Monday, May 14, 2007

Mitt Romney: THEIST!!!

This was entirely predictable. After I wrote my post about Romney's position on evolution, calling it "essentially pro-science", PZ Myers writes a post griping about it. According to PZ, anyone who believes in both God and evolution must be anti-science or something. He never really quite explains how it is that a large fraction of scientists, some of them notable evolutionary biologists, are anti-science according to his own criteria. If asked, these scientists would say pretty much the same thing that Romney said -- i.e. there's a God behind everything, but mainstream evolutionary theory is correct. One might criticize them for having incoherent or contradictory metaphysical beliefs about the world, but to call them anti-science when they are 100% the same as the rest of us concerning scientific matters is asinine.

Jason Rosenhouse, who also provoked PZ's ire when he dared suggest that Romney's stance is actually a good thing, wrote a reply that I think is pretty spot on. And like Jason, it simply boggles my mind that that PZ cannot understand the difference between theistic evolution and ID. That's like being unable to understand the difference between a pot smoker and an axe murderer. They don't make distinctions much more obvious than that.

PZ wrote a reply to Jason in which he reaffirms the fact that he can't tell the difference between the two:

The second big issue is the complaint that I can't tell the difference between a theistic evolutionist and an intelligent design creationist.

That's a fair complaint, actually. I can't.

Pretend I'm a Martian (not hard to do, I suppose; to a lot of people, my complete rejection of "faith" as a reason for believing in something seems to make me alien, anyway). Explain it to me. I even explicitly laid that out as a question at the end of my post; no one seems to have tried. At best, what Jason and poke do is point out that there is a difference in tactics—the theistic evolutionists are willing to move their god out of gaps in our knowledge as they are closed and place them in other gaps; the IDists want to fight to keep the gaps open, usually by misrepresenting the science that threatens them.

What he really shows is that he doesn't know what theistic evolution is. The vast majority of TE's reject god-of-the-gaps arguments. To be fair, there are some who use that style of reasoning, like Francis Collins who made the exceptionally lame argument that there's no natural basis for morality, but this is the exception to the rule. Most TE's believe that God acts through natural law, not supernatural intervention. They know good and well that god-of-the-gaps is a losing argument, so they place God outside of any gaps where He becomes all-pervasive and in charge of everything. Again, I'm not saying I agree with this -- I sympathize with people who dismiss TE as being self-contradictory or meaningless, because I myself can't quite figure out how to reconcile a meaningful concept of God with a universe that operates through purely natural means -- but it's definitely not the same as being anti-science. Those scientists who are TEs agree with the rest of us concerning what science is, the methods that it can reliably employ, and what its established results have been. Additionally, they uphold the general integrity of the scientific community and believe that religion has no place in science class. In other words, in every single detail concerning the creation/evolution debate (except the existence of God itself, which absent any scientific claims is a non-issue), they are on the exact same page as I am. Romney scored a perfect 10 as far as scientific and educational issues were concerned. If he had claimed that his religious views were scientific and should be taught in science class, I'd be denouncing him too. Yet according to PZ, merely having religious views mark him as anti-science. What was Romney supposed to do, renounce his faith?

Now let's look as what the ID movement believes. They emphatically do not agree with the rest of us concerning what science is, what methods it reliably employs, or what its results have been. They routinely denounce the scientific community as corrupt, dogmatic, elitist, and repressive. They lie about everything, even those things that can be easily exposed as such. And they have spent the bulk of their time and resources trying to get their so-called scientific claims -- pretty much all of them factually incorrect, grossly misleading, or badly reasoned -- taught to primary and secondary school children. If PZ cannot understand the difference between these guys and TEs like Romney, then he hasn't been paying attention. Or, more likely, his notorious disdain for theism has clouded his thinking. Me, personally, I don't care about theism vs. atheism war, so the contrast sticks out like a big red thumb against a green background.

Ultimately, this is not about whether TEs are right or wrong, or whether we should "enthusiastically embrace" TEs, which neither Jason nor I did. It's about tolerance. It's about forming alliances against the people who are really anti-science, and then recognizing that people like Mitt Romney are on the correct side of the divide. PZ's only excuse for his rejection of all theists is a bizarre belief that when the next court case comes around, the views of people like Romney are somehow going to hurt our side. This is if anything even worse than his failure to see a distinction between the Ken Millers of the world and the Phillip Johnsons. Is he not aware that TEs have testified in every creationism trial in the country, and that this somehow didn't make us lose? Does he know what our prospects for winning would be if judges were persuaded that you couldn't believe in evolution and theism at the same time? Not very good at all. But that's a subject for another post.