AN EXAMINATION OF RICHARD C. LEWONTIN'S BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF DEMONS

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An examination of the popular review by Dr. Richard C. Lewontin of the late Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Cradle in the Dark”.

In this article I attempt to set the record straight about often accusation of atheist-evolutionists against any and all creationists who dare to use the quote from the twenty-seventh paragraph of the Lewontin review.
I not only attempt to demonstrate that many creationists do indeed misrepresent the Lewontin quote but that they generally do so unintentionally and why Dr. Lewontin himself is mainly responsible for the misapplication and misunderstanding about some of his comments in that twenty-seventh paragraph.
I also attempt to demonstrate why I believe that Dr. Lewontin’s review was more about providing damage control for evolution against creationism than Carl Sagan’s book.

Your comments and corrections are welcome.

Submitted: January 13, 2014

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Submitted: January 13, 2014

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AN EXAMINATION OF

RICHARD C. LEWONTIN’S BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF DEMONS

By Danzil Monk

 

Back in 2011 while I was engaged in an online dialogue with a group of evolutionists atheist, I happened to use a popular quote from a 1997 New York Times book review by Richard C. Lewontin on a book by Carl Sagan “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”. Although my use of the quote was accurate and appropriate, I made the mistake of including sections of the quote that I was not including in my argument, and the atheists zeroed in on that section and accused me of quote mining and misrepresenting Dr. Lewontin.

It was obvious to me that they had not bothered the read the entire review carefully, and I did my best to get them to see my point in vain.

I decided to study the review, and write an outline with comments on key sections including the section in which he makes his famous “in spite of” statements. 

I then began to notice that wherever I mentioned the Lewontin review quotes and atheists or evolutionists were present, they would make the same accusations, and again, try as I might, I could not get them to carefully examine the review or prove to me, using the review, that my interpretation was incorrect.

Even more disconcerting was the fact that I was seeing more and more creationists use the quote from the Lewontin review partly out of context just as atheist-evolutionists had accused me of doing. And when I attempted to point it out to a few of them, some were unable to see my point and felt that their use was accurate and justified. Others have still not yet replied to my communication on the matter, but I am confident that once they read this review, they will understand my observations and may even provide me with edifying instructions and helpful suggestions.

But having had so much feedback and indeed flak from that single quote, and then after searching for commentaries on the Lewontin Billions and Billions of Demons review and finding none, though it has been quoted and referenced many times in print, audio and video, I thought It would be worth my time to do my own review of the reviewer. Especially seeing that several respected creationists have made great use of the twenty-seventh paragraph, and I believe unintentionally misapplied parts of the quote.

It is not my intention to give extensive examination of every detail of the review, but only a general overview, giving attention only to key sections that I feel require close scrutiny to defend my arguments and my interpretations.

Note that a special copy of the Richard C. Lewontin New York Times book review with each paragraph numbered for quick reverence is available upon request.

 

The Review

 

After a brief quote from “a Study in Scarlet” he begins his review with these words:

“I first met Carl Sagan in 1964, when he and I found ourselves in Arkansas on the platform of the Little Rock Auditorium, where we had been dispatched by command of the leading geneticist of the day, Herman Muller.”

Given that Lewontin had not only began his review with this debate incident but had referenced it several times more throughout his review without ever giving the names of the individuals he and Carl Sagan had debated, I decided to look for a copy but could find none. The reason was because Lewontin had the year wrong; it was not 1964 but 1966. And after tracking down a copy of the debate and learning that the two individuals they were debating were the popular and quite capable Dr. James D. Bales, and Biologist, Dr. Jack Wood Sears, it became clear why Lewontin chose not to mention them by name. Nevertheless, it was a clear slight and professionally disrespectful for him not to mention their opponents by name.

Lewontin’s take on the debates outcome is expressed in paragraph four as follows:

“despite our absolutely compelling arguments, the audience unaccountably voted for the opposition.”

But according to Bill Everett in his “A gentleman and a Scholar”, Dr. Bales remembered the encounter quite differently.

“When (eminent astronomer) Carl Sagan and three fellow debatesmen walked into the Little Rock auditorium in 1966, they came expecting to find a couple of hillbillies,”......... “Their methods were simplistic and we really knocked their socks off that night”.

In his book, “Forty Two Years on the Firing Line” Dr. James D. Bales said that both H.B. Dodd and H. Brent Davis, who were the evolutionists who enlisted Richard C. Lewontin, Carl Sagan and Thomas K. Shotwell, to help debate Bales and Sears, were disappointed in their performance. They said that “they did not do a good job”, and that “they might as well had been the side of Dr. Bales and Sears. Dodd even challenged Bales to another debate, feeling that “the people deserved to hear a real debate”. Pg.78

In that same book, Dr. Bales said: “Personally, I thought our opposition did a poor job, and my team could have done a better job on their side than they did”. Pg 79

It is clear that Dr. Bales felt that he and his partner Dr. Sears had won the debate, but that is no reason for Dr. Lewontin to slight them some 31 years later.

Lewontin goes on to say in paragraph five, that while he viewed the debate between creationism and evolutionism as simply a sociological issue, Carl Sagan saw it as a struggle between ignorance and knowledge and from that experience went on a crusade to educate the masses about science in order to defeat faith in the supernatural.

Lewontin goes on to make many candid statements that expose the problems of the science community, much to their embarrassment, but it is clear to me that his goal was not to debunk science in general but to control the damage done to evolution’s credibility by the likes of Sagan and others over the years. Although done in the pretext of a review, his comments, focus and methods of communication, to me, clearly center on the creation vs. evolution conflict.

From Paragraphs six through nine Lewonitn contrasts Carl Sagan, (whom Lewontin takes issues with on more than one occasion), and the only other man that he thinks excelled Sagan, Steven J. Gould, with an emphasis on Sagan’s strive to eliminate public ignorance of science and his convictions as to what the problem was and how to resolve it.

Of particular interest to me is what he says in paragraph seven:

“Carl Sagan's program is more elementary. It is to bring a knowledge of the facts of the physical world to the scientifically uneducated public, for he is convinced that only through a broadly disseminated knowledge of the objective truth about nature will we be able to cope with the difficulties of the world and increase the sum of human happiness.” (Emphasis mine)

But anyone who has honestly been monitoring the creation/evolution conflict knows that evolutionists have not been objective in their examination of nature as it relates to evolution. And their lack of objectivity has not contributed to our ability to cope with the difficulties of the world or increased the sum of human happiness.

In paragraph eight Lewontin discusses Sagan’s game plan to save a scientifically ignorant public from itself, by first getting them to reject their irrational supernatural-istic view of the world. According to Sagan, their problem with science is due to their incorrectly trained mind set towards the supernatural. That mentality must be completely replaces with knowledge of science.

“Second, to put a correct view of the universe into people's heads we must first get an incorrect view out. People believe a lot of nonsense about the world of phenomena, nonsense that is a consequence of a wrong way of thinking.”…….

“Rather, the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth. The reason that people do not have a correct view of nature is not that they are ignorant of this or that fact about the material world, but that they look to the wrong sources in their attempt to understand.”

But neither Sagan nor Lewontin bothers to address the matter of legitimate creationist objections to the evolutionist’s solution to human origins or humanities problem. It can also be demonstrated that atheistic-evolution has in fact contributed to the problems of humanity, and cannot possibly be the cause of life’s origin.

It should also be noted that this atheist-evolutionist agenda is being carried out in American

public school systems and in institutions of higher education.

In paragraph nine, Lewontin tells of Sagan’s complaint about public ignorance and foolish belief in the supernatural that is mainly due to their lack of sufficient intellect. Sagan’s evidence is opinion polls showing that the majority of Americans believe in UFOs and aliens. He explains what Sagan means by “demonic” which covers a wide range of things from the supernatural, the occult, the psychological and even fantasy. He also says that the God issue gave Sagan a lot of trouble, and while Sagan had no problem keeping it real about the others, even to the point of mocking them, when it came to the God issue he seems more tame and civil.

“Sagan's argument is straightforward. We exist as material beings in a material world, all of whose phenomena are the consequences of physical relations among material entities. The vast majority of us do not have control of the intellectual apparatus needed to explain manifest reality in material terms, so in place of scientific (i.e., correct material) explanations, we substitute demons. As one bit of evidence for the bad state of public consciousness, Sagan cites opinion polls showing that the majority of Americans believe that extraterrestrials have landed from UFOs.”

“God gives Sagan a lot of trouble. It is easy enough for him to snort derisively at men from Mars, but when it comes to the Supreme Extraterrestrial he is rather circumspect, asking only that sermons "even-handedly examine the God hypothesis.”

It is important to note that Lewontin makes no effort to correct Sagan’s perspective here as he does on other points, which at least indicates his agreement with Sagan on this point.

Not much has changed it the last sixteen year, evolutionists-atheists still consider those of us who believe in God to be lacking intellect and yet there are still some who like Sagan back then, try to avoid the direct frontal attack against Christianity, not out of respect but as a tactical move to con believers into believing that he is no threat to them. Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a perfect example.

In paragraph ten, Lewonitn, in route to contemplating Sagan’s reason for soft peddling it on the God issue, takes a passing swipe at biblical inspiration, which was totally unnecessary unless, as I suspect, it was in line with the true goal of his review-to counter creationism and Christianity.

“The fact that so little of the findings of modern science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration. But of course, I might be wrong.”

Indeed, he is wrong for even making such a statement, especially when he has no solid conviction on the matter. I think the idea was to poison minds by suggestion, since the comment serves no other purpose.

In paragraph eleven he informs us that Sagan’s book is mostly focused on a call to the public to turn from false gods to science. In the process he makes this misleading comment:

“To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality, and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test.” (Emphasis mine)

Once again Lewontin fails to criticize Sagan’s bias take in this comment, but rather seems to agrees with it and lets it stand without any scrutiny.

This is why it is so important for us as creationists to control our own side of the conversation, when evolutionists do; they carefully word their arguments so as to make our position seem illogical.

The “few other scientists” he is revering to are Creationists scientists. (It is interesting that Sagan acknowledges the none evolutionists can indeed be scientists), but no creationist scientist argues that science is not the surest method of “putting us in contact with physical reality”, so for Sagan or Lewontin to make such a contrast is dishonest and misleading.

The “supernatural” and “physical science” are two different fields by their very nature, so why try to make it seem as if creationists are illogical by giving the impression that we claim that the supernatural can be explained by the natural, or that the natural cannot be explained by the supernatural? This is one of those subtle tactics often used by evolutionists to stack the deck against Christian logic, it is unfair and deceptive.

Although it is true that scientists cannot “test” the spiritual by natural methods, it is also true that scientists cannot ascertain the “origin of the natural” without acknowledging and referencing the spiritual or “supernatural”. This has been the creationist’s argument from the start, but neither Leowntin in this review, nor apparently Sagan in his book, bothered to address that issue. So we are dealing with more than just putting us in contact with physical reality”, they both know this but continued to play the word games.

Note his method of stating his case, why does Lewontin not add the words of physical reality to the end of his sentence about how Sagan contrasted the demon-haunted world (meaning the belief in the supernatural),with science, since that is what he is talking about and would naturally follow his preceding statement? Instead, he only says when refering to the supernatural, that it “ fail every reasonable test” and stops there. Why does he not again use the full statement “that fail every reasonable test of putting us in contact with physical reality” as he did when referring to the practice of science? Because then the fallacy of his argument would be too clear, and clarity is not what evolutionist-atheist want when discussing the so called superiority of evolution over creationism and the supernatural.

It is obvious that the spiritual realm is not used to test physical reality, so what “test” is he referring to that he claims “fails every reasonable test”?

Also, we don’t use “belief” and Behaviors” to test physical reality and he knows this, so what was his point? Someone should have challenged him to defend this comment back then, but to my knowledge, no one did.

In that same eleventh paragraph, Lewontin then proceeds to address Carl Sagan’s failure to explain the popularity of belief in demons.

“So why do so many people believe in demons? Sagan seems baffled, and nowhere does he offer a coherent explanation of the popularity at the supermarket checkout counter of the Weekly World News, with its faked photographs of Martians.”

What Lewontin fails to do, is address the more important question, what does belief in “demons” (or the supernatural in all it’s many forms), really have to do with the rejection of science? I am not aware of any cult or occult group that objects to science or evolution. If they exist they are not significant. And seriously, is the Weekly World News tabloid newspaper the best contender for the supernatural against the claims of evolution?

Why in fact does Carl Sagan mix witchcraft, demons, Martians, Greek mysticism and mythology in with Christian theism to formulate his arguments when it is actually only Christian theism that he should be dealing with, since that is the only real threat to evolution?  By Lewontin’s own admission, it was the 1966 Little Rock debate with creationists that drove Sagan to his crusade to enlighten the masses about science and, to “deliver” them from the supernatural. And why does Lewontin allow Sagan to get away with lumping all of these trivialities in with Christianity?

In paragraph twelve through thirteen, Lewontin correctly points out that a large number of scientists, (apparently himself included, given his use of the word “our”), agree with Sagan on science, (material phenomena), excluding the supernatural, (clearly referring mainly to God), Martians and extraterrestrials.

“Nearly every present-day scientist would agree with Carl Sagan that our explanations of material phenomena exclude any role for supernatural demons, witches, and spirits of every kind, including any of the various gods from Adonai to Zeus.” (emphasis mine)

But did you notice the change?  Now it seems we are dealing with their “explanations of material phenomena” rather than “putting us in contact with physical reality”. Or are they one and the same to them? If so, why did he not use the more plainly stated “our explanations of material phenomena” instead of using “putting us in contact with physical reality” that he used in paragraph eleven? This shifting use of terms adds to the confusion of what he is trying to say.

Additionally, his use of the words “nearly every present-day scientist” to make his point is an obvious and intentional exaggeration. There are far too many creationist scientists on public record who would not agree with evolution for him to make such a comment. And considering the details exposed by Dr. Jerry Bergman in his book “The Slaughter of The Dissidents” and others, it is reasonable to assume that there are many scientists who secretly reject evolution but chose to play along for the perks and to avoid the well-established bias and hostility that generally accompanies public objections to evolution in academia.

It is also important again to notice their need to mix in demons, witches and Greek mythology with the Judiao-Christian (Adonai) God, to water down the appeal of our alternative perspective. As I have argued, Lewontin clearly has Christian creationists in the forefront of his mind while writing his review and he can’t seem to avoid referencing them throughout. Sagan’s book-subject matter “The Demon-Haunted world”, makes Lewontin’s goal of taking a shot at creationism, quite easy.  He continued:

“(I say "nearly" every scientist because our creationist opponent in the Little Rock debate, and other supporters of "Creation Science," would insist on being recognized.)”

Creationists had done such a fine job exposing false evolution-science claims through the efforts of the Institute for Creation Research’s (ICR) Duane Gish and Henry Morris and others including other creationist organizations and individuals, and exposing the fallacy of evolution, that Lewontin was no doubt compelled to make an effort to match creationist integrity by stating some of the obvious problems with science and his fellow evolutionist scientists. Such candidness would no doubt give him the appearance of greater credibility with the public, and through him give all evolutionists in general the appearance of greater integrity.

In paragraph thirteen and fourteen Lewontin gears up to address those science problems by pointing out Sagan’s stated confidence in the superiority of the scientific method over the mystical, but he then acknowledges that Sagan never actually provides and account of the scientific method.

Lewontin explains in paragraph fourteen:

“There is no attempt in The Demon-Haunted World to provide a systematic account of just what Science and the Scientific Method consist in, nor was that the author's intention.”

“The book is not meant to be a discourse on method,….. Sagan's intent is not analytic, but hortatory”

Which when translated means that Sagan is playing the role of “evolutionist evangelist” and he is preaching his faith of naturalism in the book, he is not concerned with being technically clear or accurate. His aim is to exhort the public to take his word for it and dump God and religion for science.

To Lewontin’s credit he again makes an important and true point by stating that

the message must be clear and based on scientific method.

“Nevertheless, if the exhortation is to succeed, then the argument for the superiority of science and its method must be convincing, and not merely convincing, but must accord with its own demands. The case for the scientific method should itself be "scientific" and not merely rhetorical. Unfortunately, the argument may not look as good to the unconvinced as it does to the believer.”

The “believer” here is the evolutionist-scientist and the “unconvinced” is the public in general, but Christian creationists in particular.

It is from this point that Lewontin makes his contribution to exposing, or I should say, acknowledging some of the problems of the science community.

From paragraph fifteen to twenty five he does a decent job addressing the problems, but his ability to write clearly leaves much to be desired. He seek to establish his claims and then he ventures into the area of confession that has become the most quoted part if his review in paragraphs twenty-six and twenty-seven.

Of note are the following major acknowledgements, in paragraph fifteen he makes this candid acknowledgement:

“Scientists and their professional institutions, partly intoxicated with examples of past successes, partly in order to assure public financial support, make grandiose promises that cannot be kept.”

This is indeed an important acknowledgement that is rarely mentioned or admitted by scientists. But keep in mind that this statement is also Lewontin’s reference to one of his in spite of”  statement he will make later in paragraph twenty seven. Namely, “in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life”

In paragraph twenty he makes this foolish statement:

“Scientists apparently do not realize that the repeated promises of benefits yet to come, with no likelihood that those promises will be fulfilled, can only produce a widespread cynicism about the claims for the scientific method.”

As a scientist and respected leader in the science community, Lewontin should know better than to make such baseless comments. He knows that ignorance of the possible fallouts is rarely the cause behind scientists constantly making promises that they cannot fulfill. The fact of the matter is that all too often, their realization of the possible fallout is of little concern because their focus is mainly on short-term benefits and profits.

In paragraph twenty-one he somewhat redeems himself albeit temporarily by acknowledging…

“Biologists are not the only scientists who, having made extravagant claims about their merchandise, deliver the goods in bite-sized packages. Nor are they the only manufacturers of knowledge who cannot be bothered to pick up a return package when the product turns out to be faulty. Sagan's own branch of science is in the same business.”

This is another scathing look under the rug of science where the dirt has been swept. Stated plainly, he is acknowledging that in the science community, they make big claims but produce little, and the little they do produce in comparison to their grand claims, is in small quantities.

In paragraph twenty-two he says:

“Second, it is repeatedly said that science is intolerant of theories without data and assertions without adequate evidence. But no serious student of epistemology any longer takes the naive view of science as a process of Baconian induction from theoretically unorganized observations. There can be no observations without an immense apparatus of preexisting theory. Before sense experiences become "observations" we need a theoretical question, and what counts as a relevant observation depends upon a theoretical frame into which it is to be placed. Repeatable observations that do not fit into an existing frame have a way of disappearing from view, and the experiments that produced them are not revisited.”

Stated plainly, science today is not as honest as it claims to be about the role that evidence plays in conclusions drawn. It seems that theoretical questions rule science, rather than inconvenient evidence and observations.

A good investigative project would be to find out “when” and “who” decided to replace the useful aspects of the Baconian method of doing science with the “Hypothetico-Deductive Science”, and why. If you don’t know what I am talking about, a good place to start your investigation would be the Book “Persuaded by the Evidence” by Dough Sharp and Dr. Jerry Bergman, chapter 2, titled: “A Reluctant Convert from Evolution”.

My main area of concern is the twenty sixth and twenty seventh paragraphs, but before I dive in, I should note that in paragraph twenty nine, Lewomtin yet again brings up the Little Rock Arkansas debate and again he mixes all supernatural ideas in with Christian creationism to muddy the water and give evolution a better chance of coming off looking good. This I feel is again proof that his goal in writing the review was calculated and directed towards the creation - evolution conflict.

In paragraph twenty-nine he states:

“The struggle for possession of public consciousness between material and mystical explanations of the world is one aspect of the history of the confrontation between elite culture and popular culture. Without that history we cannot understand what was going on in the Little Rock Auditorium in 1964. The debate in Arkansas between a teacher from a Texas fundamentalist college and a Harvard astronomer and University of Chicago biologist was a stage play recapitulating the history of American rural populism.”

Any evolutionist/atheist who reads his review and cannot see the evolution connection is either not being honest or needs help with reading comprehension.

While I understand why they would prefer to ignore the evolution connection, it is not prudent to deny what is evident and can be observed by carefully reading the review. Considering the number of times the word “evolution” appears and the number of reverences to the supernatural, God and the 1966 little Rock debate, it would be difficult for any honest person to deny the connection or the apparent goal of Dr. Lewontin’s review.

Also please notice again that Lewontin is incorrect as to the year of the debate, it was in 1966 and not 1964. Also you should know that Lewontin is again being disrespectful to his opponents in that he refers to one of them, presumably Dr. James D. Bales, whom he again refuses to name, as merely a “teacher from a Texas fundamentalist college” not even giving the name of the college, which by the way was “Harding”, while referring to Sagan as Harvard “astronomer” and himself as a “biologist” from the university of Chicago. And he does not even bother to reference Dr. Jack Wood Sears, who also was a biologist with a Ph.D. in genetics and was a professor at Harding. Why Lewontin would slight these men in this manner some 31 years after their debate, is beyond me.

The Main Section of this Review

So much for that, now let’s get to the real purpose of this review, examining paragraphs twenty six and twenty seven.

As I said, these two paragraphs have been often quoted by both creationists, and parts have been understandably misunderstood by some creationists who by their misunderstanding and unintentional misapplication has aided the atheist-evolutionists who accuse us creationists of misrepresenting their material. While most such accusations by evolutionists are usually just evolutionists tactics to avoid the issues being discussed, in this case at least, the accusation is partly true.

However, again, I will argue that at least in this case, creationists are not entirely to blame for their misunderstanding and misapplication of the twenty-seventh paragraph. I will attempt to prove that Dr. Lewontin himself is mainly to blame for any misunderstanding of his review. His writing is at times unclear and disjointed and his use of words insufficient and misleading. This is seen in the very first sentence of the twenty sixth paragraph where he say:

“With great perception, Sagan sees that there is an impediment to the popular credibility of scientific claims about the world, an impediment that is almost invisible to most scientists.”

There are two problems with this statement, first; it is not a proper Segway from the previous twenty fifth paragraph which addresses the supposed self-policing nature of the science community and the internal competition that aids in the search for truth. Just before he concludes that twenty-fifth paragraph he points out that scientists must accept the conclusions of specialist outside of their field of expertise.

“But when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be. Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan?”

In his opening statement in paragraph twenty six, he seems to be returning to an earlier topic that he has been discussing from paragraphs fifteen through twenty four, the elusiveness of making good many of the claims scientists make, scientists making claims they can’t prove and promises that they can’t keep, but in fact he is not. The “impediment” that he is referring to here is explained in the next few sentences of the paragraph, which is the conflict between science and the “common sense” of the public, as will be examined shortly.

The second problem with his statement is that the last nine words of the sentence are false.

The reverse is actually more accurate since most scientists are aware of the “impediment” of which he seems to be speaking of. I have never met a scientist, or read, or heard a comment by a scientist, stating that the public is in full agreement with the seemingly absurd claims of scientists. All but the densest of scientists recognize the difficulty of the untrained public to grasp many of the amazing, seemingly absurd claims of scientists about the world and universe. To be a scientist himself and yet make such a clearly off statement makes me wonder all the more what he is talking about, and more importantly, what he is up to.

Lewontin then proceeds to give examples of his afore mentioned “impediment to the popular credibility of scientific claims about the world”:

“Many of the most fundamental claims of science are against common sense and seem absurd on their face.”

Note first that he is contrasting science with “common sense” and not the supernatural. Though not defined here, the “common sense” to which he is referring seems to apply to the scientifically illiterate public in one sense, and in another sense; due to Lewontin’s use of “I”, “us”, “we all” and “we”, even to fellow scientists such as himself when being exposed to science claims outside of their area of specialty.

And I would agree for the most part with this statement, but with caution. I believe that scientists, understanding just how easy it is for the uninformed public to view them as foolish for making claims that do not readily seem logical, would be much more willing to accept the conclusions of other scientists. In fact, as I pointed out earlier, Lewontin himself had just made that clear at the end of paragraph twenty-five. Which makes his inclusion of himself in his next statement where he gives examples, confusing:

“Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them? Astronomers tell us without apparent embarrassment that they can see stellar events that occurred millions of years ago, whereas we all know that we see things as they happen. When, at the time of the moon landing, a woman in rural Texas was interviewed about the event, she very sensibly refused to believe that the television pictures she had seen had come all the way from the moon, on the grounds that with her antenna she couldn't even get Dallas.” (Emphasis mine)

Now I realize that a case can be made for Lewontin simply including himself hypothetically or figuratively, but my point is that doing so is confusing since it places the scientist on both sides of the issue without qualification. Also, Lewontin gives us no indication that he is speaking hypothetically or figuratively.

Be that as it may, the examples that he gives to make his point are good and clear and show a clear connection to what he has stated just before about the “impediment to the popular credibility of scientific claims about the world”, and “fundamental claims of science- against common sense that seem absurd” in paragraph twenty-six. But then he shifts from the issue of poor knowledge to prejudice, saying:

“What seems absurd depends on one's prejudice.”

Note that he has just injected “prejudice” where “knowledge of science” should be. The question is, why?

He should have said: “what seems absurd depends on one’s depth of knowledge” or “understanding of science truth” which was his main discussion. This is what I mean when I say that he is partly the cause for much of the confusion.

Lewontin then injects this statement to support his point on prejudice.

“Carl Sagan accepts, as I do, the duality of light, which is at the same time wave and particle, but he thinks that the consubstantiality of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost puts the mystery of the Holy Trinity "in deep trouble." Two's company, but three's a crowd.”

Note the shift in thought and focus from public ignorance of science truth to intellectual prejudice against religious dogma. Why does he inject this here? This could have been presented in paragraphs twelve or thirteen where he addresses the conflict between science and the supernatural.

Again, Christian creationism is still paramount in his mind. This is evident in the very first sentence of the twenty-seventh paragraph.

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural.”

Once again Lewontin confuses us by shifting perspectives, in paragraph twenty-six he joined the skeptics against the scientists and was not willing to accept the seemly absurd and now he joins the scientists and is “willing to accept” their claims.

As noted earlier, his failure to clarify his use of “common sense” not only considering the fact that as he has been using it, it applied to the scientific ignorance of the public and those not schooled in the area of science commonly misunderstood, but also because “common sense” is known to be highly overrated. The question can always be asked, whose common sense and just how common is it?

But more confusing is the fact that as I said, in paragraph twenty-six, he had just made a point about how people refused to accept scientific claims because of their “common sense”, from that line of thought he jumps to the opposite-“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense”, Since nowhere in the prior paragraph is this shifted idea found, it is not logical for him to inject this reverse thought here without some kind of lead in or explanation.

Additionally, his injection of the “supernatural” back into his discussion without properly reintroducing it is clearly forced to set up another crack at creationists. Notice his next statement:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs”

Since it is not made clear what he means by “patent absurdity”, it is easy to make the assumption that he is saying that they side with science even when it’s constructs are absurd. Creationists failing to make the connection between this comment and the twenty sixth paragraph, (where he gives three examples of what the general public views as absurd science claims), have understandably misapplied it to evolution, and mistakenly concluded that he was saying that even though they know that evolution is absurd, they take sides with it to avoid the God factor. While that point indeed is true, that is not what Lewontin is saying here.

Had they noted the next two “in spite of” statement, they would have been able to make the connection to the correct prior paragraphs by noticing that each of his “in spite of’s” refer back to prior statements. I will connect each to the prior paragraph that they refers to below.

When he says:

“in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life,”

This in spite of refers to paragraph fifteen where he discusses scientist claims about things they could not prove and promises made that they could not keep. There he said: “First, we are told that science "delivers the goods." It certainly has, sometimes, but it has often failed when we need it most.” And Paragraph eighteen where he said: “The entire public justification for the Human Genome Project is the promise that some day, in the admittedly distant future, diseases will be cured or prevented.” And paragraph twenty where he said:

The struggle for possession of public consciousness between material and mystical explanations of the world is one aspect of the history of the confrontation between elite culture and popular culture. Without that history we cannot understand what was going on in the Little Rock Auditorium in 1964. The debate in Arkansas between a teacher from a Texas fundamentalist college and a Harvard astronomer and University of Chicago biologist was a stage play recapitulating the history of American rural populism.

When he says, “in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories,” for creationists, it is a natural temptation to apply this to evolution, and some have.

The temptation to apply this comment to evolution is intensified by the mention of “just-so stories”, which we creationist often applied to explanations of Darwinian evolution.

Also, by the fact that creationists have been diligent in their reminding the public of the embarrassing truth that the science community has accepted evolution in spite of the fact that it is “unsubstantiated”.

In spite of the above points, (puns intended), the fact remains that Lewontin is not here referring to evolution, and any attempt to make such a direct application is indeed appropriate.

His comment actually refers to paragraph twenty-three where he acknowledges that scientists engage in special pleading.  He had said: Sagan's suggestion that only demonologists engage in "special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble," is certainly not one that accords with my reading of the scientific literature. Nor is this a problem unique to biology. The attempts of physicists to explain why their measurements of the effects of relativity did not agree with Einstein's quantitative prediction is a case no doubt well known to Sagan.”

And paragraph twenty-four where he states: “As to assertions without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them, especially the literature of popular science writing.”

So it is important for creationists to maintain interpretative and applicative integrity in spite of the temptation to misapply what he said to evolution.

Besides, there is enough here to incriminate Lewontin and evolutionists without falling prey to his poor and confusing manner of writing. As has been well established by now, Lewontin is not shy about acknowledging that evolutionists are quite aware of their bias against the creator and how that bias is expressed in their method of viewing science.

His next three sentences make this clear, and can indeed be used by creationists against evolutionists to demonstrate their unjustified bias towards God. He said:

“because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.”

Stated plainly, evolutionists are committed to only allowing a “materialistic” explanation to the universe and the life we see around us. And by his admission, it is not because science demands it.

“It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world,”

This is quite an acknowledgement; nothing in science demands that only a naturalistic explanation can explain life and its origin, which means that they have created the condition, the rule of science as it were, specifically to exile God from science. This is all too clear in his next statement.

“but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations,”

While I applaud Lewontin’s candidness, I am also at the same time disappointed that he failed to address where this kind of confession leaves evolutionists logically.

First, it clearly demonstrates an unwillingness to follow the evidence where it leads, and secondly, it is a confession that if the origin of life and the universe is indeed the work of a supernatural creator, evolutionists could never come to that conclusion because of their self-imposed, anit-God bias. They have in fact, by their bias made it impossible for them to understand the true source of life and the universe, and thereby disqualify themselves as true seekers of truth. These points have no doubt already been addressed in detail by other creationist writers, so I will not belabor the matter here.

His next comment has also been misunderstood and misapplied to evolution by creationists, and again understandably so. Creationists have for many years argued that Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian evolution contained features or aspects that make no sense, and are quite frankly illogical, and so when a creationists, having read the preceding content of Lewontin’s review comes to this statement:

“no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated”

We intuitively make the connection to evolution because evolution is counter-intuitive and mystifying to us, and we have all too often been told by evolutionists that it is only because we are uninitiated, or we just don’t understand.

And the fact that Lewontin himself connects this “counter-intuitive” and “mystifying” statement, to what he previously just said about their creation of an apparatus of investigation and set of concepts that produce material explanations, and in effect separates it from any of his earlier comments, it is reasonable to conclude that he is referring to their self-imposed naturalistic perspective of science as counter-intuitive and mystifying.

But again, in all fairness to Dr. Lewontin, evolution is not the only thing he is referring to here. He is referring in general to the evolutionary-atheist’s “commitment to materialism”, and in a confusing, overlapping manner, also to the misconception of scientific arguments as viewed by both the scientifically uninformed and the scientifically informed, and their contrasting perceptions. 

But that being the case does not change the fact that Dr. Lewontin’s review in general is about the conflict between creationism and evolutionism, this is clear throughout the review, and so the creationist’s application is understandable though perceived as incorrect by evolutionist who are seeking to undo the damage these word have caused to their concept of science.

Now it is important to notice the nuances of his statement here, because it applied both to what he has just said prior “but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations,” and to paragraph twenty-six where he said:

“Many of the most fundamental claims of science are against common sense and seem absurd on their face” (along with the accompanying three examples there in that paragraph).

His language and subject matter makes it clear that while he is not directly discussing evolution here, he is explaining why they must rely so heavily on evolution as their world view, the evolution/creation conflict is clearly in view. And that is why creationists are indeed justified in using key parts of this section of the review to demonstrate the irrational bias of atheist-evolutionists against sound scientific interpretation and methodology.

Dr. Lewontin’s next statement cannot be misunderstood by any honest person to primarily apply to anything other than the creation-evolution conflict:

 “Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

This is indeed an open confession that their goal is to keep God out.

So there you have it, my take on the Lewontin review “Billions and Billions of Demons”.

I would like to hear from you and would appreciate any critical feedback on this review.

 

 


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