The Church of Darwin (WSJ 16 Aug 1999)

Bill Hamilton (
Wed, 18 Aug 1999 09:25:12 -0400

I had a little time last night and scanned this.

(Op-Ed Page, Wall Street Journal August 16, 1999)

A Chinese paleontologist lectures around the world saying that recent
fossil finds in his country are inconsistent with the Darwinian theory of
evolution. His reason: The major animal groups appear abruptly in the rocks
over a relatively short time, rather than evolving gradually from a common
ancestor as Darwin's theory predicts. When this conclusion upsets American
scientists, he wryly comments: "In China we can criticize Darwin but not
the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin."

That point was illustrated last week by the media firestorm that followed
the Kansas Board of Education's vote to omit macro-evolution from the list
of science topics which all students are expected to master. Frantic
scientists and educators warned that Kansas students would no longer be
able to succeed in college or graduate school, and that the future of
science itself was in danger. The New York Times called for a vigorous
counteroffensive, and the lawyers prepared their lawsuits. Obviously, the
cognitive elites are worried about something a lot more important to
themselves than the career prospects of Kansas high school graduates.

The root of the problem is that "science" has two distinct definitions in
our culture. On the one hand, science refers to a method of investigation
involving things like careful measurements, repeatable experiments, and
especially a skeptical, open-minded attitude that insists that all claims
be carefully tested. Science also has become identified with a philosophy
known as materialism or scientific naturalism. This philosophy insists that
nature is all there is, or at least the only thing about which we can have
any knowledge. It follows that nature had to do its own creating, and that
the means of creation must not have included any role for God. Students are
not supposed to approach this philosophy with open-minded skepticism, but
to believe it on faith.
The reason the theory of evolution is so controversial is that it is the
main scientific prop for scientific naturalism. Students first learn that
"evolution is a fact", and then they gradually learn more and more about
what that "fact" means. It means that all living things are the product of
mindless material forces such as chemical laws, natural selection, and
random variation. So God is totally out of the picture, and humans (like
everything else) are the accidental product of a purposeless universe. Do
you wonder why a lot of people suspect that these claims go far beyond the
available evidence?

All the most prominent Darwinists proclaim naturalistic philosophy when
they think it safe to do so. Carl Sagan had nothing but contempt for those
who deny that humans and all other species "arose by blind physical and
chemical forces over eons from slime." Richard Dawkins exults that Darwin
"made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist," and Richard
Lewontin has written that scientists must stick to philosophical
materialism regardless of the evidence, because "we cannot allow a Divine
Foot in the door." Stephen Jay Gould condescendingly offers to allow
religious people to express their subjective opinions about morals,
provided they don't interfere with the authority of scientists to determine
the "facts" -one of the facts being that God is merely a comforting myth.

There are a lot of potential dissenters. Sagan deplored the fact that "only
nine percent of Americans accept the central finding of biology that human
beings (and all the other species) have slowly evolved from more ancient
beings with no divine intervention along the way." To keep the other 91%
quiet, organizations like the National Academy of Sciences periodically
issue statements about public school teaching which contain vague
reassurances that "religion and science are separate realms," or that
evolutionary science is consistent with unspecified "religious beliefs."

What these statements mean is that the realms are separate because science
discovers facts and religion indulges fantasy. The acceptable religious
beliefs they have in mind are of the naturalistic kind that do not include
a supernatural creator who might interfere with evolution or try to direct
it. A great many of the people who do believe in such a creator have
figured this out, and in consequence the reassurances merely insult their

So one reason the science educators panic at the first sign of public
rebellion is that they fear exposure of the implicit religious content in
what they are teaching. An even more compelling reason for keeping the lid
on public discussion is that the official neo-Darwinian theory is having
serious trouble with the evidence. This is covered over with the vague
claim that all scientists agree that "evolution has occurred." Since the
Darwinists sometimes define evolution merely as "change," and lump minor
variation with the whole creation story as "evolution," a few trivial
examples like dog-breeding or fruit fly variation allow them to claim proof
for the whole system. The really important claim of the theory-that the
Darwinian mechanism does away with the need to presuppose a creator-is
protected by a semantic defense-in-depth.

Here's just one example of how real science is replaced by flim-flam. The
standard textbook example of natural selection involves a species of
finches in the Galapagos, whose beaks have been measured over many years.
In 1997 a drought killed most of the finches, and the survivors had beaks
slightly larger than before. The probable explanation was that
larger-beaked birds had an advantage in eating the last tough seeds that
remained. A few years later there was a flood, and after that the beak size
went back to normal. Nothing new had appeared, and there was no directional
change of any kind. Nonetheless, that is the most impressive example of
natural selection at work that the Darwinists have been able to find after
nearly a century and a half of searching.

To make the story look better, the National Academy of Sciences removed
some facts in its 1998 booklet on "Teaching About Evolution and the Nature
of Science." This version omits the flood year return-to-normal and
encourages teachers to speculate that a "new species of finch" might arise
in 200 years if the initial trend towards increased beak size continued
indefinitely. When our leading scientists have to resort to the sort of
distortion that would land a stock promoter in jail, you know they are in

If the Academy meant to teach scientific investigation, rather than to
inculcate a belief system, it would encourage students to think about why,
if natural selection has been continuously active in creating, the observed
examples involve very limited back-and-forth variation that doesn't seem to
be going anywhere. But skepticism of that kind might spread and threaten
the whole system of naturalistic belief. Why is the fossil record overall
so difficult to reconcile with the steady process of gradual transformation
predicted by the neo-Darwinian theory? How would the theory fare if we did
not assume at the start that nature had to do its own creating, so a
naturalistic creation mechanism simply has to exist regardless of the
evidence? These are the kinds of questions the Darwinists don't want to
encourage students to ask.

This doesn't mean that students in Kansas or elsewhere shouldn't be taught
about evolution. In context, the Kansas action was a protest against
enshrining a particular worldview as a scientific fact and against making
"evolution" an exception to the usual American tradition that the people
have a right to disagree with the experts. Take evolution away from the
worldview promoters and return it to the real scientific investigators, and
a chronic social conflict will become an exciting intellectual adventure.


Mr. Johnson is professor of law at the Universityof California, Berkeley,
and the author of "Darwin on Trial" (Intervarsity Press 1993)

Bill Hamilton
William E. Hamilton, Jr., Ph.D.
Staff Research Engineer
Electrical and Controls Integration MC 480-106-390
GM R&D Center
30500 Mound Road
Warren, MI / (home)