Creationist Wisdom #368: Texas Preacher

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Austin American-Statesman of Austin, the capital of Texas, and it’s titled Science doesn’t explain everything about life’s origins. We’ll give you a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis.

We don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians or otherwise in the public eye), so we usually omit the writer’s name and city. In this case, however, the letter-writer is already out there in public view. He’s David Sweet, described as “pastor of Hays Hills Baptist Church in Buda.” Yes, that’s the town’s name. This is the church’s website. Okay, here we go:

A proven scientific theory is consistently disliked and opposed for philosophical reasons. Alternative theories are offered, primarily driven by ideology. I’m referring to the more than 80 years of disdain materialistic-minded thinkers have had for a model so well-proven that it earned the name “The Standard Theory” (“The Big Bang”.) Many decades and millions of dollars have been committed to replacing it, yet it still stands.

That’s a very strange beginning. Is the rev actually defending the Big Bang theory, when so many creationists abhor it? In a sense, yes, but that’s because he doesn’t understand it. Hey — has anyone ever heard the Big Bang referred to as the “Standard Theory”? Well, that’s the least of this letter’s problems. Then he says:

Why so much energy given to overthrowing the Standard Model in the face of consistent, confirming evidence? Because a singular origin of the universe is too close for comfort to certain religious explanations of origins. Also, the perceived odds against a singular beginning resulting in a universe like the one we have appear to be mind-numbingly astronomical. One way to try to slightly mitigate against these crazy odds is to add more universes. It turns out that it’s not just fundamentalist Christians who have ideological issues with science.

Lordy, lordy. We’ve found another creationist who attacks the multiverse concept, thinking it was devised as an atheistic plot to undermine the science that “proves” Genesis — which the rev thinks the Big Bang somehow does. Let’s read on:

Yet despite its failure to bring down the Standard Model, materialism has largely co-opted science. Science seems untouchable today, and so materialism seems untouchable.

Aaaargh!! The rev complains that materialism has co-opted science. He’s confusing philosophical materialism, which is atheism, with something very different — methodological materialism. The latter is a procedure (not a philosophy) which is inherent in the scientific method. Because of the rev’s confusion, he thinks all of science is atheistic, and he longs for the good old days when supernatural ideas ruled minds of men.

Then he mentions some philosophers who seem to hold his point of view, and after that he gets around to evolution (you knew he would):

One problem with teaching evolution in public schools (and it should be taught) is that, inevitably, it is over-simplified — as though evolution were an uncomplicated model with no loose ends. Students don’t hear of the fierce debates about various models within evolution or the constant mini-revolutions. (One way to give students an inkling of the complexities of the evolutionary enterprise is to have them read some articles over a few months from leading scientific magazines.)

High school students don’t need that level of detail. Besides, the rev is wildly exaggerating the “fierce debates about various models within evolution.” But it’s generous of him to allow that evolution should be taught — his way. The letter continues:

A watered-down version of evolution contributes to the false implication that evolution is so well worked out that there is no longer room for mystery. Certainly materialists hope that this is the implication students go away with.

No room for mystery? We pretty much know what kind of mystery the rev has in mind. Yes, mystery (supernaturalism) is omitted when evolution is taught — or in the rev’s way of describing it, watered down. Here’s more:

Is it true that there are no longer any mysteries? The origin of the universe clearly seems to qualify for “mystery.”

The mystery of the rev’s letter is coming into focus. The only way to grasp what he’s saying is to realize that he sees “materialist” science as being engaged in a vast conspiracy against his church, and his understanding of everything he thinks he knows about science is filtered through that perception. Moving along:

Darwin had no clue of the mind-blowing complexity of a single cell, complete with information systems, so the mystery has only deepened with scientific knowledge. Is it too much to say that the appearance of life from non-life is a mystery?

It’s not yet known, but it’s not the rev’s style of mystery. Rather, it’s an unsolved scientific question, the solution of which will never be found by people who think like the rev. Another excerpt:

Is it fair to lead students to believe that there is no mystery in what we know so far about origins and evolution? Is it only for adults to grapple with the great questions, but leave young students with the impression that it’s all solved?

[…]

The problem is materialism’s admixture with science. When materialism gets confused for science, students suffer. Science-education leaders should be equally concerned about the co-option of science by materialism as they are about its co-option by creationism.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! The rev has no grasp of the fact that science is all about the natural world, which is understood — demonstrably so — in terms of natural causes and effects. Scientists have no way to explore the supernatural. That vast, murky domain is the exclusive province of people like the rev. We come at last to the end of the letter:

An overly-simplified teaching of evolution without any disclaimer leads students to assume that the enterprise of science itself claims that the origins of the universe and other phenomena can be entirely explained in terms of a closed universe and physical laws? Science does not — and thus far — cannot make such a claim.

We are grateful for the rev’s letter, and for the advice he offers. He probably regards it as yet another mystery that no one is interested in following his advice. Hey, rev: it’s not very complicated. Your advice — that science should embrace the supernatural — doesn’t provide any verifiable information at all. It never has, and it never will. But please, keep writing your letters. They’ve very enjoyable.

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15 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #368: Texas Preacher

  1. Already commented (and challenged) by myself. This guy has no idea what’s going on in the real world.

  2. Charles Deetz ;)

    Poorly written, mixed-up explanation of the science, and wishy washy argument for his point, whatever it really is. Shouldn’t pastors be better writers, more persuasive, and well researched? His writing is right up there with Denyse’s from earlier today.

  3. Buda is probably named for one of the now amalgamated but formerly separate twin cities of Buda and Pest. So it could have been worse, the town could have just as easily have been called Pest.

  4. Texas Preacher’s article references

    The intellectual leader of modern atheism, Anthony Flew, converted to theism

    Intellectual leader? When did ‘modern atheism’ ever need a Pope?

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    Texas Preacher asks: “Is it too much to say that the appearance of life from non-life is a mystery?”

    Yes Preacher, it is. Most successful fiction writers work very hard to build up a compelling story before revealing the answer only in the last few pages.

    But the bible read by the Reverend solves the entire mystery in the first opening paragraphs. [spoiler alert] And then fills the remaining hundreds of pages just detailing repeated scenes of gratuitous violence, rape, and other gory details.

    That genre of literature is not “mystery”, but it does sell profitably to the “porn” audience.

  6. The term “Standard Theory” is used for the currently accepted system of subatomic particle theory(s). This is another example of conflation by people who don’t know what they are talking about (the other biggie is “Evolution can’t explain the Big Bang (or how life began)”).
    Each of these people needs to be asked forthwith what new evidence they possess that contradicts the currently accepted theory. Because if they cannot state such evidence they are just blowing smoke which, of course, they are.

  7. It is true that there are lots of things that evolution can’t explain. It can’t explain the periodic table of elements, for example. But that deficit is something that evolution shares with the heliocentric model of the Solar System, and with the Pythagorean Theorem, and the germ theory of disease, and …

    Oh, by the way, Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design – they can’t explain *anything*. All that they can say is “that’s the way that God/Intelligent Designers wanted it”. They can’t tell us why, for example, humans have eyes like other vertebrates rather than like insects or octopuses or why we don’t just directly perceive things. (Why do we rely on mere materialistic mechanisms like the refraction of light?)

  8. The name Buda is pronounced “B-eew-dah” by the locals, btw. It’s just south of Manchaca (pronounced “Man-check”), which is part of the southern burbs of Austin. It’s also not too far east of the fine hill country town of Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”). Maybe living in a place where the spoken language and the written language differ so much creates a mental dissonance which then carries over to one’s perceptions of reality in general.

    This theory can also be applied to French…

  9. “That’s a very strange beginning.”
    Indeed. When reading “Big Bang” I’m thinking of General Relativity, Alexander Friedmann and Fred Hoyle. When reading the Standard Model I’m thinking of elementary particles and Peter Higgs.

    “another creationist who attacks the multiverse concept”
    Ah, now it makes sense. Creacrap language is sometimes harder to understand than Inner-Mongolian for a simple Dutchman like me.

    “The intellectual leader of modern atheism, Anthony Flew”
    Then why is it that I never had heard of him before his convertion?

  10. SC:

    You possess probably the most extensive collection of “transitional fossils” on earth – the 368+ “wisdoms” from that fascinating creature, the “letter-to-the-editor” writer. There is no better snapshot of “anagenesis” than when confused and/or compartmentalized evolution-deniers muster the courage to “educate” 1000s of readers. When the flood of responses show how badly the writer had been misinformed, one of 3 things happens: He (and it’s rarely a she) either (1) realizes his mistake, (2) retreats to evangelizing to safer audiences, or (3) joins the scam and becomes a full-fledged anti-evolution activist. I guess the overwhelming majority choose (2) if only because repeat letters are not common. But I also suspect that the % that choose (1) is much higher than most people think. Such people leave almost no “fossils,” for the simple reason that no one likes to publicly admit embarrassing misconceptions.

    As you know I like to slice and dice evolution-deniers, both vertically (rank-and-file to activist) or horizontally (flat-earth-YEC to OEC-who-concedes-common-descent). But the most interesting divide concerns the Big Bang, where they either embrace it as “evidence of God” or deny it because it “takes God out of the equation,” with no middle ground.

    Sometimes a simple “Too bad many (or most) other evolution deniers think you’re wrong” is worth 1000 refutations, because it shows the world that. collectively, they’re “not even wrong.”

  11. This is the “rev” David Sweet writing. Thanks for the feedback. Derision is fine if it helps me improve and learn!

    I should have used the term “the standard Big Bang” model (not theory) but my use of the term “standard” is more of an adjective than a proper name, and influenced by its use by Wm. Lane Craig
    .
    The Big Bang has changed in 25 years (views on rate of expansion) but its predictions are still valid. I guess we’ll have to leave it to historians to determine whether there were motives by scientists and others which tended to be bias against the big bang, for philosophical reasons. I suppose it could be true that scientists are the one category of humans completely immune to bias and ideology. I don’t think its a conspiracy–I think its human nature. There is group-think, there is mutual reinforcement, circling the wagons, bias blindness. I have them, I assume others do too. There’s nothing sinister about them, but its good to try to identify them–especially when they represent the dominant world view of the educated class.

    In terms of confusing philosophical materialism with methodological materialism–that’s my point is that methodological –causal closure–that is essential in science, can be confused by young minds with causal closure on a larger scale–that is, the assumption or belief that the physical world is universally causally closed. It may be, but its not proven.

    Assuming universal causal closure is not made from a scientific stance but a philosophical one. See, many materialists on this site are very quick (in my experience) to defend universal causal closure based on the consistency of methodological closure.* see asterick further below in an article I quote in which that very thing is done…i.e. “more and more that was believed to be caused by god is explained, therefore it seems that even our concept of god is unnecessary….” That’s the kind of leap I’m talking about…..and If smart guys like you make that leap and make it sound like science makes the same claim, certainly young people make that assumption.

    I’m not asking anyone to do science differently–as some of your comments seem to suggest. I’m speaking about how we educate children. I’m not asking for any less teaching of evolution–if anything–they need more. But if the only way to be scientific and to teach children evolution is to never make reference to ‘mystery’ or the possibility of dualism, then I have to ask, why is it ok for Dawkins to concede that he’s an agnostic? Why would a Christian like Francis Collins (I notice you didn’t include my reference to him) possibly be trusted? How could anyone who is a dualist or a supernaturalist ever be allowed to lead any institution of science? I don’t think I saw in your quoting me above my reference to materialistically minded philosophers of science like Chalmers and Nagel and their questioning the ability of materialism (philosophical) to ever explain some things like human consciousness. Why are they able to clarify the distinction between philosophical materialism and methodological materialism–but we can’t do this for young people?

    In my claim that materialism has co-opted science, I am not speaking of methodological materialism or assumptions!—that’s how science is done! I’m speaking of the leading proponents of evolution today are the new atheists. I’m speaking of the leap students make in studying science–to philosophical materialism. I am claiming that many materialists, like the ones who frequent this site–are not concerned at all about students making that leap. It’s ok for adults to discuss the implications of science–like philosophers of science do—but its not ok to allow that talk with young minds!!! Chalmers can do it–but not the Jr. in High School. You fear that to make that distinction with students I am slying introducing religion!! Wait–you aren’t concerned if students become philosophical materialists by misguided leap or other means are you?? You see, your side wins if we don’t allow students to have the same discussions adults have about the implications of science and the possible meanings.

    Also, in science reporting what you find is an anti-god bias, like the recent–well one year ago–article by Natalie Wolchover….here’s the opening few paragraphs:

    *Will Science Someday Rule Out the Possiblity of God? Over the past few centuries, science can be said to have gradually chipped away at the traditional grounds for believing in God. Much of what once seemed mysterious — the existence of humanity, the life-bearing perfection of Earth, the workings of the universe — can now be explained by biology, astronomy, physics and other domains of science .
    Although cosmic mysteries remain, Sean Carroll, a theoretical cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology, says there’s good reason to think science will ultimately arrive at a complete understanding of the universe that leaves no grounds for God whatsoever.
    Carroll argues that God’s sphere of influence has shrunk drastically in modern times , as physics and cosmology have expanded in their ability to explain the origin and evolution of the universe. “As we learn more about the universe, there’s less and less need to look outside it for help,” he told Life’s Little Mysteries.
    He thinks the sphere of supernatural influence will eventually shrink to nil. But could science really eventually explain everything?……

    I “wildly exaggerate the fierce debates?” There are fierce debates and rivalry in all sciences, from archeology to zoology. Are there not constant mini-revolutions? New perspectives are reported every week on the dating for the appearance of a slug, the out of Africa/out of Asia human evolution debate, the dog debate–Europe or Asia, new perspectives on Neanderthal, and on and on. Time tables are adjusted a few million here or there, requiring everyone to change their own…now recent articles (sorry my memory isn’t real clear on details) suggesting that some anomalous fossils among pre-humans/hominids are due to incidental differences among the same type…. Maybe fierce debate doesn’t sum it best, but certainly constant mini-revolutions.

    The “mystery” I have in mind is supernaturalism, of course…but could as well be pantheism as anything. And what’s wrong with having that kind of mystery in mind–or a bias toward that kind of mystery–if there non-materialists among leading scientists what’s wrong with their holding to mystery? Now, as far as I know they aren’t agitating for the kind of disclaimer I am proposing–but again–my aim is not at scientists or the scientific enterprise. I am speaking as a citizen asking why students can’t be told that philosophical materialism is not the automatic assumption of all scientists because of their methodological materialism? What’s wrong with that? If Francis Collins is an ok scientist and his non-materialistic views don’t interfere with his science work–why would it be wrong to offer students the possibility of either a materialist view or non-materialist?

  12. There is indeed nothing wrong with a scientist holding metaphysical views other than philosophical materialism, provided those views don’t compromise the quality of his/her scientific output. Actually, even if they did so, the scientist would soon find him/herself sent off the field (or playing by themselves) for breaking the rules by which the science game is played.

    But that is hardly the issue. The issue, as I’m sure you’re aware, is that invariably this brand of “teach the controversy” and “air the alternatives” and “let students decide for themselves” is not driven by any genuine concern about scientific integrity. If it were, the people agitating for same would acquiesce to the consensus of the experts, just as they trust the consensus of the experts when boarding a plane or using a home appliance.

    No, those agitations — and it is curious how they are centred on those ontological questions (cosmogony, abiogenesis, evolution) that most directly impinge on domains where supernaturalism has traditionally held sway — are driven by a deeply nefarious agenda, as neatly encapsulated in the Wedge Document. Against that background, the clamour about academic freedom and teaching controversies and alternatives and such is a disingenuous ruse, a feint the only purpose of which is to lend a superficial sheen of respectability to what are, at base, venal motives.

  13. Thank you, david sweet, for taking the time to visit us. It may be that I over-reacted to your published letter. As a previous commenter (Con-Tester) mentioned, the usual “teach the controversy” and “teach all sides” advocates are never very skilled at concealing their motives. They’re agitating to get their religion inserted into science classes — allegedly for the noble purpose of improving science education, and to help the children think critically.

    Your interest is different. Your concern is that if supernatural causes aren’t presented as viable possibilities in science classes, the vulnerable children may be overwhelmed by philosophical materialism. I doubt that high school kids spend enough time in science class to become “victims” of such a life-altering experience, so I think you’re over-reacting to a non-existent situation.

    But if the kids are to learn any science at all, they must learn about methodological materialism, because it’s inherent in the scientific method, and that’s the way science is done. It’s the only way, because science is entirely based on natural phenomena. I don’t object to you and your brethren instructing them otherwise in Sunday school, regarding other aspects of their lives. But there’s no getting away from the fact that supernaturalism doesn’t have a place in the lab. I think you understand that.

    I never see clergy complaining to their local TV station that the weather reports are always secular. Everyone understands that meteorologists can predict the weather and clergymen can’t. So the way I see it, your concern isn’t about the fact that science is secular; rather, you don’t want the children to be taught to be atheists. Fair enough. If there’s a science textbook that has a chapter on atheism, I see the problem. But if Noah’s Ark isn’t in the text, I don’t see a problem. Do you? Raising children to be properly religious is your job. Scientists and science teachers can’t do it for you.

    As for my humble role, I don’t promote atheism at this blog. I don’t know enough about the universe to be certain about such things, and I’m so unschooled in theology that I suppose I’ll never know. I don’t critize religious people for being religious, and I’ve never had a negative word to say about Francis Collins. He’s a good scientist, and presumably a good man. But I draw the line when someone’s religion motivates him to think he can function (and decide policy) in areas where he knows nothing. When that line is drawn (to my satisfaction), what’s the result? You don’t decide how science is done and taught, and scientists don’t interfere with the content of your sermons.

  14. Thanks! Perhaps what I would advocate is an introduction to philosophy in high school. It seems our education at that level is truncated now. Such a course would not be completely dominated by materialists because at the college level you have a fair number of dualists, property dualists and non-reductive monists. Materialists I encounter on sites like this tend to disdain philosophy, but why is it important at the college level and not promoted at the secondary level? This would open up a whole new realm of thought for students and allow them to encounter a variety of views and interpretations of the implications of science. Why must this wait until college? The problem is–when this high school level class encounters–as it inevitably must–science, who is going to police it? Are we going to be so concerned about any hint of theism being introduced that we scrub this course of the variety of thought–that reflects the variety at the college level? Are we going to allow any discussion of science which introduces ‘mystery’ in any regard, or will materialists so heavily police the course to sterilize it that students don’t get any hint of the kind of discussion that happens in college? If we don’t allow for an introduction to philosophy then I think its reasonable to provide a disclaimer in a science class that allows students a mere hint of the kinds of discussions that go on in the real world beyond high school. Seems fair to me. Give students a taste of real-world education and let the chips fall.

  15. david sweet says:

    Perhaps what I would advocate is an introduction to philosophy in high school.

    Fine with me, but I doubt that many high school students are ready for Aristotle. In my experience, a lot of college students aren’t either. But if philosophy is taught, then it’s inevitable that science will be described as natural philosophy. That’s what it was called (not “science”) when it was first perceived to be a specialized area of inquiry. With that distinction — which shouldn’t be controversial — science classes can proceed as they’re supposed to do, leaving Platonic speculations to the other realms of philosophy.

    The problem is – when this high school level class encounters – as it inevitably must – science, who is going to police it?

    The same people who “police” geometry class and history class. Each state has procedures for setting the curricula of its public schools.

    If we don’t allow for an introduction to philosophy then I think its reasonable to provide a disclaimer in a science class …

    That’s been tried — and found to be unconstitutional. See Selman v. Cobb County: The Textbook Disclaimer Case.