Saving Giberson: How to be an Intellectually Honest Darwinist

A Critical Review of

Giberson, Karl W. Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. New York: HarperOne, 2008.  USA $14.99.

Upon reading Karl Giberson’s book, Saving Darwin, I too became a disillusioned fundamentalist—disillusioned with Giberson’s naive assumption that philosophical naturalism is somehow compatible with the Christian worldview.

Never mind Giberson’s nonchalant dismissal of sophisticated arguments in support of Intelligent Design with “devastating” quips like, “I don’t think . . . [ID theorists] . . . have a good feel for how the historical practice of science has gradually . . . [led] . . . practicing scientists away from such explanations.” (159)  Forget the various theological blunders littered throughout the book—such as the stunning assertion that the Christian concept of hell is a, “secondary doctrine.” (38)  All such problems, while noteworthy, pale in comparison with Giberson’s patent refusal, throughout the book, to acknowledge the inherent incompatibility of philosophical naturalism with Christianity.

By philosophical naturalism, I mean the prevalent doctrine that the universe, as we know it, is a closed system of material causes and effects.  The idea that nothing exists beyond matter and energy; that the physical world is all there is.  This nihilistic doctrine constitutes the metaphysical foundation upon which Darwin’s theory of biological origins is predicated upon; and any attempt to detach Darwin’s brand of evolutionary theory from its naturalistic base inevitably leads one to adopt a non-Darwinian form of evolution.

Consider, as Giberson does in his book, that Darwin’s theory is touted by its proponents as being the conclusive argument against design.  They reason, that since Darwin was able to explain the origin of the species by means of an undirected, non-teleological naturalistic process, there is no longer a need to infer design in nature.  All such appearances, say the Darwinists, are merely an illusion.  Accordingly, those who posit any form of intelligent guidance or input within nature (Such as theistic evolutionists or deists) are essentially rejecting Darwin’s formulation of evolution.

If God exists, and if he played an active role in the advent of biological life—either by guiding the evolutionary process or setting the initial conditions or laws of the universe—Darwin’s theory of unguided, naturalistic, evolution is necessarily wrong.  Under Darwin’s framework, we are merely the result of chance and necessity—random variation (genetic mutation) and natural selection.  Any worldview which claims God intended life to arise or inserted the information necessary for life to arise, or guided the evolution of life, challenges this basic claim.

Therefore, I find it hard to understand how Giberson believes one can claim to be a Christian and fully accept Darwin’s theory of evolution without being a complete hypocrite.  Affirming the truth of two incompatible worldviews is simply oxymoronic.  Yet, this is precisely what Giberson’s insipid book advocates.

The dissonance in Giberson’s argument comes out clearly in chapter three, where he address’s Darwin’s “dark companions.”  In this chapter he attempts to disassociate the biological theory of evolution from its overarching metaphysical implications.  At the beginning of the chapter he states: “The connection between biological and social Darwinism is complex and troubling, and perhaps even suspicious, but there is no denying that it has always been there, even before evolutionary theory became known as “Darwinism.” (79 Emphasis mine)  After explaining social Darwinism’s role in the development of such atrocious social projects as Eugenics and even admitting its influence on the Nazi’s, he concludes:

Thoughtful evolutionists hasten to point out that no necessary connection exists between biological evolution, which provides descriptive explanations of how nature works, and social Darwinism, which suggests prescriptive guidelines for how society should behave.  It is far from obvious that eugenics, unbridled capitalism, relaxed attitudes about infanticide, or rampant militarism is implied by the theory that species originate through natural selection.” (80)

Thoughtful evolutionists seem to have forgotten that descriptions of how nature work are not done in a vacuum.  Perhaps the reason social Darwinism has always been attached to evolutionary theory is because it is predicated upon and bolsters a view of reality which does imply eugenics, unbridled capitalism, relaxed attitudes about infanticide, and rampant militarism; namely, philosophical naturalism.  One simply cannot separate Darwinism from it’s undergirding worldview.

If there is no overarching purpose or design in the universe, if God played no role in the development of human life, if nature is a closed system of causes and effects, then there are no objective moral values.  Furthermore, there is no sensible reason to believe that human life is intrinsically valuable.  It seems to me, then, that the social Darwinists are simply following the logic of philosophical naturalism to its ultimate conclusion.  They, unlike Giberson, are not being hypocrites; but advocating exactly what their metaphysics entail.  Sadly, Giberson appears to be willfully blind to these facts.

For example, he argues in chapter six that he wishes Intelligent Design were true; in fact, he goes as far as to say that, “all Christians . . . should wish it were true.” (155)  Why, because Intelligent Design coheres nicely with the Judeo-Christian worldview–a worldview that he admits becomes extremely questionable if Darwin’s theory of evolution is true:

I have a great appreciation for the counterarguments for God’s existence.  I understand how honest thinkers and seekers of truth like Daniel Dennett and Michael Ruse [both prominent Darwinists] can end up rejecting God.  Like that of most thinking Christians, my belief in God is tinged with doubts and, in my more reflective moments, I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned. (155)

In spite of the troubling fact that Darwinian evolution poses a serious threat to his faith, Giberson stubbornly refuses to acknowledge its tacit metaphysical implications.  He refuses to consider the possibility that Darwinism is built upon a worldview which is wholly incompatible with his Judeo-Christian proclivities—he is willfully blind.

In a later chapter he laments the fact that, “virtually all the leading spokespersons for science—the ones on bookstands and public television—are strongly antireligious,” and argues against the idea that evolutionary theory has rendered religion superfluous mythology. (174)  His argument is that the silent majority of evolutionary biologists don’t think this way; that many, in fact, do believe in God.  What he fails to realize is that the silent majority of evolutionary biologists are either metaphysically confused or blatantly adhering to two contradictory views of reality.

I submit that the only Darwinian evolutionists being consistent to their worldview are the exceedingly antireligious spokesmen like Richard Dawkins and Carol Sagan.  Darwinism is predicated upon philosophical naturalism and the views they advocate so passionately are the logical outgrowth of such a view of reality.  As such, I can see no way in which Darwin can be saved.  Contra Giberson, there is no coherent way in which one can be a Christian and fully accept Darwinian evolution.

At the end of the day, the strongest rational Giberson has for maintaining his Christian faith, in light of Darwinian evolution, is one of pure practicality.  As he explains:

As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God.  My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith.  My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly.  Most of my friends are believers.  I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith . . . Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails. (155-156)

Basically, the only reason he doesn’t reject the existence of God is because it would make a lot of people upset with him and might loose his job.

While I sympathize with Giberson’s need for a job and his desire to remain in friendly fellowship with family and friends,  I think it’s time that he stop living a double life.   The idea that Christianity is compatible with a scientific theory predicated upon philosophical naturalism is nothing but rehtorical nonsense.    For this reason, I implore him to be consistent: either, Christianity is true, and Darwinian evolution is false or Darwinian evolution is true and Christianity is false.  There is no middle ground; for the truth of one means the negation of the other.

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“Expelled” from Pharyngula

It seems rational discussion is passé.  I was recently forbidden to make comments on PZ Myers incendiary blog Pharyngula for attempting to engage in a rational discussion over a lecture he gave at AAI.  To my great disappointment, I was denied the privilege of commenting on PZ’s site after leaving only two posts.  Perhaps, if I had peppered my comments with profanity, ugly ad hominem attacks, and a *facepalm*, I would still have access to his site.  As it is, I won’t be making comments on Mr. Myer’s site any time in the foreseeable future.

For those interested in reading PZ’s blog and my original comments please follow the link below (my first comment is # 68):

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/10/my_talk_at_aai.php#comments

To my opponents, who believe they have delivered decisive blows to my arguments, here are my rejoinders:

Mr. Nerd of Redhead,

You say, “don’t lie to us about the real amount of scientific research being done. We know better.”

Thus far, I have made no comments regarding the amount of scientific research being done on ID Theory–it’s simply not an issue I’m interested in discussing at this time.  What does interest me is the fact that we make design inferences all the time and that the ability to make such inferences seems to be crucial to the sciences—a point that PZ demonstrates beautifully in his lecture.

So, the question still stands:  If distinguishing between things which have arisen from undirected natural processes and things which have arisen from intelligent design is a valid, and important, aspect of science, why can’t biologists employ such methods when analyzing biological systems?

Mr. CJO,

There are two things about your response I’d like to address:

(1) If your assertions are correct,  S.E.T.I is a complete waste of time and money–the extraterrestrial agents they seek evidence for are not, “extremely well understood in terms of motives and capabilities.”  If the S.E.T.I researchers followed your way of thinking, it would be impossible to determine whether an alien signal was designed unless they had already come into contact with the very extraterrestrials they were searching for.

The fact of the matter is, we know what intelligence is and we are capable of recognizing intelligent activity or involvement when we see it.  Distinguishing between things which have arisen due to undirected natural causes and things which are the result of intelligent design is a fundamental aspect of science; an aspect S.E.T.I researchers rely upon when they analyze radio signals from outer space.

(2)  You say, “if you want to “detect design in biology,” first you have to identify where the apparently unbroken chain of reproduction was broken in order to do this design work, and second you have to identify an agent capable of conceiving and carrying out the design.”

Why?  I don’t have to know when and how a brick wall was built to recognize that it is not the product of undirected natural causes.  Similarly, I don’t have to know when or how a molecular machine was designed to recognize that it is the product of intelligence (if, in fact, it is).  The methods we are discussing involve how scientists recognize the difference between something that is the product of undirected natural causes and something that is the product of intelligence—not when and how design was implemented.

Richard Dawkins and Randolph Nesse: Trying Really Hard to Ignore Design.

There are three things about this video which seemed worthy of commentary:

(1)  The comicality of Dr. Nesse’s habitual use of the word design when describing human anatomy. Even after Dawkins corrects him, Nesse can’t seem to avoid using design language and engineering terminology when talking about the body (as if it actually was designed!)

(2)  The self-refuting nature of Dr. Nesse’s argument against intelligent design. Parroting hundreds of Darwinists before him, Nesse rehashes the same old argument:  that “bad design” in nature proves there is no design in nature.  Darwinists seem to find this argument existentially pleasing—but those of a rational sort tend to find it dim-witted.  Think about it: once you’ve admitted there is “bad design” in nature is it really coherent to suggest, in the same breath, that there is no design in nature?  Let’s face it, bad design is still design.  I may think of better ways to design my watch—but I don’t deny my watch is designed!   Either there is design in nature—however bad it may be–or there is not.

(3)   The unfortunate fact that Dr. Nesse’s example of bad design is really a bad example. It is entirely unclear why the human wrist demonstrates bad design–unless one could know what the designers original intent or “end goal” was, this claim is entirely subjective.  If the designer responsible for engineering the human body had in mind to create an organism who could never be hurt, then, yes, humans are badly designed (even if this were the case, as I pointed out above, this does not prove there is no design in nature.)  However, it seems quite possible, upon observing the human body,  that this was not the designer’s original intent or goal.  As Nesse’s description indicates, the designer seems to have had in mind to build creatures with the remarkable capability of rotating their wrists.  Far from being “bad” design it seems the designer succeeded marvelously in accomplishing his goal.

Is Evolution a Random Directionless Process?

I would like to congratulate Michael Dowd for doing a top-notch job defending Intelligent Design in chapter two of his popular book, Thank God for Evolution.  I would like to congratulate him; but perhaps I should not.  Embarrassingly, I believe he is under the impression that what he has written constitutes a solid defense of Darwinian Evolution.  In actual fact, he has produced one of the all time worst analogies for evolution printed in the English language—and in the process provided evidence for Intelligent Design.

Chapter two of Dowd’s insipid book is boldly titled, Evolution Is Not Meaningless Blind Chance.  Now, there are a couple of things one would expect to find in a chapter with such a title; one of them being a clear example of how evolution is not meaningless blind chance.  Unfortunately, such examples are largely absent from the text.  This is not to say that he didn’t try, but as I will soon demonstrate, his attempt leaves much to be desired.  Lest I should overlook one of his more subtle points I will simply quote to you his exact words–any attempt on my part to summarize Dowd’s work would surely do him great injustice.

At the opening of chapter two, Mr. Dowd says this:

In a million years, the ebb and flow of tides on all the sandy beaches of the world will not fashion even one instance of a multistoried sandcastle that any of us would be fooled into thinking was the work of human hands.  Not in a billion years will a tornado whip together a functioning bicycle (much less a jet plane) from a heap of unassembled parts.  We know this.  Commonsense tells us that random, directionless processes cannot give birth to complex or sophisticated offspring.  (pg. 31, emphasis mine)

I must confess that opening chapter two with this paragraph was a bold move on Mr. Dowd’s part.  Proponents of ID have been making these exact claims for quite some time—and it is hard to ignore the logical force and intuitive appeal of such argumentation.  To his credit, Mr. Dowd fully endorses it—even referring to it as being “commonsense.”  In the next line down he proudly proclaims, “here is the good news for peoples of faith . . . evolution is not blind chance.  Randomness yields nothing—by itself.” (31)

It is clear that Mr. Dowd is a master rhetorician and would make a great used car salesman–he knows how to make a bad product look good.  First, you agree with your opponent’s primary objection—random directionless processes cannot give birth to highly complex integrative molecular machinery—and then conclude by assuring him that Darwinian Evolution postulates nothing of the sort.  Darwinian Evolution is not just random directionless processes—that would be silly.  No one in their right mind could believe something so nonsensical!

According to Mr. Dowd, evolution is not a random directionless process because of natural selection.  To illustrate this profound point, Dowd provides this splendid analogy:

Each morning, when I download my email, I engage in a kind of evolutionary process.  Speaking invitations I forward to my assistant; bills to my wife.  Whenever I encounter spam, I hit the delete button.  There is randomness, to be sure, in the order in which the emails show up on my screen.  But what is far more important is my propensity to sort by function and discard anything that is not helpful…Ever since Darwin, evolutionary scientists have been presenting biological evolution in much the same way.  What Darwin called “natural selection” is nothing more than the sum of Nature’s sorting process. (31-32)

Unwittingly, Mr. Dowd’s little story proves precisely the opposite point he intended it to—it proves that Intelligent Design is the best explanation at hand to explain certain features of the universe.  Like so many Darwinian analogies, Dowd’s fails because it utilizes an intelligent agent who can make rational decisions as a representation of natural selection.

In the analogy, natural selection is personified as Michael Dowd sorting through his email—forwarding messages to their correct file location and deleting spam.  However, this analogy is not—by any stretch of the imagination—an accurate depiction of natural selection.  Natural selection is not an intelligent being—it cannot make decisions, it doesn’t evaluate, it doesn’t look ahead—natural selection is a completely mindless physical process.  As Richard Dawkins would put it, natural selection is the “blind watchmaker;” it cannot see what it is doing.  I would go further:  natural selection is not only blind, it is deaf and dumb as well.

Michael Dowd can read and understand emails, determine what type of email he is reading, look to the future and plan ahead–moving pertinent emails into files for his assistant and wife to view—and delete  files he’s deemed un-useful.   All of these actions require the one thing Darwinian Evolution does not allow for—intelligence.  In presenting natural selection as an intelligent agent, Dowd’s analogy is inaccurate and grossly misleading.

In spite of what Mr. Dowd would have you believe, Darwinian evolution is a random directionless process.   It is based upon random genetic mutations—hence, it is random–and naturals selection –which is, by definition, a directionless process.  If natural selection had an end goal or direction it would require some sort of intelligence directing the process; an intelligence who had in mind what it wanted to do with a given biological system—who could look ahead and decide what an organism would need to survive given a certain environment.  But this requires planning and reasoning—this requires a mind.

It seems to me that Mr. Dowd has utterly failed to prove his assertion that evolution is not a random directionless process.  In consequence, he has proved the very thing he hoped to disprove: that certain features of the universe are best explained in terms of intelligent design.  After all, no one believes that a random directionless process can produce sophisticated/complex structures:

In a million years, the ebb and flow of tides on all the sandy beaches of the world will not fashion even one instance of a multistoried sandcastle that any of us would be fooled into thinking was the work of human hands.  Not in a billion years will a tornado whip together a functioning bicycle (much less a jet plane) from a heap of unassembled parts.  We know this.  Commonsense tells us that random, directionless processes cannot give birth to complex or sophisticated offspring. (pg. 31, emphasis mine)

The Ugly Face of Darwinism

Many still refuse to believe proponents of Intelligent Design (or anyone questioning Darwinian Evolution) are being persecuted, blacklisted, and treated with disrespect.  If you are one of these people, I invite you to visit biologist PZ Myers popular blog Pharyngula; a revolting space, displaying childish, disgusting, immature behavior, towards anyone who questions the Darwinian worldview.  In particular, I urge you to read his latest post which display’s a private correspondence between Discovery Institutes David Klinghoffer and evolutionary biologist Nicholas Gotelli. 

To read Myer’s post click here.

I hope this little exchange leaves a bad taste in your mouth and leads you one step closer to acknowledging the volatile climate which exists for those challenging Darwinian Evolution.

A review of “Darwin and the Intelligent Design Brigade”

Paddy Shannon recently published an article in the Socialist Standard entitled, Darwin and the Intelligent Design Brigade, which was re-posted on RichardDawkins.net.  I found this article fascinating for several reasons: (1) It said virtually nothing about Intelligent Design, (2) its naive caricature of “religious people” and their motives was very imaginative, and (3) its diminutive attitude toward “religious people” is typical of the pseudo-intellectualism attached to the new Atheist movement.  Allow me to touch briefly on each of these points. 

(1) Yet again, the media produces an article with Intelligent Design in the title which says absolutely nothing about Intelligent Design (aside from suggesting an anti-ID documentary.)  Perhaps I’m being a little too picky, but, one would expect an article entitled, Darwin and the Intelligent Design Brigade, to at least say something about Intelligent Design.  This is yet another shining example of incompetent reporting on Intelligent Design. 

(2)  Shannon asserts that the motivation for “religious people’s” attacks on the theory of evolution is fear.  More specifically, a fear “that without God as first cause there really is no relevance to life.”  I wonder if she’s ever considered the possibility that “religious people” attack evolution because if God does not exist, “there really is no relevance to life.”  This is not simply an argument from fear, but an assertion of the facts.  If Darwinism is true, there is no purpose, design, intentionality, personality, or objectivity in nature; the philosophical implications of Darwinism are profound.  Perhaps religious people are afraid, but not due to their naivety; they are afraid of the disturbing implications of Darwinism in the realms of art, beauty, ethics, philosophy and every other meaningful human pursuit.  It is only wise for “religious people” to question the validity of such a worldview and to encourage its proponents to follow the logic of their system to its end. 

Of course, there is another reason “religious people” might challenge evolution which Shannon omits; because of the scientific evidence.  Perhaps Intelligent Design (of which she did very little actual reporting on) has laid some serious challenges at the feat of Neo-Darwinism and religious people are convinced of this evidence. 

(3)  Consider this quote, “At the same time it is possible to feel some compassion for the fear and the desperation these, mostly ignorant and uninformed, people have, confronted with a world they don’t understand and in which they feel utterly helpless. Science to them is gas chambers, nuclear bombs, death rays, spy satellites and mind control. Wild stories about Earth-eating black holes and ‘strangelets’ guaranteed front-page coverage worldwide for the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider, an event only normally of interest to particle physicists.”

This is my translation, “Awwww, look at the poor moronic, uneducated, imbeciles, they’re afraid because they just don’t understand.  We of the intellectual elite (i.e. Darwinists) should have compassion on them for their ignorance.”

It is true; there are millions of ignorant, uneducated people in the world.  Alas, many of these people are religious.  However, to presume that the Atheistic Darwinian perspective on life is only held by educated intellectuals (which this statement implies) is outrageous.  Perhaps Shannon has not actually read any of the modern critiques of Darwinism or looked at the credentials of their author’s.  This diminutive treatment of “religious people” is a gross stereotype of the worst kind.

Incompetent Reporting on Intelligent Design

Back in September, Fort Worth Weekly published an article on Intelligent Design entitled Devolution in Education.  Its author, Laurie Barker James, should win a prize for producing such a choice example of poorly researched biased reporting.  Full of misrepresentations and falsities, James’ article is a beautiful demonstration of how to build a straw man.  However, James can’t take too much credit for this masterpiece in absurdity; after all, she was only parroting what everyone else in the popular media has been saying.   Poorly researched biased reporting has become the hallmark of mainstream reporting on ID.   This is a tremendous shame for at least three reasons:  (1) It proves that journalists are either being lazy (unwilling to dig deep and be innovative in their reporting on ID) or dishonest (unwilling to report the truth), (2) it suggests that journalists are scared of challenging the status quo (i.e. challenging Darwinism), and (3) it means that millions of people are being misinformed. 

To those of you reading this post, shaking your head in disbelief, I issue a challenge.  Read James’ article and check her facts.  Don’t just take her word for it; go find out for yourself.  For instance, she gives a definition of ID in her article.  Google it and find out how Design Theorists really define ID.  Pick up a copy of Debating Design (published by Cambridge University Press) and do a little bit of reading.  Then, next time you read an article like Devolution in Education, write a letter to the editor pointing out all of its mistakes.    

You can read Devolution in Education here: http://www.fwweekly.com/content.asp?article=7149

You can read my letter to the editor here:  http://www.fwweekly.com/content.asp?article=7208