Today’s letter-to-the-editor (like so many others) appears in the Shreveport Times of Shreveport, Louisiana. It’s titled: When science becomes religion.
We don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures), so we usually omit the writer’s full name and city. But this one is special. The letter-writer (or “guest columnist” as he’s now styled) is John Byrd. Yes, yes! Byrd is back!
Previous letters by Byrd, starting with the first time we discovered him, are here: #146: A Nation Divided, and then #151: Louisiana Anger, and then #156: Wallowing with Hogs, and then #217: Befuddled in Louisiana, and then #385: Evolution Is Illegal, and most recently: #404: Fossils Disprove Evolution.
At some point, the Shreveport Times recognized Byrd’s talent for attracting readers, and they stopped treating him as the usual maniac-in-a-shack who writes creationist letters to the editor. Now he’s a full-blown “guest columnist,” with a picture and all the status that goes with such a title. Byrd’s evolution (so to speak) from kook to columnist tells us a lot in our evaluation of journalism in general.
That was a big introduction, but it was worth the wait. Now we’ll give you a few excerpts from Byrd’s latest letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis. Okay, here we go:
“How did humans and other life on this planet come into existence?” For thousands of years man has considered this question. In this country, there are primarily two explanations that garner a considerable amount of discussion.
Pay attention, dear reader. You are about to learn what those two explanations are — in this country. Byrd seems to suggest that it’s a local thing, and presumably it’s quite different in places like Bulgaria and Cambodia. He tells us:
The special creation explanation attributes the diversity of life that we see to an omnipotent God. That explanation provides that man was created for a purpose and will ultimately be held accountable for his deeds.
The other explanation, evolution theory, attributes the diversity of life that we see solely to natural causes and chance. There is nothing supernatural about it. If there was a God around when it happened. He only watched. Man has no inherent purpose. He will not be held accountable.
Note that the creation “explanation” has the consequences of purpose and accountability, while the other one just leaves us blundering around. Let’s read on:
Both explanations, like all explanations, are influenced by the ideology or world-view of those conducting the inquiry. Those who choose to reject the existence of a supernatural, omnipotent being are forced to reject the special creation explanation.
But special creation isn’t an “explanation,” because it doesn’t actually explain anything — it merely proclaims. However, as Byrd says, it does begin with an ideology, and that is what compels the conclusion. He’s quite wrong about science, because it doesn’t begin by rejecting a supernatural being; rather, it deals only with observable, verifiable evidence — which Byrd’s “supernatural, omnipotent being” is careful to conceal. The “guest columnist” continues:
By limiting scientific inquiry to “natural” explanations for observed phenomena, what was considered good science often becomes “religion” because the conclusion reached points to or infers the existence of an omnipotent God. Science cannot acknowledge or infer that “God is” or “God might be” and remain within the self-imposed “naturalistic” boundary of science.
There are a few problems with that. Byrd declares — contrary to the universally accepted definition of faith — that science becomes a faith-based endeavor because it’s limited to observable evidence. But it’s only faith that deals with the unseen. Further, he declares that science arbitrarily rejects “the conclusion” of an omnipotent God — but that’s Byrd’s premise, not a conclusion. Here’s more:
Hence, when scientists, whose knowledge of the subject might be considered to be encyclopedic by their peers, reach a conclusion that natural causes could not possibly account for the diversity of life that we see, and that some supernatural force or intelligence source was required to produce it, their work is immediately moved from the realm of “science” and transformed into “religion” or something less than science. It is the conclusion, rather than the method, that causes the work to be stripped of the “science” label.
Aaaargh!! No, it’s not the conclusion of Oogity Boogity that causes a claim to be considered pseudo-science. It’s the lack of supporting data. Byrd sees it differently:
The modern scientist in this country cannot consider all of the available data and reasoning, and reach a conclusion that “God did it” or “It appears that only God could have done it.” … While it may be promoting deism, or theism over atheism, we do that when we stamp “In God We Trust” on our currency, include “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance, and refer to “Nature’s God,” “Creator” and “Divine Providence” in our Declaration of Independence.
He’s correct in observing that science doesn’t consider such things as data. Moving along:
Identifying and discussing opposing theories and hypotheses, and thoroughly examining questionable claims in existing theories is an integral and essential part of scientific research. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of knowledgeable, dedicated scientists who have reached the conclusion that the diversity of life that we see cannot possibly be the product of any form of Darwinian evolution theory. But their work, their reasoning, and their conclusions are not taught in our public schools. We choose to teach evolution theory as fact and exclude any consideration of the alternative explanation and the work of numerous Darwin dissenters.
Byrd must be thinking of the Discoveroids’ pathetic list of people who have signed their: Scientific Dissent From Darwinism. It’s only about 800 names, not thousands, and it’s a tiny fraction of the scientists who think otherwise. We discussed that here: Discoveroids’ “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism”. Another excerpt:
Our children are taught that they are purposeless accidents in the stream of nature. Then we express amazement when their behavior appears to be immoral and directionless.
Then he quote-mines a Supreme Court decision:
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once observed, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313 (1952).
That has nothing to do with the methodology of science, but it’s rare when a creationist relies on judicial authority like that. So we looked it up. You can read it here. New York City had a program allowing its public schools to release students during the school day so that they could go to religious centers for religious instruction or devotional exercises. A student is released on written request of his parents. Those not released stay in the classrooms. The churches make weekly reports to the schools, sending a list of children who have been released from public school but who have not reported for religious instruction. The “released time” program involved neither religious instruction in public school classrooms nor the expenditure of public funds, but its validity was challenged.
It was a 6-3 decision. William Douglas — who was definitely not a religious fanatic — wrote the majority opinion. He ignored the wisdom or effects of the program, saying:
Those matters are of no concern here, since our problem reduces itself to whether New York by this system has either prohibited the “free exercise” of religion or has made a law “respecting an establishment of religion” within the meaning of the First Amendment.
It takes obtuse reasoning to inject any issue of the “free exercise” of religion into the present case. No one is forced to go to the religious classroom and no religious exercise or instruction is brought to the classrooms of the public schools. A student need not take religious instruction. He is left to his own desires as to the manner or time of his religious devotions, if any.
There cannot be the slightest doubt that the First Amendment reflects the philosophy that Church and State should be separated. And so far as interference with the “free exercise” of religion and an “establishment” of religion are concerned, the separation must be complete and unequivocal. The First Amendment within the scope of its coverage permits no exception; the prohibition is absolute.
Skipping quite a bit, Douglas gets to the sentence that Byrd quoted: Here it is in context:
We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma.
Then Douglas gets back on track:
This program may be unwise and improvident from an educational or a community viewpoint. …. Our individual preferences, however, are not the constitutional standard. The constitutional standard is the separation of Church and State.
But we cannot expand it [an earlier case] to cover the present released time program unless separation of Church and State means that public institutions can make no adjustments of their schedules to accommodate the religious needs of the people. We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility to religion.
That’s it. There’s a vigorous dissent by Hugo Black, who criticizes the quote which Byrd mined. There were other dissents too, but Black’s is is sufficient:
The Court’s validation of the New York system rests in part on its statement that Americans are “a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” … It was precisely because Eighteenth Century Americans were a religious people divided into many fighting sects that we were given the constitutional mandate to keep Church and State completely separate. Colonial history had already shown that, here as elsewhere zealous sectarians entrusted with governmental power to further their causes would sometimes torture, maim and kill those they branded “heretics,” “atheists” or “agnostics. … It is this neutrality the Court abandons today when it treats New York’s coercive system as a program which merely “encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities.” The abandonment is all the more dangerous to liberty because of the Court’s legal exaltation of the orthodox and its derogation of unbelievers.
You can read it all if you like. Our point in this long digression is that Byrd’s little quote does nothing to advance the scientific validity of his creationist views. Like “In God we trust” on our currency, Byrd has no concept of what’s relevant and what isn’t. Let’s return to his babbling. This is how he concludes:
Today, in perhaps our primary institution, our schools, we are prohibited from acknowledging the existence of a supreme being. We are now a nation of “progressives.” If the psalmist was correct when he wrote, “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God” (Psalms 14:1, 53:1), we have become a nation of fools.
Byrd is right — there are a lot of fools around. That’s what our collection of letters demonstrates.
Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.
Mr. Byrd is one of those guys that makes the good people at The Onion say, “why didn’t we think of that?”
Byrd the Brain opines that because “we stamp “In God We Trust” on our currency [and] include “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance“, it should be scientifically valid for a researcher to “reach a conclusion that “God did it” or “It appears that only God could have done it.”” Although this is an irrelevant non sequitur, he illustrates why we should remove said phrases from our currency and our Pledge.
Science is, by definition the study of natural phenomena.
When you have an educational system as poor and god-soaked as Louisiana’s, you produce great thinkers like Byrd the Brain.
The Brain’s elevation from kook in a closet to kook who’s a columnist speaks volumes about the standards of journalism at The Shreveport Times. I wouldn’t even line the bottom of my bird’s cage with that rag.
Byrd is a perfect example of a creationist that it would be useless to debate with. He is totally ignorant of the fact that science is only able to study things that are observable and testable but he is convinced that he knows how science should be conducted and that it should include the unobservable and untestable supernatural in order to be pursued properly.
Making it even more difficult to have a meaningful discussion with this kind of creationist is his paranoia that scientists are somehow conspiring to undermine the supposed religious foundation of the United States. He thinks because “in God we Trust” is on our currency and “under God” is in the pledge of allegiance they demand that we adhere to religious doctrine in everything we do, including science. He is probably unaware that “in God we Trust” did not appear on our currency until the Civil War when there was still a lingering belief that outcomes of wars were possibly determined by who’s side god was on, and it was added to the pledge in the 1950s as a reaction to the Cold War.
Speaking of screwed up [edited out].
I “tangled” with Byrd on his last campaign and he is one worthless blowhard. Never provided a stitch of evidence, kept repeating the same old BS and even when his mined quotes were laid out in front of his eyes, he simply repeated them. Most of the creationist trolls who hang out on discussion threads are like Byrd.
My favorite line (well, one of many!) is “Last time I looked, there wasn’t any evidence.”
I just re-read Byrd’s take on things in “Creationist Wisdom #404, and he’s saying essentially the same thing here in #422. He’s like the preacher who gives the same sermon from memory each Sunday, just changing the phrases around a bit each week.
@Doc Bill: “Last time I looked, there wasn’t any evidence.”
Oh, but I totally believe Byrd when he says this. Last time was a long time ago, he wore blinkers and had his eyes wide shut.
Our Curmudgeon describes—
Might this be an instance of Goldschmidt’s Hopeful Monster? 😉
Isn’t this an example of the God of the gaps argument?