Repost: Evolution 101

[Here is another of my essays originally posted at Intellectual Conservative and destroyed by leftist hackers. In it, I refer to the evolution in which contemporary atheistic science believes as “Darwinism” or “Darwinian evolution.” This is not the term that most scientists use, but since the word “evolution” has many meanings, and since most scientific enthusiasts of the evolutionary theory originated by Darwin wish to obscure its anti-Christian nature, I have chosen to use a more clear-cut term. Keep in mind also that this essay was written for the general public, not the typical Orthosphere reader.]

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Ben Stein’s movie Expelled shines the spotlight on the dispute between Darwinian evolution and its opponents. Although both sides marshal a large array of technical facts, this dispute is really a clash between two fundamentally differing worldviews, that is, basic philosophical systems that people use to interpret all of reality. In fact, the dispute can most accurately be summed up by saying: It’s all about God.

That is, if you can be sure there is no miracle-working God, then something like Darwinian evolution must be correct. But if there is even a chance that such a God exists, then basic intellectual integrity demands that you take seriously the criticisms directed against Darwinism. In other words, you must take seriously any evidence supporting the notion that natural forces are incapable of either originating life or changing it from single-celled organisms to the species we observe now. And you cannot, as the Darwinian evolutionists do, dismiss the possibility of divine action as being outside the scope of science, and therefore de facto false. After all, if natural forces cannot do what obviously did happen, something supernatural must have been involved, and a proper science would acknowledge this possibility.

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Definitions Are Everything

In this dispute, proper definitions are everything.  For example, the most common defense given for Darwinian evolution is some variation of the following:  “Evolution means change over time. We observe that life is changing over time. Therefore evolution is a fact, even if we don’t know all the details.”

And the Darwinists’ second most common line is: “Science is naturalistic by definition. Therefore your alleged evidence that God did it, or that natural forces are incapable of doing it, is invalid. Appealing to God, either overtly or covertly, is not allowed. Case closed.”

(“Naturalism” is the doctrine that only matter exists, and that all knowledge must originate from data provided by the five senses.)

In both cases, Darwinists are appealing to a definition in order to win the argument. In one case, it is the definition of “Darwinian evolution;” in the second, the definition of “science.”

But reality is not determined by definitions.  In fact, the reverse is true: we only must use definitions that accord with what we know about reality. And if evidence starts to come in that the definitions we have used are faulty, we must honestly face this evidence.

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So before we judge the evidence for and against Darwinian evolution, we must ask: What are the proper definitions of “Darwinian evolution” and of “science?” And how do we decide what the proper definitions would have to be? The answers we give to these questions will largely determine whether we support or oppose Darwinian evolutionary theory.

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And please note: These questions are philosophical, not scientific. They concern the most basic issues of human life: What is real?  What is true? How does one determine truth? For such questions, scientific data can be useful but will never be decisive. This dispute concerns the basic philosophical assumptions that undergird, and precede, science. Therefore scientific methods cannot answer the above questions.

In other words, the scientist does not have any special authority here. He cannot say, “I am a trained professional, you are not, and therefore you are required to agree with me.”  When we discuss questions about basic reality, the scientist and the non-scientist are on equal terms. Each must make a philosophical, non-technical case to support his view, and he must also evaluate the merits of his opponent’s case, rather than just standing on authority or tradition.

Professional philosophers also have no special authority here. The basic natures of thought and of reality are not highly specialized fields of professional inquiry where laymen have no right to take a stand. Thought and reality are everyone’s business, and the philosopher must make his case in non-technical language.

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The first of the questions, “What exactly do we mean by ‘Darwinian evolution?’ is comparatively easy to answer. Only members in good standing of the scientific community (especially its leadership) have the authority to answer this question. Scientists use the term “Darwinian evolution” in a special way, as is appropriate to a technically-advanced academic and intellectual discipline, and so laymen do not have the authority to redefine it.

This must be said because private definitions of “evolution” abound. It is common, for example, for believers in God to define evolution as a process of change that appears to the scientist to be random and uncaused, but is in reality guided by God. Call it “theistic evolution. And it is also common for less religiously-orthodox dissenters from standard Darwinian theory to redefine evolution so that, although there is no guiding hand, it is still somehow “predetermined” by the properties of reality itself.

So we need to be clear: the Darwinism that the scientists (and their admirers) demand that we believe means something very specific. This definition is often written down for all to see, and it can also be inferred from what the Darwinists say about their theory.

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The scientist’s definition of evolution (expressed in non-technical terms and emphasizing the points which are key for this essay) is as follows: “The development of life by random genetic mutations coupled with natural selection, in such a way that this development was neither guided by any intelligent agent, nor predetermined in any other way.” If you believe in some other sort of evolution, you are not a Darwinist[1].

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And therefore, in particular, Darwinian evolution does not mean just “change in life over time.” Nobody disputes that life has changed over time, and this fact does not prove that the changes were Darwinian, that is, not caused by an intelligent agent.

Revealingly, scientists rarely state the definition as clearly as I have above, at least when they are addressing the general public. One reason is undoubtedly that many scientists are honestly unaware that anyone would regard an intelligently-designed or predetermined evolution as a possibility. Most scientists have a worldview that is naturalistic, meaning they believe that only matter exists (and therefore there is no God), and that all knowledge must originate with the five senses. And if naturalism is true, any sort of evolution obviously would have to be Darwinian, even if all of the details have not yet been discovered: Under naturalism, no God is available to do the intelligent designing, and no “predestination” of material processes can be known. This being the case, natural selection would be the only remotely plausible explanation of life.

But the main reason scientists and their textbooks often downplay (or ignore) the atheistic nature of Darwinism (the “no God did it” part) is because of public opposition. Although roughly 40% of Americans say to pollsters that they basically go along with Darwinism, that leaves a large and often- vocal majority who do not. In the last thirty years or so, anti-Darwinism has become a major force. And as I am attempting to demonstrate in this essay, this is as it should be.

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What is Science?

This brings us to the second question: What is the correct definition of science?  Should science be naturalistic (i.e., assuming only matter and sensory-based knowledge) by definition?

This question is key.  If science really should be naturalistic, then some sort of Darwinism is correct. Period. Even if life on earth were designed by a superior race of extraterrestrial beings (which would be a form of “Intelligent Design”), this could be assimilated to Darwinism, if the ultimate origin of all life in the universe were naturalistic.

Should science be naturalistic? There is only one possible answer: Only if naturalism is true, at least to the best of our knowledge.

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Imagine a scientist who has what he believes to be good evidence that an event occurred that cannot be accounted for except through the purposeful action of an intelligent being.  But this event occurred long before any human beings, or any other material beings capable of intelligent and purposeful action, existed.  What should he conclude?

If naturalism is known to be true, he should conclude that some unknown natural process caused the event. But if naturalism is not known to be true, he should consider the possibility that a supernatural being did it. To entertain this possibility is not to “destroy science.” It is to draw the most likely conclusion.

Consider an analogy: A detective is investigating a murder, and he is beginning to suspect that the butler did it. But the rules of the Gotham City police department emphatically do not allow police to implicate butlers. When the detective mentions his reasons for thinking the butler did it, he is told, “That’s against our rules.”  So he decides that he will only believe the butler did it when he’s off duty.

That would be absurd. If there really is good evidence that the butler did it, we should entertain this possibility. There can be only one valid reason to have a general rule that butlers are never to be implicated: if we have good reason to believe that butlers never commit crimes. Otherwise, it would be absurd to say, “The butler may have done it, but if you consider that possibility then it won’t be valid detective work. It will be something else entirely, because, for example, people are so fond of their butlers that they cannot give a truthful testimony about them.”

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If you are a scientist, there is only one valid reason to demand naturalism in your investigations: if you have good reason to believe that naturalism is true.

In response to this point, some scientists will declare that “truth” is not the goal of science. Science, they say, is like a game, in which the rules are essentially arbitrary, and are chosen for esthetic or utilitarian reasons[2]. But this assertion is clearly nonsense. The vast majority of scientists believe that their goal is truth (as much truth as human enterprise is capable of attaining), not just adherence to an arbitrary code. Besides, if the goal of science is not truth, then non-scientists are not required to agree with scientists. If you are not claiming that your scientific conclusions are really true, we can ignore you.

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Some scientists distinguish between methodological naturalism (“Science must only investigate natural things, even though it cannot know whether naturalism is true”) and ontological naturalism (“Naturalism is true.”) They will demand only methodological naturalism in science, and claim that they are not saying naturalism is true.

But this is to dodge the issue. If naturalism is false, then evidence pointing to the supernatural will eventually be found. And at that point, continuing to insist on methodological naturalism really will be just a disguised ontological naturalism, i.e., a disguised atheism.

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So is naturalism true? A full discussion of this point would make this essay much too long, and many others more able than I have written on the subject, so I shall only summarize the argument here:

Naturalism fails for two fundamental reasons: It is logically inconsistent (and therefore necessarily false) and it cannot plausibly account for many of the facts we know to be true.

Here is a brief indication of naturalism’s inconsistency:  Naturalism declares that all knowledge ultimately must be based on sense perception. But no sense perception, or an inference from such a perception, can possibly prove that all knowledge must be based on sense perception. So according to naturalism, the doctrine of “naturalism” would have to be false. Therefore, if naturalism is true, then it is false. And if it is false, then it is false. In any case, it is false.

As for a fact that naturalism cannot plausibly account for, consider the Big Bang. Scientists tell us that the universe began with a primordial explosion which created all matter and energy, and also all space and time. In other words, “before” the Big Bang, there was no matter, energy, space or time. But if naturalism is true, matter, energy (in the sense of physics), space and time are the only things that can exist. And so according to naturalism, there was absolute nothingness before the Big Bang, a nothingness that somehow “caused” the universe. Since nothingness cannot cause anything, naturalism radically fails to account for the origin of the universe.

[Naturalism also fails to account for the existence your consciousness, which you know does exist, and for the existence of ideas, which you know do exist because you think about them constantly.]

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Brief Summary of the Evidence

Once we understand that naturalism is false, and that the supernatural accordingly does exist, we can interpret the evidence both for and against Darwinian evolutionary theory much more accurately.  It would make this essay far too long if it were carefully to consider all of this evidence, but here is a summary. The interested reader can readily find more details in the voluminous anti-Darwinian literature, which makes a powerful persuasive case if you are not burdened by the false worldview of naturalism:

A) The Evidence for Darwinism

  • Remember, Darwinian evolution means, not just change, but unguided change.  The chief evidence for this is that we do see unguided change in life happening right now: viruses becoming immune to medicines, finch beaks varying in average size, species becoming extinct and new “species” (isolated breeding populations) coming into existence. We do observe natural selection.
  • Deliberate breeding of animals and plants by humans (which admittedly is not “unguided”) shows that some species have a considerable capacity for variation.  Perhaps these limits can be stretched very far over millions of years, so that we get full-blown Darwinian evolution.

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B) But there is no good reason to believe that Darwinian evolutionary theory is true

  • We never observe natural forces even coming close to producing life out of non-life. And it is known to be wildly improbably that nonliving elements could randomly combine themselves into life. Therefore there is no reason, other than a presupposition of naturalism, to believe that this occurred in the past.
  • All examples of currently-occurring evolution involve “micro-evolution,” that is, minor variations. We never observe radically new organs or species coming into existence through unintelligent natural means. Therefore there is no reason, other than a presupposition of naturalism, to believe that this occurred in the past.
  • We never observe consciousness spontaneously evolving out of non-conscious entities. Therefore there is no reason, other than a presupposition of naturalism, to believe that this occurred in the past.
  • After more than 150 years of intensive scientific scrutiny, the fossil record shows only a tiny fraction of the vast number of transitional forms that would have to have existed according to Darwinism. The most reasonable inference is that they do not exist.

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C)  And there is good reason to believe that Darwinian evolutionary theory is false

  • The Bible, which is a trustworthy source, says that Darwinian evolution did not occur. God deliberately created, which contradicts Darwinian evolution.
  • Darwinism, like all contemporary mainstream science, assumes naturalism, which is false.
  • The fossil record often shows the opposite of evolution (Darwinian or otherwise): In the “Cambrian Explosion” of six hundred million years ago, all of the currently-existing phyla (basic body designs) came into existence, along with many phyla which no longer exist. No new phyla have evolved, and many have “de-evolved.”

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Why do They Stick to Their Guns?

Aside from the fact that they believe miracles don’t occur, naturalistic scientists apparently are afraid that they will be unable to formulate laws if God constantly interferes with the world. But this is not true, for several reasons:

First, science can certainly describe what happens most of the time, and even according to the most miracle-crazed Pentecostal, natural explanations (i.e., well-established scientific laws) are obeyed at least, oh, 99.999% of the time. And if, as atheists like to claim, there is no solid scientific evidence validating even one miracle (other than the Big Bang!), then science has nothing to lose from admitting that miracles are possible.  Furthermore, any physical miracle will leave behind a physical residue that can, at least in principle, be studied by science.

The operation of God is like the operation of human minds: just because an action caused by a mind cannot fully be accounted for in a scientific law, this does not mean that we must never dare to consider the possibility that mind exists. It would be absurd to say, for example, “Even though there is overwhelming evidence that the faces on Mt. Rushmore were produced by the deliberate action of an intelligent agent rather than by natural processes, it would destroy science if we were to admit this possibility.” If the evidence points to action by non-natural entities, that’s what we should conclude.

Partisans of naturalistic science also frequently claim that admitting God is scientifically improper because religious belief is allegedly held with 100% certainty, whereas scientific beliefs are allegedly supposed to be tentative. But the real issue here is not the certainty of the belief, which is just a psychological state. The real issue is the evidence, and the proper conclusion to draw from it. It is always improper, in religion or science, to hold a belief with more certainty than the facts warrant, and there is nothing about religious beliefs that require 100% certainty. If we believe God did it, there is no law of epistemology or of religion that requires us always to have 100% confidence of any belief involving God. This is a straw-man argument.

Finally, naturalistic scientists confronted with an argument against naturalism often will say “It’s not enough simply to find fault with our way of doing science. You need to supply a new model for doing science. Otherwise, you are not doing anything useful.”

Certainly, a non-naturalistic science will have to be developed. (Or redeveloped. Science was not officially naturalistic until the Twentieth Century.) But if I am not a scientist (and I am not, although I have a Bachelor’s Degree in physics from UCLA), then I am not required to develop such a science. That’s the job of scientists, because it is their field.  There is nothing improper with a layman pointing out a mistake being made by professionals in another field.

One concrete suggestion for changing how we do science is obvious, though.  If no naturalistic mechanism is known that can account for an observed phenomenon, science should say, “God may have been involved,” rather than dogmatically declaring “A naturalistic explanation will eventually be found.”

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What’s at Stake?

It is only to be expected that professionals will resent outsiders telling them that they are making a major error in their professional work. “Mind your own business, man!” is the instinctive response.  But we non-scientists must not remain silent. Much more than science is at stake.

As I have argued repeatedly, Western Civilization is under the effective control of the worldview of the left, commonly called “liberalism.” I describe liberalism as our “unofficial state religion.” And the philosophical basis of liberalism is atheism: either explicit atheism or the de facto variety that only denies that anything can be known about God. It is this freedom from God and His authority that makes liberalism the radically destructive force that it is.

And Darwinian evolutionary theory, at least in the mind of John Q. Public, is the number one argument for atheism: According to a popular extension of Darwinism, evolution in the broad sense can account for almost everything in the universe, and in human society, without having to resort to God.  Or, as Richard Dawkins famously quipped: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” With Darwinism, God appears to be out of a job.

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Think about it: According to Darwinism, one of the most important beliefs of theists, that God deliberately created everything, is false. And if this belief is false, all of the other transcendental religious beliefs become suspect. Darwinism leads naturally to atheism.

Furthermore, Darwinism has become an organized force, opposing dissenters and pushing itself on the general public. Think of Eugenie Scott’s National Center for Science Education, dedicated to suppressing dissent from Darwinism in the schools, or evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who has become possibly the world’s leading apologist for atheism. If Darwinism is more than dispassionate academic contemplation, its opponents can be also.

Bottom line: When the Darwinists say their theory is true, they are, for all intents and purposes, telling us that atheism is true. It may be only the de facto atheism that simply ignores God, but the net result is the same: a society whose public policy is based on the denial of God, in which case it is man who is the Supreme Being.  And if this is so, then nothing is certain, and everything must change.

If you are an atheist, then you should agree with Darwinism. And if you approve of the way American society is going, they you will have little incentive to oppose Darwinism, other than the disinterested pursuit of truth. But if you understand that America is endangered by the left, and you do not have a naturalistic worldview, then you must oppose Darwinism.


[1] For a more technical definition of evolution, see the Wikipedia entry for “Modern Evolutionary Synthesis,” especially the section titled “Summary of the modern synthesis.” And observe that naturalism is never mentioned, but is simply taken to be an obvious given.  The closest that the article comes explicitly to ruling out the supernatural is when it says “Discontinuities amongst species (or other taxa) are explained as originating gradually through geographical separation and extinction (not saltation).”

“Saltation” means “sudden large change,” such as, e.g., miraculous creation ex nihilo.

[2] )  See. E.g., Mano Singham, Philosophy Is Essential to the Intelligent Design Debate Physics Today , June 2002.  Note especially his concluding sentence: “To be valid, science does not have to be true.” Singham also asserts that science must be naturalistic, but only hints at his reason for believing this, which seems to be the success of science.  If truth is not paramount, utility is enough.

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36 thoughts on “Repost: Evolution 101

  1. Even if everything you say is true, there is zero reason for a scientist to believe that the miracles described in the bible, or in any other religious work, are true. Sure, perhaps there is a supernatural transcendent being who designed everything. But is there any evidence that he became Jesus or whatever it is that the Church believes in? Or even that Christianity is the only way to reach him, and not one of the dozens of other religions? Blind faith can never be compatible with science, so I would recommend that you stop arguing with scientists on scientific questions. Admit that everything you base your arguments on is faith. Not reason. And when you do that, you will be respected, since you will not be claiming things you cannot back up with sound arguments.
    I say this as a big fan of the orthosphere. I am very reactionary, but reactionary doesnt mean I shut my eyes to the truth and choose to believe whatever fantasy is floating around.

      • Every single religion in the world has its lists of claimed miracles. There are people who claim they can materialize things, some who claim they can bring the dead back to life, some say they have been alive for 300 years. I dont oppose religion, Im certainly not a new atheist. But much of religious dogma is just a noble lie, and it does a disservice to the intellect of the readers at this website when you push the same pablum on them that is actually meant to keep the common masses in line.
        Is there an absolute good? Sure. Is there a transcendent power? Likely. Was the universe intelligently designed by creator god? Quite possible. Can we communicate with him/her? I dont think so. If we could he wouldnt be transcendent any more.

      • Bonald is an excellent writer and I enjoy his writings on most topics. This article is fairly interesting but he does not answer why Christianity is to be favored over other faiths (even Islam, say). He just says that it makes sense in some scenarios for God to use a messenger. If I claimed, for instance, that God has revealed to me yesterday that “the universe is billions of years old, quantum physics exists, darwinian theory is mostly true, men and women are born different, and humans need a strong monarchical authority, hierarchy and a belief in some religion or the other to keep social order” – my revelation consists almost entirely of truths, at least from a scientific perspective. Why should you reject my gospel in favor of some other gospel which says the world was created in 6 days, and many other things that are demonstrably false?

      • For the record, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species never made the Index, and those who foolishly claim that ‘true’ implies ‘literally true’ tend to side with Martin Luther in the Revolt of 1517. The Magisterium itself officially adopts the position of theistic evolution. Also see Bonald’s take on it here: http://bonald.wordpress.com/evolution-and-aristotle/evolution-and-divine-causality/

        I actually have no quibble with your ‘revelation’. Bonald has done well enough on his blog to speak for me on the nature of science (being, as he is, a physicist). Let’s just sum things up with this nugget from Providentissimus Deus: “Truth cannot contradict truth”.

        I would attempt to take you through the steps from admitting a Causa Primus/Motor Primus/etc., but it will be far too tedious for one so lacking in wisdom as me, having to cross-reference multiple thinkers on the web for each sentence, all of whom express what I wish to say far more lucidly and succintly than myself. I will let these wiser masters speak for me. The primary source for reasonable justifications of Catholic philosophy is Edward Feser, though he should be balanced with some of Bonald’s science and Kristor’s theology (Feser is more classical-theism/metaphysics-focused, while Kristor’s excellent articles on this blog have more to do with daily Christian activity). Long, tedious, plodding, and slow (and oft-times, dense and requiring multiple re-readings), but a sure route to true.

        Finally, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on the above-linked miracle.

      • I agree with many of your statements. If I had to be a Christian I would be a Roman Catholic, or a Greek Orthodox. Anything but a protestant. For the simple reason that those two institutions have transmitted the wisdom of the ages down to today and have a wealth of knowledge about human life that is unmatched in today’s world.
        Thomas Aquinas and Augustine and Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have great and wise things to say, and I always admire their insight. On the other hand it is not true that they could say these wise things only with the aid of the Christian revelation. I think what I like about Christianity is the institution of the Church, not the story of Jesus or even the teachings of Jesus.
        I have nothing to say on the miracle. I am a scientist, and if it were true some scientist would have gone over it to break it down and figure out how it worked. Scientists go to the depths of the Mariana trench to figure out how animals miraculously stay alive there, it would be silly of them to ignore a real life miracle in the middle of Italy.

      • Always had a thing for the institutional nature of the Church. S’pose it was my inner reactionary speaking.

        Those four men have said far too many wise things for me in good conscience to attempt to explain them. But suffice to say I’m pretty sure that the doctrine of Christianity had a hand in at least some of these.

        It’s a bit late where I live, so I’ll just let the question of doctrine slide for now.

        As for the miracle, I think you dismiss it too lightly. Multiple analyses over 250 years have confirmed time and again that these hosts are, well, hosts, but that they have been like this for the past 300 years or so, without any special treatments or storage arrangements. I suppose the reason why no-one’s tried to explain it is because it defies explanation, and possibly because it’s pretty obscure. I don’t think there’s a field of scientists who specialise in studying the preservation of bread.

        But one miracle where an attempt to ‘break it down and figure out how it worked’ backfired was Medjugorje. Best part:

        Such facts—pointing to the supernatural through scientific inquiry—have even led to the spiritual conversions of scientific skeptics in the small Bosnian village. The story of Marco Margnelli, an eminent Italian neurophysiologist and (like Professor Dawkins) an ardent atheist, speaks strongly to this. Margnelli came to Medjugorje in the spring of 1988 determined to expose the apparitions as a fraud. Margnelli had a well-known history of doubting the validity of Christian mystical claims and supernatural phenomena, perhaps mos notoriously purveyed toward his skepticism toward the stigmata of the Italian friar Padre Pio, arguably the twentieth century’s most prominent mystic. An expert in altered states of consciousness, Margnelli conducted an array of neuroscientific tests on the Medjugorje visionaries in which he had to conclude that during their daily apparitions the seers did, in fact, enter into “a genuine state of ecstasy” and adding, “we were certainly in the presence of an extraordinary phenomenon.” Dr. Margnelli’s observations have ranged from conducting medical investigations on the visionaries to personally witnessing miraculous healings and strange occurrences which, admittedly, left him bewildered and deeply shaken. Journalist Randall Sullivan related a sequence of events to which Dr. Margnelli had been a witness at Medjugorje:

        “From the ‘synchronous movements’ of the visionaries [during apparitions] to the apparently miraculous healing of a woman with leukemia. What had affected him most deeply were the birds: During the late afternoon, they would gather in the trees outside the rectory where the seers shared their apparitions, chirping and cooing and calling by the hundreds, at times deafeningly loud, until ‘they suddenly and simultaneously all go silent as soon as the apparition begins.’ This ‘absolute silence of the birds’ haunted him, the doctor admitted.”

        A few weeks after returning to Milan, Dr. Margnelli became a practicing Catholic. It seems that it is those especially who have a profound knowledge of the brain and its workings who have been most convinced by the mystical experiences of places like Medjugorje after investigating them.

      • “Every single religion in the world has its lists of claimed miracles”… therefore miracles don’t exist. QED

      • Thinkingaboutit said . . .

        Sure, perhaps there is a supernatural transcendent being who designed everything. But is there any evidence that he became Jesus . . . Thomas Aquinas and Augustine and Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have great and wise things to say, and I always admire their insight. On the other hand it is not true that they could say these wise things only with the aid of the Christian revelation.

        Aquinas and other Medieval thinkers spilt quite a bit of ink on questions like why the unmoved mover God has to be something like the Christian God, what the relationship is between revelation and natural law, and etc. What don’t you like about their views?

        Also, you are ignoring Roebuck’s point, which is larger than the evolution vs creation argument. There cannot, as a matter of principle, be “evidence” for the supernatural. The central organizing principle of modern philosophy is the denial of the supernatural. You illustrate the point yourself in your interaction with John Khoo. When science encounters something that looks like it violates currently understood physical law, it reacts, first, with denial, and, then, by changing physical law to accommodate the phenomena which violate the current understanding.

    • If you are not a Christian, then you have no moral certitude in your reactionary position. Yours is just an arbitrary choice, and is no better or worse than the choice made by a leftist to be a leftist.

      • Not really sure what you’re referring to, Finn, but I beg to differ. A non-Christian can certainly align himself better or worse with reality. The non-Christian reactionary aligns himself with the truth he can perceive (which is a lot). The leftist, whether Christian or not, fights against it, and refuses to believe his own lying eyes.

      • Actually traditional pagan religions are far more reactionary than the core message of Jesus Christ. Whatever is conservative in Christianity is generally preserved in all other religions – like giving importance to duty and family.
        However, pagan religions in some aspects go much further: 1. Emphasis on blood and soil rather than universalism 2. Golden period is usually placed in the distant past than in the distant future (automatically tends towards conservatism) 3. The world is taken as good and joyous, rather than fallen and filled with suffering 4. Power, war, nobility and authority are given respect, instead of meekness, suffering and pacifism 5. Hierarchy in society is accepted and valorized, instead of giving all souls equality before God.

    • What do you call the step one takes to go from a asolopsistic life-is-a-dream theory of nature, to a nature that is rational, logical, concrete, obedient, lawful? Would you call it blind faith? I would.

      So stop arguing with philosophers on philosophical questions. Get back in the lab, we need more data.

  2. Your presentation would be improved with the hard hitting summary, at the very beginning of your essay: there is almost zero scientific evidence for evolution.

    It is a shame most people view the theory of evolution only in a science-vs-religion context. Viewed from a philosophy-of-science context alone, the theory of evolution is COMPLETE FAIL.

    Evolution only makes sense as a fuzzy logical proposition. As soon as it is subjected to actual demands for scientific verification, it completely fails, utterly and totally. You don’t have to be religious to see it, it is true on purely scientific grounds.

  3. Your essay would be improved if you established clearly at the outset: there is almost no scientific evidence for the theory of evolution.

    Evolution makes sense only as a vague logical proposition. As soon as it is examined as a scientific theory, with demands for actual evidence, it completely falls apart.

    Few people are aware of that fact, and it bears emphasizing. One doesn’t have to be FOR a religious point of view to see that evolution is simply COMPLETE FAIL.

  4. I read up to the definition of evolution, which is totally wrong. Then I looked at the footnote and it references “modern evolutionary synthesis” which isn’t evolution itself, in the least. So I looked up “evolution” in my trusty (online) Merriam-Webster and found “a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations”. That’s much better.

    To me, denying evolution because of God is like denying gravity because of God. One could make the argument that gravity undermines God because God is supposed to be responsible for everything. Of course this is nonsense, there is no contradiction between God and gravity, just as there is no contradiction between God and evolution.

    I have no problem with Christians, Muslims, or Jews who don’t believe in evolution. That’s fine. But when they start saying that belief in evolution contradicts belief in God, all they are doing is driving good people who believe in evolution away from God. Is that really such a good idea?

    • [A] theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations.

      That’s what I said, reworded. The origin of the species is entirely natural, not supernatural. That’s Evolution as currently defined by the masters of science. And, by definition, this definition is anti-Christian. At least the “entirely natural” part. “Evolution” meaning “change” is not anti-Christian, so in that sense “evolution” is not intrinsically anti-Christian.

      • Just to understand where you are coming from, how old do you think the universe is? If your answer is less than 10,000 years old, do you think it is anti-Christian to believe that the universe is older?

      • The scientific evidence for a universe that is several billions of years old is very good, so I go along with it. I’m an “old-earth” creationist.

        However I generally respect the young earth position because it takes Scripture seriously and is a more rational position than the belief that an atheistic cosmos evolved itself.

      • The only conflict between evolution and the Bible is with a literal interpretation of Genesis. But if you accept an old date for the universe, then you are willing to not take some parts of Genesis literally. So then how is this different from the Christian believer in evolution who doesn’t take the Genesis story of the creation of species literally? Just as you may believe that God created the universe long ago and set in motion those forces that made the universe what it is today, a Christian believer in evolution may believe that God set in motion the forces of evolution to create the species that we have today.

      • The only conflict between evolution and the Bible is with a literal interpretation of Genesis.

        The Hebrew language in which the Old Testament was written did not have a word meaning “eon,” “age,” or “era.” The same Hebrew word meant either the 12 hours of daylight, the 24 hours of an entire, day, or a longer duration. The days of creation spoken of in Genesis can therefore be taken to be long intervals of time while still interpreting the Bible “literally.”

        I would say that the phrase “take the Bible literally” is not a useful way of thinking about biblical interpretation. For example, when Jesus says “I am the vine, ye are the branches…” He is not saying that He is a plant. Even a theologically conservative Christian doesn’t take it “literally.” Instead, we should take the words in the sense intended by the author.

        …a Christian believer in evolution may believe that God set in motion the forces of evolution to create the species that we have today.

        But “evolution,” as defined by the scientific community, is a godless process. If God made the animals and man, then this type of evolution is false.

  5. Mr. Roebuck, thanks for the thought-provoking article. For the record, I’m convinced evolution is true (i.e., it really happened in the past and goes on today), and I agree with Franklin above that “there is no contradiction between God and gravity, just as there is no contradiction between God and evolution”, nor do I think acceptance of evolution as fact necessarily entails all the metaphysical presuppositions you think it entails. However, I could be wrong, and it’s always enlightening to see intelligent rebuttals.

    Now, I won’t bother readers with the case for evolution, it’s easily found elsewhere, and laid out by more knowledgeable people than me. You are certainly aware of it. Then, just three relatively minor quibbles:

    Remember, Darwinian evolution means, not just change, but unguided change.

    I think this is exactly backwards. “Evolution”, i.e., the thesis that life-forms change, was discussed long before Darwin came along. The point of the Darwinian in “Darwinian evolution” is precisely the explanation of why evolutionary change is goal-directed by natural selection, which is a mindless algorithm. Remember the full title of Darwin’s 1859 work: “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”.

    We never observe natural forces even coming close to producing life out of non-life.

    Darwinian evolution per se is agnostic on the origin of life. It does not explain the origin of life, nor does it claim to; it is applicable, however, once life has appeared, by whatever means that happened. It’s true that many contemporary theorists try to apply the Darwinian framework (the “mindless algorithm” I mentioned above) to the pre-biological world, but whether their hypotheses succeed or fail is irrelevant for “Darwinian evolution”.

    “Saltation” means “sudden large change,” such as, e.g., miraculous creation ex nihilo.

    No, it doesn’t. “Saltation” is a historical series of hypotheses, the last of which was Niles Eldredge’s and Stephen Jay Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium” idea, which suggest tweaking the “mindless algorithm” of Darwinism so that evolutionary change would happen in short burts separated by long periods of stasis. Gould’s idea made a lot of splash for many years, but it has been mostly abandoned by now. “Sudden large change” is not a bad shorthand for it, but “miraculous creation ex nihilo” is certainly not within its purview. Nor should the “sudden” be taken to mean “inexplicable”. BTW, it’s not really sudden in human terms at all, it’s only “sudden” in the geological time scale.

    Another issue: I fail to see why the Cambrian Explosion is an argument either for or against Darwinian evolution. It’s an event in the history of life, neither mandated by Darwinian evolution nor, obviously, ruled out by it. Perhaps you could expand on this?

    Best,

    • I’m convinced evolution is true (i.e., it really happened in the past and goes on today)

      Would that that be the “evolution” that simply means “change in existing species,” or the “evolution” that means “God is not allowed?” The latter is the evolution I argue against.

      .

      Remember, Darwinian evolution means, not just change, but unguided change.

      I think this is exactly backwards… The point of the Darwinian in “Darwinian evolution” is precisely the explanation of why evolutionary change is goal-directed by natural selection, which is a mindless algorithm.

      But something mindless does not guide. So it’s unguided change.
      .

      Darwinian evolution per se is agnostic on the origin of life.

      It’s more than that. It’s incapable even in principle of explaining origins because the neo-Darwinian mechanism only works on existing life. But since life originated, Darwinism cannot to explain life.

      As for the Cambrian Explosion: It’s not an ironclad disproof, but it does count against Darwinian evolution. No new phyla have appeared since then, which is the opposite of evolution. And the suddenness of the appearance of all the phyla is decidedly un-Darwinian.

      • Thank you for your answer, Mr. Roebuck, which I only saw today. Just a few points:

        (i) it’s the evolution as in “the origin of species by means of natural selection”. I know what you meant, but evolution is not really a philosophical attack on the existence of God, even if some atheists try to extrapolate from it to atheism.

        (ii) I understand you believe, on philosophical grounds, that natural selection cannot really explain adaptations. I’m no philosopher (at least I’m trying to learn), and I accept the possibility that a thorough analysis might show evolution by natural selection to be incoherent or insufficient. Nevertheless, no evolutionist will describe his position as advocating “unguided change”, the whole point of Darwinism is the explanation of adaptations. The evolutionist may be wrong, but that does not make his position equal “support for unguided change”.

        (iii) “Darwinism cannot explain life”. That’s what I said originally. But not only that, Darwinism DOES NOT TRY to explain life. So it’s unjust to accuse Darwinism of failing to do something it did not even try to. You wouldn’t think, I guess, that a complaint that the New Testament does not explain supernovas is a serious attack on its credibility.

        (iv) re: Cambrian Explosion, there is room for dispute on the details, but it can be accomodated within Darwinism without trouble. The “suddenness” is relative (hundreds of millions of years is sudden only in the geological timescale) and may be artificial (i.e., due to better fossilization arising from changed enviromental conditions and the appearance of hard parts). That no new phyla have appeared is no great difficulty either. First, a “new” phyla could hardly arise if the “old” phyla had already occupied the relevant habitat. Second, it’s the history of life after all, sequential and path-dependent. Asking “why no new phyla appeared in the Tertiary period?” is a bit like wondering “why no new Bronze Age empires developed since the Industrial Revolution?”. In any case, as I said, I don’t think the CE counts much either for or against Darwinism.

        I imagine you have better things to do than answer comments in old threads. Let me thank you for the work you put into your posts, I have learned much from them, and keep up the good work.

  6. @James

    Darwinian evolution is unscientific on the face of it. Its central claim, evolution through natural selection, is unfalsifiable and, hence, it is a faith claim, an intellectual commitment or presupposition. Logically, the factor of “life” is a real factor in all organisms that is fundamentally ignored by naturalistic scientists because it is unscientific itself. Evidence of life in terms of epiphenomena is available but life itself is not measurable. To ignore life itself as a factor in evolution is like ignoring the sun as a factor in temperatures. The most obvious cause is ignored. Life is a mystery and Christians say it comes from God. The proof of the Christian message can only come through following the way proclaimed and experiencing the results. Scientists make the unscientific claim that they will someday be able to explain something they can’t even measure – life. They scoff at the resurrection of life while at the same time claiming that all life came from dead matter in the first place. Which is the greater miracle?

    • Darwinian evolution is unscientific on the face of it. Its central claim, evolution through natural selection, is unfalsifiable and, hence, it is a faith claim, an intellectual commitment or presupposition.

      Unsurprisingly, I disagree with this description. The way I put it is that evolution by natural selection is an algorithm, true if the necessary conditions (life, variation in heritable characteristics, and competition for survival) are true. You complain that this means it’s “unfalsifiable”, which is might be, in the same sense that the Pythagorean theorem is unfalsifiable, or that the cosmological argument for the existence of God is unfalsifiable, because neither is open to empirical disproof.

      It’s an argument in logic. Its truth is dependent on whether the premises or necessary conditions do really exist in the real world (I submit that they do), in the same way that the cosmological argument, which is also a logical argument, will be true if we grant the empirical premises which underpin it (such as, “things change”).

  7. I’m going to write briefly, so consideration of my point may be a test of readers’ goodwill.

    It may be that the universe is both old and young. I accept the data that indicate the universe is over 14 billion years old and that the earth is 4.6 by. At the same time, it gets tricky when people discuss a universe without (human) observers. (Whatever role God’s or the angels’ observation has to play, it is not accessible to us, correct?)

    Lanza and Berman, in Biocentrism (a book; article in Discover magazine a few years ago, available online) point out the well-known requirement of an observer(s) to resolve quantum uncertainty. (Hence physicist John Wheeler, also in Discover a few years ago, on “clouds of probablility” before observation occurs). I won’t attempt to summarize the matter here but will just refer persons of good will to the book and/or articles. Observers, or at any rate observers like ourselves, arrive on the scene only a matter of some thousands, not millions or billions, of years ago. This suggests, then, that the phenomenal universe that science studies is “young” rather than “old.” (C. John Collins, in Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? [good book] says “anatomically modern humans” appear around 130,000 BC and that “culture appears” around 40,000 BC.) However, it seems that this business of observer and phenomena is conveniently and constantly forgotten when people discuss these issues.

    The matter was pointed out already in the 1950s by Owen Barfield, in Saving the Appearances. He says in an early chapter that books describing the way the world looked, before the appearance of humans like us, are providing fantasy, not science; they are suggesting what the world “would have” looked like if human beings who think like us had been there. But they weren’t. And if human beings who think differently than us had been there, the world would look different from the way it is assumed it looked. Barfield is known for a theory of the evolution of consciousness and, thus, of the phenomenal world, that is worth attention. Curious people might start by looking up my article from Touchstone magazine of some years ago on Barfield’s legacy. I had the benefit of a few exchanges of letters with Barifled before his death at 99. He was, of course, a near-lifelong friend of C. S. Lewis.

  8. I’m not sure if the radical nature of what I’m saying is clear. As Barfield points out, we are not talking simply about different ideas about the universe. Since consciousness of perceiver, and universe or nature, cannot be utterly divided (though they can be distinguished), then history of the universe and history of consciousness cannot really be completely separated. But in mainstream discourse they are. The implications of physics are discussed — in writing about physics. Otherwise people talk with little more sophistication than, say, was exhibited by H. G. Wells in his Outline of History many years ago. But Barfield writes:

    “But before this part of the subject is approached, it will be well to consider briefly the bearing of this truth on what is sometimes called pre-history. I mean, in particular, the history of the earth before the appearance on it of human beings. …the prehistoric evolution of the earth, as it is described for example in the early chapters of H.G. Wells’ Outline of History, was not merely never seen. It never occurred. Something no doubt occurred, and what is really being propounded by such popular writers, and so far as I am aware, by the text-books on which they rely, is this[:] that at that time, the unrepresented was behaving in such a way that,if human beings with the collective representations characteristic of the last few centuries of western civilization had been there, the things described would also have been there.
    This is not quite the same thing.” [37]

    And:

    “We have chosen to form a picture, based very largely on modern physical science, of a phenomenal earth existing for millions of years before the appearance of consciousness. This same physical science tells us that the phenomenal world is correlative to consciousness.” [135]

    “For those hypothetical ‘human beings with the collective representations characteristic of the last few centuries of western civilization,’ we might choose to substitute other human beings—those, for instance, who lives one or two or three or more thousand years ago. We should then have to write a different pre-history altogether.” [37]

    I’m throwing a few quotations out there to shake up the usual discussion about the age of the earth, etc. In short: what “earth” are we talking about?

    • Not sure what you mean because when I hear “leftist myth of equality”, I think of the leftist tendency to use sheer power to enforce equality of outcomes. If that’s the case, I’d say lots of denominations don’t advocate that.

  9. Positively first-rate piece, Alan; this is the post I would have written if I had the time. It precisely mirrors my thoughts, developed over the last decade or so of reading about this stuff.

    And Darwinian evolutionary theory, at least in the mind of John Q. Public, is the number one argument for atheism: According to a popular extension of Darwinism, evolution in the broad sense can account for almost everything in the universe, and in human society, without having to resort to God.

    Right. This reminds me of a piece at Bruce Charlton’s some months ago about the importance of discerning an opponent’s psychological motives. There are people who say, “You can’t tell what someone else is thinking, so leave the psychologizing out.” I disagree with them. It seems plain to me that very, very many people simply do use evolution as an excuse to disbelieve in God – or, to add one little tidbit to your piece, it’s not necessary that they come to fully reject God (something a lot of people actually find quite difficult to do) – sometimes evolution merely becomes an excuse to sort of ignore him and relegate him to an unimportant corner of the mind. “There may be some kind of God, but if there is, obviously he doesn’t work the way he says, and can’t be all that important. I’ll put off the question of faith in him until later, sometime, maybe when I feel like it, which I hope will be never.”

    • Thank you for your kind words.

      Your point that many people sidestep God rather than fully reject Him is important. Liberalism doesn’t require outright atheism; it is enough to find Him questionable, so that God can safely be ignored. And this also gives liberalism a “plausible deniability:” Like the typical Darwinist, they can claim not to be opposed to God.

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