Re: [asa] Brownback on evolution

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Mon Jun 04 2007 - 13:24:22 EDT

> David Xia reports,
> "Dawkins, a British evolutionary scientist, wrote that the science of
> evolution disproves the existence of a god and the abolishment of religion
> will effectively do away with violence."
> So how is Brownback supposed to discount the entire set of Dawkinsonian
> thinkers?

For starters, anyone with any grasp of history from the French
Revolution to the present will recognize that the abolishment of
religion is more associated with violent regimes with no regard for
human rights than with a lack of violence. (Of course, plenty of
individual atheists reject violence, but so do plenty of religious
people). This in turn suggests that Dawkins, like the vast majority
of people, is not very authoritative when it comes to topics outside
his primary expertise. In fact, for my own field, having an advanced
degree in biology/geology (I have degrees in both) often accompanies a
very thorough ignorance about other areas of biology/geology, not to
mention other fields of knowledge. There's nothing wrong with that
unless someone like Dawkins or Sarfati or Johnson presumes authority
in some other field.

Likewise, Dawkins' statements on religion show little evidence of
having bothered to actually investigate the beliefs of Christianity,
much less evidence of an exhaustive survey of the variety of religious
views that exist. Thus, there's no reason to take his claims about
theology very seriously (except for the concern that so many people
are gullible enough to believe them). Even many atheists reject his
claims, not to mention religious people.

On the other hand, he's got enough background in evolutionary biology
to have a reasonable degree of credibility on that topic. (Of course,
individual PhD's may not actually be qualified or may misrepresent
what they know in their field, and people without formal training in a
field can develop a better grasp than officially trained experts. For
the present purposes I'm only asserting that most people with PhD's
are reasonably knowledgeable about the field in which they did their
research, or at least about the state it was in at the time they

It is thus rather strange that so many advocates of creation science,
ID, etc. represent Dawkins et al. as authoritative sources with regard
to purported theological implications of evolution while claiming his
views on the science of evolutionary biology are entirely bogus.

> And, one has to ask, if evolution =! accident, why do so many scientists
> claim it does?
> Or perhaps they don't really?

[I presume =! is my computer's attempt at "does not equal"]

Apart from reasons relating to philosophical and religious
incompetence, there are some valid reasons why such confusion exists.
There are "random" aspects to evolution (as well as strongly
non-random ones), but random has at least three meanings in this
context and also needs assessed in light of decent theology. One may
use "random" in a precise statistical sense, e.g., the probability of
a given mutation occurring or the outcome of casting lots. More
loosely, it means "humanly unpredictable", e.g., the long-term course
of evolution, the long-term weather, the course of human history. It
is also used in a philosophical sense to mean purposeless, unaimed,
etc., like "random violence" or the unaimed shot that killed Ahab.
All three sets of exaples include items explicitly identified in the
Bible as under God's control.

The first two definitions of "random" are potentially scientifically
measurable and are accurate descriptions of certain aspects of
evolution. The problem lies in claiming (or more often implicitly
assuming) that those entail the third sense of random. From a
Christian (and certain other religions) perspective, nothing is
ultimately in the category of purposeless-God is working out a plan in
all things. However, at other levels something can be considered
purposeless if we are clear about the restricted nature of our
consideration. Thus, Biblical monotheism rejects the premise that
forces of nature, etc. have their own goals and purposes. Thus, we
should be unsurprised that study of evolution as a biological
phenomenon fails to reveal goals, progress (in any absolute or moral
sense), etc. In fact, this invalidates the claims of Marxism, social
Darwinism, the Darwin awards, etc. to be scientific extensions of
evolution. This lack of inherent, scientifically detectable goals
does not tell us anything about whether God might be working towards a
goal through the process physically describable by evolution. History
is similarly lacking in clear direction (except through hindsight plus
faith), yet people seem to have little trouble in accepting it.

> Here's a shocking quote from Hefland (the atheist chair of Columbia's
> astronomy department):
> "I don't think science can prove anything," said Helfand who described
> science as only a method of describing the natural world through models and
> not a way of explaining why things are the way they are.

A couple of claims seem conflated here. Proof is elusive in science
because it is very difficult to demonstrate that all alternatives have
been excluded, except in relatively trivial cases. However, disproof
is possible.

Science is also largely unable to say why things are as they are as
opposed to some other way. "Why is the sky blue?" Because that
wavelength is effectively scattered." But "Why do the laws of physics
make that wavelength the one that is scattered?" is not answerable by

> Hefland actually seems to agree with what Lisa Randall writes at the end of
> her book "Warped Passages" where a colleague of hers (whose name I forget)
> tells her that "particles don't really exist, they are just an illusion.
> Whats really going on is something else" [paraphrased because I cannot find
> my copy]

Given the mathematical complexity of quantum mechanics, "particle",
etc. is an approximation.

> My question is what are the implications of all this for the naturalistic
> world-view?

Often it is poorly thought out and pooly justified (if thought out at
all). On the other hand, tangible evidence of miraculous intervention
in the course of evolution is not evident.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Mon Jun 4 13:24:35 2007

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