by Denyse O'Leary
Obviously, one goes through a vast amount of material while writing a book. I can only touch on a couple of points that seem worth unpacking now. That does not mean I don't think other things one could say are just as important.
Is the universe top down or bottom up? That is, does mind come first or matter?
I was a year and a half into the book before I finally grasped just what ID theory is and what the conflict is about: ID theory simply says that the universe is top down, not bottom up, as George Gilder explains. In that case, intelligence and information are real categories. So a top down theory argues that mind comes first - whether you think of it as a cosmic mind or the mind of God or even a self-organizing principle.
Darwinism and materialism in general say that the universe is bottom up. It is built up from random movements of matter acted on laws that just happen to work that way in the universe - but there are many other, probably flopped, universes that natural selection has weeded out. In this universe, molecules came together by chance to form life and life somehow evolved the illusion of consciousness.
Yet science currently has no way of making information coincide with matter and energy. While writing By Design or by Chance? I came across comments like these:
… the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter...we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter."
Information doesn't have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesn't have bytes. You can't measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesn't have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information.
– G.C. Williams, Third Culture, 1995
... a century of developments in physics has taught us that information is a crucial player in physical systems and processes.
– Jacob D. Bekenstein, Scientific American, 2003
Now, either the universe is indeed top down or it is bottom up. If it is top down, ID is right and if it is bottom up, Darwinism is right. And information - especially the huge amount of information we f ind in life forms - is the key.
Hostility from many Christians in science toward the ID guys
Now, I was not surprised to discover that scientists who are atheists opposed Behe's and other IDists' contentions and dismissed their research. But I was surprised by the hostility of many Christians in science, who would describe themselves as theistic evolutionists.
Indeed, as law prof Phillip Johnson, the "fearless leader" of the ID guys, has pointed out, Behe is - or should be thought of as - a theistic evolutionist. The fact that he wasn't so regarded - was in fact reviled by many theistic evolutionists, seemed to demand some explanation. Johnson offered one that made a lot of sense to me:
Behe says at one point that he is not a creationist, at least if that term means someone who is concerned about supporting the creation account in the Bible. He also does not challenge evolution, if that term means “common ancestry.” Then why isn’t Behe classified as a theistic evolutionist? He would be if that term meant a theorist who does not rely on the Bible or other religious authority, and accepts gradual development of organisms over long periods of time, but who sees the need for some guiding (i.e., designing) intelligence.
But, says Johnson, that is not what theistic evolutionism really means:
The defining characteristic of theistic evolution, however, is that it accepts methodological naturalism and confines the theistic element to the subjective area of “religious belief.” It is (barely) acceptable in science to say, “As a Christian, I believe by faith that God is responsible for evolution.” It is emphatically not acceptable to say, “As a scientist, I see evidence that organisms were designed by a preexisting intelligence, and therefore other objective observers should also infer the existence of a designer.” The former statement is within the bounds of methodological naturalism, and most scientific naturalists will interpret it to mean nothing more than “It gives me comfort to believe in God, and so I will.” The latter statement brings the designer into the territory of objective reality, and that is what methodological naturalism forbids.
Darwinism as the creation story of atheism?
Another surprise was the key role that the specifically Darwinian view of evolution plays in supporting materialism and atheism. That was, for me, an unexpected finding - probably because I just had not thought much about it until I spent two years writing a book.
For example, I discovered that most scientists have religious views similar to those of the general public. According to Edward Larson, a sociologist who studies these things, 41% of American PhD scientists believe in a God to whom one can pray.
However, the picture changes drastically when you consider those who belong to elite academies such as the American National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
When polled by historians Edward Larson and Larry Witham in 1996, only 7% of members expressed personal belief in God and over 72% expressed personal disbelief. The remainder expressed doubt or agnosticism. (By Design or by Chance?, pp 146–47)
The elite scientists' views are radically different from those turned up by typical public opinion polls that show that, for example, 95% of Americans believe in God.
The pollsters' finding about NAS members is significant because organizations such as NAS promote Darwinism to the education system. Their notables freak out regularly about ID, and have done far more to promote it as a result than the ID guys could have hoped to do.
Darwinism, I slowly came to realize, is best seen as the creation story of materialism. It is defended by its fervent supporters not so much as a state of the facts as a transcendent truth - as indeed for them it is.
Living organisms had existed on earth without ever knowing why for 3000 million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin.
– Richard Dawkins on Ben Wattenberg's PBS Think Tank (1996)
An important consequence follows from this sort of thing:
When people are absolutely convinced of a view, they see confirmation everywhere. Now, they could be right, but the fact that they see confirmation everywhere has nothing whatever to do with whether they are right. They are bound to see confirmation everywhere.
Here's an example of the kind of problem that their certainty creates: Darwin thought he knew how new species get started, via natural selection acting on random mutation. But the fact is that new species don't get started very often. There have been arguments for many decades over light vs. dark-colored peppered moths.
It's not as if we can take a thousand recent examples of speciation and try to assess the causes according to likelihood. Speciation happens rarely, and evolution only keeps just ahead of extinction by a small fraction.
Nonetheless, the committed Darwinist announces to the world that Darwin's theory is overwhelmingly confirmed, in the same tone of voice as the committed sectarian knows that his sect's scriptural interpretations are overwhelmingly confirmed.
For example, The Washington Post, a loyal friend to Darwin over the years, claimed to see evidence of Darwinian evolution from the success of Ontario black squirrels misguidedly shipped to Washington in the early 20th century. The black squirrels are the same species as the local Washington gray squirrels. The squirrels all breed without regard to coat color, and the black-coated variety thrived in Washington, alongside the local gray-coated variety, just as the two varieties do in Toronto. No speciation event really took place, and if you go by Toronto's experience, none should be expected. But the Post writer knows by faith that Darwinian speciation must be happening.
It strikes me that if Darwin's theory is overwhelmingly confirmed, there should be better evidence than this. But it isn't overwhelmingly confirmed. It is overwhelmingly believed - a different matter.
Now, I was intrigued by the fact that people commonly write books insisting that the ID guys are motivated by traditional religion, but few consider that the anti-ID guys are mostly motivated either by atheism or non-traditional religion. For example, most of the seriously anti-ID theistic evolutionists that I actually ran across espoused non-standard theologies, especially process theology. I am not saying that all do, but so many of them do that it cannot be an accident. I take it as a given that people should be free to espouse what they actually believe, but the philosophical commitments of the Darwinists are just as relevant as those of the IDists.
Just to test out my guess, I advertised on my blog for a committed Darwinist who actually opposes human embryonic stem cell research, and got no takers until just a couple of weeks ago - and that guy says he only thinks that Darwin was mostly right, not entirely right. So I have learned that it is even relatively safe to predict political positions on controversial issues based on degree of support for Darwinism.
Naturally, as I see the controversies unfolding at the school board level in the United States, I find myself asking why materialism and Darwinism should be so privileged over other philosophies.
Popular delusions and the madness of crowds - aka misrepresentations of the issues
Before moving on, I want to touch on two common misrepresentations on this specific aspect of the topic.
First: Sometimes Darwinians/Darwinists try to avoid the implications of their own position. In 1998, Bruce Alberts, then president of NAS, urged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in public schools, claiming that "there are many very outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists." Larson and Witham commented crisply: "Our survey suggests otherwise." (Ibid.)
Also, some who lobby for Darwinism in the school system use as a poster person the prominent mid-century Darwinian evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, who is reputed to be both a religious believer and a Darwinist. Indeed, there was a sniffy letter in Nature recently, advising the world of this fact.
What was the actual state of Dobzhansky's belief? Well, as I blogged recently,
Dobzhansky was a religious man, although he apparently rejected fundamental beliefs of traditional religion, such as the existence of a personal God and of life beyond physical death.
- Francisco Ayala (formerly his student)
Now, perhaps Dobzhansky is a moral example to us all, but there is no sense in which most of the people who are informed that he was a believer or a Christian or a religious man would actually understand what was meant, just as few would guess whatever Alberts meant when he described his membership as religious. - so this is one of the all-too-common misrepresentations I discovered.
Second: There has been a very large amount of misrepresentation of the Catholic position on this subject. Virtually every pundit could assure me that "The Church supports evolution," based on something that John Paul II said in 1996. What the pundits never told me was that in that document, John Paul II explicitly ruled out the Darwinian idea of evolution that the pundits are usually promoting — Richard Dawkins did, however, get it right and promptly attacked the Pope, understandably, given Dawkins' actual position vs. the Pope's.
In sum, I concluded that
(1) information theory is slowly forging a different way of looking at life and that Darwinian evolutionists are poorly adapted to it (so to speak).
(2) large proportions of Darwinists/Darwinian evolutionists are atheists or process theists who are heavily invested in Darwinism because it provides support for their point of view. They see it as "the Truth." Not only that, but
(3) their commitment to atheism or non-standard theism has often been suppressed in order to avoid exacerbating controversy. Of course, trust and good will are the first casualties when facts such as these become known. Again, no wonder there is a controversy and it is not going away.
Go to Part Four
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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