Theistic Stalins

The Discovery Institute’s (DI) Center for Science and Culture (CSC) (formerly the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture), deeply displeased with the “cultural legacies of materialism,” have turned their collective minds to a philosophical stance that assumes the objective reality of the Christian God. In a case of cultural convergent evolution, their narrow theological, philosophical, and pseudoscientific searches have developed into “theistic realism,” a doctrine which eerily mirrors Stalin’s “socialist realism.” Theistic realism, like its Soviet predecessor, bulges with so much confused conjecture and potential inconsistency that no effective social, legal, educational, moral, scientific, or aesthetic policy can arise from it.

Phillip Johnson, the lawyer who heads the intelligent design creationist (IDC) movement has distilled theistic realism. In essence, it states that any true knowledge must recognize God as a real actor in the history of the universe. It follows that all attempts to understand phenomena fail if they ignore the reality of God no matter that many of our endeavors are implicitly atheistic, like plumbing (as Robert Pennock pointed out in Tower of Babel), bicycle maintenance, or theater set design. No matter the innumerable exceptions to theistic realism, the theory of evolution, which Johnson contends to be inextricably linked to philosophical naturalism (not just methodological naturalism) and modern secular humanism, fails to explain the world because it ignores the assumption that God is “objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology.”

Thus it has followed that DI fellows have foisted their nonsense onto the American public. William Dembski, the so-called "Newton of information theory" has concocted the ill-defined “explanatory filter” and subjectively porous “specified complexity.” Perhaps when they call him "Newton" they mean to refer to the fruity cookie. Michael Behe proposed "irreducible complexity" which has been threshed into millet by so many scientists and engineers that the lawyers in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial made flour out of it and Judge Jones III baked the delicious cake of his decision from Behe's grain. There's the old junk from the Stephen Meyer paper in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Vol. 117. The bloggers at Uncommon Descent and Telic Thoughts are busy bees spinning honey for the ignorant masses and their lawyers like Casey Luskin, Dick DeWolfe, and John Calvert defend the nest and launch salvos of nonsense that redefine science as an enterprise capacious enough to permit supernaturalistic explanations.

Consider Calvert’s and William Harris’s writing from a 2001 legal memorandum for the Kansas school board wherein they attack science’s naturalistic groundwork and perform a bait and switch:

It is not logical or scientific to limit scientific explanation to only "natural explanations" in order to censor inquiry, evidence and inference that supports the design hypothesis.
Scientists since the 16th and 17th centuries’ scientific revolution have used “natural explanations” not to censor, but because natural explanations explain natural events. Calvert and Harris invoke censorship’s specter to shift our focus away from our logical understanding of the scientific method to our sense of fairness. They, like Dick DeWolf would like “scientists, teachers, and students should have the right to reach the answer that each finds most satisfying” regarding the appearance of design in nature. Fortunately for us, science is not an issue of emotional satisfaction and wish fulfillment. It demands, as good legal and journalistic investigation should as well, that we jeopardize hypotheses and follow the data as far as we can, no matter how uncomfortable that might be.

While Calvert and DeWolf have veiled their theistically real positions, Johnson let the cat out of the bag in his 1995 book, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Education, and Law. Repeatedly, he states something like the following from the Introduction:

If God really does exist, then to lead a rational life a person has take account of God and his purposes. A person or a society that ignores the Creator of the universe is ignoring the most important part of reality, and to ignore reality is irrational.

Later, in chapter 4, “The Established Religious Philosophy of America,” Johson states the following:

Of course science likes to assume that the cosmos is rationally understandable and not arbitrary, but how better to guarantee a rational cosmos than to recognize that it was created by a rational mind? If such a Creator really does exist, then science itself is ignoring the most important aspect of reality.

The statements beg the question.

Johnson’s message in Reason in the Balance resounds loud and clear: theistic realism must be an a priori position to all activities inquiring about phenomena or that act upon knowledge. Without the assumption, discovery fails and knowledge is an illusion. Behe gave the assumption away on the stand at Kitzmiller when he admitted that you are more likely to accept ID if you believe in God.

In what might be the masterstroke of irony the DI fellows have cried that today it is the Darwinists who act as the Soviet apparatchiks. Darwinists are the Lysenkos of today by refusing the astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez tenure at Iowa State, by backing away from Behe at Lehigh University, and by investigating Richard Sternberg’s review process at Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. These accusations of Lysenkoism have already been well-addressed in Wesley Elsberry’s and Mark Perakh’s “How Intelligent Design advocates turn the sordid lessons from Soviet and Nazi history upside down.”

But what about the broader social doctrine? Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross recently put it well:

Given ID’s thoroughly religious foundation, ID’s Wedge Strategy goal ‘‘to see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life’’ translates to enacting ID leaders’ religious preferences as public policy. The theological framework from within which they operate is so rigid that they cannot separate their views on either science or public policy from their theology. Indeed, doing so would be sacrilegious. Dembski (1999, 98–99) affirms that science without God is idolatry—a religious offense, a sin. By his own logic, then, the secular government protecting science and education is also a sin. Consequently, just as the only restorative measure for naturalistic science is an infusion of supernaturalism, so the only expiation of the sin of secular government is desecularization. What the Wedge envisions amounts to theocracy, and Americans need to know this.

Given that the CSC hopes to “renew” our culture by returning it to some Christian Arcadia, how would they enforce such a thing? Johnson and his malcontents have developed their arguments in the moral and practical realms. But what of the aesthetic?

Soviet ministers regulated art through a doctrine of socialist realism in the U.S.S.R. and its satellite countries. According to the 1934 Statute of the Union of Soviet Writers, “socialist realism demands of the artist the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development, [that] must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of workers in the spirit of socialism.” Art, then, must reflect the “objective” truth of the socialist perspective and eschew the decadence of bourgeois life and art. Stalin had already realized the statute in his 1932 decree, “On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations.” Its enforcement was cruel.

Consider Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1977). On January 22, 1934, Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District premiered in Leningrad at the Maly Operny Theater. It instantly received accolades that further launched the young composer into the international and Soviet limelight. In the following two years, the opera was performed some 200 times.

But on January 26, 1936 Stalin and other Soviet higher-ups attended a performance at the Bolshoi. They didn’t stay for the last act. Two days later, an unsigned editorial in Pravda titled “Muddle Instead of Music” attacked Lady Macbeth. Noted Shostakovich scholar Laurel Fay writes in her entry on Shostakovich in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians that the editorial “equated the opera’s flaws with petty-bourgeois, leftist distortions in the other arts, contrasting this with the realistic, wholesome character of the ‘true’ art demanded by the people.” She continues, “It was the opening salvo in a campaign that resulted in the explicit subjugation of the individual creative freedom of Soviet artists to the repressive control of the Communist Party and State, through their obligatory adherence to the aesthetic doctrine of Socialist Realism.”

Shostakovich was blacklisted for years. He was not alone. Prokofiev, Khatchaturian and Miaskovsky were scorned as well. In Poland, Witold Lutoslawski was censured for his First Symphony. The doctrine that had started with theater extended to “absolute” music devoid of any program. Bureaucrats could read a political agendum into anything they wanted to.

It would be unfair to say that socialist realist artifacts were uniformly poor. Shostakovich himself wrote pieces that may well embody the philosophy’s noblest ideals - his Seventh Symphony, the "Leningrad", written at the height of World War II, testifies to the war’s horror and more importantly the indomitable will of the people. But his best works wriggle out of the doctrinal straitjacket much to the chagrin of Soviet authorities. One need only listen to his late string quartets or the Viola Sonata to hear distillations of abject depression and loneliness; the moto perpetuo third movement of his Eighth Symphony screaming with unmitigated wartime terror wherein strings pass to the trombones, the original instruments of hell, in a rapid march into the abyss; or the second movement of the Tenth Symphony, a brutal and cynical alleged caricature of Stalin. Certainly, these do not represent the preferred revolutionary states of mind.

In some ways Shostakovich was very fortunate. Despite years on a black list, his life was spared. But too many artists disappeared in the gulag, few of whom Solzhenitsyn showed us survived. History holds up Shostakovich as the unquestioned king of Soviet music and a peer of genius on par with Igor Stravinsky. But the toll of the doctrine and its enforcement burdened Shostakovich terribly.

Thankfully, the theistic realists have no such obvious power today. Unquestionably, Phillip Johnson and his cohorts at the Discovery Institute pine for the day that we, the United States citizens, assume that God is “objectively real” in all of our endeavors. But what would that assumption do to art or science? How would they ensure that we follow the edict?

In art, it seems reasonable to speculate a reformulation of the Statute of the Union of Soviet Writers excerpted earlier: “Theistic realism demands of the artist the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its theistic development, [that] must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of citizens in the spirit of Christianity.” Art, then, should reflect the objective truth of the Christian perspective and eschew the apostasy of philosophical naturalism.

In the Soviet Union painting’s public face took on a decidedly unexpressive and reactionary tone. “Lenin with Villagers” and “Roses for Stalin” stand as a well-crafted tours de boredom that use impressionistic strokes to romanticize Lenin’s and Stalin’s connection to the common folk. And let us not forget the endless paintings of the proletariat carrying out their revolutionary duties, grinding away at work in steel mills and farm fields. Will we substitute Lenin with Yahweh, Stalin with Jesus, and the worker with the pious worshipper in his Evangelical megachurch (surely we cannot admit that Johnson would consider a Mormon a Christian though he seems to allow for Johnathan Wells to join despite Wells’ allegiance to Rev. Sun Myung Moon).

Might the medieval rules of musical counterpoint resurface? Shall we once again ban the use of the tri-tone, called the diabolus in musica or devil’s tone? A Department of Cultural Renewal could censor a whole genre of music like death metal for its overt statements on Satanism, violence and its frequent use of the tri-tone and “unnatural” vocal techniques including growling and shrieking. Even the blues might suffer because of its long-time affair with fornication and alcohol represented by the blue notes. George Crumb’s Black Angels? Vanquished for its strange allusions to numerology, its nocturnal ritualism and non-Christian chanting. Phillip Glass is a Buddhist, a non-theist. Does his meditative music defile reality? Perhaps.

Applied to science we run into a wholesale redefinition that opens Pandora’s Box. If we accept the objective reality of God into the epistemology of science, we extend a bridge to studies currently classified as pseudoscience. Michael Behe admitted as much on the witness stand when Eric Rothschild asked him, "But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?"

Behe responded, "Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well."

The supernatural or preternatural, though still non-testable, may be incorporated into the explanation of phenomena. But science’s inherent demand that experimental research be subject to replication flies out the window because experimentation must necessarily allow for the validity of both revelation and inerrant arguments from authority. Under the current operating definition of science and three centuries of its practice, revelation is strictly forbidden because its factuality is inherently unverifiable by any reasonably quantifiable standard.

What could revelations hope to objectively prove to us anyway? What sort of revelations would count as scientifically valid? Presumably those espoused by “scientists” who believe a priori that God is objectively real. We might wonder, though, if Pat Robertson’s proclamations on the causes of natural disasters might enable the Christian Broadcasting Network to receive National Science Foundation research funding to determine if recent hurricanes were actually caused by God's anger with America’s decadent life. Let us not get near that slippery slope, or what Paris Review editor Phillip Gourevitch called the "greased precipice."

Theistic realism is a yellow brick road to bizarro world; a road to medievalism with only the most rudimentary understanding of nature; a path to beliefs that Jews need fresh blood to cure their sexual dysfunction; a fall into the oubliette of ignorance.

Science cannot and must not recognize a simple argument from authority. Physicists today gleefully look at Einstein's incorrect objections to quantum physics. “God does not throw dice,” he said. Einstein held more political capital than 99.9 % scientists but his objections proved irrelevant. The data panned out. Naturalistic methodology carried the day and quantum theory outshines nearly all discoveries of the twentieth century. Certainly we mustn't extend even a rhetorical olive branch to those whose arguments for the reality of their alleged creator demands that they argue from ignorance, concoct false controversies, lie, and misquote to press their agenda to overthrow the boogie man of materialism. Isn't there something about removing the mote from your own eye first?

Theistic naturalism has no place in science and certainly no place in government. In art, inspiration through revelation is entirely appropriate. It would be unsurprising to learn that J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Anton Bruckner, or Olivier Messiaen would have identified themselves as theistic naturalists. All of them were deeply devout men who testified to their belief in God through their music. Messiaen most notably heard the wonder of divinity in the calls of birds that he mimicked in the bulk of his works perhaps inferring that God had designed them and their calls. But these four are not the whole.

What becomes of the rest of art and all intellectual activity under the prescription of theistic realism?

Censored.

Proscribed.

Straitjacketed.

Poorly premised philosophy yields even poorer policies. Let’s not even allow Johnson and his theocratic cabal to get close. The Soviet Union, the atheistic institution that it was, teaches us a good lesson about so-called “realisms.” They demand dishonesty by forcing conclusions on scientists no matter where the evidence leads them and by demanding the artist to proclaim a vision that is not necessarily their own. For the United States to remain the land of the free, then it must not take one step down the road Johnson and the Discovery Institute are building for us.

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