What Jason Rosenhouse finds

Jason Rosenhouse’s “Among the Creationists” (Oxford, 2012) is a journalistic-style exploration of “creationist subculture” by a mathematician who claims to be open-minded but skeptical.  The reality is he’s an atheistic evolutionist looking for weaknesses in creationism while trying to understand these “insular” people.  It’s still a good read but what are the weaknesses he finds?

p51 “Even suggesting the concept of an infallible source of information about nature entails the abandonment of the scientific method.” In other words science must be primary.  This contradicts an earlier assertion (p37): “Scientists think of evolution as a useful theory, not as an all-encompassing worldview.”

p53 “Worse, creationists tend to be inconsistent.  First, they point to some complex adaptation and loudly proclaim it absurd to think it evolved gradually.  Then, when scientists dutifully uncover likely precursors and plausible gradualist scenarios, they say it is trivial to make up a story.”  Apart from the spin, there is something to this.  I think we underestimate the evolutionary imagination.  They really can imagine nature doing everything.  After all, Nature is their god. [?]

p90 “At its core, creationism is a cultural and political rebellion against a scientific theory that is believed to menace religion and morality.”  There is something to this but it shows his unwillingness to treat creationism as a competing truth claim; it’s just “cultural and political”.

This is why he quotes Phillip Johnson (p118): “Victory in the creation-evolution dispute therefore belongs to the party with the cultural authority to establish the ground rules that govern the discourse. If creation is admitted as a serious possibility, Darwinism cannot win, and if it is excluded a priori Darwinism cannot lose.”  It’s a culture-war thing, not a debate about truth.

Interestingly, he does not promote methodological naturalism (MN) to demarcate science from non-science (p123): “Viewed as a convention of current scientific practice based on its long track record of success, MN seems entirely reasonable. Viewed as a fundamental ground rule to which science must always and everywhere adhere, MN seems dogmatic and unnecessary.”  He thinks creationism can be dispatched without MN.

He is impressed by scientific expertise but says (p124): “There are no experts on the ultimate nature of reality.”  Yet scientists are left as the default experts on everything.

He asks Michael Behe a long question about what difference ID makes and quotes his response in full but doesn’t accept Behe’s answer, which seems to me a good off-the-cuff answer (p.128): “So the similarities are really interesting, tracing lines of descent, that’s very interesting, but inferring from that that it was a Darwinian random process, that’s a whole lot trickier, and I think, like I say, people let their presumptions guide them more than they should.”  (p129) “Because in my view the more we know about, the more we watch actual evolution in nature without models that govern our presuppositions, the more and more I think we will see that Darwinian processes are, in fact, limited.”

Not surprisingly he reacts negatively to the Creation Museum (p137): “Though I am certain the museum’s directors would disagree, it is fair to say that many of the exhibits demonize science and scientists.”  p139: “The creationist view was said to rest on a foundation of ‘God’s Word.’ The foundation for the evolutionist view? ‘Human Reason.’ This surprised me, since it implied that human reason is in some way hostile to creationism.”  I happen to agree that creationists overdo the God vs. Reason contrast — we need to rediscover the Logos.

Occasionally he sees things clearly (p145): “However you imagine God’s creative activity, it is clear that He did some things supernaturally and allowed other things to unfold by natural laws. The only question is the balance He employed.”

I was surprised by his negativity toward the Flood (p154): “More than anything else, it is their literal understanding of Noah and the flood that makes young-Earth creationists seem foolish. … But the implausibility of the Noah story is striking upon even the most casual reading.”

He replies to accusations of evolutionary racism with counter-accusations about the “curse of Ham” (p157): “Creationism and racism have a long history of going hand in hand.”  We do need to qualify our charges here: evolutionary racists were not the first racists but were the first to think of exterminating whole classes of people.

In some ways he agrees with us (p167): “Nor should we pretend that the Bible’s scientific assertions can be cleanly separated from its theological teachings.” But he reaches an opposite conclusion (p169): “The Bible’s forays into science are frequently fallacious.”

He criticizes those who try to harmonize the Bible with evolution (p171): “We hardly heed Christianity to direct us towards the awesomeness of existence, or to the distance between what the world is and what it could be. Such observations are commonplaces of daily life.”  He rightly ridicules those who try to replace Adam and Eve (p174): “I think, though, that we are entitled to be suspicious of an interpretation that suddenly discovers in the text of Genesis 2 a previously unsuspected population of Neolithic farmers.”

He rejects dialogue between scientists and theologians because the thinks scientists have nothing to learn from theologians (p176): “Scientists, as scientists, are apparently expected to take an interest in what the theologians are up to. This presents a problem, because for the life of me I cannot see how theology intends to hold up its end of the conversation.”

Which leads to this (p177): “If you want to redefine original sin, or summon forth strained interpretations of Genesis to reconcile evolution with Adam and Eve, then go right ahead. But please do not pretend that this represents some convergence of ancient wisdom with modern understandings. This is not science and religion in conversation. This is science telling it like it is, and religion trying desperately to catch up.”

He is somewhat positive on the 2008 ICC (p188): “Since ID is vague to the point of vacuity, it is hard to imagine how ID folk could hold a conference of similar breadth or depth.”

He summarizes (p190): “We have previously discussed three of the main points of tension between evolution and Christianity: evolution at least potentially conflicts with the Bible, it exacerbates the problem of evil, and it seriously weakens the argument from design. A fourth point of tension [is] … whether evolution diminishes the role of humanity in God’s creation.”

He acknowledges his fair treatment (p215): “I am grateful to [creationists] for their general tolerance of my presence at their gatherings, even if they were not always pleased I was there.”

Another point of agreement (p217): “In the end [creationists] are opposed to evolution because they perceive, correctly in my view, that evolution severely challenges central tenets of Christianity.”

His bottom line? p219 “At a personal level I think very highly of many of the creationists I have met, but ultimately we are on opposite sides. They are wrong about important things, and their ideology must be vigorously opposed whenever it attempts, in even the slightest way, to influence public policy or education.”  In other word, evolutionists own the public square so creationists should keep quiet.  It won’t happen, Jason.

July 2014