Americans love the middle ground. They love compromise. And they are very religious. That is why Brownback's slick attempt at sounding reasonable and moderate on this issue will be very appealing to many U.S. readers.
But don't you be fooled! Sam Brownback's "middle ground" is Creationism dressed in a professor's tweed and elbow patches.
Science and rational thought have had to fight against religion – and often die – to win every inch of their acceptance in the past 500 years.
More recently, however, mankind reached a tipping point: Discoveries came so fast, and the scientific method was so manifestly correct and useful, that religion was abruptly (perhaps irrevocably) pushed back on its heels. And there it has remained… until recently.
Nowadays, those religious fundamentalists of yore are trying to make a comeback. They're enrolling in real universities and getting scientific degrees in order to "prove" things like Noah's flood, and how dinosaur bones became fossilized over hundreds – not millions – of years. They're learning the scientific lingo, and how to spin a mythic tale like scientific possibility. Yet they always give themselves away: In one breath they will tell you they love science, and in the next, that there are certain truths they will never accept, the facts be damned. Evolution being chief among those unacceptable truths.
But real scientists can't do that. It would be absurd for a physicist to insist, for instance, "I will never accept string theory, because it is incompatible with two-dimensional quantum gravity as described by Einstein." A scientist who uttered such silliness would no longer be a scientist; he would be a dogmatist.
Science is about keeping an open mind, as long as some phenomenon has not been adequately explained. Modern fundamentalists seek to take advantage of science's suspension of judgment on unexplained questions by asserting, unscientifically, that what science hasn't yet explained, it can never explain.
But the past 500 years should show us the folly in such assertions. Every time we think we've reached the boundaries of scientific knowledge, somehow we push farther. And every time we do, religion claims the remaining, shrinking universe of Uncertainty as its sole domain and refuge. "What you don't yet know only proves what we believe! You cannot push farther!" religion has alternately taunted and warned us. Yet we can, we do, and we must push knowledge farther. 500 years from now, religion will probably still exist, but its jealous domain of Uncertainty will have surely dwindled to the size of a tiny island in the vast cosmos of human understanding.
Thank God for progress.
What I Think About Evolution
By Sam Brownback
May 31, 2007 | New York Times
IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not "believe" in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.
The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.
[Interaction? What interaction? There is no interaction whatsoever between [sic] science, faith, and reason. They are apples and oranges. That's the whole point! People like Brownback want to elevate modern religion by hitching it to science's rising star; and at the same time, weigh down science's progress by burdening it with the task of disproving unprovable religious "theories" taken from mythical tradition and the Bible. It is a trick. Don't be fooled! – J]
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.
People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.
The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. 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.
[But what if reason and observation lead us to the conclusion that mankind evolved from apes over millions of years, and that this process was indeed influenced largely by "accidents?" Would Brownback then not reject provable facts to preserve his faith?
In fact, religious "thinkers" like Brownback believe that reason and scientific observation can never prove "an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world." And their certainty in that belief is exactly why they can't be trusted to decide the question. Science is about keeping an open mind on unproven propositions. Brownback's mind is closed; for him, it is simply not possible for there to be a purely scientific (i.e. materialistic) explanation for existence. – J]
There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.
The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.
Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.
[Baloney. We would have no fundamental understanding of biology without the theory of evolution. Without Darwin, and the subsequent discovery of genes, we would only be able to classify and describe organisms, not explain how they came to be, or predict how they might further develop. Without evolution, biology would be little more than taxidermy and butterfly collecting. – J]
Biologists will have their debates about man's origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man's origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.
[Again, Brownback just doesn't get it. Science is not a "discussion" or a debate club. It is about observation, and provable facts (and often rubbing those facts in your doubters' smug scientific faces). Religion, by contrast, depends on invisible hocus pocus and unexplainable miracles. The two are fundamentally opposed; there can be no marriage between them. – J]
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.
While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man's origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.
[There he goes again, stating what beliefs he cannot be persuaded by the facts to abandon. He is illustrating quite clearly why there is no middle ground between science and faith. – J]
Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.