Some of my readers are complaining that their biology teachers (at both the local high school and junior college) are promising them a much harder time this year than they gave the religious students last year after my article: https://larryemarshall.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/how-to-pass-high-school-biology/ was passed around. So the cry for more help to circumvent the idiocy of teacher’s who want to teach evolution as a religion instead of as a theory with others such as Intelligent Design: (check out https://larryemarshall.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/evolution-and-intelligent-design/ and https://larryemarshall.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/the-theology-of-atheism/ for some further information).
The students often feel a bit like David vs Goliath. Goliath occupies the podium at the front of the class, and holds the power of pass or fail over the students, and they appears to have the authority of the scientific community on their side.
Goliath uses the false logic of “ad hominem” by stating teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy. While the chemistry and physics examples may be true that does not make the biology example true. Instead of students’ growing more comfortable with the dissension and tension growing between evolution and religion, the opposite seems to have happened as the various Goliath’s are forcing the David’s to accept beliefs that they know to be false.
To keep things civil, let’s identify Goliath not with the teacher themselves, but with the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Neo-Darwinism, attacks religious faith on three fronts:
- There’s no evidence for intelligent design in biology, because random variation and natural selection — an entirely mechanical, undirected process — can do the designing. Thus, there are no evidential grounds for believing in a creator of life or biological complexity.
- There’s nothing special about you or any other human being. You’re an animal like every other animal. Deal with it.
- There’s no solving the problem of natural evil. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, very amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.
Now, it has been a while since I was a college student studying biology but the teacher’s confidence and knowledge seemed intimidating and infallible and I am sure it is as bad today as it was then.
I had no mentors, I was supposed to believe what they told me. When I became discouraged, when it just didn’t seem to make sense, I took the tests and passed them and kept it in my mind that I needed to find “the truth” some day. I realized if I worked hard to understand the arguments against my own position inevitably, I would find the weaknesses in their arguments.
So, I offer the following suggestions to any students dealing with their own academic Goliaths.
First, no aggression-don’t talk back to the teacher or question their beliefs. David slaying Goliath is a justly famous account of bravery, but that was a literal battlefield. Your task is to persuade, not harm. Your sling and stones should be the real evidence — or its conspicuous absence. So with the righteousness of God’s truth, let us see what facts we can apply to discredit the three main points listed above.
Point 1) There’s no evidence for intelligent design in biology, because random variation and natural selection — an entirely mechanical, undirected process — can do the designing.
Okay — if this claim is true, we should be able to find in the scientific literature the detailed explanations for the origin of complex structures and behaviors, rendered strictly in terms of random variation plus natural selection.
Guess what? Those explanations are not there; they do not exist. If anyone doubts this, he should try looking for himself. Choose any complex structure or behavior, and look in the biological literature for the step-by-step causal account where the origin of that structure (that is, it’s coming-to-be where it did not exist before) is explained via random variation and natural selection.
You’ll be looking a long time. The explanations just aren’t there, and this fact is well known to evolutionary biologists who have become disenchanted with perceived neo-Darwinian theory. When proponents of the perceived theory, such as Richard Dawkins, face the task of making random variation and natural selection work, they resort to fictional entities or flawed analogies such as the “methinks it is like a weasel” search algorithm scenario (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_program) . No one would have to employ these fairy tales and stories, of course, if evidence were available showing the efficacy of random variation and a perchance to select construct novel complexity.
“Research on selection and adaptation,” notes Mary Jane West-Eberhard, a disenchanted evolutionary theorist, “may tell us why a trait persisted and spread, but it will not tell us where a trait came from….This transformational aspect of evolutionary change has been oddly neglected in modern evolutionary biology” (Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003, p. 197). Typically, when a disappointed biologist such as West-Eberhard departs in search of a better theory of evolution, her point of leaving is dismay at the explanatory poverty of what neo-Darwinism has delivered over the past several decades. The theory promised big, great, wonderful possibilities and ‘truths’, instead it delivered very little of anything.
According to Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking 2009, p. 138), however, showing the details is not the job of evolutionary biologists:
In such cases the onus is not on evolutionary biologists to sketch out a precise step-by-step scenario documenting exactly how a complex character evolved. That would require knowing everything about what happened when we were not around — an impossibility for most traits and for nearly all biochemical pathways.
If that’s so, then how do we know that random variation and natural selection were actually sufficient? “Feasibility,” answers Coyne, and by that generous standard, “we know of no adaptations whose origin could not have involved natural selection”. After all, writes Coyne a few pages earlier (p. 136), “we know of no other natural process that can build a complex adaptation.”
Feasibility can be manufactured by yourself at any time. All you need is a smidgen of storytelling ability. Once one gets the hang of it, inventing the variations one needs and some sort of selective pressure to increase the frequency of (and fix) those variations in unobserved populations becomes a speculative exercise with no connection to biological reality. And saying that natural selection is the only game in town, particularly when one has excluded intelligent design a priori, does not allow us to credit selection with genuinely explaining the origin of complexity. The devil is in the details.
Random variation and natural selection aren’t the only game in town, of course, as the growth of the ID community over the past twenty years has demonstrated. If their claims about the sufficiency of neo-Darwinian theory fail, then the assertions about “indistinguishable” humanity and our bleakly amoral origins will tumble as well. Once the big guy — the Goliath theory — goes down, the lesser claims follow.
Point 2) There’s nothing special about you or any other human being. You’re an animal like every other animal. Deal with it.
Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.
I would be remiss not to point out that this belief by teachers and scientists also engages in profound reductionism by denigrating the unique moral value of humans beings.
Human exceptionalism doesn’t rely on provable “extra natural traits.” However, we alone are creative. In the 3.5 billion years of life on this planet, according to them, no other species has created a sonnet, no animal has created philosophy, and no animal comprehends right and wrong, good and evil, no animals fashion moral codes.
These are distinctions with a huge moral difference regardless of whether we evolved into these natural human capacities through random means, design, or creation.
Point 3) There’s no solving the problem of natural evil. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator. Although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things.
But these aren’t ethical horrors at all in the natural world. Indeed, without death and its many causes, natural selection could not operate.
“Ethics” only come into play when the actions or consequences involve human action. Indeed, why is it only humans take such offense at these issues? Why do only we make moral judgments about any of this?
Because we are exceptional. And what other species works so empathetically to mitigate suffering? Perhaps that’s a spark of something indefinable that the teacher could explain to you.
No matter. I always get a chuckle out of ideologues, who so smugly claim the mantle of defender of objective science to push their anti-human exceptionalism (and anti-religious) views: Invariably, they invoke the same aspects of our intrinsic uniqueness that they huff and puff to deny.
Teachers consider themselves free to attack the worldviews of their students. Fair enough: do the students have the freedom to raise questions about the teacher’s favorite theory? Science is as science does: a strong theory, well supported by evidence, needs to fear no questions. A weak theory supported by half-truths and B.S., on the other hand — that theory should worry about a stone coming hard from a fast-whirling sling.