Thursday, 16 July 2009

Framing Darwinism

Atheist An article by Professor of Theology Tom Frame on “Questions Darwinism cannot answer” is an excellent example of the kind of muddled thinking religious believers tend to display when talking about evolution.

The first clue is the use of the word “Darwinism”, an epithet used almost exclusively by believers with a philosophical axe to grind. The intention is to portray evolution as just another religious belief.

The next clue is passages like this:

A dedicated Darwinian would welcome imperialism, genocide, mass deportation, ethnic cleansing, eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilisations and infanticide.

Apart displaying his gross ignorance of what evolution means, Mr Frame is trying to paint atheism as an immoral position and, by an implied false dichotomy, promote religious belief as the noble alternative.

But all that’s just a sideshow. The real point of the article is summed up in these oh-so-wise words:

Such science is also inhibited from asking whether life has any meaning, as this would require stepping outside the processes that led its practitioners to the point of questioning. Evolution might account for the story of life's beginnings and progress, but it cannot explain its origin nor cast any light on its destiny.

I’ve got a news flash for you, Mr Frame. Religion, for all its pomp and imaginary circumstance, cannot explain any of these things either.

It’s trivial to observe that there’s more to the human experience than science, let alone evolution. But promoting religion as some kind of answer to these ill-defined questions is just smoke and mirrors.

Religion is not an answer. It’s a process of comforting ritual and invocation of myth and throwing meaningless feel-good words at the question to pretend you've answered it.

Real answers come from observation, from verification, from defining the questions carefully and gathering the evidence. None of these things have any place in religion.

And what’s all this about destiny?

Our destiny doesn’t come from without, as Mr Frame wants us to believe. It comes from within. We are its authors.

We can choose to take responsibility for our actions and set our own path, or we can abdicate that responsibility to an imaginary higher power.

We can strive to be an enlightened society that seeks to understand its place in the universe, or we can cling to ancient myths and the fleeting comforts they bring.

Guess which one I choose.


Dave ~ said...

Top post & here here.

His statements are just a replication of all the other 'anti-Darwin' zealots out there. Tug on any of their wide crowd pleasing (sorry, church pleasing) statements and it all unravels. But then they move the goalposts and it starts all over again. It takes vigilance and tenacity to keep them at bay. Keep it up.

Rob said...

While I don't disagree with what you've said, I actually don't think his intent was necessarily to demonise darwinism. He has shown his complete ignorance of it, but I don't think he was saying it was evil as such.
I actually read this article as an attempt (if somewhat ham fisted) at reconciling the scientific evidence of evolution with his own personal religious beliefs.
He doesn't say he doesn't believe in evolution, in fact he implies that he does, but he is saying that it doesn't fill in the whole picture. And that's fine. It doesn't (nor does it try to).
Personally I think the compromise that this guy takes in reconciliation is a far better leap that completely ignoring the scientific evidence of evolution. I would rather this guy teaching a science class than someone who wants straight creationism taught in schools.

Matt said...

Thanks very much, Dave.

You're right, I don't think his intent was to demonise Darwinism either.
The post title (apart from being a lame play on the guy's name) was meant in terms of the presentation of an argment, or how the argument is "framed". Not so much the implication that Darwinism is reponsible for hideous crimes.
But that's not really the issue anyway. My problem with Frame's article was the subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) undermining of the credibility of science, with the purpose of promoting religion as some kind of viable alternative.
It's a typical strategy from theologians: rather than put any positive arguments in favour of their position, they set up a false dichotomy between science and religion and spend all their time picking holes in science.
All it shows is the lack of real evidential support that exists for their position.

Rob said...

I agree it is a standard argument, and what generally happens is they say "look there's all these things that science can't answer, but we can by saying "God did it" so you should go with us instead".
However I still don't see this article as presenting that dichotomy. Frame is saying "science can't answer these questions to my satisfaction, so I use religion to answer those specific questions. He's not saying that he's abandoning science in favour of religion, just that he's using the two together, one to supplement the other. I don't have a problem with that.
If you don't believe there is a dichotomy (i.e. one or the other) then surely you must see that this is actually a favourable position.
I think it's a far more sensible solution than abandoning science and physical evidence all together. which is what the false dichotomy model suggests. It may even be better than abandoning religion totally (which is the other side of the either/or).

Matt said...

He's saying religion answers these questions, but fails to define what the questions are and fails to say how religion answers them.
His conclusion that religion is the appropriate methodology is entirely based on the premise that science isn't. I just don't see that at all.
Moreover, I think religion is an incredibly sub-standard method for understanding the human experience.
The most you can really say about religion is that some people find its rituals comforting. Is that really the best we can do?