Tom Gilson

Pennock, Monton, Matzke, Luskin, et al. (So Far)

IN case you’ve missed it—it started with a post named Robert Pennock the Conciliator, in which I made remarks on philosopher of science Robert Pennock’s article on Intelligent Design (ID) in U.S. News and World Report. That post drew attention from another philosopher, Bradley Monton, whom Pennock had rather gouged in the USN&WR piece. Monton takes a unique position: he is an atheist who supports pursuing ID as science and philosophy.

On a follow-up blog post, Opponents, Not Enemies, we were visited by Nick Matzke, who is known as having been the Public Information Project Director for the National Center for Science Education, perhaps the most prominent anti-Intelligent Design advocacy group in the world. Matzke contributed heavily to the prosecution’s successful case against teaching ID in the 2005 Dover trial. Not long after, Casey Luskin dropped in with comments. Luskin is Program Officer in Public Policy & Legal Affairs for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, the most prominent pro-ID advocacy group in the world.

There have been the usual Thinking Christian commenters taking part as well, and others who have come to join in what has turned out to be some fascinating fireworks. I added a third post to try to untangle some of our topics, How Wrong Is It To Suggest a Darwin-Hitler Link. Now, in another attempt to cut the knot, and also for the benefit of those who are just trying to catch up, I’m trying to summarize where we now stand. This will be very brief and therefore should be taken as an outline, not as a new set of arguments. Obviously when writing about others’ views from one’s own perspective, distortions, errors, or bias can creep in. I’ll be glad to make appropriate corrections here.

There are three major topics weaving through these threads:

  1. The manner of conduct among ID proponents and opponents
  2. The link between Darwin and Hitler, as claimed by many ID proponents
  3. The question of whether naturalistic evolution is compatible with certain kinds of ethical statements or beliefs

As of Monday evening, Nick Matzke more or less declared victory on (2) and (3), writing “I’ve got you over a barrel,” and “Game over.”

We’ll take our topics in reverse order here. With reference to ethics, he has most recently said that the fact that we have common moral opinions is enough to make ethics non-subjective and binding. Charlie and I have both said this is inadequate, except in context of our being created for a purpose. It specifically lacks explanation of what makes ethics really real (the ontological question) under naturalistic evolution (NE), particularly since NE cannot seem to find any basis for considering humans different in nature than other life.

Discussion on the link between Darwin and Hitler (2) has been mostly a back-and-forth between Charlie and Nick, in which Nick has said that Hitler never referenced Darwin (and that we had never read either Darwin or Hitler) and Charlie has responded by quoting passages from Hitler, where Hitler made clear reference to Darwin. As far as I have noticed, Nick has not responded to those quotes at all. (I’m open to correction on that.) My own response to (2) has been to move away from that question, on which I lack the historical expertise, and proceed to (3), concluding, that if NE is true, then there is no basis for ethics anyway, so how could it be wrong under NE to say anything at all about Darwin and Hitler?

Finally (1), the latest has come from The Deuce and Casey Luskin, who continue to maintain that there is a qualitative difference between the way ID proponents and ID opponents speak about the issue and the people on the other side of the issue. One case in point has been Wesley Elsberry’s blog, where the language directed toward ID proponents is often caustic and insulting. The Deuce has pointed out an inconsistency in Matzke’s response to that: Matzke seems to think that “guilt by association” should not be imputed to Elsberry, yet Matzke has practiced it in his conflating ID with some forms of creationism. The Deuce has posted twice on this, and unless I’ve overlooked it, Matzke has failed to respond to this.

Casey Luskin’s last post, too recent to allow time for Matzke to respond yet, was a call for respect, with examples of how that has often been lacking. Which takes us back to where we started: Monton’s response to the way Pennock treated him in the USN&WR article.

In summary (of the summary), there are these open questions:

  1. Can NE explain the basis for ethics (not just how we know what’s right, but how right and wrong can actually exist)
  2. What about Hitler’s words referencing Darwin?
  3. What response does Nick Matzke have to “guilt by association” in light of the Deuce’s recent comments?
  4. Can we treat one another with respect on all of this?

The “game” is not “over.”

I’m certainly making mutual respect my goal here. If in the process of summarizing I’ve missed some person’s comments, I apologize, and as I said, I’m open to corrections.

Series Navigation (Pennock, Monton, Matzke, Luskin):<<< How Wrong Is It To Suggest a Darwin-Hitler Link?Lunch With Bradley Monton, “Intelligent Design’s Unlikely Defender” >>>
Commenting Restored

The comment function here has been out of service, possibly causing frustration, for which I apologize. You can comment again now, and it will save and post as it should do. First-time commenters' comments will not appear, however, until approved in moderation.

14 thoughts on “Pennock, Monton, Matzke, Luskin, et al. (So Far)

  1. So, let me make absolutely clear I’ve got your positions right.

    1) Darwinism in no way, shape, or form entails that we have any kind of moral imperative.

    2) Darwinism is evil, because it entails that Nazism is a moral imperative.

  2. Well, hiero5ant, I’m glad you asked, for (as you might suppose) that’s not what I was saying or trying to say. Your (1) is approximately correct, but if you read the series to which this post is attached, you’ll find I have explicitly rejected (2), more than once. I won’t rehearse all that over again here. I’m rather curious where you came up with (2)—because it certainly wasn’t from what I wrote.

  3. Tom, with what would you replace #2 that *is* an accurate statement of your position?

    That is, what is the necessary moral relationship between Darwinism and Nazism (“evolution entails that . . . Nazism . . .”)? Can you fill in the blanks? Sorry if I’m asking for a restatement of what you’ve already posted, but a clear restatement in a different context can help clarification and focus, if merely for me.)

  4. Tom Gilson:Casey Luskin’s last post, too recent to allow time for Matzke to respond yet, was a call for respect, with examples of how that has often been lacking.

    I’m certainly making mutual respect my goal here.

    Hiero5ant:So, let me make absolutely clear I’ve got your positions right.
    1) Darwinism in no way, shape, or form entails that we have any kind of moral imperative.
    2) Darwinism is evil, because it entails that Nazism is a moral imperative.

    It just amazes me that the folk who are so concerned with “niceness” over and above truth never seem to see that responses such as Hhiero5ant’s are the natural result of that inverted valuation.

  5. Ilion, I’m not at all sure what you meant by that. Are you saying you thought hiero5ant was putting niceness above truth or vice-versa? Or that s/he gave that response to me because of the way I was valuing these things?

    It’s not an either-or choice, at any rate. I don’t think hiero5ant got to the truth in his/her attempted summary; see my comment #2 above.

  6. Tom Gilson:I don’t think hiero5ant got to the truth in his/her attempted summary; see my comment #2 above.

    To be blunt, Hiero5ant did not get to the truth in his attempted summary because Hiero5ant (as is so common with ‘atheists’) is not interested in careful, logical reasoning, nor in understanding what a “theist” has actually said, much less in at getting at the truth.

    And, again to be blunt, the care with which you had to make comment #2 (I mean over and above the care that we all should always exercise to ensure that we say exactly what we mean to say) is likely dictated by your inability … or refusal .. to understand the above truth about comment #1. But hey! Perhaps I’m misreading you and you *do* understand and responded intentionally in light of understanding the game going on.

    Tom Gilson:Are you saying you thought hiero5ant was putting niceness above truth or vice-versa?

    Of course I don’t think Hiero5ant puts niceness above truth; I think Hiero5ant has no use for either.

    But you do. Or, perhaps more accurately, you come very close to valuing “niceness” above truth — for instance, I am confident that you will be far more angry with me for what I am saying now than you would ever have been with Hiero5ant had he stuck around to “misunderstand” for a dozen more posts and counter-posts. At the same time, you’d have become increasingly frustrated with Hiero5ant and likely would eventually have said things to him for which, being a Christian, you’d have to ask his forgiveness — and that frequently seems to be one of the goals of that sort.

    Hiero5ant’s post does not display the attitude of a person who has misunderstood what he’d read, knows or suspects he’d misunderstood, and wants to correct the misunderstanding — moreover, to honestly/actually believe that he’d misunderstood what you’d written, one would have to believe him too stupid to put together a coherent sentence.

    But, because you are valuing “niceness” (though, at the same time, I strongly suspect you are likely to have little “niceness” to spare for me) above truth, you cannot directly tell him that you believe he’s not being intellectually honest in his “misunderstanding,” and likely you can’t even tell that to yourself.

    Tom Gilson:Or that s/he gave that response to me because of the way I was valuing these things?

    Not merely, but it does play into it and play into why that sort continues the game they play. Your misvaluing and overvaluing of “niceness” gives that sort a hold over you.

    Hiero5ant, and those like him, while seeming to have no use themselves for “niceness,” merely use the choice of yours to overvalue “niceness” to play you against yourself, and ultimately to attempt to play you against truth — and against your Christian witness. And, because you (and those who likewise overvalue “niceness”) cannot or will not understand what is going on, the game works again and again, person after person.

    Tom Gilson:It’s not an either-or choice, at any rate.

    But it is (since you insist on putting it in those terms). This overvalued “niceness” is a false substitute for the love we are commanded to have for all, even for those who hate us and lie about us. A true love does not require that we lie (to ourselves, no less!) about anything; quite the opposite: love requires that we face the truth without blinders. A committment to “niceness” above truth, on the other hand, frequently requires us to lie about the person or situation. A committment to “niceness” above truth frequently requires us to express hostility, or even hatred, toward those who will not be “nice.”

    “Niceness” is a trap/snare of the enemy.

  7. Ilion, thanks for the thoughts. The best short description of my guiding principle is Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

    That’s what I try to live up to here: to know how to answer, and to do it graciously. I’m sure I don’t succeed perfectly, but that’s the goal.

    By the way, you keep putting “niceness” in your comments with quotation marks around it. Who are you quoting?

  8. Ilion,

    Your last paragraph reminds me of a sermon I saw recently by Malcolm Smith (note: not a recent sermon, I think it was from the 80s) on how we tell ourselves lies in order to avoid unpleasant truths, i.e. things like “Oh, he’s not so bad,” “He’s better when you get to know him,” etc. The full list was much better but I cannot for the life of me remember the rest of them.

    I think you may be on to something, though; that we often give people extra chances to do right by choosing believing lies about them when in reality we know the truth very well, but choose to ignore it because it’s “uncomfortable,” or “confrontational,” or because it would be “rude” if we were to call it like it is.

    Anyway, I will refrain from commenting on whether this applies to hiero5ant and Tom’s discourse and let it stand at that.

  9. Ilion,
    You seem to be saying that wherever you see politeness in a debate, it is a facade, a false front to hide the rage and anger that is boiling up in the heart of the debator. But isn’t that suggesting a projection of your feelings on to others? Could there not possibly people who are serious about truth and yet are genuinely trying to be nice?

    I think being polite is essential to a debate about the truth because rudeness is so distracting, and distractions kill debates. I wouldn’t say that niceness is to be valued more than truth in a debate, but that the manner in which one engages in a debate should be consistent with the truth.

    And here is the rub. If you hold that the truth is a hard cold comfortless thing that hurts, then the way that you engage in debating would probably reflect on your impression of the truth. If, on the other hand, you hold that truth is consistent with the Truth, the Son of Man who came to seek and save those who are lost, and that this Truth is the source of compassion and kindness and gentleness and all that is good in this world, then the way you debate will naturally be consistent with that truth — or at least this will be the desire of your better moments.

    Perhaps this is a source of the obvious difference in the debating tactics of the two sides represented here (I say obvious because it does jolly well seem so obvious, but I allow this to be based on my impressions, not an objective study).

    Having made that point, I would also readily agree that the situation isn’t all that simple. As Brian pointed out, we do have the tendency to turn a blind eye when it suits us. But once again, not all politeness in a debate is contrary to the truth. And being polite in a debate with a rude opponent (refusing to drop your standards) does not equal to ‘losing the game’, as you put it. Rather, it can indicate your understanding of the truth.

  10. Brian:… that we often give people extra chances to do right by choosing believing lies about them when in reality we know the truth very well, but choose to ignore it because it’s “uncomfortable,” or “confrontational,” or because it would be “rude” if we were to call it like it is.

    And, of course, we *should* give others a chance, and we *should* take into account our own fallenness, and we *should* consider that we may have understood, and we *should* check to see whether we have reacted from our own misunderstanding, and so on.

    But, while not all truths need to be said, we *should not* lie about what we clearly see — and certainly not to ourselves. And, and we *should not* allow ourselves ever to be intimidated because someone (*) is going to whine about how “rude” we are being in pointing out dishonesties.

    (*) Have you yet noticed that those who raise the biggest ruckus about “rudeness” or “incivility” tend to be masters of it? But, they tend to do it passive-aggressively; for instance they might call the Christian who imagines he’s engaging in a reasoned argument a liar, or they call *all* Christians liars … they just won’t use the word directly.

  11. Tackimosh, I read the first couple of sentences of your post; that was enough to indicate to me that I ought to ignore the remainder of it.

  12. Ilion,

    I note that you did not bother to look at the Discussion Policies as I asked you to do before posting any more comments. (It’s very easy to check these things in the website log.) I have deleted those comments. In one of them you said you would probably not be back. By mutual agreement, then, you have posted your last comment here.

Comments are closed.

"Engaging… exhilarating.… This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year!" — Lee Strobel

"Too Good To Be False is almost too good to be true!" — Josh McDowell

Purchase Here!

More on the book...

Subscribe

Subscribe here to receive updates and a free Too Good To Be False preview chapter!

Recent Comments

Discussion Policy

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's discussion policy. Comments support Markdown language for your convenience. Each new commenter's first comment goes into moderation temporarily before appearing on the site. Comments close automatically after 120 days.

Copyright, Permissions, Marketing

Some books reviewed on this blog are attached to my account with Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and I receive a small percentage of revenue from those sales.

All content copyright © Thomas Gilson as of date of posting except as attributed to other sources. Permissions information here.

Privacy Policy

%d bloggers like this: