Saturday, December 31, 2005

An American Irony: Yoga, Yes; Design, No

A few years ago, the Aspen, Colorado, public schools implemented a program in their elementary schools to teach yoga. A local pastor led a fight against this and argued very wisely. He claimed that yoga is intrinsically and inextricably religious. That religion, of course, is Hinduism. The teaching of a religious practice—such as yoga or Christian prayer—in a state school is unconstitutional. Of course, the yoga proponents typically labeled him as a fearful fundamentalist who was against peaceful practices that were merely for relaxation and cultivating good health. Sadly, yoga is now a tax-supported part of elementary education in Aspen, Colorado, thus flagrantly providing state support for the religion of Hinduism. (Yoga has become so mainstream in American culture that a good number of Christians practice it, thinking they can separate the religion from the exercise. They are wrong, as I was quoted as saying in a The New York Times story this summer. See also my Christianity Today essay on this.)

Now consider the controversy over intelligent design (ID). While the theory appeals to empirical evidence and proven principles of design detection used in sciences such as archaeology, cryptography, and SETI, the critics claim that it is inherently religious and, thus, unscientific. This, of course, begs the question as to whether a religious belief might have some scientific support. Moreover, critics of ID inflate the claims of ID far beyond what ID claims for itself: namely, that some features of the natural world are better explained on the basis of intelligent causes as opposed to unintelligent causes (chance and necessity in tandem and without assistance). That is a minimal, modest, and retiring sort of claim metaphysically, since it does not specify who or what the design or designers might be. (That debate can be carried out philosophically.) Nevertheless, opponents of ID claim this violated the establishment clause of the Constitution by “establishing religion.” This is Nonsense. It attempts to disestablish the de facto religion of naturalism.

Anyway, back to yoga. Why is it that something so deeply rooted in Hinduism can be accepted in the public schools (and unopposed by the ACLU, who should have supported the pastor), while ID is considered an offense to the very marrow of the American system of law? Why this egregious double standard? Whether or not a belief is designated “religious” depends entirely on whose interests are being served by it. Yoga, it is believed, confers benefits to anyone who practices it. It can help the atheist or agnostic become relaxed and healthier. There is the payoff. And why not let the children in state schools share in yoga’s benefit? ID, however, does not serve any interest of secular people. On the contrary, it brings the secularist worldview (philosophical materialism) into question on the basis of empirical evidence. It directly challenges the stranglehold that materialism has over established science. Of course, it does serve the interests of the First Amendment (freedom of speech: in this case, the speech of those who would challenge Darwinism in tax-supported schools) and it in no way establishes any religion, since it leaves open who or what the designer might be and makes its argument not from any sacred scripture, but from nature. That is hardly an altar call. Nevertheless, ID is a direct assault on the citadel of materialism: the premise that unintelligent causes can exhaustively explain biological systems.

Now, in light of the above let us think of a new strategy. Maybe we can claim that yoga is really based on the idea of a designing intelligence that instructs us on how to use our designed bodies better. Yoga could only work if the sages who intuited it knew how to open the body to optimal function by perfecting it according to a design plan and that design plan is yoga. Then, the ACLU might come running! And perhaps we can present ID as a mental exercise that helps calm the nerves—an emotional tonic that relieves the stress of thinking that humans only happen to emerge after eons of purposeless and unguided evolution. Students could chant, “I am designed. I am designed,” over and over again—or just chant “I am D I am D” until a higher level of consciousness is achieved. No, I think the ACLU would still smell blood.

  • Douglas Groothuis

Friday, December 30, 2005

Letter on Intelligent Design in the December 30, 2005, Rocky Mountain News

'Design' does make testable hypotheses

Dr. Andrew Ross' letter of Dec. 22, "Intelligent design can't meet scientific criteria," says that intelligent design does not conform to the scientific method, particularly concerning testable predictions and the modification of hypotheses according to evidence.
First, there is no iron-clad scientific method. Scientific enterprise is more untidy than Ross apparently thinks, as many philosophers of science, such as Thomas Kuhn, have noted. Second, intelligent design does predict that certain organisms will display certain empirically detectable signs of design, such as irreducible complexity, where all the component parts must be present at once in order for the organism to have the necessary function.

Moreover, intelligent design predicts that biological features deemed vestigial will be found to have function. Consider "junk DNA." Darwinism predicts that DNA will contain large areas of useless material left over from previous organisms. Intelligent design predicts that if DNA is designed there would be very little or no "junk." Scientists have now found that there is no "junk" in DNA.

Furthermore, intelligent design theorists such as biochemist Michael Behe, are attuned to the evidence and are quite willing to revise their hypotheses on that basis.
  • Douglas Groothuis Professor of philosophy, Denver Seminary Littleton

He is Back At It

Today while looking around at an electronics store (not common for me), I remembered that I had my partially rehabilitated TV-Be-Gone in my pocket. Well, well… I had followed some advice on line on how to replace the batteries and put a larger than standard battery on top and only one of two smaller batteries on the bottom (because I ran out of the smaller ones and had not yet bought another one). Nevertheless, my newly equipped device performed well in an unnamed store. I lost count, but I must have zapped about twenty sets! Someone at mentioned that Sony’s go off almost immediately, and I found that this is true. Oh joy, Oh bliss! One of my well-aimed shots turned off about ten intelligence-reducers at once, all of which were perched a hellish wall of TVs. That felt so good. It was probably a personal best for single zap result. The performance of this subversive device will probably only improve when I get that other battery.

After a long and sad hiatus from TV zapping (due to battery failure), I am back. TV world beware. You never know when or where the public TV screen may go blank—so that minds may not go blank.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

TV-B-Gone May Not Be Gone!

A techno-savvy friend of mine emailed and alerted me to the fact that there are two more batteries underneath the top battery (the only one visible when you take off the cover) that need to be replaced as well. So, I should be back in the TV-zapping business. The saga continues.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Telling Editorial on the Dover Decision

Here is an editorial from The Seattle Times by David Klinghoffer on the egregious Dover intelligent design decision. It is well worth reading.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ralph Waldo Emerson

[The following is by the famous Transcendentalist. While I don't share this overall worldview, this quote deserves curmudgeonly approval.]

"...but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it---else it is none."--from "Self-Reliance."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Clarification on ID Letter

My letter to The Philosopher Magazine lacked an important nuance. The Discovery Institute folks (whom I generally endorse on the ID issue) only want the public schools to allow ID as a challenge to Darwinism. They do not want to mandate that both be taught, partially because ID is not an full-fledged theory as yet. This was one of the problems in the Dover case, which would have made a statement about ID mandatory in the classroom. That statement also refered to a book that may have not been the best for the public schools. The Discovery Institute was not behind the strategy used in the Dover case.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Letter on ID in "The Philosophers Magazine"

[This was published in most recent issue of The Philosophers Magazine. I corrected one typo in the first sentence.]

Dear Editor:

I must both commend and correct comments in the same issue and on the same subject. In his column “Provocations” (Issue 30) Michael LaBossiere rightly claims that Intelligent Design (ID) theory is a legitimate scientific competitor with Darwinism. Darwinism claims that life shows no signs of designing intelligence, and ID advances the opposite thesis on the basis of empirical evidence and principles of scientific explanation.

However, in a news story on Flew’s rejection of atheism, we are told that ID theorists are “leading a partially successful campaign to stop the theory of evolution being taught as fact in the schools.” This isn’t quite right. It makes it sound like ID advocates want to censor Darwinism. Rather, ID theorists argue that Darwinism should be presented as a scientific explanation for the development of the biosphere—but only along with ID as an alternative scientific theory. Both theories claim to best explain the facts of the matter. ID proponents believe that they should both be taught as claimants to fact and judged by their explanatory virtues. Neither should be taught alone as dogma.

Douglas Groothuis
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary

Debate over Intelligent Design Theory

[This is a story from the December 21, 2005 Rocky Mountain News called "Debate Over Intelligent Design." I am quoted at the end, and quoted correctly.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Fallacy Finders Dream

[This letter was published in The Rocky Mountain News today as as response to my Dec. 10, 2005 article, which is posted on this blog. Please identify the logical fallacies in this diatribe and share this with the blogosphere.]

'Design' column shows we're getting dumber

Douglas Groothuis' Speakout column of Dec. 10 on intelligent design, " 'Design' critics often employ straw men," is further evidence of the dumbing down of America. Remember the last time religion intruded itself into science, when the church condemned Galileo for teaching that the Earth revolved around the sun? How did that turn out?

Five hundred years ago the Muslim countries were the scientific leaders of the world. Why did this change so drastically? Because the Western world began the scientific revolution when it rejected supernatural explanations and sought natural causes that would be amenable to testing and verification, the essence of science. This tradition has served us so well, why would we want to abandon it now?

If people like Groothuis insist that schools teach nonscientific alternatives in science classes, then why stop at intelligent design? Why not teach the flat Earth theory in geography class? How about astrology as an alternative to astronomy, and shouldn't alchemy be taught in chemistry classes? Maybe Groot- huis and others would prefer seeing a doctor trained in voodoo as an alternative to traditional medicine?

When we allow the possibility of supernatural agents, anything goes and nothing can be logically disputed or verified by others, so scientific progress stops.
If we start mixing science and religion in the public schools, then we had better make sure that our children and grandchildren start learning Chinese. Because America will have unilaterally disarmed itself in the future battle for scientific and technological supremacy.

James J. Amato Woodland Park

Monday, December 19, 2005

More on Christmas Loneliness

[This is not written by me, Doug Groothuis; it is written by someone who wanted to remain unnamed. It worth pondering.]

It’s all well and good for healthy families that churches close so all can stay home this year on a Christmas Sunday. But many do not realize the sense of normalcy and essential fellowship Sundays provide for many single parents. Many do not realize the chaos and heartache single parents live with, which is exacerbated by the Christmas holiday season. Yes, we have children but they are torn between two worlds, often worlds that are threatening to them or which try to work alienation from us into their hearts. When this heart-alienation is successful, even having them with us on a Christmas can be very difficult to bear. When they are not with us, we worry and cannot enjoy a family gathering, or worse, we sit at home alone.

I have gone home alone after almost every Christmas Eve service in the past 20 years since my family celebrates on Christmas Day. At times I wished the service were 3 hours long. I can say I have learned to love that quiet time at home though; it has become a necessary time in the presence of God, a healthy ritual release of sorrows built up over the year. These days, even if I get an invitation I turn it down for that reason. I need that sacred space that comes only once a year. Now that the children are grown and gone, a different kind of heartache sets in; one of years that cannot be regained and dreams of happy intact family life that will never be experienced. As they marry, they are again divided between two more worlds, spending time with in-laws. Family gatherings become triggers for painful memories, year after year accumulated, and creating a lump in the throat as I watch other family members with their children happily hugging both mom and dad, and mom and dad kissing and showing off gifts and exchanging knowing glances. I look away. I should be happy! And I am, really, for them. I have a wonderful, large family. I get by quite well, I tell myself. It could be far worse, I say. And tomorrow, this will all be over, for another year. It’s like a recurring dream from which I awaken grateful, December 26th morn.

If you know someone who is a single parent, and you find out they will not be alone on Christmas don’t assume everything is fine: let them know you understand that they have struggles and give them a hug and pray for their hearts and tell them they are loved –and show them! Sorrow can be very serious business this time of year.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Loneliness

Christmas time is here,
Happy time of year.

Or so the song goes... But for many among us—more than some might imagine—Christmastime is a season of extended and burning unhappiness called loneliness. Happiness is not triggered by the beginning of the marketing blitz for Christmas shopping. Nor are those with small or sad or nonexistent families especially heartened by all the riot of required family festivities and family feeling. The lonely are asked what their Christmas plans are. The reply is in so many words, “There are no special plans. We will just hunker down at home—alone, again; and wait for it to end.” That’s a bit lacking in holiday cheer, is it not? And some do not even have a house in which to sulk. Others have houses, but no homes, but rather prisons. Many languish in prisons of other kinds.

For many, loneliness is intensified at just the time when a culture (supposedly) celebrates the Great Visitation, “God with us.” But are we with each other? Do we know each other? Can we see past the surface into the inner pain of our brothers and sisters? Loneliness is the great secret of postmodernity, and it deepens during times when we pretend mightily otherwise. As many critics have noted, community is breaking down in contemporary America. Community means (in part) civic participation: attending PTA meetings, voting, knowing your neighbors, volunteering, reading and grading student papers (instead of relying on machines to grade multi-guess charades), and much more. (See the revealing book, Bowling Alone.) Instead, we tend to cocoon: people whirl about in their iPod worlds, charge around in huge metal behemoths within a cacophonous cauldron of loud, rude, over-amplified sounds, stalk about in public muttering into the air (that is, to a distant cellular phone recipient), stare into video screens, playing video games with no one.

That is enough, or more than enough. Is there a solution? No, there is no grand solution—this side of the Eschaton. But there are small, simple steps to break up the glaciers of loneliness in our midst.

I leave it to you to tell this web log what these small acts of kindness might be. I further bid you divulge a few sentences of loneliness this holiday. It’s a poor excuse for the richly-textured realities of embodied community, but it might help. Or perhaps not.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Groothuis on Intelligent Design

Speakout: 'Design' critics often employ straw men

By Douglas Groothuis, Special to The Rocky Mountain News December 10, 2005

Ever since President Bush advocated that the intelligent design critique of Darwinism be allowed in public schools, a riot of public pronouncements has condemned the design perspective as retrograde, unscientific and downright ominous.

A number of logical fallacies are routinely employed in efforts to debunk intelligent design. In such cases, intelligent design is criticized and dismissed on the basis of an argument that is illogical and therefore false. One need not be an expert in Darwinian biology to sniff out these basic blunders. In this brief space I will note just one: the straw man argument.

In the straw man argument a position is made to look ridiculous and then the caricature is knocked down. Intelligent design is repeatedly presented as a plan to institute religious and unscientific dogma in the public schools. The facts, however, speak otherwise. Intelligent design's think tank, The Discovery Institute, says this: "The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." The controlling premise is the effort to discern the best explanation for a natural phenomenon, given the available empirical evidence: a fundamental precept of scientific investigation. Unlike creationism, intelligent design makes no appeal to religious texts, but invokes empirical evidence, as well as the principles of design detection, which are already used in sciences such as cryptography, archaeology, forensics, and in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski argues that certain features of the natural world exhibit patterns that are best explained on the basis of design (or intelligent causes), rather than on the basis of mindless nature (or unintelligent causes).

For example, even if we didn't know from history that an eccentric artist was responsible, we would identify the presidential faces carved into Mount Rushmore as designed because natural patterns of erosion cannot explain them. The complexity of the phenomenon fits a specifiable pattern: the faces of the presidents, which we recognize from other sources. Similarly, archaeologists distinguish ancient artifacts from naturally occurring objects on the basis of design detection. The complexity discovered in certain objects fits a specifiable pattern indicating that intelligent causation was at work.

Intelligent design proponents argue that some organisms indicate specified complexity, and that these organisms are better explained by intelligent causes than by natural law and chance alone. The DNA code is an example of specified complexity. It contains a language that is not reducible to the laws of chemistry and physics, which do not specify its content. The odds against all the factors required for DNA to come together through the operations of mere matter and chance are vanishingly small.

Similarly, biochemist Michael Behe argues in Darwin's Black Box that certain molecular machines are irreducibly complex, which means that all of its basic parts are required for its function, as with a mousetrap. The bacterial flagellum, for example, is a highly complex outboard motor attached to a bacterium. A gradual process of mere chance and natural law is insufficient to explain this irreducible complexity, Behe argues, since the motor function could not exist in evolutionary predecessors that lacked any of the many necessary parts.

However, Darwinists insist that intelligent design invokes God to cover ignorance of natural processes. This is exactly wrong. The design inference is not based on ignorance, but on increased knowledge of the microscopic realm and on the well-established principles of design detection. When Darwinists refuse to admit intelligent cause as a possible explanation for specified complexity, this only reveals that they define science such that intelligent causes are disallowed in principle. But this approach is not a discovery of science itself. It is rather a philosophical commitment to materialism (the belief that reality is reducible to impersonal physical laws).

May these few considerations spur readers to assess rationally intelligent design's actual arguments and to avoid the logical fallacies so often employed in place of intelligent thought about life's origins.

Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary.
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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Discussion of propositions, philosophers, postmodernism

Susan Arnold gives some reflections on metaphysics on her blog. The responses address propositions, the worth of philosophy, postmodernism. and more. I posted a fairly long response to this (mostly about propositions), which can be found at: