Circling the Wagons Around Evolution

The Department of Biological Sciences of Lehigh University (from whence my grandfather graduated in 1912) took the rather bold step of publicly opposing the concept of intelligent design as articulated by one of its own faculty members, Dr. Michael Behe (author of the opening shot in this debate, the book Darwin’s Black Box.) How times have changed. It used to be that there was enough collegiality in academia that such intramural disputes would stay that way.

But collegiality routinely goes out the window when the subject of evolution and creation gets debated in academia. One of the main impulses for starting my blog was the vicious debate I had ringside seats for in the Spring of 2005 at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a debate detonated by a proposal in the state legislature concerning campus free speech. (That was the subject of my second blog entry.) The evolutionists spare no vitriol on this subject, either with those with the scientific background to debate them or the poor, “general interest” staff members who have the bad taste to express their contrary opinions.

As Behe’s “colleagues” (with friends like that, enemies are unnecessary) remind us, Darwinism and Evolution have been around for a long time. Although confrontations have been plenty (the Scopes Trial, up the road from UTC, is the best known example) it is surprising how little battle has been done compared with the enormity of the subject. The fact remains that, in the U.S., we have the spectacle of a nation where the majority of people believe in a universe that was created, possessing a school system that has uncritically and universally taught Darwinism for many years, and in the midst of this contradiction has been successful in its pursuit of both pure and applied science, with the standard of living to prove it.

Today, however, we are told by the secularists (almost always evolutionists) that we must believe that material causality is all there is, that to believe otherwise is ignorant and will thrust us into a dark age. They have made evolution as a “litmus test” of all that is beautiful and good to them. They have mercilessly attacked creationists as ignorant religious fanatics. And, for good measure, they have the ACLU working tirelessly to remove any religious content of public life, which is obviously a prelude to removing it in private life.

This doesn’t represent a reversal of position for the evolutionists, but it does represent a major change in the way they present themselves and their beliefs to society. Why are they so defensive these days? And why have they so energetically turned their defence to offence? Sorting these questions out shows a lot about where secularists/evolutionists really think of their own position.

There are several factors that have led to the breaking of this “uneasy truce.”

The first is a shift in Protestant Christianity to the prominence of churches which affirm the present reality of the miraculous. (Roman Catholicism and Orthodox churches have done so all along.) Evolutionists never had to fight the whole idea of the miraculous when most Protestant churches were more than happy to do the work for them! Now evolutionists tell us that, if people who do believe in miracles get into the game, they will rely on these miracles for scientific results. This of course is silly. No responsible Christian practitioner of the pure or applied sciences is going to rely on the occurrence of the miraculous for a specific scientific or engineering result. God is as much the author of the laws of nature (as marvellous of a creation as anything) as the miraculous. I believe He expects us to apply these to solve our problems, just as we who are or have been academics expect our students to apply themselves to learn the material set before them, and I think that most Christians in the technical fields are of the same mind.

The second is that secularists in the US are thinking through more thoroughly the implications of their philosophy. Realising how pervasive the influence of Christianity is, they seek to eliminate its influence and by doing so advance themselves and their own agenda. For example, eliminating the Creator eliminates the rights endowed by that Creator, which of course is a statist’s dream come true. This also jeopardises the whole social equity agenda, which is based on the affirmation of the worth of every individual, an affirmation that ultimately can only come from God. As we have noted, liberalism in general has been getting away from this idea; it would rather spend time promoting elitist agendas such as gay rights than fixing really serious inequities in our society.

The third is that the whole idea of “free inquiry” amongst secularists is going by the wayside. One of the key concepts that secularists have used in support of their idea is that their idea is in fact the product of “free inquiry,” where all previous assumptions are thrown out and new things are discovered and science advanced as a consequence. In proposing this they contrast this with the “dogmatism” and “narrow-mindedness” of their opponents. (My own concept of the advance of science can be found in the preface to my master’s thesis.) With the loosening of the concepts of absolutes, “free inquiry” is going places where the secularists don’t really want it to go.

And this leads us to the whole idea of intelligent design. As long as the “New Earth Creationists” reigned supreme, evolutionists could characterise the whole concept of creationism as a primarily religious one. (On the other end of the scale, theistic evolutionists did their secular counterparts a favour, as they relieved them of explaining how everything got here in the first place, something evolutionists by definition have no answer for.) Intelligent design, like it or not, has its genesis in proposing a scientific solution to things that evolution cannot adequately explain.

That decidedly theistic–or at least deistic–solution to a scientific problem has induced one thing in secular evolutionists: panic. That panic is absolute. Today most evolutionists will not even discuss the possibility of any common ground with such people as “Old Earth Creationists,” who share their views on the age of the universe and of many long-term processes therein. They only wish to shove their dogma down our throats, ignoring many of the unappetising consequences, both philosophical and scientific, of their idea. But their offensiveness is only to mask the reality that they are circling the wagons around a dogma that is in serious trouble.

They need to approach this matter with more humility. Evolutionists love to tell us that their theory is experimentally verified, but ultimately they cannot recreate the billions of years of prehistory in their laboratory. (They cannot even turn the lights on there without government funding, which is why they are so defensive about changes in the attitude of the state.) From a scientific standpoint, theories about the origin and course of the universe are ultimately a forensic exercise based on the information we have, information subject to reinterpretation due to supplemental data and new methods of analysis. But humility has never been a characteristic of true modern and post-modern people; it is a Christian virtue, and Christian virtues are the last things secularists want to adopt even if they are better off for it.

12 thoughts on “Circling the Wagons Around Evolution”

  1. “The fact remains that, in the U.S., we have the spectacle of a nation … possessing a school system that has uncritically and universally taught Darwinism for many years,”

    What country did you say that was? 96% of Americans can’t even define what evolution is.

    “Evolutionists love to tell us that their theory is experimentally verified, but ultimately they cannot recreate the billions of years of prehistory in their laboratory.”

    Just as you cannot experimentally verify the Creation, and cannot play back its events in the laboratory.

    “From a scientific standpoint, theories about the origin and course of the universe are ultimately a forensic exercise based on the information we have, information subject to reinterpretation due to supplemental data and new methods of analysis.”

    While theories about the Creation are ultimately a matter of unquestioning faith, based upon information in a book of dubious provenance, information that is not and never will be subject to any new data or analysis whatsoever.

    So far, they’re even. But then, when you start to throw the tons of information about evolution we already have onto the balance….

  2. Evolution, by definition, cannot explain the origin of the universe. In fact, biology cannot either, since no matter how you slice it living matter was preceded by non-living matter.

  3. Why do you think that evolution purports to explain the origin of the universe? Why do you think that biology purports to explain the origin of the universe? Maybe you should retake 8th-grade science.

  4. And you, Olorin, should retake Logic.

    I say: “Evolution, by definition, cannot explain the origin of the universe.” You reply: “Why do you think that evolution purports to explain the origin of the universe?”

    I say: “In fact, biology cannot either, since no matter how you slice it living matter was preceded by non-living matter.” You reply: “Why do you think that biology purports to explain the origin of the universe?”

    It’s one to thing to agree with me. It’s another to disagree. But to invert my position and then refute it might look impressive to some these days, but in reality accomplishes nothing. Wizardry, perhaps?

    You also state that “96% of Americans can’t even define what evolution is.” With a figure that high, it probably includes a large number of people who actually voice support for the idea!

  5. All right, let me rephrase the questions a little. Why do you think that evolution should be able to explain the origin of the universe? Why do you think that biology should be able to explain the origin of the universe? The origin of the universe is a proper question for physics, not evolution or biology.

  6. “And, for good measure, they have the ACLU working tirelessly to remove any religious content of public life….”

    The separation of church and state is guaranteed by the Constitution. Would you have it otherwise? (In France, for example, the government owns all church buildings.)

    “which is obviously a prelude to removing it in private life.”

    Your conspiracy meter just pegged its pointer. The ACLU frequently appears on the side of religion. A few random examples. Dec ’08: The ACLU “today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a New Jersey prisoner, an ordained Pentecostal minister, who is asking the state to respect his religious freedom by restoring his right to preach.” Jun ’09: “Please send a message to Gov. Schwarzenegger encouraging him to sign SB 1322” to provide a religious exemption to the loyalty oath for Quakers. Aug ’07: The ACLU files an amicus brief “backing a student who lost his state-funded merit-based scholarship because he left college to serve a two-year church mission.” (Mormon) Jan ’07: ACLU handles appeal of a Pennsylvania church denied a zoning variance to provide a soup kitchen. In my own back yard, the ACLU endorsed a Christmas tree at the Kalana o Maui (county government) Building. (Yes, there are Kalikimaka trees in Hawai’i.)

  7. “(My own concept of the advance of science can be found in the preface to my master’s thesis.)”

    Well, maybe, but I’m still searching for any relevance to the present discussion. Can you be a little more explicit for this poor lolohi ke a’o ‘ana?

  8. You evidently still don’t get it, so let me clarify.

    I don’t think that evolution explains the origins of the universe. And I don’t think that biology explains the origin of the universe. Since you brought physics into the mix, biology has its basis in organic chemistry, which in turn has its basis in atomic physics. Which is why physics should be taught first.

    As far as church and state are concerned, I don’t think that we should have a state church. Church and state should be institutionally separate. I am familiar with the French policy of laïcité. What bothers me is that there is a growing sentiment to adopt this kind of policy in this country. The U.S. and France are different at their origins concerning the role and status of religion.

    That’s not a conspiracy theory type of statement. That comes from being raised in a stratum of society where European style secularism is a serious option. And that stratum, with some modification, now has the upper hand, at least for the moment.

    And that brings us to the ACLU. While it’s true that the ACLU will intervene in the way you describe, the preponderance of their cases go the other way. It’s also worthy of note that the ACLU isn’t the only organisation involved in litigation to remove religious symbols, etc.

    You might also find the following of interest:

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/2008/09/16/society-and-the-state-are-different/

    As far as my master’s thesis is concerned, I threw that in as a demonstration that there are some people at least of serious religious conviction that also acknowledge and contribute to scientific and technical progress, the combination of which New Atheists assure us is impossible.

  9. The thesis is “a demonstration that there are some people at least of serious religious conviction that also acknowledge and contribute to scientific and technical progress, the combination of which New Atheists assure us is impossible.”

    I don’t know anyone who thinks that, and I’ve worked with scientists in many different fields for almost 50 years. At the heart of your conspiracy, In evolutionary biology alone, Ayala, Collins, and Kenneth Miller come immediately to mind as saying exactly the opposite.

    You seem to confuse Dawkins’ philosophical materialism with science’s methodological naturalism. You might wish to consult a recent widely-acclaimed history, Bowler & Morus “Making Modern Science,” which devotes an entire section to science and religion.

    “Which is why physics should be taught first.”

    No. What should be taught first, at the primary level, is “science.” What it is. How it works. What scientists do. I would propose a curriculum based loosely upon the history of the past 400 years or so. For example. The ancients imputed agency to material objects—a rock falls because it ‘wants’ to, because its ‘natural place’ is on the ground. The 16thC recognized forces, but imputed them to objects—each rock contains a certain amount of force that makes it move. Newton saw forces as external to the objects, and eliminated the requirement for direct contact. The concept has broadened to ‘fields’ other than mechanical forces, such as electromagnetic and inflaton fields. The concepts of fact, theory, observation, experiment, and prediction need to be taught. What does it mean that “A recent study shows X”? The objective of the course would be to allow students to make informed decisions as to public and private issues that involve science.

    As many issues do today. How to judge the risks and benefits of vaccination? Why is it a bad idea to replenish wild stocks of salmon by raising them in captivity then releasing them? What are the right and wrong ways to combiner antibiotics to slow drug resistance? Why would scientists laugh at the idea of a 99% accurate test for a disease that kills a hundred Americans every year?

    As to separation of church and state, remember that it was put into the Constitution to protect churches, not to protect the state. (On of the tidbits I remember from Con Law >50 years ago.)

  10. I understand the difference between philosophical materialism and methodological naturalism. The problem, I think, is that people like Dawkins are trying to make the former a necessary prerequisite for the latter, which is of course wrong.

    Your bringing up Francis Collins is interesting, as it illustrates the nature of the debate. There’s no doubt that Collins is eminent in his field, and there’s no doubt that he believes in a Creator. (And the two aren’t unrelated.) But he’s trashed from both sides. The Young Earth Creationists dislike him because he supports the idea of the old earth, and the New Atheists don’t like him because he supports the idea of a Creator. I discussed that kind of dilemma in a whimsical way at

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/2009/06/09/creation-evolution-and-lysenko/

    What really bothers me about this is that, in their intent to purge society of religious credibility, the New Atheists are turning science into a religion. Once it becomes a religion, it ceases to be science. In a country were science and mathematics education is as deficient as it is in this one, that’s dangerous.

    As far as the “physics first” business is concerned, I didn’t mean that on a primary level. That’s a pedagogic issue which isn’t solely germane to this discussion.

    You observation regarding church and state is one that needs repeating in this society.

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