Bad science, worse theology
In responding to Bob Branden’s recent column “Evolution a worldview, not science,” I hardly know where to begin. I could refute, one by one, the points that he makes, but that would be tedious, and would repeat what has been done at several conferences. This is not a dead debate, and fireworks occur annually during the science-and-religion dialogues at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conferences. I have been a participant in these debates for several years, and I have to report that while the occasional biologist, like Michael Behe, or the occasional physicist, like Paul Davies, make the claim that there is no conflict between science and religion, the fact is that the vast majority of biologists and physicists at these conferences are either atheists or agnostics. The most extreme advocate of atheism I have heard at these conferences is E.O. Wilson, the Harvard sociobiologist who maintained that as science progresses those who hold out for religious beliefs will become like the flat-earth proponents after the voyage of Columbus. Wilson maintains that culture has moved from the age of mythology, through the age of metaphysics, and into the era where science becomes the sole standard of those who seek after the truth. On the other side, the most ardent advocate for some kind of harmony between science and faith has been the eminent Jesuit astronomer Fr. George Coyne, who said that reason was not the support of his faith, for his faith was a leap in the dark, a gift from God. As he said: “Once I believe in God, then whatever I know of the universe can help explain that.” As a philosopher, I have tried to keep an open mind, and to listen carefully to both sides of the debate. With regard to evolution as worldview rather than theory, I tend to think that evolution is simply a fact: it explains the way things have evolved over geological time. As religious-minded philosophers have commented: “That’s simply the way God chose to do it.” For those who are disposed to be religious, it provides a kind of metaphysical backdrop to their scientific reflections. The best evidence we have for evolution is the way bacteria evolve, so that no anti-biotic works perfectly over time. Viruses attack equally those who believe in evolution and those who don’t. Darwin himself at one stage intended to become a country parson, and gradually, both through the practice of science and the emotional trauma of the death of his daughter, moved towards non-belief in the God of traditional theology. That he kept an open mind is best witnessed by the wonderful lines at the conclusion of “Origin of Species”: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful have been, and are being, evolved.” I have read much more Plato than I have read Darwin or his disciples. Plato was the first philosopher to offer reasons for belief in a divine designer. He pointed to the simplicity of nature’s laws, the beauty of mathematics and the whole physical order, the intelligibility that seemed written into the heart of things, and, most significant of all, the fact that we are able to understand all these things. These are the arguments that still come back to puzzle the materialistic evolutionists of whom Bob Branden speaks. In the end, science offers explanations for the things we see, and faith offers explanations for the things we do not see. As I have said before, it is a matter of primal intuitions, of perceptions that precede rational reflection, that do much to determine whether or not one will be a religious believer. I will detail my own arguments against “Intelligent Design” at a Vail Symposium session on Aug. 14. As for the evolution debate, there are endless books most beautiful, but none more basic than Darwin’s own book on the origin of species. Since then, the arguments have evolved in ways most beautiful he could never have foreseen.Gene Bammel, Ph.D., was president of the SAGE Program at the University of Arizona and is a summer resident in the Vail valley.