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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Friday, February 07, 2003

Useful idiots?

The term "useful idiots” arose in connection with the triumph of Soviet Communism. The terms is usually credited to Lenin who is said to have referred to defenders and apologists for the Soviet Union in the Western democracies as "useful idiots." These western intellectuals and opinion-shapers served, however unwittingly or naively, to further the totalitarian aims of Soviet Communism. The amount of goodwill and positive free publicity they gave to the Soviet Union, especially during the dark days of Stalin's terror was enormous. Lenin and Stalin both cultivated these figures - e.g. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, Walter Duranty, Jean Paul Sartre, the Huxleys, the Rev. Hewlett Johnson, Upjohn Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens (who infamously wrote of his visit to Russia at a time when great purges were the order of the day "I have seen the future and it works")! “Blind fools” might also be appropriate!

"The magic aura of the Soviet myth affects not only the Communist
Party-membership but, in a more blurred way, Socialists, Liberals,
progressive intellectuals, enlightened clergymen. In the wretched decades
between the two wars, when the Left lived in an atmosphere of constant
defeats and betrayals, when inflation, unemployment, Fascism swept over
country after country, Russia was the only thing to live and die for. She
was the only hope in an age of hopelessness, the only promise for the tired
and disillusioned. On the surface the attitude of the 'Sympathizers' was
more critical, but deeper down they were all affected by the myth. Not bound
by the vows of orthodoxy, they could permit themselves heresies, even
frivolous jokes; their critical objections did not destroy their beliefs,
because it was vaguer and therefore more elastic. But there was a solid and
untouchable core to it, a magic formula which amounted to something like:
'In spite of all Russia is "the real thing"; "the only pointer to the
future"; "the last hope'; and so on. Even frightened stockbrokers and
enlightened business men discover in times of depression that 'after all
there may be something in it' - much like the atheist on his death-bed
taking the Last Sacrament.

Though vaguer and woollier, this belief is as unconsciously and jealously
guarded as the doctrine of the orthodox. 'The New Statesman' and 'Nation's
interpretations of Stalinite policy display all the ingeniousness of the
official Apologist, though with a somewhat more elegant logical curvature."

Arthur Koestler "Anatomy of a Myth" in The Yogi and the Commissar. Koestler, Jonathan Cape, 1945 p.134

Unfortunately time and time again the actions of many intellectuals has only confirmed the view so drolly expressed by W H Auden:

To the man-in-the-street, who I'm sorry to say,
Is a keen observer of life,
The word 'Intellectual' suggests straight away
A man who is untrue to his wife

History has also shown that the attitude taken by some intellectuals is not unlike that described in those famous lines penned by someone-or-other about someone-else-or-other who, though a thief, a liar, and a murderer, was, nonetheless, an intellectual and therefore "among the noblest of humankind".

The whole point of the "useful idiot" analogy (and I'm sorry that it is such a pejorative term; in the interests of reducing heat and increasing light I will use the less inflammatory term "fellow travellers" from now on) is that the fellow travellers believed they were speaking the truth, that they were seeing things as they really were, that they were on the side of right, that they were pointing the way to a better world, when of course, we know from hindsight, that they were so misguided, blinded and duped that they actually colluded in the crimes of a dogmatic totalitarian state. They propped up an ideology and a materialistic worldview that brought untold suffering and misery to countless millions.

This is the background to my use of the term in reference to theistic evolutionists who by force of their opposition towards creationism and ID, and their spirited defence of evolution, actually play into the hands of atheists and ultra-Darwinists like Dawkins, Dennett, Atkins, Pinker, and Wilson, etc. Even though they personally despise and reject the theism and Christianity that theistic evolutionists espouse, just about all these atheists will make use of the writings and addresses of theistic evolutionary clergy, intellectuals and scientists who accept evolution and reject ID, in their own attacks upon the intelligent designer. Thus they enlist these Christians as valuable weapons in their arsenal against, not just creation, but what they term "fundamentalism", which includes everybody from Evangelicals to traditional Catholics and anyone else who maintains an orthodox, traditional approach to the Faith, along with all the more fringe groups such No Names, the Branch Davidians, Pentecostal holy rollers, televangelists and snake handling sects in the deep South.

A classic example of this phenomenon is Professor Kenneth Miller, the personable, handsome and extremely articulate defender of Darwinism orthodoxy. Just about every atheist, infidel, skeptic, and "freethinker" site on the Net refers positively to Miller, links to his articles and uses him and his arguments as a blunt instrument to batter creationists with. His book "Finding Darwin's God" is considered by many to be the best refutation of creationism and ID in print. But of course, if they were to read "Finding Darwin's God" closely they would find that Miller has some scathing things to say about Dawkins and Co's brand of ultra Darwinism. Miller is also a theistic evolutionist who affirms his belief in the God who "creates" via the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection. But this is usually overlooked because of his "demolition job" on all forms of creationism that has made him the latest poster boy to evolutionists, atheists and philosophical naturalists everywhere (move over Richard Dawkins!).

That a person who is a fellow believer in the God of the Bible should produce the book that even atheists applaud for its attack on creationist beliefs may be shocking to some. But, as I have learned, it is par for the course, as some of the most fervent and bitter opponents of ID are Christians. Interestingly many of the atheistic evolutionists who laud Miller's "demolition" of ID are the same ones who are concerned, disturbed or disappointed by Miller's own need to evoke God in the second half of his book.

The point is, among themselves, many atheists and philosophical naturalists consider Miller only a "fellow traveller". He is eminently useful for the work he does in undermining the creationist position; at the same time they "know" he is just plain wrong and totally misguided in his insistence that there actually is a God who has some input somewhere in the process of origins and development. But he is valuable asset to the cause…

Let me present some comments to support my thesis. The first comes from Barry A. Palevitz Professor of Botany University of Georgia in his article Falling Off a Tightrope: Compromise and Accomodation in the War Between Creationism and Evolution inBioScience 50 (no. 10):926-929, October, 2000.

"...Having poxed both camps [creationists and evolutionists], Miller has tosolve the universe's big whodonit--he has to find a way to put God into the equation, and he does it through the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics.

According to Miller, the unpredictability of subatomic particles provides enough wiggle room for God to work miracles. Even better, indeterminacy makes its way up the matter ladder: "The indeterminate nature of quantum events would allow a clever and subtle God to influence events in ways that are profound, but scientifically undetectable to us. Those events could include the appearance of mutations, the activation of individual neurons in the brain, and even the survival of individual cells and organisms affected by the chance processes of radioactive decay" (p. 241). Miller later continues, "God, the creator of space, time, chance and indeterminacy, would exercise exactly the degree of control He chooses" (p. 242). Since we can’t
explain quantum indeterminacy, nor breach the resulting wall that hides an ultimate understanding of nature, there's even more reason to invoke God.

Wait! Is Ken Miller, irreducible complexity's worst nightmare, using the exact same arguments as Behe, except that instead of designing biochemical pathways, Miller's deity plays dice with quarks? And this impenetrable wall business sounds like an argument for ignorance. I get nervous when people talk about permanent barriers to understanding the natural world. Maybe we don't know what indeterminacy means today, but my great grandkids may peek over the wall in 2100. "Not now" doesn't mean "never." To make matters worse, Miller flirts with the idea of purpose in the hard anthropic principle, another of neocreationism's pet rocks: God created the universe,just as it is, with us (or a species like us) in mind.

Forget the high fives. If this is the fruit of compromise, I don't want any part of it. To accommodate the natural world and religion, Miller uses the same mental contortions as his adversaries, and he doesn't even realize it. He's conceded too much ground."

The second comes from Michael Ruse, Professor of zoology and philosophy of science University of Guelph Ontario, Canada in a review of Kenneth Miller's "Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution."

"...Brown is not only a deeply committed evolutionist, he is also a deeply committed Christian, a practicing Roman Catholic no less. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to argue for evolution - for Darwinian evolution making natural selection central - and yet argue for a strong, Jesus-Christ-as-the-son-of-God-who-came-down-to-earth-to-die-for-our-sins, religious faith also...

Cutting to the quick, how successful is Ken Miller in his endeavours?
I would say that in his defence of evolution and critique of
Creationism, he is extremely successful. Indeed, I think he offers
some of the best material I have ever seen on the subject. I find
his treatment of Christianity in the face of science and other
objections rather less successful. You might object that you could
have forecast that this would be my opinion before either of us had
read Miller's book. I am an ardent Darwinian and a non-believer - a
philosopher to boot.

...what strikes me as one of the most troubling points with Miller's
discussion: he avoids mention of some of the most difficult issues,
particularly those pertaining to human souls and their origin, not to
mention their contamination with original sin. (Are we as
evolutionists to think that at some point in time, God miraculously
inserted souls, and if He did, in what sense are these different from
our evolved intelligences? And are we to think that there was an
Adam and Eve who ate the apple in direct disobedience to God and if
not how then are we sinful needing the sacrifice of Jesus on the
cross to wash away our transgressions?)...

...Miller writes: "Evolution cannot be a cruel concept if all it does is reflect the realities of nature, including birth, struggle, life, and death" (p. 246). But why on earth not? This is the very point made by Richard Dawkins in his recent writings (especially Climbing Mount Improbable and River Out of Eden). Evolution is cruel and miserable and you cannot get away from the fact. It may nevertheless be possible to square this with the Christian God, but this is not something that Miller does and it is no reason to dismiss Dawkins just because he is such a violent atheist and so distasteful to the Christian.

...Miller is right to point to the fact that if human
existence is as contingent a phenomenon ... - we evolved
purely by chance, not the least because the dinos were wiped out by a
comet - then the Christian is in trouble. If nothing else, the
Christian must insist that the arrival of creatures in the image of
God cannot be contingent - they are a necessary part of God's plan.
But I am not at all sure that Miller digs himself out of this
problem. After some circling around, Miller rather suggests that
something human-like must have evolved somewhere in the universe and
that is enough for God - the creatures in his image did not
necessarily have to be Homo sapiens... There are no guarantees of
human-like life forms in the universe, which modern physics tells us
may well not be infinite in duration. Can we really be sure that
humans will evolve? I am not sure that we can, at least on the
evidence that Miller offers us...

as Miller himself rather admits, this does not prove
the existence of the Christian God. At most, I think a healthy
scepticism is warranted. Because we cannot understand what is
"really" going on - because our physics is now designed to stop us
from asking such awkward questions - it does not mean that God is
lurking. It could just be the same blind forces as always. Indeed,
the reasonable assumption is that it is the same blind forces as

The third comes from Frank R. Zindler from the American Atheists

"While it is nothing less than scandalous that creationist beliefs have survived into the Twentieth Century, we must also express our embarrassment at the fact that there are many people who, despite the fact that they are relatively well schooled in evolutionary science, believe in something known as theistic evolution. This is the view that evolution has, in fact,occurred, but it has been directed by a supernatural power. The long road from jawless fishes, to fishes with jaws, to amphibians, to reptiles, to mammal-like reptiles, to mammals, to Adolf Hitler or the Ayatollah Khomeini was, they must avow, all the unfolding of a divinely guided plan. Theists must accept the plagues produced by evolution as part of their god's plan.

Not only can such a view be a bar to progress, it can be a direct road to madness...

The best thing that can be said about the theistic evolution idea is that it is not contradicted by the facts of nature. But of course, it could not be contradicted by any facts, if all the facts of nature are precisely what a god has ordained. Alas for the theistic evolutionists, this places the "theory" outside the realm of science, since scientific statements must be testable.

The idea of theistic evolution suffers from still another serious defect: it violates Ockham's Razor. This is the principle in logic that basic assumptions should not be multiplied beyond necessity. If natural forces alone are adequate to account for the course of evolution, why posit additional supernatural forces? Such forces are superfluous. It is simpler to stick with the observable, measurable forces of nature.

The idea of theistic evolution is associated, it would appear, with an
emotional immaturity that makes men and women unable to accept the fact that they are probably alone in the universe, that they must find meaning and fulfillment among the comrades - both human and nonhuman - with whom they share the planet. Mature personalities can accept the world for what it is: uncreated and unconscious. Constrained only by the limits of the laws of nature, the mature mind may do all in its power "To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire," and then "remold it nearer to the heart's desire".

Atheists know that cancer and tapeworms are not parts of a divine plan.
Atheists are completely free to do something about such plagues - and they are doing it! "

(Apropos of nothing, Zindler was trounced in a debate with theist philosopher William Lane Craig)

I shall conclude with a quote from the atheist Koestler, who made this remark with reference to fellow travellers of Communism but which captures the attitude of atheists to evolutionary fellow travellers like Miller:

The sympathise enjoys the apparent superiority of the broad-minded theist over the doctrinaire Catholic; but the roots of one belief are as irrational as the other's.

7:05:00 pm