Monday, November 21, 2005

Phony Theory, False Conflict

This is not a debate in which I normally wish to participate. I'm speaking of the Creationist/Intelligent Design vs (Darwinian) Evolution conflict that rages on, often more like a dysfunctional family feud at Thanksgiving than a rational debate over verifiable facts. Charles Krauthammer jumps into the fray with a piece that pretty much sums up my feelings. The attempt by ID supporters to supplant, or suppliment, the study of Evolution does damage both to science and religious faith.

Certainly the idea that there is a creator is one that should be fully explored in religion, philosophy, and perhaps even history classes (as in, the history of this idea). As a Roman Catholic I would welcome such discussion. But to attempt a hostile takeover of science class under the guise of "putting God back in the public schools" is to put the theoretical cart before the scientific horse; no one gets a good ride out of this.

Yes, it is sad that in our institutions of higher learning (and in some public schools) the theory of Evolution is often little more than a stick to beat on religious students on behalf of a secular faculty. I once asked a professor the following: Given that the mechanism of Natural Selection (Darwin's law) was deemed inadequate to properly explain evolution, what did he think of scientific alternative, Punctuated Equilibrium? He looked at me -- remembering, no doubt, that I was one of his "right-wing" students -- and said he was not familiar with that theory, but he didn't try to keep up with the varying shades of Creationist dogma.

Punctuated equilibrium is not creationist dogma. It is the alternative evolutionary science explaination for speciation proposed by Niles Eldrige and Stephen Jay Gould, two of the world's formost proponents of evolution. The professor knew enough "Darwin" to beat his presumed opponents ("religious types" and "right-wingers"), but not enough to hold a reasonable conversation on the subject.

Ironically, a thorough discussion of the limits or shortcomings of Darwinism is made impossible by the very people (ID proponents and creationists) who presumably want to question Darwin's major idea: that Natural Selection is the motor force of speciation. All the intellectual air is sucked out of any discussion by the constant insistence that God must defeat Darwin or be Himself defeated. This assault is followed by the gleeful beating of the ID straw men by many on the left whose own commitment to a rational worldview is questionable. Suddenly those who accept such thoroughly discredited ideas as Marxist economics or Feminist anthropology are taking the stage as defenders of rational thought against the superstitious hordes. Environmental Chicken Little Robert Kennedy recently blamed Hurricane Katrina on our failure to sign the Kyoto treaty. No doubt he shakes his head in disgust when Evolution is denounced in favor of unscientific alternatives.

Want some further irony? The person who has poked the most (and the largest) holes in Darwinian Natural Selection is an athiest who regards religion as the source of good music, but not much more, the Australian Philosopher David Stove.

Stove was something out of an Ayn Rand novel in that he cared not a whit whose toes he stepped on. He delighted in the slaughter of sacred cows and on more than one occasion stepped into the snakepit of political correctness.

His most controversial book was DARWINIAN FAIRYTALES, a work in which Stove praised Darwin, accepted the fact that we are "some kind of land-dwelling mammal," then proceeded to destroy both Darwinian Natural Selection and various and sundry Dawinists. [There is a link to a PDF file of DARWINIAN FAIRYTALES on the above Stove website. The folks at the New Criterion have announced that a new American edition of the work is being published. As of now, however, Amazon still lists the book as out of print].

A hearty selection from DARWINIAN FAIRYTALES can be found in the Stove collection AGAINST THE IDOLS OF THE AGE. A book well-worth reading, if only for the section on Darwinism.

Alas, Stove's biting and illuminating thoughts on Darwin and the "Darwinian Fundamentalists" are nowhere to be found in the current shouting match. Perhaps the re-release of Stove's masterpiece will drown out some of the ridiculous nonsense emmanating from the likes of Pat Robertson.

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