Sunday, March 28, 2010

Paul Nelson Is Confused

 
Paul Nelson is a Young Earth Creationist. He believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and all modern species were created separately. Nelson is also a Fellow of the Discovery Institute. Given these two facts you might wonder if anything he says is worth listening to. The answer is "yes"—lots of his writings are very (unintentionally) amusing.

Paul Nelson's latest posting on Uncommon Dissent falls into a different category. It ain't particularly funny but it does perpetuate a false impression that's very common among the IDiots, and, unfortunately, some others who should know better.

Here's what he says in Massimo Says It’s Become a Religion
What has changed within the past couple of years, however, is the rapid growth in the overtly religious (anti-religious, but that anti doesn’t really matter) content of the writings of prominent neo-Darwinian biologists, such as Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins. The Accomodationist Wars, which show no signs of slacking, illustrate that for many, the whole point of evolutionary theory is Getting Rid of God. A biologist who nonetheless professes his theism (Ken Miller, Simon Conway Morris, Francis Collins, et al.) — well, those people are, at best, confused. Evolution properly understood is irreligious. Not “irreligious” in the sense of indifferent or neutral. Hostile. Read the traffic at Pharyngula, Why Evolution is True, Dawkins’s site, Sandwalk, or dozens of other blogs and discussion boards. [Just to be clear: I (PN) don't think the theory of evolution is irreligious, in the sense of hostile to theism. Philosophical naturalism, however, is. But evolution and naturalism are typically conflated by their advocates.]
The accommodationist wars are about the conflict between science and religion and not "evolutionary theory" and religion. People like Paul Nelson would like to change the topic because they want to be seen as anti-evolution but not necessarily anti-science.

And it's not just "neo-Darwinians"1 who declare that science and religion are incompatible. All kinds of scientists share this opinion. For example, there are more than a few astronomers and geologists who think the Earth is slightly more than 10,000 years old. They are firmly convinced that science is totally incompatible with Young Earth Creationism.

I guess Paul Nelson doesn't know that.

He also doesn't know that the big battle is between rationalism and superstition. In this fight atheists are trying to convince theists that their gods are delusions and they should abandon them. Some of these atheists are scientists but many are not. Don't confuse the two fights. "Science vs. religion" overlaps with "rationalism vs. superstition" but "evolution vs. creationism" is often a very separate battle. People like Ken Miller can be mostly with the good guys in "evolution vs creationism" while being on the wrong side of "rationalism vs superstition."

Paul Nelson isn't the only one who doesn't get this.


1. I don't know who these "neo-Darwinians" are but I'm not one of them [Why I'm Not a Darwinist].

33 comments:

  1. Help out a blue-collar guy here Larry. Here's a quote from his bio: "...a philosopher of biology, specializing in evo-devo and developmental biology, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Philosophy in 1998." Now, that doesn't directly say that he has a doctorate in biology, but seems to indicate that it's some sort of philosophy doctorate and that he now specializes in the philosophy of biology, whatever that may be. Is this a correct assessment on my part, or does he have a legitimate biology doctorate, or are they using confusing language and terminology to bamboozle the reader? (Not that I would ever accuse them of that, oh no...[/sarcasm])

    Dave Bailey

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  2. There's some conflation on Prof. Moran's part too, here, for not all Christians believe the earth is 6,014 years old.

    "In this fight atheists are trying to convince theists that their gods are delusions and they should abandon them."

    OK, I can believe that. However, in this discussion, they are generally as much amateurs as the people they address--scientists have an aura of expertise, which is understandable and to some degree justifiable, but they shouldn't make arguments outside their specialization, in a way that implies the weight it should have if they spoke as say, astro-chemists.

    "... when Freud is talking about how to cure neurotics he is speaking as a specialist on his own subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy he is speaking as an amateur. It is therefore quite sensible to attend to him with respect in the one case and not in the other - and that is what I do. I am all the readier to do it because I have found that when he's talking off his own subject and on a subject I do know something about (namely, language) he is very ignorant." (C.S. Lewis)

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  3. lee_merrill says,

    There's some conflation on Prof. Moran's part too, here, for not all Christians believe the earth is 6,014 years old.

    Really? Are you sure?

    Oh well, you learn something new every day.

    OK, I can believe that. However, in this discussion, they are generally as much amateurs as the people they address--scientists have an aura of expertise, which is understandable and to some degree justifiable, but they shouldn't make arguments outside their specialization, in a way that implies the weight it should have if they spoke as say, astro-chemists.

    So, in your opinion, who is the expert on whether or not god exists? I haven't seen a single good argument from any believer. Have you?

    I find it very interesting that people label atheists as "amateurs" when it comes to their rejection of the supernatural. All they've done is fail to be convinced by any arguments for the existence of gods.

    In that sense they are just as expert as most believers. If there are 1000 gods then most believers reject 999 of them. The so-called expert in Hinduism, for example, rejects the divinity of Jesus Christ. Is that the kind of "expert" you're referring to?

    BTW, you quote C.S. Lewis. Is he an expert on atheism?

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  4. Experts on superstition usually would conclude that superstition is, for lack of a better word, superstition. I think maybe the experts lee_merrill are referring to are what one might refer to as "posuers". (I.e., they are "experts" if they live in a Cracker Jack box, or if they live in a box only filled with with other "posuers".)

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  5. Don't confuse the two fights. "Science vs. religion" overlaps with "rationalism vs. superstition" but "evolution vs. creationism" is often a very separate battle. People like Ken Miller can be mostly with the good guys in "evolution vs creationism" while being on the wrong side of "rationalism vs superstition."

    It is very good that you state this clearly. It would help if more people were aware of the difference, and didn't actually hurt the cause by insisting that everyone who is with them on the issue of evolution is helping science, which is not at all the case

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  6. Larry Moran wrote:

    "He believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and all modern species were created separately."

    Where did I say this, Larry? -- specifically, that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and that all modern species were created separately.

    Please provide your source.

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  7. Paul Nelson asks,

    Where did I say this, Larry? -- specifically, that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and that all modern species were created separately.

    By all accounts you are a Young Earth Creationist. I've never seen you deny this. In fact you explicitly accept that designation in your Bloggingheads dialog with Ron Numbers.

    In that discussion, you manage to waffle and sidestep the issue of the exact age of the Earth but you do admit that your interpretation of the Biblical story of creation is at odds with science and, indeed, with your colleagues at the Discovery Institute. I think it's quite fair to assume that you're thinking of an age less than 10,000 years and I'll continue to attribute that view to you unless you come right out and state that you believe in an older Earth.

    With respect to the creations of species, here's your big chance to show the world that you are honest and forthright about your beliefs.

    Paul, do you think that modern "kinds" evolved from common ancestors or do you think that they were separately created by God?

    Instead of picking nits, why not come right out and tell us what you believe? If you don't correct my statement by clearly indicating what you really believe then I'll continue to assume that my statement is correct.

    I notice you didn't deny it.

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  8. Larry Moran wrote:

    "If you don't correct my statement by clearly indicating what you really believe then I'll continue to assume that my statement is correct."

    Is this how you do your science? Or simply conduct your daily affairs? If I, Larry Moran, say something, and no one contradicts it, then whatever I say must be true.

    Compare: "I heard my colleague down the hall was having an affair. I didn't ask him if this was true, but he hasn't contradicted the rumor to me personally, so it must be. Moreover, I'll tell others about the affair, unless or until he corrects me."

    Do you ordinarily pass judgment on others using hearsay, or impute views to them that they may not hold, because what you say seems to you to be a good assumption (i.e., guess)? What specific information do you have about my YEC position, other than the Bloggingheads segment?

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    Replies
    1. Once again, you mange to waffle and sidestep the issue! To settle the matter once and for all, please tell us how old you consider the Earth to be!

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  9. It would be very simple for you to resolve the issue by just stating that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and the Universe is even older rather than just accusing others of misrepresenting your position while never making clear what your position actually is

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  10. So you're not a Yound Earth Creationist, Paul Nelson?

    Or are you?

    Please define yourself. You have nothing to hide nor be ashamed of. Larry Moran is an evolutionary biologist. I'm a neodarwinian. We thought you were a Young Earth Craetionist because that's what you said in bloggingheads--you accepted the title of younger creationist at 12:00 and you said you've written a book chapter arguing for younger creationism at 15:00. I think it's reasonable to assume that you don't believe the earth is 4,6 billion years old. Or were you lying there?

    Are you going to continue with this pointless rethoric forever? Either you are a Young Earth Creationist and Larry Moran is right or you're not a Young Earth Creationist and Larry Moran is wrong. It's very simple.

    Ok, so could you speak out for good's sake. Let's get over with so we can focus on the interesting stuff.

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  11. I am willing to state in public that based on my understanding of the evidence, the earth is greater than 4.5 billion years old.

    Dr. Nelson, what is your understanding of the evidence and will you state in public an age for the earth based on your understanding?

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  12. I'm a young-earth creationist (YEC) -- one of the few (maybe the only) at Discovery Institute.

    But that's not what Larry wrote. He said that I think "the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and all modern species were created separately."

    I don't endorse either of these propositions, however, as Larry knows, at least with regard to the first (if nothing else, he watched my Bloggingheads segment with Ron Numbers). So I'd like to know where, other than hearsay, Larry learned about the content of my YEC view.

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  13. OK, so you are an YEC, but you don't think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. Then how old is it? 11,000? 100,000? And based on what evidence do you draw that conclusion?

    Also, saying that you disagree that "all modern species were created separately" means that they evolved at least somewhat, which based on what we've seen from creationists would imply that you support some sort of "created kinds, very fast evolution of species after the Arc" kind of view. Which is, again, 100% unsupported by science. If you think it happened some other way, feel free to state, in fact, we would be very happy and we urge you to explain to us your cosmological views, instead of simply accusing us of misunderstanding them.

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  14. Ahh, I get it: This is the kind of game where we are only allowed to receive "yes" or "no" answers.

    Paul: Does your figure on the age of the Earth have more than 6 digits?


    Isn't this fun?

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  15. Ahh, we're redefining terms here. Sweet.

    So you're not a YEC by the rest of the world's definition-- you're a YEC only by your own definition, which doesn't include neither a young earth nor a separate creation of species.

    I get it now. We can move forward to why you confuse the evo creo wars with the conflict between science and religion.

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  16. > Prof. Moran: So, in your opinion, who is the expert on whether or not god exists?

    I kind of meant philosophers, and maybe apologists--people who study such questions.

    > I haven't seen a single good argument from any believer. Have you?

    I find Behe's Edge of Evolution one good argument. Also fulfilled prophecies such as "Babylon will not be rebuilt," when some have tried.

    > If there are 1000 gods then most believers reject 999 of them.

    True, I guess I'm 99.9% an atheist. And we could all be amateurs, what I object to is the using of expertise in one field, to imply expertise in another, simply by virtue of expertise in field A.

    > BTW, you quote C.S. Lewis. Is he an expert on atheism?

    As much as anyone, I suppose, being a trained philosopher, and (we may note) having been an atheist himself.

    But this might be an area where everyone starts on level ground, I would say it most likely is.

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  17. Oh fuck - not this again with Nelson.

    He doesn't know what he believes about the age of the earth - last I saw he gave the meaningless interval 10 KY < Earth < 4.6 BY.

    Trying to get a meaningful answer will get you nowhere.

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  18. Of course it doesn't really matter because YE or OE,creationism is still creationism, we were just annoyed by intellectually dishonest behavior

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  19. So, Larry you're not a Darwinist but your blog name is Sandwalk, as the one in Kent. Just to confound the masses, right? ;-)

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  20. If any reader of this thread (including Larry) wants to know the details of my YEC view, please send me an email at nelsonpa@alumni.uchicago.edu, and I'll mail you a copy of the book chapter I published on the topic a few years ago. Please include your regular (surface) mailing address.

    The Bloggingheads segment I did with Ron Numbers last summer is also informative.

    I apologize for my pique yesterday at Larry (whose blog I read daily, and enjoy for its discussions of evolutionary theory, such as the recent guest post by Arlin Stoltzfus). But I know Larry would be rightly incensed if I wrote something like "Larry Moran, like all evolutionists, thinks natural selection is by far the most important mechanism of evolutionary change, and that every feature of organisms reflects the precision of functional adaptation." Even though we've never met, I know Larry's thinking too well to ascribe adaptationism to his view. In an exactly parallel sense, not all YECs (which I am) think that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, or that all species present today were specially created as we find them. In fact, most YEC scientists with PhD-level training disagree with both of those statements.

    The book chapter offer stands. Heck, I'll even throw in the Darwin's Dilemma (Cambrian Explosion movie) DVD, gratis.

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  21. The 219 words you typed are slightly longer than the length of a typical paper abstract. You surely could have summarized your views in that much space, and if it wasn't enough, you could have written more, given that there are no limitations here. I doubt you are that short of time given the prodigious amount of research you are involved in. Instead you offer us a book chapter that we can only get through e-mail...

    I know that what science is an how it works is quite foreign to you (you wouldn't be a creationist otherwise) so I will try to inform you - science is a primarily conversational activity and while the literature serves a very important role, a lot of the actual persuasion of others in the correctness of your views happens in a direct discussion about the issue. If you avoid debate, not that there is much to debate here, but in principle, this is a sign that your position is on very shaky ground, simple and plain

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  22. Paul, you could avoid this confusion by just calling yourself a Middle age Earth Partial Creationist.

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  23. "YECs believe that the Earth is "young", on the order of 6,000 to 10,000 years old..."

    From wikipedia

    Isn't Nancy Pearcey both a CSC fellow and a YEC?

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  24. zumba says,

    So, Larry you're not a Darwinist but your blog name is Sandwalk, as the one in Kent. Just to confound the masses, right? ;-)

    My blog is named Sandwalk to honor the greatest scientist who ever lived.

    He died on April 19, 1882—that's 128 years ago and we've learned a few things since then. That's why I'm not a Darwinist.

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  25. To Georgi Marinov,

    I'll be visiting LA in mid-May, to give some lectures, and would be happy to meet you for coffee or dinner (I'll pay for your meal, you pick the restaurant), to debate these issues -- conversationally, as you put it. Face to face.

    Blogs, while informal, can't possibly take the place of a genuine conversation.

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  26. And why exactly is that?

    Blogs are arguably the best way to have that kind of conversation as they provide a relatively fast way of communication while in the same time allowing more time for a well thought out response than being in the same room and talking does.

    I appreciate the way you readily offer book chapters and lunches as means of conducting debate but I would appreciate even more if you engaged in actual debate here and now

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  27. lee_merrill said,

    OK, I can believe that. However, in this discussion, they are generally as much amateurs as the people they address--scientists have an aura of expertise, which is understandable and to some degree justifiable, but they shouldn't make arguments outside their specialization, in a way that implies the weight it should have if they spoke as say, astro-chemists.

    Larry's right to note that of today's 1000 or so actively worshiped named gods most believers reject 999 of them. But, even among so-called Christians, like Mr. Nelson here, the conceptions of their gods are so varied, contradictory, and often mutually exclusive that Christians themselves worship far more than 1000 gods themselves. A few years ago in a Roman Catholic congregation of less than 300 in Iowa, researchers found nearly 40 distinct conceptions for gods, as well as no god. It's no wonder there are 40000 distinct Christianities in the world today with more than a thousand being added each year.

    Take this together with the fact that Christianity has been wrong every time it's shared its divine insight concerning the natural world, and you see Christianity for the exemplar of unreliability that it is. Add in the following facts: today in the name of Christianity parents frequently kill, torture, maim and otherwise abuse their children; Christians lie about nature and science to anyone who will listen, but especially to credulous children; Christians lie about church attendance, Bible reading and study, and giving to their churches. Then, we can see Christianity for the well-rounded and robust failure that it is. Christianity fails in every way a human enterprise can fail.

    Paul Nelson's intellect and integrity have been hobbled by his Christian ideology. Here he shows himself to be afraid to say what he believes since he knows his beliefs are tethered to an inherently unreliable Christianity. If he were to state his beliefs about the age of the earth or the universe he would immediately be required to shower us with a staggeringly complex swill of science, hand-picked for the ripest morsels of confirmation bias, and Christian apologetics, no doubt his Discovery Institute propaganda hit parade.

    Nelson said,

    In an exactly parallel sense, not all YECs (which I am) think that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, or that all species present today were specially created as we find them. In fact, most YEC scientists with PhD-level training disagree with both of those statements.

    YECs embrace that designation for what they think are religious insights. Yet, here Nelson himself agrees with what I outlined above, that religious insights offer no reliability. Not all YECs are created equal even though their purported creator of the universe is telling them how things really are.

    Yes, Larry, Paul Nelson is indeed confused. But, then, every Christian is confused by the lights of other same-named Christians.

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  28. I wonder why Mr. Nelson always acts like that. It's like it's some kind of "kook" disorder or something. That is some funny comedy act he has going there! Lol.

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  29. This is one of the weirdest threads I have read in a while.

    Mr. Nelson you say :
    But I know Larry would be rightly incensed if I wrote something like "Larry Moran, like all evolutionists, thinks natural selection is by far the most important mechanism of evolutionary change, and that every feature of organisms reflects the precision of functional adaptation.

    I doubt he would be incensed, and if he didn't feel that way, he would correct you right here and now. Why won't you?

    How old is the Earth?

    You dont need gobs of test to answer that question. you just need to hit a few keys at the top of your keyboard.

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  30. Thanks for the clarification, TechSkeptic. I thought 'test' was perhaps abbreviation for 'testosterone' and you were doing some tiresome posturing!!

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