Only a small percentage of the American people support the evolutionary claim that life arose through purely material causes. Consequently, many Darwinists, recognizing that they need to win new converts lest they completely lose control over the debate, now loudly argue that Darwin's theory harmonizes with religion. As Brown professor Kenneth Miller put it in the New York Times recently, Darwin's theory isn't "anti-God." But this PR strategy of emphasizing the compatibility of Darwinism and religion is running into a problem: Darwinism's most celebrated experts -- that is, the scientists who understand the theory most purely and deeply -- admit that it is an intrinsically atheistic theory.
Edward O. Wilson's introductions to a newly edited collection of Darwin's writings, From So Simple A Beginning, is newsworthy in this respect. Wilson argues very straightforwardly that the attempt to reconcile Darwinism with religion is "well meaning" but wrong. The theory excludes God as a cause of nature, he writes, and any "rapprochement" between science and religion is not "desirable" and not consistent with Darwin's thought.
"I think Darwin would have held the same position," Wilson writes. "The battle line is, as it has ever been, in biology. The inexorable growth of this science continues to widen, not to close, the tectonic gap between science and faith-based religion."
Buttressing his argument that Darwinism is a godless account of nature, Wilson reminds readers that Darwin rejected Christianity, and that this "shedding of blind faith gave him the intellectual fearlessness to explore human evolution wherever logic and evidence took him." (Wilson's anti-religious prejudice is so strong he doesn't even consider the possibility that love of God might inspire a scientist to study carefully and reverently God's handiwork in nature.)
Theistic evolution -- the idea that an omnipotent God could use random mutations and natural selection to produce life; in other words, create not by his intellect but by chance -- is no more meaningful of a concept than a square circle. Wilson doesn't say this but he would agree with it. Natural selection necessarily means that nothing outside of nature is necessary to explain it, he writes. "Implicit" in the concept of natural selection is the "operation of blind chance and the absence of divine purpose." Nature is self-sufficient and therefore has no need for God. He writes that "we must conclude that life has diversified on Earth autonomously without any kind of external guidance. Evolution in a pure Darwinian world has no goal or purpose: the exclusive driving force is random mutations sorted out by natural selection from one generation to the next."
The earth creates itself, according to Wilson, and man is like everything else on it -- a product of a "blind force." This means that man is no more special or purposeful than anything else. Yes, he possesses interesting "adaptive devices," which include a curious inherited tendency toward religion, but he is still an accident and an animal. This is why, writes Wilson, Darwin's theory is revolutionary: "it showed that humanity is not the center of creation, and not its purpose either."
WILSON'S COMMENTS, PRESENTED in an authoritative collection of Darwin's work, make the Darwinists hawking the theory as consistent with religion look either confused or opportunistic. They either don't understand the implications of the theory or they are willfully distorting the theory in order to gull the religious into embracing it. If they are doing the latter, they are reprising a game Darwin himself played very effectively: using the rhetoric of theism to upend theism.
Lest he lose his Victorian audience, Darwin made sure to conceal his hostility to religion in his work, and even presented On the Origin of Species as an extension of the tradition of natural theology. It wasn't until his unexpurgated autobiography came out long after his death that his view of life as godless became widely known. He reminded himself once in a note that he better "avoid stating how far I believe in materialism."
In his autobiography, he notes that he came to regard Jesus Christ's apostles as simpletons for believing in miracles. People of that time were, Darwin wrote, "ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us." And even as he unveiled a theory of nature as a blind and brutal force, he rejected Christianity as a "damnable doctrine" on the very sentimental grounds that if true it meant some of his family and friends were doomed: "I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished."
Of course, Wilson, who praises Darwin for his fearless, unflinching, hardheaded approach to thorny matters, sees no irony in Darwin's soft and emotional dismissal of Christianity as an unpleasant doctrine. (By the way, Wilson says that anybody who thinks Darwin "recanted" his view of Christianity is mistaken. "There is not a shred of evidence that he did or that he was presented with any reason to do so.")
Critics of evolution who observe that Darwin's theory is an account of nature that negates any role for God in life stand on very solid ground. They are not twisting the theory; they are stating it. Theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller, whose Catholicism, according to a colleague quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, gives his Darwinism "strong propaganda value," are misrepresenting the theory for rhetorical reasons. Were they really serious about their position, they wouldn't spend their time browbeating figures like Austrian cardinal Christoph Schonborn for stating that Darwinism and religion are incompatible; they would spend their time debating fellow Darwinists on the theory's real meaning. Schonborn merely understands evolutionary theory the same way its most exalted exponents do.
IT WAS DARWINIST William Provine, not a critic of evolution, who said that Darwinism is the "greatest engine of atheism devised by man." Richard Dawkins, Thomas Henry Huxley, John Maynard Smith, and a host of other Darwinian experts, have made similar declarations of evolutionary theory's essentially atheistic character.
That evolutionists are downplaying this for PR reasons is understandable. What's not understandable is why certain religious are helping them. The modern religious who eagerly embrace random mutation and natural selection as an explanation of nature look as dim and craven as the hollowed-out Anglican ministers at Darwin's burial at Westminster Abbey.
If nature is not the work of divine intelligence but of blind chance, God does not exist. Darwinism is a "universal acid" that burns through "just about every traditional concept," says evolutionist Daniel Dennett. This is illustrated by the increasingly wan and risible theology evolutionists within the Catholic Church are producing. Jesuit George Coyne, head of the Vatican observatory, is straining so hard to work God into his evolutionary schema that he has written that God is like a parent standing on the sidelines speaking "encouraging words" to earth. Kenneth Miller has declared, in a statement that would come as a great surprise to the doctors of the Church, that "randomness is a key feature of the mind of God."
Nietzsche wouldn't need to revise his view that "God is dead" were he to hear these descriptions of God. "Theistic evolution" is producing a theology of God as powerless and mindless, a God who is dead in man's thinking about life on earth. In separating God from nature, theistic evolutionists end up with a distorted view of both. And for what? To salvage a theory that Darwin's disciples like Edward Wilson have said is unavoidably atheistic?
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