Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Ed Brayton wrote a very scathing response to my first piece on the Paul Nelson vs Keith Miller affair. After having read his response (here) and studied the relevant pieces of text carefully I am left wondering whether we both have the same source documents... certainly Ed is reading them in a very different way from myself.

I am still convinced that the argument turns on what Keith Miller means by "natural regularity" or his later phrase "physical regularity."

Remember that the context of this discussion is that it is a group of scientists who are also Christians who profess to believe that the Bible is the "Word of God".
It seems clear to me that Paul Nelson's view in the discussion is that if a human being belongs in the category of "natural regularity" or "physical regularity" then this destroys moral responsibility. If a human being is reduced to only matter and energy interacting then moral responisbility is just an illusion.

Keith Miller seems to me to be deeply confused here. On the one hand as a scientists he wants to see a human being entirely within the category of "natural regularity" or "physical regularity" on the other hand he wants to say (a) Complex biological structures behave in strange ways and this may allow us to escape from the destruction of moral responsibility (b) As a Christian he believes that a human being is more than just matter and energy.

Paul Nelson was presenting his view of Keith Miller's confusion... ie that he denied a real basis for responsible intelligent causation and thus would have no real grounds for defining some actions as crime... it was his understanding of Millers position that he was ridiculing. He unwarrantably caricatured Keith Millers position and for this he has apologised. However we are left with a considerable degree of puzzlement about Keith Millers views. Does he or does he not believe that human, intelligent, responsible action can be reduced to physical regularity alone or not? This seems to me to be one of the issues at the heart of the ID debate too.


[BTW my comment about him not being a Christian if he believes that a human being can be reduced to interaction of matter and energy alone was not meant to be "cattish" just a statement of reality. Orthodox Christianity has always taught that human beings are made in the "image of God" and are a union of matter and spirit with the spirit capable of some kind of conscious experience without the body... hence Jesus' words to the thief on the cross "Today you will be with me in paradise" when both of their bodies were dead and disposed of in different ways.]

3 Comments:

Blogger Lifewish said...

If I recall correctly, one common theistic-evolutionary position is that God let evolution do the work, and then injected a soul at the endpoint of the process. So it's valid to use science to determine what it means to be homo sapiens, but to use religion to determine what it means to be human.

This seems to fit quite nicely with modern views of scripture. For example, if God made humanity in His own image, it's hard to believe that this could be a reference to either the body (does God get back pains?) or the intellect (would God have trouble solving the Riemann hypothesis?). This pretty much leaves us with the spirit as being the area in which we resemble God. Which means that the origin of the rest of us is more or less irrelevant.

I'm not in a position to evaluate all of this because it requires several premises that I don't accept. I'd be interested to hear your views.

3:05 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

I am not sure there are any clear and well defined "modern views of scripture" There are the older higher critical views but these are increasingly undermined by careful reserach.

The orthodox Christian view would I think attribute back pains to the fall having cosmic consequences.

With regard to the image of God. I think that theologians would say that the whole of man's being is made in the image of God.

To seperate the spirit from the mind and the body seems to me to leave it rather redundant in terms of anything real.

9:39 am  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

You're overthinking this way too much.

Nelson's question -- catty in its own right -- asks to what we should ascribe an act of vandalism that we did not witness.

Miller notes accurately that we do not need to presume that God was behind the vandalism, and that there is no discernible physical cause. Miller does not step onto the banana peel Nelson so carefully tried to make appear part of the floor.

You said: It seems clear to me that Paul Nelson's view in the discussion is that if a human being belongs in the category of "natural regularity" or "physical regularity" then this destroys moral responsibility. If a human being is reduced to only matter and energy interacting then moral responisbility is just an illusion.

You're inventing whole cloth now. Miller says nothing about the moral culpability of the human agent of the vandalism -- nor does Nelson, for that matter, except to try to hide the fact that God didn't do it. Noting that an act of vandalism wasn't an "act of God" for insurance purposes casts absolutely no argument to the moral culpability of the perpetrator.

But what does it say about Nelson, and you, that you miscast Miller's common sense claim? You are the guys who try to avoid culpability for the person who did it, and cast the blame on God instead! How does that make Miller unChristian, when it is you who commits the unChristian act?

Why is it so hard for you to acknowledge that God didn't burgle the automobile?

2:01 pm  

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