• Evolutionism •
August 20, 2005
The reporters and editors of The New York Times evidently have evolution on the mind. Today’s on-line edition of the paper includes at least three articles dealing with evolution in one way or the other. All this attention indicates the anxiety of evolutionary theory’s proponents.
[1.] “Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive” deals with the Discovery Institute, suggesting that its scientists and researchers have a political agenda. Well, that would be pretty clear since they are honest in expressing their hope that a more open approach to science will lead to better public policy. What’s missing from the article is the obvious — that the pro-evolutionary scientists have a political agenda as well. Just look at the advocacy groups established in order to defend evolutionary theory’s dominance in the schools.
[2.] “Frist Urges 2 Teachings on Life Origin” reports on Sen. Bill Frist’s speech to the Nashville Rotary Club in which the Senate Majority Leader, like President Bush, called for Intelligent Design to be taught in schools alongside the theory of evolution. “I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future,” Frist said.
[3.] “A Catholic Professor on Evolution and Theology: To Understand One, It Helps to Understand the Other,” features John F. Haught, a professor of theology at Georgetown University who, according to the paper, “in a long series of learned, eloquent books and essays, has explored the religious significance of the contemporary understanding of evolution.”
Professor Haught is upset with the statements made by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna [see previous posting] to the effect that the neo-Darwinian doctrine currently at the heart of evolutionary theory is incompatible with a Christian view of life. Haught, like so many others, wants to claim that evolutionary theory is compatible with Christian faith. In order to do so, he assumes an argument much like the late Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of “non-overlapping magisteria.” The problem with this concept is now clear — these magisteria inevitably overlap.
August 17, 2005
I was invited to particpate in National Public Radio’s “Taking Issue” forum on “Evolution and Religious Faith.” Here’s how NPR introduced the series: At its extremes, the current debate over teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution pits science against religion, with the scientific community nearly unanimous in its faith in Darwin and equal certainty about divine intervention by many of deep religious faith. Taking Issue asks religious leaders what their faith tells them about the shaping of life and whether it can be reconciled with evolution.
Here are the articles in the series, along with a selected passage from each article:
An Evangelical Baptist View, R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
The Christian doctrine of creation sets the stage for a comprehensive Christian view of life and human dignity. Without the doctrine of creation, Christianity is only one more artifact of an evolutionary process. The Christian affirmation represents the most significant intellectual challenge to evolutionary naturalism.
A Jewish View, Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield
The increasingly nasty debate between believers in Darwinian evolution and advocates for intelligent design theory hinges on the fact that most creationists relate to evolutionists as if they have no soul, and most evolutionists relate to the creationists as if they have no brain.
An Episcopal View, Katherine Jefferts Schon
I simply find it a rejection of the goodness of God’s gifts to say that all of this evidence is to be refused because it does not seem to accord with a literal reading of one of the stories in Genesis. Making any kind of faith decision is based on accumulating the best evidence one can find — what one’s senses and reason indicate, what the rest of the community has believed over time, and what the community judges most accurate today.
A Catholic View, George Sim Johnson
The Church has had no problem with evolutionary theory or the idea that the first humans had biological antecedents — so long as divine causality is not kept out of the big picture. The pope added that there had to have been an “ontological leap” from any presumed ancestor to homo sapiens. In other words, we are not simply trousered apes — something you can verify by trying to explain the Superbowl to the smartest chimpanzee.
A Muslim View, Sulayman Nyang
Muslims embrace much of the scientific argument about human origins, but not all. We part company with secular fundamentalists on an important issue: Muslims do not take a Promethean view of man and his activities on Earth, that is, the perception that man is the measure of all things.
August 17, 2005
The media swarming about the controversy over evolution, Intelligent Design, and creationism are losing their cool, and showing their true colors in the process. In today’s commentary, I take a close look at the panic evident in the latest issue of The New Republic. Hendrick Hertzberg’s “The Talk of the Town,” column in the current edition of The New Yorker may even exceed the TNR articles in terms of anxiety. More than that, it demonstrates an antimosity toward conservative Christianity that is absolutely bracing.
“How did we — not just Americans but human beings in general — come to be? Opinions differ, but for most of recorded history the consensus view was that people were made out of mud,” Hertzberg opens his article. Watch where he goes from there:
The mud theory is still dominant in the United States, in the form of the Book of Genesis, whose version of the origin of our species, according to a recent Gallup poll, is deemed true by forty-five per cent of the American public. . . . Mud is not mentioned by name, but you’d have to be a pretty strict Biblical literalist not to infer that mud is what you get when you add water to dust.
A competing theory is that people, along with the rest of the earth’s animals and plants, evolved over billions of years, beginning as extremely simple organisms and, via the accumulation of the tiny fraction of random mutations that turn out to be useful, developing into more complex ones. This view has gained many adherents since it was conceived, a century and a half ago, by Charles Darwin. It commands solid majorities in most of the developed world, and, thanks to the overwhelming evidence for its validity, has the near-unanimous support of scientists everywhere. Here in the United States, according to Gallup, it is subscribed to by about one-third of the populace–still running second to mud, but too large a market share to ignore altogether, especially in some of the battleground states.
The fact that a solid majority of Americans perfer the biblical account of creation to the theory of evolution is, for Hertzberg, “an occasion for national shame.” Alas, The New Yorker is ashamed of America, this backwater of biblical literalists. This article represents the mudslinging of the elites.
August 17, 2005
What’s going on at The New Republic? The current issue of the magazine features two broadside attacks on the movement known as Intelligent Design, and the magazine’s online edition adds a third. The articles are filled with rhetoric, vitriol, and urgency. Clearly, panic is setting in in some quarters–and that panic is over evolution.
August 12, 2005
Beliefnet.com features an exchange of articles between Bill Dembski and Michael Ruse that continues and clarifies the debate. Dembski’s article includes these choice statements:
Intelligent design is a modest position theologically and philosophically. It attributes the complexity and diversity of life to intelligence, but does not identify that intelligence with the God of any religious faith or philosophical system. The task for the Christian who accepts intelligent design is therefore to formulate a theology of nature and creation that makes sense of intelligent design in light of one’s Christian faith.
Even so, there is an immediate payoff to intelligent design: it destroys the atheistic legacy of Darwinian evolution. Intelligent design makes it impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. This gives intelligent design incredible traction as a tool for apologetics, opening up the God-question to individuals who think that science has buried God.
In his article, Ruse chides Dembski this way: Supposedly, the ID people do not specify what kind of intelligence is involved in getting over the hump of irreducible complexity, but it is pretty clear in their writings that this intelligence is the Christian God. No one thinks that a super-bright grad student on Andromeda is running an experiment here on planet Earth, and that every now and then he or she jiggles things about a bit to see what will happen. Dembski, for one, has been explicit that he sees the designing intelligence as the Logos talked of at the beginning of Saint John’s Gospel. Is Ruse attempting something like an “outing” of Bill Dembski? Dembski is right up-front about his Christian identity and convictions. By Ruse’s logic, only an atheist can truly be an honest proponent of Intelligent Design?
August 11, 2005
Michael Ruse is one of evolution’s most ardent defenders. A philosopher of science who teaches at Florida State University, Ruse is a frequent presence in the media, a well-known author, and an energetic critic of both creationism and Intelligent Design.
In an interview published at Salon.com, Ruse discussed his new book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle — and his comments in that interview raise a host of interesting questions. For one thing, Ruse admits that creationism and evolutionism are really two competing religions. The interviewer for Salon.com asked Ruse if he is saying that the creationists are right in claiming that the controversy is really over competing belief systems. Ruse’s answer:
I am saying that. I think they are right. I want to qualify that immediately by saying that the creationists play fast and loose. Like a lot of us, creationists slide from one position to another according to the kind of argument they want to make. A major theme of the intelligent design people is that theirs is in fact a scientific position, and I think that’s a double whammy.
Inasmuch as the creationists want to say openly that both sides are making religious commitments, I have to agree with them on that. I don’t think that modern evolutionary theory is necessarily religious. Evolutionary theory was religious, and there’s still a large odor of that over and above the professional science. The quasi-religious stuff is still what gets out into the public domain, whether it’s Richard Dawkins or Edward O. Wilson or popularizers like Robert Wright. Certainly Stephen Jay Gould. Whether you call it religious or philosophical, I would say these people are presenting a [worldview].
Ruse makes a distinction between evolutionary theory and evolutionism — a total belief system based on evolution as a principle, but admits that the disctinction between the two is often hard to see.
Here is another fascinating section from the interview: Look, I want to make it absolutely clear that I want to understand creationism, not endorse it. It’s important for us evolutionists to understand what is motivating creationists. Why do people hold these prima facie lunatic views? Which I think they are. . . . The most interesting thing that the creationists are doing is pointing, as Matthew says, at the beams in the eyes of the evolutionists. Meaning that we all too often get into evolutionism and link up our evolutionary positions with social prescriptions and with atheism.
What if evolutionary theory really does imply atheism? Ruse responds: I can’t understand why I can’t get through people’s thick skulls on this one. If in fact Darwinian evolutionary theory implies atheism, then you ought not to be teaching it in schools! It’s not good enough to say, “Well, I’m a National Socialist. But the fact that that meant a lot of Jews were hauled off to Auschwitz, that’s not my worry!” It bloody is! If your theory leads to 6 million Jews being made into soap, not only is there something deeply troubling about your theory, but you’ve got a moral obligation to face up to its implications. If this theory leads to atheism, then it’s got religious implications.
Ruse also demonstrates an intellectual condescension that is unworthy of someone who professes to take ideas seriously. A native of Great Britain, he suggests that Americans “have more of a capacity for self-delusion than other people.” He also dismisses leading anti-evolutionary thinkers as genuine in their beliefs, but “caught up in an appalling, idiosyncratic American religion.”
He also thinks that opposition to evolution is linked to a larger right-wing agenda. At least he understands that ideas and convictions are truly inter-related. This interview is sure to leave virtually everyone — regardless of the position taken on evolution — both interested and infuriated.
SEE ALSO: Peter Dizikes, “Evolutionary War,” The Boston Globe, May 1, 2005, dealing with Ruse’s new book. Note also that Ruse co-authored an important book with William Dembski, now Professor of Theology and Science at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. See Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, published by Cambridge University Press, 2004.
In another interview published earlier this year, Ruse said this: I am not saying that Darwinian theory is always religious – it is not. I am saying that often evolutionists use their science to do more than science and to give a world picture – origins, special place for humans at the top, moral directives – that we associate with religion. Creationism I argue flatly is a religion – the religion of biblical literalist, American protestant evangelicals of a right wing persuasion. Creationists deny that their position is purely religious, but I think that they do this to avoid the separation of church and state embedded in the US constitution. I suspect that many Darwinians will take issue with my claim that any part of their theorizing is religious – but I have made my case and rest it.
August 8, 2005
August 8, 2005
TIME magazine is out this week with a big cover story on the latest controversy over the theory of evolution — a controversy sparked anew by President George W. Bush’s statement about the theory known as “Intelligent Design.” In “The Evolution Wars,” TIME reports: As far as many Americans are concerned, however, the President was probably preaching to the choir. In a Harris poll conducted in June, 55% of 1,000 adults surveyed said children should be taught creationism and intelligent design along with evolution in public schools. The same poll found that 54% did not believe humans had developed from an earlier species–up from 45% with that view in 1994–although other polls have not detected this rise. Around the U.S., the prevalence of such beliefs and the growing organization and clout of the intelligent-design movement are beginning to alter the way that most fundamental tenets of biology are presented in public schools.
In “Can You Believe in God and Evolution?,” the magazine presents a forum with four participants. I participated in the forum, along with Michael Behe, Steven Pinker, and Francis Collins. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, argues that evolutionary theory and Christian faith are fully compatible. At one point he suggests that God may well have used evolution as the “mechanism of evolution to create you and me.” Here are his words: If God, who is all powerful and who is not limited by space and time, chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create you and me, who are we to say that wasn’t an absolutely elegant plan? And if God has now given us the intelligence and the opportunity to discover his methods, that is something to celebrate. Yet, just a few lines later he says this: Nearly all working biologists accept that the principles of variation and natural selection explain how multiple species evolved from a common ancestor over very long periods of time. I find no compelling examples that this process is insufficient to explain the rich variety of life forms present on this planet. While no one could claim yet to have ferreted out every detail of how evolution works, I do not see any significant “gaps” in the progressive development of life’s complex structures that would require divine intervention. In any case, efforts to insert God into the gaps of contemporary human understanding of nature have not fared well in the past, and we should be careful not to do that now. If natural selection is a sufficient explanation, in what sense can we say that God “created” you and me?
I argue that evolutionary theory and the biblical doctrine of creation are incompatible and irreconcilable. Interestingly, Steven Pinker, a prominent defender of evolution and the materialist worldview agrees: Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky. Michael Behe, a critic of evolutionary theory, claims to have no basic theological conflict with the theory — his criticism is driven by scientific concerns: I’m still not against Darwinian evolution on theological grounds. I’m against it on scientific grounds. I think God could have made life using apparently random mutation and natural selection. But my reading of the scientific evidence is that he did not do it that way, that there was a more active guiding. I think that we are all descended from some single cell in the distant past but that that cell and later parts of life were intentionally produced as the result of intelligent activity. As a Christian, I say that intelligence is very likely to be God.
The forum is a truly interesting exchange, and I was glad to take part. The magazine hits newsstands today.
August 2, 2005
Yesterday, President George W. Bush told a group of Texas journalists that he supports the teaching of Intelligent Design in the public schools. “I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” the President said. “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.” [see coverage from MSNBC].
The Boston Globe reported: The theory of evolution, first articulated by British naturalist Charles Darwin in 1859, is based on the idea that life organisms developed over time through random mutations and factors in nature that favored certain traits that helped species survive.
Scientists concede that evolution does not answer every question about the creation of life, but most consider intelligent design an attempt to inject religion into science courses.
Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over ”creationism,” a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As governor of Texas, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.
The president said yesterday that he favors the same approach for intelligent design ”so people can understand what the debate is about.”
Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer takes a very different view in his column published in the current issue of TIME. In “Let’s Have No More Monkey Trials,” Krauthammer argues:
July 23, 2005
In his new book, Contending for the Faith [Mentor, 2005], theologian Robert L. Reymond of Knox Theological Seminary offers several insightful essays. Each is a short exercise in apologetics. Here is an insightful passage from his essay on creation:
July 11, 2005
A leading Roman Catholic cardinal has issued a statement that has caused quite a stir in both scientific and theological circles. Christoph Schonborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, published his controversial remarks in the pages of The New York Times, and in the form of an op-ed column entitled “Finding Design in Nature.”