November 13, 2007

Craven Nonsense: Dissecting Another Liar for DA LAWD

In the article I wrote about baldness and perceptions thereof a couple of days ago, I neglected to mention the Lex Luthor stereotype — that is, that bald men tend to be sinister villains. It isn't true, of course. Only some bald men are not to be trusted, and in the interest of fairness and the opportunity to slice up yet another Creationist liar with the scalpel of reason, I'd like to introduce readers to Michael Craven, President of the Center for Christ & Culture, a "ministry dedicated to discipleship and renewal within the Church that works to equip Christians with an intelligent, thoroughly Christian and missional approach to culture." With a mission statement like that, you already know that something slimy and utterly devoted to misleading readers is coming. Craven has published an article in his blog at Crosswalk, "the intersection of faith and life." As we all know, intersections are dangerous places, and so we'll be sure to look both ways as we traverse this one.

Politics, Religion, and Evolution: The Three Don’ts

I have written many articles over the years often addressing controversial issues, some of which have provoked strong reactions. However, no other subject so provokes as the suggestion that Darwin’s theory of evolution is false.

In my recent article, James Watson is Not a Racist; He’s a Darwinist! I commented on the recent statements of noted scientist and evolutionist, James Watson. You may recall that Watson suggested that black people were inherently less intelligent due to their stunted evolutionary development. As I pointed out, Watson was simply speaking in a way that revealed the ethical dilemma of Darwinism in which morality as we understand it has no place. True to form, the evolutionists were outraged.
This is why this Craven liar gets such strong responses — he's leading right off but misrepresenting his subject matter. He's created a religious straw man called "Darwinism" and asserted that there's no place for "morality as we know it" in this fabricated faith. The truth of the matter is that there's nothing in evolutionary theory that says that African and European brains should be expected to be different; Watson's suggestion that they are isn't based on science but on his own prejudices. In fact, the first question a smart analyst would have asked about Watson's statements is why if we were to posit that there might be a difference that Watson could jump to the conclusion that divergence would create a superior European brain instead of a superior African one. Craven has no interest in making a scientific evaluation of Watson's nonsensical utterances, though. His entire purpose is fulfilled by jumping up and down and pointing like an overexcited monkey at Watson and foisting him off as exemplary of all evolutionary biologists — most of whom, by the way, thought Watson was a clown long before he spewed his latest bit of racist arrogance. Moreover, Craven misrepresents not only evolutionary theory here, but all of science. Science is about explaining how physical systems work and develop, so of course morality isn't explained as core evolutionary theory. That isn't what science does; morality also isn't explained by meteorology, physics or automobile repair manuals. Is that a problem? Evolutionary biology is not, and has never been, intended as a repository of moral and ethical wisdom; it explains how the diversity of life came to be. Must we include a moral dimension in every explanation of every phenomenon? Damn that Betty Crocker for not putting the Gospel of Luke in her cookbooks!

So if "evolutionists" were outraged, it's because this liar for DA LAWD has painted us all as a bunch of amoral racists in order to pursue his agenda of whipping the true-believers into hatred in order to advance the "culture war" that is the stated end of his perverse pastorship. What he's done, in fact, is the precise equivalent of Watson's own misleading statements about race. Necrophagous birds of a feather slurp carrion together.
First, I did not say that Darwinian evolution is inconsistent with any ethical system; I wrote that is was inconsistent with Judeo-Christian ethics and morality. If it is to be logically consistent, Darwinism demands a completely new understanding of morality in which the preservation of the fittest becomes the highest moral good.
There's nothing logical about this statement at all. Evolutionary biology, as I've stated, has nothing to do with teaching any particular morality. It's an explanation of everything we see in biology, binding it all together into a coherent context. It isn't a religious or moral system, and only the most twisted and/or ignorant insist that it should be used as a basis for human society. We could substitute any number of other theories in the place of Craven's "Darwinism" straw man and come out with equally valid conclusions for this reason. Should we use physics as a moral compass? How about interior design? Would metallurgy make for a good code of ethical conduct? Survival of the fittest, as it were, is an explanation for how the frequency of alleles in a given population change over time, not a declaration of how humans should interact with one another.
In Descent of Man, Darwin tried to demonstrate that all human traits—including moral behavior—are different in degree, but not in kind, from other organisms. Darwin argued that all human behavior [including morality] was a result of biological determinism and not human reason. This implies that we do not possess a rational moral nature but that all our actions are driven by the biologically-induced aim of survival. Logically speaking, this aim would be [and must be] opposed to self-sacrifice or altruism of any kind if such acts do not contribute to your prosperity and survival.
Here's what Darwin actually said about morality in The Descent of Man:

"The moral nature of man has reached its present standard, partly through the advancement of his reasoning powers and consequently of a just public opinion, but especially from his sympathies having been rendered more tender and widely diffused through the effects of habit, example, instruction, and reflection. It is not improbable that after long practice virtuous tendencies may be inherited. With the more civilised races, the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on the advance of morality. Ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme judge and monitor. Nevertheless the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.

The belief in God has often been advanced as not only the greatest but the most complete of all the distinctions between man and the lower animals. It is however impossible, as we have seen, to maintain that this belief is innate or instinctive in man. On the other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal, and apparently follows from a considerable advance in man's reason, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder. I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this is a rash argument, as we should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, only a little more powerful than man; for the belief in them is far more general than in a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture...."

In other words, Darwin didn't say anything like what Craven is maintaining. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Darwin is offering a hypothesis as to why we see a moral intelligence in all humans, not just in those who ascribe to a particular set of religious beliefs. He goes on to hypothesize that religions arise to codify moral behavior rather than moral behavior stemming from religious belief in the first place. Ethical conduct, in Darwin's view, is one of the products of natural selection in humans because it allows us to work together and to trust one another; social behavior was a major factor in the survival of our ancestors. What Craven doesn't like about this, of course, is that it all embodies the possibility that supernatural agency isn't necessary in the explanation of the morality that Darwin posits as existing not only outside of Christianity, but inside it as well. In any case, he certainly isn't stating that humans can't think about morality. If anything, this should serve notice that we must do so, or else fall under the dominion of "cruel and malignant spirits" when we do not. Those "cruel and malignant spirits" surely extend to the wrathful deity posited by fundamentalists who advance such preposterous notions as the smashing of airplanes into skyscrapers in order to punish homosexuals or the spread of horrible diseases amongst populations who don't happen to believe in the same sky-ghost as the Fundamentalists themselves. That things may be otherwise is the suggestion that raises Craven's hackles, because Darwin simply doesn't say what Craven accuses him of having said.

Additionally, it should be noted that modern evolutionary theory doesn't really care about this particular bit of Darwin's work. It should be kept in mind that Darwin wrote some 130 years ago and that what he wrote was only the basis for future investigation. Nobody takes Darwin's work as some kind of gospel; the man didn't even understand the basis for inheritance. He had a brilliant idea, not a flawless one. We know much more about biology now than Darwin did, and biologists are free to investigate and even disprove any particular piece of his theory — based on empirical evidence, not merely on whether they have some belief or another. Would Craven offer that we're free to do the same with the bible? Can we accept Leviticus but reject Corinthians? Rhetorical question, that, although Fundamentalists pick and choose for themselves, they bristle at others who would do so.
This is typical of the silly statements so often made by evolutionists. On the one hand this person assumes Darwinian or “macro” evolution to be fact. The only fact related to Darwin’s theory is the observation of “natural selection” or genetic adaptation occurring within species. This was Darwin’s unique contribution to evolutionary theory. Others prior to Darwin had developed evolutionary theories but none had ever identified a plausible mechanism by which such evolutionary changes could have occurred. Natural selection is an observable phenomenon but again, only within a species. The theoretical begins and remains to this day at the point when you assume this same process occurs between species.
Ah yes, the old micro/macro canard. First off, natural selection is not the same thing as adaptation. First, some change (mutation, duplication, hybridization, etc.) is necessary. Natural selection is essentially the manner by which a given phenotype is deleted or maintained within a population. There is no boundary at which the accumulation of these mutations has to stop, and indeed we have seen the arisal of new species many times over in human history as well as having numerous lines of evidence demonstrating that it has occurred without our direct observation of the process (cetaceans, horses, butterflies, fungi...) We also see natural selection acting between species all the time as ecosystems change. Look at the expansion of deserts in Africa; plants that can successfully exploit dry conditions (e.g., Euphorbia spp.) replace those that cannot as conditions change, the change in conditions being the selective pressure behind natural selection. We do not expect to find duckweed growing in the Sahara, even though it certainly did when that same area was not a desert. This is exactly "natural selection" between species. Craven is attempting to redefine natural selection to suit his own ends, of course. He's simply lying for DA LAWD once again, but the only people I would hope he's fooling are the ones who are already so conditioned as to accept his nonsense uncritically.
Secondly, Darwin’s theory of evolution does indeed have a “goal”—providing an alternative to the biblical explanation of origins. Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin was a noted intellectual, physician and writer who, long before Charles, theorized an evolutionary alternative to biblical origins. The senior Darwin strongly opposed Christianity going so far as to include “Credulity, Superstitious Hope, and the Fear of Hell in his catalogue of diseases.”
Special note: This bit of rhetorical legerdemain should be enough to tip anyone off as to what Craven is up to. The assertion made was that the process of evolution doesn't have goals; Craven flips that over to be a statement about Darwin's writings about evolution. This says nothing about evolution itself, which has no direction, no goals, and no scala natura embodied within it. Moreover, he then makes evolutionary theory an attack particularly on Christianity instead of one upon supernatural explanations of natural phenomena in general. It is not that evolutionary theory states somewhere that Mithra poofed all life into existence instead of Jehovah having done it; evolutionary biology is equally inimical to a belief in Mithra-originated creationism as it is upon the Jehovah-originated version. But we can go further; all of science is the explanation of natural phenomena in terms of natural causality. Again, we could substitute any scientific discipline here and come to the same conclusion; does physics back religious belief better than biology? Do we find in geology that plutonic rocks were created by Jesus, or in polymer chemistry that polystyrene was whipped into being by Allah? Craven's attack is not upon only evolutionary biology; his goal is to overturn all of science and, moreover, all of rational thought. Couple this with his earlier mischaracterization of Darwin's statements about morality and we get right to the core of Craven's side of the story — we must all shut off our reason and turn to his bible in all matters. All inquiry must cease, because it is an affront to the daemon that Craven demands we accept as the mover of all things. People such as Craven have always been around, ready to throw their bodies in front of the heavy machinery that has constructed our reasonable view of the universe. Thankfully, they inevitably get plowed under in the course of history. If not, then we would have no history. We would have only mythology.
Finally, this reader’s statement reveals the self-contradictory position of Darwinians who embrace Judeo-Christian morality. On the one hand he objects to my moral criticism that Darwinism is racist but on the other he writes, “There is no right and wrong or good and bad in science and nature.” Exactly! If nature is the ultimate and final reality, there is no universal right or wrong and each individual is at liberty to live in whatever way best serves their selfish interest of personal progress and survival. So by what authority can Darwinism condemn racism? This is just one of the areas where Darwinism conflicts with reality demonstrating its fallacy.
Yes, and if nature is the ultimate and final reality, what right to I have to decide what color to paint my house? Surely it must be painted green and brown, since those are the colors of nature! This sort of non sequitur is precisely the product of Craven's absolutist thinking. Just because morality is not imposed upon us by some grand supernatural force does not mean that we cannot arrive at it on our own. I do not need some straw man religion called "Darwinism" to despise racism or any other number of foolish beliefs founded on nothing at all. I can see the humanity in another, and that is enough. I can imagine myself in his place. And then I can invoke what I know from biology to pick apart the claims of racism, as I did at the beginning of this very article when I attacked the claims made by Watson. At no time was it necessary to bring anything supernatural into my thinking, and so I have answered Craven's question before he even asked it.

Now, let's turn it around. In a system which holds as one of its beliefs that there is a "chosen people," that records the ancient genocide against non-believers and those of non-Judean nationality, that maintains that the whole world was destroyed by a flood and all but perhaps a half dozen human beings were wiped out, how does one argue against racism? How does one argue against incest, for that matter? I mean, after the flood... who exactly repopulated the planet if the only survivors were on Noah's ark? This implies, certainly, that Noah's son's had sex with Noah's daughters, does it not? Therefore, according to Fundamentalist Christianity, it is perfectly alright to sleep with your sister. It is perfectly alright to burn Tunis to the ground and slaughter every man, woman and child in Nepal. Wonderful stuff, this religion. How perfectly moral.
...Concepts such as compassion, mercy, forgiveness, as well as the belief in human equality are virtues revealed exclusively through and established by a Christian interpretation of life and reality. These virtues are recognized as uniquely human and nowhere relevant to the animal world.
Right... before Christianity, there was no such thing as compassion or mercy. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are merciless killing machines, for these are traits possessed exclusively by Christianity. Nor does any animal exhibit compassion or mercy. This isn't an "interpretation of reality," but a fairytale told by an idiot. What we have here, folks, is a declaration of war against all things non-Christian. This is the dehumanization of the bulk of humanity. Craven has just told us that anyone who isn't Christian is an animal. Brilliant stuff, and we must be aware of this sort of thinking in order to expunge it from our collective existence. This is precisely the same foment suggested by militants of every faith and it's calculated exactly to make it easier to place a gun against the blasphemer's head and pull the trigger.
Make no mistake, Darwinism is not science, it is philosophy. It is dogma! This, I think, accounts for both its proponents’ vehement defense and aggressive reaction to any challenge...
Darwinism, in fact, doesn't exist, apart from the imagination of Craven and those who follow in the same footsteps as he. It's a lie, a straw man created by a group of individuals as an easily knocked-down effigy because what they're really opposed to is not so handily defeated. Evolutionary biology is a scientific discipline, a theoretical framework supported by numerous and independent lines of evidence, that explains a phenomenon that we see. It does not tell us how things should be but explains how things are. It has no bearing upon moral thought, it does not tell us how to build a community, and it does not inform us on how we should deal with one another in our relationships. There is no one who thinks that Darwin's ideas on the rise of diversity in life are a divine edict. Nobody has an altar to Darwin in their lab. Like all scientific systems, evolutionary biology is a tool applied in its proper place. I don't expect the mailman to give me tax advice, and I don't expect an evolutionary biologist to explain to me why I shouldn't rob a bank.
And there we have it. Craven has given us more of the same; these arguments never change, and they're never honest. We've got just one more liar for DA LAWD and, unfortunately, there are any number of people who'll be taken in by this heap of deception because it's easier to simply accept the assertions of another than to gather the evidence necessary to reach a valid conclusion of one's own.

Thanks tons, Michael Craven, for offering supporting evidence for the notion that bald men are sinister figures. You've only made it that much harder for the rest of us to be trusted.

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