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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Imagine That: Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Anti-Evolutionists

Posted by jlwile on July 11, 2011

Dr. James Hannam is a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge. He earned his physics degree from Oxford, and then he went to Cambridge to earn a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science. So when it comes to science, Dr. Hannam is clearly no slouch. As I mentioned in my previous post, he has written an excellent book entitled The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution. I plan to write a review of it, but that won’t happen today, because while I was doing a bit of research into Dr. Hannam, I ran across an article he wrote about a year ago. I found the article incredibly interesting, so I thought I would write about that first.

Dr. Hannam is a theistic evolutionist. Unlike many young-earth creationists, I don’t have a problem with theistic evolution. I certainly don’t think you have to give up a belief in the authority of Scripture to be a theistic evolutionist, and I don’t consider theistic evolutionists to be “compromisers.” Some of the most devout, God-honoring people I know are theistic evolutionists, and they have a very high view of Scripture. I would not be surprised if Dr. Hannam is one of those people.

The article I ran across is entitled “Debating a Young-Earth Creationist,” and it details a radio encounter between Dr. Hannam and a young-earth creationist (YEC) named Bob Enyart. Dr. Hannam specifically says that he doesn’t run into many YECs in his circles, so he was happy to have a chance to dialogue with Mr. Enyart. His report on the dialogue brought up a couple of interesting points.

First, he made the unsurprising statement that Richard Dawkins is wrong when it comes to people who don’t believe in evolution:

Richard Dawkins once said that “if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” It rapidly became clear that Bob was none of these things.

Obviously, there are many YECs who are quite well-educated, quite brilliant, and quite moral. There are also many other anti-evolutionists who are not ignorant, stupid, or wicked. As a result, this quote by Dawkins says a lot more about him than it does about those who disagree with him.

Not only did Dr. Hannam decide that Dawkins was wrong, he seemed genuinely surprised at how well-educated Mr. Enyart was on the scientific issues related to evolution:

For a start, I know a fair bit about evolution and genetics. But when it came to familiarity with the arguments, he was way ahead of me. On epigenetics, RNA/DNA chemistry, and animal physiology, I was hopelessly outclassed…So if I had tried to win an argument on the science, he would have shot me to pieces.

I don’t find this surprising at all. In general, I find that most anti-evolutionists understand evolution and the science that relates to it significantly better than do most evolutionists. That’s because most anti-evolutionists (at least the ones I know, anyway) are critical thinkers. They have evaluated the evidence and found it lacking. In order to evaluate the evidence, you must first know the evidence and the hypothesis to which it relates. As a result, anti-evolutionists tend to understand evolution and the data that relate to it better than the evolutionists. Obviously, this can’t be said for every anti-evolutionist, but I think it is probably true on average.

Since Dr. Hannam admitted to being “outclassed” when it came to the science behind evolution, he tried to focus the discussion on the Bible. He found more common ground there, but he was still unable to sway Mr. Enyart. I don’t find that surprising. Both Dr. Hannam and Mr. Enyart have probably put a lot of thought and prayer into their beliefs, so it is hard to imagine that ninety minutes of conversation would sway either of them. However, I do think their conversation is a great example of how Christians should discuss this issue. There was no name-calling. Mr. Enyart did not accuse Dr. Hannam of being a “compromiser” or having a low view of Scripture, and Dr. Hannam did not accuse Mr. Enyart of being scientifically illiterate. Instead, they both honestly presented their views, and they each learned from the other.

You can listen to their discussion for yourself here. Please note that the discussion is divided into three thirty-minute parts, and the other two parts can be found under “Handy Hannam Links” near the middle of the page.

Comments

4 Responses to “Imagine That: Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Anti-Evolutionists”
  1. josiah says:

    Oh my, who ever would have guessed?

    Unfortunately I’m not sure that Mr. Dawkins is wrong about all, nor even the majority, of creationists. He isn’t right about all of them of course, but I do consider your “probably true on average” assertion to be rather optimistic.

    There are a disappointingly large number of people who dismiss the evolutionary argument out of their religious convictions without really evaluating the facts surrounding either. Of course there are also a lot of evolutionists who don’t know creationism or their own field very well, but that doesn’t actually change the stereotypical Creationists.

  2. jlwile says:

    Josiah, I completely agree that there are “a disappointingly large number of people who dismiss the evolutionary argument out of their religious convictions without really evaluating the facts surrounding either.” However, there are also a disappointingly large number of people who accept the evolutionary argument without evaluating the facts surrounding it, simply because they are taught that it is the scientific consensus. I think the numbers are equally large on both sides, so my evaluation is probably true on average.

  3. philwynk says:

    josiah & Dr. Wile,

    Don’t be too quick to write off even the average-Creationist-in-the-street. Most actually have philosophically acceptable reasons for their positions, despite their ignorance.

    It’s really a question of epistemology: whom do you trust when you want the truth? Dr. Dawkins is a Materialist; he accepts the dictates of the scientific method as a legitimate source of truth, and perhaps gives that source special weight. The average Creationist gives divine revelation greater weight, and thus believes that whatever findings from science seem to contradict the biblical account must eventually be found to be untrue. There are certainly enough examples of findings held to be sound in one generation being superseded by contrary findings in another generation to make this expectation plausible.

    So, ignorant? Stupid? Wicked? No, not necessarily. Dr. Dawkins simply does not understand philosophy, and makes no allowance for different approaches to epistemology.

  4. jlwile says:

    That is a great point, philwynk. However, I would say that there are a disappointingly large number of those creationists who have not explored their theology thoroughly. I agree that those who give divine revelation more weight will concentrate on that, but if they are concentrating on it, they should spend the time to understand the various ways that the revelation has been interpreted over the years. Unfortunately, many have not, since many are under the very mistaken impression that today’s YEC interpretation was the only interpretation in orthodox Christianity until the last couple hundred years. As I have shown on this blog (here and here, for example) that is simply not true.

    Also, I would point out that while divine revelation is the most reliable means by which to learn many things, our interpretation of that divine revelation can be flawed. Thus, it is best to examine all knowledge sources to help us interpret it in the best way possible. So for example, the reigning view of the church until the renaissance was that the earth was at the center of the solar system and did not move. There were several specific Scriptures used to back up this belief (1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalms 93:1, Psalms 96:10). However, as science helped us understand the true nature of the solar system, it also helped the church better interpret those verses of Scripture.

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