the evidence. In other words, a natural mechanism can, and more to the point in this case, does, provide an explanation that functions as the agency behind something else.

Robert Asher then comments on the first clause of the 1st amendment of the U. S. constitution: "The U.S. constitution was written by individuals who viewed nature and its laws as consistent with the existence of a deity. I too believe in God, and am grateful to the framers for crafting a system by which religious beliefs cannot be legislated. Yet this constitutional assurance is double-edged because it seeks to balance the protection of society from popular superstition with each individual's right to religious expression. This balance lends itself to one of the most pressing issues of our society today: distinguishing superstition from religion, and ensuring that the right to believe does not cripple an understanding of our planet and ourselves." This is mistaken. Our laws speak for distinguishing religion from government. There is nothing at all about distinguishing superstition from religion in our laws, nor should there be. People are free to be "superstitious" and to express their superstitions via their religion. Insofar as such "mixing" is one of the more pressing issues of our society, it is a protected right of individuals under the second clause of the 1st amendment. Taking the superstition out of religion is like removing the water from lakes. Eliminate the former and the latter becomes nothing more than an artifact from the past.

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