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A happily ‘materialist’ worldview

Eric Collier

Why is the poor theory of evolution being so mercilessly flogged by the ayotollahs of intellectual regression in our society? Well, it may be because it’s entirely false – that is, someone may eventually come up with an alternative paradigm to both evolution and creationism that is consistent with the evidence and is better than both. But creationist Elijahs like Bob Branden are not making the case, and should better familiarize themselves with the theory, and science generally, before flogging it. He repeatedly says “physicists” have shown conclusively that God created the universe fully formed. What physicists? Albert Einstein? Stephen Hawking? Einstein did not believe in a personal god of the Judeo-Christian type, and Hawking is an outright atheist. There are varying degrees of faith among mainstream scientists, with much higher levels of atheism/skepticism in those ranks than among the general public. But all look for “materialist” – that is, scientific – explanations for phenomena such as the existence of ordered matter and energy in the universe. That’s simply their job, and we all owe them a huge debt for doing it.Certain memes and mantras have spread through the creationist community like brain-viruses, such as “the fossil record entirely discredits the theory of evolution.” Whatever can they mean by that? Again, evolution may turn out to be way off base, but for now it is beautifully consistent with the evidence, including the fossil record, which not only indicates the appearance of progressively larger, more complex, more “modern” organisms over time, but has yielded many beautifully transitional fossils, such as (in phylogenic order) tiktaalik, feathered reptiles, archaeopteryx, and homo habilis. Branden spouts the sophomoric creationist parody of evo-theory that “purely by chance” atoms and molecules lined themselves up in random configurations till they happily found themselves arranged into functional DNA. No, Bob, it didn’t exactly happen that way. Molecules will spontaneously combine into complex polymers – not purely by chance but according to certain physical laws and constraints. They do, for example, spontaneously form into amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, even in sterile outer space. Over enough time, there is no reason why they can’t eventually form proto-biological entities that can make crude copies of themselves, and further evolve from there. The point is that fully functioning organisms don’t spring head and shoulders out of the primordial soup by completely random recombinations of molecules starting entirely from scratch each time. It’s a gradual, progressive process wherein each new configuration builds on the “success” (whatever that consists of under the conditions of the environment) of the previous configuration. Yes, this as much theoretical as observational. In the same way that the models in which “irreducibly complex” organisms and pathways such as the blood-clotting system, which so baffle Branden and Behe, are theoretical. But very detailed and credible theoretical models exist, contrary to what Mr. Branden claims. Even Behe admits this. Check the blogs. Like the supposedly irreducibly complex eye, numerous examples exist in nature of simpler organisms that actually possess and successfully utilize simpler forms of the blood-clotting system, with fewer parts, that Behe implies wouldn’t work. Irreducibly complex systems do exist, but evolutionary biologists have shown how they can in fact evolve through various means, such as “co-option,” in which systems co-opt the use of an adjunct or adjacent system with a different function into use for the primary system, which so improves the performance of the primary system that the modification eventually becomes essential to it. Again, a certain amount of this is “theoretical” -scientists have never denied that evolution is a theory – but there is a lot more evidence to back it up than there is to back up the creationist/intelligent design alternative “theory,” which seems to amount to: “This is just too complex for us to figure out. Ergo, God must have done it.” Not much different from saying: “Well, uh … it’s magic.” This is “science”? While evolution is just a “worldview”? Branden hails the work of Watson and Crick, who cracked the mystery of the structure of DNA. Watson and Crick were both atheists and evolutionists who pursued that mystery the same way Darwin pursued the mystery of biological diversity – like scientists. If they had abided by the revolutionary principles of “intelligent design theory,” here’s how it would most likely have gone down:Crick: “I say, Watson, this DNA thing is proving a bit much for me.”Watson: “I concur, Crick. What say we just chalk it up to God and go have a Guinness?”Now people with the same mindset seek to quash stem-cell research. Why? Two reasons: One, they seem to think that some amorphous, microscopic ball of cells possesses a humanity which equals or supercedes that of fully formed and suffering human beings. Second, they fear that the more we learn about the nature of life, and learn to use that knowledge, even to the benefit of humanity, the more God becomes marginalized.Dr. Branden sprays venom on the “materialist” worldview. Got a flash for you, Bob. We all have a materialist worldview. Well, all except for true ascetics who repudiate all the benefits of science, technology and civilization itself and live in caves; and who truly, to their core, scorn all apprehension of death.Darwin was not an atheist who set out to overturn the Christian worldview. Neither was Galileo, Newton, Lyell, or Rutherford, or any number of other movers and shakers. He was a scientist who in the best tradition of science set out to follow the evidence wherever it led. It led to the best and most illuminating theory we have for the diversity of life on Earth. You may hate it. You don’t have to believe it. Most Americans apparently don’t. But they may have to live with it. Contrary to another creationist myth, scientists are not abandoning the theory in droves. Every day seems to turn up more scientific evidence in its favor.Eric Collier lives in Silverthorne.Vail, Colorado


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