August 8, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Science Journals Make Dogmatic Atheist Statements

Science is supposed to be restricted to the physical and observable world, but the major journals do not hesitate to state ardent, dogmatic opinions about the non-existence of God.  Often they assert without debate that belief in God is an artifact of human evolution.  Here are some recent examples:

  1. Tinker Bell, not Jehovah:  Georg Striedter began a book review in Nature1 with this line: “The human brain, and hence the human mind, is not an optimal, designed-from-scratch apparatus.  Rather, it is an imperfect amalgam of shoddy components.”  He was summarizing the view of David Linden’s new book, The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God (Harvard, 2007).  Striedter took issue with Linden’s proof in the book, but not with the contention that our brains are products of evolution.  “What we do know, and what The Accidental Mind helps us to realize, is that the human brain is not designed as many have imagined.”  There was no discussion with any theologian or philosopher about these contentions.
  2. Put it Aside:  An editorial in Nature2 began, in bold print, “With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.”  The editorial acknowledged that many scientists are “religious” but didn’t mind as long as they keep their faith and their belief in evolution in separate compartments.
        The occasion for the stern editorial was an article by Senator Sam Brownback in the New York Times in which the presidential candidate affirmed a position believed by the majority of Americans: “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order,” Brownback said.  Continuing an a conciliatory tone, he said, “Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge.  Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as science.“
        That was enough to make the editors of Nature call hogwash.  “Humans evolved, body and mind, from earlier primates,” the editorial responded.  No sense trying to leave any room for the hand of God; it is Darwin all the way down: “The ways in which humans think reflect this heritage as surely as the ways in which their limbs are articulated, their immune systems attack viruses and the cones in their eyes process coloured light.  This applies not just to the way in which our neurons fire, but also to various aspects of our moral thought,” it said.
        From here, the editorial backed off a bit, admitting that the theological and philosophical issues involved with the human mind are “deep waters.”  Formulating an evolutionary theory of neuroscience is still a challenge.  But regardless of how uncomfortable it may be to accept the evolution of the brain, evolution is the only serious scientific option, they asserted: “Scientific theories of human nature may be discomforting or unsatisfying, but they are not illegitimate.  And serious attempts to frame them will reflect the origins of the human mind in biological and cultural evolution, without reference to a divine creation.”  Anyone disagreeing cannot be serious, in other words.
  3. Getting our own dirt:  Synthetic biology is becoming a “welcome antidote for chronic vitalism,” stated another editorial in Nature.3  They said that new attempts to synthesize organisms from scratch amounts to agreement with this quote: ”for the first time, God has competition” (see joke).  To the Editors, synthetic biology will have particular value in ridding society of outmoded, pre-Darwinian beliefs that life is somehow special.  This even weighs in on the debate about abortion, they claimed:

    Synthetic biology’s view of life as a molecular process lacking moral thresholds at the level of the cell is a powerful one. And it can and perhaps should be invoked to challenge characterizations of life that are sometimes used to defend religious dogma about the embryo.  If this view undermines the notion that a ‘divine spark’ abruptly gives value to a fertilized egg – recognizing as it does that the formation of a new being is gradual, contingent and precarious – then the role of the term ‘life’ in that debate might acquire the ambiguity that it has always warranted.

    So if science trumps “religious dogma” in the process, so be it.  A callout quote states, “It would be a service to more than synthetic biology if we might now be permitted to dismiss the idea that life is a precise scientific concept.”

  4. Dover over easy:  Kevin Padian, a partisan for NCSE in the Dover trail, got free rein in Nature to give his version of the Dover trial.4  It was full of references to “religious intolerance” and “right-wing Christians” in its portrayal of Judge Jones’ decision as a victory for science.  No space was provided to the other side.  No mention was made of articles and books critical of the decision.  Nothing was said about Jones’ heavy lifting of the ACLU source material (12/12/2006).  Padian ended with a portrayal of Dover as a “perfect storm of religious intolerance, First Amendment violation and the never-ending assault on American science education.”
        Those needing to hear the other side will have to buy a book: Traipsing Into Evolution by DeWolf, Luskin, West and Witt, who were close to the case as advisors and observers for the defense, though not litigants.  It’s ironic that Padian referred to the Scopes Trial, since the Dover case was nearly a polar opposite.
  5. Get your hot dogma here:  In Science,5 anti-creationist Sean B. Carroll got free rein to trash Michael Behe’s new book, The Edge of Evolution.  Behe does not even argue for God as such in the book, but Carroll was sure this was an easily-defused sneak attack to insert God into science.  He likened himself to Thomas Huxley, gloating, “The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands.”  He ridiculed the book, titling his review, “God as genetic engineer.”  His review made unsubstantiated charges to key players in the Intelligent Design movement without rebuttals that the players have made in print numerous times.  With references to Monty Python to ridicule the creationists, Carroll ended, “the argument for design has no scientific leg to stand on.”
  6. The critic of my enemy could still be my enemy:  Scott Atran in Science6 reviewed another book whose title is unambiguous: Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief by Lewis Wolpert.  Here, Atran was a little more courteous to those who “believe” in God.  He did not think Wolpert was merciful enough to those who view religion as having some positive social effects: viz, “what ought to be, including moral framing that convinces people to commit to others beyond the logic and evidence for advancing self-interest.”  But does this justify believing in a real God, who really created the world?  Certainly not: “Religion involves the same causal categories that evolution endowed us with for everyday thinking,” he said without hesitation.
  7. The enemy of my enemy is my enemy:  There was a stinging exchange in Science last week7 between Jonathan Haidt (U of Virginia) about moral evolution (see 05/17/2007), and David Barash, a psychologist from U of Washington.  The debate was over the role of group selection, but the common whipping-boy in both letters was the “religious right.”  Barash was incensed that Haidt explained “patriotism, respect for tradition, and a sense of sacredness” as artifacts of group selection instead of individual selection.  Haidt was quick to point out that “As for Barash’s final point about conservative morality, I do not believe that descriptive biology confers normative legitimacy.”  Patriotism and a sense of sacredness may evolve, for that matter, but that such notions are “disliked by political liberals and dismissed by moral psychologists.”  The subtext was clear: morals and beliefs about God did evolve, whether or not group selection did it.

While evolutionists do not hesitate to propound their own opinions about God in the science journals, the journals routinely screen out any opinions by theists about the scientific validity of evolution.

1Georg Striedter, “Brain botch,” Nature 447, 640 (7 June 2007) | doi:10.1038/447640a.
2Editorial, “Evolution and the brain,” Nature 447, 753 (14 June 2007) | doi:10.1038/447753a.
3Editorial, “Meanings of ‘life,’” Nature 447, 1031-1032 (28 June 2007) | doi:10.1038/4471031b.
4Kevin Padian, “The case of creation,” Nature 448, 253-254 (19 July 2007) | doi:10.1038/448253a.
5Sean B. Carroll, “God as Genetic Engineer,” Science, 8 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5830, pp. 1427-1428, DOI: 10.1126/science.1145104.
6Scott Atran, “The Nature of Belief,” Science, 27 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5837, p. 456, DOI: 10.1126/science.1142653.
7Letters, “Evolution and Group Selection,” Science, 3 August 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5838, pp. 596-597, DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5838.596d.

The debating tactic of the Darwin Party in the public marketplace of ideas is unchanged since Huxley: ridicule, attack, threaten, marginalize, and hoard power.  None of the ideologues above have a scientific leg to stand on to claim that their brains evolved, because if that were true, they could never know it or claim it was true.  By asserting that their claims are true, and that religion and creation is false, they have affirmed that there is a world of knowledge outside the realm of particles that is eternal and does not evolve.  This cannot be possible within their own world view.  They have therefore shot themselves in the brain; their position is self-refuting, and necessarily false.
    So what do you do with such people?  You treat them like any other special-interest deadheads.  You answer them according to their folly when other people are listening in, and you answer them not according to their folly lest you be like them.  Next, you disarm them by taking back the power they stole.  Prepare for a long conflict.  Zombies are like automatons and don’t surrender easily.  Appeals to reason, for instance, are likely to fall on deaf ears.
    You scientists who are humbly and honestly going about your work figuring out how DNA repair works, what the sun is doing, and how soil organisms produce compounds that may fight cancer, blessings upon you.  Stay away from the D.P. ideologues.  They have nothing to offer.  Deal with them when you must, to get your papers published, but understand that the kind of dogmatic statements they make (like those above) are light-years apart from plain old observational, daily scientific work.  We need the products of your science; we do not need self-appointed shallow philosophers in places of power over you.  Join the growing Dissent from Darwin list to eat away at their totalitarian dictatorship, so that we can once again enjoy an open marketplace of ideas.  You might also ponder the origin of intangible, unchanging things like morals, truth and knowledge, which your work assumes are real.

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