A reply to Daniel J. Lewis

A few days ago Daniel J. Lewis, a spokesperson for the group Answers in Genesis, stopped by PZ Myer’s Pharyngula blog in order to defend creationism on his own behalf, not in his capacity as an AIG spokesperson.

I really didn’t think this was a good place for Mr. Lewis to make this attempt because any blog is an asynchronous media, and Pharyngula has a LOT of readers – Mr. Lewis was quickly buried under reader comments.

However, my comment about the hatefulness of an Answers in Genesis campaign brought Mr. Lewis to comment in my blog. I’ll reproduce that here, along with my answer.

Mr. Lewis, I’ll trust that you’ll forgive me for bringing your comment into my blog proper, but I believe this would be a better place for me to address it.

You can read my original AIG blog entry here. Here is Mr. Lewis' response:

Many people thought that message did not communicate properly, so it was revised for what actually made "the press." I can't find a link to it, but it said something like, "If God doesn't matter to him, then why would you?"

The basic point being that biblical Christianity teaches Christians to love each other and to love their enemies. Very few (if any) other religions teach to love your enemy.

But a culture based on evolution is one that would naturally embrace survival of the fittest. And the extreme of that thinking, is that if I can increase my chances of survival or improve my living by killing you, then I am justified.

Also, a culture based on evolution has no absolute basis for morality. Sure, we create governments to uphold laws. But what if we agree that it's acceptable to kill anyone who doesn't have blue eyes? If the nation agreed on this law, would it be acceptable? This is basically Nazi Germany. They agreed that Jews should be eliminated from society, and Hitler even based this on survival of the fittest.

So the flip side is that we were created special by God. And if He created us, then He has authority to give us an absolute morality.

P.S. Thanks for your input on Pharyngula, and inviting me here to answer your question.
Mr. Lewis, this is not how I see the world at all. You have said some things that are not only in error, but are also hurtfully abusive, and I don’t think you’ve even realized this.

The declaration that “Very few (if any) other religions teach to love your enemy” is demonstrably incorrect even with a simple Google search. Not only do other religions, religious figures, and philosophers teach “love your enemy” but several, such as Jainism, Taoism, and Buddhism, have done so before Jesus is supposed to have said this. Islam also teaches “love your enemy” in both the Quran and the Hadith.

I’ll also point out that many influential members of these religions, including Christianity, seem to have a hard time living up to “Love your enemy.”

You said:
But a culture based on evolution is one that would naturally embrace survival of the fittest. And the extreme of that thinking, is that if I can increase my chances of survival or improve my living by killing you, then I am justified.
This is an incorrect premise. First, you’ve mixed up the science of biological evolution with the pseudoscientific belief in Social Darwinism, and in this statement you’ve also included your own beliefs that evolution is false, and that biological evolution would have a negative affect on altruism.

Secondly, your view of the “extreme” of evolution is only partly correct, but I can understand why you think it is right. Even before television existed there have been sound bites; Herbert Spenser coined the term “Survival of the Fittest” which together with Lord Tennyson’s poem, “In Memoriam A.H.H” with the line “Nature, red in tooth and claw” it is no wonder that the popular understanding of Darwin’s theory has been solely based on violence.

The simple truth is that species are sometimes violent and sometimes they cooperate – and even thinking of nature on those simple terms doesn’t tell the whole story because species evolved complex behaviors to maximize the survival of said species. You missed the basic definition of the theory of evolution.

You then compounded your error by using your confusion of Social Darwinism as the basis for your own view of legal system of enforced godless morality – and equated this to Nazis.

Mr. Lewis, I should call, “Godwin’s Law” and stop here. From my point of view you have obliquely equated me with a Nazi, and have declared me to be an enemy deserving of ‘love’ – which I see as the very special “separate but equal” Christian definition of love. I think I’m being generous here – Dominionist or Zionist Christians might say, “Separate, and not quite as privileged.” From your blog, I see you are a Dominionist Christian.

I find it ironic that your belief in an infinite God seems to have limited your worldview. From your blog I see that you interpret the Bible literally, and believe that the world is merely thousands of years old. You said that you,
…also covered a couple basic science examples that confirm the Bible’s history and oppose the world’s teachings of millions of years.
Even when teaching a lie, you can’t bring yourself to imagine 4.7 billion years – and must instead argue against the more easily grasped dishonesty of ‘mere’ millions of years. Your infinite God seems very small to me.


Let me explain to you how I see the world.

I see a massive, awe-inspiring universe that has existed for billions of years, much longer than I can comprehend, with natural properties that allow the formation of greater complexities. We are all “star-stuff” as Carl Sagan has called us, and I feel amazement and wonder at this at a very visceral level. (I would use the word, ‘spiritual’ here, but it’s been taken.)

I see life based on biological systems so complex that scientists are only starting to understand them after countless millions of man-hours of work. Current indications are that at some point in the next century (or two) humans will have a complete understanding of our own biology. (Disclaimer - error margin of +/- 150 years.)

And I see humankind, who has spent most of our existence trying to understand nature, and failing until we hit upon the trick of a method that we call ‘science’. Unfortunately, older make-shift religious methods of understanding nature are still in effect because they give comforting and easy to understand answers.

A religious ethical system is attractive because it is easy to codify. It is based upon black and white absolutes that require little thought. As an additional bonus, it also abrogates any feelings of guilt for religious followers. If you have followed the will of your God there is no reason to feel guilty; you have washed your hands in the tradition of Pontius Pilate.

Religious based ethical systems have few checks or balances, and are rigid and unchanging. Moderate Christians have become more ethical than radical Christians in spite of Biblical ethics, not because of them.


Nature does not have an ethical system, but species have evolved methods of maximizing returns though cooperation within a species, and even through cooperation across species lines. This sort of evolved economics is one of several survival traits that have become basic nature in most humans. Humans are intelligent, and can use their intelligence to learn how to improve on these evolved morals. For example, the science of game theory is being explored for an applied understanding of ethical systems.


A human ethical system should focus on humans – both as individuals and as a species – in the here and now while at the same time keeping an eye on the future of the human species.

An ethical system that focuses on humans instead of the supernatural is based on suffering, sympathy, empathy, and the benefits of cooperation; both for the individual and for all humans. To quote Sam Harris:
It is, of course, taboo to criticize a person's religious beliefs. The problem, however, is that much of what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality. One of the worst things about religion is that it tends to separate questions of right and wrong from the living reality of human and animal suffering. Consequently, religious people will devote immense energy to so-called moral problems—such as gay marriage—where no real suffering is at issue, and they will happily contribute to the surplus of human misery if it serves their religious beliefs.
Gary Kern said it eloquently in “The Bible of the Good and Moral Atheist”:
We have evolved the ability to empathize, to share the motivations and feelings of those around us. From this, we have gained the ability to sympathize with the plight of others, to understand what may be causing them distress or pain, and to wish, for their sake, that their suffering would stop. Armed with this sympathy, we act in a moral way to prevent the distress and suffering of others. Our opinions on what constitutes a moral course of action may differ, but the underlying sympathy is the same.
I’ll be the first to admit that some humans seem to lack the trait of empathy for others . I’ll easily admit that most (or even all) humans seem unable to constantly and consistently act in a perfectly moral manner. I’ll also point out that there are many morally ambiguous problems. Any ethical system must be designed with this in mind. Current black and white religion-based ethical systems are inflexible, and demonstrably break down when they encounter many moral problems.

Humankind is only now starting to explore systems of ethics related to a natural understanding of moral behavior of the human species. Research into ‘natural’ ethics has been opposed for centuries by religion. Attempts to explore science based on natural, as opposed to supernatural, laws have often been cut short as researchers were labeled ‘heretic’ or ‘blasphemer’. Death or threats of death and torture tend to have a chilling effect on scientific progress.

Religion has a lot of practice at vilifying any threatening philosophy – which is the first step toward oppression.

And oppression is what you have advocated, oh-so-gently, in my blog Mr. Lewis.

You argue, without research, without proof, and with a false understanding of evolution, that a theory of how a natural process works will unerringly lead to the horrors of Hitler, who by the way was quite able to use Catholicism to help him accomplish his goals. It would have been smarter to equate your strawman with the Atheistic Stalin, and just as incorrect because he also followed a dogma.

Perhaps the converse has never occurred to you; that an ethical philosophy based on the relief of human suffering without the recourse to a supernatural god may be superior to an ethical philosophy based on a supernatural afterlife centered on the glorification of a fictional being.


I won’t call “Godwin’s Law” Mr. Lewis, because I really don’t think you would equate me with Nazis on purpose. I think you are basically a good person, and have been led astray by your beliefs.
With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

-Steven Weinberg

15 comments:

Phoenician in a time of Romans said...

Mr Lewis is also making a serious error in his logic, that of appealing to the consequences of a belief.

Also, a culture based on evolution has no absolute basis for morality. Sure, we create governments to uphold laws. But what if we agree that it's acceptable to kill anyone who doesn't have blue eyes? If the nation agreed on this law, would it be acceptable? This is basically Nazi Germany. They agreed that Jews should be eliminated from society, and Hitler even based this on survival of the fittest.

So the flip side is that we were created special by God.


Consider, Mr Lewis, what would happen if we stepped from the top of a tall building. As we plummetted to the ground, we might think "if the laws of gravity are correct, I'm going to wind up squished. Therefore the laws of gravity are wrong, and I can levitate through willpower alone."

The laws of gravity are, alas, correct, and the fact that we will be squished doesn't alter that.

You seem to be arguing that if evolution is true, then we might legislate any atrocity. Even granting, for the sake of argument, this dubious assertion, the answer is - so? It does not prove that evolution is false, just not entirely comfortable for us to deal with. Like gravity.

Consider a better supported assertion - if evolution is correct, then most mammal species last about 3 million years on average before becoming extinct and never being seen again. There is no reason why this might not apply to humans, and we are just one of many many species, none of which have held a special place in God's plan.

So?

Matt Darling said...

The simple truth is that species are sometimes violent and sometimes they cooperate – and even thinking of nature on those simple terms doesn’t tell the whole story because species evolved complex behaviors to maximize the survival of said species. You missed the basic definition of the theory of evolution.

***

That is inaccurate as well, though. Evolution may happen at the species level, but adaptions happen at the individual level. Evolution does not lead to behaviors that 'maximize the survival of said species'. Even if you accept a strong version of group selection (like Sober and Wilson) you can end up with in-group cooperation, but there is still inter-group conflict.

Scott Hatfield said...

M: You covered a lot of ground in a relatively short post, and did it well. I hope Mr. Lewis actually takes the time to read what you wrote, and consider it....SH

Calladus said...

Matt,
That is inaccurate as well, though. Evolution may happen at the species level, but adaptions happen at the individual level. Evolution does not lead to behaviors that 'maximize the survival of said species'. Even if you accept a strong version of group selection (like Sober and Wilson) you can end up with in-group cooperation, but there is still inter-group conflict.

I think perhaps the word 'behavior' has lead me astray here.

Yes, groups (I think of them as 'tribes') within a species do compete. And an individual member can adapt a new behavior (say - benign dictatorship) that maximizes the survival of his tribe.

The random biological mutation of an individual would seem to have little affect on how successful his tribe becomes until it has propogated throughout the group over generations. I was baseing that on the definition of evolution from Laurence Moran at Talk Origins.

What I'm trying to point out here is that no one seems to know how behavior (culture?) is influenced by biology except at very basic levels. Historically research into biology-based altruism has been cut short.

Individuals in a group (often) cooperate for the survival of the group. Even groups will cooperate across a species in certain circumstances, and even seperate species will cooperate in certain circumstances. Why do we call this 'culture' or 'behavior' when we speak of humans, but call it 'instinct' or 'symbiosis' when speaking of non-humans?

How much of human behavior is based upon biology?

I think any system of ethics should understand how ethics are affected by biology, or else you wind up with stupid "moral" rules like Mark 9:45-47

Aaron Kinney said...

Mr. Lewis knows now what h3es talking about qwhen it comes to morality.

Sure, his God may command him to love everybody, but why would he follow Gods commands?

In other words, what is Mr. Lewis' moral system GROUNDED or ANCHORED to?

Gods word? Impossible. For Mr. Lewis needs to give a justification for following Gods word in the first place!

Just ask Mr. Lewis: What is your morality based on?

He will reply: Gods word.

Then ask him: Why do you follow Gods word?

He will reply: Cause God says to.

But then we see that he is only pushing the question back another level, and will do so ad infinitum if he gets the chance! Ask him: But why do you care what God tells you to do?

Etc.....

When pressed, you can discover that NO theist can GROUND their morality on Gods commands. Its not logically possible.

What Mr. Lewis needs is an axiomatic anchor; something that cannot have a prior justification for following it.

And there is only one way for Mr. Lewis to have that anchor, and it doesnt involve Gods word, thats for sure.

There is only one way for Mr. Lewis to justify his moral system, and that is through the individualistic sovereignty of his own person found in the principle of self-ownership.

No God necessary.

Aaron Kinney said...

Goddamn typos. In my first sentence, I meant to say that Mr. Lewis knows NOT what hes talking about...

B.Ruhsam said...

I hesitate to jump in but...

Daniel Lewis: Also, a culture based on evolution has no absolute basis for morality. Sure, we create governments to uphold laws. But what if we agree that it's acceptable to kill anyone who doesn't have blue eyes? If the nation agreed on this law, would it be acceptable? This is basically Nazi Germany. They agreed that Jews should be eliminated from society, and Hitler even based this on survival of the fittest.

Stipulating evolutionary pressures at this sort of social scale, this argument still does not hold water! Nazi Germany was crushed by its neigbors because of its policies. Therefore, "evil" morality, as defined in the quote, is selected against. "Good" morality is a survival trait. No need for the bible.

And yes, I know that's a straw man. Interesting nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

calladus you have a selfish, empty life. Whithout HIM you can't really do good no matter how hard you try!!

Even trying to be good you will still answer to God.

EVERY knee will bend!!!

Calladus said...

Uhm... Thanks, anon, for your comment.

BG said...

He also need to read some Martin Luther, one of the largest influences on Hitler's views regarding Jews. A simple Google search for Martin Luther Hitler should be enough to educate him.

Martian said...

I await Mr. Lewis' rebuttal with eagerness, but it doesn't seem to be forthcoming... ;)

I wonder what his reply would be to all the contradictions in his bible. Maybe he hasn't read it enough to be aware of them?

grendelkhan said...

Phoenician:

if evolution is correct, then most mammal species last about 3 million years on average before becoming extinct and never being seen again.

While technically correct, I'm not sure this means what you think it means. (Because I'm uncertain what you think it means.) Many extinct species are no longer extant, but their descendants are. Dinosaurs, cladistically speaking, aren't extinct, because their descendants, birds, are still around.

It may seem like a fine distinction; for instance, Archaeopteryx has no living descendants, because it was on a branch of the tree of life between reptiles and birds which has no living descendants.

Ed Darrell said...

Even trying to peddle creationism, creationists will have to answer to God, too, if God exists and insists on answers.

If God is just, as I suppose, God will ask creationists why they didn't take God's work for what it demonstrates, and why they insisted on peddling untruths to innocent children, contrary to the admonitions from Jesus.

They'll haughtily proclaim to God that God "has a selfish, empty life. Whithout HIM you can't really do good no matter how hard you try!! Even trying to be good you will still answer to God. EVERY knee will bend!!!"

Whereupon, God's knee will bend as He prepares to kick the creationist off the cloud. God suffers children, but not unrepentant fools.

Paul said...

Jesus is our saviour. He crusified on the cross for our sins.

Calladus said...

He died for my SINS? Oh my! I've never, ever heard that before in my life! I didn't know! Why didn't anyone TELL ME? Now I've seen the light and will rush right out to the nearest church to be saved!

Paul, did you have anything RELEVANT to add to this conversation, or were you just looking for a place to deposit misspelled words?