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  • Quote of the year

    If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.

    - Thomas Merton, from New Seeds of Contemplation

  • Acknowledgement

    Image of Saturn (tbsp) and Rhea courtesy NASA/JPL

    Science envy is alive and well in old Kentucky

    A trilobite, Ceraurus milleranus, found in Maysville, Kentucky. Whence this delight? There are two options here: (1) Ceraurus milleranus lived during the Ordovician, a period that lasted from about 488 to 444 million years ago and all its trilobyie cousins went extinct by the end of the Permian (250 million years ago); or (2) Ceraurus milleranus lived a few thousand years ago and was killed off (along with millions, and we mean many tens of millions, of other species) sometime during or after Noah’s flood. Pick one. Photograph courtesy of Rick Shrantz and the Kentucky Paleontological Society

    This just in from the National Center for Science Education via the Sensuous Curmudgeon: The Kentucky House of Representatives has just enacted a nice juicy piece of anti-evolution legislation, the first of 2011. Here’s what the NCSE has to say:

    Kentucky’s House Bill 169 would, if enacted, allow teachers to “use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” Dubbed the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act, HB 169 was introduced in the Kentucky House of Representatives on January 4, 2011; the sole sponsor of the bill is Tim Moore (R-District 26).

    Nice language, that. FYI, here’s the bill, in four short paragraphs. It’s just the same old nonsense: “Teach the controversy.” We at will leave the politics and such to good folks like the Curmudgeon, whose point of view we applaud with great fervor.

    Boy, Kentucky is really having it hard lately.

    What motivates stuff like this? Lots of things, of course. The world is changing fast and with that change comes challenges — threats — to worldviews that have been in place for generations. So part of it is fear, the Great Motivator. But in this case there’s something else: science envy.

    Last week we wrote about science envy and its effect on the humanities and social sciences, but here we have science envy in perhaps its purest form: Intelligent Design, also known as “creationism in a cheap suit.” The idea seems to be that science is some kind of steamroller than kills all religion, so it needs to be steamrolled itself. But science doesn’t kill religion. Au contraire, dear Alert Reader! Here’s good old C. S. Lewis waxing clear and sound on this issue, from his book Miracles:

    It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion. Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to realise for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely religious experience.

    Lewis was all for science, and — here’s a little-known fact — supported evolution. Why? Because he understood it to heighten and intensify religious knowledge, and to not threaten it. Bravo, Clive!

    Science just isn’t powerful enough to kill religion, is our point. And although science and religion are not independent, in general science just doesn’t work on the level that religion works. In the end, though, they work together. There is really nothing to fear here.

    In its overestimation of science, science envy causes people to do silly things. Like overinterpret science. And invent nonsense like ID. And introduce clown-ass legislation.

    We here at hope, for the sake of the good citizens of Kentucky and of the whole entire U. S. of A., that House Bill 169 dies a quick and decisive death.

      Comment Pages

      There are 11 Comments to "Science envy is alive and well in old Kentucky"

      • Tom Harkins says:

        Paul, as you know I have written a comment or two on the issue of ID, so I won’t belabor the point again, but did want to make a couple of comments about this post. First, I agree with you that Lewis believed in evolution TO AN EXTENT, but certainly believed that God directed the progress of same, and also could and did intervene in history on some occasions (most particularly in Christ, and in Christ’s MIRACLES recorded in the New Testament). See his book MIRACLES. So I did not want there to be any confusion on that point. He would never have consented to a totally “godless” view of evolution.

        Second, I find all these “dates” of evolutionary “finds” to be less than consistent or persuasive. You must be familiar with the recent “finds” of a broken finger and then a single tooth which require a “rewrite” of the view of human evolution. I am less than impressed with a “science” based on a predicate which could be so easily devastated by such a seeming paucity of finds, particularly to the extent the new data relies heavily on “how deep” in the ground the finger and tooth were found. So the “science” of evolution obviously has its own weaknesses.

        Finally, I think it might be wise for science to recognize its boundaries and make room for “history.” “Dating backwards,” as evolution attempts to do, rests on the ASSUMPTION that everything continued “as normal” from some “point of origin” from “nothing,” eons in the past. What if, instead, HISTORY showed that mankind, the earth, and the universe, were actually recorded not to have had such “origins” and “developments” from “nothing” and “no life” at all, but rather began “abruptly” in what may best be referred to as a “grown up” state? HISTORY does say this happened; however, some people do not want to believe those particular historical records. As far as science goes, it cannot prove the history to be wrong, only reject it in favor of a PHILOSOPHICAL predilection for “physical nature only” as the answer to all origin and development issues.

        Thus, I submit that the issue is not particularly one of “science” versus religion, but between two different PHILOSOPHICAL approaches, one which rejects any supernatural intervention or involvement in “world events,” which would include how they originated, and one which accepts such a prospect. Orthodox Christianity accepts this prospect based on the HISTORY recorded in the Bible. It does not reject science, but rather rejoices in it, to the extent it properly learns the ever increasing marvels of creation and the laws of how such nature presently operates, and then how mankind may make use of those laws and physical discoveries to improve the current temporal human condition.

        Tom Harkins 01/06/2011


        • Paul says:


          Certainly Lewis would never have accepted a godless view of evolution. And that is, in a sense, my very point. To accept evolution says nothing regarding one’s belief in God, in the binary sense of God exists/does not exist. That is, one can be a thoroughgoing theist and support evolution, as I do.

          To say that someone supports evolution is not to make a theological statement (although such a belief necessarily constrains one’s understanding of God). Yet you seem to conflate support of evolution with atheism. The two are entirely separate issues. Though I know of no atheists that support creationism (it is excluded by definition), the questions of God’s existence and evolution’s veracity are sharply distinct.

          The physical evidence for billion-year timescales and evolution is absolutely overwhelming, so on the history question we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

          Hope you’re well.


          • Tom Harkins says:

            Paul, two quick points. First, I don’t believe your view of “God” is comparable to that of Lewis, and this impacts the differing views of evolution between the two of you. As I understand your view (and certainly correct me if I am in error), there has been no “intervention” by God in history in any “miraculous” fashion. In other words, all “development” of earth and its “history” has proceeded in merely “natural” form throughout. (Perhaps you would distinguish the “Incarnation,” but I am not sure you accept any of the “miraculous” aspects of Jesus with respect to your view of that Incarnation. In fact, I confess to even at this point in the various discussions being somewhat unclear as to exactly what you DO mean by referring to the “Incarnation” with respect to Jesus.) Lewis clearly disagrees with you on that. As you know from your own reading of MIRACLES, Lewis adamantly insisted on the miraculous aspects of Jesus’ life and works (including the resurrection from the dead), which “overrode” the “normal” processes of nature (albeit occurring in a “comparable” fashion). Thus, Lewis’ view of God was not simply in a “binary” sense of God merely “existing,” as you seem to indicate is your view. Lewis believed in a PERSONAL God who could and did intervene in history, both by “miraculous” acts and divine “communications” to his human creatures, and who is vitally interested in the conduct of those human persons, with ETERNAL consequences in those humans’ “supernatural” resurrections from the dead to eternal bliss or “torment” (though Lewis’ view of the nature of the “torment” differs somewhat from that of some perhaps more “orthodox” views such as mine). Consequently, I do insist that your view of evolution as being “consistent” with the existence of “God” is fundamentally distinct from Lewis’ own view of God’s nature and his “relationship” to what he believed as to “evolution.”

            Second, with respect to “history,” what I am trying to distinguish between are (a) human-transcribed accounts of what has occurred on the one hand from (b) “scientific” reconstructions from “physical” evidence on the other. The Bible purports to be accounts of people who lived at various times as to what they OBSERVED, or what was “revealed” to them in “personal” encounters with a personal God in one fashion or another, as actually occurring at particular times in “history.” Those may be either true or false, but they cannot simply be “dismissed” with respect to their claims to be efforts at true recordings of actual events. Whereas, the scientific “reconstructions” take the “physical evidence” (such as, for example, fossils and “where they are in the earth’s crust,” or the apparent motions of stars from red and blue shifts) and then “deduce backwards” as to “how long” it took those presently existing “observed” phenomena to “develop” over time. The “conflict” that I am referring to as between “history” (in my sense) and “science” (in your sense) is that “history” says there was a “start date” of when what currently exists was “caused” which is different from that posited by “scientists” because God “intervened” to cause the universe and man to “begin” “full grown.”

            Take the simple example of determining how old a tree is. We know from “current observations” that a tree adds a ring a year, so we may, to determine the age, simply count the rings. But, if God created the tree “full grown,” there is no reason why it should not have had the “rings” in it to start with. Just as Adam, if he was “full grown,” would “appear,” from “current observations,” to be a certain “age” because now we know how long it takes a baby to achieve such an “adult” physique. There is nothing wrong with the “scientific method” of making such determinations IN GENERAL. The question is, was there some “breaking point” beyond which such “counting backwards” efforts run into error because they discount the “historical” (in my “recorded human recollections” sense) account of God “creating” the universe in a “full grown” state at a certain point.

            There is where the primary crux of the differences between your view of “how things got to where they are now” and mine. I believe in an “intervening” God who acts both to create and participate in history, and you do not. I am not so much trying to say your science is “bad” as to say it “exceeds its limits” by refusing to accept or rejecting the “historical accounts” of the INTERVENING God. Therein lies what is probably our most ultimate dispute.

            Tom Harkins 01/06/2011


            • Paul says:

              Hi Tom.

              I think I am beginning to sense at least one misunderstanding between us. You seem to think (as Lewis may have) that there is “normal running” of the universe that does not require God, and “interventions” that do. For you sense that my view of science, evolution in particular, excludes God. But this is, to my mind, a false dilemma.

              I think God is just as invested in the everyday running of the universe as he is in the out-of-the-ordinary or miraculous. As a (possibly very bad) metaphor, I always love my children and am deeply invested in them every day of their lives, there are still distinct moments within our family “history” in which this love is singled out and celebrated.

              God is not just creator but sustainer. That’s pretty orthodox stuff, and I believe it. I’m betting you do too. Which to me means if God were to “turn away” from creation, creation itself would cease to exist.

              You write that “[Tom] believes in an ‘intervening’ God who acts both to create and participate in history, and [Paul] do[es] not.”

              I don’t know where this comes from. It must come from a misunderstanding on one (or both) of our parts. I certainly do believe in God as creator both in the past and in the present (creation, for me, is not a once-and-for-all event). And I also believe in a God who acts in history. (“Intervenes” seems to suggest that God mostly just sits around and lets things roll, and every now and again pokes in the divine hand. I just don’t buy that.)

              It may be that we disagree on the nature of creation and God’s action in history, but to say I disbelieve these things is a little much.

              Jesus Christ commands (not just suggests) that we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. This tells me that we are not to ignore evidence that sits staring us in the face. That would be to disobey Jesus, as I understand it.

              Therefore, as far as history goes, I understand your point about the tree rings, etc., but I can’t accept it. We’re talking about a *lot* more than tree rings. What I have to say is this, and I believe this with all my mind and heart: If God set things up to look old, if God meticulously arranged the heavens and the Earth to look for all the world as if they had existed for billions of years, then God is a deceiver and I reject God utterly.

              Because the thing is, there is not a single way to test the age of the Earth (for example); there are dozens. And all of these ways, each independent from the next, point to the same age: about 4.5 billion years. To arrange such a universe would take an unbelievable amount of meticulous rigging by God.

              And WHY OH WHY would God go through the trouble to arrange nature in such a way that all these independent measurements produce the same age? What would be the point? To test us? To trick us? In either case that’s not a God I can love. As Ivan said in The Brothers Karamazov, if that’s the way God is, I respectfully return him my ticket.




              • Tom Harkins says:

                Paul, thanks for your response. If I could start at the end, there is no basis for accusing someone of fraud based on “circumstantial evidence” if they actually TELL you what they did. God has done so in the Bible, which clearly and continuously purports to be inspired by him, including “direct quotes,” stated in a chronological fashion from the creation up to about 100 A.D. in what purports to be actual, consistent, history. A person may choose to disbelieve the account, but that is his problem, not God’s, and does not impugn God.

                Second, you erroneously also impugn God for “misleadingly” creating the earth “full grown.” The fact is, man, whom the Bible clearly and continuously indicates is the primary aspect or purpose of God’s creative activity, obviously could not survive, for example, in some “tossed out” “fireball” from the sun. The earth would have to have basically its “current” condition to sustain the human life God was particularly interested in. Again, this “full grown” status is hardly an indictment of God–he did exactly what he set out to do, what he did makes perfect sense in light of his purpose, and he tells us what he did. The person to be blamed is the one who refuses to believe the account, not God the Creator.

                Third, as you mentioned in your earlier comment, we certainly disagree about the persuasiveness of the “scientific” proof of how the universe, earth, and man came to be even apart from the clear biblical account of the Creation. I note a very curious phenomenon in that respect, and that is the lack of any “disconnect” between “theistic” evolutionists and “atheistic” evolutionists. (I might note that I just received jackd’s comment at this very moment, and it bolsters the point I am making here, given that jackd is an atheist and you are a “theist” of sorts.) While theists want to attribute some sense of “God behind it all,” they in fact actually agree with the atheists as to how the “development” through evolution actually transpired. But the atheists believe that all the development occurred by “chance” (given they have nothing else to ascribe it to). There is obviously a fundamental difference between “design” and “chance,” so if both agree with the procedure, then there is nothing to distinguish between those who “go with God” and those who do not with respect to evolutionary development, leading to the conclusion that God is “irrelevant” to the process. Such a God is simply “out there” somewhere, and virtually of no PRACTICAL relevance to what is going on.

                But of course I disagree with both the atheist, who is simply “straightforward” in his ascription to chance, and the “theist” who, by agreeing wholeheartedly with the atheist as to such “development,” by such common “companionship” casts aside any “design.” Therefore, I come to a fundamental dispute with both the atheist and the “theist” because the “chance” that “sophisticated complexity and order” of massive magnitude in multiple trillions upon trillions of interdependent “entities” (which surely both you and jackd cannot dispute exists) can result from “chance” events is infinitesimal at best. Therefore, the theist and atheist should be “parting company” with each other as to evolution–but they don’t. Which leaves me to conclude that both parties come to their evolutionary conclusions about “what they see” for no better reason than that they don’t “want” there to be any God of “design” behind the “whole thing.” Such a God of “design” might very well have some PURPOSES behind his design, and a vast chunk of the evolutionary community don’t want to deal with such a prospect, so they either deny God altogether (atheist) or “pare God down” to where he is little more than something “ethereal” “out there ,” with little or no active “involvement” with human affairs (negative theology).

                Finally (and work projects just arriving defeat further argument presently), as to your point that God “sustains” the universe, I could not agree more. Without God, the whole universe would collapse into nothing in an instant. However, this is not “inconsistent” with a God who “intervenes” at various times–it is “both/and,” not “either/or.” If God is “behind it all,” then what possible “religious” reason could we have for disbelieving that this God could not take “further” action, should he so desire (you say, “God [is a] creator both in the past and in the present”), by participating in history in a “direct” way. There is no reason why he could not, except some preconceived notion about God being “negated away” from such a possibility. The Bible says God took SPECIFIC [not merely "sustaining"] action” repeatedly in history. That is either true, or it is not true. I say it is true. Do you, Paul? Or are you closer in “practical effect” to jackd?

                Tom Harkins 01/07/2011


        • jackd says:

          What if…mankind, the earth, and the universe…began “abruptly” in what may best be referred to as a “grown up” state?

          Mankind, the earth, and the universe do not merely have a grown up state. They bear the signs of history, in exactly the way our bodies bears scars, callouses, wrinkles, hairs of various cut and uncut lengths, and dozens of other bits of evidence of past events. Reading those signs reveals the details of the history.

          What you suggest is called the Omphalos Hypothesis. It’s rejected by almost everyone because it requires an undetectable distinction between history that really happened and history that was created. For most of us, this idea of a created history makes the creator a deceiver and is therefore pretty distasteful. It also has the problem of turning into Last Thursdayism, the idea that the entire universe was created Last Thursday, complete with our memories of everything that happened before. Last Thursdayism is every bit as irrefutable as any other Omphalos theory, but has the advantage of being more fun.


      • Paul says:

        Tom, this is in response to you.

        Yes, jackd and I agree on evolution “in effect.” Our interpretations of it may differ, and I’m sure they do, but we both agree on the basic picture. He and I are comrades in the battle for good science education in America. But just because I agree with an atheist on a certain point does not make me an atheist, or a nontheist, or a “weak theist,” or anything else. It just means that, on this certain point, we agree. No more.

        To illustrate: Both Christians and a certain brand of feminist take a strong stand against pornography. But this agreement is accidental and has nothing to do with any similarities between their fundamental assumptions. I know there are plenty of Christian feminists out there, but this (partial) overlap doesn’t affect my point.

        As to your first point, “the Bible tells me so” is not good enough, because there are many, many ways to interpret the Bible. Taking only the “plain meaning” of the text is not sufficient, because one is still interpreting, and IMO taking the “plain meaning” of the text is not possible, because of clear contradictions that arise that way.

        I do not take a literal approach to the Bible. I cannot do so and remain honest with myself or with God. Does this make me an atheist, or a non-theist, or a weak theist? I don’t think so.



      • Tom Harkins says:

        Paul, I have a few minutes of break here. I agree that many people look at the Bible “differently” from each other, and I also agree that there is some room for “variety” without necessarily being excluded from the Christian “fold.” For example, as far as I can tell from the C.S. Lewis books I have read, I disagree with his view as to some of the Old Testament miracles, as well as any credence he gives to evolution (macro–I believe there is some “adaptability” of God’s creatures which can lead to “changes,” but not of such a nature to transform an animal to a different “kind” of animal, such as a frog to a cat). However, there must be a line drawn somewhere, even if it is a little “hazy around the edges.” Obviously (in my humble opinion, if it is humble), someone who denies that Jesus is God’s Son come in the flesh is missing the fundamental nature of Christian revelation altogether. Without “Jesus as God,” then all one has is some generalized “deistic” type belief, which is really not tied to the Bible at all.

        To believe that “Jesus is God” requires a belief that God does, in fact, and most importantly in Christ did, in fact, “intervene” in human history and world history, making things different from what they would have been merely “naturally” without such “divine intervention.” Similarly, it is necessary to believe in life after death. Without that, as the Apostle Paul said, we Christians are “of all men most miserable.” Jesus triumphed over death, and in his triumph he takes his true followers with him. Therefore, Christians of necessity must believe in “interventions,” not merely “undergirding,” and as a result are free not to take the standard “evolutionary” line.

        So, are you a mere “deist,” or are you actually a “Christian”? You may not be an atheist like jackd just because you both agree on evolution, as you note, but are you “different enough” from him to keep you in the Christian camp? From what you say, it does not seem so to me.

        Tom Harkins 01/07/2011


        • Paul says:


          I’m a Christian, but I’m not interested in defending my status. I’m just not going there, and I doubt that I’d be able to convince you if I tried. So for now I’ll just have to accept that we don’t see eye-to-eye about this.



      • Andrew says:

        So Tom, just like Bill O’Reilly, because you don’t understand how things work, (emphasis on you), there must be a god. That’s convincing.

        “It is symbolic of his struggle against reality.”



      • [...] *Another strike against the fair citizens of Kentucky, alas. [...]