Posts Tagged ‘natural selection’

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.