"A Miracle Happens Here:"
Darwin's Enemies on the Right
by Steve Sailer
|At the end of the 20th Century, the
reputations of the three bushy-bearded 19th Century sages -- Karl
Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Charles Darwin -- are diverging radically.
One hundred million corpses later, Marxism is on its last legs
everywhere except in university Literature departments. Freudianism is
also foundering, with Prozac proving a more effective cure for what
ails your psyche than talking for years about how you were emotionally
crippled by your toilet training.
Darwinism, however, cuts a wider swath than ever. Ernst Mayr, the dean of biologists, states, "Nothing in biology makes sense without Darwinian evolution." And Darwinism is now generating rigorous results in social sciences that had long drifted, buffeted by every ideology and fad to come along. For example, in 1859 Darwin forecast that "psychology will be based on a new foundation." Today, "evolutionary psychology" explains the reproductive logic behind why men and women tend to think so differently. Even in literary and artistic criticism, the most innovative work (such as Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae") has taken on a Darwinian tinge.
Yet, Darwin remains vastly unpopular. Creationists of course rabidly oppose him. Yet, as Frank Miele of Skeptic magazine notes, his legacy is in more danger "from its self-declared 'friends' than from its honest enemies."
In Part I of this series, we'll start by looking at Darwin's honest -- if comic -- enemies, the "Scientific Creationists." There are plenty of other writers, however, who can deliver the easy entertainment of sneering at fundamentalists who claim that Noah's Flood carved the Grand Canyon in 40 days. Instead, I'll focus on how this kind of know-nothingism feeds off the atheistic triumphalism of brilliant evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Edward O. Wilson. In next week's Part II, we'll examine how Darwin's self-proclaimed friends, like the part-time paleontologist and full-time media hound Stephen Jay Gould, try to cover up how Darwinism subverts the creeds of both the Biblically and the politically pious. At the very center of Darwin's model of humanity is today's most censored heresy: the importance of hereditary genetic inequality.
The press recently lambasted the state of Kansas for deleting evolution from the state's high school assessment tests, but the politicians did not. Presidential frontrunner George W. Bush called for teaching creationism alongside evolution: "Children ought to be exposed to different theories about how the world started." The politicians know that in a 1999 Gallup Poll 47% of Americans agreed that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Indeed, 30% of those with post-graduate educations endorse this literal interpretation of Genesis.
Why are Americans more likely than Canadians or Europeans to tell pollsters they reject evolution on religious grounds? Organized Christianity is ebbing away rapidly in Europe because the state-run churches are just as feckless and inept as other government monopolies. In the U.S., though, the First Amendment's separation of church and state means that America enjoys the most competitive, entrepreneurial religious marketplace this side of India.
While fewer people north of the border will admit to creationist beliefs, Canadians should not feel too smug. A Canadian named George McCready Price came up with the brilliant (if preposterous) idea that Noah's Flood could account for all that inconvenient geological evidence that the Earth is older than 6000 years. Among Fundamentalists, Price's "Flood Geology" is now crowding out more reasonable varieties of Creationism. For example, William Jennings Bryan, thrice Democratic candidate for President and guest prosecutor at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, was caricatured in the movie "Inherit the Wind" as the epitome of religious dogmatism. Yet, in reality Bryan was perfectly willing to call the Bible's description of God creating the heavens and the Earth in just six days a metaphor. Each "day" could represent up to 600 million years. Today, however, Bryan would be a traitor to the noisier "Scientific Creationists."
Fortunately, it's by no means clear just how seriously that 47% of the public take their supposed Creationist beliefs when they aren't answering opinion polls. While Henry Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, denounces children's dinosaur toys and the movie "Jurassic Park" as "propaganda for evolution," his logic certainly didn't seem to hurt Stephen Spielberg in the wallet. The public is also fascinated by the discovery of proto-human skulls in Olduvai Gorge, the possibility of cloning that 20,000 year old wooly mammoth, and so forth. Nor have I heard of anybody refusing to take the new antibiotics that drug companies have had to invent to combat the ever-evolving strains of penicillin-resistant bacteria.
Darwin seems to lose out with the public primarily when his supporters force him into a mano-a-mano Thunderdome death match against the Almighty. Most people seem willing to accept Darwinism as long as they don't have to believe in nothing but Darwinism. Thus, the strident tub-thumping for absolute atheism by evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins, author of the great book "The Selfish Gene," is counter-productive.
There are many positions intermediate between Price's dopey dogma and Dawkins' clever counter-dogma that more or less accommodate both science and religion. For example, the nuns at my Catholic elementary school in the Sixties taught that humans were descended from apes, but that Adam and Eve were the first who had evolved enough for God to give them souls. The Catholic Church has learned from its self-inflicted Galileo disaster not to bet its prestige on one side of a scientific controversy. Science works best with theories that are falsifiable, religion with beliefs that aren't.
But biologists should be wary of atheistical triumphalism for more than merely tactical reasons. Dawkins' seems to have forgotten the point made by "Darwin's Bulldog," Thomas H. Huxley, that true skepticism implies agnosticism, not atheism. The smug atheism rampant among prominent evolutionists today is reminiscent of that of the physicists in 1899, just before the 20th Century unleashed a host of unwelcome surprises upon them. Unfortunately, biologists don't know enough of the history of physics and cosmology to see how atheistic dogmatism can mislead and slow scientific progress.
Edward O. Wilson, founder of sociobiology, outlined the philosophical framework for evolutionary atheism in his impressive bestseller "Consilience." Wilson argues that the future of science resides in "reductionism." Sociology should ultimately be reduced to (i.e., be explained by) its underlying sociobiological mechanisms. In turn, sociobiology needs to be reduced to biology, which will eventually be completely explicable by chemistry. Ultimately, all knowledge can be explained by physics.
This is a magnificently ambitious agenda, and its value is clear. For example, to discuss the sociology of gender without grasping the sociobiology of why evolution instilled different reproductive goals in males and females is useless (although that doesn't stop feminist verbalizers). In turn, those contrasting sociobiological drives emanate from chemicals like testosterone and estrogen, which can be understood in terms of the physics of protons and electrons.
Now, a few intelligent critics like biochemist Michael Behe object to Wilson's imperialistic assumption that Darwinian science can explain every single fact of biology. How can we be sure that natural selection could have created something as complex as, say, the eye? Well, at this point we probably can't. And we'll probably never be able to prove that every single feature of every single organism is the result of the Darwinian process. Yet, natural selection has proven so enormously successful at explaining thousands of mysteries that for any single biological question the smart money remains on the undefeated heavyweight champ, Charles Darwin.
Besides, for a good scientist it's simply more fun to try to explain some facet of nature than to assert like Behe that nobody could ever explain it. Anti-religiousness is the appropriate professional prejudice of scientists. The Sidney Harris cartoon summed it up. A lab-coated researcher is filling the left and right sides of a black board with equations, but the only thing connecting the two clouds of symbols are the words, "Then a miracle occurs." Another scientist suggests, "Maybe you could give us a little more detail on that middle section." Relying on miracles in science is like relying on the lottery in retirement planning.
The problem comes when scientists try to inflate this useful professional prejudice into the primary principle of the cosmos. Dogmatism makes them overlook important facts. For example, Wilson left out the ultimate reductionist step: boiling physics down to cosmology. The ultimate scientific questions are: (1) Why does the universe exist? And (2) Why are the laws of nature such that they allow intelligent life to evolve via natural selection? Behe could probably deploy his skepticism about atheism more profitably at the cosmological level. So far as we now know, cosmology can only be reduced to the raw speculations of theology.
That's why the two most scientifically fruitful theories in 20th Century cosmology -- the Big Bang and the Anthropic Principle of Intelligent Design -- were partially cribbed from theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas, much to the dismay of cosmologists.
In 1927 Father Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest and mathematician, devised what's now called the Big Bang theory. Most scientists found its similarities to Genesis' "Let there be light" and the famous prime mover proof for the existence of God to be unsettling. Thus, they largely turned toward the less subversive Steady-State theory. This postulated that the creation of matter wasn't a one-shot cataclysm of Biblical proportions, but a routine, small-scale event. The 1964 discovery that you could watch the electro-magnetic static generated by the Big Bang on your TV disproved this comforting scenario, however, ushering in an era of rapid scientific advance.
Then in 1974 cosmologist Brandon Carter revived the ancient Argument from Design for the existence of God. This had held that the existence of a well-designed item like a sword or a bird's wing implies the existence of a designer. Darwin's theory of natural selection had seemingly disposed of that chestnut by demonstrating that the differential reproduction rates of competing variations could eventually produce superbly engineered organisms without a designer. Carter, however, showed that our universe appears to be fine-tuned to support the evolution of intelligent life. A host of seemingly arbitrary physical parameters such as the strength of gravity, coincide superbly well to foster a stable, long-lived universe. The odds against such a coincidence happening by chance appear, well, astronomical.
Once again, a quasi-religious notion did wonders for the fecundity of cosmological theory. To avoid admitting a Designer, cosmologists had to postulate that beyond our natural world, there must exist a, shall we say, "supernatural" world. Rather than a hairy thunderer shouting "Let there be light," maybe, they say, there is a "superuniverse" comprising an infinite number of universes, all with different natural laws. And maybe life only emerges in the universes with the right law, like ours. And maybe, to make the Darwinian metaphor complete, universes compete somehow against each other.
This infinite universes concept is a sensationally creative idea. Of course, in its utter untestability, it's not exactly science. In truth, it is theological speculation at its most grandiose. Philosopher Robert C. Koons notes, "Originally, atheists prided themselves on being no-nonsense empiricists, who limited their beliefs to what could be seen and measured. Now, we find ourselves in a situation in which the only alternative to belief in God is belief in an infinite number of unobservable parallel universes! You've come along way, baby!" At minimum, we now know that our natural world cannot account for its own existence. To do that, we need to assume the existence of some sort of supernatural word. And even if some enormous breakthrough let us validate the existence of this superuniverse, we'd probably end up having to assume that it was brought about by some sort of hyperuniverse beyond that, and on and on.
In summary, for reasons stretching from the gritty world of tactical politics to the most ethereal conjectures about the cosmos (or cosmoses), those who claim to be skeptics should try harder to keep their minds open.