Breaking news, 26 June: The creationism report has been sent back to the committee for revision! It will not be discussed until October 2007.
For Dutch readers, click HERE.
Read the full story (with links) here: http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/NewsManager/EMB_NewsManagerView.asp?ID=3023.
The declaration of the Committee for Culture, Science and Education can be found here: http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/APFeaturesManager/defaultArtSiteView.asp?ID=686.
The verbatim of the meeting can be found here: http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/Records/2007/E/0706251130E.htm.
Aanvulling, 20 juni: Ik heb zojuist bericht gekregen dat mijn onderstaande reactie (en de research-artikelen die ik erbij had gevoegd) zijn doorgestuurd naar het secretariaat van “the Committee on Culture, Science and Education”, en dat ik een spoedige reactie kan verwachten.
Below is my extensive response to the recent report The Dangers of Crationism in Education published by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The report can be downloaded here.
The letter is posted just as it is sent on June 19 (I have written most of it on June 18). I did not have the time to extensively re-read the letter, so there may still be mistakes. After I sent the letter, I noted regrettably there is at least one mistake in the letter (an omission of literature in the remark on B48).
Hillegom, the Netherlands, 18 June 2007
To whom it may concern,
Allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is dr. Taede A. Smedes. I am a scholar in philosophy of religion and a (Protestant) theologian by training. I am specialized in the interaction in science and religion, and have published on topics such as creationism and Intelligent Design, determinism and divine action, technology and theological anthropology, and methodological issues underlying the interaction of science and theology. I have publications in renowned international journals, a number of book chapters, and I have written two books on the interaction of science and religion. I have worked at the Faculty of Theology of Groningen University, the Faculty of Theology of Leiden University, and in September 2007 I start a research position as a fellow at the Faculty of Theology of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.
Recently, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe published a report, Doc. 11297, published June 8, on The dangers of creationism in education. At the time of writing this letter, the resolution still has to be voted upon. In this letter, I want to respond to some elements of this report. Let me begin by saying that I wholeheartedly agree to the basic claim of the report: that creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) are a threat to education and to democracy in general. I have on more than one occasion argued that ID and creationism are ideologies that should be combated by both scientists and theologians. I believe, moreover, that there are quite good theological arguments against both creationism and ID that make both positions theologically unacceptable. (I am no biologist, so I will gladly leave any biological arguments against ID and creationist claims to the biological experts.)
I am thus vehemently opposing creationism and ID, and so warmly welcome the report of the Parliamentary Assembly. However, I believe there are a number of weaknesses in the document, and even outright mistakes, which not only weaken the message of the Council of Europe but may even harm it in the long run, especially considering the delicacy of the subject. Thus, in the next pages, I will give my reasons, many of which are based on my research of the last years, mainly at Leiden University (which will be continued when I start my fellowship in Leuven next September), for criticizing some points of the report. I will sound very critical, but please bear in mind that my remarks are not directed against the central message of the document, but against the way this message is presented in the document.
Preliminary remark on term “Darwinism”
The report often uses the term “Darwinism” to refer to biological evolutionary theory. This is remarkable, because this term is mostly used by creationists and ID-adherents to argue that evolutionary theory is an ideology, just another “-ism,” like Marxism, communism and atheism. And of course, Darwin’s original evolutionary writings contain strong ideological components. “Darwinism” in other words has become a loaded term, and using it has a certain risk: people may intuitively respond rather negatively to the term. Because of the ideological connotations “Darwinism” has for many people, and because of the delicacy of the subject of the report, I would advice avoiding the term “Darwinism” altogether. If some people see the term “Darwinism,” they simply stop reading.
Some historians of biology, such as the German (atheist) Thomas Junker, have argued that the term “Darwinism” be reserved for the first Darwinian revolution (publication of Darwin’s original works), and that “Darwinism” in a sense died when the second Darwinian revolution – the emergence of the synthetic evolutionary theory – took place, in the second half of the 1920s. To avoid confusion, Junker has argued that it is better to speak about “synthetic Darwinism” to emphasize the continuity with Darwin’s work (especially the centrality of natural selection) but also to argue for a discontinuity in the sense that synthetic Darwinism is a new theory based on the empirical concepts of genetic variability (mutation and recombination), speciation, and geographical isolation (cf. T. Junker & U. Hossfeld, Die Entdeckung der Evolution: Eine revolutionäre Theorie und ihre Geschichte. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 2001, 172ff.; T. Junker, Geschichte der Biologie: Die Wissenschaft vom Leben. Nördlingen: C.H. Beck 2004).
Of course, I am aware that other biologists, most notably Ernst Mayr, have argued that the continuity with Darwin’s work is more important than the discontinuity, which warrants the use of the term “Darwinism” when referring to both Darwinian revolutions (cf. E. Mayr, What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books 2001; E. Mayr, What Makes Biology Unique? Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004).
Remarks on the Report
The report is structured into three parts: a summary, part A (draft resolution) and part B (explanatory memorandum by Mr. Guy Lengagne, rapporteur). In my remarks, I will refer to paragraph numbers of the different parts of the report, e.g. “A1”, “B104”, etc. I will largely comment on the report in chronological order.
a) In the summary it is stated that “evolution is a central theory for our understanding of the Universe and of life on Earth.” This claim is explained in B27-28. In B27 Hervé LeGuyader is quoted: “evolutionist thinking now pervades all areas of biology and, through the historical dimension of the process of evolution, also affects the sciences of the Earth and the universe.” Such a statement is correct, in the sense that evolutionary theory does not consider species as static, but as dynamic and evolving. Likewise, the universe is no longer a static ‘entity’ but is also seen as dynamic and evolving. However, there is a huge difference between biological evolutionary theory and the cosmological view of the development of the universe. As is noted in B15, biological evolutionary theory has a number of characteristics (the adaptation of organisms to their environment; speciation; and the existence of common ancestors). These characteristics define biological evolution; however, it is sheer nonsense to claim that these characteristics also define cosmological evolution (although there have been speculative proposals to adapt biological evolution to cosmology, see L. Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997).
Conclusion: to claim that evolution is a central theory for understanding the universe, entails using an entirely different concept of ‘evolution’ than the biological concept, which is defined by the three characteristics named in B15. The basic claim thus is wrong (if by ‘evolution’ is meant biological evolution), or a different, non-biological concept of evolution (in the broader sense of development) is used. ID-adherents and old-earth creationists will oppose biological evolution, but not cosmological data about the development of the universe; young-earth creationists will oppose both.
b) “Creationism in any of its forms, such as ‘intelligent design’, is not based on facts…” The identification of creationism and ID is one often encountered in anti-creationist literature, particularly in US-literature. However, I believe that there is a difference between ID and creationism, in the sense that ID accepts most elements of contemporary evolutionary theory (but finds them insufficient to explain irreducible complexity) whereas all forms of creationism explicitly reject evolutionary theory. One notable exception that many ID-adherents find hard to swallow is the notion of common descent: that all species, including the human species, are derived from one common organism. For this threatens that humans are created ‘in the image of God’ (imago Dei), but have evolved through evolutionary mechanisms. However, other prominent ID-adherents, such as Michael Behe (The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. New York: The Free Press 2007), explicitly have accepted all the basic evolutionary mechanisms (including the notion of common descent), though they find them insufficient in explaining irreducible complexity.
There is another characteristic of ID that is not described in the report. The report describes ID as an anti-evolutionist movement. As I already indicated, such a statement should be nuanced. One of the basic issues is that ID claims that evolutionary theory is unable to explain the emergence of life. Some evolutionary biologists have claimed that evolutionary theory is able to account for the emergence of life: Jacques Monod is famous for his argument that it is mere chance that life has emerged, and that there is no purpose behind it. That, however, is a metaphysical and not a scientific statement. Monod does not distinguish between metaphysical and scientific claims, hence the argument of ID that ‘Darwinism’ is ideology. Evolutionary theory, properly speaking, is not about the emergence of life, but about the development of living organisms once life has emerged. This distinction is nowhere present in the report, even though it is crucial.
A. Draft resolution
A1: Why do “creationist theories” pose a threat to democracy? Cf. also B104. This is a claim for which in this report no reasons are given. (I do agree to the claim, but think there is a dire need for argument here.) Moreover, I believe the use of the term “creationist theories” is confused: to speak about creationist theories already entails that creationism has a worked out theory, paralleling and competing with e.g. evolutionary theory. The point of the entire report is to argue that creationism and ID are not theories, they are not science at all. To speak, then, about “creationist theories” is confusing. Creationists do not have a theory, but a mere hypothesis (which, moreover, is unfalsifiable). Perhaps even saying that they have a mere hypothesis is giving creationists already to much credit, but I will leave that for now.
A7: ID “claims that [evolution] is the work of a superior intelligence and not natural selection.” This claim is false. First of all, evolution is not the sole product of natural selection; or, formulated alternatively, natural selection alone cannot account for biological evolution. This is also described in B15. Second, ID is not resisting natural selection, but rejects the claim that evolutionary theory alone is sufficient to account for irreducible complexity in nature.
A13: see my remarks at B75-76.
A19: “a declaration on the teaching of evolution”. Where can this declaration be found?
B. Explanatory memorandum by Mr. Guy Lengagne, rapporteur
B5: Paley did not write about a watch on the beach, but about finding a watch while crossing a heath; cf. W. Paley, Natural Theology: Or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802; online available at http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?itemID=A142&viewtype=text&pageseq=1).
Furthermore, there is a typo: “Bilblical” should be “Biblical”.
B6-8: It is claimed here that creationism came about in opposition to Dawin’s theory of evolution. Also, in B6, ther is the clasim that Darwin’s works “mark the end of the agreement between natural history and the Christian tradition, as well
as the birth of anti-evolutionist movements”. The second sentence is so obvious that it is almost trivial. Before Darwin published his theory, there was no evolutionary theory, so there could be no opposition or anti-evolutionist movements. So obviously anti-evolutionism emerged after Darwin had published his works.
But more problematic is the whole sentence: it is tendentious. It suggests that religious anti-evolutionist reactions, such as creationism, emerged as soon as Darwin published his works. A couple of remarks: First, the first anti-evolutionists were Darwin’s own scientific colleagues! Darwin’s theory was greeted with enthusiasm by many Christian theologians, while Darwin’s scientific colleagues responded very skeptical at first. See, e.g. J.R. Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms With Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1979; J.H. Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America: Protestant Intellectuals and Organic Evolution 1859-1900. Notre Dame: The University of Notre Dame Press 1988. There has never been an enormous organized anti-evolutionist movement before the emergence of creationism in the 1920s. Moreover, creationism was not so much directed at first against evolutionary theory, but to the social implications of evolutionary theory, in casu the eugenics policy in the US, which was also embraced and defended by many liberal theologians. So to claim that “creationism thus came about in opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution” (B8) is trivial: while Darwin’s theory of evolution was published in 1859, creationism did not emerge until the 1920s, so 60 years later.
B24: Who is Guillaume Lecointre? What authority does he have in science? What authority does he have as to religious issues (since he is quoted repeatedly as a critic of creationism and ID)?
This is not meant to criticize Mr. Lecointre, but just to make his (prominent!) function in this report clear. Mr. Lecointre has not been introduced, so for all the reader knows, he can be an astrophysicist with no experience in evolutionary biology whatsoever.
B27: Who is Hervé LeGuyader? What authority does he have in science? What authority does he have with regard to religion? Again, this is not meant as a criticism of Mr. LeGuyader.
B27-28, see my remarks under Summary above.
B30: “which reminds us, incidentally, of the trial of a man called Galileo”. This reference should be deleted, since it is tendentious. Contemporary Galileo-research has found that the Galileo-trial was not a case of pitting religion against science, but that it was much more complex. This reference is merely feeding on stereotypes.
B40: “creationists of all faiths”: creationism is only present in Christianity and Islam. Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. do not seem to have grave problems with evolutionary theory and have no creationists movements.
B45: “While the evolution sciences have evolved considerably since Darwin, the creationists have not gone beyond their pitiful level of quibbling.” This is tendentious and verging on sheer nonsense. A detailed account of the development of creationist thought/ideas can be found in R. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. Expanded Edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2006; E.J. Larson, Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution. Third Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2003; and A. McCalla, The Creationist Debate: The Encounter Between the Bible and the Historical Mind. London/New York: Continuum 2006.
B47: “…the book appears more like a primitive theological treatise”: very tendentious language, which is also offensive to theologians, for dismissing theological literature as “primitive”. Such statements should not be present in documents of the Council of Europe.
B48: quote by Lecointre is very tendentious, especially since no examples of “blatant scientific fraud, intellectual deception or communication that blurs the nature, objectives and limits of science” are given.
“… show that their motivations and objectives are not scientific but religious”: this again is tendentious, and should be backed up by evidence. For example, ID-adherents claim that their ID-hypothesis is neutral and not religious in nature, see e.g. #### Of course, one can dispute this claim by ID-adherents, but if one does so, one should give evidence for it. This – as is now well-known – is not as simple as it looks!
B49: “The intelligent design theory, however, only refers to supernatural causes.” Again, as before, this is a tendentious claim that should be backed up by evidence. Dembski has argued that it is not a matter of ‘natural’ over against ‘supernatural’ causes that underlies the problems of ID with evolutionary theory, but a matter of ‘natural’ over against ‘intelligent’ causes. These intelligent causes are the causes of design in nature. But Dembski claims that whether or not these intelligent causes are supernatural or perhaps hitherto unknown forces of nature is at this stage not the point. Cf. W.A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 1999; W.A. Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2004.
B52: The Pastafarian movement: this is not an ironical movement, as it is described in the text, but a blatantly anti-religious movement that is designed to prove all religious claims to be delusional (Richard Dawkins in his The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 2006) refers to it occasionally). It is not a direct response to creationism, but an initiative of a collective of militant atheists. Referring to this movement in a document by the Council of Europe may arouse hostility which will be counter-productive. Moreover, referring to this movement at this point is irrelevant to the argument. I would advise to delete this passage. Finally, the Pastafarian movement is outspoken atheistic, thus ideological. So why name it here in a document which intends to defend science?
B64: What is the point of this passage? Is the outcome of the study “that a large proportion of the individuals questioned seem to think that the Darwinian theory of evolution only concerns the physical aspect of human beings and not their soul or conscience” a bad thing? Please note that Catholicism is strong in Belgium, and that the notion that while the body may be the product of evolution, but the soul is created by God, that this is the standard Catholic position, also defended by Pope John-Paul II and the current Pope Benedict XVI. If the outcome of the study is an anti-evolutionist trend, then Catholicism is anti-evolutionist.
B71: “Van der Hoeven’s initiative only met with a weak response…” What is not mentioned in this passage, is that the initiative was taken up by the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences in the Netherlands, who organized a series of 6 academic debates in September-December 2006 about ID and more broadly about the interaction of science and religion.
B73: it is not the land of “Hesse” but of Hessen. (Appears twice in the passage.)
B75: Here Catholicism is seemingly rescued as a non-creationist religion. Pope John-Paul II is described as recognizing that evolution is “more than a hypothesis”. However, from my perspective, this still is a very cautious expression. Moreover, both John-Paul II and Benedict XVI have never distanced themselves from the encyclical Humani Generis from 1950, wherein Pope Pius XII argues that although the body is matter and may have evolved, the human soul is immediately created by God and is not evolved evolutionary (see http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis_en.html). This indicates at least that the Catholic Church has great reserves as to the reach of evolutionary theory.
Moreover, Cardinal Schönborn, who’s ID-statement in the New York Times is mentioned in the text, has distanced himself explicitly from creationism, but in his book Ziel oder Zufall? Schöpfung und Evolution aus der Sicht eines vernünftigen Glaubens (Freiburg: Herder 2007) embraces ID completely, including anti-scientific tendencies, although without mentioning American ID-authors! Moreover, Schönborn claims in his New York Times piece and in his book to represent the genuine Catholic stance on evolution and creation. Pope Benedict XVI has so far not contested Schönborn’s claim to the representation of the genuine Catholic views on evolution and creation, which indicates that he endorses Schönborn’s ideas. (At the very least Benedict has not distanced himself from Schönborn’s claims. Benedict seems interested in the controversy over evolution and creation, and has distanced himself explicitly from creationism; cf. S.O. Horn & S. Wiedenhofer (Hrsg.), Schöpfung und Evolution: Eine Tagung mit Papst Benedikt XVI in Castel Gandolfo. Augsburg: Sankt Ulrich Verlag 2007, 149f. However, in that same volume, there is an incomprehensible statement by the Pope about the ‘rationality’ inherent to matter (152), which is supposed to be a statement regarding the controversy.)
Finally, there are strong and persistent rumors that one of the most prominent Catholic critics of ID and creationism, the astronomer George V. Coyne SJ, who worked in the Vatican Observatory for more than 25 years, was fired because of his anti-ID statements. In 2006 Coyne was suddenly replaced by the astronomer José Gabriel Funes, on instigation of Pope Benedict XVI (see for links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Coyne). Coyne himself declared that he was not fired because of his vehement attacks on ID, but the rumors remain persistent.
Typo? It is not Christoph von Schönborn, but Christoph Schönborn or Christoph Cardinal Schönborn.
B76: Typo? It is not “Castel Gondolfo” but Castel Gandolfo.
B87: Typo: it is not “Uniter States” but United States.
B89: “The truth and scientific nature of evolution remain irrefutable today.” Cf. also B97. The concept of truth is not a scientific, but a philosophical concept. Whether or not evolutionary theory is the truth is not relevant here. No scientist will claim that evolutionary theory is the truth, since that is not a scientific claim. Moreover, one should never claim the truth of scientific theory, since the characteristic feature of a scientific theory is that it is falsifiable, i.e. open to refutation (cf. K.R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London: Hutchinson & Co. 1959; I. Lakatos & A. Musgrave, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1970). Once a scientific theory is refuted, its falsity has been established. However, the truth of a theory can never be established, merely that a theory has stood up to the test so far. This is basic philosophy of science. Popper especially was critical to all claims of truth, since he believed them to be ideological. I would advice deletion of all references to the concept of truth of a theory.
B101: “It is necessary to avoid doubt entering individuals minds with regard to fundamental scientific knowledge”. Cf. also B89: “The theory of evolution constitutes a body of fundamental knowledge for the future of our democracies and cannot be arbitrarily challenged.” This is no longer science but ideology and indoctrination! To doubt that which we have come to know as common knowledge is the basic feature of science. Any individual may doubt scientific theories, as long as there are good reasons or evidence to do so. Think, for example, about the cont
emporary doubts about string theory! We should educate our children, not to erase all doubt about scientific theories, but to develop their critical thinking skills, so that they can distinguish sense from nonsense.
Summary and conclusions
I draw the following conclusions:
a) The controversial claim that ID and creationism pose a threat to democracy is in my opinion correct. However, in this report, there are no arguments to be found to support this claim sufficiently. The claim that the theocratic character of creationism “has been exposed on several occasions” (A12) is not enough.
b) In this report, ID and creationism are claimed to be dogmatic and ideological positions. However, the way science is defended in this report, especially by appealing to political arguments, is also ideological in nature (esp. in the part B89-104). In this report, science becomes the handmaiden of politics. It is exactly this strategy that ID-adherents often use to counter evolution: that it is an ideology used for external motives. I believe the Council of Europe should steer away from any ideological uses of science!
c) In A1 and B104 the rhetorical strategy is that of creating fear. Although this is a strategy that is used extensively in politics, in this case it may not be a productive strategy. Fear may easily create outright hostility towards religion in general. In America, the debates about creationism and ID are part of a wider-ranging cultural polarization between conservative and more liberal forces: a culture war (J.D. Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: Basic Books 1991). In recent years, the threat of a culture war in Europe has grown extensively: in many European countries an emerging polarization between conservative-orthodox and progressive-liberal forces is visible, in politics as well as in religion. Preaching fear for creationism and ID may be perceived by many as creating fear for religion in general, and such a fear is promoting a culture war. The growing interest for atheism and atheist literature may be another sign of an emerging culture war. The US cultural climate is such that at present one is better of being a Muslim than an atheist…
We must not fear creationism or ID, but we must come to understand it in order to assess the real threat it poses to Western democracy (and the threat in Europe may be lesser than the threat in the US), and to take proper and adequate measures. Just throwing a bit more science at creationists will not do the trick!
For example, I believe for once the basic premise of this report is false. In this report it is assumed that ID and creationism are merely anti-evolutionist movements, and that they should be dealt with by investing more into science education. Although investing into science education indeed is a necessity, it is not enough. In my research into creationism and ID, I have found that especially in the case of ID, science is merely a surface-feature. As the Wedge-document makes clear, the long-term goal of the ID strategy is one of establishing a new theocracy. ID’s appeal to science has to do with the widespread influence of science and technology in our society and the authority that science has in Western society. Appealing to science is a strategy, not the goal. Focusing too much on scientific argumentation thus is betting on the wrong horse: much criticism is directed also to social issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, etc., which are considered to be the logical outcomes of evolutionary theory. This much is clear from the US-situation: giving more evidence for evolutionary theory does not convince ID-adherents of the correctness of evolutionary theory. Apparently, scientific evidence is not enough. Evolutionary theory thus has become an icon of everything that evangelical Christians perceive as rotten in Western society. ID is the way to reinstate the fear of God in the hearts of humans (C. Colson & N. Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? Wheaton: Tyndale House 1999; N. Geisler & F Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway Books 2004; N. Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton: Crossway Books 2004; B. Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2002).
The underlying dynamics of the emerging creationism and ID in European society need much more careful study in order to propose an effective counter-strategy. Such study should also involve input and participation from theologians and scholars in religious studies from all European countries. This report may be a good start, especially after it has been revised and discussed with experts – both in science and religion.
Hillegom, the Netherlands