A bad NYT op-ed on why Darwinism and religion don’t get along

October 6, 2014

I was going to ignore evolutionary biologist and psychology professor David Barash’s aggressively condescending op-ed in the New York Times from a couple of weeks ago concerning “The Talk” that he gives each semester to his students. During The Talk (his capitalization) he tells those students worried about reconciling their religious faith with evolution that they can’t. And—oh, by the way—they’re pretty dumb for believing in God.

Not to worry, though: they won’t automatically fail the class if they continue to believe in God, in spite of The Talk. What a relief!

Regardless, The Talk must be very convincing, right? Here’s his argument in a nutshell: Darwinism has knocked down the three main pillars that support belief in God: 1) The complexity of Creation as evidence for a designer; 2) the distinctiveness of human beings over against (other) animals; and 3) the goodness of Creation. Since Darwinism has proven, he says, that none of these things is true, there’s no reason to believe in God.

I don’t know any actual religious believer (and I know a few of them) who believes in God for these three reasons. If you’re looking for reasons not to believe in God, however, I suppose these are as good as any other—which is to say, they’re not good.

Point number one is still the strongest. Barash writes:

Since Darwin, however, we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness. Living things are indeed wonderfully complex, but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon.

First, random variation and natural selection do no such thing. Not even close. They don’t answer why this universe has life, how something becomes alive, not to mention why there’s a universe in the first place. Why is there something and not nothing? Before anyone quotes Stephen Hawking, please note that quantum gravity, whatever else it is (and I have no idea), is something—it’s a physical environment.

Even aside from that, evolution itself strikes me nearly as “unfalsifiable” as belief in God. From what I’ve read, the fossil record continues to fail to corroborate Darwin, and every time evolutionary biologists find something that doesn’t fit their model, they create a “just-so” story about why it’s this way and not what they expected. Could they find any anomaly in the fossil record that they couldn’t explain this way?

I know I’m supposed to think that the “God of the gaps” is always a bad argument, but let’s concede that the gaps are incredibly large, with no narrowing in sight.

Whatever. I’m not arguing against evolution. How could I? Everything I know about it I learned, along with most Americans, in a ninth-grade biology textbook. I’m sure that most of what I learned from that textbook is either highly disputed in the rarefied world of evolutionary biology or has been overturned by additional evidence. It’s not like I’ve carefully weighed all the evidence and have reached the conclusion that Darwinism is true.

Therefore, if I say (along with the majority of Americans, including the editors at the New York Times) that I believe in evolution, all I’m really saying is that I take on faith that people who are supposed to know what they’re talking about are telling me the truth.

To say the least, isn’t that intellectually lazy on my part—on our part?

And yet, people who’ve actually studied Darwinism at a postgraduate level and still reject it—from the highly caricatured Ken Ham to credentialed scientists at places like the Discovery Institute and elsewhere—are benighted, anti-intellectual hicks-from-the-sticks.

Give me a break!

Regardless, even Barash concedes that God could have created the universe using Darwinian processes, and many faithful Christians believe that this is the case, including yours truly. So what? As Dr. Francis Collins, a Christian who also happens to be director of the Human Genome Project, says:

If God chose to create you and me as natural and spiritual beings, and decided to use the mechanism of evolution to accomplish that goal, I think that’s incredibly elegant. And because God is outside of space and time, He knew what the outcome was going to be right at the beginning. It’s not as if there was a chance it wouldn’t work. So where, then, is the discordancy that causes so many people to see these views of science and of spirit as being incompatible? In me, they both exist. They both exist at the same moment in the day. They’re not compartmentalized. They are entirely compatible. And they’re part of who I am.

At best, these evolutionary processes only go so far toward explaining “how we got here,” and from a theological point of view, they’re not nearly the most interesting part of the explanation.

Here’s the best response I’ve read so far to Barash’s op-ed. There are many more good ones, which you can Google.

10 Responses to “A bad NYT op-ed on why Darwinism and religion don’t get along”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I agree that “evolution” clearly would not defeat the existence of God even if it were true as a “methodology” of “from there to here” as a matter of “science” is concerned. But that is somewhat like using the atheist’s position–just “anything and everything” cannot be inconsistent with God (just like anything and everything cannot be inconsistent with the “evolution” that the atheists proclaim). I do think something “rides” on the position that atheistic biological evolution is not simply “irrelevant,” but is, instead, “false.” That is, the “reliability” of God’s scriptural revelation to us in the Bible. I think a straightforward reading of scripture is contrary to “evolution.” Therefore, it matters to me whether “evolution” is true or false. So, what do I in fact find? I find that evolution is full of “holes” and is not explanatory of what we see about us. Therefore, I am “confirmed” in my rejection of it in favor of the biblical account.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I would say in my defense that scripture itself gives us warrant for reading these Creation account(s) in something other than a straightforward way. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly reject the idea that Genesis 1 and 2 contain “errors” because they fail to accord with a modern science textbook. It’s worth asking—in fact, we NEED to ask—what the author intended to communicate through these scriptures.

      Well, if you have a lot of time (I listened to them in my car), check out apologist William Lane Craig’s excellent Defenders-series of podcasts on Creation. (See this link: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-1-podcast/s16) With thoroughness, he goes through every conceivable option that we have for understanding what the Bible says about Creation. It’s pretty interesting… and surprising.

  2. Gary Bebop Says:

    Brent, thanks for the story and the links. Alvin Plantiga also makes a case for God and offers strong rebuttal of atheistic scientific dogmatism.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I haven’t read Plantinga. I know I need to. Thanks! (I’ve actually read a book by his brother Cornelius—another brilliant overachiever!)

  3. Morbert Says:

    Re quantum gravity: I agree. It does not tell us why the universe is here in the Heideggerian, Leibnizian sense.

    But it is regrettable that you have read the fossil record does not corroborate Darwin. The fossil record is a very powerful piece of evidence for Darwinism, and corroborates it on a daily basis.

    The fossil layers map onto the geographical and genetic records to such a huge extent that it would be a massive coincidence if Darwinism were not true. I.e. The fossil record (the distribution of life throughout time), the geographic record (the distribution of life across the globe), and the genetic record all report unique, highly constrained trees of life that match. Furthermore, the fossil tree is very comprehensive. The “there are gaps” mantra that creationists repeat to each other is akin to claiming a film has gaps because it only shows 24 frames per second.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Morbert, welcome back! Thanks for the input.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Then where are all the “intermediate” fossil forms which we would expect to see if there were forms of life “between” those we see today under the evolutionary scenario? After all, there have been hundreds of millions of years of this “process,” right?

      • Morbert Says:

        “There are no intermediate fossil forms” is a line that lots of Creationist apologists repeat to themselves, possibly in the hope that the more times it is claimed, the truer it will become. In actuality, claiming the fossil record does not contain intermediate species is as true as claiming the Bible does not contain any mention of Jesus.

        Much of the “there are no transitional forms” is motivated by a quote from evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, to which he had this response:

        “Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. The punctuations occur at the level of species; directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups.”

        I.e. the “gaps” in the fossil records are at the microevolutionary level, not the macroevolutionary level. The gaps are akin to the gaps in a film that only displays 24 frames per second. The fossil record as a whole displays a very clear transitional history that affirms genetic and geographical evidence beautifully.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Sorry, I don’t follow. First, “punctuated equilibrium” is a Gould theory, disagreed with by many other evolutionists. Second, it doesn’t make any sense. How can there be no fossils at the level of changing from one species to another when that is exactly what evolutionists claim happened? Punctuated equilibrium is virtually a concession that there is no evidence of “macro” evolution. Most creationists don’t deny “micro” evolution.

      • Morbert Says:

        ” Punctuated equilibrium is virtually a concession that there is no evidence of macro evolution.”

        But it isn’t. If anything, the exact opposite is true. This is the relevant part of the quote that creationists ignore: “directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups”

        Any paleontology journal with its salt is filled with papers documenting transitional forms. Here are a good few examples with sources ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_transitional_fossils )

        See, punctuated equilibrium is a hypothesis about evolutionary change at the species level (microevolution). There is some disagreement over how to properly interpret it (i.e. Whether it represents a migratory of evolutionary pattern), but what is important regarding this discussion, is that it pertains to microevolution, not macroevolution. It can be very hard to find fossil evidence of change within a species (Say, a mouse evolving into a different kind of mouse) due to the behaviour of genes in small vs large gene pools. But transitional forms on a large scale (I.e. between gene pools: Between mammals and reptiles for example) are very common.

        Again, I have to stress that scientists don’t simply look at all the fossils and arrange them in an order that supports Darwinism. Darwinism places very heavy constraints on the temporal and geographical patterns of fossils that are allowed. The transitional forms not only conform to temporal patterns insisted upon by evolution, but geographical and genetic patterns too.

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