May 29 2006

What do creationist/ID advocates want-II?

(I will be traveling for a few weeks and rather than put this blog on hiatus, thought that I would continue with my weekday posting schedule by reposting some of the very early items, for those who might have missed them the first time around.)

We saw in an earlier posting that a key idea of the creationists is that it was with the arrival of Darwin, Marx, and Freud that has led to the undermining of Western civilization.

The basis for this extraordinary charge is the claim that it was these three that ushered in the age of materialism. These three people make convenient targets because, although they were all serious scientific and social scholars, they have all been successfully tarred as purveyors of ideas that have been portrayed as unpleasant or even evil (Darwin for saying that we share a common ancestor with apes, Marx with communism, Freud with sexuality).

But if you want to blame materialism for society’s ills, you have to go farther back than that, at least as far as Copernicus, and possibly earlier. For example, as stated by Thomas S. Kuhn in his book The Copernican Revolution (p.2)

“[Copernicus'] planetary theory and his associated conception of a sun-centered universe were instrumental in the transition from medieval to modern Western society, because they seemed to affect man’s relation to the universe and God…Men who believed that their terrestrial home was only a planet circulating blindly about one of an infinity of stars evaluated their place in the cosmic scheme quite differently than had their predecessors who saw the earth as the unique and focal center of God’s creation. The Copernican Revolution was therefore also part of the transition in Western man’s sense of values.”

Copernicus was central to the development of Western civilization, as were Galileo, Kepler, and Newton after him. All of them sought to explain how the world works in materialistic ways. So if you want to pin the blame for society’s ills on those who were influential in promoting materialistic ways of understanding the world, then you cannot pin the blame on Johnny-come-latelies like Darwin, Marx, and Freud.

But creationist/ID advocates do not go after these earlier giants of scientific materialism who justifiably occupy honored places in our history. To do so would be to be immediately labeled as crack-pots, on a par with flat-Earthers, UFO believers, and spoon benders. So they try to peel Darwin, Marx and Freud away from this distinguished line of scientists and treat them as if they started a parallel line of dubious thought, distinct from that of mainstream science.

But that argument just does not make sense. One may argue whether Marxism or Freudian psychoanalysis is scientific, but there is no controversy at all within the scientific community as to whether Darwin’s ideas belong firmly in the scientific tradition. Darwin rightly takes his place among the giants of science and drew his materialist inspiration from the scientists who came before him.

The fact that all these scientists sought to explain the world in materialistic ways does not mean that they did not believe in God. For example, it is well known that Newton did believe in a God. He believed that the working of the solar system had a beauty that indicated the existence of God. But that did not stop him from pursuing the laws of motion and gravity that provided a completely material explanation for planetary motions. The residual features that his theories did not explain (such as the stability of the system) and which he ascribed to God were explained later by materialistic means using his own laws, after his death.

The same is true now. What creationist/ID advocates don’t seem to grasp is that pursuing materialistic explanations for phenomena does not pose a problem for scientists who are also religious. Surveys conducted in 1996 and 1998 found that about 40% of scientists believe in a personal God as defined by the statement “a God in intellectual and affirmative communication with man … to whom one may pray in expectation of receiving an answer.” Despite the explosive growth in science this century, this figure of 40% has remained stable since previous surveys done in 1914 and 1933. (Source: Edward J.Larson and Larry Witham, Scientists are still keeping the faith, Nature, vol. 386, April 1997, page 435.) The figure would undoubtedly be much higher if belief in a non-personal God (some sort of prime mover who acted only through natural laws) were included as well.

So why is it that scientists who are also religious have no trouble with materialism? Stay tuned…

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