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Critique Philip Johnson’s article:Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism

  1. Aug 28, 2005 #1

    Les Sleeth

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    In a paper entitled Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism, Philip Johnson criticizes dogmatic practices of those in power, in this case the advocates of Darwinism. He does so not as a Biblical creationist, but as someone who thinks Darwinist theory has serious problems, and who is open to some sort of creationary force/consciousness being part of what brought about creation.

    The article is interesting to me because it says so many things I myself think, and have argued here at PF over the years, except I think Johnson says it better than I ever have.

    This link http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/pjdogma1.htm has the article, responses from five critics, and Johnson’s answers to the critics. In total (article, critics, response) it’s about 10,000 words.

    I was hoping some PF members would read all of it and critique his reasoning and facts, both in the original article and how he responded to the critics, as well as offer any new arguments or facts you see as relevant (either for or against Johnson’s position).

    Below are few samples of what you’ll find. In this first quote Johnson criticizes “extravagant” extrapolation, a complaint I have made many times (e.g., extrapolating from the Urey-Miller experiment that chemistry can self-organize into a living system):


    In this next quote Johnson criticizes the failure to present a fair picture of what’s known and what isn’t:


    Here Johnson criticizes dogmatic methods:


    Finally, Johnson asks for a fair appraisal of Darwinist theory:

     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2005
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  3. Aug 28, 2005 #2
    Here is a link to the works of Dr. Johnson:
    http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/rossuk/Johnson.htm
    including numerous responses to his writings. Below is the first paragraph of the web page.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Phillip E Johnson is the de facto leader of the intelligent design movement, other are include Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski, Stephen C. Meyer, Paul Nelson, Robert C. Koons, Dr. Walter L. Bradley.

    Johnson is Professor of Law (School of Law) University of California, Berkeley. His 1991 book 'Darwin on Trial' and subsequent books have made him many friends and enemies. He argues that the theory of evolution is based not on fact, but on faith in philosophical naturalism, there is no vast body of empirical data supporting the theory.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Make no mistake, Dr. Johnson rejects ALL science as a means of knowledge, it fact, by definition "intelligent design" must operate outside all known laws of biology, physics, chemistry, geology (e.g., science). So, whatever the "force" that Johnson holds started the universe, it is "outside science" by definition.
     
  4. Aug 28, 2005 #3

    Les Sleeth

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    Nonesense. That isn't his position at all, and certainly not in "Darwin on Trial."

    And being open to something being outside science doesn't equate to rejecting all science.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2005
  5. Aug 28, 2005 #4

    Kerrie

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    Many who "follow" science will only accept the avenue of knowledge it can currently provide. That avenue will run into a dead end if we choose not to remain open outside the scope of our modern version of science. It is the scientist with the ability to keep this scope open who will get the bigger opportunity of discovering something new and more profound for us to understand about our world and universe. As Einstein said, "The important thing is to not stop questioning".
     
  6. Aug 28, 2005 #5

    Les Sleeth

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    Okay, let me make it clear what I am asking here so this thread (if anybody graces me with an answer) doesn't turn into a debate about intelligent design. I am not an advocate of ID, but I am critical of what science claims to know about evolution and how it is taught, and that is what interests me.

    I am asking readers to evaluate Johnson's arguments made in the article I linked to ON FACE VALUE. It doesn't matter if he is a creationist, or nazi or necrophiliac . . . who cares. Leave Johnson out of it. I am only interested in an objective evalution of his analysis of the theoretical gaps in Darwinism, his accusations of bullying by those in power, dogmatic defences, the a priori commitment to naturalism, etc.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2005
  7. Aug 28, 2005 #6
    I have always had a difficult time understanding a few of the seemingly very large leaps in evolution. Johnson uses this example,
    "The Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage about 600 million years, are the oldest ones in which we find most of the major invertebrate groups. And we find many of them in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say, this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. Evolutionists of all stripes believe, however, that this really does represent a very large gap in the fossil record, a gap that is simply due to the fact that, for some reason, very few fossils have lasted from periods before about 600 million years ago."
    However from a very young age I have been taught evolution and accepted it as fact. I have always assumed that it was merely a matter of missing fossil records or some physical mechanism yet to be revealed that would eventually clear up these descrepencies. I really have not put time or thought into the possibility of some explanation other than Darwins theory of evolution. What does suprise me a little bit about my view is how easily I have accepted it as a fact that was taught in High School Biology. If Johnson is advocating that the discrepancies in evolution be taught, along with the theory and emperical evidence, I would agree with him.
     
  8. Aug 28, 2005 #7

    loseyourname

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    It would take a while to do a point-by-point on all of this. I might do it, but I honestly don't see the point, as many people have already responded to Dr. Johnson. The man is a lawyer, for Christ's sake. He doesn't know the first thing about scientific principles or what constitutes a scientific theory. He does, however, know quite a bit about selectively presenting evidence to give the impression of reasonable doubt. In case there are any lingering doubts as to his motives, consider this letter he wrote for Dr. James Kennedy's "Truths that Transform:"

    http://www.coralridge.org/specialdocs/evolutiondebate.asp

    Here is a start on a criticism of Dr. Johnson:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/johnson.html

    I'm sure you won't like it, but it's the same thing anyone here is going to tell you. In fact, you probably already know that.
     
  9. Aug 28, 2005 #8

    loseyourname

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    The reason for the Cambrian explosion in the fossil record is that there is a huge rocky outcropping that popped up in coastal Wales (called Cambria) about 600 million years ago that captured all of these wonderful fossils. We don't have many fossils from directly before or after this period. Of course, Johnson ignores this and explains the explosion by saying that we have an abundance of fossils from this period because that is precisely the time when all of these creatures were created. Then again, he's very careful not to actually put forward such a blatantly untestable hypothesis with absolutely no evidential backing. After all, he is practically the architect of the ID strategy of not making any positive claims whatsoever, making his position virtually unassailable.
     
  10. Aug 28, 2005 #9

    Les Sleeth

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    Well, that settles it. I suppose we all left to the high priests of science to explain how the universe works. Obviously no one is intelligent enough to recognize gaps in logic, glossing over missing evidence, pushing a theory as the truth in such a way that all but insists on an ontology, and then when confronted about the ontological propagandizing, speaking out of the other side of the mouth saying, "oh no, we aren't talking ontology, we are just doing science."

    I don't agree with Johnson's desire to reconcile Biblical creationism with science, but I do agree he has astutely analyzed the dogmatic attitude of the scientific community. That is the title of his article, and that is what I am asking thinkers to evaluate. I doubt if I will get anybody to look past Johnson's beliefs and strictly critique the points he makes in his article.


    But this is irrelevant. So what if he is a creationist? It makes absolutely no difference, just like it makes no difference if he is a scientist. Any good scientific thinker should be able to evaluate his points on face value without knowing a single thing about the author of the points.
     
  11. Aug 29, 2005 #10

    arildno

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    There aren't gaps in evolutionist logic, nor is anyone glossing over missing evidence.

    To demand that we should be able to explain step-by-step every single transition that has occurred in the history of species, is as silly as to demand that we should be able to track down and predict every single wave formation&propagation on the seven seas.

    QM&Relativity and its approximation classical mechanics is not invalidated in any way by its failure to live up to this latter demand; equally, Darwinism is wholly unaffected by the silly demand of Johnson.
     
  12. Aug 29, 2005 #11

    Les Sleeth

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    Thanks for answering. I don't believe I've expressed what I'm after very well, so I am working on a post to clarify. Maybe you will address that.
     
  13. Aug 29, 2005 #12

    arildno

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    Please note I was addressing Johnson's claim rather than your own.
    I await your clarification with interest.
     
  14. Aug 29, 2005 #13

    Les Sleeth

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    I’m glad not many have responded to this thread because it gives me a chance to narrow what I thought was relevant about Phillip Johnson’s article.

    When I posted Dr. Johnson’s article I didn’t know of his religious beliefs, and I didn’t know that people associate him with intelligent design. I was careless not research him before posting, but I stumbled on the article searching for something else and got interested as I read. In that particular article he doesn’t reveal his Biblical creationist beliefs, and if you read his closing paragraph, his point instead seems to be wanting a more realistic assessment of what science really knows about evolution:

    I stick by my original statement that I don’t think it matters if he is a creationist or a plumber or Darwin himself. His reasoning and the facts he relies on should be considered on their own merit. Since posting that, I’ve done some research and found out a bit more which would help explain parts of his article I didn’t see the point of.

    For example, as I read Dr. Johnson’s article I was confused why he thought the lack of a complete fossil record of transitional stages between species was so significant (and why one of the dissenters cited the degree of shared genes as important). Now I think it’s because he seems to believe God created life in spurts instantaneously (and of course then the dissenter’s genetic point becomes clear). I also know he wants evolution to match up with the Genesis account.

    I disagree with him on these points. I don’t think the author of Genesis knew anything about the origin of the universe; it seems inspired myth at best. I think the evidence is clear that all life gradually evolved, and that if we had a record of every species that ever existed we would see all the transitional stages between, for example, the first vestiges of light sensitivity and the eye. I also disagree that there is anything which hasn’t come about “naturally.” That’s because I believe that even if there has been some sort creationary consciousness influence in the development of the universe, it came about naturally itself (i.e., within the laws of existence), and that it cannot act “super” naturally. In other words, all is natural whether there is a conscious “creator” or not.

    One thing I mostly agree with Dr. Johnson about is that the science community as a whole has a agenda they refuse to admit to (which I see as physicalist/mechanistic rather than naturalistic). When I say the “science community” I am not referring to how science is conducted, which I believe is basically beyond reproach. I am talking about the pubic presentation of what they claim “most likely” occurred when it comes to the origin of life, and how evolution works. The public presentation includes text books, classroom teachings, science specials on TV, books written by experts for the public, etc. where they assume a priori that all creation, every bit of it, came about mechanistically.

    I think Dr. Johnson is right that when pressed about their a priori assumption (that existence is purely physical), they evade the issue by saying “all we do is science, and these are the facts” which is a way to hide they are pushing physicalist ontology. They do this by “dismissing” any consideration other than physical considerations in public presentations, by exaggerating what physicalness is actually capable of, by not honestly acknowledging how tenuous parts of their theory are, and by glossing over the gaps (and I don’t mean in the fossil record, I mean in the theory).

    I particularly agree with Dr. Johnson’s accusation of “extravagant extrapolation.” I already cited the example of claiming abiogenesis is “most likely” because you can get a few chemicals to self organize into organic molecules, such as amino acids or the development of proteinoid microspheres, yet we can get chemicals to do little more than that if human consciousness doesn’t intervene. Chemistry does not show the degree of self organizing ability to reach the complexity and organizational quality of a cell, but that doesn’t stop the claim of “most likely” by those who’ve already decided existence is physical.

    Since the entire basis of the origin of life is in question, how then can we assume mechanics alone are deciding evolution? To show how “extravagant extrapolation” has been used to bolster physicalist theory there, I’ll distinguish between two evolutive processes which relates to a point Dr. Johnson made.

    One let’s call simple adaptation, and the other organ development. Both are aspects of the larger process of evolution, but only one can be shown to be subject to natural selection. It is obvious that genetic variation can produce a range of, say, finch beak sizes so that when the small seeds finches regularly eat are wiped out and only larger seeds are available, nature will “select” finches with larger beaks. This kind of simple adaptation is well documented.

    What is not documented is that such simple adaptation can create an organ. One has to wonder why after billions of years of simple adaptation that Darwinists claim produced organs, why we aren’t seeing organs in progress right now? Aren’t there plenty of species without eyes, for example? Shouldn’t we see a lot more than a light sensitive nerve, like stages of adaptations in between the nerve and eye? But of course eyes aren’t the only organ that could be developed, so actually there billions of opportunities for simple adaptation to show us how it is leading to organ development. Where are those transitional stages?

    So the only reason I can see for the theoretical jump from simple adaptation to organ development is because of the a priori commitment to a wholly mechanistic explanation. A more honest assessment would admit there is no known mechanism for that, and so the question is still open of if some sort of universal consciousness was/is involved in evolution (which is exactly what physicalists are afraid of).

    Have you ever heard such an admission by any dedicated Darwinist? Heck no. They take a huge leap (IMO) from the mechanism of simple adaptation to organ development, not the least of which is supposed to account for a human brain and the consciousness present there. That is an amazing amount to take credit for with such slim evidence, and then insist (and demand the Supreme Court agree) that genetic variation and natural selection be taught to kids as what “most likely” evolved all life forms.

    Don’t misunderstand, I do think we evolved via incremental changes. But what we don’t know is all the influences on the genes during organ development. So I think it is arrogant and premature for physicalists to be taking theoretical credit for how genes “mutate” when it comes to organ development. To me it is a blatant example of intellectual territory-grabbing simply because they are in the bully pulpit right now and can get away with it.

    I don’t want to see creationism taught in science classes, or intelligent design either. What I want is for physicalists to stop exaggerating what’s “likely” which instead is still very much open to other explanations. That wouldn’t interfere one iota with teaching “pure” science because science devotees don’t have express, whether explicitly or implicitly, any ontology to do research. Yes, there is a very influential physical basis to our universe, and that is the realm of science. But no we do not know that’s all there is. So just say what we know there is, and stop cleverly finding ways to push the belief that physicalness is ALL there is.
     
  15. Aug 29, 2005 #14

    Bystander

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    "They" have an agenda, peddling physics rather than a "naturalistic" approach. What is a "naturalistic" approach? You're using "nature" and its derivatives in a sense that is not equivalent to a statement such as "physics is a development of 'natural' philosophy," so it might be useful to elaborate on your intended meaning here.
     
  16. Aug 30, 2005 #15
    You asked for a review of Johnson's "science". Well, here it is, just published last week by Jerry Coyne New Republic. It is well balanced, it presents the "scientific" case now before the citizens of the United States on the question of "origin of species".

    http://www.ocnus.net/cgi-bin/exec/view.cgi?archive=75&num=19668

    I HAVE read both Johnson and Coyne--each and every one of Johnson's claims that there are "facts" to show how "theory of evolution" and "naturalist philosophy" are incorrect, or biased by scientists, have been addressed by Coyne. In fact, there are NO such facts--non, not a single one. Not a single "factual" statement is made by Johnson against evolutionary theory. Now, Johnson is either the most simple minded person to write on evolutionary theory--or there is a deeper motive--a deeper reason for why he attacks present day "science" as "naturalism". And, as expected--that is exactly what Coyne has found, as you will find when you read Coyne.

    I was impressed that Coyne was able to discover that some ID folks do believe that > 300 species of fruit fly have evolved from a single species on Hawaii, yet they refuse to allow such a mechanism to explain human evolution. How odd--or not. This process, where one or more species evolve from a common ancestor (e.g., macroevolution) is what Johnson claims in his book has never been documented--yet his own ID movement agrees that it has happened with fruit flies :confused: Johnson clearly has a lot of damage control -- perhaps his next book will be on his technical knowledge of fruit flies. And then we have the nasty facts of those beetles (not the rock group)--there are > 700,000 different species on the earth, and do we not all agree that Johnson shows clearly in his well researched book that not a single two are related by a common ancestor--in fact, such a "macroevolutionary" event has never occurred anywhere on the earth, in the billions of years that species have existed--this is the "science" of Johnson as relates to the question of origin of life on earth.

    As I mentioned before, anyone that has studied intelligent design theory knows that it is by definition a "non-naturalist" philosophy, thus of course Johnson, as the recognized leader of the ID movement, would then write a book attacking "naturalism". The theory of intelligent design ONLY comes into play when observed objects and events that come to us from our senses can no longer be explained by "laws of nature" (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc.)--e.g., "naturalism".

    In the end, as documented by Coyne as an investigative reporter with no scientific ax to grind, Johnson has no "scientific" motives in his book (e.g., the last thing Johnson looks for is good science)--his motive is what he calls the "wedge" strategy--to wedge out of public schools in the United States ALL teaching of ALL naturalist philosophy and science--to be replaced by biblical truth (not my words--his). The first step of this wedge strategy is to attack the very definition of science (yes, in Kansas, there is a movement to legally change the definition of "science" as it is now found in Webster), then evolutionary theory as science. Of course, you will NEVER see Johnson write the book that us scientists wait for with baited breath for many years now -- On the Origin of Species by Intelligent Design, by Dr. Phillip Johnson--how stupid of Darwin not to know the correct title of his book. I will donate personally $1000.00 to Dr. Johnson's ID movement as soon as I see this book in print.

    If the ID movement of Philip Johnson succeeds, the words "God bless America" will surely take on new philosophic meaning for all of us.
     
  17. Aug 30, 2005 #16
    Regarding this design-random mutations debate, I think the issue can be settled with a simple question (whose answer is not that simple):

    What kind of observation could we make of the world that would refute the materialistic explanation for the evolution of life?

    I don't think the materialistic explanation can be refuted at all, not by evidence, not by logic. Any attempt to do so is futile. Essentially the problem is one of perception, because at the centre of the controversy is the issue of whether miracles happen or not. I say "miracles" because as far as I can tell anyone who refutes the materialistic explanation is essentially claiming that life is the result of a miracle.

    Now we can look at this issue without getting into the controversy about believing in miracles. There is something about the notion of miracles that is often overlooked: by definition, a miracle is essentially an event that occurs only sporadically. Whatever it is you may think causes miracles, by definition nothing that happens everyday can be considered a miracle, even if it's caused by the thing you believe is capable of causing miracles.

    With that in mind, the controversy around evolution becomes nonsense. New organisms don't pop up into existence everyday, so the appearance of new forms of life certainly has the potential to be miraculous. On the other hand, people who believe in the supernatural must concede that even supernatural forces appear perfectly natural if they manifest regularly. At this point, a person should understand that the materialistic and the supernatural perspectives are not contradictory, but in fact simply two different ways of talking about the same phenomenon.

    That is not to say I don't take my side on the debate. I personally find the way materialists talk about life to be extremely demeaning. It's not their claims that I object, but their language. It seems to me they are not only interested in conveying what they know, but also crafting their language to directly confront tradition. If evolution theory is not as widely accept as it should be, I can only think it's due to the offensive language in which it is presented.

    Of course creationism is even worse, but I don't think creationism has any place in any intellectual debate. In fact I think science suffers a lot from its obsession with fighting religion.
     
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  18. Aug 31, 2005 #17

    Les Sleeth

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    Well, it seems you didn't read, or accept as sincere, my follow up post where I restricted what it was that Johnson said I agreed with. I don't agree, for example, with intelligent design efforts because normally built into them are attempts to show how the Bible could be correct, which I don't think has anything to so with how the universe developed. I clarified too that I don't agree with anti-naturalism and therefore can't support Johnson's complaint about that. Finally, I limited my agreement to the aspect ofthe particular quoted article (i.e., not in anything else Johnson has wrote), so Coyne's broad critique of Johnson's flaws don't seem relevant to anything I've said.


    Again, I wish you would review my follow up post. Speciation is as easy as pie. Around here even purple finches won't breed with house finches, which seems strange to me since you have to really know your finches to tell them apart. The problem is that speciation can't be shown to produce the truly creative stuff like organs. THAT is what is in question, not that genetic variation and natural selection aren't incessantly producing new species.


    I asked for specific ideas to be evaluated, not the ID movement or the whole of Johnson's theories. So I don't know what to say about this.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2005
  19. Aug 31, 2005 #18

    Les Sleeth

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    My interpretation of Johnson is that he's using the term "naturalistic" to mean, basically, mechanistic. To me "natural" means, merely not-supernatural but not necessarily only mechanistic. I'll try to explain this a little more, and why I object to the "agenda" of physicalists.

    Let's say you are the rare person who doesn't believe anything, yet your mind is open to anything being true if it is supported by facts and makes sense. Because you aren't committed to some belief system, you evaluate every claim about the nature of the universe "clean" of mental influences that might otherwise subconsciously encourage you to have everything turn out according to your a priori belief system. I"d like to ask you to consider the following without any beliefs in the way.

    I don't think a naturalistic theory of the origin and development of the universe excludes the possibility that consciousness might have developed before the physical universe. If a universe could "naturally" develop out of "nothing," then why couldn't consciousness develop naturally first? We know consciousness is possible (since we exist), but we assume the physical body has produced it.

    Another possible theory is that the body is an emergent vehicle of some greater universal consciousness trying to individuate portions of itself. In this model, a bit of the greater general consciousness is pulled into the physical system via the nervous system and assumes an "individual" identity for awhile.

    Now, why consider such a theory? Well, it would help explain certain things. For one, it would help explain the belief in God. It's not that believers have got it right that God is all powerful or all knowing or any of that, but they do sense something greater they are part of, and have made up the rest of it trying to fill in the gaps.

    A practical reason to consider the idea of a universal consciousness is because it would help to account for the origin and evolution of life. Right now two physicalist theories are trying to fill logic/evidence holes which I say are wholly inadequate for the job.

    One is that chemistry/physics has the ability to self organize into a cell (abiogenesis). The problem is, no such purely physical self-organizing ability can be shown to exist. You can't get chemistry to behave anything close, in fact, to the quality of self-organization need to bring about something as complex and operationally effective as a cell.

    So how do those with a physicalistic agenda (as I put it before) answer this problem? They cite the tiny, itsy-bitsy, minute amount of self-organization that material processes are capable of (i.e., relative to the degree of self-organization needed to produce a cell) as powerful evidence that matter can self-organize into a cell; this is the "extravagant extrapolation" I mentioned and where I agreed with Phillip Johnson. For decades there has been little more than the Miller-Urey experiment to support the idea.

    The second theoretical advantage to having a universal consciousness assist in the development of creation is how it would help explain the quality of evolution. As I pointed out, natural selection can only be shown to produce simple adaptive change, not something as complex and exquisitely effective as organs. Yet physicalist believers preach natural selection-genetic variation as the source of all evolution like they do have sufficient evidence it can produce the quality of change needed to produce organs. More extravagant extrapolation, but that's fine because physicalists KNOW they are right and that anyone who doubts the theory must be a screamin' supernaturalistic, creationistic, ID believin' fool (as one poster in this thread seems to imply). It couldn't simply be someone questioning theories that don't seem to hold water. No way.

    Notice "quality" is the key issue with both self-organization and evolution. That's because the physicalist theory relies on mechanics alone to produce the kind of system building seen in life. But when we observe how mechanics operate, they are rather dull when it comes to creative change. Leave a bunch of chemicals alone and you might get amino acids, but wait for a billion years and guess what else you get . . . little more. Hmmmmm.

    But take those same chemicals and let a human reseacher work with them, and then you just might see several more layers of organization appear. What have we added to the chemicals to get them to organize more? Conscious intervention.

    Consciousness is the ONLY thing we know of which acts to organize more than disorganize (and disorganize is the overall nature of everything physical). So why isn't it plausible that somehow consciousness has been part of the origin and development of life? Is it so improbable that a universal consciousness might influnce genes, for instance? Right now scientists believe we are getting close to having mind-controlled technology, so why not mind-influenced genetics.

    Should that be taught in science classes. Absolutely not. If you read what I said, I only ask that evolutionists stop pushing physicalist ontology. Science is fully qualified to say what physical things are going on in biology, but they are not qualified to insist that physicalness is all that's going on in biology, and that is exactly what the "agenda" is.
     
  20. Aug 31, 2005 #19

    Les Sleeth

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    I refuted it in my previous post. I'm sure you don't mean disprove, right? You can refute creationism, but you can't disprove it.


    I agree it's futile, but not because it can't be challenged with evidence and logic, but because physicalist believers refuse to acknowledge the problems with their theory.


    It is unfortunate that religious crap has to come up everytime someone wants to discuss the possibility that some sort of universal consciousness has particapated in the development of the universe. It doesn't have to have anything to do with miracles or supernaturalism.
     
  21. Aug 31, 2005 #20
    I'm just not quite getting you. What is the difference between something that is unphysical to the point science can't study, and something that is supernatural? I get the feeling the answer to this is in your posts already, but there is quite a lot of writing here I can't put your view together myself.
     
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