Reprinted with permission from CRISIS Magazine
Author’s note: In the first part of this article, “Does Science Point to God? The Intelligent Design Revolution” (April 2003), I focused on Intelligent Design (ID) as a scientific revolution. In this article, I will get at the importance of the ID movement from a different angle. What happens if we just ignore the ID challenge to evolutionary theory, accept the status quo, and accommodate ourselves to Darwinism? As we shall see, the price of indiscriminate accommodationism to Darwinism is rather high indeed.
No scientific theory should have the status of sacred revelation. Unfortunately, evolutionary theory, for a variety of nonscientific reasons, has become sacrosanct. To express doubts by bringing up the most glaring counterevidence to the theory is to brand oneself an intellectual infidel, fit only to be cast into the consuming fires of public humiliation. Rather than evolutionary theory being forced, for its own health, to face the most difficult counterevidence, Darwinism becomes a dogma using any stigma within reach to beat those legitimately agnostic about its grand claims.
Haunted by such fear, all too many--including all too many Catholics--have ignored the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, especially its trenchant criticisms of Darwinism. Better to submit to Darwin, they surmise, than find ourselves tossed into the public square, ignominious objects of igneous scorn. Accommodationism, so it seems, is the better part of valor.
But is it? The problem with Darwinism is that it is not merely a scientific theory. As I argued in the first article, it is a full-blown materialist cosmology, an account of everything, a biological theory with presuppositions reaching all the way back to the origin of the universe and conclusions stretching all the way through nature and into every aspect of human nature. Like it or not, indiscriminate accommodationism to the full blows of this cosmology means submitting everything to inspection and consequent reformulation or disposal according to the materialist canons of Darwinism. There is no such thing as partial surrender.
As I already sense that the wood is being gathered for the pyre of my public roasting, I had better clarify. I do not mean to herd readers toward indiscriminate rejection of evolutionary theory, so as to avoid the dangers of indiscriminate acceptance. Surrendering one’s critical faculties by either form of indiscrimination is equally noxious. As opposed to either extreme, the ID movement asks that we not surrender our critical faculties at all and therefore proposes that the only rational mode of procedure is to examine very carefully the strongest arguments both for and against Darwinism.
Since Darwinism is not merely a theory of biology, it is quite rational then to examine not only the scientific difficulties of the biological theory but also the theological, philosophical, and moral difficulties entailed in the Darwinian materialist cosmology. Again, since I have dealt in outline with the scientific difficulties in Part I, we may now focus our attention on the theological, philosophical, and moral problems inherent in Darwinism.
Where Darwin Leads
One of the most outspoken critics of ID theory, biologist Kenneth Miller, famously proclaims, “I am an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Darwinian.” This “all-is-well, look-at-me” approach is meant to convey his conviction that Christians must indeed embrace Darwinism and that it is foolish to fear any theological damage. In doing so, he neglects to mention that a persistent effect of embracing Darwinism is atheism. Since the mechanism of natural selection was designed by Darwin to eliminate the need for a designer, to retain a deity seems to be entirely superfluous. Why keep a redundant cause on the cosmic payroll?
This chain of reasoning is intrinsic to Darwinism and explains why atheism has been a persistent reflex. In evolutionist Richard Dawkins’s oft-quoted words: “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (The Blind Watchmaker). More to the point are the words of Cornell historian and Darwinian advocate William Provine: “The destructive implications of evolutionary biology extend far beyond the assumptions of organized religion to a much deeper and more pervasive belief, held by the vast majority of people, that non-mechanistic organizing designs or forces [a.k.a., deities, inter alios, the Judeo-Christian God] are somehow responsible for the visible order of the physical universe, biological organisms, and human moral order” (as quoted by Phillip Johnson in Robert Pennock’s Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics). To cut through the circumlocution, evolution not only implies but demands atheism.
These are not the thoughts of those who’ve wandered off the path of Darwinism. As made amply clear in the illuminating biography of Darwin by Adrian Desmond and James Moore (Darwin, 1991), Darwin himself realized the dread implications of his theory for theology--especially Christian theology--at least two decades before the publication of the Origin of Species (in 1859). He remained publicly circumspect, however, not only because he knew it would undermine acceptance of his theory (evolutionary theory was already associated with and championed by atheists in the first half of the 19th century) but also for the sake of his believing wife, Emma. At best, Darwin embraced a reluctant and weak, content-less, doctrine-less theism--the merest vapor of belief.
Darwinism Before Darwin
That atheism is the natural effect of embracing evolutionary theory should come as no surprise. The end is present in the beginning. As I said in Part I, the first Darwinian was not Darwin, but a rather notorious Greek, Epicurus, born on the Island of Samos about 341 b.c. It was he who provided the philosophical underpinnings of Darwinism, because it was he who fashioned an entirely materialistic, god-proof cosmology, where the purposeless jostling of brute matter over infinite time yielded, by a series of fortunate accidents, not only the Earth, but all the myriad forms of life thereon. He fashioned the cosmology, not out of evidence but from his desire to rid the world of brooding deities. As with many a modern, Epicurus thought religion the source of all the world’s woes. This common disdain for religion unites Epicureanism and mod-ernity because we moderns are the heirs of Epicurus. Through a long and winding path, a revived form of Epicurean materialism became the founding creed of modern scientific materialism--the very materialist cosmology that Darwin assumed in the Origin and that still grounds the materialist dismissal of design in nature (see my book, Moral Darwinism, for the complete account).
Here, then, is an important lesson for those who believe that theology, and especially Christian theology, can be accommodated to evolutionary theory. Its ancient founder, Epicurus, and its modern father, Darwin, understood--and its contemporary champions, Dawkins and Provine, understand--that the implications of evolutionary theory are corrosive for theology. It should go without saying, then, that those buying wholeheartedly and uncritically into evolutionary theory, and who expect to survive with theology intact, had better heed the ancient warning, caveat emptor.
The Folly of ‘Two Truths’
Such would seem obvious, but attempts to reconcile theology with evolutionary theory are not in short supply, chief among them the two-truths approach and the approach of theistic evolution.
The two-truths approach, in its modern form, has been around at least since Benedict Spinoza (1634-1677) and was set forth most recently by the late Stephen Jay Gould. The gist of it is this: Science and theology cannot conflict because they deal with different realms or spheres of truth, each happily impermeable to the other so that never the twain shall clash. This approach rests, or appears to rest, on a truth accepted by both sane science and sane theology that science as science is directed to the investigation of changeable things and theology as theology is directed to eternal things.
But appearances are deceiving, and the deception becomes clear as soon as we ask, what exactly are the two truths? For both Spinoza and Gould, science deals with reality and theology deals with morality. The respective domains of the two spheres, so defined, are even reducible to the form of patronizing jingles--“Science deals with the nature of the heavens and theology with how to get to heaven,” or “Science is concerned with the age of rocks and theology with the rock of ages.” But the contemptuous odor curling around these soothing ditties should be our first hint of the dubious pedigree of the two-truths approach. If that isn’t enough, we may simply note its falsity.
If we research the pedigree, we find that Spinoza put forth the two-truths approach as a way to neutralize religion. For Spinoza (following in Epicurus’s footsteps), religious claims have one intractable nasty effect: Doctrinal differences escalate, all too quickly, into bloody religious wars. By contrast, science is demonstrable, universal, serene, and beneficent. The cure offered by Spinoza? As set forth in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (published anonymously in 1670), we must “separate faith from philosophy,” and by philosophy, Spinoza meant philosophy as defined by the new materialist science. Philosophy “has no end in view save truth,” while “faith…looks for nothing but obedience and piety.” Thus, between the two, “there is no connection, nor affinity.”
However attractive this détente might appear, if we dig more deeply, we find that Spinoza’s reasons for allowing a few moral bones to be thrown to theologians was less than flattering. Simply put, for Spinoza, most people are too stupid to understand a purely rational account of ethics. For them, we have the nice moral tales in the Bible (as cleaned up and reformulated by the Enlightened intelligentsia, that is). Spinoza, therefore, allows theology to have the moral sphere, not out of respect but because it would be “folly to refuse…what has proved such a comfort to those whose reason is comparatively weak.” The real folly, however, would be rejecting religion as a way to control the stupid but restless masses, for “there are but very few, compared with the aggregate of humanity, who can acquire the habit of virtue under the unaided guidance of reason.”
A less than comforting pedigree, to say the least. And now, we may view its falsity. It is false in two senses, moral and intellectual. By moral falsity, I mean that the two-truths approach is not being presented genuinely but duplicitously, for no such distinction between truth and morality is possible, and both materialists in general and Darwinists in particular know it. This should be obvious. The truth about human nature--what we are--is the foundation of moral truth, how we should act. As will soon become quite clear, Darwinism necessarily entails moral Darwinism.
Survival of the Fittest Truth
Stephen Jay Gould, the greatest and most endearing spokesman for Darwinism in the last half of the 20th century, proposed anew the two-truths doctrine in his Rocks of Ages (1999). As with Spinoza, Gould argued that there are two realms of truth and therefore two Non-Overlapping Magisteria (hence, the snappy acronym NOMA), each with its own authority. NOMA was put forth as a kind of peace settlement: Scientists won’t say anything about morality if theologians and religious adherents will quit meddling with reality. If both behave, we’ll have peace in our time.
Whatever Gould’s intentions might have been, one thing should be quite clear from the history of evolutionary theory: Darwinism has always meant to cross the borders into the moral domain, treaties to the contrary, and will continue to do so until only one truth is left--Darwinism.
Such has been true from the very beginning. For Epicurus, the founder of evolutionary theory, and Lucretius, the greatest Roman proponent of Epicureanism, materialist explanations were universal in scope. They not only explained how chance (and not an intelligent deity) produced everything in the cosmos but also provided a new materialist foundation for morality. A materialist view of nature necessarily yielded a materialist view of human nature, wherein human beings have no immortal, immaterial soul but are entirely bodily. Since we have no immaterial soul, there’s no afterlife to fear or hope for, and all questions of good and evil may safely and scientifically be reduced to a continual balancing of bodily pleasures and pains. On this account, then, there’s no good and evil, justice and injustice by nature. Because nature, including human nature, is itself the result of the random jostling of brute atoms, then nature is itself amoral. Morality, then, is purely human-made, defined only by pleasures and pains, and entirely relative to time and place.
Leap ahead about 2,000 years, and we find the same thing in Darwin himself, a fact all too often covered up by Darwinists. Read only Darwin’s Origin, and it seems as if he’s keeping within NOMA-esque bounds. Read Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871), and it’s startlingly clear that, in regard to the extent evolutionary explanations reach, Darwin knew no such bounds. In the Descent, Darwin offered an evolutionary account of the rise of morality and religious belief, solely in terms of natural selection. He also drew out the obvious moral implications. Since human nature is the product of evolution, as with any product of natural selection, it can be improved on by artificial selection. Just as a pigeon fancier takes what nature gives him and selectively breeds for traits he desires, so also human beings should take their own evolution into their own hands. It’s no accident, then, that Descent’s finale is a call to eugenics, a science to which Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, gave the name but to which Darwin gave the foundation.
Nor is it an accident, at present and for the foreseeable future, that evolution provides the support for genetic manipulation and the removal--via the combination of screening and abortion--of the genetically unfit. Once human nature is understood to be an accident of chance, it can no longer be the inviolable locus of moral claims. We, the clay, now lay claim to be the potters as well. To repeat, Darwinism inevitably leads to moral Darwinism. The lesson? NOMA is nonsense.
A sure sign that Darwinism knows no moral bounds is that nearly all the moral controversies we face today (and we will face tomorrow) hinge on a single disagreement: whether human beings are fundamentally distinct from all other animals or whether human beings are simply one more kind of animal; that is, whether we have an immortal, immaterial soul as created in the image of God, or whether we’re one more indistinct and unintended form of animal life provisionally occupying the ever-changing evolutionary landscape.
To take a most illustrative moral quandary, if we’re merely another kind of animal, then euthanasia should not be a moral issue at all. Rather, euthanasia would merely be the long-overdue application to human beings of a service long-available at all veterinary clinics for our pets. We don’t let our pets suffer when they’ve contracted some painful, irremediable malady or are ravaged by old age. We consider it humane to put them down, and that’s why advocates of euthanasia consider its prohibition not only irrational but inhumane.
Nor again do we become morally queasy when we only let the best horses, cattle, sheep, and goats breed. Further, farmers and breeders do not coddle retarded or malformed animals, supplying them with comfortable pasturage. They eliminate the unfit without delay and without remorse. Why should the biologically challenged be a drain on already strained resources?
Well, why not? The only support for the “why not” in regard to human beings is the conviction that we are indeed fundamentally distinct, created in the image of God, and not fashioned as an unintended effect of natural selection. This truth claim grounds our moral arguments against euthanasia and eugenics, and it is a claim about reality that directly overlaps Gould’s cherished evolutionary magisterium.
When First Principles Go Wrong…
This leads us to the second kind of falsity, intellectual falsity. It’s simply false to assert that science as defined by Darwinism either is the only way to understand science or merely uses an innocuous and neutral method that makes no ontological claims (or, at least, makes no ontological claims that could conflict with theology or Christian morality). To the contrary, every view of science rests on some view of reality, explicitly or implicitly; or, to put it another way, every view of science rests on explicit or assumed first principles. At bottom, then, with any view of science, we’ll always find metaphysics. For this reason, it’s legitimate to ask which philosophy is actually providing the metaphysical undergirding of a particular view of science. In the case of Darwinism, it is materialism--the materialism that can be traced all the way back to Epicurus. But that view, by self-definition, is inimical to theology.
Since materialism is neither neutral nor the only way to understand science, it cannot be innocently offered as defining science as such. It begins by defining everything that exists as bodily and by determining that the only causes allowable are material causes, and then infers that apparent biological design can only be the result of material causes as tilted occasionally by chance. As a consequence, it only searches for evidence that fits the materialist grid. Small wonder if that’s all it should find. One of the great services that ID proponents have performed has been shining a strong and inquisitorial light on Darwinism’s metaphysical presuppositions.
Many of the critics of ID, such as Robert Pennock, have attempted to evade this light by claiming that one may legitimately distinguish between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism (naturalism being roughly equivalent to materialism). On this tack, someone may adhere to the materialistic approach to science as a method, while remaining neutral in regard to (or simply avoiding) any metaphysical materialist claims. Even if ontological materialism is madness, we’re not to worry. There’s no madness in the method.
Well, if there’s no madness, then we have a rather strange schizophrenia being advocated as sanity. To wit, in order to understand the rise and complex structure of biological beings we must assume, just for the sake of method, that these beings are entirely the result of a series of evolutionary accidents and so avoid, as intellectual poison, evidence of ID. But ontologically, we’re free as a bird to hold whatever we want about reality.
We’re offered, then, an interesting variation of Gould’s NOMA, where the two spheres, science and theology, are split according to method (the domain of science) and reality (a domain theology can now, in part, claim). This seems, at first blush, a vast improvement over Gould’s allowing materialist science alone to define reality.
But is it? What if ID proponents argued that an ID approach should be assumed methodologically but not ontologically? In other words, as a method, we look for evidence of ID in biology, but such a method makes no ontological claims either about the ultimate causes of biological entities or about a designer. And so, we may happily distinguish between methodological theism and ontological theism, and science is defined according to methodological theism. As for ontology, Darwinists are free as an archaeopteryx to hold that chance and material necessity are, in reality, behind it all.
Any takers? It should be clear, then, that no such compromise is possible, because no such compromise is coherent. Every method in science begins and ends with a metaphysic, and in operation, each method will seek only what its particular metaphysical foundations claim to be real. Methodological naturalism thus begins with ontological naturalism and ends there as well, defining reality as purely material and intelligent causation in nature as impossible.
So much for the two-truths approach. We have yet to examine the mode of accommodationism that baptizes evolutionary theory. This, of course, was Teilhard de Chardin’s approach. In it, evolutionary theory is declared victorious, but rather than disposing of theology or cordoning it off, as in the first two approaches, theology conforms itself completely to evolutionary theory like a barely detectable second skin.
The difficulty with this approach? In wholly conforming itself to evolutionary theory, theology gains a rather embarrassing Pyrrhic victory. It submits to a self-inflicted reductio ad absurdum, or better, redundantia ad absurdum, by trying to piggyback a deity on a mode of explanation designed to eliminate any recourse to divine causation. This wholehearted capitulation leads immediately to complete redundancy.
Rather than examining the dated efforts of de Chardin, let us take a look at the more current attempt by Howard Van Till, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Calvin College. Van Till clearly believes that we must accommodate ourselves to Darwinism completely and therefore counsels that the only respectable route for Christians is to make a theological virtue out of material necessity--a necessity, we remind ourselves, that was originally designed by Epicurus to eliminate theology.
Van Till’s theological strategy is to take umbrage, on behalf of the divine, against those who would dare suggest that God is a second-rate deity, incapable of creating a world that cannot function on its own. For Van Till, as quoted in Pennock’s Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics:
The world created by the God who reveals himself in Scripture is a world characterized by what I shall call functional integrity. By this term I mean to denote a created world that has no functional deficiencies, no gaps in its economy of the sort that would require God to act immediately, temporarily assuming the role of creature to perform functions within the economy of the creation that other creatures have not been equipped to perform.
Translation? A top-rate deity stands aloof and lets the dirty work of creation to the vagaries of evolution. For Van Till, then, we must affirm that chance, and not ID, is the cause of all biological order and that no effects of God’s creative intelligence are detectable, or we shall be guilty of sullying the dignity of the Creator. In sum, denying Darwinism is tantamount to affirming idolatry. Paradoxically, we must take the side of the atheist so as to avoid the greatest impiety and so must hold that the world is a closed system with no trace of its cause.
This defense of God’s honor seems both harmful and contrived. To begin with, it would deny any possibility of miracles, which appear quite frequently in Scripture, and, for that matter, would wreak havoc with the doctrine of the Incarnation, since in Jesus Christ, God was “temporarily assuming the role of creature to perform functions within the economy of the creation that other creatures have not been equipped to perform.”
But even aside from all this, approaches like Van Till’s confuse God’s working a miracle above and beyond what can occur in nature with God’s creating the variety of things that act according to their particular natures. In the second case, a biological creature has functional integrity--that is, it can truly exist and act according to its nature as a result of God’s creative power, not in violation of it. A wonderfully complex organism--too complex to have been caused by chance; irreducibly complex, we might say--is evidence, as an effect, of an intelligent cause, yet it still has functional integrity. Its complex functional integrity is the source of our inference of an intelligent cause; it is not, as Van Till seems to suggest, the very reason we must deny such an inference. The only reason to exclude the design inference, I am afraid, is that Van Till takes, as the starting point, not the canons of Scripture but the canons of Darwinism.
As a kind of variation to this approach, it is often urged (e.g., by Kenneth Miller) that we accept Darwinism because advocating design means that we impiously attribute natural imperfections and evils to the designer. Better to blame natural selection and let God off the hook.
A moment’s reflection reveals that, in regard to the questions of theodicy, this is simply moving the hook back a bit further. If God is the creator of the conditions that allow for natural selection, then He is still the ultimate cause of natural imperfections and evils entailed in natural selection. So to the extent that evil and imperfection are a problem for belief, Darwinism provides no help at all.
So, then, we have seen what happens when one refuses to take a critical look at evolutionary theory or take seriously the possibility that there’s scientific evidence of ID, legitimately culled from nature. By such indiscriminate accommodationism, we end with either atheism or deformed theology, locked into philosophical materialism, and headed toward unrestrained moral Darwinism.
Even so, the most these unpleasant effects can do is push us toward examining the scientific evidence for and against Darwinism; undesired effects are not, in and of themselves, an argument that a particular scientific theory is wrong. But these ill effects do make us painfully aware of the price of surrendering our critical faculties. Just as we should not uncritically reject evolutionary theory, so also we should not uncritically accept it. I’m not arguing that the case is closed against Darwinism, but rather that the case for Darwinism should be reopened because it has been prematurely closed against the possibility of ID. All that is desired is a fair hearing, both for Darwinism and for ID.
Benjamin D. Wiker is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author of Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists. He is a lecturer in theology and science at Franciscan University of Steubenville.