Conflict Thesis and the Scopes Monkey Trial

No it is just the theme here. Now that I think about it I don’t think the conflict thesis is that relevant to the Scopes Trial, except in its conflict for the existence of moral values and it’s “debunking” of them.

I mentioned Dawkins simply because he is very popular, both his scholarly work and his atheism. He also held the Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science for over a decade. When I was in high school, I knew who he was but had never heard of Francis Collins, Michael Ruse, etc. It is clear to me that he is stepping outside of his boundary as a scientist and into philosophy. Regardless much of his work is cited often. Anyways I digress.

I agree (as I’m sure most do) that non-theistic, or agnostic if you will, approaches to science don’t need “theistic approaches” (not sure what this would look like anyways) to balance themselves out. Where this gets tricky is we can provide naturalistic explanations that end up implying atheism due to their implications. We can give a naturalistic account (and there are plenty of these) for the emergence of religious belief as an evolutionary mechanism without reference to religious belief being true. We can do the same for moral belief.

The claim “religious/moral belief evolved as an accidental byproduct of the emergence of consciousness” falls in line with naturalistic assumptions done of science. Yet it is clear that these do imply atheism, and favor non-religion over religion because they undermine the truth of religious claims. Whether this is a “scientific” claim is tricky, but I’d argue this sort of claim does not belong in a science classroom.

The reason I mention “critical thinking” or perhaps epistemology/philosophy of science more clearly isn’t for a scientific reason at all. It has to do with the nature of truth itself. What allows us to claim science, mathematics, reason, etc is “true” is outside the realm of science. I say the following as a researcher and an educator: it is ridiculous that states require 3-4 years of science education but nothing in philosophy. Our students graduate with the ability to understand theories in science but have no formal mechanism for discussing truth.

This is all anecdotal, but in my experience it is the theists who pay more attention to Dawkins than atheists. I and the other atheists I know could care less what Dawkins thinks of religion.

Scientists do other stuff that isn’t science. It happens.

Perhaps the first step is to consider God being part of nature instead of being separate from nature.

That’s less than clear to me. If our ability to do science and math evolved as a byproduct (I’m not sure what ‘accidental’ means in this context) of the emergence of intelligence and consciousness, does that imply that physical laws don’t exist and that mathematics is an illusion?

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What makes me reluctant to accept that kind of justification for teaching ‘critical thinking’ (which in context generally means teaching arguments against naturalistic evolution) is the uniformly terrible quality of the actual arguments proposed by the same people.

ETA: Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. The arguments actually vary considerably in how terrible they are.


If ID people are claiming they want “critical thinking” to be taught alongside evolution, they need to be clear and consistent about what this means IMO. If it means spending just as much time talking about miracles in a science classroom its an obvious no. It it means a discussion about the methodology of science and the kinds of questions science can/can’t answer, then I’m all for it. I wouldn’t care if it was the Flat Earth Society advocating for teaching a bit about philosophy of science: understanding the kinds of questions science can/can’t answer and epistemology is important for students who live in a democratic society and vote. They need to be able to spot bad information, not just accept things because “scientists say it is healthy to drink a glass of wine a day.” At least that’s my view anyways


Thanks for clarifying about the meaning in context. That was NOT what I had in mind regarding critical thinking.

In the experience of many here, what ID people call “critical thinking” is the exact opposite of critical thinking.

The entire ID argument is “our scientists say that something is designed, and you should just accept it”. The application of critical thinking is why ID is not taught in science classes.

However, students could be introduced to ID as an example of bad science. That might be helpful. This would help them recognize bad reasoning and logic like arguments from incredulity, the Sharpshooter fallacy, arguments from ignorance, and why subjective opinions are not empirical measurements.


That is the irony of that approach from the standpoint of ID and YEC advocates. If they encourage critical thinking, then that can be applied to ID and YEC as well, with close examination of their positions and evidence, with disastrous results from their perspective.


Perhaps the position I’m thinking of then isn’t so much intelligent design (which I honestly know nothing about) but something somewhat similar which is the claim that certain features of the world seem unlikely to have arisen given naturalism. Some people seem to invoke a supernatural creator like God while others (atheists like Thomas Nagel) invoke something like a mind, which can be pan-psychic or otherwise.

I am not interested in this for religious reasons or otherwise. If their argument is certain features of the world seem so unlikely to have arisen by chance under naturalism (and they can construct a solid Bayesian conditional probability argument to justify this) then of course it could be a valid line of reasoning/thinking. I say this to make the point that even the naturalistic presuppositions that inform most scientific work deserve to be re-assessed at various points when applied to history as a whole. I’ve met a few researchers and philosophers recently who have began to doubt metaphysical naturalism on the grounds of their scientific work and observations. If the evidence and not any religious presuppositions (in their eyes) points against a naturalistic clockwork evidence, I am inclined to take this seriously or at least consider it.

Of course, many of these theories can fall outside the realm of science. Still, that doesn’t imply they aren’t valid arguments or make solid deductions from the evidence they have presented.

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Are you saying that in school your teacher/s was/were teaching Dawkins’s atheism? Could you clarify?
I could understand why a biology teacher in high school might bring up Collins’s work with genes. I don’t see another reason he would come up in a public school science class. I’m not sure in what context Ruse would fit. Kids need to understand the nuts and bolts of science. School level science isn’t even remotely related to philosophy of science.

No. These are not equivalent or interchangeable. I do not mean “agnostic” when I say “non-theistic.” There may be ethical decisions related to the application of science about which I may claim to be agnostic, in that I have not yet made my mind, or feel I don’t have enough information to decide properly.

However regarding the inclusion of God in scientific study, I am not agnostic. Including God as an explanation in the study of the natural world does not answer scientific questions. To understand what comprises the natural world God made and how He made it to function, requires the study of the natural world alone. I am perfectly content for Christians to marvel at the greatness of God as they understand it through their non-theistic science. But noting the hand of God in natural processes is never an acceptable explanation for a scientific question.

I admit that questions like this can feel tricky. But is it proper scientific inquiry to ask the questions, establishing from the outset limits we will be put on the answers? And to be clear, the limits you mentioned are not scientific limits (for example dealing with expected ranges of data which can be tested various ways) but ethical or moral limits.
While I agree this sort of study does not belong in a K-12 science classroom, it is definitely one for a college level class.

Science is only able to tell what nature does. What about the claim that “religious/moral belief evolved as an accidental byproduct of the emergence of consciousness” would make it not a “scientific claim?”

I’ll admit that I don’t like the questions that these answers confront me with. But prohibiting scientific answers (look to the past when this has happened before) because they conflict with what we believe is no way to do science.

Critical thinking skills and a basic understanding of epistemology (even if students don’t have those particular terms) are both essential for students, in order to think well and understand how to get appropriate information. They can’t be emphasized enough.

I’m not sure what you mean by philosophy here. Formal logic? Ethics? Feel free to explain.

Likewise, I’m not sure what you are getting at here:

or how your statement should affect science education.

The MA program I chose in English education was heavy in critical and literary theory, tangential to philosophy, but all related to literary and literacy studies. Those things are important for teaching in the humanities. Likewise a good deal of my MLS work involved ethics of access to information—of enormous importance to librarians and other information specialists.
Could you talk about your views regarding the need for philosophy as part of science education. What aspects of science education would be covered by philosophical studies, and how would it affect the teaching and reception of the subject matter?


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My definition of “science” leans heavily on Popper’s falsifiability criterion. This to me the above is a historical claim and we currently do not have a reasonable way to falsify this claim. This is not a “God of the Gaps” or any other type of argument. Rather it is an admission that we simply do not have enough information to draw a conclusion that this statement is true or false. What would lead us to reject it/accept it, and how strongly would this belief be warranted? What kinds of information would we need to revise such a belief?

I’m suggesting we put more “faith” in theories and hypothesis that have repeatedly stood up to falsification tests. As a result we can’t have the same level of “confidence” in each branch of science because each may have its own methodological or even ethical limitations. Explanations in evolutionary biology which teeter on speculation are very different than randomized controlled experiments that seek to establish a model about human behavior. Sociological studies can be difficult to perform at scale with the required control groups, while in particle physics or synthetic chemistry, it can be easier. I’m not tying to argue that the harder sciences are more “scientific.” Rather the results of fields where experimentation is cheap and fast can be held more strongly than in fields where experimentation takes time as a result of the nature of study in each field. Sociology often uses ethnographies which are incredibly useful and interesting but does not have an element of falsifiability.

I don’t think it needs to be very formal in the sense of using technical philosophical jargon. Rather assignments that may include the following examples:

  • Explain why the following statement is non-scientific/outside of science: humans ought to be kind to one another
  • Describe/design an experiment to test the following hypothesis: women can see more shades of colors than men
  • Are there things you believe that are outside of scientific inquiry? Give an example and explain why you hold the belief you do

If I was teaching a high school science class, I would include the following learning goals:

  • Understand the importance of hypothesis testing and repeatability to the scientific method
  • Describe the value of the peer review process and its importance to science
  • Give an example of a scientific result that refuted previously-held wisdom
  • Explain why claims of supernatural intervention are usually outside of scientific study

The number of times I’ve heard someone claim “science has disproven miracles” makes me think category errors should also be addressed.

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If we applied critical thinking, this argument would fall apart quite quickly. First, the claim that certain features can’t be produced through natural mechanisms is based on incredulity, which is a logical fallacy. It is also argued that since no one can prove 100% that a natural process produced a certain feature that this is then evidence for the supernatural. This is the God of the Gaps fallacy which is a subset of an argument from ignorance.

In my experience, those who call for questioning presuppositions confuse presuppositions with well evidenced conclusions. We often hear refrains like, “You just assume it evolved”, as if evolution isn’t a conclusion based on mountains of evidence.

That would lead to the question of how we determine if an argument is valid and a deduction is solid.

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Historical claims in general can be falsifiable and meet Popper’s criteria. Events that happen in the past can leave evidence in the present. We can form hypotheses of what we should see and should not see in the present which would satisfy Popper’s falsifiability.

Human psychology is a product of neurology. Neurology is a product of embryonic development. Embryonic development is a product of DNA. We can trace the history of DNA in a falsifiable way. How well we understand the connection between each level of neurology and development is very much in question, but the pathway is there.

I would fully agree that some explanations in evolutionary biology are very speculative, but there are also explanations that are not speculative. One of the most well evidenced conclusions in evolutionary biology is that we share a common ancestor with other species, and that the differences between our genomes is due to evolutionary mechanisms such as speciation, natural selection, mutation, and neutral drift. This conclusion is based on the same scientific method that is used in all other branches of science.

Nature has already done the experiment for us. All we need to do is gather the observations from those experiments.

This makes me think of the Roman Catholic process of granting sainthood. In order to achieve sainthood the candidate is required to have performed miracles. If the church finds that natural explanations can explain the phenomena ascribed to a potential miracle they disqualify it as a miracle.

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wonder what is wrong with the lot of you. How must one be wired to think that to love your neighbour means to stop reproducing? The whole point of evolution is about the propagation of life. And anything that propagates without taking care of its neighbours will eventually be eradicated. It might be worthwhile to reread the story of Noahs ark in a philosophical context to think about what it is meant to teach us if our behaviour causes a violent destruction of our planet.
Admittingly the ultimate act of love is to sacrifice your life for the benefit of your neighbour. Clearly Jesus did that, thereby reproducing himself himself spiritually or ideologically instead of biologically. Oddly it became the ultimate form of reproducing the self and living inside billions and billions as in being able to manipulate the movement of energy and matter by his will.

Ahh…so now you’re agreeing with me that the mechanism of evolution is about reproduction.

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the biggest category error is the demand of miracles to be events that are not explained by science and are therefore “unnatural”.

When you think of it, the birth of a baby is a miracle, but so is the boiling of the kettle. Both can not be explained by science as they are an effect of human will that can not be scientifically explained. They have “only” a causal explanation.

So you are now agreeing with me that loving thy neighbour does not imply to stop reproduction :slight_smile:

So now you want to shift the topic from evolution to one of ethics? I said nothing of ethics, that question deserves a new thread to avoid confusion in the current one.

It’s an inescapable consequence of reality. Resources aren’t infinite, so species can’t reproduce unhindered. This means there will be winners and losers, and one of the determinates of who wins and loses is heritable characteristics. This will inevitably result in favorable heritable characteristics becoming more and more common in a population over time.


Well put. Death is a constant for all individuals. What makes a difference is survival until successful reproduction.