What’s even worse is that this debate was apparently inspired by Virginia Heffernan’s ludicrous essay on “Why I’m a creationist,” a piece that I critiqued a while back. Why on earth would a bunch of scholars debate such a juvenile rant?
I don’t want to summarize everyone’s short essay, but I’ll say a few words on each, and deal with two pieces that are particularly misguided.
“The science can be seen as purposeful“, by Karl Giberson, now at Stonehill College. Refreshingly, Karl is one of the saner voices in this debate. He accurately singles out the reason evolution bothers the faithful: it implies that humans—nobody cares about the squirrels!—are just a contingent and unpredictable result of a naturalistic process, and not deliberately produced by God in his image:
Evolutionists have fought hard to make sure we understand evolution as lacking direction or purpose. The theory has come to be strongly identified with atheism. Its most public champion is Richard Dawkins, whom Ned Flanders met in hell on a recent episode of “The Simpsons.”
Biblical creationists have fought even harder to keep evolution — the atheists’ creation story — out of Genesis. Its most public champion, Ken Ham, imposes a wooden and implausible literalism on the Bible to ensure that nobody can fit evolution in between the lines.
On Main Street, on television and in the pews of America’s many churches, leaders on both sides portray a choice between a world with purpose and one without. The trouble is, when they ask that either-or question, there’s no right answer.
Yes, Karl, there is a right answer. We evolved via an unguided process lacking purpose or foresight. Humans forge their meanings, their “purposes”, on their own. We weren’t given them by God.
“What we risk by accepting the science“, by Douglas O. Linder, a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Move along folks, nothing to see here. Linder accepts evolution, recounts Darwin’s ambivalence about publishing his theory, and then affirms the truth of evolution. He then raises a “challenge”:
Our challenge is to accept evolution while maintaining a sense of wonder, concern for those whose survival is beyond their own means, and a vision of a colorful and surprise-filled world.
That’s no challenge at all: those who accept evolution have no problem with this stuff. The problem is reconciling evolution with the sense of human specialness instilled by religion.
“Science, too, calls for a leap of faith“ by Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, Wax makes a common error, also committed by David Redlawsk (see below): he claims that both religion and science rely, in the end, on faith.
Yet science neither proves nor disproves the existence of a creator. Evidence leads us only to a point, and then we draw conclusions. People like Heffernan look at the elements of our world that appear to be designed and purposeful, and conclude that a mind is supervising the matter.
Furthermore, as her article pointed out, even those who take the naturalistic point of view tend to live as if the creation story is true. We do not see our lives as meaningless, but purposeful. We live according to values and morals; we teach our children right from wrong. When we care for ailing parents or welcome children with birth defects, we are living against the “survival of the fittest” principle of natural selection. A purely naturalistic explanation of the world’s origins does not explain the way we live. Religious stories do.
The real issue here is not merely creation or the lack thereof; it’s about the source of truth. Those who condemned Heffernan believe science is the only reliable way to discover truth. But this belief in science collapses on itself: there is no scientific evidence to prove that science is the only reliable way to discover truth. Once we take unproven hypotheses and dogmatize them, we have moved beyond scientific evidence into philosophical reflection on truth and the scientific method. Naturalist or not, when it comes to the world’s origins, we are all in the realm of faith.
Well, science can’t “prove” anything, but it can make some things seem likely or unlikely. One of those is a creator, and the universe shows no sign of such a being. But it shows definite signs of not being created by abenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent being. How can invoking such a god explain “natural evils” like earthquakes and childhood cancers? Science can explain those: geology and mutations.
As Victor Stenger always points out, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence if the evidence should be there. This is precisely the reason why we don’t accept the existence of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. You don’t hear people say, “science neither proves nor disproves the existence of Nessie.”