Friday, November 28, 2008

Another Sentence Only Available (as of Now) on the Pangrammaticon

"If you believe in God then you believe in intelligent design."

I imagine it could serve as the starting point for an interesting engagement with Christopher Hitchens, who believes in neither, but would, I think, accept it. In fact, he might argue that since a belief in God commits you to a belief in ID, you should (on pain of being a complete ass about the origin of your species) reject the belief in God. As an argument against God, that's pretty solid rhetoric. But it is also a suitable argument for ID.

After all, atheists are not really opposed to ID "on the evidence" (as they claim) but as a point of faith. (I know that's become a trite jab in these discussions. It can't be helped here.) There can't be intelligent design because there isn't a designer, the argument runs. Whatever "evidence" you adduce for design is therefore illusory. But, leave aside evidence for a second, the really interesting audience for ID is not those who don't believe in God in the first place. It is those who believe there is a God and that evolution explains our origins.

What the hell kind of a position is that? I think it is fair to ask. If you're not going to let God explain what you are, where you came from, and why you are here, what's He doing in your doxy?

Good question?


The Ideophone said...

I do not believe in magic. The community in which I do fieldwork does. This makes it very real in their lives. In this sense I believe in magic.

It seems one could believe in God in the same way —a very real power in the lives of believers—, yet not be committed to ID. (Perhaps you would counter this by saying that once one gets into the skin of believers (as one may do in a fieldwork situation), one cannot negate just part of the worldview. I might agree.)

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think I'd go the other way: believing that the belief in God has real effects is not "believing in God" in the sense I am proposing.

The Ideophone said...

There is another issue.

Douglas Hofstadter, in I am a Strange Loop, writes:
"Sometimes the strict scientific viewpoint is hopelessly useless, even if it's correct. That's a dilemma. As I said, the human condition is, by its very nature, one of believing in a myth. And we're permanently trapped in that condition, which makes life rather interesting" (2007:295).

Hofstadter is talking about two conflicting views of "I" (one in which it is an indispensable concept for us humans, one in which it 'poofs out of existence' through being reduced to a strange loop of particle collisions and patterns). Now Hofstadter is definitely not a theist, but it seems to me this reasoning could equally well be applied to religion, spirituality, God.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think this is right. People like Hitchens are very uncharitable in their interpretation of religious utterances. They propose to take them (very) literally and then declare them to be nonsense.

But evolution (and its attendant natural history of the Earth), when actually proposed as an "origins" story really becomes (for all practical purposes and at the level of public consumption) a myth.

Most people who "believe in evolution" interpret it as they would have interpreted the biblical creation myth when nothing else was being offered. They don't claim to understand it in its details. Admit that there are pieces of the puzzle missing, but, beyond that, they just take it on the most trustworthy authority available.

The Ideophone said...

"Most people who "believe in evolution" interpret it as they would have interpreted the biblical creation myth when nothing else was being offered. They don't claim to understand it in its details."

True, and exactly the same for most ID believers, of course.

What I intensily dislike about ID is that it attempts to inject stuff from one level (in Hofstadter's useful framing of the issue) into the other. The attempt is doomed to fail, and only invites intellectual dishonesty. That is a quarrel I have with ID, but not necessarily with God. Which is why, in the end, I disagree with your initial sentence.

Building on Hofstadter's statement, one might say that Intelligent Design tries to disspell the myth by surrendering to the scientific worldview (which can be "hopelessly useless, even if it's correct"). In doing so, it makes life rather uninteresting.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Well, I'd say ID is making a noble (though perhaps doomed) attempt to articulate one myth using the intellectual equipment of another. It is trying to find a place for God's contribution in the scientific world view (i.e., the dominant myth).

There is something vaguely absurd about it, but not, to my mind, intelllectually dishonest. (Intellectual dishonesty is a property of individuals not theories, doctrines, or even dogmas.)

I'm not sure there are two levels. There is an attempt to understand "the human condition". Science has (as a matter fact) failed miserable in getting a handle on that, even if it has been very successful in other respects.

The Ideophone said...

By the way, I think that at least 90% of the sentences appearing on The Pangrammaticon (97% if you never quoted stuff), including the title of this post, all sentences in this post (except "It can't be helped here", "What the hell kind of a position is that?" and "Good question?"), and including this particular comment, is only available on The Pangrammaticon. I would start worrying if it were otherwise. (I had to point it out — couldn't resist the beautiful recursivity of the title of this post.)

Thomas Basbøll said...

Well, sure, but there are certain associations and arguments. Certain ideas that are naturally expressed in certain sentences, that give me the sense that if you can't find the sentence by way of googling it's YOUR idea. But I know it's vain.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I like the idea of a quarrel with God (a lot!).

My sentence could be rephrased as follows: If you have a quarrel with God then you take issue with the world and species he created.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I didn't realize that you'd actually googled "What the hell kind of a position is that?"

I think that's kind of freaky. Not only not unique. But exactly one match.

The Ideophone said...

Yeah, freaky indeed.

I like your rephrasing. Also, I agree that the idea of 2 levels is problematic. Perhaps 'view' or 'frame of mind' is a better term (levels suggests a hierarchy where there is none). But it doesn't really matter. Thanks for the conversation. Food for thought.

Kirby Olson said...

In the Garden of Eden there is no indication of animals eating one another.

So evolution is part of a consequence of the fall, perhaps.

Evolution can't seemingly explain the quantum leaps and IDers work on this, to present possible loopholes in the argumentation.

Now that we have DNA evidence it is difficult to argue against evolution, or that we have evolved along a similar simian pattern as monkeys.

I don't see Creationism as a torpedo that sinks Christianity.

We are different than other animals.

Our minds are much more complex.

We still need moral laws.

Those created in the Bible strike me as practical and useful -- more useful than much of anything else.

But I am willing to throw creationism overboard.

It's a practical and pragmatic thing, I think, to do this.

All values are nonsensical in that they are not founded in nature.

How can we derive moral principles from lions?

My entire book Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist, is about the attempt by Corso to square creationism with evolution.

I doubt if that book is anywhere in Europe, though.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I'll try to find your Corso book.

How can we derive moral principles from lions?

Here's an attempt to answer that question.

Kirby Olson said...

Nice piece on lions!

Laura Carter said...

I basically just want the world to logically cohere. Don't see it happening. Is that the human condition? Does that have something to do with God or whatever you want to call it?

Thomas Basbøll said...

I guess that's a bit like wanting to ground the universe in reason, a universal principle.

I think it coheres all right,
even if our notes do not cohere.

Kirby Olson said...

It has something to do with God.

it does cohere, but we have to discover the principles on which it coheres.

We can't invent these things, we have to discover them. Reality is enough.