You may recall that Senator Sam Brownback, erstwhile Presidential candidate, recently wrote a NYTimes op-ed expounding on his raising of the arm during a presidential debate in response to the now-infamous “who doesn’t believe in evolution” question. I’m grateful to Page 3.14 for alerting me to Jerry Coyne’s article Don’t Know Much Biology written in response to Senator Sam Brownback.
I am generally a fan of Jerry Coyne, and this piece is as well-written as anything of his. But on this I think he misses the mark, as do many scientists who criticize the ID brigade, some of my Sciblings included.
What do I mean by this?*
First, some salient quotes from Brownback’s op-ed:
…limiting [ourselves] to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.
The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God…
If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it…
The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose…Aspects of [evolutionary theories] that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.
Coyne calls this a “poisonous mixture of scientific ignorance and religious dogmatism…The first thing that’s clear is that Brownback displays a fundamental misunderstanding of evolutionary biology.” Then he goes on to explain in detail why Brownback is wrong about punctuated equilibrium, about evolution as a chance process, about micro- and macro-evolution. He lays out some compelling evidence for evolution. Then he asks:
Senator Brownback, along with his two dissenting colleagues, really should be forced to answer a rather more embarrassing question: who is responsible for their being so misinformed? … Doesn’t a public servant have a responsibility to stay informed across a wide spectrum of topics and issues?
Coyne says Brownback’s “misunderstanding” of science ends in – must end in – a rejection of science and of truth itself. Then he offers a brief comparative religion treatise to illustrate how faith can never lead us to the truth. The essay is entirely convincing, if you are already convinced that science is the way to knowledge, not faith. It’s a complete failure, however, if you are trying to understand what Brownback is doing in his op-ed.
“Misunderstanding” is beside the point. Brownback is not interested in understanding evolution; Brownback is interested in promulgating a theological worldview that has no room for evolution – that is in direct opposition to evolution. In fact, it is because IDers understand so well the implications of evolution for their faith that they oppose it so strongly. It is not a question of the facts, it’s a question of clashing world views.
Brownback lays this out quite clearly in his op-ed, and Coyne seems to miss the point entirely. He says Brownback’s declarations of faith and rejection of evolution amount to a wholesale rejection of science, but Brownback clearly does not want to reject science as a whole, nor do most ID proponents. They want to retain parts of it, and have control over it. They want to tame it and bring it under the control of their religion, not allow it to dominate the worldview. Why do you think they are teaching science in their evangelical colleges, and why do you think they are trying to place ID proponents on secular university faculties?
Evolution therefore has to go, but we’d all like to still have good medical care, thank you very much, so all you biologists, back to the research labs. Where you may do research that is based on evolution but you may not talk about evolution.
Yes, the ID contingent wants its science, but in strictly apportioned doses, and for strictly controlled purposes. All you have to do is look at the Bush administration to get a taste of Designer Science. Abortion causes cancer! It’s arrogant to try to deal with global warming! Which doesn’t even exist! Well, maybe it does, but it isn’t human-made! Well, maybe it is, but that’s not a problem! No stem cells for you! and so on. But you will notice that in arguing their case in all these instances, they are not saying “science is bad, we reject science, we are going with our faith.” No, they are saying, “Science shows that abortion causes cancer” – even though it doesn’t. “Science says the evidence is inconclusive about global warming” or “we need more data” – exploiting two “truths” about the science of global warming, that we can’t say absolutely for sure, and that more data is always nice. “You can work with the stem cells you already have, or find other ways to make stem cells”, not “you can’t have stem cells at all”. In each case, science is not rejected, but theology is used to guide, control, and tame science.
I’m not saying Brownback knows enough about evolution to teach a course on it, but teaching him more about evolution wouldn’t make a rat’s ass worth of difference. Have you never heard any ID proponent tell you that God, being the creator of all material reality, is perfectly capable of faking it to lead the recalcitrant ungodly astray?
Climatology, stem cell research, most any other science – these can be modified, tamed, and used by IDers. When it comes to evolution, the clash can’t as easily be finessed. Why does evolution in particular have to go? “Faith and reason…there cannot be any contradiction between the two…they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.” And God says we are created by Him, specially for a purpose, which implies a whole lot of things, not least of which is that Man shall have dominion over all things including Woman and the environment. So you can kiss your feminism and climatology-as-you-know-it goodbye along with the evolution.
They are not fools. They know the scientists will accuse them of rejecting science if they reject evolution. So, out with the evolution, but hang on to the rest of science. That’s why they are now hedging their bets with the “we accept microevolutionary changes but not macro”.
They want their vaccines, and their Designer, too.