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Rev. Michael Dowd: Thank God For Evolution
Posted: 23 August 2008 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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jholt - 23 August 2008 04:53 AM

Part 2 - Rev. Michael Dowd: Thank God For Evolution

I haven’t seen a new thread started, but I just listened and had a few thoughts.

I found this to be an extremely interesting conversation.

I suppose my first question would be; if we take the argument for the importance of communicating the fact and theories of evolution, then by extension the understanding that humans are story telling animals - as a twain component then to incorporate a co-evolutionary insight - is there not a danger when creating a more factual interpretation, to relate in a deep way thus provide real world consequence while retaining the recognized capacity to ‘tell stories to teach’ -  of forwarding this idea from what sounds like a purely Christianized perspective? What I mean, by providing the language of one belief system to incorporate these insights, are we not asking for others who do not interpret the world this way to find another reason to question evolution? Given the fact that the largest segment in U.S. that does not accept evolution by natural selection is Christian, and the personal beliefs of the Rev., this may be an inconsequential question.

I was a bit surprised that Dawkins allowed that letter to be published in the book. Here’s why, without going into a complete comparison and taking large chunks of how he thinks on the issue, let me offer an example. When the respected scientist, evolutionary biologist, Joan Roughgarden presented her ideas that she highlights in her book, Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist, which were essentially to take Biblical myth stories and relate them in a way for those who share her faith tradition to better come to grips with and accept evolution - Richard reacted with a fair amount of disdain (nearly mocking the enterprise - this was at Beyond Belief ‘06). His point basically was, as he said; “Why bother”, the science speaks perfectly well for itself. I will admit that I am sometimes confused by Richard’s position in some respects on this issue. For example he will recommend Kenneth Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God, to certain creationist.

I think part of my confusion to the above issue is do to how we take certain perspective in a larger context. For example, even though Richard would do the above, I have not come into contact with criticism going back and forth, due to Sam Harris saying; “There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality.” Now, I realize we are talking about different people, but, and a large but I think, what Sam is saying in the larger context of religion is diametrically apposed to what Richard does. Am I wrong? To further extrapolate than, I would surmise that Harris would have the same tone towards Dowd’s book. It would almost seem to me that what Harris does on some occasions is to say we must accept their (the religious) rules to engage in the battle. In this way then it is to state that since the religious do not accept certain principles that the discourse then must accept that the religious hold one overarching truth and thus the only way to engage is a bottom down approach. Thus a blurred line becomes evident when in moral debate, where the belief is that a structure must be mainly dismantled in order to see real change in morality. The problem then becomes, as in criticisms Sam has leveled towards secular scientist and the religious scientist alike, that some of his targets take much of the same moral stand, such as in Collins’ forwarding of not only evolution, but stem cell research. The dialogue then that must be engaged starts from a position of either or, when in fact it appears quite different. This leads inevitably in my opinion to a side debate about “appeasement”. The appeasement debate is problematic only in that it paints a stark picture without the subtleties we find, such as Richard’s and Collins’ stand. (I am in no way drawing anyone here in a painted corner, only expressing what I see and using example).

To further the above point, we have seen many people lately defining certain religious language in rational naturalistic terms (such as Harris in that he forwards words such as mysticism and spirituality - he is then in his way creating a narrative by admitting the usefulness of such terms). Daniel Dennett has done this with the word soul, by redefining the term in light of scientific discovery, he to is creating a narrative. To take the word God, Stuart Kauffman seems to be forwarding an idea that sounds like what Dowd is saying, but eliminating all context to a ‘supernatural’. But, here we find Shermer and Harris in an agreement in that the criticism here is that even though this may sound good, the term God is so connected to religion that the enterprise is in trouble from the start. My response to this (but not a statement of disagreement entirely) is that; so what? Shermer and Harris will redefine certain terms that are laden with religious meaning, but not the big one….

The Rev. brought up Robert Wright and E. O. Wilson which reminded me of this conversation between the two - HERE - they touch very much on issues brought up by Michael.

Good points. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/4519/#46236

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Posted: 23 August 2008 05:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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It’s difficult for me not to see both VOS and Michael Dowd as engaging in a semantic flim-flam.

They (sneakily? naively?) define terms in non-traditional ways (such as VOS’ defining intellect out of evolutionary adaptation or Dowd’s attempts to weave evolution into religious language). In so doing, they risk infecting the enterprise of scientific inquiry with subtly desired outcomes. This infuses the process with a need for a particular answer that can give us meaning, and at the same time can prevent us from accurately describing nature. The Church’s similarly anthropocentric needs got Galileo confined to quarters for the last decade of his life. He resisted joining the hierarchy in seeing the earth as more special than any other heavenly body. (It is only special to us humans because it’s our home.)

It seems to me that Dowd’s and VOS’ description of humanity is the same as religion’s. When we lean on the outcomes from science to verify our sense of meaning, we cease to engage in science, and instead simply look to nature for proof-texting.

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People often argue over the term “god” without defining it. It is almost as if they are using the same term to refer both to a penguin and to a quiche. While both may contain eggs, that’s hardly their most salient characteristic.

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Posted: 23 August 2008 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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My wish would be to see Tom Flynn respond to the podcast (I saw his name pop up in the member list - Norm Allen also would have something interesting to say I’m sure).

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Posted: 23 August 2008 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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NH Baritone - 23 August 2008 05:25 AM

It’s difficult for me not to see both VOS and Michael Dowd as engaging in a semantic flim-flam.

This seems like a criticism - but I don’t follow your logic.

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Posted: 23 August 2008 10:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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he can’t even admit that christianity is immature - “too much baggage” - he also said something similar to evolution is “random chance” - i can’t stand this person’s message!- there is no good evidence for the supernatural nor to dress up my existence in religious language-

“a way to interpret science in traditional spiritual language” - I DON’T get that argument -

“god is communicating today just as real as in bilical times” - i think he let it slip that he believes in the bible literally-

“the nested nature of creativity” = god or ultimate reality - uh ??? what??

-the more this man explains his position - the LESSS i understand

this man is completely a mess- and lives like an evangelist…out of people’s homes

“common sacred story” ?? that would be evolution and I don’t think sacred has any meaning at all
“validates scientic and religious ways of speaking” - something is either true or false not both and when religious ways of thinking contradict the science, i’ll take the science thx-

<sighs>

ENOUGH!

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Posted: 24 August 2008 04:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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robotaholic - 23 August 2008 10:37 PM

this man is completely a mess-

Here is a blog with another review

http://de-conversion.com/2008/08/24/thank-god-for-evolution-by-michael-dowd/

Dowd’s resulting theology of Humanistic/Christian/Universalist views is a confusing mishmash of vague spirituality, mythology, pop psychology and a smattering of science.

This blog claims to be a site for “resources for skeptical, de-converting, or former christians”

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Posted: 24 August 2008 05:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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robotaholic - 23 August 2008 10:37 PM

this man is completely a mess- and lives like an evangelist…out of people’s homes

But you have to admit….he has a great gig! wink

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Church; where sheep congregate to worship a zombie on a stick that turns into a cracker on Sundays…

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Posted: 24 August 2008 05:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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The morning after my interview with D.J., I realized that I could shorten “7 Reasons” to “4 Reasons…”. For those interested, I’ve posted “4 Reasons Why Nothing Matters More Than What We Think About Evolution” here: http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/1132

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Posted: 24 August 2008 05:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Thanks, Jackson.

That was a well done review I think, they bring up some of the same points as Michael Booker in skeptic magazine. I’m stuck on a certain point about this (not that there isn’t others - though I must admit that I can’t find to much terribly wrong); even though the book does not forward a ‘supernatural’ God and it is reported that it has been; - “endorsed by 5 Nobel laureates and 120 other esteemed scientists, ministers, priests, rabbis, theologians, and other religious and cultural leaders across the spectrum, from Baptists to Buddhists, including many respected atheists,” - I can’t get away from the idea that a rather bad mistake has been made in forwarding his effort with a Christianized view (though I do recognize its not all consuming - and I think I understand why Dawkins would endorse that letter being published). Here’s what I mean - take a look at the book cover - Book Cover of Thank God for Evolution

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Posted: 24 August 2008 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Let’s look at your 4 reasons.

1. A shared sacred story that honors both objective truth and subjective meaning…A sacred evolutionary worldview helps us celebrate both realms: the day realm of objective truth and the night realm of subjective meaning.

From this are we supposed to take it that all deep meaning if necessarily religious in nature? It is not.  Other problems:
A) anything “Sacred” or “Reverential” immediately becomes resistance to change and questioning. The effect seems to magnify with time (see The Roman Catholic Church)
B) scientists and people in general have merrily discussed the deep-thought subjective implications of evolution for the last hundred+ years. This has been easy and appropriate without ever having to call on the bullshittery of religious-speak. No one was sitting around waiting for your grand ideas in order to be able to talk biophilosophy.

2. REALizes religion, sanctifies science, and reveals the true magnitude of both: ...

For example, the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve and the concept of Original Sin superbly reveal a deep truth that has only recently been understood in a factual way, thanks to evolutionary brain science and evolutionary psychology. Yes, we all have powerful instincts: instincts that served the survival and reproductive needs of our ancestors in early human and pre-human times, but that are now sometimes very much out of sync with the demands of civilized life.

The Biblical story also informs all readers in clear, unmistable terms: it’s your fault. All pain and suffering in the world is your doing. This is 180 degrees away from EP answers. No one is responsible for their genetic hand or that of the species or the fact that pain and suffering is inextricably woven into life on planet Earth. This is to say nothing of the upsetting sexism of the story, also destroyed by any scientific perspective. You continue..

Thus, one of the greatest gifts afforded by religiously nourishing interpretations of the science-based history of the universe is that it becomes obvious how unnatural-sounding (“supernatural”) language can be interpreted in undeniably real, and utterly experiential, ways.

In other words, you can make it obvious to believers their book o’magical tales does not mesh with reality? Scientists and nonbelievers have been doing this for centuries if not longer. Your solution is to say “put down your religious myths and pick up our science myths- the magic tastes the same!” This is not an improvement in any way.

3. Unmasks the powers of manipulation and clarifies our way forward: When we understand our brain’s creation story and its deep structure we can easily see how the media ...

Actually I agree with everything about point 3, until you get to this..

To use religious language: only by understanding the major breakthroughs in evolution—how God actually created everything, how it measurably occurred—can we possibly know what God is up to today or what God’s will is for humanity and for the body of life as a whole.

Exactly how did this improve what was said before it? What God is up to today? What? Maybe a God who authored an evolutionary process guaranteed to kill 99.99% of every species ever to live, responsible for ebola and Malaria and fatal appendix ruptures (by design!), etc.., isn’t quite worth our checking up on.

4. Key to alleviating suffering, living life fully, and loving the life you live: So much suffering in the world today can be traced to people and groups being out of integrity—that is, living day by day in ways that just don’t square with Reality, ...

This section is fuzzyheaded and naive. A lot of suffering comes about because people do what does square with reality, at least their own. People steal and benefit from stealing. They lie and benefit from lieing. As a society, these are harmful of course but societies are not the unit of evolution. Genes are. The reason we have ignoble instincts is that they benefitted their owners. The best science indicates that rape is or was a successful reproductive strategy for some individuals. This “squares” fine with reality. Here our evolution must be fought, not welcomed.. not treated as if part of some wonderful “trajectory” if we can just follow it.

Evolution is driven by mindless forces with an amoral disregard to suffering or injustice. Morality is not and should not be so imprisoned.

Understanding evolution is critical for a hundred good reasons.. but mattering more than anything else? Madness.

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Posted: 24 August 2008 08:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Michael Dowd insists that evolution must be fable-ized to give mankind hope and a sense of direction in the future. Problem is, as long as you don’t have a solid grasp of the inherent messiness and arbitrariness of evolution in actual nature, then you can interpret it in such a way. But when you really grasp it, you can’t in my opinion. Michael’s hope is that society never truly grasps what evolution through natural selection actually is. I am reminded of my favorite line by Sam Harris in one of his talks which can be applied here. As evolution becomes accepted as religious fable its interpretation will become a “masterpiece of political correctness”.

Do we look at humanity and say “you can’t handle the truth!”

Dowd seems to think so. Or maybe Dowd has already conned himself into thinking that his rosy picture is some sort of accurate depiction of reality.

“Life is tragic, and the more we understand the more tragic it gets”- Stephen Weinberg said to Richard Dawkins. But no, says Dowd. Watching the cuckoo chick push the others out of the nest to their deaths is glorious and beautiful. It nurtures hope and bolsters our integrity. Pfwwwwwww.. mmm thats some good $%^ man.

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Posted: 24 August 2008 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Jackpot11 - 24 August 2008 08:18 AM

I am reminded of my favorite line by Sam Harris in one of his talks which can be applied here. As evolution becomes accepted as religious fable its interpretation will become a “masterpiece of political correctness”.

Hi Jackpot, I must have missed Sam saying this, could you let me know where I can find this quote in context.

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Posted: 24 August 2008 09:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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The reference was in his beyond belief 2 talk about 16 minutes in.  http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief2/watch/harris.php


He is talking about the romanticism of Jonathan Haidt’s views (which is what reminded me of the reverend and his attempts to romanticise evolution into something emotionally palatable and somehow inspiring to humanity)-

HARRIS- Jonathan Haidt has said that N. Korea was clearly beyond the pale, a human experiment gone awry,
and these people were needlessly suffering, this is unethical. I await with some feelings of glee his attempt to adumbrate a morality that will focus appropriate condemnation
on N. Korea but will leave Islam totally exonerated. I *guarantee* you that will be a masterpiece of political correctness.

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Posted: 24 August 2008 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Michael Dowd - 24 August 2008 05:07 AM

The morning after my interview with D.J., I realized that I could shorten “7 Reasons” to “4 Reasons…”. For those interested, I’ve posted “4 Reasons Why Nothing Matters More Than What We Think About Evolution” here: http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/1132

I know you’re trying to build (or repair) bridges, but you’re engaging in nothing more than Utopian reverie.

”... For the first time in human history we have a creation story that not only addresses life’s biggest questions—Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here? How are we to live?—but helps us answer those questions in ways that are both religiously inspiring and scientifically accurate. No longer are subjective meaning and objective truth isolated from one another in separate domains. ...”

“... Only by knowing how we really got here and the trajectory we’re undeniably on can we possibly respond to global issues like climate change and terrorism without making things worse. ...”

By these statements, you’re trying to escape science, not embrace it. For example, if you really accepted evolution by natural selection, you would not look there for any answer to “Where are we going? Why are we here? How are we to live?” (Most skeptics, I think, consider it futile to search for ultimate answers.) And science provides no Utopian “trajectory” that has any meaning to our collective lives. Individually, and culturally, we define meaning & purpose for ourselves, but those answers don’t arise from scientific inquiry any more than do the works of Whitman or Wagner. If we are decide to reduce threats to our existence, we need look no further than evolutionarily achieved survival instinct, not some ultimate goal in the future.

And regarding the consequences of your writings, I really find the schmaltzing of science to be a diversion from meaningful dialogue and perhaps even dangerous. Scientific inquiry arises our innate desire to describe our surroundings and understand its processes. But if you believe that science will tell you how to live, you can just as easily justify eugenics and Social Darwinism as you can conflict-avoidance morality.

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People often argue over the term “god” without defining it. It is almost as if they are using the same term to refer both to a penguin and to a quiche. While both may contain eggs, that’s hardly their most salient characteristic.

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Posted: 24 August 2008 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Jackpot11 - 24 August 2008 09:44 AM

The reference was in his beyond belief 2 talk about 16 minutes in.  http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief2/watch/harris.php


He is talking about the romanticism of Jonathan Haidt’s views (which is what reminded me of the reverend and his attempts to romanticise evolution into something emotionally palatable and somehow inspiring to humanity)-

HARRIS- Jonathan Haidt has said that N. Korea was clearly beyond the pale, a human experiment gone awry,
and these people were needlessly suffering, this is unethical. I await with some feelings of glee his attempt to adumbrate a morality that will focus appropriate condemnation
on N. Korea but will leave Islam totally exonerated. I *guarantee* you that will be a masterpiece of political correctness.

Thanks, Jackpot. I do recall Sam saying this. I do have the feeling, with what I’ve seen thus far, that Sam’s view would be very similar to yours.

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