Thursday 26 February 2009

Ten propositions on Darwin and the deity

by Kim Fabricius

1. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) finally lost his faith in God. Not that he had ever been a committed Nicene Christian. Forced by his free-thinking father to study for the Anglican priesthood at Cambridge after a false start in medicine at the University of Edinburgh (dissection and surgery made him physically sick), young Charles plodded his way through the set theological texts – only Evidences of Christianity by William Paley (1743-1805) really grabbed him – more interested in beetles than the Bible – and a girl named Fanny Owen. Within the year of his graduation (1831), his belief theistic rather than Trinitarian, Darwin was aboard the Beagle, beginning the enthralling five-year expedition on which he would wave goodbye to the clerical vocation. Darwin died an agnostic (a term coined by his “bulldog” Thomas Huxley), yet he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the most hallowed church in England – at the end of the month that begins with Fool’s Day.

2. Should it be of concern to Christians that Darwin was never more than a nominal believer? Only if, rejecting universalism, you are concerned about the destiny of his immortal soul. Otherwise – well, are you concerned whether your surgeon, mechanic, or hair stylist goes to church? Of course not. Your only concern is that she wields a scalpel, wrench, or scissors with know-how and dexterity. So too with a scientist: one’s only concern should be that he is an honest and skilled practitioner of his craft. And Darwin wasn’t just an able and meticulous biologist, he was a bloody genius. If his theory of evolution by natural selection is the best theory in town that explains the evidence (palaeontological, morphological/taxonomical, molecular/genetic) – and it is – deal with it. Of course refute it on empirical grounds if you can, but don’t rubbish it because you don’t like its theological or moral implications, or because you have a political agenda. Fight science with science – not with the pseudo-science of creationism or the bad science of ID (not to mention the bad theology of both). On the other hand, is it not a sad but salient observation that as Darwin’s faith receded, so did his finer feelings for art?

        Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
        Our meddling intellect
        Misshapes the beauteous forms of things –
        We murder to dissect.
         (William Wordsworth)

3. Of course Darwinism had its scientific detractors – as well as its religious supporters – from the get-go of The Origin of Species (published in 1859, but its thesis adumbrated, if sat on, since the early 1840s), and it remained seriously deficient until Gregor Mendel’s work on genetics (completed in the 1860s, but unrecognised until the early twentieth century) led to the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Indeed Darwinian civil wars rage today on the detail and scope of natural selection and adaptation, with the scientific arguments further befuddled by the philosophical and ideological disagreements, not to mention the temperamental differences, of the antagonists (Stephen Jay Gould floated like a butterfly, Richard Dawkins stings like a flea). But it is a good start to know exactly what Darwin did and didn’t say: he never claimed to account for the origins of life from inorganic matter, let alone ex nihilo; rather he argued that his theory explained how present-day species evolved from earlier ones. Even the later Darwin could speak of life being “breathed by the Creator”.

4. The venerable argument from design, to which Paley added biological spin, is, observes Herbert McCabe, “a silly one…. You can no more say, ‘This sort of world must have been made by God,’ than you can say, ‘This sort of world must exist’.” Only causes within creation make the world what it is; therefore the argument is self-defeating because, assuming a competitive understanding of divine and human activity, it effectively turns the Creator into a creature. When the Scottish hit man David Hume (1711-76) (whom Darwin read) whacked the argument from design in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, he actually did faith a favour. ID’s exhumation of the corpse, a blatant example of the god of the gaps, is a gruesome sight. Nor, following Michael Buckley, should one miss the irony that by trying to demonstrate the existence of a designer-deity independent of revelation, advocates of physico-theology actually advanced the development of modern atheism.

5. Darwin himself finally found the ecological cheerfulness (not to mention the ideological conservatism) of Paley’s natural philosophy quite untenable, in utter denial of the zoological carnage observable even in an English country garden. Nevertheless, the younger Darwin did not dismiss the idea of design, because the only alternative seemed to be chance, which could not explain nature’s order; he believed in a deistic design of the laws of nature. However, with the development of his theory, observes Diogenes Allen, “Darwin supplied what Hume lacked”: in contrast to the prevailing Aristotelian view of the fixity of species, “an account of present-day life forms arising by natural processes from earlier ones. The argument for a designer, which moves directly from present-day life forms to a designer, can no longer be employed because the only alternative to chance is not design.” Allen correctly continues: “the fundamental issue nature’s order poses is whether it is intended, not whether it is designed.” Darwin finally found the idea of divine design surplus to biological, if not cosmological, requirements; while the more he thought about the issue of divine intention, the more inscrutable he found it.

6. For those who would still insist, confounding the biblical Creator with Paley’s watchmaker, that Darwin remains the implacable enemy of Moses, I cannot resist referring to a lovely little letter Karl Barth wrote to his grandniece Christine, who had become disconcerted by a classroom discussion. “Has no one explained to you in your seminar,” Barth wrote, “that one can as little compare the biblical creation story and a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner – that there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction?… The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with what has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation… So tell the teacher concerned that she should distinguish what is to be distinguished and not shut herself off completely from either side.”

7. Scientific theory and philosophical considerations, however, were relatively light loads in the cumulative burden that eventually flattened Darwin’s faith. One heavier weight was specifically moral: the doctrine of hell and everlasting punishment. Public recoil from this traditional teaching of the church was hardly unique in Victorian culture, such that from the 1860s many revivalist preachers themselves dowsed the fire and brimstone. For Darwin the brutalities of the struggle for survival on earth were harsh enough without the divine supplement of an eternal slaughterhouse for unbelieving Homo sapiens. In his Autobiography Darwin wrote: “I can 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. And this is a damnable doctrine.”

8. But the straw – or rather the bale – that finally broke the back of the biologist’s belief was suffering: in the titles of two famous works by C. S. Lewis, not The Problem of Pain, which had always vexed Darwin, but A Grief Observed. In the summer of 1850 his nine-year-old daughter Annie became ill, and as spring sprung in 1851 Darwin took her to Malvern for the popular water cure. After a short period of convalescence, Annie’s condition rapidly deteriorated and, with her father at her bedside, she died three days after Easter. The death of his favourite girl, made all the more poignant by the birth of his ninth child Horace just three weeks later, left Darwin inconsolable, and although (as he wrote to his friend and collaborator Joseph Hooker on the death of his own six-year-old daughter in 1863) his tears eventually “lost that unutterable bitterness of former days,” he could hardly ever speak of Annie again. From his home in Downe, Kent, the only sound of faith that Darwin would henceforth hear was its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” echoing, seventy miles southeast, from Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach.

9. From the beginning, it was moral panic more than scientific scruple that drove Christians to jump on the bandwagon of anti-Darwinism. But it wasn’t just driven by the ignominy of the common biological ancestry of all hominids (captured by the joke of caged apes asking, “Am I my keeper’s brother?”); even more significant was the elimination of teleology from the study of nature and its implication for social ethics. But this is actually exceptionally good news. Because the fact that “the causal heart of Darwinian theorizing is against the idea of progress” (Michael Ruse) clears an intellectual space for biblical eschatology: more precisely, for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the world’s apocalyptic counter-evolutionary moment in which the weakest kata sarka turn out to be the “fittest” kata pneuma. John Howard Yoder famously said that “those who bear crosses are walking with the grain of the universe.” Strictly speaking, that should be: against the grain of “nature, red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson; cf. Romans 8:22), and with the grain of the new creation, where babies play with sidewinders (cf. Isaiah 11:8).

10. It is important, if trivial, to remember that Darwin was a man of his age. If The Descent of Man (1871) contains rather repugnant passages on “the savage races”, even the libertarian Walt Whitman could speak of Africans as a “superstitious, ignorant, and thievish race”. In fact, Darwin too was an ardent abolitionist, and he resisted the Social Darwinism of zealots like Herbert Spencer. Nor should we project the truculent scientism of the son Richard Dawkins back onto the ambivalent, even confused, religious views of the father who immersed himself in Paradise Lost during the voyage of the Beagle, who had actually studied the theology he finally rejected, and who consistently denied that The Origin of Species was inherently atheistic. Darwin was ever a humble thinker, keenly aware (in good Augustinian fashion!) of the dangers of intellectual self-deceit. John Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor, reflecting on how Darwin’s theory has influenced our understanding of the deity, suggest that “two images of God took a beating”: “the artisan or mechanic”, and “the magician” of special creation. Which perhaps invites us to re-imagine the Creator more as an improvising artist or musician. John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, anyone?


Kevin Davis said...

Definitely my favorite of the Ten Propositions series. How about we print this out and nail it to some church doors!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thank you for a brilliant, informative and analytical post. In the 1820's Paley's evidences was actually required reading for all Cambridge undergraduates; the compulsory divinity exam they all had to go (the equivalent of "Littlego" at Oxford) was based upon it.

The other thing that may be said is that the word "Anglican" had not really been used much, if at all, in its modern sense in the 1820's. It was more the equivalent of "Gallican" (but English!) before Gladstone's State in its relation to the Church (1838) made it something of a denominational label.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic as always, Kim. I'm thrilled to see new propositions surfacing.

Kien said...

It seems to me that just as we must rethink our prior assumptions about God as we gaze at Jesus, his life and his resurrection, so to must we rethink our prior assumptions about God when we examine nature closely.

Darwin's theory about evolution should challenge our prior assumptions about God. Evolution need not cause us to abandon the idea of God altogether.

Anonymous said...

Eloquent and insightful, Kim, as always.

Could I, though, ask you to flesh out (as it were) #9 a little: in our walk against the grain of “nature, red in tooth and claw”, how might we guard against a tendency - in those around us or, more perniciously, in our own subconscious - to mistake eschatological life-statement for neoplatonic sarx-disdain?

Austin Eisele said...

This is probably one of the better discussions of Darwin that I've heard in a long time, and I am especially interested in Barth's quote in 6 and #9. However, and here I'm parroting Marilynn Robinson, there is a fundamental, problematic shift in our social imaginary when Darwin took up Malthus' struggle for existence thesis. Darwin changed how we actually see nature, and introduces a sort of competition or war inherent in nature, which makes it seem much easier that this competition is inherent in human culture (a point that Foucault makes quite explicit in one of his lectures at the College de france). The "moral effects" of this are quite problematic, as can be seen in how the English (with quite a bit of support from Thomas Malthus, and sadly my own heritage in Scottish Evangelicals) overturned the poor laws in 1848, and a whole bunch of other social policies that relied on a similar vision of what life is like.

My question to you, Kim, is this: Darwin's science is not merely science, but a cultural and social lens that we now use to consider, not just the natural world, but other human beings. How do we deal with that? Does one just say that is the "old creation," and wait expectantly for the new? Or can we just separate the moral and the science here, facts and values, into separate magisterium? That may also be a good solution, although I don't really see how it can ultimately be done.

Tom said...

"Brilliant," best ever, "analytical." I would say, "Baloney!

I would allow that the detail about Darwin and the sympathy for his troubles is commendable and interesting, too. But "analytical?" What is notable about this post, like a number of Fabricius' posts is the absence of argument. Austin starts to nudge us toward some analysis, but not Kim.

What is most notable, beyond the surface glitter here, is the ubiquious "sneer" with which he speaks. The sneer is a powerful academic device, the posture of the superior and cultured to all the country bumpkins out there. All the right-minded are convinced of nothing more than their superiority. So discard the argument from design as a bit of contemptible non-sence despite the fact that some pretty considerable philosophical minds have been refashioning it away from Paley's semi-Deism into a reasonably powerful evidential argument for theism. Cite Barth's expression of the view that science and theology are two separate and clearly demarcated language games as if that totally settles the matter, despite a considerable body of critique and the proposal of what I take to be better alternatives. Here are a couple of places for analysis and argument, but not for Brother Kim. No, these are amunition for the sneer.
Has he never read Alvin Plantinga, to cite only one Christian philosopher of deserved reputation. Or any recent philosophy of science.

Darwinism the the reigning paradigm in biology for good reason, and in a considerable range of academic life for reasons less clear to me. For Kim it is so unassailable, apparently right up there with the Nicene Creed. No stone should be left unturned to ridicule the heretics. They must be yahoo's. They deserve the sneer!

In Kim's world the only possible motive for this post of mine must be that, alas, I am one of those yahoos. But here is my foundational motive: the academic sneer is a vice. It works against rationality and the pursuit of truth. But more importantly it run directly contrary to the kind of love demonstrated by the God of the Nicene confession. Principled disagreement can be motivated by the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. But never the sneer, even the "brilliant" academic sneer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughtful reflection on the great man. Could someone please direct me to some good theology that takes Darwin serious but is still Orthodox (broadly defined?). If the works you suggest are assessable to a well read layman so much the better.


Steve in Toronto

Richard Beck said...

Wonderful post. You wrote: Strictly speaking, that should be: against the grain of “nature, red in tooth and claw”

I agree and would like to expand and nuance. I think it is important for Christians to understand that the phrase "red in tooth and claw" is a misunderstanding of natural selection. It's a misunderstanding that tends to think that "survival" is a matter of strength and competitiveness and killer instinct.

In fact, evolutionary theory has shown that a large part of our moral psychology is driven by pressures such as kin selection (kindness and kin even sharing the same root). That is, love of family is, to use Dawkin’s term, "selfish."

I think this clarification is important in that there is a great irony involved in the Family Values of the Religious Right. "Family values" are in the trophy case of Darwin's explanatory victories (via the mechanism of kin selection). Family values are as much a data point for Darwin as are the beaks of his finches. It really is ironic.

And thus, Jesus is revealed to be a skilled evolutionary thinker in that he routinely asks us to transcend not just our violence ("nature red in tooth and claw") but the mental grooves of a biological ethic ("Who are my brothers and sisters?") that shrinks our love from the Many to the Few.

Erp said...

From Austin

Darwin changed how we actually see nature, and introduces a sort of competition or war inherent in nature, which makes it seem much easier that this competition is inherent in human culture (a point that Foucault makes quite explicit in one of his lectures at the College de france). The "moral effects" of this are quite problematic, as can be seen in how the English (with quite a bit of support from Thomas Malthus, and sadly my own heritage in Scottish Evangelicals) overturned the poor laws in 1848, and a whole bunch of other social policies that relied on a similar vision of what life is like.

I'm a bit baffled about how Darwin's ideas on natural selection could have helped overturn the poor laws in 1848 when he didn't publish until 1859.

Also in prop. 2 "On the other hand, is it not a sad but salient observation that as Darwin’s faith receded, so did his finer feelings for art?" What is the evidence for this?

John Hobbins said...

Excellent discussion. I agee with a number of commenters that Kim takes on the usual suspects with gusto, but fails, for example, to deal with the Rezeptionsgeschichte of Darwin's theory in a responsible way. This is not a minor detail.

I respond in more detail to the theses in a series that begins here:

Austin Eisele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Austin Eisele said...


You are right, I was unclear. However, in the context I put this particular quote in, I was referring to the Malthusian thesis that was the foundation for both Darwin's and Russell's understanding of natural selection.

This does bring up another point, however, in dealing with dates. It's important to note that Darwin is not the inventor of the notion of natural selection, anymore than Edison was the inventor of the light bulb. This was an idea in the air, and Darwin's brilliance was to actually confirm this in good, empirical research. My point was that natural selection has changed our social imaginary in such a way that we now have biological confirmation that war and competition is a part of nature, and that easily elides into war and competition as a fundamental of human relations.

Of course, Richard is right that evolutionary thinking has changed a bit, and nature "red, tooth, and claw" isn't necessarily where it's at. But if that is the case, it doesn't change where our imaginary is right now.

John B. Higgins said...


Thanks for the reflection. Could you clarify one thing. I find statements like "refute it on empirical grounds if you can, but don’t rubbish it because you don’t like its theological or moral implications, or because you have a political agenda" and Barth's letter have a familiar Bultmannian flavor to it. Theological description is bracketed off from history (or in this case science). Now I'm sure that you have antecedently concluded that Gen. 1-3 is a theological description (be it poetic or narrative non-historical) whose form excludes scientific/historical reference. But that is a different argument than than the one you you proffer here. Your objection is that theological objections cannot work outside of the theological discourse. (Interesting note even though not necessarily an argument, even Einstein did not accept relativity on theological grounds (God doesn't play dice), not on scientific grounds).

Anonymous said...

Tom, the only sneering I see here is being done by you. Maybe there's a history between you and the people here that I don't know about, since I only visit here occasionally.

dave said...

Nice essaay, a couple of points: from van Wyhe's research, Darwin had not only lost his Christian faith but had stopped going to church before Annie fell ill and died, her death is generally presented as extinguishing any remaining embers of theistic faith, though he remained unsure about a deistic God.

The Malthusian poor law "reform act" was passed in 1834, putting into law the Reverend Malthus's belief that overpopulation causing poverty was ordained by God to make us follow the virtues of hard work and restraint about having families.

Tennyson's nature "red, tooth, and claw" was written in response to ''Vestiges of Creation'' published in 1844, and predated Darwin's publication of his ideas, as did the idea of "war of nature" which De Candolle published, though with reference to a battle between different species rather than within a species. Darwin's phrase of "struggle for existence" was a quote from Malthus... though again he was giving it new relevance.

Anonymous said...

Hi Austin,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. You make some excellent points, and ask some probing questions. And Robinson's essay "Darwinism" is luminous, isn't it? It - and your response - made me reread my post to check if I used the term - and I did! - regrettably if taken in Robinson's sense of an ideology, which is the way Dawkins and Dennett (whom Robinson cites) take it; I did not mean it in that sense. In any revised edition, I shall be more careful!

And I'm glad that you mention Malthus (who was a minister, as you no doubt know). I was thinking of referring to him in #9, not least because Darwin himself acknowledged Malthus' "Essay on Population" as a decisive influence in the development of his theory of natural selection. As the biologist Richard Lewontin observes: "What Darwin did was take early-nineteenth-century political economy and expand it to include all of natural economy." And by the way, although Nietzsche declared himself "Anti-Darwin", John Richardson has recently argued (in Nietzsche's New Darwinism [2004])that Nietzsche in fact absorbed Darwin's central ideas into his own philosophy and prepared the way for the ideological colonisation of Darwin's theory by some contemporary social scientists.

Now Darwin's theory is almost universally accepted in the biological community. Has it also changed the way we look at nature, as you suggest? It certainly disabuses us of Paley's ecological Panglossianism. Yet the ageing Darwin himself continued to find an awesome, indeed beautiful "grandeur" in nature, and even spoke of "happiness". Similarly Robinson observes of Calvin - no facile optimist himself! - how "touching to find this sick and weary man so eager to call Creation good." This is where faith kicks in.

And where, by grace, it may kick in too when it comes to human nature. I actually think that Darwin's vision does have value as a descriptive "cultural and social lens" (as you call it) - as do the takes of Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud on the human condition - the fallen human condition. Faith, in fact, sees that the human condition is even more severe than these "masters of suspicion" think. But faith also knows not only that this conditon is penultimate, not final, nor even necessarily normative; it also knows that we must speak of an ontology of peace, not violence, both protologically and eschatologically.

Finally - @ Tom - yes, I think Barth overeggs the science/theology divide (over which Barth's disciple Tom Torrance started throwing ropes). But although, of course, that wasn't the point he was trying to make to his grandniece - he was simply arguing against a conflictual view of science and theology - when Barth does press a non-interactive view I think he is displaying some of those Kantian eggshells he was always tiptoeing around (the old fact/value dichotomy). But I'll leave the teasing-out of exactly how theology and science should relate (dialogue?, consolidation?, etc.) to other - and wiser - folk who might want to enter the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Hi again, guys. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since I spent a long time answering Austin and Tom.

Thanks especially to Richard Beck, who knows his stuff, on the "fittest" not being synonymous with the "strongest" (in a beat-the-shit-out-of-you sense of the word) - and for his further extremely important input.

And - @ Dave - Darwin may have stopped going to church, but he actually remained very involved in parish life in Downe - even if only as a "cutural Christian"!

Enough already!

Erp said...


Evolution was in the air; however, Natural Selection as the driver for creating new species was not. It was Wallace's letter detailing it that prodded Darwin to announce and support his ideas on evolution (what happened) and natural selection (how it happened).

Dave, Kim,

Darwin apparently lost most of his faith during and shortly after the voyage (at the beginning he apparently quoted the Bible frequently much to the surprise of the officers). His faith was sufficiently lost that by the time he became engaged to his wife, his father advised him to conceal his disbelief and his future wife wrote a letter worrying about it. He and his wife though officially CoE did come from a strong Unitarian tradition (Emma Darwin was described by her daughter after her death as being a unitarian) so he was probably never 'orthodox'. Being involved in parish activities was expected behavior of any well-to-do local (in Darwin's case he was treasurer for the Down Friendly Club [supported a local school and Sunday school] and the Down Coal and Clothing Club).

Anonymous said...

Raised a creationist, I went through some degree of anguish to eventually accept the common descent of living things. A major sticking point for me was the sheer horror of the thing - that the beauty of creation was crafted through violence. The whole process of evolution runs on suffering and death. It is not just that competition and death are pre-requisites for natural selection - there is also the appalling fact that the variation on which selection goes to work is produced by mutation. Mutation is far more likely to cause harm to an individual organism than good, and the neo-Darwinian synthesis entails that individual suffering is the necessary price of (rare) biological innovation. Well, I'm convinced of common descent, but I have to admit to retaining some revulsion at the process.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathan,

Here is some more Herbert McCabe (see #4), who has no theological problems with Darwin.

McCabe argues that God does nothing evil, but that, yes, "He does some good things which result in evils suffered (his doing good for the lion is bad for the lamb)... [I]f you think it is good to have a material, natural, perishable world, this seems inevitable. Always to do what is good and never to do what is evil - is this not a sufficient reason for being called good? ... It is true that not everything we see is evidence for the goodness of God ... but the point is that it is not evidence for his badness. This odd situation arises because we do not see the goodness of God in itself... It is as though we had only a few fragments of a map of God. Everything we can see on the map points to his goodness, but there are many bits missing. The holes in the map (sin and evil) are places where God is not shown to be good. They are not places where he is shown not to be good. The world is a bad map of God. But it is not the map of a bad God."

And McCabe concludes his fine essay "On Evil and Omnipotence" (in Faith within Reason [2007]): "When all is said and done, we are left with an irrational but strong feeling that if we were God we would have acted differently. Perhaps one of his reasons for acting as he did is to warn us not to try to make him in our own image."

Micheal said...

"Only causes within creation make the world what it is..."

OK - then what caused the resurrection of Jesus?

Anonymous said...

I just appreciate the fact that Kim used 'rubbish' as a verb.

Shane said...

I hope it won't be taken as backhanded when I say that I actually liked this one.

One quick grip about Hume: I think h is proven wrong about a lot of the things that put him on the map, e.g. Hume's Fork, the destruction of metaphysics, etc. I haven't looked too close at the arguments in the dialogues on religion, but I am severely skeptical that they're any sounder than his "arguments" in the treatise or the enquiry.

Hume might be brilliant, but he's still a sophist.

a. steward said...

Wondering if anyone caught the terrific Radio Lab podcast this week on Darwin. It has an an interesting portion about Darwin's faith. Especially striking was his reluctance to proceed romantically with Fanny, in light of his tottering faith. His concern wasn't that they would be "unequally yoked," but rather that, knowing Fanny believed in the orthodox doctrine of hell, he didn't want to subject her to the torment of believing that he was in eternal torment, even though he wasn't concerned about it himself. Very touching, I thought.

Austin Eisele said...


Thanks for the comment. This portion was especially interesting:

" Faith, in fact, sees that the human condition is even more severe than these "masters of suspicion" think. But faith also knows not only that this conditon is penultimate, not final, nor even necessarily normative; it also knows that we must speak of an ontology of peace, not violence, both protologically and eschatologically."

I wonder though; do you just re-inscribe the fact/value distinction at a different level, and instead of the logical positivist, say, who argued for the normativity of fact, argue that value is more normative than fact? This may be the answer, but I don't get the impression you'd go this far.


Darwin's specific application of course was unique - which is exactly what I said. However, he did not invent natural selection. It was in the air, and not merely Wallace, but his grandfather Erasmus, and if you go back further, you'll find figures such as Lucretius and even Empedocles expressing similar views.

In any case, my point had nothing to do with pendantic quibbles about the history of ideas; it was about the cultural effect of notions like natural selection. Of course, you are right; natural selection as applied to "species" was not around before Darwin. But a type of natural selection with regard to "class" was very visible in the 1848 poor law reformation (basically blaming the poor for poverty, instead of an industrialized, capitalist economy), and that was my point.

I do apologize for apparently obscuring it in regards to dates, but on the flip side, there is a principle of charity in reading another's thought, is there not?

kilo papa said...

Kim said,quoting Herbert McCabe,-"The holes in the map (sin and evil) are places where God is not shown to be good. They are not places where he is shown not to be good." This is nothing but an unsupported assertion. Let's turn this around a bit shall we? --"The holes in the map(goodness and mercy) are places where God is not shown to be evil.They are not places where he is shown not to be evil." What evidence supports one statement over the other?

Anonymous said...

It is so easy to say that ID is bad science --- many do --- but based on what? Based on a caricature? Based on their lack of "peer review" (since they aren't allowed to publish in scientific journals, how is that supposed to happen)?

Or maybe ID represents bad science because the "establishment says so" . . . and just like that (some tar and feather) [I thought this was called "appeal to the credentials"].

When metaphysics, at a first order level, provide the shape for how one interprets the "physical data," at a second order level . . . then I don't understand why Neo-Darwinianism gets a pass in this regard, and ID is said to be a "front" for Creationism [again maybe it has to do with which side has the higher pile of "credentials"].

Obviously, I'm not a fan of Darwin's progeny . . . sneer.

Marylin Johnson Raisch said...

Darwin's references to a Creator are part of a textual history that is contested.See Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species published as The Evolution Debate 1813-1870, vol. V, ed. David Knight. London and New York: Routledge and the Natural History Museum, 1859, reprinted 2003, p. 490 “This volume is a facsimile of one of the original copies sent to the eminent geologist Leonard Horner. The volume also includes sample pages from Darwin's original handwritten manuscript; the exclusive property of the Natural History Museum” Google Books summary, ) One must be very careful about editions of Darwin’s work. The quoted passage was altered in the course of the creationist debates; a 1909 Harvard Classics edition, ed. Charles W. Eliot, reflects Darwin’s later insertion of “breathed by the Creator into a few forms…”at p. 529 of that edition [emphasis mine]. See also Stephen Jay Gould, “Modified grandeur,” Natural History, 102 (3) (March 1993): 14-17 stating that (“the phrase ‘by the Creator’ was interpolated by Darwin into later editions; the original passage, as published in 1859, read:’"...having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one...’ I rather suspect that simple diplomacy can best explain this dubious addition.”).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the extra McCabe quote, Kim, it is helpful. Still and all, there is a question there that it would be nice to ask God himself one day. :)

Anonymous said...

bobby grow wrote:

It is so easy to say that ID is bad science -- many do -- but based on what?

Based on the scientific method. ID can't predict or explain anything beyond just saying "God did it." It's simply not science; at best it's bad metaphysics. I don't agree with a complete reductionist-materialist take on science either (the other extreme), but honest science practitioners know the difference between what the scientific method can and can't speak to (for example, see Ken Miller's recent response to Coyne). Barth was right not to conflate revelation with science -- it's a disservice to both! Of course, there are always different ways people try to relate scientific data to metaphysics (like Bergson, Whitehead, others), but the problem with the ID crowd is that they don't acknowledge that distinction; they're claiming their "breakthroughs" are scientific, when they're not. The "Discovery Institute" is running a media-savvy public relations campaign; they're apparently effective at that (in the U.S., at least), but not much else.

Anonymous said...

Well about ID: personally I can't see anything wrong in principle with the idea that design might entail empirical expectations. I thought Behe's suggestion that irreducible complexity is an observable characteristic of design really was worth a shot. Despite the fact that it's difficult or impossible to prove that any given system couldn't be reduced to a simpler functioning system - well, I just think it was an idea worth exploring.

Anonymous said...

...I can't see anything wrong in principle with the idea that design might entail empirical expectations...

Right, but the question is: "design" by who/what -- by a natural process, or by something beyond a natural process? Evolution "designs" things all the time.

Anonymous said...

BT said:

Based on the scientific method. ID can't predict or explain anything beyond just saying "God did it."

And Darwinism can't predict or explain anything beyond just saying "Nature did it."

So you're saying that Naturalism's metaphysic is more sound than a theistic metaphysic?

And sure, I don't reject the idea that evolution "designs" things all the time . . . just at the micro level not the macro (no evidence of speciation).

I understand the fideism behind Kim's thinking; and understand how nature is nature and supernature is supernature . . . but there is a shared relationship between the two (although distinct of course), just as sure as there is a hypostatic union within the person of Christ.

So to me its a question of how ontology affects epistemology; which by way of ordo gets us back to metaphysics.

If Neo-Darwinians are merely trying to "describe" what they observe in nature; then they need to do that without appealing to a metaphysic under the sun --- since metaphysics, by definition aren't empirically observable.

But we both know that observable nature is not what scientists are basing their interpretations on; no, they are basing it on a metaphysical materialism (that as Christians know, is bad metaphysics).

I think I remember you BT, we discussed before, haven't we?

Anonymous said...

bobby grow:
-- Science by definition is concerned with "natural" mechanisms, regardless of how anyone sees them fitting into a broader metaphysics (or not). This isn't anything conspiratorial or scandalous, it's just what science is concerned with by definition.
-- *All* evolution is micro-evolution. Speciation is a side-effect, an after-effect.
-- It doesn't matter whatever broader, personal metaphysical system a scientist might believe in, as long as they distinguish between their beliefs and the methodological naturalism of science. What "makes science science" is the reciprocity with the external world -- even if science is always theory-laden with metaphysical presuppositions to whatever extent, over time a better scientific explanation, if it's valid, will account for more data in a more elegant or conclusive way. ID doesn't do that at all -- it *disregards* data. The *scientific* burden on any theory claiming to supersede our current understanding of evolution (*not* just Darwin) is to actually contribute something scientifically insightful, not to just throw a Sophist fit and say "the designer did it." (Kaufman on self-organization, or Conway Morris on convergence, might start approaching this burden someday, but the ID mentality *never* will, by definition.)

I think I remember you BT, we discussed before, haven't we?

Yes, and somehow I'm not at all surprised that you don't accept the scientific validity of evolutionary theory. But I'll leave it at that, I'm done.

Ken Pidcock said...

I am outside of this community (this was linked to from Ross Douthat's weblog), and so I will resist the temptation to contribute to the ID thread, although I am an avid student of the movement.

I just wanted to express my gratitude, as a biologist, for such a humane reflection on our founding theorist. During this year, we'll see much commentary on Darwin and his legacy. To date, I rank Mssr. Fabricius's propositions among the finest I've read.

Anonymous said...

BT said:

"It doesn't matter whatever broader, personal metaphysical system a scientist might believe in, as long as they distinguish between their beliefs and the methodological naturalism of science."

Have you read the work of Polyani?

Anonymous said...

brainofdtrain wrote:

Have you read the work of Polyani?

Only some sections of Personal Knowledge. (Where I respect him for stating, contra ID, that "...No new creative agent, therefore, need be said to enter an emergent system at consecutive new stages of being.")

Look, I acknowledge that "nature" itself can of course be thought in different ways, starting from different presuppositions, but the point I was trying to make, re: ID, is that if one broadens the definition of science to include their sense of designer/supernatural-causation, well, then all bets are off, and what results bears almost no resemblance to what people commonly mean by "science" (not to mention many traditions' notions of God, too!). This is simply what distinguishes the scientific method, as commonly understood at least (!), from speculative metaphysics.

In physics, for example, I'm sympathetic to people like David Bohm, who offer a different metaphysical framework within which to explain the same data (opposed to Bohr's quasi-metaphysics), yet people like Bohm have done this in an honest way, and are completely upfront about the merits & limits of what they're doing (most importantly: that it will eventually have to come down to an experimental test, if purporting to be scientific). This is worlds apart from how people like Dembski operate, who will acknowledge the faults of his "filter" & probability bounds to one crowd, but continue to talk them up to another crowd, etc. Apart from being bad science and metaphysics, it's just as much the dishonesty of the ID movement that I can't stand, and tragically it only fuels the fire of the reductionists, making it possible for a figure like Coyne, for example, to recently call Ken Miller a "creationist," which couldn't be further from the truth.

Why aren't ID Christians up in arms about N. Bohr, or "randomness"/probability in atomic theory or meteorology, or the problems with "methodological naturalism" when it comes to horticulture, rather than just when it comes to Darwin or neo-Darwinism? I suspect because the uproar doesn't have all that much to do with science.

Antonio Manetti said...

Sorry for butting in.

As a layman who frequently lurks on this site, I thought the post on Darwin was great.

Is there any work of theology accessible to the non-theologian that accepts evolution and fully explores its doctrinal implications?

Antonio Manetti said...

One more comment.

It seems to me that the scientists have done their work well. After 200 years, it's time for the theologians to stop arguing about it and do theirs.

Post a Comment


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.