Sunday, May 17, 2009

Life is About Choices

Some clear thinking by David Klinghoffer in his Beliefnet article, 'Darwin Would Put God Out of Business:' If You Have Faith in God as the Creator, You Can't Embrace Darwinism Too, Despite What Some Scientists Claim.

Life would be less stressful if we didn’t have to make so many tough choices. For example, you love eating pizza, but you also value keeping your arteries unblocked. You must choose--though lots of us refuse to do so, the result being arteriosclerosis.

Sometimes the choice is between beliefs. When it comes to Darwinian evolution and the challenge it presents to belief in God, a lot of thoughtful men and women seem intent on not facing up to a tough but necessary choice, between Darwin and God.

Thus, over on The New York Times bestseller list is The Language of God, a book by evangelical Christian and genome scientist Francis Collins. He cheers for Darwin, both in his book and in an interview with Beliefnet, while recounting sticky-sweet memories of how he accepted Jesus on a nature hike.

Meanwhile, here at Beliefnet, Rabbi Natan Slifkin, author of "The Challenge of Creation: Judaism’s Encounter with Science," singles me out for criticism. Slifkin finds “profoundly problematic” what I have written about Darwinism -- namely that it would render Judaism’s claims about God null and void.

The key point is whether, across hundreds of millions of years, the development of life was guided or not. On one side of this chasm between worldviews are Darwinists, whose belief system asserts that life, through a material mechanism, in effect designed itself. On the other side are theories like intelligent design (ID) which argue that no such purely material mechanism could write the software in the cell, called DNA.

To put it starkly, Darwinism would put God out of business. God’s authority to command our behavior is based on His having created us. By this, I don’t mean that He formed the first person from clay less than six thousand years ago, but that His guidance was necessary to produce the chief glory of the world, life. If the process that produced existence and then life was not guided, then God is not our creator.

In a National Review Online article, It's God or Darwin, Klinghoffer makes the following points about the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision regarding the teaching of Intelligent Design...

Is it really true that only Darwinism, in contrast to ID, represents a disinterested search for the truth, unmotivated by ideology?

Judge Jones was especially impressed by the testimony of philosophy professor Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University, author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Professor Forrest has definite beliefs about religion, evident from the fact that she serves on the board of directors of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, which is "an affiliate of American Atheists, and [a] member of the Atheist Alliance International.”

There is Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, of the University of Texas, who defended Darwinism before the Texas State Board of Education in 2003. In accepting an award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation,Weinberg didn't hide his own feelings about how science must deliver the fatal blow to religious faith: "I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I'm all for that! One of the things that in fact has driven me in my life, is the feeling that this is one of the great social functions of science — to free people from superstition." When Weinberg's idea of science triumphs, then "this progression of priests and ministers and rabbis and ulamas and imams and bonzes and bodhisattvas will come to an end, [and] we'll see no more of them. I hope that this is something to which science can contribute and if it is, then I think it may be the most important contribution that we can make."

For more ugly quotes from the "Usual Suspects" (Dawkins, Dennett, Myers, etc.), read the whole piece. Klinghoffer continues...

Admittedly, there are those in the Darwin community who argue that Darwinism is compatible with religion. Judge Jones himself, in the Kitzmiller decision, writes that

many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, plaintiffs' scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

Some advocates go further, seeing Darwin as a friend to faith. When I was in New York recently I spent an enjoyable hour at the new Darwin show at the American Museum of Natural History. In the last few yards of exhibit space, before you hit the inevitable gift shop, the museum addresses intelligent design. There's a short film with scientists talking about Darwin and religion, seeking to show that Darwinism actually has religion's best interests in mind.

This reminds me of the scene in Chapter 6 of The Mustard Seed, when Brian volunteers to tutor a high school student named Chris, and Chris barks...

“Look, bro, if anyone thinks the rules of evolution don’t apply to us…well, they’re just living in a freakin fantasy world. For years, I’ve been absorbing the truth, even if other people choose to ignore it. I don’t care if the truth earns me an ‘F’ now, because it will provide me with an ‘A+’ in the Real World, and that’s the only place where any of this shit matters.”

Klinghoffer concludes...

There is irony in the way the media generally follow Barbara Forrest's line in portraying ID as a "Trojan Horse" for theism. It would be equally accurate to call Darwin a trojan horse for atheism.

Wth apologies to Judge Jones, there is no coherent reconciliation between God and Darwin. Attempts to show how we can have both faith in a spiritual reality (religion) and faith in pure materialism (Darwin) always end up vacuuming the essential meaning out of either God or Darwin.

And this, I think, is why some Darwin advocates dislike religion. It's why they fight it with such passion: Because negating religion is the reason behind their belief system. To their credit, they recognize a truth that others prefer not to see. That is: One may choose Darwin or one may choose God.

**UPDATE, MAY 18, 2009**

On the other side of the spectrum, Jerry Coyne, an atheist professor at the University of Chicago, draws the same conclusion about faith and Darwinism (they are NOT COMPATIBLE). In an otherwise pitiful New Republic article (I felt like my IQ dropped 30 points after reading it), Professor Coyne makes one reasonable (and powerful) point...

The National Academy of Sciences, America's most prestigious scientific body, issued a pamphlet assuring us that we can have our faith and Darwin, too:

Science and religion address separate aspects of human experience. Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith. And many religious people and denominations accept the scientific evidence for evolution.

Would that it were that easy! True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers.)

Besides his "aesthetic design" argument, Giberson offers another reason for his faith--we might call it the argument from convenience.

As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly. Most of my friends are believers. I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.

This touching confession reveals the sad irrationality of the whole enterprise--the demoralizing conflict between a personal need to believe and a desperation to show that this primal need is perfectly compatible with science.

It is in our personal and professional interest to proclaim that science and religion are perfectly harmonious. After all, we want our grants funded by the government, and our schoolchildren exposed to real science instead of creationism. Liberal religious people have been important allies in our struggle against creationism, and it is not pleasant to alienate them by declaring how we feel. This is why, as a tactical matter, groups such as the National Academy of Sciences claim that religion and science do not conflict. But their main evidence--the existence of religious scientists--is wearing thin as scientists grow ever more vociferous about their lack of faith…Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.

Reflecting on Coyne's admission, critic Carol Iannone writes...

Remember this when you see a version of Inherit the Wind, with its fradulent implication that the Bible and Darwin are perfectly compatible, and its closing scene with the Clarence Darrow character exiting happily with both in his briefcase. Generations of schoolchildren have been misled by this lie. Now at last we have the truth and can begin again to build on that.

**UPDATE, MAY 19, 2009**

A fine quote by Denyse O'Leary which summarizes the situation perfectly:

"There is no conflict between faith and science. But there is an irreconcilable conflict between Christianity and Darwinism."

**UPDATE, JUL. 24, 2009**

From Carol Iannone's article, William Jennings Bryan Was Right...

"One of the few Darwinians to speak frankly about this clash of world views is William B. Provine, Professor of the History of Science at Cornell University, who admits that "prominent evolutionists have joined with equally prominent theologians and religious leaders to sweep under the rug the incompatibilities of evolution and religion."

"The reason for this benign coverup is that, according to Provine, 'If modern evolutionary biology is true, then all these lofty desires'–such as 'the existence of a personal god, free will, life after death, immutable moral laws, and ultimate meaning in life'–are 'hopeless.' Instead, he declares, 'we're produced by a process that gives not one damn about us. It simply plops us here as humans on the earth the same way it does chimpanzees or gorillas or the AIDS virus or anything else.'"

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