Creationist Wisdom #895: The Nose in the Tent

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Times-News of Burlington, North Carolina. The letter is titled Keeping the camel out of the tent, and the newspaper has a comments feature.

Unless the letter-writer is a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name — but today we’ve got a preacher. It’s Mark Fox, pastor of Antioch Community Church. We’ll give you a some excerpts from the rev’s letter (or column), enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, some bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]. Here we go!

You have heard the familiar adage that you have to keep the camel’s nose out of the tent if you want to keep the camel out. But what if the camel is the creator? And what if the camel’s nose is the belief that the world was created by God?

If the camel is the creator, it can probably get in if it wants to. Anyway, the rev says:

I am amazed at the boldfaced steps that are being taken to make Darwinian evolution mainstream and to marginalize or destroy any mention of God as creator in today’s classrooms.

It is amazing. The tells us:

Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin wrote several years ago that we must prefer “science” to “supernaturalism.” Why? “Because,” he said, “we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.” [Gasp!] That is stunning in itself, for it is an admission that a philosophical presupposition drives the evolutionist, not the facts. Lewontin agrees. “It’s not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation” of the world, he writes. “On the contrary,” he continues, “we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations.”

We haven’t tried to verify the rev’s quotations, but the “commitment to materialism” isn’t an arbitrary choice. Supernatural phenomena can’t be scientifically studied. Scientists — when doing science — can only work with objectively verifiable evidence. We discussed this in Bring Me An Angel Detector! The rev continues:

Nancy Pearcy [sic] translates this in her book, “Total Truth.” She says that what Lewontin is saying here is, “We first accepted materialism as a philosophy, and then refashioned science into a machine for cranking out strictly materialist theories.” Lewontin concludes that this commitment to materialism must be “absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” Or, a divine camel’s nose in the tent.

The rev is referring to Discoveroid fellow Nancy Pearcey. Let’s read on:

Don’t believe that the tent flaps have been nailed down? Here are a few examples from textbooks that are used in our nation’s schools today.

“Many people believe that a supernatural force or deity created life. That explanation is not within the scope of science.”

“By attributing the diversity of life to natural causes rather than to supernatural creation, Darwin gave biology a sound scientific basis.”

The rev gives no source for those quotes, but they don’t seem to be outrageous. Well, the rev obviously thinks otherwise. Another excerpt:

Darwin himself would be pleased that his theory of evolution has taken root so deeply in our culture. He wasn’t sure about evolution, but he saw it as one of many possible explanations for the origin of the universe [Huh?] that left out God. Make no mistake: leaving out God was his primary objective. [Groan!] He wrote, “If I have erred (by exaggerating the power of natural selection) I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations.” What was most important to him, Darwin wrote, was the idea that “species have descended from other species, and have not been created immutable.” He was willing to concede his theory for any other viable mechanism out there, as long as it was naturalistic, as long as God could be kept out of the picture.

Darwin did say that about “the dogma of separate creations” in Chapter 2 of The Descent of Man, but the rev attributes to him a driving obsession with atheism, which seems unwarranted. Here’s more:

Funny thing about God. He will not be left out of the picture, especially since He painted it. Only the Bible’s explanation makes sense of where we came from and why we are here. … Here’s how God might respond to those who would make up stories to explain the universe. “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”

The rev doesn’t give a source for that, but it’s the second line from Job 38. And now we come to the end:

Forget the camel, his nose, and your tent. It is the Lord of the universe with which we have to do. Look to him. Listen to him.

There you have it, dear reader. Listen to the rev. Let that nose into your tent. If you don’t, you’ll be with Darwin in the Lake of Fire.

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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27 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #895: The Nose in the Tent

  1. Don’t believe that the tent flaps have been nailed down? Here are a few examples from textbooks that are used in our nation’s schools today.
    “Many people believe that a supernatural force or deity created life. That explanation is not within the scope of science.”
    “By attributing the diversity of life to natural causes rather than to supernatural creation, Darwin gave biology a sound scientific basis.”

    Since science is the study of natural phenomena with natural causes which can be discovered and understood, invoking supernatural causes which we cannot understand but instead must take on faith is indeed not within the scope of science. Dealing with the supernatural is a task for theologians, not scientists.

    Funny thing about God. He will not be left out of the picture, especially since He painted it. Only the Bible’s explanation makes sense of where we came from and why we are here. …

    But the Bible’s explanation doesn’t make sense.

    Here’s how God might respond to those who would make up stories to explain the universe. “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”

    If only creationists would follow that advice themselves. . . ,

  2. Christine Janis

    Ah, this guy just gives me the hump. (Sorry, somebody had to say this.)

    PS. And his argument is a little intense.

  3. Charles Deetz ;)

    Wow, the pastor stays away from creationist drivel and sticks to one basic point. A coherent, but deeply flawed point. He’d have us pray to add things to our shopping list instead of just saying it aloud with the word ‘Alexa’ proceeding it.

  4. Michael Fugate

    I am wondering if the scientists who concluded the earth was old, only did that to promote atheism? How about those who concluded there was no worldwide flood? spherical earth? heliocentrism?

  5. Here’s a handy precis of the pastor’s letter: Why can’t science be more like the Bible?

    That overused Lewontin quote (from his 1997 review of Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”) can be easily turned on its head. Paraphrasing the pastor: “We must prefer supernaturalism to science. Why? Because we have a prior commitment to supernaturalism.”

    Camels, noses, tents, paintings; all these simple-minded metaphors are beside the point. It all comes back to the demand for submission: to the pastor and his twilight god.

  6. Christine Janis says: “Ah, this guy just gives me the hump.”

    That’s how creationist preachers are.

  7. “We first accepted materialism as a philosophy, and then refashioned science into a machine for cranking out strictly materialist theories.”
    The rev doesn’t understand the difference between philosophy and history. The historical process went the other way round. Scientists first realized that immaterial theories didn’t do anything for scientific progress. Then decided to restrict themselves to material theories. Then they accepted materialism as a philosophy, not as a complete and perfect worldview, but as the fundament of their work.
    Now if the rev made some effort to demonstrate that immaterial theories can yield tangible results, comparable with say the computer he uses, we are talking, not before.

    “Don’t believe that the tent flaps have been nailed down?”
    No. I believe that the rev, like any other single IDiot, is too lazy to pull it up.

  8. Well said.

  9. For example, three of the founders of modern science: Copernicus, Galileo and Newton were decidedly not materialists. Creationists will gladly supply you with lists of famous scientists who were believers in the Creator. And today, there are many scientists who are adherents of non-materialistic religions.

  10. Copernicus, Galileo and Newton were all products of their time, as are we. But the trend of modern science is towards the material, and what can be demonstrated empirically.

    Post Darwin and Wallace, it’s justifiably harder to maintain even vestiges of the Abrahamic belief systems, certainly for most biologists. Physicists may be another matter.

    As a famous Catholic pop star once sang, admittedly in a different context:

    We are liv-ing in a material world,
    And I am a material girl

  11. I sympathise with the Rev.

    Lewontin’s a priori materialism, which I reject, seems to me to be an arbitrary metaphysical doctrine, very different from FrankB’s pragmatic materialism which I accept.

    Not that I’m sure what materialism means, when we describe matter as guided by wave functions as it moves under the influence of fields through a space-time that it distorts by its presence.

    The real problem with supernatural explanation is that it shuts down enquiry. Why seek to understand the nature of thunder, if you’ve already explained it by Thor’s hammering or Jupiter’s temper tantrums?

  12. Of course, science today is about the natural, not the supernatural. It has been driven to that, not assumed. A small example being the failure of spiritualism, which was being treated seriously around the turn of the 20th century. Those theists who tried to tie the belief in God to explanations of the the ways things work made a major mistake. It was not a conspiracy of atheists. We discovered that an appeal to the supernatural won’t work.

  13. It would be impossible for me to visit the Antioch Church without sniggering every time the name is mentioned.

  14. Paul, do you yourself see anywhere left for science to go, other than to keep pushing further into material “reality”?

    I ask, not because I’m altogether resistant to the idea of the supernatural, however difficult that is to define; but more because it’s difficult to imagine a reinstating of the appeal to a supernatural premise as a viable explanation of anything, short of an enforced theocracy, which most of us hope never to see.

    History, and biological evolution, and perhaps our own individual experience of life itself, seems to show that once something “splits” in two, it never seems to re-converge i.e astrology and astronomy, or alchemy and chemistry, but rather is pushed forward ineluctably by some other momentum. When a species goes extinct, or those we love die, they never return. It’s because life seems so strongly conditioned by purely material forces, that humans inevitably look for a way to “transcend” reality.

    Whether we like it or not, I think we’re stuck with the prevailing paradigm in science. Anything theistic would mark a distinct retrogression, and life shows that this rarely happens, unless artificially imposed.

  15. Chris S, I am not defending resort to supernatural explanations. On the contrary, I am saying that it is unnecessary to rule them out a priori, as Lewontin does, because they never stand up to investigation or analysis. So experience shows that investigating ghosts is always a waste of time, while analysis shows that supernatural explanations such as ID don’t actually explain anything.

  16. Southern culture on the skids.

    Camel walk, camel talk.

  17. Does anyone have an example of a supernatural explanation today?
    Intelligent Design is not an explanation. The most that they can come up with is that there is a flaw in evolutionary biology – never a positive statement with substance as an alternative. They tell us that there is a better explanation, but never tell us what it might be.
    And then there is the question “why is there something and not nothing?” It is true that there is no good naturalistic explanation for the universe.One might think that this would represent an opportunity for a supernatural explanation. But, no. “God did it” does not explain what it is that God did; it does not tell us why did “it” rather than the uncounted other things which he could have done; etc., I do not need to go on.
    The last few centuries have shown the failures of supernatural explanations for anything. Intelligent Design represents the sorry state that supernatural explanations have been reduced to. Thanks to the creationists for sparing us from making up straw men.

  18. Michael Fugate

    One would think that the ID program would entail discovering the purpose of everything in the universe, no?
    This was the aim of natural theology, but honest scientists realized that if true, then God was a right bastard lacking in empathy and compassion. It is once again the inability to reflect cognitively that accurately describes the creationist and, despite his protests, describes Klinghoffer and his fellow ID travellers.

  19. One thing in science which was called “spooky” by no less a figure than Einstein is the quantum action at a distance.
    Is there anyone who takes that as a warrant for a supernatural explanation?

  20. “Does anyone have an example of a supernatural explanation today?
    Intelligent Design is not an explanation.”
    It is in the same way nasty demons used to be an explanation for epilepsy.

    “Is there anyone who takes that as a warrant for a supernatural explanation?”
    No, for the same reason superconductivity at relatively high temperatures doesn’t, while physics keeps on being unable to explain it.
    It’s the “I ain’t no kin of no monkey” dogma. Just like 150 years ago. Every single creacrappers suffers from the vanity of feeling special.

  21. @PaulB: “rule them out a priori, as Lewontin does”
    As long as I haven’t read what Lewontin said or wrote himself I assume this creacrap rev dishonestly distorts him. It’s the safe bet.

    “Not that I’m sure what materialism means”
    Everything in our reality can be explained in terms of the fundamental physical quantities. Supernatural entities can’t.
    This is the easy part.
    The difficult, perhaps unsolvable part is defining those fundamental quantities, because all other physical quantities already are defined in those terms. You already refer to it when you use the terms mass (one of the seven or nine physical quantities) and wave-function.

    The interesting bit here is that fans of a supposed supernatural reality typically need some of those fundamental physical quantities to describe entities that are supposed to reside in that supernatural reality.
    For example ghosts can move (expressed in terms of time and distance), talk (ie make air molecules move) and be cold (temperature). It’s this continuous inconsistency that justifies the rejection of supernaturalism and hence the acceptance of philosophical materialism/naturalism.
    Plus of course the closely related problem of a lacking methodology.

  22. Michael Fugate

    Here is the Lewontin source – a review of Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World:
    https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/01/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/
    It seems to be a reductio ad absurdum move on Lewontin’s part – he is not advocating the view.

  23. @Michael Fugate
    Thank you.
    I agree that he was not agreeing with that view.
    But I can understand that a creationist might miss the point that he was making.
    Never take a quote at face value if you cannot see it in context. Especially a quote mine.

  24. Michael Fugate, that is not how I read it. Lewontin is attacking explanations at the wrong level, and I think he is presenting the argument that we reject supernatural ideas on pragmatic grounds as an example of explanation at the wrong level, as part of his rejection of Sagan as philosophically naive. However, the structure of his essay is so involuted that I must admit that you may be right.

  25. Michael Fugate, TomS, you are right. Lewontin is paraphrasing the view he attributes to Sagan in order to show its intellectual hollowness. I would need to read Demon Haunted World more attentively than i have time for in order to see if he is correct.

    This is one occasion where I would not pillory the Creationists for taking a paragraph out of context, since the context is the entire essay and indeed I made and initially defended the same mistake myself

  26. But even that is an oversimplification of Lewontin’s subtle and uncomfortable argument. I recommend a careful reading of his closing paragraphs, if we are to understand what we are up against

  27. Michael Fugate

    Lewontin has a tendency toward contrariness and a desire to rein in the overzealousness of science cheerleaders. An interesting paper is his “Analysis of Variance and the Analysis of Causes” – which is a cautionary tale about generalizing. Another is “The Organism as Subject and Object of Evolution” – where he lays out niche construction. His approach is much less gene-centric than many.