The Science of it All

Darwin Day 2015

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For Darwin Day the common misunderstanding made is that Darwinian theory and Darwinists themselves are just even-handed interpreters of the scientific data. On the contrary, the current defense of orthodox evolutionary thinking is deeply entangled with metaphysical assumptions and agendas.

This comes out in comical ways, and weightier ones (highlighted thusly) :

Darwin boosters often insist they are inspired simply by a disinterested commitment to science, while their critics are motivated primarily by religion. But Darwin Day festivities make it painfully obvious that many promoters of Darwinian theory are just as interested in metaphysics as their critics. For supporters, evolution is not just a scientific theory. It’s a secular creation story, a governing myth that gives their life meaning and purpose.

Hence the growing popularity of “Darwin Day,” which has all the trappings of a holy day for both secular materialists and spiritual progressives. The Day itself is billed as a project of the “American Humanist Association,” and many of its events have explicitly metaphysical overtones.

In California, for example, this year you could attend a Darwin Day event (actually it took place the weekend before) featuring two ex-pastors-turned-atheists who offered their de-conversion stories followed by an “uplifting message of secular hope and love.” The gathering was organized by the “Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers.”

On the other coast, meanwhile, you could attend an “Evolution Sunday” event at a congregational church in Charleston, South Carolina, where the progressive pastor preached on how “our understanding of cosmic and natural evolution may help us move beyond the narrow confines of anthropocentrism to a richer, fuller view of life.”

In past years, Darwin Day events have included mock-gospel concerts featuring songs like “Randomness Is Good Enough for Me” and “Hallelujah! Evolution!” as well as lectures on topics such as “Biological Arguments against the Existence of God.”

One might be tempted to dismiss Darwin Day festivities as the antics of those on the fringe. But a preoccupation with metaphysics is anything but a fringe activity among Darwin’s leading defenders.

Consider the views of evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson at Harvard. Wilson argues that “the existence of a biological God, one who directs organic evolution and intervenes in human affairs (as envisioned by theism) is increasingly contravened by biology and the brain sciences.” Not to worry, however, because Wilson thinks evolution can provide a perfect substitute for religion. As he puts it, the “evolutionary epic . . . is as intrinsically ennobling as any religious epic.”

Wilson wrote those words more than a decade ago, but just a few days ago he was in the news complaining that “what’s dragging us down is religious faith” and urging that “for the sake of human progress, the best thing we could possibly do would be to diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths.”

West considers the possibility that it may be an implicit recognition of this that makes the public uneasy about embracing evolution, as frustrated Darwin advocates impatiently wish they would.

There are a number of reasons people remain skeptical of key claims of Darwinian theory, but certainly one of them is the way so many mainstream defenders of evolution continue to insist that evolution must be blind and unguided. In a world where accidental events tend to produce disorder and degradation rather than innovation that claim is hard for many people to swallow.

The enthusiasts participating in Darwin Day festivities may find such skepticism beyond the pale, but if they truly want to understand the source of the disconnect between ordinary people and evolutionary biologists, they might try being a bit self-critical. If they were more open to disentangling evolutionary theory from materialist metaphysics, they might be more persuasive to those outside their own limited circle.

They might also be more persuasive if they responded to the real critics of Darwinian theory once in a while rather than flailing their typical straw man — the caricatured religious fundamentalist who doesn’t know anything about science. That caricature is growing threadbare as the number of serious critics of modern Darwinian theory multiplies in biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, philosophy and many other fields.

Yes it’s certainly true that Darwin defenders, fleeing a real debate, insist that the only alternative to evolutionary theory is represented by wild-eyed yokels. On that note, there is a large number of Richard Dawkins’s videos in which he reads hate mail from a succession of illiterate, unintelligent, and vulgar correspondents. You can’t do much worse than to mark Darwin Day by measuring how far Darwin’s most celebrated defender goes to avoid an honest intellectual fight with scientific critics. He consistently refuses to engage in a debate with creationist scientists who are his peers with appropriate scientific degrees and published books and articles in scientific journals. But he is good at making fun of those who speak from their heart and are somewhat prejudiced in anybody who threatens their beliefs.

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