TCS Daily

Darwin and Design: The Evolution of a Flawed Debate

By Frederick Turner - July 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Does the theory of evolution make God unnecessary to the very existence of the world? If there is no God, what authority, if any, guarantees the moral law of humankind? These questions are crucial in the current controversies that are dividing the nation. For just as our laws must be not for religious believers alone, they must also be not for unbelievers alone either. Here, though, I would like to deal not with the answers, which would require a much larger work than a brief essay, but with some aspects of the controversy over evolution itself.

The battle between the evolutionists and the creationists is a peculiarly tragic one, because it is amplifying the worst tendencies of both sides, and making it more and more difficult for most people to find a resolution.

On the polemical creationist side, the sin is intellectual dishonesty. It begins innocently as a wise recognition that faith must precede reason, even if the faith is only in reason itself (as Gödel showed, reason cannot prove its own validity). But under pressure from a contemptuous academic elite the appeal to faith rapidly becomes anti-intellectualism and what Socrates identified as a great sin, "misologic" or treason against the Logos, against reason itself -- in religious terms, a sin against the Holy Spirit. Under further pressure it resorts to rhetorical dishonesty and hypocrisy, to an attempt to appropriate the garments of science and reason, and so we get "creation science", the misuse of the term "intelligent design", the whole grotesque solemn sham of pseudoscientific periodicals and conferences on creation science, and a lame parade of scientific titles and degrees. A lie repeated often enough convinces the liar, and many creationists may now have forgotten that they are lying at all.

The polemical evolutionists are right about the truth of evolution. But the rightness of their cause has been deeply compromised by their own version of the creationists' sin. The evolutionists' sin, as I see it, is even greater, because it is three sins rolled into one.

The first is a profound failure of the imagination, which comes from a certain laziness and complacency. Somehow people, who should, because of their studies in biology, have been brought to a state of profound wonder and awe at the astonishing beauty and intricacy and generosity of nature, can think of nothing better to say than to gloomily pronounce it all meaningless and valueless. Even if one is an atheist, nature surely has a meaning, that is, an abstract and volitional and mental implication: the human world and its ideas and arts and loves, including our appreciation for the beauty of nature itself.

The second sin is a profound moral failure -- the failure of gratitude. If one found out that one had a billion dollars free and clear in one's bank account, whose source was unknown, one should want to find out who put it there, or if the donor were not a person but a thing or a system, what it was that has so benefited us. And one would want to thank whoever or whatever put it in our account. Our lives and experiences are surely worth more than a billion dollars to us, and yet we did not earn them and we owe it to someone or something to give thanks. And to despise and ridicule those who rightly or wrongly do want to give thanks and identify their benefactor as "God" is to compound the sin.

The third sin is again dishonesty. In many cases it is clear that the beautiful and hard-won theory of evolution, now proved beyond reasonable doubt, is being cynically used by some -- who do not much care about it as such -- to support an ulterior purpose: a program of atheist indoctrination, and an assault on the moral and spiritual goals of religion. A truth used for unworthy purposes is quite as bad as a lie used for ends believed to be worthy. If religion can be undermined in the hearts and minds of the people, then the only authority left will be the state, and, not coincidentally, the state's well-paid academic, legal, therapeutic and caring professions. If creationists cannot be trusted to give a fair hearing to evidence and logic because of their prior commitment to religious doctrine, some evolutionary partisans cannot be trusted because they would use a general social acceptance of the truth of evolution as a way to set in place a system of helpless moral license in the population and an intellectual elite to take care of them.

The controversy over intelligent design and evolution is, like many current quarrels, largely artificial, a proxy fight between atheists and biblical literalists over the existence and nature of a divine authority and the desirability of state authority as a replacement for it. Many people not warped in attitude by the exacerbations of the conflict see no contradiction between the idea that the universe, life, and human beings evolved according to natural processes, and the idea that a divine being or beings can be credited with the existence of everything, having set those natural processes going in the first place. The big question is whether nature can give us a moral law that is robust enough to serve a modern democratic free enterprise society -- if it can, that moral law would be acceptable both to believers, who would see it as God's natural revelation, and to unbelievers, who could trust its metaphysical impartiality.


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