Thursday, August 09, 2007

Creationism Continuum

In an earlier posting [What Is Creationism?] I took issue with Denyse O'Leary and fellow blogger Mike Dunford who agree that Intelligent Design isn't creationism. My position is that there are various definitions of creationism and I prefer the definition that includes all believers in a Creator God.

The posting prompted considerable discussion about the meaning of the word "creationism." There are many commentators who insist that Creationism means only one thing—a belief in Special Creation as described in the Bible. Jonathan Badger of T. TAXUS (photo on left) expressed his disapproval of my definition by writing,
I am not "choosing" a definition of creationism, Larry -- you are. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that you are trying to *invent* a new definition. Please show a dictionary definition of "creationism" that doesn't mention the bible if you disagree with me. Both Old Earth Creationists and Young Earth Creationists believe that the events of Genesis literally happened -- the only difference between the two is the Old Earth types think their god defines "days" differently than people do, and so 7 "days" could be millions of human years.

I understand what you are trying to do -- most sane people (even mainstream theists) agree that creationists are nut cases, and so redefining "creationist" to mean "theist" is a cute rhetorical trick, much like how some right-wingers want to redefine "socialist" to mean anyone who wants a government providing social services. But such word games are pretty childish on any side.
This deserves a more extensive response than my comments on the earlier thread. There are several different points that I'd like to address so here goes.

Another Definition of Creationism

Jonathan accuse me of "inventing" a new definition of creationism—one that's not found in standard dictionaries. He quoted several dictionary sources that were similar to the one in the American Heritage Dictionary,
Creationism: Belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible.
                        ...American Heritage Dictionary
Nobody denies that this is one of the definitions in common usage. That's not the point. The point is rather that it's not the only definition and if you choose this one, as Denyse O'Leary and the some of the IDiots do, then you are obligated to make that clear. Jonathan disagrees because he claims that this is the only legitimate definition. He is wrong.

When I open a page of Darwin I immediately sense that I have been ushered into the presence of a great mind. ... When I read Phillip Johnson, I feel that I have been ushered into the presence of a lawyer.

Richard Dawkins (1996)
Phillip Johnson is one of the founders of Intelligent Design Creationism. His position has been very clear from the beginning and it's a legitimate philosophical stance in spite of Dawkin's dislike of lawyers.

Johnson maintains that creationists are anyone who believes in a Creator and he rejects the narrow definition of Duane Gish and the Young Earth Creationists.
I am not interested in any claims that are based on a literal reading of the Bible, nor do I understand the concept of creation as narrowly as Duane Gish does. If an omnipotent Creator exists He might have created things instantaneously in a single week or through gradual evolution over billions of years. He might have employed means wholly inaccessible to science, or mechanisms that are at least in part understandable through scientific investigation.

The essential point of creation has nothing to do with the timing or the mechanism the Creator chose to employ, but with the element of design or purpose. In the broadest sense, a "creationist" is simply a person who believes that the world (and especially mankind) was designed and exists for a purpose. With the issue defined that way, the question becomes: Is mainstream science opposed to the possibility that the natural world was designed by a Creator for a purpose? Is so, on what basis?
                        Phillip Johnson (1993)
Johnson is attempting to draw a line between religion and science and between creationism and naturalism, where naturalism is defined as the belief that supernatural beings play no role in creating or maintaining the universe. In addition, Johnson maintains that evolution, properly understood, is entirely naturalistic and therefore inconsistent with a Creator. Thus, according to Johnson there is a shape line between creationism and evolutionism. If you believe in a Creator, as all Christians do, then you cannot believe in evolution.

Ironically, Johnson's position is similar to that of many atheists a fact that has been gleefully pointed out by Theistic Evolutionists who want to distance themselves from both the philosophical naturalist position and the Young Earth Creationist position. In an earlier essay, I've tried to explain why this "middle ground" is an illusion ["Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground"].

The broad definition of creationism is shared by many religious scholars who are unhappy with the narrow definition that's confined to a literal belief in the Bible. The position of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, is strongly in favor of a creationist viewpoint [Creation]. This is a view that's shared by many religious scientists as well. For example, Howard J. Van Till, a Professor of Physics and Astronomy (and an evolutionist) writes,
All Christians are authentic "creationists" in the full theological sense of that term. We are all committed to the biblically-informed and historic Christian doctrine of creation that affirms that everything that is not God is part of a creation that has being only because God has given it being and continues to sustain it. As a creation, the universe is neither a divine being nor a self-existent entity that has its being independent of divine creative action. This theological core of the doctrine of creation sets Judeo-Christian theism in bold distinction from both pantheism (all is God) and naturalism (all is nature).
                        Howard J. Van Till (1998)
Now, as it turns out, most of these theologians and scientists are perfectly aware of conflicting definitions of "creationism," which is why they take pains to define their terms. They don't want to cede to the religious right a perfectly good word that describes their belief in a Creator God. That's why Theodosius Dobzhansky says the following in his famous article Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution (1973).
I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way.
In some cases, the stigma of Young Earth Creationism is too much to bear and scientists go out of their way to avoid the creationist label. This is explained by Francis Collins in his book The Language of God.
Few religious of scientific views can be neatly summed up in a single word. The application of misleading labels for particular perspectives has regularly muddied the debate between science and faith throughout the modern era. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the "creationist" label, which has featured so prominently in the science-and-faith debates over the past century. Taken at face value, the term "creationist" would seem to imply the general perspective of one who argues for the existence of a God who was directly involved in the creation of the universe, In that broad sense. many deists and nearly all theists, including me, would need to count themselves as creationists.

Over the past century, however, the term "Creationist" has been hijacked (and capitalized) to apply to a very specific subset of such believers, specifically those who insist on a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 to describe the creation of the universe and the formation of life on earth.
                        Francis Collins (2006)
I still maintain that there are at least two definitions of creationism. The narrow definition, often referred to as Creationism with a capital "C" or Special Creationism, is widely accepted in American society. A recent survey reveals that 53% of Americans had heard of the term and, of those, 59% believed the narrow definition [Evolution and Creationism in Public Education].

The second definition is the broad definition that is frequently used in serious discussions about science and religion. I did not make it up. Whenever one attempts to comment on creationism it is incumbent upon the user to disclose the definition being used. In my case, I try to distinguish between the various forms of creationism by referring to Young Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design Creationism, etc. in order to avoid confusion.

Denyse O'Leary and some of her friends (but not Phillip Johnson) say there's a difference between Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism. I see the distinction, but I don't think it's as clear cut as she imagines.

One reason that it is appropriate for a Professor of Law to comment upon the philosophy of biology is that so many of the philosophers and biologists want to be litigators.
Phillip Johnson (1996)
Finally, it's worth noting that the definition of "creationism" is tied up with legal issues in the United states of America. In Edward v. Aguillard (1987) the plaintiffs were successful in overturning Lousiana's "Creationism Act" on the grounds that it promoted religion. In this case, the judge declared that, "The Act impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind."

In Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. Judge Jones listened to evidence presented by the plaintiffs that Intelligent Design was just another name for creationism. Since the teaching of creationism had already been declared religious, and illegal, it was important to define creationism in such as way as to include Intelligent Design.

The plaintiffs were successful. In his final ruling, Judge Jones said, "The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism." The legal definitions of creationism are interesting but they seem to have had little effect on the general public, many of whom continue to believe that the only legitimate definition of creationism is the one requiring a belief in the Biblical Genesis story.

Are Old Earth Creationists and Young Earth Creationists the only Kind of Creationists?

That's what some people are saying. In his criticism of me Jonathan Badger strongly implies that the only legitimate creationists are the Young Earth Creationists (YEC's) and the Old Earth Creationists (OEC's) who still follow the sequence of events in Genesis. He would agree with Denyse O'Leary that Intelligent Design proponents (IDiots) are not creationists because they don't necessarily adopt a belief in the truth of Genesis.

Many would disagree and that's why you often hear people refer to Intelligent Design as Intelligent Design Creationism. There seems to be little doubt that the intelligent design movement grew out of the (capital C) Creationist movement in the 1980's. This has been well-documented by Barbara Forrest (left), most prominently at the Dover trial in 2005 and in a lengthy article in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics (Forrest, 2001). In that article she examines the strategy of the Discovery Institute's Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC) and concludes that it is stealth creationism in spite of what its proponents might claim. The goal of Intelligent Design Creationists is make creationism more acceptable by introducing it on university campuses. This is part of the wedge strategy.
The accomplishment of these goals is especially important to the CRSC's strategy to advance theri brand of creationism; indeed, it is critical because they are the only creationists who stand a chance of pulling it off. The old-style creationism represented by Henry Morris, Duane Gish, and others is unlikely to be tolerated on mainstream campuses, even religious ones like Baylor. The CRSC creationists have taken the time and trouble to acquire legitimate degrees, providing them a degree of cover both while they are students and after they join the university faculties.
Whether you agree with the very broad definition of creationism or not, you are being incredibly naive if you think that Intelligent Design isn't creationism. There's more to creationism than just YEC's and OEC's.

Robert T. Pennock, a philosopher at Michigan State University and a leading opponent of Intelligent Design Creationism testified at the Dover trial that intelligent design was just warmed-over creationism—using a broad definition of creationism that equates it to religion. For Pennock, one of the defining tenets of creationism is the rejection of evolution, or at least some forms of evolution. He also tends to agree with Johnson that any belief in a Creator is a form of creationism. (He does not agree that evolution is incompatible with creationism.)

No attempt to discuss creationism would be complete without looking at the work done by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Eugenie Scott, the Executive Director of NCSE, has published several articles on the subject and has recently put out a book called Evolution vs. Creationism. Let's look at the Creation/Evolution Continuum published by NCSE and see how it conforms to various definitions of creationism.

Before starting, let me say that the distinction between "creationism" on the one hand and "evolution" on the other seems strained to me. It has led to much confusion—I have contributed to some of it. It would be far better to make the extremes "creationism" and "naturalism" since what we are usually looking at it is a continuum representing the strength of belief in God.

Nevertheless, you can see from the diagram that Eugenie Scott and NCSE recognize many different degrees of creationism ranging from the most extreme examples, such as Young Earth Creationism, down to far less extreme examples such as Evolutionary Creationism. She does not recognize Theistic Evolutionism as a version of creationsm: instead, she refers to it as "the theological view in which God creates through the laws of nature" (Scott, 2004). To me this is a quibble. I include Theistic Evolution as a form of creationism in the same sense as Theistic Evolutionists Francis Collins and Theodosius Dobzhansky (see above).

Intelligent Design Creationism covers a range of views as indicated on the graph.

The dotted line represents the split between literal belief in the Bible and a more liberal interpretation of scripture. This is the dividing line between (captial C) Creationsm or Special Creationism and other forms of creationism. To many people it is the difference between "creationism" (top) and something that is not creationism (bottom). (What is that something below the line? It appears to represent belief in a Creator God and a partial rejection of the full implications of evolution while studiously avoiding the creationist label. Are they Creator Godists?) I find it hard to justify that particular definition of creationism but as long as its proponents make their preference known it shouldn't be a problem. Naturally, the rest of us don't have to agree.

Is the Broad Definition of Creationist Just a Cute Rhetorical Trick?

I'm accused of using the broad definition as a "rhetorical trick" to tarnish the theists who reject a literal belief in the Bible. This reminds me of a similar accusation from Bill Dembski as reported by Robert Pennock (2000).

Dembski chides me for never using the term "intelligent design" without conjoining it to "creationism." He implies (though never explicitly asserts) that he and others in the movement are not creationists and that it is incorrect to discuss them in such terms, suggesting that doing so is merely a rhetorical ploy to "rally the troops."
Pennock goes on to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dembski is a creationist by the broad definition.

I don't resort to the cheap trick of using the word "creationist" as a pejorative label. I use "IDiots" for that purpose. Whenever I refer to creationists I qualify it with other descriptors such as Young Earth Creationism or Intelligent design Creationism. If I'm trying to make an important point about religion and science then I try and make it clear that I'm using a broad definition of creationism.

Jonathan Badger is not religious. His attack on my use of the word "creationst" falls into the category of accommodationist. (formerly appeaser). He thinks it's insulting to theists to be called creationists. My position is that Theistic Evolutionists are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by distancing themselves from the fringe creationists while allying themselves with the atheist evolutionists. When I say that theists are creationists I mean that in the same sense as many other theists such as Dobzhansky and Van Till (and the Pope). I do it in order to emphasize the fact that they do believe in a Creator God even though they accept most of the scientific evidence for evolution and common descent. It's not a rhetorical trick. I'm being as open and obvious as I know how.

Over on the comments thread of my earlier posting, there are even more interesting statements. Let me close by addressing one more. This one is from Pete Dunkleberg.
Using words like "definition" for one's preference is a bit political. So you want to put down theists by calling them creationists. But those are different words for good reason.

The main characteristic of creationists is that they claim scientific arguments against geology and or biology. Sometimes this has been called (by creationists) scientific creationism, abbreviated SciCre (not by creationists). Lately the term ID has been used for SciCre.
I hope I've demonstrated to your satisfaction that there is a legitimate second definition of "creationism" that's used by people who call themselves creationists. I didn't make it up and it's not political.

I do not put down theists by calling them Young Earth Creationists—the only kind of creationists you seem to recognize. If I'm putting down theists I do it very openly by criticizing their belief in a Creator God in spite of the fact that they accept most of science. I fail to see why Ken Miller would be upset if I "accused" him of believing in a Creator God. He doesn't disguise this fact in his book (Miller, 1999).
As a scientist, I know very well that the earth is billions of years old and that the appearance of living organisms was not sudden, but gradual. As a Christian, I believe that Genesis is a true account of the way in which God's relationship with the world was formed. And as a human being, I find value in both descriptions. In order to reveal Himself to a desert tribe six thousand years ago, a Creator could hardly have lectured them about DNA and RNA, about gene duplication and allopatric speciation, He spoke to them in the direct and lyrical language of Genesis.
Wouldn't it be fun if God came back to visit us in 2007 and gave us a lecture about gene duplication and allopatric speciation? I'd pay to hear that although I'd probably wonder if he(?) wasn't just pulling our legs in the same way he did with the desert tribe 3000 years ago. Was Genesis the ultimate example of framing?



[Photo/Image credits: The photograph of Jonathan Badger is taken from the ASM video made when he was here in Toronto for the American Society of Microbiology meeting in May 2007 (see Bloggers in Toronto and Bacteria, Bloggers, and Toronto). Jonathan is in a phone booth on Baldwin St. where we had dinner. The photograph of Barbar Forrest is taken from her website [Dr. Barbara Forrest]. The Creation/Evolution Continuum is from The Creation/Evolution Continuum by Eugenie C. Scott]

Collins, F. (2006) The Language of God. Free Press, New York (USA).

Dawkins, R. (1996) Reply to Phillip Johnson. Biology & Philosophy 11:539-540. reprinted in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics Robert T. Pennock ed. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (USA) (2001).

Johnson, Phillip (1993) Darwin on Trial Regnery Gateway, Washington DC (USA).

Johnson, P. (1996) Response to Pennock. Biology & Philosophy 11:561-563. reprinted in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics Robert T. Pennock ed. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (USA) (2001).

Scott, E. (2004) Evolution vs. Creationism. University of California Press, Berkeley CA (USA).

Van Till, H. J. (1998) The Creation: Intelligently Designed or Optimally Equipped? Theology Today 55:344-364. reprinted in Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics Robert T. Pennock ed. MIT Press, Cambridge MA (USA) (2001).

32 comments :

  1. I prefer the definition that includes all believers in a Creator God.

    I'm going to avoid making a pronouncement on what the "definition" is or should be ... but I will suggest that your definition works against what you support.

    It seems to me that "Creator God" and "God" are pretty well synonomous. And your definition would annoy quite a bunch of folks I know who consider themselves believers and who are either supporters of science or (in 2 cases) working scientists, but who would bristle at being called "creationists."

    But if it's OK by you to annoy people who support science and decry "creationism," just line up over there beside Myers ... :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's what some people are saying. In his criticism of me Jonathan Badger strongly implies that the only legitimate creationists are the Young Earth Creationists (YEC's) and the Old Earth Creationists (OEC's) who still follow the sequence of events in Genesis. He would agree with Denyse O'Leary that Intelligent Design proponents (IDiots) are not creationists because they don't necessarily adopt a belief in the truth of Genesis.

    Not true. As I stated earlier, I *do* think that IDiots are creationists. But that's because it is obvious despite their protests that they are really just biblical fundamentalists trying to hide themselves under a new name, as shown by the "Pandas" debacle.

    And concerning definitions, the point isn't that *nobody* has *ever* used "creationist" to mean just "belief in a creator" before you, it's that it isn't a definition in common use. When words have more than one common meaning, dictionaries list all of them. And yet all the published dictionaries only seem to feel the need for one definition of "creationism". If you could just find *one* published dictionary that had a second definition along the lines of "belief in a creator", I'd give up and admit you are right. As it stands, the evidence strongly points to the fact that "creationism" has only one meaning in common usage.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What Prof. Moran is claiming is that anyone (e.g. Ken Miller, Francis Collins, etc.) who rejects philosophical naturalism as their philosophy is a creationist. Thus, as I have previously argued on this blog and others, Prof. Moran is essentially arguing that philosophical naturalism is science, and those how disagree, even though they themselves are philosophical naturalists (e.g. Eugenie Scott, Barbara Forrest, Chris Mooney, Lawrence Krauss, etc.) are Chamberlainists.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Suppose you were someone who held the view that the universe was an experiment created by one more beings of some sort. These beings might be intelligent, but would probably not be called "gods" in the traditional sense. Would you still be a creationist?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Jonathan Badger says,'

    If you could just find *one* published dictionary that had a second definition along the lines of "belief in a creator", I'd give up and admit you are right. As it stands, the evidence strongly points to the fact that "creationism" has only one meaning in common usage.

    I admire your confidence in dictionary definitions. Do you have a dictionary that correctly defines evolution or Darwinism?

    ReplyDelete
  6. My personal definition of Creationist is anybody that denies common descent or specifies intelligent intervention in any species.

    I draw a distinction between creationists and theistic evolutionists because the latter, at least in principle, argue an unfalsifiable belief without contradicting any known evidence, whereas a "creationist" holds falsifiable beliefs and denies evidence.

    That doesn't mean I don't consider theistic evolutionists wrong, or less flaky, than creationists, but I do believe the tendancy to denialism is a significant feature of "true" creationism.

    Also, by my definition (and most other definitions) of creationism, many people who insist they're "only" theistic evolutionists are still creationists: anybody, for example, who claims there's something special about human morality or behavior.

    In fact, I think "human exceptionalism" is a pretty good indicator by itself.

    I don't claim to have "the right" definition of creationism, that's just how I use the word...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Suppose you were someone who held the view that the universe was an experiment created by one more beings of some sort. These beings might be intelligent, but would probably not be called "gods" in the traditional sense. Would you still be a creationist?

    That's already the prevailing view. Here's an example:

    "In order to reveal Himself to a desert tribe six thousand years ago, a Creator could hardly have lectured them about DNA and RNA, about gene duplication and allopatric speciation, He spoke to them in the direct and lyrical language of Genesis."

    A "god" in the traditional sense would of course not be so impotent that it would have to do all of that there stuff up there.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree with your description of the various meanings of "creationist" and, if it was good enough for a scientist of the caliber of Dobzhansky, it can't be much of an insult. On the other hand, some people might still try. The devil will be in the details of how clearly you or anyone else uses the term.

    There were, however, a few things I didn't follow:

    It would be far better to make the extremes "creationism" and "naturalism" since what we are usually looking at it is a continuum representing the strength of belief in God.

    What are you trying to say? That the more you accept naturalism necessarily the less you believe in God? A particular God or all possible gods? If the latter, would you care to defend that?

    The dotted line represents the split between literal belief in the Bible and a more liberal interpretation of scripture. This is the dividing line between (captial C) Creationsm or Special Creationism and other forms of creationism.

    I'm not at all sure you're right about that. I think the dotted line is supposed to be the split between Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists. Gap, Day-Age and Progressive creationists certainly consider themselves Special Creationists and they certainly believe in the direct, miraculous creation of all "kinds" by God, which is the usual meaning of the term.

    His attack on my use of the word "creationst" falls into the category of accommodationist. (formerly appeaser).

    Why do I get the feeling that we're going to need another 3200 words to explain that terminology?

    Wouldn't it be fun if God came back to visit us in 2007 and gave us a lecture about gene duplication and allopatric speciation? I'd pay to hear that although I'd probably wonder if he(?) wasn't just pulling our legs in the same way he did with the desert tribe 3000 years ago.

    Ah, I see. You think you're capable of understanding the life, the universe and everything now, do you?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think the dotted line is supposed to be the split between Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists.

    Opps, more correctly between those who believe in a young Earth and those, including atheists, who accept the Earth is old.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Ha, this post made me smile! Kudos on making your point rigorously, although it's a bit like carpet bombing a country to remove one dictator-- perhaps excessive.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I admire your confidence in dictionary definitions. Do you have a dictionary that correctly defines evolution or Darwinism?

    First of all, dictionaries reflect how people commonly use words. If the public uses a term, such as "Darwinism" differently than a biologist does, then lexicographers have an obligation to document that. That doesn't mean the definition is "wrong". And yes, I *do* have confidence that lexicographers know how to recognize and collect common usages of words. That's their field of expertise, and they know it as well as biologists know biology.

    That being said, actually in many cases dictionaries do a good job of listing both common and specialist usages. For example, evolution.

    Merriam-Webster:
    evo·lu·tion
    Etymology: Latin evolution-, evolutio unrolling, from evolvere
    1 : one of a set of prescribed movements
    2 a : a process of change in a certain direction : UNFOLDING b : the action or an instance of forming and giving something off : EMISSION c (1) : a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state : GROWTH (2) : a process of gradual and relatively peaceful social, political, and economic advance d : something evolved
    3 : the process of working out or developing
    4 a : the historical development of a biological group (as a race or species) : PHYLOGENY b : a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations; also : the process described by this theory
    5 : the extraction of a mathematical root
    6 : a process in which the whole universe is a progression of interrelated phenomena

    Yes, you and I may not like the "progressive" tendencies expressed in definitions 1 or 2, but the simple fact is that those are common usages of the word. Definition 4b is actually pretty close to the accepted biological meaning, although "animals and plants" aren't the only thing out there of course.

    And also from
    Merriam-Webster, a definition (1) of Darwinism that stresses natural selection and doesn't conflate it with evolution in general.

    Dar·win·ism
    1 : a theory of the origin and perpetuation of new species of animals and plants that offspring of a given organism vary, that natural selection favors the survival of some of these variations over others, that new species have arisen and may continue to arise by these processes, and that widely divergent groups of plants and animals have arisen from the same ancestors -- compare EVOLUTION 4, NEO-DARWINISM
    2 : a theory that inherent dynamic forces allow only the fittest persons or organizations to prosper in a competitive environment or situation -- "economic Darwinism" -- compare SOCIAL DARWINISM

    And definition 2 is a pretty common usage too, like it or not.

    And note that both words had more than one definition given while "creationism" did not.

    ReplyDelete

  12. Larry:His attack on my use of the word "creationst" falls into the category of accommodationist. (formerly appeaser).

    John:Why do I get the feeling that we're going to need another 3200 words to explain that terminology?


    It's also pretty amusing that Larry seems to take the simple fact that I criticized his argument as a sign that I must be an "appeaser". It couldn't just be because the lexicographical evidence doesn't support his argument, now could it?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Suppose you were someone who held the view that the universe was an experiment created by one or more beings of some sort. These beings might be intelligent, but would probably not be called "gods" in the traditional sense. Would you still be a creationist?

    That's already the prevailing view. Here's an example:


    One wonders, if it was an "experiment" of some kind, then how can "God" or "the gods" be credited with any forethought or design? Nevertheless, theology seems to relish the idea that our existence boils down to some God's desire to experiment with "good" and "evil".

    ReplyDelete
  14. I think Larry is on the right track here, although I would probably draw the line between creationism and naturalism somewhere within the theistic evolution camp...there are many people who describe themselves as believers, who believe in a God of some sort, who don't actually look to her/him for any actual role in creation. But then again, isn't all that important: the main point is that both Mike Dunford and Denyse O'Leary draw the line in the wrong place, both of them allow the fundies to draw the lines around belief in a "creator".

    With regards to definitions of creationism, I would suggest that people have a look at the Wikipedia article...it's a well-sourced article that's born of compromise - take it with as big a grain of salt as you like, but it beats out the average dictionary definition.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Another argument to add to the post could be that to adhere to the definition that is tied to a specific text is very abrahamic centric. It makes comparisons with other creation religions outside the three specifically allowed more difficult.

    pantheism (all is God) and naturalism (all is nature)

    Nice symmetry - but of course also a victim of "one definition to rule them all". There are other brands of naturalism.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Oh, and I forgot: great post!

    Jonathan Badger:
    And concerning definitions, the point isn't that *nobody* has *ever* used "creationist" to mean just "belief in a creator" before you, it's that it isn't a definition in common use. When words have more than one common meaning, dictionaries list all of them. And yet all the published dictionaries only seem to feel the need for one definition of "creationism".

    As I argued before, this is Scottish. The open source webtionarys and webpedias lists common use definitions.

    I have no use for *paper published* dictionaries any more, but I immediately found this from web published The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

    "a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis -- compare EVOLUTION [Bold added, font emphasis theirs.]"

    The About page claims: "The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary is based on the print version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition."

    I would guess both published dictionaries concur by sharing a data base, but you may want to check.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous:
    Suppose you were someone who held the view that the universe was an experiment created by one more beings of some sort.

    Hmm, a rather old question.

    Personally I wouldn't have a problem with this as an observation, say as a code in the microwave background proclaiming god status. The small risk of accepting some improbable false positives (not-really-all-powerful lying bastards) as gods must be accepted here as elsewhere.

    (Except for those who mistakenly thinks we are discussing Certainty and Truth, or want to make a pleading for Special Status.)

    So sure, it would be accepting creation and creators. Now where is the evidence?

    John Pieret:
    I'm in the unfamiliar position of agreeing with most of what you claim. However, this is problematical:

    You think you're capable of understanding the life, the universe and everything now, do you?

    As we all know, the Answer isn't harder than "42". :-P

    But seriously, while there could be an unbounded set of possibilities from natural processes, the amount of information in the part of the universe which will affect us later is finite. At the same time a full finegrained description and prediction is impossible, so the value of the information is limited. So AFAIK to get informed about everything we can observe isn't impossible in principle, just in practice. And in principle it can still be coded into a number, albeit perhaps slightly larger than 42. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  18. No, it isn't "Scottish", by which I guess you are referring to the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, although you could be far clearer if that's what you mean.

    Professionally published dictionaries are compiled by lexicographers who aren't just writing definitions based on what they personally *think* a word means -- they study thousands of usages of each word in order to get an objective idea of common usages. It's a legitimate academic field.

    Wikipedia and Wikitionary are better than one would first expect, but they aren't based on this sort of objective study. Instead, their entries are just based on the personal opinion of a handful of people who care enough about the issue to change what the last person said. This is a real difference in methodology and it isn't fallacious to point that out.

    Also, all of the dictionaries I quoted on creationism (including Merriam-Webster) are independent of each other, so I'm not sure what point you think you were making on that.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jonathan Badger:

    Okay, I will try to cut down on the jokes and be clearer.

    Professionally published dictionaries are compiled by lexicographers who aren't just writing definitions based on what they personally *think* a word means -- they study thousands of usages of each word in order to get an objective idea of common usages.

    Of course - but open source dictionaries are based on what the population *think* a word means - i.e. reflect common usage. The principle is that a consensus emerges, if there are no earlier references. (That you see but a handful that changes should mean that the definitions are acceptable to most.) That also means that the open source version are tilted toward what the published dictionaries says, btw.

    Hmm. I'm not sure I get the last part of your comment fully.

    I gave a reference that does or does not fulfill your own method for finding out word use. Since I can't check the paper version of Merriam-Webster here, I showed that the web published version claims to have the same basis. You could accept it outright, or go and check the paper version.

    Whether or not that means that they are dependent or identical (which I doubt) wasn't my point.

    Does this clarify your point?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Of course - but open source dictionaries are based on what the population *think* a word means - i.e. reflect common usage.

    If the entire population (or a representative subset thereof) were doing the editing, then that's a possible outcome. But in the case of definitions that differ so much those from the expert edited dictionaries it suggests that this isn't what's happening.

    I gave a reference that does or does not fulfill your own method for finding out word use. Since I can't check the paper version of Merriam-Webster here, I showed that the web published version claims to have the same basis. You could accept it outright, or go and check the paper version.

    Whether or not that means that they are dependent or identical (which I doubt) wasn't my point.


    And I still don't understand your point. The whole point of putting a dictionary on-line is to make an electronic version of the print version. Would you expect that a publisher would hire people to re-write it for the web or something? Why?

    ReplyDelete
  21. John Pieret asks.

    What are you trying to say? That the more you accept naturalism necessarily the less you believe in God? A particular God or all possible gods? If the latter, would you care to defend that?

    I'm referring, of course, to philosophical naturalism. Perhaps "materialism" would be a better term?

    What I'm concerned about is the implicit assumption in the diagram that it's creationism and evolution that are opposites. If we define creationism as belief in a Creator God then the real opposite is non-belief in a Creator God.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Larry:

    I'm referring, of course, to philosophical naturalism. Perhaps "materialism" would be a better term?

    Well, okay, but then you need s whole different chart because theistic evolution is really no closer to materialism than young-Earth crationism. You'd need one with YEC, Gap and Progressive creationism and Theistic Evolution all bunched up at one end and materialism and Atheistic Evolution at the other.

    Using the chart from the NCSE with creationism on one end and naturalism on the other, with the spectrum in between, only makes sense if the naturalism referred to is "methodological naturalism" (and I'm not sure it does even then).

    ReplyDelete
  23. the word is mechanicism.. or at leats that is what biologists used against vitalism or any influence from "yonder" haha

    ReplyDelete
  24. "materialism" sounds like you want happyness through money or something like that haha.

    ReplyDelete
  25. John Pieret says,

    Well, okay, but then you need s whole different chart because theistic evolution is really no closer to materialism than young-Earth crationism. You'd need one with YEC, Gap and Progressive creationism and Theistic Evolution all bunched up at one end and materialism and Atheistic Evolution at the other.

    But that's the same problem with "evolution," no? Isn't evolution an all-or-none kind of phenomenon as well? If you don't accept all of evolutionary science how can you call yourself an evolutionist?

    If you're willing to accept the Creation/Evolution scale then don't you have to admit that there are creationists all the way down the list until you get to atheists. Similarly, there are various degrees of evolutionists all the way up the scale to Young Earth Creationists who, presumably, believe in a little bit of evolution.

    If you can have atheists who are a little bit creationist then why can't you have creationists who are a little bit atheist? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  26. If you don't accept all of evolutionary science how can you call yourself an evolutionist?

    It's not science that rejects the possibility of divine action somewhere in evolution. Science only says it can't detect such action by scientific means. The philosophy of science (I maintain) says you wouldn't expect the scientific method to definitively detect divine action anyway. What rejects divine action in evolution is the philosophy of materialism. Someone can see Providence in the process of evolution without giving up the process of methodological naturalism in science ... even if the concept eludes you.

    If you're willing to accept the Creation/Evolution scale then don't you have to admit that there are creationists all the way down the list until you get to atheists.

    You may remember my willingness to accept Dobzhansky's usage of "creationist." There is, however, as you seemed to acknowledge, a difference between that usage and the common one that, say, is reflexively used on talk.origins. So, what sense of "creationist" do you want me to admit extends all the way down the list to atheists?

    ReplyDelete
  27. If you can have atheists who are a little bit creationist then why can't you have creationists who are a little bit atheist? :-)

    Oh, heck! I don't doubt you can! After all, atheists are so confused about categories, they keep trying to say that agnostics are the same as atheists!

    And as somebody once said ... it'll come to me eventually ... everybodys' an atheist about most gods (except Hindus, maybe).

    ReplyDelete
  28. I think labeling is interesting only inasmuch as it is related to a set of ideas we wish to emphasize. I think we need to stress with clarity that "divine providence" cannot be part of a scientific explanation.
    Scientific explanations deal with mechanisms. In principle hypothesis as vague as "some intelligence was somehow involved" without any who or how, are simply useless as to furthering our understand the mechanisms behind the origin of life and of species.
    Because of this, too, the supernatural cannot be part of a scientific expalantion: we better explain a phenomenon when we succed to explain it in terms of our previous experiences, of known mechanisms. It is not valid to fill in the blanks with supernatural or any fantastical explanation that does not deal really deal with mechanism. It is specially wrong to deny available mechanistic explanation in favor of such a supernatural explanation. Science can be wrong on many things or may not know many others, but this never means that divine providence or supernaturality can be accepted as a part of science. It would certainly won't be part of your explanation if you want to know what is wrong with your car and fix it.
    Most people I think can easily understand how fantastic or supernaturla expanations cannot contribute to scientific understanding of the mechanisms, whether they are religious or not. Is this naÏve of me?

    ReplyDelete
  29. I think we need to stress with clarity that "divine providence" cannot be part of a scientific explanation.

    Yes. And "theistic evolutionists" agree ... because that is, in fact, part of the definition of a TEer.

    The opposite -- not divine providence -- equally cannot be part of a scientific explanation. Science is just not in that business.

    Most people I think can easily understand how fantastic or supernaturla expanations cannot contribute to scientific understanding of the mechanisms, whether they are religious or not. Is this naÏve of me?

    In a way. Most people can accept that in most scientific issues. But Stephen Jay Gould once described the problem as a picket fence we put around ourselves to maintain our "specialness." Science can do whatever it wants to -- out in the countryside or even down the block -- but when it threatens to knock down the fence or even scratch the paint, people lose their willingness to just accept what scientists say. Whenever the subject is human beings, I suspect that the majority, even in more secular nations than the U.S., will still erect supernatural expanations of one sort or another -- from Ken Ham's version to Deepak Chopra's -- in defense of human's "cosmic importance."

    ReplyDelete
  30. Sorry for the delay.

    Jonathan Badger

    If the entire population (or a representative subset thereof) were doing the editing, then that's a possible outcome.

    The idea is that it is a sizable subset that can do the editing.

    But in the case of definitions that differ so much those from the expert edited dictionaries it suggests that this isn't what's happening.

    Not here, I found a similar example.

    The whole point of putting a dictionary on-line is to make an electronic version of the print version.

    Then you can accept the electronic version. (Which was my question - would you accept it or not?)

    Fine, since it shows the alternative definition you asked for.

    ReplyDelete
  31. John Pieret:

    It's not science that rejects the possibility of divine action somewhere in evolution.

    It is philosophy that can't reject such possibilities in general - science rejects unfalsifiable explanations such as philosophical gods.

    But here creationism can be tested by observation (except possibly in the fossil record) and puts this probability so low that it is rejected in comparison.

    they keep trying to say that agnostics are the same as atheists

    No, this is philosophers again. Read the philosophic debate under "atheism" in Wikipedia.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Then you can accept the electronic version. (Which was my question - would you accept it or not?)

    Considering that I included that very definition (word for word) in my list in the other article, obviously yes. I even pointed out the qualifier "usually".

    I guess I didn't understand that you were trying to insinuate that I hadn't done that already, because I made the wrong assumption that you were trying to argue honestly, rather than just hoping that people hadn't read my comments in the other article, so you could pretend to present a new definition that I had missed.

    Fine, since it shows the alternative definition you asked for.

    It doesn't at all. "a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis" clearly suggests that the common definition has to do with the bible. Yes, it has some wriggle room in the unusual case for people who believe in other creation myths such as that of the koran, but it is in no way is as general as merely "belief in a creator", particularly if the believers also accept evolution, as non-literalist theists generally do.

    ReplyDelete