Creationist Wisdom #480: Pesky Questions

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Daily Item of Sunbury, Pennsylvania. The letter is titled Science leads some towards faith.

We don’t embarrass letter-writers by using their full names unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures, but this one is a preacher: Elizabeth Afffsprung, described as an ordained Presbyterian minister. That’s surprising, because according to the National Center for Science Education’s list of Statements from Religious Organizations supporting evolution, Presbyterians aren’t a creationist denomination. This is her church’s website: First Presbyterian Church of Sunbury.

We’ll give you a few excerpts from her letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

In 2007, Antony Flew published a slender volume, titled “There IS a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.” He was a preacher’s kid, declared himself an atheist at age 15, and wrote articles and books between 1950 and 1971 that made him the scholarly precursor to such famous names as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

Flew was the Mr. Spock of atheism, saying that logically one must presuppose that there is no god, unless and until hard evidence turns up. He demanded empirical, that is, experimental evidence. The hard evidence that changed Flew’s mind came from recent discoveries in physics, cosmology, and genetics, and Flew had the courage to say so: first, at a public debate in 2004, and then in print.

We remember. There was a lot of excitement in creationist circles at the time, notwithstanding that the opinion of one elderly philosopher doesn’t turn science on it’s head. As we said in an old post where the subject was raised:

Flew seems to have lost it near the end. Very sad. The so called “fine tuning” argument is no more persuasive than is the apparent design of living organisms. We suspect that in due course, the marvel of fine tuning will be seen as the inevitable consequence of some fundamental but as yet undiscovered principle which makes it impossible for the constants of a universe to be anything other than the ones we see. We can’t be certain of that, of course, but there’s no evidence for any universe being “tuned” in some other way, so it’s absurd to say there’s anything remarkable about the constants in this universe.

Rev. Elizabeth talks about Flew and the Big Bang for a while, and that part of her letter ends on a reasonable note, with this:

But there is evidence for the Big Bang: its momentum is still around. Although we cannot feel it, the universe is still expanding. Galaxies are measurably speeding away from one another. That unfolding expansion directs our attention back to the inception-point of the cosmos, which in turn raises in reasonable minds the question of creation. It doesn’t prove a creator, but it makes the question pretty unavoidable.

Fair enough, she’s just raising a question. But she keeps doing it. Let’s read on:

Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson first put it this way: it is almost as if “the universe knew we were coming. … The laws that characterize our actual universe seem almost contrived, fine-tuned some commentators have claimed, so that life and consciousness may emerge.”

Okay, now she’s quote-mining. Dyson is no creationist. Then she quotes someone else about fine tuning, after which she says:

The universe seems so finely-tuned, such a perfect equipoise of matter and energy, that it evokes once again the question of a great and purposeful Mind behind it all. As the notorious atheist Antony Flew came to believe, there is now enough hard evidence to tilt the balance in favor of God. This is really newsworthy, and debatable of course. Google some of this and see what you think.

We’ll say this for Rev. Elizabeth: she can be annoying, but she’s not too pushy about it. Then she says something quite reasonable:

Now, we have to be wary of using God as a hypothesis to fill in the blanks left by science. If we do that, obviously the space left for God will get smaller and smaller, as science discovers more. This is reason to avoid what philosophers call “the god of the gaps.” Nor does any of this prove that God exists.

Here’s one more excerpt from near the end:

But experimental science today pushes us toward questions that science itself cannot answer. They may be questions we want to avoid: of ultimate realities, our place in the cosmos, right and wrong, meaning and purpose. Science can never answer the question of God for us. But it sure looks like Somebody wants us to ask that question, Somebody who left fingerprints everywhere, for those with eyes to see them. Antony Flew was intellectually honest enough to acknowledge those divine fingerprints.

That’s about it. Rev. Elizabeth seems to be a creationist — possibly of the intelligent design variety — but she doesn’t try to ram it down your throat. Nevertheless, she insists on raising her questions, knowing that she doesn’t have any evidence to support her preferred answers. But what’s the point? Any 12-year-old can ask pesky questions about the things she preaches and that she undoubtedly believes, but for which she has no evidence at all.

So we’ll leave Rev. Elizabeth with one bit of Curmudgeonly advice: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

14 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #480: Pesky Questions

  1. I’ve been reading some of Antony Flew’s writings on the paranormal recently.
    How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
    I think he’s inflating his rep a bit with his “World’s Most Notorious Atheist” self-description. And, to judge by his credulity re the paranormal, he was kind of ripe for the plucking anyway.

  2. “But experimental science today pushes us toward questions that science itself cannot answer. They may be questions we want to avoid: of ultimate realities, our place in the cosmos, right and wrong, meaning and purpose. Science can never answer the question of God for us. But it sure looks like Somebody wants us to ask that question, Somebody who left fingerprints everywhere, for those with eyes to see them. Antony Flew was intellectually honest enough to acknowledge those divine fingerprints.”

    But if science can’t answer such questions, how can it “answer” by pointing to alleged “divine fingerprints”? What becomes of creation “science” if creation is beyond scientists’ power to explain?

    The answer is clear: people like the Rev. Elizabeth Afffsprung simply want science to bow its head and bend its knee before religion as in the good old days of the Inquisition. “Intelligent design” is just the latest mask worn by those who hate the very idea of natural explanations for natural phenomena.

  3. Sage advice: People who live in glass houses shouldn’t …

  4. The rev’s rhetoric is loaded with “deepities”.
    That is, vapid sayings meant to sound profound. But then, deepities are the currency of holy men and women.

  5. I can’t claim credit for this idea, but although science doesn’t know everything, religion doesn’t know anything.

  6. ”They may be questions we want to avoid: of ultimate realities, our place in the cosmos, right and wrong, meaning and purpose.”

    Who wants to avoid these questions? Just about every intellectual and artistic endeavour is powered by such questions.

  7. I think you are doing our enemies’ work for them, by labelling the Reverend as an “creationist”or an advocate of Intelligent Design.

    Her position is that the existence of the Universe we have, and the laws of Nature as they are, argues for a purposeful Creator. You and I would disagree, but the position is not obviously absurd. It was that taken by James Hutton, father of the science of geology, and, tentatively, by Charles Darwin in the later part of his life.

    This is miles away from the position of our present-day creationists, including those who have hijacked the term “Intelligent Design”, who deny the plain facts of biological evolution and common descent. Their reason, if that is not too strong a word, is that the modern science of evolution (and indeed all modern science, if they thought it through) is both scientifically and philosophically flawed, because it relies on material explanations and excludes the supernatural.

    These creationists muddy the waters, by confusing the concepts of specific creation and of the “intelligent” design of individual organisms or organs or organelles, with the broader position that the Reverend is advocating. We should not help them do this.

    To underline the point, I would remind readers that criticism of the concept of a “God of the gaps” goes back not to a group of philosophers, but to Henry Drummond, a Presbyterians theologian, rather than to a secular philosopher, and I really think that the Reverend should have known this.

  8. “The so called “fine tuning” argument is no more persuasive than is the apparent design of living organisms.”

    A very good point indeed. I might have to rememebr that one.

  9. I have the same impression as Paul B above. To me Rev. Elizabeth looks like a seeker, trying to make sense of the world she’s living in by accommodating science and religion. Unlike some other atheists I don’t object this. If we “rejecting Evolution Theory” is an essential part of creationism (including ID) then I don’t see how Rev. Elizabeth is a creationist.

  10. SC: “That’s about it. Rev. Elizabeth seems to be a creationist — possibly of the intelligent design variety — but she doesn’t try to ram it down your throat.”

    A female letter writer! What’s that,10 out of 480?

    With the caveat that I have not yet read the letter, I would say that, if by the 2nd or 3rd paragraph there’s no hint of an age of life/earth/universe, or clear position on common descent, then the “creationist” is of the ID variety, or of its immediate ancestor, whereby the designer is identified, but not “what happened when.”

    Anyway, anyone who, innocently or deliberately, recycles the (10 year) old Flew story needs to be asked one simple question? “Why do you rave about Flew, who became a ‘mere deist,’ but ignore Ken Miller, who’s a devout Christian who even criticized deism as too ‘hands off’ in ‘Finding Darwin’s God’?”

    You know the answer of course. Among anti-evolution activists Miller is public enemy #1. But since he complicates their fantasy of “us vs. the ‘Darwinist-atheist-liberals’,” he is treated like he doesn’t exist. And indeed, most of their trained parrots never heard of him. Or of Francis Collins, the Clergy letter, etc.

    If Paul Braterman’s assessment is correct, then the Reverend might surprise us and start raving about Miller, instead of the ‘mere deist’ who’s no longer around to defend himself.

  11. Honestly, reading her letter, I don’t think she’s talking to people who acknowledge evolution, but rather people who believe in creationism. As you say, SC, she hedges her bets all over the place. She seems to be less saying that “evolution isn’t true” and more, “creationism is true – maybe – but don’t bet the farm on it,” which is an improvement over say, Ken Ham’s position and is at least intellectually honest.

  12. Jim Thomerson

    Whether the universe was designed is not yet known. It is a question on which I am an agnostic. Stephen Hawking has pointed out that our existence is proof that the universe is constrained to be exactly what is needed for us to exist. Whether this is design, or as Hawking thinks, an accident among the creation of 10^500 universes at the Big Bang. One could say that a God designed universe is the ultimate God of the gaps argument.

  13. Paul Braterman accuses:

    I think you are doing our enemies’ work for them, by labelling the Reverend as an “creationist” or an advocate of Intelligent Design.

    I thought I was fair to her, and I pointed out where she was being reasonable. Nevertheless, she keeps saying the same thing in different words: “But the whole things looks so designed!

    To which my response is: “Yes, rev, we all know that. The function of science is to explain it.” And the rev just keeps saying “But, but, but ….

  14. I can’t help but wonder if the good Rev. has been watching some of Stanfords TED talks. The cardinals of cretinism must be delighted with the idea that as our knowledge base grows, so does our awareness of our own ignorance. The endless torrent of gaps this provides should keep the shekels flowing for a long time to come.