Discovery Institute: Materialist evolution = no love

February 15, 2017 • 1:05 pm

If you can stomach the Discovery Institute’s “Evolution News and Views” site, you’ll see David Klinghoffer’s lastest post, “What Darwinists don’t tell you: Valentine’s Day edition,” making a religiously motivated and badly misguided criticism of evolution.

First, though, if you’ve followed the Intelligent Design (ID) issue, you’ll know that the founding manifesto for ID, the infamous “Wedge Document,” had as its overweening goal not just the destruction of evolutionary theory, but the destruction of materialism itself as the guiding principle of science. The “governing goals” from that document are given below; if you can’t read them, they are “To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies,” and “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human being are created by God.”


That, of course, is because despite its claims, Intelligent Design is the product of a purely religious agenda, and materialism, absent religiously based metaphysics, is anathema to that agenda. If you overthrow materialism, everything supernatural and theistic can become part of science, and evolution is only aspect of that program.

And so Klinghoffer takes me to task, in my Darwin Day beef that I didn’t get awarded the DI’s “Censor of the Year” award, for pushing materialism—though I did it in a little joke. Klinghoffer is absolutely obsessed with me, scouring this site for things he can mock, and so he says this:

This bleak vision, the human being as meat machine, is on vivid display, though mixed with a clumsy childlike enthusiasm, in the writing of emeritus University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. On Darwin Day, for instance, he chided me for the hope that evidence of design will overcome Darwinian censorship: “I’m sorry to say that, I think, Klinghoffer will go to his Maker (disassociated molecules) before a teleological view of life permeates evolutionary biology.”

Imagine trying to sell “disassociated molecules” to the public, with their human intuitions, fears, and longings. Darwinists like Coyne or Dawkins, Bethell observes, are their own worst enemies.

I don’t think so! My first trade book, Why Evolution is True, is the #1 “evidence for evolution” book going, and keeps selling to the public, high school classes, and college courses. The worst enemies of evolution are in fact not evolutionists, whose atheism doesn’t seem to have prevented people from accepting evolutionary theory and fact, but religious believers, who simply won’t accept evolution because it either denies scripture or has implications they don’t like. Using the “stridency” of Dawkins as an excuse for rejecting evolution is just that—an excuse. I haven’t ever heard anyone say, “You know, if Dawkins would just shut up about atheism, I’d buy evolution in a second!” That’s not the way it works.

Klinghoffer continues:

To these thoughts, add our colleague Jonathan Witt’s observation for Valentine’s Day over at The Stream. From Darwinian materialism, he notes, a denial of the reality of love must follow:

“Evolutionist Daniel Dennett called Darwinism a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept … dissolving the illusion of our own authorship, our own divine spark of creativity and understanding.”Dissolve those things and there’s no room for romantic love to be anything very exalted.

Biologist E.O. Wilson is just as blunt. When Darwinian science conquers all, we will view the human brain as just the “product of genetic evolution by natural selection.” And the mind “will be more precisely explained as an epiphenomenon of the neuronal machinery of the brain.”

But surely we can rescue things like art, religion and poetry, right? No, Wilson insists. Evolution teaches us that all of it was “produced by the genetic evolution of our nervous and sensory tissues.”

Evolving Away Love

So what becomes of Valentine’s Day, of all of those romantic longings and pledges to love, honor and protect, maybe even till death do us part? Yes, glands and instincts are involved. Only a gnostic would deny that, and Christianity threw Gnosticism out on its ear at the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

But Darwinian science goes further. It insists the stuff of Valentine’s Day is all glands and instincts, and beneath those, all brain chemistry — a soulless concoction of matter and energy stirred up in the alchemist’s lab we call evolution.”

Of course, it would have to be that way. A materialist understanding of evolution robs us of virtually everything that makes life rich and worth living, if we’re honest about it with ourselves. What, really, is left? Eating? Animal rutting? Pursuing status or dominance in a manner hardly different from the way chimps and chickens do?

As Sean Carroll has pointed out so well in his latest book The Big Picture, there are realities at different levels, and so saying that, at bottom, love rests on our hormones and our genes does not deny that there is such thing as love. That’s like saying there’s no such thing as a stomach ache because the pain all rests on molecules. If you ask me if I’ve ever been in love, I’d say “Certainly!”  For love is an emergent property, one of many qualia that appear from the interaction between our genes and our environments.

If what Klinghoffer says in his last paragraph is true, then evolutionists would be a soulless lot, unappreciative of art, music, and literature, unable to fall in love, and bereft of basic human emotions. But we all know that’s not true. Eating and rutting are part of life for sure, but most evolutionists I’ve known don’t spend all their time trying to copulate or fill their maws.

At the end, poor Klinghoffer is still fuming that ID, though he sees it as scientifically true, hasn’t yet been accepted:

Meanwhile, intelligent design is not permitted to make its own scientific case. Or when it does so, ID scientists are put down by censors or drowned out by media spokesmen with endless chants of “creationist, creationist, creationist.” What a mad world!

No, what a smart world, for real science isn’t motivated to affirm a prior theistic commitment, and thus it rejects the contentions and arguments of ID.

If you go back to the Wedge Document, you’ll see that it has both 5-year and 20-year goals, which Wikipedia summarizes:

The wedge strategy was designed with both five-year and twenty-year goals in mind in order to achieve the conversion of the mainstream. One notable component of the work was its desire to address perceived social consequences and to promote a social conservative agenda on a wide range of issues including abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, and other social reform movements. It criticized “materialist reformers [who] advocated coercive government programs” which it referred to as “a virulent strain of utopianism”.

Beyond promotion of the Phase I goals of proposing Intelligent Design related research, publications, and attempted integration into academia, the wedge strategy places an emphasis on Phases II and III advocacy aimed at increasing popular support of the Discovery Institute’s ideas. Support for the creation of popular level books, newspaper and magazine articles, op-ed pieces, video productions, and apologetics seminars was hoped to embolden believers and sway the broader culture towards acceptance of intelligent design. This in turn would lead the ultimate goal of the wedge strategy; a social and political reformation of American culture.

In 20 years, the group hopes that they will have achieved their goal of making intelligent design the main perspective in science as well as to branch out to ethics, politics, philosophy, theology, and the fine arts. A goal of the wedge strategy is to see intelligent design “permeate religious, cultural, moral and political life.” By accomplishing this goal the ultimate goal as stated by the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the “overthrow of materialism and its damning cultural legacies” and reinstating the idea that humans are made in the image of God, thereby reforming American culture to reflect conservative Christian values, will be achieved.

The 20-year goals appear on page 4 of the Wedge Document. Klinghoffer and his buddies better get cracking. The Document was drafted in 1998, and they’ve got just about one year left to get ID to permeate all of American life and to overthrow materialism as well.

Here’s a pro-tip for Klinghoffer: you’d be better off producing some science supporting ID than to waste all your time scouring evolutionists’ websites so you can mock their views. After all, Darwin didn’t get evolution accepted among rational people by mocking creationists. No—he had evidence. 

h/t: Ken P.

104 thoughts on “Discovery Institute: Materialist evolution = no love

  1. They’ve got one year left ……. with Donald Trump as president.

    Don’t count your turkeys until they’ve voted for Christmas.

  2. My wife made it clear to me that she thinks Valentines day to be a construction designed to sell people things they don’t need.

    It was a relief.

    We do not separate out a single day to do nice things for each other. We do them throughout the year. She would rather have a new game than flowers, and she buys her own chocolates when she wants them. I cook her dinner every night and do the dishes. She buys me chocolates. I think she wants me fat and toothless.

    We are both atheists. We do not deny love. We just refuse to be manipulated and exploited by businesses who want to profit off us, that includes those in the business of religion.

    1. I think we need more wives like yours. However, I don’t know about that cooking her dinner part. Around here that could mean starvation.

    2. My husband and I agreed with your approach to Valentines Day and other such occasions. When we got past the years of poverty, we each bought what we needed or wanted, or bought them for each other. Our gift to each other was our time together, sharing our thoughts and love for 57 years, expressing our love daily, many times a day. Even if I won’t know if it ever happens, I imagine our molecules getting together somewhere in the universe after death.
      I will be happy to be recycled.

    3. While I like it if my kids give me a call on Mother’s Day, I’ve long let my family know that I consider Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day in their current iterations just hyped-up concepts conceived by Madison Avenue. Spare me!

    4. As do my wife and I. At her suggestion, we have been exchanging the same Valentine Day cards to each other for the last four years.

  3. Klinghoffer: It insists the stuff of Valentine’s Day is all glands and instincts, and beneath those, all brain chemistry — a soulless concoction of matter and energy

    Reminds me of:
    Student 1: We learned today that love is mediated by hormones such as oxytocin.
    Student 2: See! I told you love was real.

      1. Yes. It’s also the fallacy of “the more you know about it the less wonderful it becomes” that Feynman illustrated with his flower example.

        This is yet another example of how impoverished, small and limiting their ideology renders them.

  4. The question is whether the DiscoTute will poof into nonexistence at the twenty year mark when none of the Wedge Document’s goals are met.
    None of their five year goals have been met even now at nineteen years: ID as an accepted scientific theory was stomped to death in Dover back in 2005 (despite extensive whining about it by the Tute every year since); it’s not clear what “design theory” means anywhere other than in natural science, except to the extent it’s religion; and there have been no “major new debates … pushed to the front of the national agenda” – all we see is the same stuff we’ve been seeing since Scopes: religionists (Christians) want to teach religion as biology, secularists don’t.
    But as long as there are donors, I guess the Tute will continue.

  5. “Scientific materialism” doesn’t preclude belief in the spiritual, it merely excludes the spiritual as a proper sphere of study within the natural sciences. The essence of the scientific method is to divide the world into what is relevant and irrelevant to a particular problem or proposition. Long ago, Occham’s razor wisely set aside the spiritual as irrelevant to the goals of the natural sciences. It may be true that one “legacy” of scientific materialism is to forget that the spiritual has been merely set aside and proclaim that it simply doesn’t exist. But this isn’t the fault of science per se, nor does it negate the untold benefits that mankind has reaped from scientific materialism. Klinghoffer would do well to keep his speculations about “Intelligent Design” within the spiritual realm to which they belong and let scientific materialists proceed within their own proper realm. We’d all be better off.

      1. Pretty much as the term is commonly defined/used—i.e., of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the “material.” Also, however, as distinguished from the “religious” or any specifically religious tenets such as an afterlife.Does that help?

        1. Yes, thank you. Would you agree with the DI then that if materialism is all there is (and there’s no spiritual component to reality) then huge area of human experience, such as love, beauty, or values, would be absent or inexplicable? An evolution driven only by natural, mindless forces would lead to an impoverished outcome?

          1. I would never conclude either deductively or inductively that “love, beauty, or values” were absent, since my “human experience” provides incontrovertible evidence that they are alive and well. I would agree that they are “inexplicable” by the methods of science, but only because, by definition, they lie outside the purview of scientific materialism. (I might mention in passing that I think Intelligent Design is a totally bogus take on creationism, since it posits a preconceived plan or blueprint, which is not how any act of creation worthy of the name comes about.)

            Whether an “evolution driven only by natural, mindless forces would lead to an impoverished outcome” is a hypothetical question that is impossible to answer. Who knows what it might lead to? I will say that I don’t subscribe to such a concept of evolution as a exhaustive explanation of reality, though I firmly accept evolution as a phenomenon and fully understand why scientific materialism wisely limits itself to explaining only those evolutionary forces that are “natural” and “mindless.”

          2. Technically speaking, then, you’re a creationist, since you do seem to agree with the main thrust of the DI’s argument, that “materialist evolution = no love.” The theory of evolution doesn’t just explain how the physical world evolved, it also explains how the mental world of the brain evolved. It’s a “universal acid” which eats away at the comfortable intuitions regarding the bifurcation of reality into natural and supernatural, or spiritual.

            Whether the teleological goal is loaded into evolution up front or whether it unfolds through a process such as teillard de Chardin loosely described, is an internal quibble within creationism. By bringing in the non-overlapping magisteria idea, you don’t refute creationism, you concede its major motivation — the one the OP attempts to refute.

          3. I am indeed a creationist, and I apologize if I gave the impression that I was denying this when I rejected Intelligent Design. You’re right that different concepts of creationism amount to an “internal quibble” beyond the scope of scientific materialism–though “quibble” is not the word I would have chosen.

            As a former Jesuit, I’m very familiar with de Chardin’s thinking on this, though my own position is probably closer to (persona non grata in scientific circles) Thomas Nagel’s “natural teleology”–the main difference being that Nagel is an atheist and I’m a pantheist. My thinking re creationism derives mainly from my own experience as confirmed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s concept of “Primary Imagination,” which he describes in his “Biographia Literaria.”

            All of this is far too complex to go into here. If you or others who have taken the time to reply to my posts so respectfully want to continue the discussion, my email address is Giving out my email address may not be wise and may even be against “Da Roolz,” but my interest in this “quibble” is more than a passing one.

          4. “So which of the thousands of creation myths do you not quibble with?”

            I don’t quibble with any creation myths, from Genesis to the Big Bang Theory, as long as they are presented as symbolic narratives that reflect the cultures than spawned them rather than as literal happenings.

    1. “Klinghoffer would do well to keep his speculations about “Intelligent Design” within the spiritual realm to which they belong…”

      I don’t get it. Are you in support of NOMA? If so, why? Religion, spirituality, supernaturalism – call it what you will – makes reality claims, and lacks evidence for the claims made. Sorry, I don’t understand your point.

      1. Sorry if I wasn’t clear; this forum isn’t the best medium for expounding one’s views.

        Spirituality indeed makes “reality claims,” the main one being that reality includes the spiritual as well as the material. Such a claim, since it is explicitly OUTSIDE the realm of scientific materialism, is inevitably going to lack “evidence” as defined and accepted WITHIN the realm of scientific materialism.

        This lack of scientific evidence doesn’t establish the non-existence of spiritual reality; it merely establishes that spiritual reality is not amenable to the methods of science. This is precisely why it’s erroneous for believers to assert that creationism or any spiritual concept has a place within a science classroom. By the same token, however, it’s erroneous for scientists to assert that the whole of reality consists of that part of it which their methods are specifically designed to explain.

        1. So how do we decide which particular flavour of spirituality is true, and which is false? If there is evidence for spirituality being part of reality, then that evidence can be investigated using the scientific approach; if, on the other hand, the very concept of evidence does not apply to spirituality, then how do we know what to believe? How do we choose one woo from another woo? Are we free to believe in any woo that we wish to, simply according to how it makes us feel? Doesn’t seem very rational to me.

          If spirituality somehow interferes in the evolutionary process, would we not see the evidence of it somewhere, e.g. a particular frequency of alleles in a population that could not have occurred through the evolutionary mechanisms of which we are aware? Alternatively, if every allele frequency that we see can be explained by those mechanisms, why do we need to invoke spirituality to explain it? As Laplace is supposed to have told Napoleon: “I have no need of that hypothesis”.

          1. “If there is evidence for spirituality being part of reality, then that evidence can be investigated using the scientific approach.”

            There’s a general dictum to the effect that the person who gets to define what constitutes evidence wins the game. LOL. You keep using “evidence” to mean scientific evidence, and I’ve already contended that there are other kinds of evidence not amenable to the methods of science. Science uses part of our experience to explain a part of reality, and does a damn good job of it. But that’s not the part of reality we’re discussing.

            “Are we free to believe in any woo that we wish to, simply according to how it makes us feel? Doesn’t seem very rational to me.”

            If for “how it makes us feel” you substitute “the totality of our experience,” then yes, that’s how we know what to believe in the realm of the spiritual. And you’re right, it’s not very rational. Imagination, not reason, is the key faculty at work in coming to terms with the spiritual aspects of reality. Imagination comes into play in science as well, but more at the level of great scientific breakthroughs than in the routine application of the scientific method.

            “. . .if every allele frequency that we see can be explained by those mechanisms, why do we need to invoke spirituality to explain it?”

            We don’t need to invoke spirituality to explain “evolutionary mechanisms” of any kind. We need it only to explain those aspects of evolution that are not mechanistic.

          2. But evolution is simply “the change in the frequency of alleles in a population over time”. Nothing more, nothing less. We know of several mechanisms for this: natural selection (in various forms), genetic drift, etc. If you know of a population with an allele distribution which can NOT be explained by these mechanisms, please tell us what it is, as I am sure that professional biologists such as our good host would be fascinated to know.

            In fact, such an example would be world-shaking – I suspect the editors of ‘Science’ and ‘Nature’ would fight it out with scalpels on the steps of the Smithsonian for the right to publish.

            If, on the other hand, you do not know of any such example, then why do you need to invoke “spirituality” (by which I suspect you actually mean the Judeo-Christian god) to explain any part of evolution? Why state that there are “aspects of evolution that are not mechanistic” if you can not show us that those aspects have any real-world effect?

          3. Thanks for that, Richard. Given that I had to look up the meaning of “allele”–and wasn’t pronouncing it correctly at that–I’d be wise to pass on this one. But your concise explanation only confirms my point: “We don’t need to invoke spirituality to explain ‘evolutionary mechanisms’ of any kind.”

            By the same token, however, we don’t need to invoke the spiritual to explain the evolutionary mechanisms in the creation of, say, Michelangelo’s “David.” It’s simply “a change in the shape of a block of marble by means of a chisel over time. Nothing more, nothing less.”

            True enough. But such a mechanistic explanation does not account for why, standing in front of the statue for the first time, I thought to myself, “If a human being did this, I’m doing something wrong. I must change my life!” To explain that, I must invoke the spiritual–which, incidentally, has nothing to do with the Judeo-Christian god beyond the fact that the example I chose happens to be a Biblical character.

          4. Actually, we know that there is rather more to the creation of a statue than just a chisel – it requires the agency of a sculptor with an artistic talent. We don’t see chisels moving all by themselves to chip away the marble.

            But we see no such agency in evolutionary processes, nor is there any need for it, any more than Laplace found a need to explain planetary motions by postulating the existence of angels who kept pushing the planets along in their orbits. In fact, I would say that the very peculiar results (e.g. the panda’s thumb) which those processes sometimes produce are a good indication that there is no such agency (or if there is, he/she/it/them is blind drunk some of the time).

            I am also often amazed by what human beings are capable of doing, either as individuals or groups. I could never hope to compose music such as Mozart or Mendelssohn did, but that does not diminish the pleasure I gain from listening to e.g. ‘Fingal’s Cave’. But I also was an expert in my own field (now retired), and on past occasions when I have explained to people what it was that I did they were usually amazed – but there was certainly no spirituality involved in what I did.

            I see now that I did you an injustice when I suggested that by “spirituality” you meant the Judeo-Christian god, though in my defence that does seem to be the most common kind of creationist, at least on English-speaking websites. I have never heard of a pantheist creationist before – how does that work? (genuinely curious to know)

          5. “I have never heard of a pantheist creationist before – how does that work?”

            Not an easy question, Richard, but I appreciate your asking and will give it my best shot.

            The closest analogy (and it can only be approximated by analogy, however inadequate) is the process of creation as described by many artists/poets. Robert Frost provides as good an example as any:

            “It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events. . . . It has an outcome that though unforeseen was predestined from the first image. . . . Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

            This and other descriptions of the process eschew “intention” per se (e.g., “Intelligent Design,” which is an activity proper to engineers, not artists) in favor of an ongoing process of evolving or coming into being by a kind of “natural selection.” Creation, in short, is evolution. But unlike the strictly materialistic model (which it by no means excludes; any art form requires a medium), it implies a teleology, albeit one that even the creator is not fully aware of (Frost’s “unforeseen” but “predestined”).

            By this model, the universe was not created in the past but is in the process of being created at every moment. And the spirit by which that process of creation is kept in motion is what a pantheist such as myself would call, for lack of a better word, “God.”

            Not trying to convince here, merely clarify. Hope that helps.

        2. This lack of scientific evidence doesn’t establish the non-existence of spiritual reality; it merely establishes that spiritual reality is not amenable to the methods of science

          A question: if strong, conclusive scientific evidence for spiritual reality were to suddenly become available and scientists therefore concluded that reality has two components, the physical and the spiritual — would you reject their theory, citing “spiritual reality is not amenable to the methods of science ” as an inviolable premise, as opposed to a tentative conclusion?

          1. That’s a very good question, one that reflects that you get what I’m saying.

            Stated differently, you’re suggesting that science may be capable of accounting for all of reality, including the spiritual, but just hasn’t got around to it yet. This itself is an expression of faith unsupported by evidence, but one I can’t bring myself to accept. From my perspective, it’s more a matter of using a tool for something it’s not designed to do: “If I keep trying I may be able to saw this piece of wood with this hammer.” Possible perhaps, but not likely.

            But to answer your question: should your faith in science prove to be justified–no, I would not reject it.

          2. In which case, spiritual reality must be amenable to the methods of science. The lack of evidence in its favor is therefore good reason to reject its existence. NOMA isn’t valid or workable.

            This has nothing to do with having ‘faith’ in science. It has to do with honest consistency. If someone is going to reject scientific conclusions because they don’t like them, they’d rather believe in things they prefer, then there is no reason to keep any scientific discovery at all. The evidence isn’t being followed to the likeliest conclusion. Instead, one picks and chooses –and makes the argument to themselves that they do this because THEY care about love and meaning, and the people who accept the scientific theory can’t have the same concerns.

          3. Sorry, but you lost me here. Your original question was hypothetical: “if strong, conclusive scientific evidence for spiritual reality were to suddenly become available. . . .” We both know that your “if” isn’t the case and, for all we know, may never be the case.

            Now, however, you’re proceeding to argue as if your hypothesis were established fact: “In which case, spiritual reality must be amenable to the methods of science.” Well, yes–if spiritual reality were ever to become amenable to the methods of science, then spiritual reality must in that case be amenable to the methods of science.

            But where does this get us?

          4. You wrote:

            Sorry, but you lost me here. Your original question was hypothetical …

            Yes. Hypothetical questions help reveal what’s intrinsic to a concept, and what’s not.

            Earlier, you had claimed that when it comes to truths of the spiritual realm, “by definition, they lie outside the purview of scientific materialism.”

            So I asked what would happen if scientific materialism were to seem to confirm the truth of the spiritual realm. You did not say “if it’s in the purview of science, then it cannot be the spiritual realm no matter what it is, because by definition science can not find anything in the spiritual realm.” Instead, you agreed that IF this should happen, THEN you’d accept that the spiritual realm is not outside the purview of science after all.

            So claiming that ‘the spiritual realm lies outside of the proper sphere of science’ is false; it’s what’s called an immunizing strategy. That part is only added to the definition to immunize it, to protect it from being rejected after it failed to make a legitimate case.

            But where does this get us?

            It gets us to the place where you are forced to stop saying that the spiritual realm “is explicitly OUTSIDE the realm of scientific materialism, (and) is inevitably going to lack “evidence” as defined and accepted WITHIN the realm of scientific materialism.” We can both imagine otherwise.

          5. So by this logic I’d have to stop claiming “You can’t saw through wood with a hammer” because I allowed that this might be “possible perhaps, but not likely.” Given the immensity of the unlikelihood, I prefer to keep making my claim until proven wrong.

        3. Science is the only reliable means we have for telling if something is real or not. You can make whatever assertions you like about the spiritual world, but until you can devise an objective test to see if your assertions are true or false, you can’t claim any knowledge of the spiritual world. When you do devise such a test, you are automatically doing science.

          1. “I love my grandchildren and they love me.” This is a spiritual assertion, and I don’t need to devise an objective test to determine if it is true or false.

          2. Are you claiming the ability to directly apprehend your grandchildren’s love via some immaterial, spiritual means? Or is it the evidence of their words and their behavior that convinces you of their love?

            If the latter, then wouldn’t any observer of that behavior be able to draw similar conclusions? And would that not count as an objective test?

            If the former, then how can you be sure, without objective corroboration, that your spiritual sense is delivering true knowledge rather than self-serving delusions?

          3. “Are you claiming the ability to directly apprehend your grandchildren’s love via some immaterial, spiritual means?”


            “Then how can you be sure, without objective corroboration, that your spiritual sense is delivering true knowledge rather than self-serving delusions?”

            How I can be sure is not as relevant as the fact that I AM sure, just as I suspect (or at least hope) that you and every other person on the planet is sure of such things without objective corroboration. Does this preclude self-delusion? Absolutely not. But the level of certainty that my “spiritual sense is delivering true knowledge” is greater than any certainty I might derive from “objective corroboration,” so why would I bother pursuing the latter?

          4. To be clear then, even if your grandchildren openly professed hatred for you, and backed it up by behaving horribly to you, spitting on you, plotting to do away with you, and so on, none of this objective evidence could sway your spiritual conviction in their genuine inner love. Since your conviction was not arrived at by such evidence, it cannot be moved by such evidence. Do I have that right?

            Leaving aside the inherent implausibility of this position, it seems deeply problematical on other grounds. If spiritual certainty is its own justification, as you seem to be arguing, then anyone can claim anything, with no warrant other than their own conviction. How then are we to adjudicate competing claims of spiritual truth, particularly when such claims have tangible impact on public policy? (Such as, for instance, the view that contraception is impermissible.)

          5. “If spiritual certainty is its own justification, as you seem to be arguing, then anyone can claim anything, with no warrant other than their own conviction.”

            I’d probably say that it’s not analyzable (horrible word) except in terms of itself; it needs no justification. It’s based on a way of knowing that neither requires nor lends itself to “objective corroboration.” I would stress, however, that there’s nothing “supernatural” about this. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Take a simple example: when you hear a joke do you laugh at it or do you wait until you have objective corroboration that it’s funny—say, by looking around and observing that everyone else is laughing at it? I hope the former—i.e., that you can claim the joke is funny with no warrant other than your own conviction.

            “How then are we to adjudicate competing claims of spiritual truth, particularly when such claims have tangible impact on public policy? (Such as, for instance, the view that contraception is impermissible.)”

            A good question, albeit not an easy one to answer. In the case of the joke referred to above there’s no way to adjudicate competing claims about whether the joke is funny. But neither is there any need to. In the case of competing claims that have tangible impact on public policy, we’ve gone from the realm of personal convictions to that of politics and, by extension, to the age-old thorny question of the One versus the Many. There are ways to strike a balance between individual rights and the common good, but none of them is fool-proof and all of them are dependent on the prevailing attitude about the proper role of government. Here science—or at least statistics—can play a role in evaluating relative harms and benefits in the attempt to arrive at public policy. But even in this case science is not equipped to provide a definitive judgment that one spiritual claim is true and another false, since all spiritual claims are by definition outside its purview.

          6. In fact there are psychological theories of humor that attempt to analyze what makes jokes funny. It’s not at all obvious that such theories are inevitably doomed to failure, as you seem to assume.

            Successful stand-up comics, I’d argue, have finely tuned pragmatic theories of humor that they use to develop material, even if they don’t articulate it in those terms. They also field-test new material in comedy clubs to (in effect) measure its funniness in objective terms and to improve their knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

            The fact that I don’t explicitly employ such theories in deciding whether to laugh at a given joke doesn’t mean that jokes are beyond the reach of theoretical analysis, or that my urge to laugh exists independent of any material basis for it. It just means that people learn what’s funny the same way they learn most social behaviors: by trial and error, through interaction with other people, and internalizing the results on a subconscious level.

            Presumably you grant that there can be a valid science of linguistics, even though infants don’t invoke it explicitly when learning to speak.

          7. “In fact there are psychological theories of humor that attempt to analyze what makes jokes funny. It’s not at all obvious that such theories are inevitably doomed to failure, as you seem to assume.”

            Fair enough—up to a point. Similarly, there are numerous theories of literary criticism. I have a Ph.D. in the field (God help me!), and I can vouch for the fact that such theories ARE “inevitably doomed to failure” when they attempt to be a substitute for experiencing the beast in question.

            Experiencing is a way of knowing; it involves empathetic participation in the thing known. Critical analysis is a way of knowing how; it objectifies the thing known then takes it part and explains how it works. Roughly speaking, science is to nature as critical analysis is to a poem (or any work of art): it accounts for the parts—sometimes accurately, sometimes not—but never enters experientially into the whole.

            This isn’t a dis of either lit crit or science; it’s simply not what they are designed to do.

          8. That’s an emotional assertion, not a ‘spiritual’ one — unless you’re equivocating. Emotions may be best explained by scientific theories embedding them carefully in a completely natural reality, or they may be best explained by loosely invoking spiritual, supernatural realities.

            What you can’t do is use them as evidence for one form of explanation over another, or as an example which comes from one explanation, but not the other.

          9. What is your evidence that there is anything spiritual involved? How do you know your love for your grandchildren can’t be explained by genetic and cultural factors?

            How do you know your grand children love you? Do they beam their love into your mind spiritually or do you observe their behaviour?

        4. Above, in response to Sastra, you claimed that “human experience” provides incontrovertible evidence of spiritual phenomena.

          Here you seem to be claiming that spiritual phenomena are by their very nature immune to evidence.

          How do you reconcile these two apparently conflicting claims?

          1. Again it comes down to defining “evidence.” What I am saying is that spiritual phenomena are by their very nature not accessible by scientific methods and therefore cannot be supported by scientific evidence. I would think that most scientists would agree with the latter assertion.

            What I said earlier is that “MY human experience” provides incontrovertible evidence of spiritual phenomena. What I know about anything is determined by the way I encounter it, so I never assume that my knowledge of anything is more than partial. The subjective nature of “human experience” is not going to go away merely because we don’t like it.

          2. To say that some phenomenon is by its very nature not accessible by scientific methods is to say that it displays no observable regularities or predictability whatsoever. So how we can possibly know that such a phenomenon even exists at all, given that it’s indistinguishable from random happenstance?

  6. Liking the implication of a scientific theory — which is to say, wanting it to be true — provides precisely zero evidence of that theory’s validity. Klinghoffer engages here in a blatant argumentum ad passiones fallacy.

    Glad to hear that sales of WEIT remain brisk — that it’s been a commercial success as well as a succès d’estime.

    1. What I see is an argument from consequences based on an appeal to mystery: a materialist explanation reduces a phenomenon to illusion, and we don’t want love to be an illusion, do we?! Two fallacies for the price of one!

      I see something similar going on when evo-psych deniers conflate explanation with endorsement: you shouldn’t find an explanation for rape culture because that means it’s ok, and do we want rape culture to be ok?!

      1. But in a reductionist worldview isn’t love just an ‘illusion’ much like libertarian free will? We’ll have to rewrite those wedding vows from ‘I take you’ to ‘I had no choice but to take you’. 😉

        1. But in a reductionist worldview isn’t love just an ‘illusion’


          Love is the manifestation in our minds of various physiological and psychological effects that certain other people have on us. That doesn’t make it an illusion any more than the colour green is an illusion because you can reduce it to an effect produced when a photon of a certain energy strikes a photoreceptor in our retina.

        2. The word “illusion” is a misnomer. “Illusion” is something that either deliberately deceives or is constructed to be perceived in a way which is different from its real attributes (like in the case of optical illusion).

          Love, like all other emotions and sensations (including the sense of self and the sense of agency, responsible for what we claim to be “identity” or “libertarian free will”) aren’t “illusion”.

          They don’t deliberately deceive us or are constructed in a way which alters our perceptions. They ARE our perceptions. There’s no supernatural demon creating our emotions, “we” ARE our emotions.

          Emotions (and sensations, which are closely related to them) aren’t illusions but emergent qualities. An emergent quality is something which exists as an INTERACTION among smaller and simpler elements.

          Emotions are the product of interactions of electric signals in our brains (roughly speaking). Your sense of self, or your sense of agency, are also the product of interactions of electric signals in your brain.

          YOU, your own personality and memories and attitudes, are an interaction of electric signals in your brain, and of electric signals from other parts of your body to your brain.

          You are your body AND the sum of interactions within and between parts of your body. You’re not built to deceive yourself, you simply don’t exist without the parts that made up yourself.

          Your sensations and feelings aren’t “illusions”, they’re simply part of you, not the product of a “ghost trapped in the machine” but the product of the interactions within your body. Without your body, without your brain, you wouldn’t exist.

          What’s an “illusion” is the widespread idea that “Mind” and “Body” are somehow separated, that there’s a “spirit” which interacts with the matter. This idea comes from the fact that it’s possible to FEEL your body as “alien” to your self, while your body IS your “self”.

          Your love for someone else is part of you, not the arrow of Cupid. It’s part of the way you respond to some stimuli and how those responses interact with other signals within you.

          So yes, you can say “I take you”, because it’s you, as complex system of interacting signals, which are saying those words to express yourself. No supernatural entity “made” you do anything. Your choice exists because your choices are also part of you.

  7. Just had my 25th anniversary. Glad to say that 25 years of neuroplastic long-term potentiation and association have resulted in even stronger endocrine and neurochemical reactions than when we first met.

  8. Materialist evolution = no love?

    Ok, here’s my claim:

    malaria = no Christian God

    Who do you think has the better case?

  9. Where is the Bell curve in a sufficiently large set of fair coin tosses? A coin toss is a binary on / off thing; it’s absurd to even pretend to think about anything in its nature being remotely like a curve.

    …and, yet, there is is, the Bell curve, plain as day. Nobody even vaguely familiar with the subject would even vaguely hint at pretending otherwise.

    So, if nobody has a problem with a Bell curve emerging from coin tosses, why should we have a problem with love emerging from a far, far more complex and intricate underpinning?

    Yes, yes — IDiots then shift the goalposts to arguing that this complexity couldn’t have come from simplicity, but that’s a separate discussion.

    This is about emergence, and I think we can all agree that, if something as simple-yet-unintuitive as a Bell curve can emerge from something as different-yet-simple as coin tosses, we shouldn’t be surprised that something as complex-yet-unintuitive as love can emerge from something as different-yet-complex as neurophysiology.

    Indeed, wouldn’t the surprise be the other way ’round? Imagine that we had something as complex as the brain, yet it lacked any comparably complex emergent phenomenon? That, I think, would be as astonishing as finding a warm planet with an atmosphere but no storm systems, a radioisotope that decayed perfectly metronomically, a “fair” coin that always alternated between “heads” and “tails.”



    1. I think a bell curve refers to a normal distribution. The distribution of probabilities of some number of heads or tails turning up is the binomial distribution I believe. I’ll go see what wikipedia has to say about all of this.

      1. I think Ben is talking about the frequency distribution of multiple groups of coin tossing experiments. For example, say we toss a coin 20 times. There are 20 possible outcomes for number of heads. So along the x-axis we have 20 “bins” representing the results of one through 20 heads. So we toss a coin 20 times and get 7 heads. We add one to the 7 bin. Then we toss the coin 20 times and add that result. Repeat 1000 times. You get a rough approximation of a Gaussian distribution.

        Consider groups of 1000 coin tosses. Now we have 1000 bins. Toss a coin 1000 times for one million trials (I know that’s crazy but those particle physicists routinely collect crazy amounts of data for experiments): you get a much smoother approximation of the Gaussian distribution, just using the accumulation of many trials with a binary readout.

      2. The Gaussian is the same as the normal. … Actually the normal distribution is the sub form of Gaussian distribution. Gaussian distribution have 2 parameters, mean and variance. When there is zero mean and unit variance the Gaussian distribution becomes normal other wise it is pronounced as Gaussian.

  10. saying that, at bottom, love rests on our hormones and our genes does not deny that there is such thing as love.

    That’s true as far as it goes. However it does give the impression that biologists believe there’s nothing more to love than hormones and genes.

    I hope that biologists don’t actually believe that. Obviously individual molecules are incapable of feeling anything. The experience of love happens in our brains, not in our genes. So it seems to me that any real scientific understanding of love must therefore treat it as primarily a cognitive phenomenon, not a genetic or hormonal one. To the extent that biologists play the reductionist game by talking exclusively in terms of genes and hormones, they risk providing ammo for Klinghoffer’s anti-materialist narrative.

      1. He might well do that. But his objections might gain force with regular folks if scientists seem to be ignoring big parts of the explanatory picture.

    1. Yes — very important point.

      You could know everything about the physics involved in tossing a coin, to the point that you had a physics-level simulator of a person tossing coins…and, yet, though that would reproduce the Bell curve, it would tell you nothing about it.

      And that’s because the curve doesn’t exist at all at the level of individual tosses. It only exists within the context of the statistics of a sufficient aggregate of tosses.

      Consider that you get the same Bell curve whether you toss coins or quantize blackbody radiation. The underlying phenomena are radically different, yet the emergent phenomena are identical. That tells you that, to understand the patterns, you need to understand them within the context of the patterns themselves — not the context of whatever happens to underlie them.

      Nothing you learn about a coin toss is going to tell you about an electronically quantized bit of blackbody radiation, yet everything you know about the statistics of the one will be equally applicable to the other.



    2. “must therefore treat it as primarily a cognitive phenomenon, not a genetic or hormonal one”

      The problem is that “love as a cognitive phenomenon” maybe doesn’t tell us much how it is created in our brain. You have to go down to the level that makes sense.

      The scientific picture of reality is very different from our daily experience; most people don’t like it. But scientists must try to find out the truth, nothing else, even if it’s bad PR.

      “However it does give the impression that biologists believe there’s nothing more to love than hormones and genes”

      It’s true that materialism has robbed us from some illusions but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

      1. When talking about human experience and behavior, the level that makes sense is the one that includes brains. To think that you can explain such things without reference to brains is itself a damaging illusion.

  11. 1.) It should be noted that at first the DI (which should be cited for DUI [of religion]) tried to keep the Wedge document a secret!!

    2.) Klinghofer the Jewish guy at DI is citing the Incarnation and Resurrection??

    3.) Someone should write a history of creationism entitled The Origin of the Specious
    [Yes, I know there is no ‘the’ before Species in Darwin’s book!]

    4.) I like what evolutionist (and Quaker) writer Robert Pennock said “When lobbying for ID in the public schools, wedge members sometimes deny that ID makes any claims about the identity of the designer. It is ironic that their political strategy leads them to deny God in the public square more often than Peter did.”

    Meanwhile I offer the cover of the original and a parody.

    And the parody,%20discovery%20institute,%20atheism,%20true%20freethinker.jpg

  12. The DI — and many theists — suffer from a very bad case of greedy reductionism, otherwise known as “Nothing-But-Ism.”

    If humans are made completely of chemicals, then we are NOTHING BUT chemicals. If it all reduces to carbon and oxygen and other elements, then that’s what’s real. We can’t talk about our hopes, our dreams, what moves us, what makes us happy or sad — none of that! We can only answer social or psychological questions by scribbling chemistry formulas. Nothing matters which isn’t matter.

    Apply the same argument to evolution. Keep in mind that “There is nothing new under the sun.” Never, ever. If the series of unfolding events starts out without emotions and values, then it STAYS that way. Otherwise, where did these things come from, so that they were inserted?

    The only way to rescue this is by way of magic essence. Insert a spiritual component which just is meaning or beauty or something else irreducible. Problem solved.

    One has to think on a very basic, simple, simplistic level to accept this — but that’s the level of intuition. Comprehending layers of complexity which build into something which wasn’t already there requires more complicated forms of thinking. And thinking is hard. Nothing-But-Ism rests on superficial, lazy assumptions, and goes nowhere.

    The DI’s entire argument is nothing but a re-hash of the infamous yet trite “‘You can’t see LOVE with a microscope,’ Mr. Smarty-Pants Scientist!”

    1. It’s somewhat puzzling that people who denounce alleged reductionism in others so vehemently still enjoy rainbows and sunsets even though they know the beautiful colours and patterns are produced by refraction and scattering.

    2. I wonder whether these people ever apply the same argument to the microprocessors that surround them in their laptops, phones, TVs, DVD players, etc.?

      “It’s nothing but electrons flowing through transistors – so tell me how the TV can display those ultra-high definition moving pictures with surround sound, Mr. Smarty-Pants Engineer!”

      Incredibly complex behaviour can be built up, layer after layer, from simpler components. The most fundamental operation in a programming language is the assignment statement – nothing more than “evaluate this expression and store the result in this variable” – yet by the execution of myriads of such simple operations a program can perform complex actions.

      1. Quibble: assignment is not actually fundamental to computation. Functional programming languages that lack assignment and side-effects are still Turing-complete and can compute anything that can be computed by assignment-based imperative languages.

        1. I really didn’t want to get into the differences between imperative, functional and logic programming languages in my post (though I am well aware of them), but am happy to discuss them if you so wish. 🙂

  13. The Klinghoffers of the world have run out of long term plans or goals as they like to call them. If they haven’t succeeded with the good book after all these years they need to let it go. Where is the beef Klinghoffer. Evolution has the evidence and you have nothing but BS. The institute is naked don’t you think?

  14. “Eating and rutting are part of life for sure, but most evolutionists I’ve known don’t spend all their time trying to copulate or fill their maws.”

    A thousand apologies, forgive me, as I have no free will and cannot help but quote an Appalachian mountaineer, with an appreciation for alliteration (though he would have never heard of the term), whom I heard say the following regarding the nature/tendencies of a clan in an adjacent “holler” (hollow):

    “All they think about is their paunch and their puss!”

  15. “….if we’re honest about it with ourselves…” ~Klinghoffer

    Well that’s the problem isn’t it? They never have been. Their agenda precludes it. What matters to them is The Wedge, not The Truth.

  16. I don’t understand the lack of love (heh) for biochemical reactions. Presumably these folks don’t think my taste buds need a soul to work, yet bacon still tastes wonderful. If it’s fine for one wonderful feeling to be ‘merely’ biochemical, why not others?

    1. I suspect their answer would be that no feeling is “merely” biochemical. Your taste buds don’t need a soul to do the job of sorting good food from bad, but appreciating the wonderfulness of the flavor is an ineffable subjective add-on that (they claim) does require a soul.

      1. Which would, if they were consistent, lead to a very Cartesian denial of feelings in animals. Even dogs salivate over a good smelling meal. But if they don’t have souls, they must not be “feeling” anything towards it? Silliness.

        Though in this case I’d happily accept ‘hypocrisy’ as the lesser of two evils. Better they be theologically inconsistent and treat animals well, than treat them as unfeeling to be consistent.

  17. My second comment on this thread. The following is an original palindrome addressed to a woman named Beverly.

  18. Discovery Institute: Materialist evolution = no love
    Klinghoffer is quite right, there is no love and it’s gone way past showing respect as well.

    “disassociated molecules” are in his head already, poor chap.. oops i’m showing empathy, better stop now.

  19. Thinking about intelligent design and Paley’s watch example it occurs to me that without any grasp of science how would anybody be able to recognise it as a watch and tell the difference between it and a funny looking stone?
    The recognition would surely only occur if the person already had the knowlede that it was a watch. This would not be a matter of a persons intelligence but of the necessary acquired knowledge.
    Just a thought…. probably wrong

    1. I’ve argued for years that Paley’s watch actually demonstrates the opposite of what he wanted. The watch clearly has some quality that marks it out as different from the sand and rocks and cacti and scorpions. If the whole of “creation” looked designed, you wouldn’t pick the watch out as anything special.

  20. “For love is an emergent property, one of many qualia that appear from the interaction between our genes and our environments.”

    I agree entirely your argument Jerry, EMERGENCE is indeed the key to creating many of the human properties that form our human existence. But in making your (true) argument you are also totally undermining your own incompatibilist stance on free will. Free will is an emergent property arising from the many advanced cognitive capabilities of the human species, which at lower levels arise from “hormones and genes”- just like love. And if, as you say, that free will is an illusion, so indeed is love.

    1. Are you using emergent as a synonym for imagined?

      To paraphrase you:
      “God is an emergent property arising from the many advanced cognitive capabilities of the human species, which at lower levels arise from “hormones and genes”- just like love.”

      If free will is an emergent property than we have to see God also as an emergent property for exactly the same reason.

      (see f.i.

      I personally have no trouble saying that “emergent properties” are just illusions.

  21. Are you using emergent as a synonym for imagined?”


    I suggest that you make a quick visit to Wikipedia to inform yourself on the definition of Emergence. You will find that for an abstract and abstruse concept such as god, this can not conform to a property of Emergence as it is used in either science or philosophy.

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