Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Darwinian Trojan Horse: Part One

A Los Angeles Times three book review by Robert Lee Hotz is the pretext for some non-scientific criticism of intelligent design. The review is not notable for its relevancy but rather as a good example of what is wrong with Darwinism. Darwinism is not simply noted for its espousal of evolution as a mechanism by which natural history is understood. It is also an attempt to further non-scientific metaphysical values based on inferences drawn from evolution. Snippets from the article appear here in italics along with my comments in standard print.

In exploring the shortcomings of intelligent design, these writers also highlight a broader struggle over the evidence of existence that is as old as science and revealed religion.

Simply put, Darwin documented the transformational power of sex and death. The struggle to survive and reproduce is the natural engine of variation, he determined. In any species, more are often born than can survive. Even a slight hereditary advantage may favor one over the other. Those who survive will pass their competitive edge on to their offspring. In this way, limbs could become wings and, in 3 billion or 4 billion years, microbes could evolve into men.

Darwin did not document "the transformational power of sex and death." He presented an argument that his natural selection concept explained the diversity of biological organisms. It is critical for those indulging in pseudo-scientific criticism to comprehend two things. First, Darwin did not even attempt to document the origin of life. An initial organism is assumed not empirically documented. This has enormous implications for an intelligent design inference if the likes of Hotz and the authors he references are willing to discuss the issue scientifically.

Secondly, the retention of hereditary traits, theorized as having come about through a stochastic process, is arguable but far from documented, particularly as far as eukaryotic organisms are concerned. Despite claims to the contrary, Haldane's Dilemna has never been satisfactorily resolved.

Modern evolutionary biology emphasizes the underlying unity of life, as amply documented in the genetic code shared by all organisms, which genome mapper and evangelical Christian Francis Collins has called "the language in which God created life."

The underlying unity of life, as illustrated by the genetic code, is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the Darwinian contention that a genetic code, a genome by which hereditary traits are retained and passed on and a complex of nucleic acids and proteins came into existence without some measure of intelligent input.

For those seeking faith-based alternatives to Darwin, however, evolutionary theory commits an unforgivable affront, these authors write. It unseats humanity as master of a divine creation. With its emphasis on the mechanism of natural selection, it puts people on equal biological footing with barnacles and baboons.

This is a revealing comment but its meaning is lost on the author. Human mastery of divine creation is an oxymoronic phrase. There is no human mastery of divine providence. On the other hand let us not ignore the intended mockery. This is the type of comment consistent with one who believes divine creation is a human construct rather than a reality. That's the right of the opinion holder. It is insidious though, that one would assert a scientific debunking of intelligent design clothed in theological garb. There are theistic evolutionists who believe evolution was the tool of divine choice. There are others who believe an intelligent inference is evident at the origin of life about which Darwin had little to say. For both groups the unseating reference is a straw man that the author, like Sancho Panza before him, has valiently but vainly strived to demolish.

"[L]et's be clear: This is not evolution versus God," writes David Quammen in "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution." "The existence of God — any sort of god, personal or abstract, immanent or distant — is not what Darwin's evolutionary theory challenges. What it challenges is the supposed godliness of Man — the conviction that we above all other life forms are spiritually elevated, divinely favored, possessed of an immaterial and immortal essence, such that we have special prospects for eternity, special status in the expectations of God, special rights and responsibilities on Earth."

This comment shows why Darwinism has so little support among the general public. ID critics contend it is the ignorance of the general public that is to blame. In reality the general public is smarter than their detractors. Note that the nature of the criticism is metaphysical not scientific. Assume for the sake of argument that evolution occured as theorized. This says absolutely nothing about spirituality and eternity. God could have choosen an evolutionary process if he so desired while simultaneously setting aside humanity as distinctly different from other organisms in a moral context. Evolution would not negate an eternal role for humanity except in the eyes of those who already disbelieve in God and eternity. As I pointed out at the outset Darwinism has some distinctly unscientific metaphysical baggage.

Quammen does not flinch from "the horrible challenge" implied by Darwin's idea: "In plain language, a soul or no soul? An afterlife or not? Are humans spiritually immortal in a way that chickens or cows are not, or just another form of temporarily animated meat?"

The fact that Quammen poses Darwinism in this context goes a long way in showing why Americans correctly reject it. It is metaphysics in scientific garb.


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