Saturday, June 9, 2012

Origins Straw Men

A common recurring problem involves numerous errors of reasoning by those presenting their arguments. These errors are usually meant to fortify their argument’s weak points and weaken the case of the opponent. Phillip E. Johnson penned a popular little volume over a decade ago entitled Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. One of his chapters was entitled “Turning Up Your Baloney Detector.” He listed a number of popular examples of baloney used selectively in the presentation of arguments. Johnson could have termed his baloney detector “straight thinking” with a less humorous effect.

One example Johnson cited was the frequently cited “straw man” argument. This argument “distorts somebody’s position in order to make it easier to attack.” It is one of numerous betrayals of straight thinking in the presentation of a line of argument. In this argument the position being attacked is more easily assailed than a stronger defensible position. Most people who subscribe to one argument or another spend substantially more time reading text affirming their own personal viewpoint than material critical of their perspective. Therefore, they may be strengthened by material they choose to read and be immune to the deficiencies in the arguments they endorse.

Enter the fabled straw man. Many modern commentators choose not to make a distinction between different categories of creationism. They choose to highlight the popular view of young earth creationism over old earth creationism because this view is far easier to attack. In short, young earth creationism has been made to look foolish by those who opt to overlook the Creator and His role in miraculously creating and intelligently designing the features of our cosmos. The reasons are simple: the weight of evidence from the community of science professionals points unequivocally to a very old earth, a very old cosmos, and a Big Bang event which even secular scientists acknowledge to be the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy in our universe. In the minds of the secular world, as well as most others in our day, the term “creationism” has been co-opted by those who believe in “young earth creationism.” The assignment of the term “creationism” to mean “young earth creationism” is a straw man coup of monumental proportions in our culture.

In a recent BioLogos scholar essay, Randy Isaac, executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of Christians in the science professions, wrote an article entitled “Science and the Question of God.” He stated, “In this essay, the term creationism refers not to the doctrine of creation but to the extrapolation of one view of such creation into claims of science. Specifically, it refers to the idea that scientific truths can be found in the Bible and that science properly done will concord with those truths. It is most easily identified with the view that the earth is only about 10,000 years old.” Isaac is not the only writer who presents the straw man argument, both theistic and atheistic/agnostic. Isaac refutes the young earth view and cites the backlash against it. Old earth creationism is barely mentioned as a viable counter-proposal in many similar articles. Yet, the old earth creationist perspective of extinctions and sudden new species appearances is far more easily defended, juxtaposed with the weaknesses of evolutionary theory. It is my view that old earth creationism is not easy to refute, based on evidence.

Even theistic evolutionists work to establish the credibility of naturalism. They actively lobby to diminish creationism and related popular theories of intelligent design. Theistic evolutionists and deists propose that God was the creator of the universe in the beginning and sat back to observe how things developed, perhaps even injecting a little of His own direct input now and then. God knew and cared, perhaps, how each random cosmic ray would impact the mutation process and help drive evolution. But even naturalists acknowledge they do not know how the sudden appearance of complex life was accomplished. A few theistic evolutionists may credit some sort of supernatural miracle, but many theistic evolutionists stubbornly hold out for a naturalistic explanation for life’s origin. This is a mysterious phenomenon.

The straw man fallacy has a colorful imagery. Straw men are not real, and they are easily destroyed. The arguments represented by the straw man fallacy are neither strong nor are they worthy of our consideration. Instead, our proposals should be tempered with straight thinking.