Friday, April 4, 2008

More Dishonesty from D'Souza on Evolution and Atheism

If you are looking for who to point the finger at for the common conflation of evolution and atheism, it is not Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers that deserves the blame. It is the cadre of professional prevaricators like Dinesh D'Souza that deserve the bulk of the blame. For whatever impressions Dawkins, Myers, and the rest of we in-your-face atheists leave, it remains a simple fact that none of us see evolution as proving, or even being dependent on, atheism. Contrast that with this nonsense from the King of MSU. The dissembling starts immediately:

The real problem with Darwinism in the public school classroom is that it is often taught in an atheist way. Textbooks by biologists like William Provine and Richard Dawkins routinely assert that evolution has done away with the need for God. The claim is that chance and natural selection have demonstrated that we can have design--or the appearance of design--without a designer. In this sense Darwinism becomes propaganda for atheism.

This is one giant equivocation*. Modern evolutionary theory has done away with the need for gods in the evolution of species. It says nothing about gods per se, contrary to the way D'Souza frames it. To reason as D'Souza does, one who was around when Ben Franklin discovered lightning was mere electricity might accuse Franklin of doing away with the need for gods as well. One does not need to be an atheist to recognize the power of iterative selection to produce complexity without the need for a designer. One need only take the free market, otherwise a favorite of D'Souzas, and observe the apparent design in it to see the point.

But what about these supposed textbooks propagandizing for atheism? Well, remember who you're listening to. There is a reason D'Souza doesn't give us any books titles, page references, or actual in-context quotes to back his claim, and its the most simple one: he made it up. Those "routine assertions" mentioned above exist nowhere but in D'Souza's overactive imagination, like so many other claims he makes. He's not the King of MSU for nothing.

But despite his inability to discern the basic reason why, even D'Souza can see that the arguments of design are going nowhere. So he has an alternative proposal, and an oldie, which unfortunately, involves more equivocation, this time with the term "religion". It's the tired old canard that atheism is a religion.

Courts have routinely held that the free exercise clause protects not only religious beliefs but also the absence of religious beliefs. If you are fired from your government job because you are an atheist, your First Amendment rights have been violated. In other words, the term "religion" means not only "religion" but also "atheism."

No. To see why, simply substitute something else for religion and try to follow the reasoning. For example, suppose instead of freedom of religion, we had freedom of apples. The government could not restrict your apples, force you to have X apples, or not have X apples. Yet does this mean that having zero apples still means you have apples? Of course not. D'Souza is intentionally conflating the meaning of religion as "the general subject of deity worship" versus its meaning as "a specific set of views about a deity". One can have a view on religion (the former definition) without having A religion (the latter definition).

Further, D'Souza's oversimplified the issue into a typical black/white frame, where making no statements in favor of religion is interpreted as equivalent to making statements against religion. To D'Souza, saying there is no need for a god and saying there is no god is the same thing. This leads him to run right off the rails:

I'd like to see Christian legal groups suing school districts for promoting atheism in the biology classroom. No need to produce creationist or ID critiques of Darwinism. All that is necessary is to parade the atheist claims that have made their way into the biology textbooks and biology lectures. The issue isn't the scientific inadequacy of evolution but the way in which it is being used to undermine religious belief and promote unbelief. If the case can be made that atheism is being advocated in any way, then the textbooks would have to be rewritten and classroom presentations changed to remove the offending material.

Yeah, that's right Dinesh, what our schools need is more lawsuits aimed at them. They have such an overabundance of time and resources as it is. One would think only a lawyer could come up with such a proposal. Oh, D'Souza is a lawyer? Whoda thunk it?

D'Souza's imagined parade would end before it began, for there are no biology textbooks promoting atheism. There are biology texts that promote evolution without the need for divine assistance, but that is not atheism. Just ask Ken Miller, author of one of the most popular of such texts, and a Roman Catholic.

Now it is the case that a study of evolution can undermine one's religious belief, as can the study of any science. It all depends on what one's religious beliefs are. If you believe Jesus Christ died for your sins, science isn't going to cause you too much trouble. But if you believe the earth is 6,000 years old and all species popped into existence simultaneously, yes, that belief is going to be undermined by science, whether it is taught by an atheist or a believer. That is the thing about science: it doesn't care what you believe, or whether you are offended by what it has discovered. It isn't going to change because you draw certain metaphysical conclusions based on it, and for Mr D'Souza, it isn't going to change if you threaten to sue its promoters.

If the study of science causes you problems with your religion, perhaps it is time to get a new one. Just make sure it is one that emphasizes intellectual honesty more than D'Souza's apparently does.


* Equivocating is changing the meaning of a word in the middle of an argument. For example, take this syllogism:

Nothing is better than steak
Hamburger is better than nothing
Therefore, hamburger is better than steak

The word "nothing" means "no alternatives exist" in the first line, whereas in the second its meaning is literally "nothing". This is a very common trick used by evolution deniers with the terms "religion", "evolution", and "god". Watch for it.


Harriet said...

Francis Collins might be a bit surprised that a belief that a non-ID evolution happened precludes a belief in a deity. :-)

But I will concede this: many (including myself) got on our way to atheism when we learned about science.

But that does not mean that evolution = atheism.

Doug Indeap said...

Thank you for an insightful deconstruction of D'Souza's latest offering and the useful lesson on equivocation (using D'Souza's words as illustration).

I could have done without the (unnecessary) whack at lawyers though--being one myself. Are such tired snipes really funny anymore?

Your blog is now listed among my favorites, so I'll be back.

ScienceAvenger said...

I hear you Doug on the lawyer snipes. That one almost didn't make the final cut. For what it is worth, I didn't really put it in there to be funny. I just bristle any time someone's position on public policy directly puts money in their pockets. It's akin to an accountant whose answer to every problem is to have more audits.

Ollie, the thing to remmeber is that atheism tends to be a side effect of science, just like disbelief in healing crystals tends to be a side effect of studying medicine. That doesn't make science atheistic, any more than it makes medicine anti-crystal.

Harriet said...

Agreed: but science is inherently "naturalistic" in that one presupposes non-supernatural causes for things.

Science doesn't a-priori preclude the existence of a deity

Anonymous said...

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ScienceAvenger said...

Thanks Hashybee. Dissecting the nonsense of the likes of D'Souza is a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.