[2008/06/21] Evolutionist Learns from “Neo-Creationists”
Evolutionist Learns from “Neo-Creationists” 06/21/2008 June 21, 2008 — Neo-creationists: the Intelligent Design (ID) people as well as the active old creationists, are still to be despised and expelled, thinks an evolutionist. That doesn’t mean, though, that they aren’t making some good points. The evolutionist is Gordy Slack, a science writer from Oakland, California, who previously wrote a book about the Dover trial. Writing for The Scientist, he admitted that they’ve gotten some things right. Here are some lessons he has learned by hanging around them:
Origin of life: “First, I have to agree with the ID crowd that there are some very big (and frankly exciting) questions that should keep evolutionists humble,” like the origin of life. He admitted that scientists are “in the dark” about this question. He rejected, though, the idea that biologists can ignore it and start after life began:
Still, I think it is disingenuous to argue that the origin of life is irrelevant to evolution. It is no less relevant than the Big Bang is to physics or cosmology. Evolution should be able to explain, in theory at least, all the way back to the very first organism that could replicate itself through biological or chemical processes. And to understand that organism fully, we would simply have to know what came before it. And right now we are nowhere close. I believe a material explanation will be found, but that confidence comes from my faith that science is up to the task of explaining, in purely material or naturalistic terms, the whole history of life. My faith is well founded, but it is still faith.
Complexity of the cell: Another valid point made by neo-creationists is that life is far more complex than Darwin could have imagined. Slack again expressed faith that natural explanations will be found, “But scientists still have much to learn about the process of evolution if they are to fully explain the phenomenon.” He even allowed for major surprises – like finding “compelling evidence for a designer,” though he doubted that would happen.
Inner knowledge: Another observation that Slack has trouble computing into his materialism is the fact that so many people find creation obvious. “Millions of people believe they directly experience the reality of a Creator every day, and to them it seems like nonsense to insist that He does not exist,” he noted. “Unless they are lying, God’s existence is to them an observable fact.” He admitted that he can’t deny his own “psychological empiricism.” No amount of persuasion by cognitive neuroscientists, for instance, that neurotransmitters give him the illusion of free will could make him doubt that he really loves his children. Material explanations may look good on paper, but “I have too much respect for my own experience.” He did not elaborate on whether reason itself could be reducible to physics and chemistry.
Blind faith: The most striking point of agreement he saved for last. Are evolutionists the unbiased, white-lab-coat objective empiricists seeking knowledge and finding evolution to be the clearest explanation? No; many are blind followers, just like the ID people claim. He has empirical evidence for this.
A few years ago I covered a conference of the American Atheists in Las Vegas. I met dozens of people there who were dead sure that evolutionary theory was correct though they didn’t know a thing about adaptive radiation, genetic drift, or even plain old natural selection. They came to their Darwinism via a commitment to naturalism and atheism not through the study of science. They’re still correct when they say evolution happens. But I’m afraid they’re wrong to call themselves skeptics unencumbered by ideology. Many of them are best described as zealots.
Not that he is against zeal, but Slack says “its coincidence with a theory proves nothing about that theory’s explanatory power.”
Demarcation: On an unlisted point in his conclusion, Slack conceded that “Looking for evidence of design in the natural world isn’t itself unscientific” – it would even be “big and fascinating news.” He thinks, however, that a designer would be necessarily “supernatural” (assuming he knows how to define “natural”).1
Liberal-minded modern as he is, Slack upholds the freedom of outsiders to “pursue their very eccentric and outlying theory.” After an article full of modest agreement, it was surprising to hear Slack describing neo-creationists as people who would dismiss evolution as “hogwash” while holding to an “improbable hypothesis” (see online book). He praised evolution as the “cornerstone of modern biology.” Maybe that is why The Scientist allowed him to publish it.
1. Intellectual historian Charles Alan Kors (U of Pennsylvania) has said, “there are few terms more equivocal, more ambiguous, that have more multiple meanings, than the term ‘nature.’” For each sphere of phenomena a philosopher would wish to circumscribe with this slippery word, clever interlocutors could find appeals to phenomena outside the sphere. These, by definition, would also be supernatural – meaning, above, or beyond “nature,” whatever it is. If nature is defined as that which is open to sense perception, for instance, are black holes and unobservable entities like strings, quarks or dark matter extra-natural? If nature encompasses only particles and forces, what of reason or the laws of logic?
It was unusual of the dogmatic Darwiniacs to allow one of theirs to say something deferential about their most despised enemies. We appreciate the gesture, but it’s not enough. We demand complete and unconditional surrender. They have no ground to stand on empirically, philosophically or ethically. False humility and crocodile tears are a ruse (as in Michael Ruse). The Darwiniacs took scientific institutions through deceit and manipulation, so until and unless they relinquish power, they are still at the top of the Most Wanted Ideologues. A key part of the neo-creationist strategy must be a protracted siege. No longer will we allow them to raid theistic presuppositions under cover of darkness. Since they cannot grow their own self-consistent presuppositions within their worldview castle, they will eventually starve or demand our help, which we will only grant provided they acquiesce all power and confess their sins. Don’t expect that anytime soon. It will be a long siege. Freedom, scientific integrity, honesty and self-consistent rationality are worth waiting for.