Chapter 5

 

Darwin Meets the Berenstain Bears

 
[Darwinism] is supported more by atheistic philosophical assumptions than by scientific evidence. -Huston Smith
  • If Darwinism is true, then both religion and philosophical absolutes (like Goodness, Truth, and Beauty) are strictly speaking false or “fraudulent.” We can still hold onto them if we really want to, but only if we’re willing to place them in a separate category of concepts that are not genuinely true but “merely symbolic” of human hopes and ideals.
  • A naturalistic view of knowledge places Darwinism in the lower story of public facts, while relegating religion and morality to the upper story where they are merely symbols of private values.
  • Darwinism completed the cleavage between the upper and lower stories. Today the two stories run along parallel tracks, never meeting or merging.
  • For some hundred years after the scientific revolution, Christianity and science were thought to be completely compatible and mutually supporting. Most scientists were Christian believers, and a person collecting biological specimens was a common sight in the countryside. The stunning complexities of nature unveiled by science were not feared as a challenge to belief in God but hailed as confirmation of His wisdom and design. Scholars as diverse as Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Boyle, Galileo, Harvey, and Ray felt called to use their scientific gifts in praise to God and service to humanity. The application of science in medicine and technology was justified as a means of reversing the effects of the Fall by alleviating suffering and tedium.
  • Secularizing trends eventually began to threaten the harmony between science and religion, but its final collapse came abruptly in the late nineteenth century when Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution. It was the missing puzzle piece that completed a naturalistic picture of reality. This is when historians began concocting images of “warfare” between science and religion–especially historians who hoped the victor in the conflict would be science.
  • Many people unthinkingly assume that science and religion are in deadly opposition to one another.
  • Making an appearance in the eight-part PBS series “Evolution,” Daniel Dennett informed the audience that Darwin’s great accomplishment was to reduce the design of the universe to a product of “purposeless, meaningless matter in motion.” But think about it: Is there any possible way such a statement could be tested scientifically? Any laboratory test could confirm that the universe arose from “meaningless matter in motion?” Clearly not. It is not a scientific theory at all, but merely Dennett’s personal philosophy.
  • Much of what is packaged and sold under the label of science is not really science at all but philosophical materialism. Which is to say, it is not objective truth but dichotomy to turn the tables, arguing that evolution itself belongs in the sphere of private, subjective “values”–which means the rest of us have no reason to regard it as authoritative.  Scientists may have authority to tell us how to hybridize corn or manufacture medicines, but they have no special expertise to tell us what worldview to believe. They have no valid claim on us when they leave the bounds of science and issue metaphysical proclamations that the universe is a product of “purposeless, meaningless matter in motion.” We need to develop sales resistance to such aggressive philosophical proselytizing.
  • One of the most widely cited pieces of evidence for evolution is the variation among finches on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America. the change that Darwinists were so excited about turned out to be nothing more than a cyclical fluctuation. It did not put the finches on the road to evolving into a new kind of bird; it was simply a minor adaptation that allowed the species to survive in dry weather. Which is to say, the change was a minor adjustment that allowed the finches to stay finches under adverse conditions. It did not demonstrate that they originally evolved from another kind of organism, nor that they are evolving into anything new.
  • When the National Academy of Sciences put out a booklet on evolution for teachers, it decided this story really needed a more positive spin. And so the booklet did not mention that the average beak size returned to normal. Instead it speculated what might happen if the change were to continue indefinitely for some two hundred years–whether the process would even produce a “new species of finch.”
  • A highlight of the PBS “Evolution” series was a section explaining how the HIV virus becomes resistant to the drug used in treatment, due apparently to a mutation. Once again, this was hailed as evolution in action. But once again, as soon as the drug was removed, the change reversed, and the virus returned to normal. (It became drug sensitive again.) Such limited reversible change is hardly evidence for a theory that requires unlimited, directional change.
  • To come up with better evidence, scientists have tried producing mutations in the laboratory, typically using fruit flies. The PBS “Evolution” series featured a mutation that produces four wings instead of two. Now, that might seem to be an evolutionary advance. But if you were watching the program and looked closely, you would have seen that the extra wings don’t actually move. That’s because they don’t have any muscles; they just hang motionless, weighing down the fly like a suit of armor. If mutations are the engine that drives evolution, as Darwinism claims, they certainly don’t seem to be taking evolution anywhere.
  • The key to Darwin’s theory is an extrapolation: It assumes that the same kind of small-scale changes we see in nature today can be extrapolated backward in time, allowing us to explain the major differences between taxonomic groups by the slow accumulation of minor changes. The problem is that minor changes simply do not add up the way the theory requires. After experimenting with fruit flies for nearly half a century, geneticist Richard Goldschmidt finally threw up his hands and said that even if you could accumulate a thousand mutations in a single fruit fly, it would still be nothing but an extremely odd fruit fly. To produce a new species, you cannot simply accumulate changes in the details. Instead you need a new overall design.
  • Research has cast virtually no light on the really important questions, like how there came to be fruit flies in the first place. As one wag put it, Darwinism might explain the survival of the fittest, but it fails to explain the arrival of the fittest.
  • In England, during the Industrial Revolution, the new factories poured out smoke and soot, which darkened the tree trunks where peppered moths perched and made it easier for birds to see the lighter variety and eat them. Over time, this process led to a larger proportion of the darker moths. This has long been touted as the showcase example of natural selection. In recent years, however, a small problem has come to light: Peppered Moths don’t actually perch on tree trunks in the wild. (They are thought to perch in the upper canopy of trees.) How, then, do we explain the photographs we see in the textbooks? It turns out they were staged: To create the photos, scientists glued dead moths onto the tree trunks. One scientist who helped make a television documentary acknowledged that he glued dead moths on the trees in producing the film.
  • The problem with Darwin’s theory is that evolutionary change requires thousands or millions of years, so we never actually see it happening. In the case of the peppered moth, however, for the first time evolutionary change seemed fast enough to be actually observed. It was just what Darwinists had been waiting for, and before long it had become “an irrefutable article of faith.”
  • German scientist Ernst Haeckel’s goal was to support a polysyllabic slogan he had coined–ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny–which means each individual embryo replays all the prior stages of evolution. Haeckel fudged his sketches, making them look far more similar than they really are. Even more shocking, in Haeckel’s own day, more than a hundred years ago, scientists already knew that he had faked the sketches–and his colleagues accused him of fraud. Yet only recently has the scientific community begun to expose the falsehood publicly.
  • The essence of Darwin’s theory is that minor adaptations (sometimes called microevolution) can be extrapolated over vast periods of time to explain the major differences dividing taxonomic groups (macroevolution). But as we have seen, small changes simply don’t add up the way the theory requires. What’s more, this has been public knowledge since at least 1980.
  • The fossil record does not, and never will, support the Darwinian scenario of a smooth, continuous progress of life forms, nicely graded from simple to complex. Instead the rocks show a pervasive pattern of gaps: New life forms appear suddenly, with no transitional forms leading to them, followed by long periods of stability during which they show little or no change at all.
  • Since Darwin, fossil hunting has been carried on intensively for more than a century, but instead of filling in the gaps, new findings have actually made the gaps more pronounced than ever. Why? Because the fossil forms tend to fall within existing groups, leaving clear gaps between groups–just as there are clear gaps between modern animals like horses and cows, dogs and cats. Put another way, variation tends to be limited to change within groups, instead of leading gradually from one group to another.
  • Yet there seems to be no genetic mechanism capable of producing such a herky-jerky pattern. Large scale mutations are usually deleterious, and often fatal. (Think: birth defects.) Thus evolution is, as the title of one influential book puts it, A Theory in Crisis. Darwinian gradualism has been discredited, but there is as yet no broadly accepted alternative mechanism to replace it.
  • Scientific establishment papers over the controversy by using the work evolution to cover two very different processes. On one hand, the term is applied to limited variation within existing groups, like finches and fruit flies, which is readily observed and which no one denies. On the other hand, the term is also applied to unlimited change leading to the creation of new groups, which has no observational support and is completely speculative.
  • Most ordinary people hold an idealized image of science as impartial, unbiased empirical investigation that attends strictly to evidence. That’s the official definition found in the standard science textbook, bristling with objective-sounding words like observation and testing. The problem is that, in practice, science has been co-opted into the camp of the philosophical naturalists, so that it typically functions as little more than applied naturalism. How do we know that? Because the only theories regarded as acceptable are naturalistic ones. Consider these words by the well-known science popularizer Richard Dawkins: “Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory…we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.” Why? Because it is naturalistic. Here’s the same argument flipped over. A Kansas Sate University professor published a letter in the prestigious journal Nature, stating: “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.” Pause for a moment and let that sink in: Even if there is no evidence in favor of Darwinism, and if all the evidence favors Intelligent Design, still we are not allowed to consider it in science.
  • The editor in chief of Scientific American then entered the fray, stating that “a central tenent of modern science is methodological naturalism–it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms.” But who says we have to accept naturalism as a “central tenet” of science? The only reason for restricting science to methodological naturalism is if we assume from the outset that philosophical naturalism is true–that nature is a closed system of cause and effect. But if it is not true, then restricting science to naturalistic theories is not a good strategy for getting at the truth.
  • Anyone who believes in naturalism or materialism “must, as a matter of logical necessity, also believe in evolution,” writes Tom Bethell. “No digging for fossils, no test tubes or microscopes, no further experiments are needed.” Thus, for Darwin, evolution was not so much a specific theory as a philosophical stance–a stance that could be described as, any mechanism is acceptable, as long as it is naturalistic. Darwinian evolution is not so much an empirical finding as a deduction from a naturalistic worldview.
  • You accuse us of teaching a religious view, Duane Gish said, but “you evolutionists are just as religious in your way. Christianity tells us where we came from, where we’re going, and what we should do on the way. I defy you to show any difference with evolution. It tells you where you came from, where you are going, and what you should do on the way.” In short, evolution itself functions as a religion. Michael Ruse decided Gish was right–that evolution really is “more than mere science,” as he put it in a recent article. “Evolution came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity.” Even today, it “is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion–a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality.”
  • The so-called warfare between science and religion,” wrote historian Jaques Barzun, should really “be seen as the warfare between two philosophies and perhaps two faiths.” The battle over evolution is merely one incident “in the dispute between the believers in consciousness and the believers in mechanical action; the believers in purpose and the believers in pure chance.” To promote one faith in the public school system at public expense, while banning the other, is an example of viewpoint discrimination, which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional in a wide variety of cases.
  • Instead of joining together to oppose the hegemony of the naturalistic worldview, Christians often get caught up in fighting each other. The bitterest debates were often not with atheistic evolutionists but among believers with conflicting scientific views: young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, flood geologists, progressive creationists, “gap” theorists, and theistic evolutionists. Meanwhile, secularists were happy to fan the flames. As Phillip Johnson once put it, “They all but said, ‘Let us hold your coats while you fight.'” For if Christians were going to endlessly divide, then it was clear that secularists would conquer.
  • Luther once said that if we fight on all fronts except the one actually under attack at the moment, then we are not really fighting the battle. And what is the point under attack today? The heart of the battle is whether the universe is the result of Intelligent Agency or of blind, non-cognitive forces–and that’s where we must direct our energies.
  • When it comes to first principles, Schaeffer noted, there are not really many viable options–in fact, only two: Either the universe is a closed system of cause and effect, or it is an open system, the product of a Personal Agent. Everything that follows stems from that fundamental choice.
  • By showing that a nonpersonal starting point fails to account for the world, we can eliminate a vast variety of philosophical systems that fall within that category–materialism, determinism, behaviorism, Marxism, utilitarianism–without needing to investigate the myriad details that distinguish them.
  • In a similar way, the Intelligent Design argument wonderfully streamlines the debate over origins. Either nature is a closed system, and science is permitted to consider only blind, material forces; or else nature is an open system, and intelligence is an irreducible reality alongside natural forces.
  • As one historian explains, Darwinism caused a shift “from religion as knowledge to religion as faith.” Since there was no longer any function for God to carry out in the world, “He was, at best, a gratuitous philosophical concept derived from a personal need.” If you still want to believe in God, that was fine, so long as you realized that your belief was “private, subjective, and artificial.”
  • The first hurdle for Christians is simply reintroducing the very concept that religion can be genuine knowledge. We must learn how to bring God back into the sphere of rational discussion–to win a place at the table of public discourse. We must find a way to talk about Christianity as objective knowledge, not our personal values. We must stake out a cognitive territory and be prepared to defend it.
  • As one historian explains, “Values are for the modern mind subjective preferences, personal and social, over against the objective realities provided by scientific knowledge.” Allen Bloom puts it more tersely: “Every school child knows that values are relative,” and not objectively true.
  • When we use the term values, we are broadcasting to the secular world a message that says we are talking only about our own group’s idiosyncrasies, which the rest of society should tolerate as long as it doesn’t upset any important public agendas. After all, everyone knows that the ethnic subcultures often hold irrational beliefs and quaint customs, and these can be accommodated as long as we all understand that no one really believes that stuff anymore–rather like humoring an eccentric old aunt.
  • Here is how students have observed the fact/value dichotomy: Science is about facts; religion is about values. This is not even accurate: Christianity does make claims about the material world–about the origin of the cosmos, the character of human nature, and events in history, preeminently the Resurrection. Yet students are willing to deny that their faith has any cognitive content, reducing it to subjective questions of “value and meaning.”
This post contains quoted and paraphrased passages of Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey.

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