Howard Ahmanson on the Discoveroids’ Blog

For obvious reasons, comments to this blog post will be very heavily moderated. We urge you to be discreet. We thought about not allowing comments, but we’re confident that you can handle this with proper restraint. Don’t quote or even link to what other bloggers may have said; some of them don’t know when to tone it down. We think you do.

The Discoveroids are introducing a new contributor to their creationist blog — Howard Ahmanson, a director of the Discovery Institute. Wikipedia says:

Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr. (born February 3, 1950) is an heir of the Home Savings bank fortune built by his father Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Sr. Ahmanson Jr. is a multi-millionaire philanthropist and financier of many Christian conservative cultural, religious and political causes.

[…]

In the 1970s Ahmanson became a Calvinist and joined R. J. Rushdoony’s Christian Reconstructionist movement. Ahmanson served as a board member of Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation for approximately 15 years before resigning in 1996. In 1996, Ahmanson said he had left the Chalcedon board and “does not embrace all of Rushdoony’s teachings.” He is somewhat reclusive and has Tourette syndrome; his wife usually communicates with the media and others on his behalf.

[…]

Ahmanson is reported to have “never supported his mentor’s calls for the death penalty for homosexuals”; instead, as the Orange County Register reported in 2004, he “no longer consider[s] [it] essential” to stone people who are deemed to have committed certain immoral acts. Ahmanson also told the Register, “It would still be a little hard to say that if one stumbled on a country that was doing that, that it is inherently immoral, to stone people for these things. But I don’t think it’s at all a necessity.”

[…]

Ahmanson is a major backer of the Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture opposes the theory of evolution and promotes intelligent design.

With that as an introduction, we’ll give you a few excerpts from what he wrote for the Discoveroids: Am I an Occasionalist? Christian Philosophy and Intelligent Design:

First Things is a magazine I like and find interesting. Just recently they have come out with a criticism of intelligent design by philosopher-scientist Stephen Meredith of the University of Chicago. … He charges that intelligent design assumes the philosophy of “occasionalism,” which has been expressed by al-Ghazali and al-Razi in the Islamic world, and Nicolas Malebranche in the Christian world. This belief holds that “created substances cannot themselves be efficient causes.” Now I’m wondering whether I am an Occasionalist, though I didn’t know what that was till a few hours ago.

We never heard of occasionalism either, but Wikipedia has an article on it. Let’s read on:

I am not a Young Earth Creationist of the Ken Ham type, and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, does not represent my views. The Earth is billions of years old, it goes around the sun, and God can breed as easily as He can create from the dust, and has done so.

We suspected that the Discoveroids’ major supporter wasn’t a young-Earther. He continues:

First, Meredith charges,

[Ahmanson quotes Meredith:] they [the intelligent design movement] allow that this “intelligence” could be something other than God (an angel or extraterrestrial being, for example). But its being anything other than God would immediately raise the question of how such a being had arisen… Though reluctant to use the word, they are talking about the God of monotheism, and mainly the God of Christianity.

Regarding that, Ahmanson says:

Since most of them are Christians, this is probably so. But the Jewish God could do the same thing, as could the Muslim.

Then he discusses a theological view called Catharism, which is too complicated for us to bother with, so we’ll skip it. Here’s more:

Meredith also charges that intelligent design

[Ahmanson quotes Meredith:] supposes that natural law, which is the basis for science, operates most of the time but is periodically suspended, as in the Cambrian “explosion” and the origin of life itself.

Ahmanson responds:

Well, yes. The very concept of a miracle, and I admit to following C.S. Lewis on this, is exactly that. As Lewis argues, Christianity cannot survive without the miraculous, for the Gospel is precisely the story of a “Grand Miracle.” But for miracles to be miraculous, they must be, by nature, not normative. It was because Christians believe in a normative process that took place (though the normative process is just as much in God as the miraculous) all the rest of the time, that modern science was able to develop in a Christian culture. This is what makes nature capable of being investigated.

Tricky, isn’t it? Moving along:

Meredith declares that intelligent design “does not credit natural or physical law with enough causal power to enact evolution on its own and educes supernatural causes to do most of the heavy lifting in worldly events.” No, intelligent design says that evolution does take place, and can give us varying finch beaks in the Galapagos, for example. On this point even the most fundamental of fundamentalists accept evolution. However, the living cell is a piece of information technology, as we are discovering, and unguided evolution would have a very difficult time producing such a thing. The assumption that it “must have” done so is a theological assumption, not a scientific one.

To which we would add: The claim, unsupported by evidence, that nature couldn’t have accomplished such things by entirely natural processes is most definitely a theological assumption. Another excerpt:

Meredith asks, “A first critique starts with the question, posed by Leibniz, of whether a design that continually needs readjustment and intervention is a design at all.” Well, who said anything about “needing” readjustment and intervention, outside the context of human rebellion? I doubt that the simple organisms before the Cambrian explosion thought the planet “needed readjustment” in the form of the explosion, nor that the dinosaurs thought that the planet “needed readjustment” by an asteroid crashing into the Yucatán Peninsula, nor that the pre-human primates of Africa thought that the Earth “needed readjustment” by one species being endowed with the Image of God.

We don’t think Ahmanson has adequately addressed Leibniz. He didn’t even come close to doing so. Then he quotes Meredith again:

If an omnipotent God has created nature, one must ask why one should not then posit nature as capable of causing natural events on its own steam rather than requiring intervention.

Good question. Ahmanson’s response:

Well, nobody said that natural events don’t happen on their own steam, and who says the interventions were “required”? Required by whom or what?

That response wasn’t very responsive. Skipping a bit, he says:

It’s also clear that the Fall itself is a theological issue that intelligent design really can’t say much about and yet is vitally important. There are competing philosophies on this. Christianity teaches that humankind was endowed with the divine nature, and then rebelled. Evolutionary theory holds that humankind didn’t “fall,” because humankind was morally imperfect to begin with. And some forms of humanism would say that humankind is naturally good. I’m not sure that intelligent design or any other form of science can really tackle this issue.

We already knew that the Discoveroids avoid that topic, but we’ve always suspected that they do so in order to maintain the facade that intelligent design “theory” is science. The article’s final paragraph is somewhat revealing about that:

A good friend of mine is one of the major writers for the intelligent-design movement, and he has in his house a treadmill and other exercise equipment. I like to tease him, saying, “If ID is true, why do you have to do this? Couldn’t an intelligent God have designed us so that our daily activity in a technological society — and obviously He knew we would develop one — would be enough to keep us healthy without all these workouts and treadmill runs?” He just smiles and says something about the Fall.

So there you are. We don’t know what to make of it, but we thought an essay by Ahmanson was worth mentioning.

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31 responses to “Howard Ahmanson on the Discoveroids’ Blog

  1. “has Tourette syndrome”
    Ah – about 15 years ago I befriended someone with Tourette syndrome (before anyone asks: I emigrated so contact petered out). After getting used it became kind of amusing; when I told him so he relaxed and the symptoms became less prevalent when I talked to him. Nice guy.

    “But its being anything other than God would immediately raise the question of how such a being had arisen”
    But its being actually being god would also immediately raise the question of how the being being god had arisen. Defining something into existence, anyone?

    “intelligent design says that evolution does take place,”
    See? I told you so! IDiots do accept evolution – just not Darwinistic evolution. It’s crucial, though I wouldn’t know why.

    “I doubt that the simple organisms before the Cambrian explosion thought the planet “needed readjustment” in the form of the explosion.”
    Ah, this is a gem. You totally should have bolded this.

    “For obvious reasons …..”
    I have no idea what other bloggers wrote and am not particularly interested to find out, but the reasons are not obvious to me at all. Ahmanson seems to be a relatively reasonable man, which means he hasn’t sunk completely into the hilarious madness of our favourites.

  2. I need a beer after reading that word salad.

  3. mnbo says: “Ahmanson seems to be a relatively reasonable man, which means he hasn’t sunk completely into the hilarious madness of our favourites.”

    I think Ahmanson’s toadies trotted him out to give that impression. Don’t forget, he’s a major financial backer of the Discoveroids’ propaganda machine, who are bent on destroying science in this country.

  4. Howard Amhanson writes

    It’s also clear that the Fall itself is a theological issue that intelligent design really can’t say much about and yet is vitally important. There are competing philosophies on this….[snip]… I’m not sure that intelligent design or any other form of science can really tackle this issue.

    Whether ‘the Fall’ is or isn’t “vitally important” is entirely a theological question. But I have to agree with Ahmanson’s (somewhat reluctant, on his part) conclusion that it is nothing do with science.

    I have no problem with theology for theology’s sake for those who like that sort of thing (personally, it bores me to snores), but it has no place in science. There are plenty of other open arenas for such matters, and no need or benefit whatsoever in trying to ram such matters into the practice of science or science education.

    The Discovery Institute’s avowed ‘Wedge’ strategy and quixotic efforts to redefine science is hugely detrimental to human progress and welfare; I do not understand why Mr. Amhanson provides them with the financial wherewithal to sow their destructive discord and obfuscation, and earnestly wish he would devote his time, abilities, and resources to worthwhile ends.

  5. Richard Olson

    Ahmanson is reported to have “never supported his mentor’s calls for the death penalty for homosexuals”; instead, as the Orange County Register reported in 2004, he “no longer consider[s] [it] essential” to stone people who are deemed to have committed certain immoral acts. Ahmanson also told the Register, “It would still be a little hard to say that if one stumbled on a country that was doing that, that it is inherently immoral, to stone people for these things. But I don’t think it’s at all a necessity.”

    Reasonable? Compared to Lou Engle (IHOP) of Ugandan constitution fame, and other religious zealots who advocate execution/imprisonment for various “sins,” he may be a slight degree less Iron Age justice inclined than the worst of the worst. But Ahmanson is still very far from reasonable.

  6. mnbo relates

    about 15 years ago I befriended someone with Tourette syndrome

    You have doubtless known many more Touretters without realising, it’s not a rare condition–though it the range of severity of symptoms is quite wide. The stereotype (the involuntary shouting out of obscenities) is at the severe end, and is a small minority of TS’ers. There is always a vocal ‘tic’ associated with TS (in fact, vocal tics are a diagnostic feature of the condition), but in the majority of cases these are either non-verbal sounds, nonsense words, or repeated phrases.

    My younger daughter has Tourette’s (diagnosed when she was 7), with an intermittent spells of quite elaborate and inconvenient tics; an occasional irritant, sometime an embarrassment to her, sometimes amusing, as you indicate about your friend. Once one accepts that the tics are genuinely involuntary, and harmless, it’s not too big a deal.

    One curious ‘side effect’: although the physical tics are involuntary (one can suppress them somewhat for short periods, but they tend to assert themselves with even greater vigour when one has done so), lots of TS’ers actually have particularly well developed fine-motor skills, as in playing musical instruments or dancing with great precision. It seems a paradox that this is often the case, and I haven’t found a medical explanation for it. But (my guess) would be that some muscles in the limbs are, in TS, kept in good trim by the activity of the involuntary tics, and also fine control is learned by TS’ers in applying temporary suppression to such tics, and the combination of these two effects seems to enable many to excel in playing music, dance, and sports.

  7. Stephen Kennedy

    Howard Ahmanson sounds like a man who once thought he had all the answers but now realizes the world is more complicated and nuanced than he once believed. For Dominionist followers of Rushdoony the problems of American society could all be solved if we simply abandoned the Constitution and adopted Mosaic law. Mr. Ahmanson seems to still believe such an approach could have merit but seems uncomfortable with its most dogmatic aspects.

    He is clearly a theist but in addition to Catholic and Protestant Christianity seems tolerant of the Jewish and Islamic faiths. When he says he is not a Ken Ham type and does not take the bible literally on creation he sounds more like a mainstream Protestant or Roman Catholic than a Baptist or Pentecostal. In fact, he expressed a belief that extreme Pentecostals are an obstacle to science. The DI seems to be a venue where he can promote a theistic world view but not necessarily an evangelical one. His statements about accepting billions of years and some type of evolution will further split the creationist movement since AiG and ICR and their ilk will attack him for being a compromiser with un-biblical beliefs.

    Howard Ahmanson, of course, is not my patient and I have never examined him so I really can not say to what extent he is affected by Tourette Syndrome, which can range from being a mere nuisance to absolutely disabling. Stress and anxiety can make sufferers of the disorder even more symptomatic so it is not surprising that he is not a more public person.

  8. Realist1948

    “The Fall” as commonly described by Christians is not compatible with evolution. As described at
    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v6/n1/death-of-any-kind-before-fall
    there was no disease or death before the fall. But since the fall was due to human action, this means that humans existed before there was death. But given that death is a necessary part of natural selection, you can’t have humans evolving from earlier primates “before the fall.”

    If death had not existed at the time of the first single-cell organisms, the only life on earth today would still be — single cell organisms.

    Trying to reconcile Genesis with reality is futile.

  9. @Waldteufel: “Don’t forget …”
    Don’t worry, I won’t. And if attention slackens there is always SC to keep me alert.

    @Mega: OK – then my friend was a stereotypal case, with abusive words and all. Still a very nice guy.

    “it’s not too big a deal”
    That was the point I tried to make.

    “well developed fine-motor skills”
    Yup, totally stereotyped. My friend is a cabinet-maker. He has his own site; out of curiosity I googled him. Alas he has moved to a part of The Netherlands I am very unlikely to visit. I’d like to meet him again.

  10. Btw this host

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonja_Barend

    had a Tourette guy in her talkshow about 30 years ago. I couldn’t find the episode on YouTube, but here is the evidence:

    http://geschiedenis.wordpress.com/2007/04/22/%E2%80%98voor-nu-lekker-slapen-en-morgen-gezond-weer-op%E2%80%99/

    “Bij Sonja kwam iemand met het Gilles de la Tourette-syndroom.”

  11. “I am not a Young Earth Creationist of the Ken Ham type, and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, does not represent my views. The Earth is billions of years old, it goes around the sun, and God can breed as easily as He can create from the dust, and has done so.”

    I more than suspected the belief, and am only a little surprised at the admission, given the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” of the big tent strategy. As I have been saying for years, the most important event of the anti-evolution movement was neither the concoction of “scientific” YEC in the mid 20th century, nor the 1987 “cdesign proponentsists” typo that kicked off the ID strategy, but rather a slow evolution in between. Anti-evolution strategists “speciated,” not just along old/young earth (& more importantly told/young life) lines, but how to salvage the pretense that independent evidence supports what they desperately want the “masses” to believe, even if the peddlers might not.

    One side, like Ken Ham, and probably Biblical OECs, “slouch toward Omphalism,” and the other toward total coverup of the well-established fatal flaws and embarrassing contradictions in “scientific” creationism. The latter, of course became ID.

    As tempting as it is to refute the points refuted 1000x (“PRATTs”), if we do only that – and a recent excruciating read of 150+ comments to a recent “wisdom” painfully shows that that’s almost always the case – we are missing half the opportunity. Which is to ask detailed “what happened when” questions of every evolution-denier, if only to show new readers the increasingly evasive games they play.

  12. I’m having a hard time caring about the ramblings of a man who thinks stoning gays is okay, but not necessary.

  13. ladyatheist

    “Evolutionary theory holds that humankind didn’t “fall,” because humankind was morally imperfect to begin with”

    uhhh I thought humankind arose? And since when did evolutionary theory take on the topic of moral imperfections of a whole species? I think the opposite would be true – that morality conveys an advantage in social groups, therefore the “fall” never happened and humankind has always been moral enough to live to see another day… so far

  14. Mark, I agree with you. Only a [edited out] would say that stoning is okay, but not necessary.

  15. docbill1351

    Ahmanson built nothing, did nothing his entire life. [Edited out]

    What has he done with his wealth? Nothing.
    What is he known for? Nothing.
    Ahmanson is what one might call [edited out].

    You look at the Gates Foundation in comparison working to eradicate malaria and other diseases, nearly conquered that lake worm parasite. And other good works. Then look at Ahmanson, [edited out]. Actually, he’s the perfect Discoveroid: [edited out].

  16. Hey, docbill1351: I don’t want to get sued because my blog slandered a billionaire. Just calm down.

  17. @docbill: When you think of the untold billions that have been expended for “the greater glory of God” (or “gods”, going back to ancient Greece, Rome, pharaohs, etc.) — the building of all the cathedrals, churches, mosques, temples of all religions, expenditures for religious education, and on and on, Ahmanson probably thinks he’s making a great contribution to society by funding the Discovery Institutionalized.

    If he really wanted to do something useful, he could put his money behind Elon Musk (or whoever or whatever) to develop an anti-asteroid interceptor missile system. NASA doesn’t seem to see any urgent need, nor does the United Nations or any other governmental organization.

    Point is, these things have hit the earth in the past, and we know they will hit again — unless we do something about it. We see in the fossil record the devastating consequences — asteroids (and probably comets as well) were the “punctuation marks” of Punctuated Equilibrium.

    Of course, the mass extinctions in the past were bad only for the life that was on earth at the time, but good for the life forms that followed. Mammals would certainly not have evolved as rapidly as they did had it not been for the K-T extinction event, about 65 million years ago (or so).

  18. @Mark Germano
    Too damn’ right. If he’s capable of thinking something as disgusting as that, who cares what his thoughts are on anything else?

  19. Ahmanson’s ambivalence concerning the stoning of homosexuals might stem from Leviticus 20: 13 —

    “13 If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

    Other verses of Leviticus 20 call for the same punishment for adultery, incest, bestiality and any number of other proscribed sexual acts.

  20. One wonders why the rabbits are flushing into the open so much lately in the Pacific NW. And why not a screaming anti science tirade instead of these morose musings?
    Could Fox’s support for established science with the Cosmos
    series have penetrated the creationist mindset enough to merit an extra special double probation, super secret science denial article by the ‘tutelies founding creationist?
    You know Fox is turned on 24/7 at the home of the great and powerful Oz.

  21. Our Curmudgeon asserts

    I don’t want to get sued because my blog slandered a billionaire.

    Agreed. Discretion is the better part of valour, in any event.

    But perhaps it could be pointed out here, that from the ENV blog itself, Mr. Ahmanson has provided a link to his own blog, BlueKennel: The only known Three-Table, Five Kingdom, Kuyperian Fukuyamist Blog on the Internet. Perhaps folks interested in reading more of Mr. Ahmanson’s musings and/or engaging with them should do so at that website rather than here?

    Just sayin’

  22. docbill1351

    Further to my original comment about Howie, I’d like to add the following:

    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].

    And [edited out]. [edited out]. [edited out]. [edited out]. [edited out].

    Concluding with [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].
    [edited out].

    Thank you, [edited out].

  23. I see things the same way, docbill1351. I think it’s fair to say: “No Ahmanson, no Discovery Institute.”

  24. The Designer, (blessed he be), is in no particular hurry.
    His Cambrian Explosion Miracle took Him 70 million years.
    We could be smack in the middle of another Modern Day Explosion Designer miracle, and not notice it.

  25. Ceteris Paribus

    Ah, now I understand how this blog stuff works.
    SC owns “The Sensuous Curmudgeon” blog, so SC can say anything he wants to on the blog SC owns.

    And so logically it follows that if (edited out) owns the (edited out) blog, then (edited out) can say anything he wants to on the (edited out) blog whenever the spirit so moves.

    (Disclaimer: All instances of the phrase “(edited out)” enclosed in parentheses were in the writer’s original text, and not intended to refer to or specify any actual beings whether natural, supernatural, or both.)

  26. docbill, your [edited out] post made me actually laugh out loud. My wife asked, “What’s so funny?”, but all I could say was that it’s a long story, and she’d have to read the whole thread to understand — in other words, it doesn’t translate easily.

    You are a very devilishly funny guy. Thanks for bringing your wit to this blog.

  27. Retired Prof

    _Arthur speculates “We could be smack in the middle of another Modern Day Explosion Designer miracle, and not notice it.”

    Some think they have noticed it. Not the explosion part, but the extinction part that clears the deck and leaves a lot of ecological niches unoccupied, or occupied by organisms ill-fitted to exploit them thoroughly. This is the situation that punctuates the equilibrium. The explosion comes next, when new species rapidly (relatively speaking) develop as organisms adapt to their new niches.

    Ironic that this time, if the speculation is right, the Designer didn’t have to arrange a cosmic collision or a massive episode of vulcanism. Entirely within the biosphere itself–an inside job.

    We’ll just have to wait and see whether the speculation is correct. After 70 million years, or less if we’re lucky, we should know how it all plays out.

  28. @Arthur: “We could be smack in the middle of another Modern Day Explosion Designer miracle, and not notice it.”
    That’s because you (and I) have eyes, but don’t see.
    DiscoTute is the miracle!

  29. Richard Olson

    If you live in any other state than Denial, a ‘wait’ is not necessary to determine the present extinction event ongoing here on this planet. And by the time all but the final few staunch denialists [the types also in the flat earth, moon landing is a hoax, and creationism camps] finally accept reality, it will be damned hard to find anyone who ever recalls saying anthropogenic climate change is bs.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/books/review/the-sixth-extinction-by-elizabeth-kolbert.html

  30. @Richard Olson

    Many thanks for the link to that excellent piece of polemic, which I’d missed. I must try to lay hands on the book, too. The paragraph that really hit hard, I thought, was:

    But in the modern era, three factors have combined to radically disrupt the relationship between civilization and the earth’s ecosystem: the unparalleled surge in human population that has quadrupled our numbers in less than a hundred years; the development of powerful new technologies that magnify the per capita impact of all seven billion of us, soon to be nine billion or more; and the emergence of a hegemonic ideology that exalts short-term thinking and ignores the true long-term cost and consequences of the choices we’re making in industry, energy policy, agriculture, forestry and politics.

  31. Retired Prof: “…the Designer didn’t have to arrange a cosmic collision or a massive episode of vulcanism.”

    A bit OT, but while we are looking at potential causes of past mass extinctions, the massive episodes of vulcanism were probably caused by cosmic collisions. The massive shock wave of the impact would race through the earth and focus at the antipode, causing huge fissures in the crust, allowing magma to flood out from the mantle. We see the results today in the ~65 million-year-old Deccan Traps (which were on the opposite side of the earth at the time of the 65 million-yr.-old K-T Chixalub impact), and we see similar disturbed surfaces on the Moon and Mercury antipodal to large impact basins.

    It could be that the 250 MYA flood basalts of the Siberian Steppes and the 16 MYA basalts of the Columbian Plateau were also the result of antipodal impacts, but we haven’t found the impact sites — yet. (Although if you look at the Kerguelen Islands on Google Earth, you can see intriguing concentric-circular faulting evidence. The islands are roughly antipodal to where the Columbian Plateau was 16 MYA.)