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Sunday, 21 September 2008

Ingroup-outgroup Bias in the Origins Debate: Part One

This is a guest-post by Marlowe C. Embree, and is the third installment in his series on “The social psychology of the origins debate”. Marlowe teaches psychology at the University of Wisconsin Colleges.

Many social analysts would agree that we live in an increasingly polarized culture. Signs of social fragmentation are not difficult to observe, such as the much-vaunted phenomenon of “Red vs. Blue America”. William Strauss and Neil Howe have borrowed the term “cultural unraveling” to summarize their view of this increasingly disentangled, tribalistic cultural trajectory (a pattern that, incidentally, they believe recurs every eight decades or so, right before the emergence of a significant crisis experience that reunites the culture - stay tuned over the next decade to discover whether they were right).

In examining the origins debate, the contributions of social psychologists who have extensively studied the origins of prejudice and stereotyping should not be neglected. Most readers would probably agree that “creationists” and “evolutionists” rarely seem to understand (let alone value and respect) each other. Yet, without an attempt to understand another’s viewpoint “from the inside”, and without unconditional respect for the other’s humanity and fundamental dignity, little intellectual or social progress can be anticipated. Visser t’Hoeft had it right, in my view, when he wrote, “The essence of dialogue is not that we relativize our convictions, but that we agree to accept one another as persons.” Yet the social psychology of how we perceive those who differ from us very easily gets in the way of that essential attitude. In this article (and part 2 to be published later this week) we will examine the processes that lead to prejudice and discrimination.

Ingroups and outgroups: The Basics
Social psychologists have, for decades, utilized terms like “ingroup-outgroup bias” to explore the ways in which we perceive and respond to people who are either similar to or different from us. In one classic study college students were shown two abstract paintings and asked which they preferred. Most students had only a slight preference and probably did not have much, if any, emotional investment in this question. Yet, when divided into groups on the supposed basis of this preference, they showed biases against those who had chosen the other painting and preferential treatment toward those who had chosen the same painting as they had. If such minimalist influences can shape behaviors and attitudes so dramatically, imagine the potential impact of discovering that someone is -- like or unlike you -- a “creationist” or an “evolutionist”, especially if these are matters of great importance to you!

Group membership can drive the formation of prejudicial attitudes in two different ways. First, we can understandably come to believe that those in groups to which we belong are valid sources of insight and information. Because we know and trust those who we see as similar to ourselves, we invest their views with a greater degree of certainty, validity, and objectivity than they perhaps deserve. This includes their views of those who belong to other groups. Conversely, we tend to be skeptical of information presented to us by those who differ from ourselves. (Every semester at the university, I face some students - usually a minority - who are deeply skeptical of anything I say because, after all, I am a teacher - and all teachers are suspect.)

Second, all social groups have informal social rules and norms, which are often more powerful than formally written and enforced rules. These informal expectations reflect “the way we do things” (from this it is only a small step to “the way everyone ought to do things”) and, because these are often unarticulated and unexamined, are all the more powerful (fish don’t know they are wet). Thus, we become prejudiced because we trust those who are like us (so-called “informational influence”) and also because we want to fit in with those who are like us (“normative influence”).

Perceptual effects
Perhaps most frighteningly, our ability to be accurate in perceiving others - never mind conceptualizing about or acting upon our perceptions - depends heavily on these group membership factors. The classic terms “leveling and sharpening” have often been used to characterize these tendencies. We are aware of the diversity among groups to which we belong, and readily recognize the individuality and uniqueness of those who are fellow members of an ingroup. But, when looking at those who are different from us (members of an outgroup), we can easily lump them all together without intending consciously to do so. We have a strong tendency to see these people as “all alike” and to be relatively blind to distinctions between them that would be obvious to those inside that group.

Even if we do not take the further step of emphasizing the negative ways in which outgroup members are alike, these tendencies can strongly shape our attitudes. Research on eyewitness testimony has repeatedly shown that witnesses to a crime (or other event) who belong to a distinctly different social group than the suspect (or other target person) are much less reliable in remembering and reporting that individual’s appearance and behavior than are members of the same social group. In the most extreme instance, outgroup members can go completely unnoticed except for times when they violate the rules or confirm prejudicial expectations. (As the Hallmark card jokingly puts it, “One of the great things about turning 50 is that you can go to the mall and be invisible to anyone under 25.” I’ve had more than one teenager actually try to walk through me and then express astonished surprise that there actually was a human being there at all.)

Questions for Discussion
This week’s questions have a bit of an inevitably moralistic - perhaps even preachy - tone. As Don Adams used to annoyingly repeat, sorry about that. Yet, I’m holding my own feet to the fire as much as I am anyone else’s. One of the things I most appreciate about the pastor of my church is that, whenever he asks similar application questions in a sermon, he always ends with, “What about you? What about me?”

1. To what extent would you say that you can enter sympathetically into the world of the “other” (those who hold sharply differing views about matters you hold dear, perhaps including your perspective on the origins debate)? Setting aside the question of whether you think they are right or even whether you think their views are defensible, can you borrow a leaf from the counselor’s notebook and use “active listening” methods to be accurate in summarizing their views in a way the others would accept and affirm, using terms and mental frameworks acceptable to them? (It’s harder than it sounds!)

2. Mortimer Adler once famously wrote, “Comprehension should always precede criticism.” Yet, it’s easy to confuse a stereotypic understanding of another’s views, as seen from the safety of an outsider’s vantage point, with a thoroughgoing and honestly compassionate insider’s understanding. David Thompson calls this being a “moral tourist” - flitting (with some unknown mixture of curiosity and condescension) across the surface of another’s world without engaging it seriously as an equal, “one heart to another”. Where would you say you are on this continuum?

3. Given that Evolutionary Creationists (EC) have experienced a mental paradigm shift – whether (no pun intended) evolutionary or revolutionary in character – why doesn’t this group do a better job of serving as a bridge between the other, more polemic groups in this social debate? It would seem that ECs are uniquely qualified as mediators and “translators”, but it also doesn’t seem to be happening. Why not, in your view?

Copyright © 2008 - Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. - All rights reserved

25 comments:

Mike Gene said...

Another home-run essay. Let me take a stab at the questions.

“ To what extent would you say that you can enter sympathetically into the world of the “other” (those who hold sharply differing views about matters you hold dear, perhaps including your perspective on the origins debate)?”

To a great extent, largely as a function of being very perceptive of my surroundings and continually developing my own views as a life long process of *learning.* My own perspective on the origins debate is unique and continually evolving, meaning that everyone I know has views that differ from my own. When you are in such a position, you not only have to understand those around you, you grow from it.

“Mortimer Adler once famously wrote, “Comprehension should always precede criticism.” Yet, it’s easy to confuse a stereotypic understanding of another’s views, as seen from the safety of an outsider’s vantage point, with a thoroughgoing and honestly compassionate insider’s understanding. David Thompson calls this being a “moral tourist” - flitting (with some unknown mixture of curiosity and condescension) across the surface of another’s world without engaging it seriously as an equal, “one heart to another”. Where would you say you are on this continuum?”

Well placed. For example, since I think the core issues of this debate are deeply ambiguous, I do not judge those who disagree with me as being stupid, ignorant, deluded, or dishonest. I don’t push my views on others because I understand their views, complaints and issues.

“Given that Evolutionary Creationists (EC) have experienced a mental paradigm shift – whether (no pun intended) evolutionary or revolutionary in character – why doesn’t this group do a better job of serving as a bridge between the other, more polemic groups in this social debate? It would seem that ECs are uniquely qualified as mediators and “translators”, but it also doesn’t seem to be happening. Why not, in your view?”

Here’s one possibility. The polemic groups are polemic because they a) have a social agenda and b) think they are right. ECs (or TEs) are not viewed as any bridge because they threaten both sides on both points a) and b). In fact, because of the polarization, ECs are not trusted and instead viewed as being “in bed with the enemy.”

Consider one such extremist, Richard Dawkins, and his continual attack on his perceived out-group:

“Scientists divide into two camps over this issue: the accommodationists, who 'respect' creationists while disagreeing with them; and the rest of us, who see no reason to respect ignorance or stupidity.

The accommodationists include such godless luminaries as Eugenie Scott, whose National Center for Science Education is doing splendid work in fighting the creationist wingnuts in America. She and her fellow accommodationists bend over backwards to woo the relatively sensible minority among Christians, who accept evolution.

Get the bishops and theologians on the side of science – so the argument runs – and they'll be valuable allies against the naive creationists (who probably include the majority of Christians and certainly almost all Muslims, by the way).

No politician could deny at least the superficial plausibility of this expedient, although it is disappointing how ineffective as allies the 'sensible' minority of Christians turn out to be.

The official line of the US National Academy, the American equivalent of the Royal Society, is shamelessly accommodationist. They repeatedly plug the mantra that there is 'no conflict' between evolution and religion. Michael Reiss could argue that he is simply following the standard accommodationist line, and therefore doesn't deserve the censure now being heaped upon him.

Unfortunately for him as a would-be spokesman for the Royal Society, Michael Reiss is also an ordained minister. To call for his resignation on those grounds, as several Nobel-prize-winning Fellows are now doing, comes a little too close to a witch-hunt for my squeamish taste.

Nevertheless – it's regrettable but true – the fact that he is a priest undermines him as an effective spokesman for accommodationism: "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he!"

And:

“Perhaps I was a little uncharitable to liken the appointment of a vicar as the Royal Society's Education Director to a Monty Python sketch. Nevertheless, thoughts of Trojan Horses are now disturbing many Fellows, already concerned as they are by the signals the Society recently sent out through its flirtation with the infamous Templeton Foundation.

Accommodationism is playing politics, while teetering on the brink of scientific dishonesty. I'd rather not play that kind of politics at all but, if the Royal Society is going to go down that devious road, they should at least be shrewd about it. Perhaps, rather than resign his job with the Royal Society, Professor Reiss might consider resigning his Orders?”

If someone as highly influential as Dawkins views ECs and their secular allies as “accommodationists” who are likely to represent a dishonest Trojan Horse that make it inconvenient to teach the evolution = atheism view, and who are viewed as “ineffective as allies” in his cause, why think a bridge is even possible?

The existence of a bridge assumes a universal desire for mutual understanding and co-existence. But if the more polemic groups would rather have their views dominate all aspect of social order, the bridge is a problem, not a solution.

Steve Martin said...

Briefly on question #3, why ECs are not more successful in mediating the origins debate: My view is similar to Mike’s above. The simple fact is that as ECs we are not “somewhere in between” evolutionists and creationists; although we claim to be both, in many (I would say the vast majority of) instances we are accepted by neither as a true member of the Ingroup, specifically to the “polemical” extremes of the continuum.

Two related points: 1) Even in a much-simplified description of the origins debate, I don’t think we can talk about a continuum along a single axis (for eg. like Peters and Hewlett use in their otherwise excellent book Evolution from Creation to New Creation). We need to add at least one more dimension to this. 2) We need to be careful who is described as “polemical”. I think as ECs, we can be just as argumentative, combative, and aggressive as “extreme” creationists or “extreme” evolutionists. As ECs we should realize that this type of approach to the debate (actually, let’s call it a dialogue :-) ) is counterproductive.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

Mike, you said,

"since I think the core issues of this debate are deeply ambiguous...

Could you clarify which of the following two things you mean (or something else yet)?

(a) While the underlying evidences and/or philosophic watershed issues are clear, they are ambiguously stated (e.g., because different groups use different terms, or use the same terms in different ways).

(b) The actual evidences and/or issues are inherently ambiguous, subject to multiple legitimate interpretations.

I'm curious which you meant. I have no axe to grind either way. They don't even let me have crayons in here.

My glory (or folly) is that, even though I know and believe in the universality of original sin, I tend to presume without evidence that all people in this debate are fair-minded, decent folk who simply begin the dialogue from differing initial points of view. But you (and Steve) remind me, albeit depressingly, that it ain't necessarily so.

And the voice of Roy Clouser keeps ringing in the back of my mind, too... there is no such thing as religious neutrality... there is no such thing as religious neutrality...

In other words, we're not in Kansas any more... in fact, in light of recent court decisions, even the Kansans aren't in Kansas any more...

Mike Gene said...

Hi Marlowe,

“Could you clarify which of the following two things you mean (or something else yet)?

(a) While the underlying evidences and/or philosophic watershed issues are clear, they are ambiguously stated (e.g., because different groups use different terms, or use the same terms in different ways).

(b) The actual evidences and/or issues are inherently ambiguous, subject to multiple legitimate interpretations.

I'm curious which you meant. I have no axe to grind either way. They don't even let me have crayons in here.”

No problem. I mean (b), but then it becomes an issue of the core issues. The evidence is clear that the earth is 4.5 billion years ago. The evidence in favor of evolution and natural selection is clear. But the age of the earth and evolution are not the fulcrum of this debate. The fulcrum resides in the ancient dual perspectives of teleology vs. non-teleology. Take any evolutionary event and put the following question to it: Did it just happen or did it happen for a reason? Therein lies the ambiguity and it becomes even more deeply ambiguous if the event is ancient and unobservable.

BTW, this is the very type of ambiguity that exists in the every day life of the believer – was that strange event or odd convergence of events just a coincidence or part of a plan/an answered prayer?

“My glory (or folly) is that, even though I know and believe in the universality of original sin, I tend to presume without evidence that all people in this debate are fair-minded, decent folk who simply begin the dialogue from differing initial points of view.”

It is a decent assumption to make and I am certainly willing to make it about you. But I do so because of the evidence thus far – you come across as fair-minded in your writings. But I have extensive experience with literally hundreds of people arguing about these issues. This experience has taught me that less than 1% actually live up to those expectations. It has turned me into a cynic.

I myself try hard to live up to those expectations. I admit when I am wrong, I admit when my position is weak, I have no socio-political agenda, I don’t try to put words in my opponents' mouth, I don’t try to reduce my opponent to a straw man, and I lay my cards on the table for all to see. For eight years I have looked for opponents willing to reciprocate. And yet I can think of only one person. One out of hundreds. Now, *that* is depressing. Although it makes original sin more real.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

Mike,

We may be deviating from the main point of my article (or not?) and may want to take a dialogue off-line, but I am curious: do you believe that the question, "did such-and-such an event have a purpose?" can be resolved empirically, or not?

If I understand you, you would say that the evidence that might be brought to bear to answer that question is lacking or ambiguous. I would agree, then. What looks meaningful to one person might look like a lucky coincidence to another, depending on their presuppositional frameworks. Is that what you mean?

On the other hand, if you think the question could be empirically addressed (i.e., purposeful events look different than purposeless events), I'm curious how that might be done.

Steve Martin said...

Re: Mike's comment that he is "willing to admit when he is wrong", check out his recent post at his Design Matrix Blog. If only half the people participating in the origins debate / dialogue were this honest, the discussion would be much more constructive. Actually, if only half the *Christians* in the origins debate / dialogue were this honest, the discussion would be much more constructive.

Mike Gene said...

Hi Marlowe,

“What looks meaningful to one person might look like a lucky coincidence to another, depending on their presuppositional frameworks. Is that what you mean?”

Yes.

“On the other hand, if you think the question could be empirically addressed (i.e., purposeful events look different than purposeless events), I'm curious how that might be done.”

Well, I don’t want to steer things off topic, especially since I am deeply interested in your analyses above. So let me simply say this.

I do not think there exists (or can exist) any ‘magic bullet’ measurement or analysis that will resolve these issues for all. Instead, I take an approach that builds on the foundation of many of your points and advocate a method that brings focus on intellectual honesty and openness. I hate to come off as plugging my book, but the fact is that I address all this in detail. Perhaps this excerpt will help:

“It is important to again stress that the Design Matrix is not an objective, physical measurement that detects design. The Matrix is a scoring system and, as such, is ultimately subjective. For example, when I give the genetic code a Design Matrix score of 3, this does not mean that all people everywhere are obligated to concur. Nor does it mean that the score cannot change as a consequence of new information or further consideration. Nevertheless, the Matrix focuses our thinking process and helps to clarify why people would and would not infer design in any particular instance. And while in the end the scoring is subjective, it is not whimsical. The Matrix allows us to examine a biological feature from four different perspectives and points of emphasis. In the spirit of the Explanatory Continuum (Chapter 2), it searches for the subtleties crucial to any investigation and helps to both gauge and illustrate our convictions. For those open-minded about various forms of design amid life, it allows such investigators the opportunity to compare notes and perhaps arrive at some kind of consensus.”

And you might be especially interested in the following response I received:

“This sounds analogous to the method used to diagnose a particular mental illness. There are no laboratory tests which can detect schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, for example. Rather there are sets of descriptors which serve as diagnostic criteria. Whether or not a given descriptor applies to an individual is ultimately a subjective decision which may vary from one rater to another.

However, a measure of inter-rater reliability can be obtained, which identifies the variability between raters for a given descriptor or set of descriptors. By refining the descriptors in order to achieve a high inter-rater reliability, we can approach something akin to objectivity…although, of course, we can never get there. Our measurements will never be as precise as those who are detecting physical illness…but even there, imprecision and errors go with the territory.”

Allan Harvey said...

With regard to #3, while it is a little off the main topic of this post, I want to expand on Steve's good point that the lack of success of the Evolutionary Creation position in being a mediating force in the debate is in part because we are not on a one-dimensional continuum between two extremes. In fact, I would submit that the two extremes in the "warfare" have some important things in common with each other that those of us with an EC position would reject. In particular, both the "creationists" (where I would include most of the ID movement as exemplified by the Discovery Institute) and the militant atheists seem to be in agreement in making these two assumptions:
1) The Bible is teaching scientific information.
2) "Natural" explanations exclude God.

I think those two assumptions, both of which are contrary to sound Christian theology, are at the root of most of the "warfare". And that, especially on the Christian side, correcting those bad assumptions is more important than correcting the science.

Nevertheless, I think there can be and has been some success in bridge-building among those "moderates" on the science side and the Christian side who are willing to consider that those two assumptions might be wrong. On the science side, there are plenty of "moderates" who don't consider Christianity an enemy, with the help of people like Francis Collins. Unfortunately, I think the recent trajectory of the Evangelical church in the U.S. has been pretty inhospitable to "moderates" (in many areas), so that may be the harder direction for building bridges.

Kyle said...

Regarding Mike's issue of ambiguity: what you've said clearly demarcates a teleological ambiguity that separates certain (i.e., the more minimalist) theories of intelligent design from conceptions of evolution that only rely on blind randomness, but in admitting to a 4.5 billion year old earth and common ancestry, you've already sold the whole store according to most creationists. So while you are talking about bridging at least one small-ish gap, your comment doesn't address the much larger gap between, say, Dawkins and Henry Morris.

On question #3: While it is possible to try to be a bridge between two groups because one has a prior relationship with group A and now understands much of why group B believes what they believe, both sides now have a reason to dislike you precisely because you shatter their sense that their group is completely wrong and the other is completely right. Group A, especially, may also feel betrayed because you chose to leave their group and associate with the enemy. With me, my "conversion" to being EC came close in time to my "conversion" to a progressive political viewpoint and a re-orientation of some of my theological perspectives. Even though most of my changes in thinking are the direct result of consulting Christian sources (i.e., people already somewhere between groups A and B), I think my family has a hard time seeing these changes as anything other than my being corrupted by a morally corrosive university. While I'm not being shunned, there is nevertheless distance between us, and that distance makes establishing lines of communication about this subject that much harder. In a key way, a family member of theirs has betrayed the family (and there may even be feelings like "where did I go wrong with this kid?"), and even though I certainly wouldn't interpret it that way, this dynamic makes it difficult to be a bridge in that situation. I've tried to be as patient and understanding as possible, but I'm now convinced it's not going to work. I would think that in a non-family member situation, that feeling of betrayal may not be as acute, but may be there to a lesser extent.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

So many good comments are emerging now that it would be best for me to stay out of the way and let the pot simmer. I'm mostly going to do that, but (largely because it ties into my own fledgling research, which will be discussed in later articles in this series), I am curious about the notion that a multidimensional (not unidimensional) model is needed for the purposes of classifying the range of views about origins that exist in the world.

I have tried to articulate a two-dimensional model, with one dimension being "empirical" (having to do with people's answer to the question, "What role, if any, did evolutionary mechanisms play in the emergence and development of life?") and the other dimension being "metaphysical" (having to do with people's answer to the question, "To what extent, if any, was a teleological or transcendent purpose involved in the emergence and development of life?")

The two dimensions aren't really as independent as they seem (a problem) - they are conceptually distinct but would appear to be linked in the real world of social attitudes - but does this schema begin to provide an approach to classification that would work better than the traditional one-dimensional one that dominates the popular media?

Some comments on this site suggest to me that even two dimensions are not enough, so I'll be interested to see how this discussion develops.

I'm also interested in exploring this "Trojan horse" idea. As a social psychologist, I wonder, under what social conditions are "Trojan horse" strategies likely to be used, or feared (even when they do not really exist)? An interesting question.

Finally, this notion of mistrust stemming from a sense of perceived betrayal of a group is also interesting. I hadn't thought about that set of issues. But it's a common source of rancor - in the political realm, Joe Lieberman is a good example.

Lame and Blind said...

Allen:

Excellent point. John Haught is always making this point as well: just as creationists take a literal reading of the Bible, scientism advocates like Darkwins et al. take a literal reading of nature and the two groups share one another's views on both. But of course just as the Genesis story can have a non-literal interpretation, so can nature and that is where theology must come in.

Steve Martin said...

Mike:
re: “The fulcrum resides in the ancient dual perspectives of A) teleology vs. B) non-teleology” & the difficultly in resolving the argument unambiguously, I think I agree with this. In fact, my own view right now is that it is scientifically (even broadly defined) unresolvable if either A) or B) is more likely. Now, I would cheerfully admit I’m wrong should I see some convincing "scientific" evidence for A) (and to be fair, I haven’t read your book yet – it is getting closer to the top of the pile :-) ). On B) of course, convincing evidence would be the end of my faith experience, but that I’m pretty certain is logically impossible: how would one possibly distinguish between a) no purpose and b) from all the information I/we have, I/we can see no purpose? There are some pretty clear themes in scripture & history that indicate God’s purposes can be accomplished when it seems clear (to limited human rationale) that no purpose even exists.

Allen: re: your 2 assumptions that need addressing: Agreed. And excellent observation that it is these 2 assumptions (& not the science itself) that we need to address first with our Christian family. Something that all of us as EC’s should take to heart. (ie. There are many times that we should bite our tongues rather than attack YEC science claims; rather we should divert the conversation to these 2 central assumptions – these are the core issues anyways).

Kyle: Only comment here is, wait for the next post in Marlowe’s series - very relevant to your comments.

Marlowe: re: the multidimensional aspects. First, I’ve been thinking about this for some time – I almost put it together in a post at one point & then realized it was still too fuzzy in my mind to write up. In reading your comments, I think I see a hint of where you are going - & those two dimensions are probably pretty good – you might even be able to use the Gartner’s “IT magic quadrant” framework here. (Of course, how I see it, the EC perspective is in the “intellectual leaders” quadrant – but I’m probably “just a little” biased :-) ).

I think the uni-dimensional continuum (single line with “creationist” on one end and “evolutionist” on another end) is unhelpful and that it masks a lot of important aspects. For example, you can have two wildly different perspectives that will appear to be placed on exactly the same place in the continuum.

Person A). They are unsure of whether they are a creationist or an evolutionist. They have looked closely at the theological & scientific arguments & simply can’t make up their mind. But, they are absolutely convinced that one can not be both a creationist & an evolutionist.

Person B): Essentially the EC perspective.

Now, A & B might appear at the mid-point of the continuum above & this demonstrates the flaw in it. To fix this, I think you need to imagine a piece of bright yellow paper cut into an equilateral triangle. Place this paper on a table with the base of the triangle on the near edge of the table. Now bend down until the table is exactly eye-level. What you see is a thin-yellow line – this thin yellow line is your creationist / evolutionist continuum. Label the left vertex “traditional creationist” and the right vertex “atheist & evolutionist”. Now try to place all perspectives on that thin level line. Although many perspectives will nicely fit here (eg. person A above is in the mid-point), there are going to be many points that appear identically placed, but are very different. Now stand up & look down at the triangle on the table. Label the previously hidden top vertex “EC view” – the view that does not see any inherent conflict between evolution & theism, between “natural events” & “divine action”.

Now, I’ve got some ideas what the “two new lines” (left & right sides) of the triangle mean & how this helps describe the conflict better – but this comment is already too long - & I’d like to put this in a full post at a later date.

Summary: From table-level view (& assuming no depth perception), Person A & Person B look identical. From a birds-eye view, Person B & Person A can be described very differently. The additional dimension is essential to understanding the origins.

Cliff Martin said...

Mike doesn't want to plug his book. So I will. I am nearly finished reading The Design Matirix and I am finding Mike's thesis completely fascinating. He is presenting what may well prove to be empirical evidence for teleological evolution. But what I find particularly useful to this present discussion is Mike's "Explanatory Continuum". Evidence and proofs are seldom as black and white or categorical as we'd like to think. The Explanatory Continuum allows room for various levels of doubt mixed with persuasion. Absolute certainty can seldom be achieved on questions of antiquity and origins. That is where the continuum is helpful. Perhaps, too, the continuum can remind us of our need for humility.

Cliff Martin said...

Question #3: It would seem that ECs are uniquely qualified as mediators and “translators”, but it also doesn’t seem to be happening. Why not, in your view?

I was the leader and primary teacher of a small fellowship for 17 years. I was trusted, the people in the fellowship respected my views on almost everything ... and tended follow my teachings ... until that fateful day when I revealed my acceptance of evolution. The responses varied from disinterest to disbelief to anger. I made it very clear that I did not expect the others to agree with me and that I would not try to persuade anyone in the group. Nevertheless, most of the trust level I once enjoyed was gone overnight. I thought I might be that "mediator" or "translator". The biases against evolution were far more deeply entrenched then I imagined. The roles of mediator and translator may await some future time for ECers like myself, but people will need to come along at their own pace. Few are open to dialogue.

Cliff Martin said...

One more comment ...

Mike Gene questions whether bridge building between factions is even possible. He presents an interesting case in point. The pie is actually cut into many more pieces than Atheistic evolutionists — E.Cs. — Creationists. In the mix are also Old Earth Creationists and I.D. Mike actually falls somewhere between the Anti I.D. ECs (e.g. many who post here) and Evoltuionary I.Ds.

Here is the sad thing: In a small cut of this spectrum (I.D. / Mike Gene's Front Loaded Evolution / Strict Anti I.D. E.Cs.) there is lamentable polarization, even though we are all Christians who accept the basic framework of evolution! I.D. people vilify E.Cs. and E.Cs. vilify I.D. people. Along comes Mike with his own brand of I.D.; instead of creating a bridge between E.C. and I.D., he is vilified by both camps!

Can we call a truce and start learning from each other? Though I may disagree with him, Dembski is no intellectual slouch, after all.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

Although this is all really a major detour, it's a useful one. Since I am working on research designed to measure attitudes about the origins debate (about that, more in a future essay in this series), it's helpful and important for me to identify the core distinctions among those who believe in both God and evolution. As a group, you can help me to cover the waterfront.

Here are issues of which I am currently aware:

(1) Should we, or should we not, expect true (as opposed to temporary or illusory) gaps in the evolutionary explanation of life's origin and differentiation? (A person can believe strongly in evolution yet also assert that some gaps might exist - a "gap" being defined as something that requires a different kind of explanation, whether scientific or otherwise.)

(2) Is God's activity in prehistory empirically (scientifically) detectable or not? If not, might it be detectable by other (less rigorous, yet still evidence-based and analytical) means? Under what conditions, if at all, is it reasonable to assert that such-and-such a specific event is evidence of God's particular activity? (Of course, from the perspective of a pre-existing faith, one can assert, as I do, that everything in the cosmos represents the divine purpose in some sense, but this is not a scientifically provable assertion as such.)

(3) Why, or why not, might we assert that God's action ever requires that He transcend (or suspend) natural law or the ordinary operation of things? In other words, what might be the relationship or overlap between the concepts of "design" and "miracle"?

(4) Are there extrascientific sources of objective truth? If so, what are they and how can their truth or objective status be established? Can this be done apart from a priori assumptions of one sort or another? How can the Enlightenment claim that religious assertions are opinions and not facts, or worse that they are "noncognitive utterances", be countered?

(5) Does science ever provide us with anything other than instrumental knowledge (i.e., knowledge about means)? Can it provide us with knowledge about ends? If so, how? If not, how else (if at all) can such knowledge be obtained?

(6) In an intellectual climate increasingly dominated by postmodernism ("there is no truth, only versions"), to what extent can we meaningfully assert that anything - science or religion or anything else - provides us with objective truth? Or is there really no such thing as objectivity? Are the postmodernists right to reject all so-called metanarratives? Why or why not?

This may take us very far afield, but it's very relevant to what's coming up in essays #5 and #6 in this series. Comments are much welcomed.

James said...

A couple of notes by a visiting ethnographer:

1. Talking about an intellectual climate increasingly dominated by postmodernism is, well, quaint since postmodernism, however defined, is actually pretty long in the tooth. Are you also worried about the increasing number of Hippies in the neighborhood? Anyhow, from a non-believer's perspective, drastic relativism, which seems to be what you mean by postmodernism, is favorable to religion since it is a night in which all cows are black. The scientific critics of traditional religion, after all, certainly believe in objective truth. In the sense of the phrase intended by Nietzsche, God is not dead for the scientists.

2. About gaps: if gaps means things yet to be figured out, everybody on all sides thinks there are plenty of 'em. Don't you really mean god-shaped gaps? After all, what's the evidence that you are interested in figuring out what gives with living things except insofar as biology might pertain to theology?

Believers are always waiting for the sciences to embarrass themselves in some fashion so that religion can rush in with an explanation. Well, there have been lots of surprises; but at least to this observer, the developing picture of the universe gets more and more alien to traditional religious categories, which, after all, are pretty anthropocentric. As for the future, who knows what will turn up in the famous gaps? Probably nothing either the scientists or the believers expect. The difference is, the believers aren't committed to their expectations.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

For the record, I'm very interested in "figuring out what gives with living things" for reasons having nothing to do with theology - for one thing, it's fascinating! Since I see no reason to view biology as threatening to theology, there's no reason to curb my curiosity, which is immense.

I don't claim to know all that much about the biology, since this isn't my area of expertise. But since I'm not questioning mainstream science, I don't have to know all that much - that's what disciplinary expertise is for. I presume that scientists know what they are talking about when they stay within their discipline (but not when they pretend to be competent to venture into theological realms about which they often know less than I know about biology - I could name some names, all of which start with the letter D).

I really meant it when I said I was pro scientia et religione. I don't believe in the conflict model of how they are related. They are two great things that go well together, like a Reese's (R) peanut butter cup.

Cliff Martin said...

(2) Is God's activity in prehistory empirically (scientifically) detectable or not?

While I reject most god-of-the-gaps appeals, I have wondered how long we wait for science to solve the riddle of, say, abiogenesis. This certainly could be a god-shaped gap. While I do not want scientists to stop pursuing a natural avenue for the development of the first living cells, something in me seriously doubts the riddle will ever be solved. If this is so, how long do we wait before we declare the first living cell to be empirical evidence of a Creator?

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,

Re: declaring a truce & learn from each other.

I agree – this should be our objective. Hopefully this series can be one small step in this process. However, I think (and your experience has taught you the same painful lesson) that we need to be realistic (ie. set our expectations rather low) about how much agreement we can achieve and with how many other Christians we can reach some level of understanding. Notice I also set a rather moderate goal of “understanding” rather than “agreement”. I would also say that is the more important goal.

Marlowe: Um, that is a lot of questions. And not easy to answer briefly either … whole books have been written on less. A lot of these questions touch on divine action which (I think) is a key point of misunderstanding between the ID & EC communities. Give me a year or so & I’ll answer all of them in full :-) …

James: I’m assuming when you said:
“As for the future, who knows what will turn up in the famous gaps? Probably nothing either the scientists or the believers expect. The difference is, the believers aren't committed to their expectations.”

you actually meant “unbelievers” in the last part – but I’ll take it the way you wrote it because that is often true as well (at least for this believer when it comes to science). I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if, for example, the ambiogenisis problem was solved in my lifetime.

Lame and Blind said...

In my view, at the root of much of the 'conflict' is a misunderstanding of the natures of science and faith. Chiefly, many fail to understand that there really is a fundamental conflict between the two.

Science proceeds by control and manipulation, by taking power over things. (heck, the most important part of an experiment is actually called the "controls!"). But faith does not proceed this way. Faith is only arrived at by giving oneself over to something Other, something larger; and one can only do that by giving up control, by being vulnerable.

Once we get this fundamental opposition, some of the usual questions largely disappear. Should we expect empirical evidence for God? Well, if we found it, it wouldn't matter since proving God scientifically, were it possible, could not be a basis for faith. As Tillich says, if God could be proven, he wouldn't be God.

Kyle said...

Cliff said

"I have wondered how long we wait for science to solve the riddle of, say, abiogenesis."

What's at stake, theologically, in being able to say "Abiogenesis almost certainly happened in these scientifically explainable ways" vs. "After several hundred years of trying to figure this out, scientists still have no viable pathways for figuring out abiogenesis, and frankly we're running out of ideas"?

I think it behooves us to hold to theology that isn't dependent on how the world of science ends up answering this question. My main reason for doing so is that I believe that no matter what happened, God did it. God's agency seems paramount, not God's specific action. While I'm not comfortable making a 100% clear cut distinction between God's "supernatural" and "natural" work, it seems that most in the ID spectrum are constantly on the look out for the tree-ish specifically verifiable "supernatural" actions of God, and therefore miss the forest of God's total act of Creation. If this more holistic view is our primary doctrine of how the created order came to be, then it actually doesn't ever matter, from a theological perspective, if we figure out abiogenesis or not (although I hope Steve is correct that it'll be solved in my lifetime, b/c it would be one of the most exciting things imaginable (and yes, I know that statement marks me as quite the nerd). Just like it didn't matter, theologically, to find out that the Earth wasn't the center of the universe, that the Earth/Universe weren't merely 6000 years old, that the diversity of life on Earth wasn't a product of thousands of acts of special creation but rather is a product of common descent through a process of evolution driven by natural selection, etc.

Steve Martin said...

Lame and Blind:
I don't think I agree that there is a fundamental conflict between faith and science. And isn't science more about understanding creation (nature) than about control of creation (nature)? I guess you could say "understanding" is a type of control. Maybe I don't understand your point.

Kyle,

“I think it behooves us to hold to theology that isn't dependent on how the world of science ends up answering this question.”

Excellent point. This is probably true for **almost ** every scientific question one could think of. (Almost, because, for example there would be huge (catastrophic) theological implications if science ever was able to definitively declare that “Jesus did not rise from the dead”).

So, for example, I don’t believe one’s theology should ever depend on either a positive or negative answers to a) will we be able to discover a natural mechanism for first life on earth? Or b) will we discover intelligent life on other planets that also have complex religious beliefs?

Lame and Blind said...

Steve:

Yes, science is about understanding, but it proceeds by control. It is a methodological issue. In fact, we call the most important part of scientific experiments, 'controls.'

Science arrives at its conclusions through manipulation and control. Faith arrives at its conclusions through vulnerability and trust. These are incompatible methodologies. You can't get to a faith-conclusion through science and you can't get to a science-conclusion through faith. Thus, any attempt to prove God scientifically is ill-conceived. Whatever God could be detected this way could not be a God worthy of our faith.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

While I tend to agree that the methodologies do not intersect, the word "incompatible" bothers me a bit. Maybe "incommensurable" would be a better term. "Incompatible" suggests a fundamental opposition, which I don't think exists. Rather, the two approaches address different kinds of questions, at different levels of analysis, with different purposes, and using different (but not inherently opposed) methodologies.

I also remain on the fence about the theoretical (if not actual) capability of detecting design in nature. It may well be that while science proper cannot do this, it is still arguably rational and justified for a person to look at the universe and say, "It sure looks orderly - even designed - to me!" Whether there is any objective way to evaluate such claims within science proper is one question (I am skeptical, yet open to the claims of those who say it can be done). Whether it's reasonable to interpret the cosmos in this way outside of science is an entirely different question.

Maybe we're saying the same thing in different ways, but I'm leery of implying that science and faith run on tracks that never meet. Not all scientists follow Descartes (the method of radical doubt), and not all religionists follow Pascal (the method of radical faith). I think that dichotomy overstated, though some luminaries (Hans Kung, Does God Exist?) make much of it.