Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

God Is Not Dead

A Review of Cornelius Hunter’s trilogy.

by Terry Scambray

The Chesterton Review

Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Brazos Press, 2001, 189 pp.)
Darwin’s Proof: The Triumph of Religion over Science (Brazos Press, 2003, 168 pp.)
Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism (Brazos Press, 2007, 170 pp.)

According to Cornelius Hunter, theists, not atheists, are responsible for the death of God. Theists did this because God was getting such a bad rap for all the cruelty and imperfections in the world. In other words, in order to save God, theists had to destroy Him or, at the least, change His appearance and M.O enough so that no one would recognize Him which is like being dead anyway.

Assuming all this, imagine God asking in Henny Youngman’s voice, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?”

This is the question that Hunter takes up and in doing so he shows how religious ideas have profoundly influenced science and especially Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In Darwin’s Proof, Hunter, whose Ph.D. is in biophysics, recalls that the 19th-century, Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge did not know what to make of Darwin who “did everything he could to steer his theory away from God, yet he referred to God repeatedly in his arguments for evolution. What sort of God did Darwin have in mind?” (82)

Hodge had put his finger on something that is so obvious that everyone seems to miss it. Darwin, like his followers for the last 150 years, invariably argued that God can’t possibly be responsible for such an evil and flawed creation. Darwin wrote : “There seems to me too muchmiseryin the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent an omnipotent God would have designedly created the [parasitic wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars or that the cat should play with mice.”  (12Darwin’s God)

Almost as upsetting to Darwin were “the mistakes and imperfect designs” in nature: creatures like the water ouzel, a bird, that spends much of its time underwater, and woodpeckers living where there are no trees; land animals with webbed feet and marine animals with non-webbed feet. And he noted the now famous, Galapagos finches which were enough alike to be related but different enough to make him skeptical that each species was separately created.

But what branch of science is devoted to second guessing God’s plan for the water ouzel? Or playing Monday morning quarterback in the apparently lopsided contest between cats and mice?

No branch of science, of course, is devoted to answering such questions. Yet evolutionists, including those prior to Darwin as well as those writing today, promote evolution because it assumes that an omniscient God would not have created such a maladapted and downright uncivilized world.

For Stephen Jay Gould evolution is true because many organisms look jerry rigged and oddly arranged in a way that “a sensible God” would never have done, but that a natural process would produce. (48 Darwin’s God)  Darwinist Francisco Ayala argues that natural selection accounts “for the dysfunctions, oddities, cruelties, and sadism that pervade the world of life. Attributing these to . . . the Creator amounts to blasphemy.” (quoted on p. 160 Darwin’s God) Kenneth Miller, the Brown University cell biologist and prominent Darwinist, says that God would not want to take credit for the mosquito; or take credit for pseudo genes which Miller believes are nonfunctional and reveal a designer who “made serious errors, wasting millions of bases of DNA on a blueprint full of junk and scribbles. Evolution, in contrast, can easily explain them as nothing more than failed experiments in a random process.” (47 Darwin’s God) Physicist Howard Van Till says that separate creations of various species are “theologically awkward.” Priest and physicist, John Polkinghorne, sees the world as “a top down” affair where God is undetectable, all the while giving “the gift of Love [which] must be the gift of freedom, the gift of a degree of letting-be.” (20 Science’s Blind Spot) For Polkinghorne, this open creation also explains how evil is able to enter the world.

This list of creation complainers could go on, but then I might open myself to the charge of being a fault finder.

Regardless, as Hunter puts it, “. . . evolutionists who have rigorously attempted to prove their theory have routinely resorted to nonscientific claims.”  (112Darwin’s God)

Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, an evolutionism support group, offers a worthy distinction: “Science answers the how questions; religion answers the why questions.” She is apparently going to have to do some science educating of her colleagues because the Darwinists invariably permit “Why questions” to creep into their discussions of science. And Professor Gould, himself, established the gold standard against which all discussions in science should be measured. He called it the non-overlapping magisteria, the famous NOMA principle for intellectual discourse, according to which science and religion are equal, though separated by a thick wall. Like other separate but equal doctrines, this one, apparently, is more honored in the breach than in the observance.

However, science, from its beginnings in 13th-century Europe was based on the theological, metaphysical assumption that the universe is rational and coherent because it was created by a rational God. The source of this conviction, according to Alfred North Whitehead, was “the medieval insistence on the rationality of God . . . [wherein] Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality.” And certainly almost all of the greatest scientists who ever lived, including Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Harvey, had their science influenced by this assumption.

So contrary to stated doctrine, Darwin’s speculations were firmly within the tradition of mixing theological and metaphysical assumptions with science.

As Hunter trenchantly puts it: “Darwin did not liberate biology from metaphysical thought as is sometimes claimed — he merely switched the metaphysics.” [Italics added] (49 Darwin’s God)

In doing this, Darwin ostensibly made the earlier metaphysical arguments regarding a harmonious universe obsolete, turning them into relics from a non-scientific past. But, contrary to popular perception, he did not accomplish this by marshalling powerful evidence for his theory. As Hunter writes in Darwin’s God: “Evolutionists use negative theological arguments that give evolution its force. Creation doesn’t seem very divine so evolution must be true. Evolution is a solution to the age old problem of evil.” (14) Evolution is a theodicy albeit with a scientific patina.

In Darwin’s Proof, Hunter reaches back to Anselm in the 9th century to find the source of this second guessing of the Almighty. Anselm argued that God is “that than which no greater can be conceived.” Despite Anselm’s awkward syntax and the ways in which this argument has been discredited, it still has relevance, says Hunter. That is, when we try to imagine an entity greater than God, “a greater god” who would have made a perfect world, then we resemble the ancient Gnostics, the utopians of their day, seeking an impossible other worldly perfection in the here and now.

However, despite the fact that evolutionary theory rests on theological presuppositions, it could, after all, be true. As Hunter writes, “There is, to be sure, plenty of evidence supporting evolution, but there is plenty of evidence for all sorts of discarded theories.  In fact, one can formulate arguments against evolution, often using the same evidence, that are more persuasive than the supporting arguments” (10 Darwin’s God)

Take dog breeding which is an artificial method of selecting desirable traits in an organism as opposed to natural selection which is nature’s way of doing it. Darwin was fascinated by dog breeders who, starting with a few basic types, are able to develop a great variety of dogs. Darwin saw this selection process as analogous to what might have happened over long periods of time in nature to produce the many from the few.

But the dog breeding example can be used to come to a very opposite conclusion. For the modifications that animal breeders and also horticulturalists invite in animals and plants show that change has limits.  An organism can adapt only so far and then it dies. This is why many varieties of plants and animals become extinct.

The famous Galapagos finches whose average beak size changed due to changes in its environment are a much cited example of the power of natural selection. But not only were the changes in beak size microscopic, but the average beak size returned to normal when the food supply returned to normal and foraging was easy for even finches with smaller beaks. So natural selection is not a progressive force; it is a conserving force which occasioned a minor modification, thus permitting the finches to survive intact.

No evidence exists to show that natural selection could ever add any new genetic information which is required to change a finch, even over long periods of time, into a blue jay, let alone into a different type of animal. So when Darwin saw breeding as a useful analogy for major evolutionary transformations, one could be generous and say that he was using poetic license, permitting his hopes or his imagination to soar way beyond the evidence. Being less generous, one could say that he didn’t know better or ignored the evidence.

The fossil record though regularly pointed to as evidence for evolution is, in fact, evidence for the opposite view. For among the fossils, plants and animals are displayed just as they presently exist, in the regular taxonomic categories. Of course, thousands of types of organisms that appear in the fossils have become extinct, but even those organisms can be placed within the existing biological taxonomies. Aristotle saw that life was categorical as did the observers in Darwin’s time. Charles Lyell, the founder of modern geology, as well as Thomas Huxley knew the fossil record showed stasis, no change, altered only by the abrupt appearance of new types of plants and animals. For this reason, Huxley warned Darwin to down play the fossil record when presenting his theory, a theory that both of them had a large emotional investment in.

Since Darwin had used “negative theology to argue that there was no divine hand in nature,” he could not afford to admit that the fossil record contradicted his thesis. (70 Darwin’s God) Backed up by Lyell’s uniformitarianism which had triumphed over the catastrophists, Darwin did not want to give back this important ground needed to support his theory. If he admitted too much, he might give some room for God to sneak back into the picture as the creator of those abrupt newcomers in the fossil record.

But he had to admit the obvious: the fossil record contradicted his idea of gradual change. So he quickly offset this admission by confidently predicting that later fossil finds would rescue his theory.

That, of course, did not happen. Fossil finds of the last 140 years have merely replicated the fossil discoveries in Darwin’s time. However, by the 1970’s, when evolution was safely distanced from Darwin’s negative theological arguments, and evolutionary theory had gained enough esteem so as to be synonymous with science itself, then the Darwinists finally had to admit their “trade secret” as Gould called it. Then he and Niles Eldridge rationalized the situation by arguing that evolutionary change occurred in small isolated groups of animals and plants, so small and so isolated that no fossils exist to record this rapid evolutionary change. This explanation goes by the oxymoronic mouthful, “punctuated equilibrium.” That is, rapid, abrupt change occurs amidst an ocean of tranquil stability.

As Hunter shows, the original misrepresentation of the fossil record persisted long enough for the theory to get up a good head of steam, after which the dirty laundry was permitted to be publicly aired. Even at that, the skepticism among the paleontologists had to be hidden behind the rubric of a confusing euphemism.

The so-called “vestigial organs’ are also seen as strong evidence for evolution. But as Hunter points out, “The very use of the term begs the question, for vestigial structures serve as evidence for evolution only if they are indeed vestigial.” (33 Darwin’s God) Regardless, it did appear as if this argument used by Darwin was going to be verified; for, “In 1895 Robert Wiedersheim published a list of eighty-six organs in the human body that he supposed to be vestigial.” (44 Darwin’s Proof) The pineal gland, the thyroid and the thymus glands, the appendix, the coccyx, all of these and others were classified as mere vestiges from our former selves. “But in 1981, zoologist, S.R. Scadding analyzed Wiedersheim’s claims and had difficulty finding a single listed organ that was not functional. He concluded that the so-called vestigial organs provide no evidence for evolutionary theory.” (44 Darwin’s Proof)

The findings in genetics in the last 60 years are also rumored to have provided, indeed, salted away the case for Darwin by providing evidence “that species do not resist genetic change.” But the findings, once again, are quite the opposite of this prediction. “Rather than species exhibiting fluidity, they seem to resist change and exhibit stasis (as is observed in the fossil record). Geneticist I.M. Lerner coined the term genetic homeostasis to describe this general finding . . .” (78 Science’s Blind Spot)

However fatal this limitation is for evolution, evolutionists merely see it as something that is not yet understood and, thus, a worthy research problem which will yield, in time, the mechanism that causes the purported evolutionary change.

So if one believes in evolution in the first place, then the various difficulties can be worked around with exquisite rationales like punctuated equilibrium or the promise of new discoveries. Otherwise the fossils, animal breeding, vestigial organs, and the limits imposed by genetics can more readily be used to discredit the theory.

“All of this leads to the curious combination of metaphysical certainty and scientific ambiguity in the historical sciences,” as Hunter succinctly writes. (61Science’s Blind Spot) “Evolution is a fact”, we are relentless told, yet the theory leaks like a sieve. Pointing this fact out will only gain one the appellation, “creationist,” replete with all of its built-in pejoratives.

Such labeling is regrettable though, in a way, understandable given that Darwinists see themselves in relentless combat with a rigid orthodoxy. And this makes it difficult for them to make any concessions. How can they? — when they invariably insist that evil and imperfection are incompatible with a Divine Superintendent  — all the while intoning against “mixing science and religion.”

But, Hunter’s well documented trilogy demonstrates that it is the Darwinists who are deeply mired in religious doctrine, the doctrine of a non-interfering God.

Many factors, of course, have caused such a limiting idea to take hold, but for sure the discrediting of Christianity and specifically the Biblical doctrine of original sin inflated and distorted human perceptions.

Along with this, a new world was being dramatically opened up by the telescope and the microscope, a grainier and more disturbing world full of endless suffering and of distant peoples and even of distant universes, all of which were difficult to fit into a picture of a God who tends the lilies of the field and knows the trajectory of every sparrow.

Considering all this, it would be better that a benevolent and good God be distanced from such debasement. As Hunter writes: “Historians well know that the justification of the seventeenth century’s naturalism involved non-scientific — theological — assumptions. What is not always appreciated, however, is just how crucial these theological assumptions were in the move to naturalism.” (20 Science’s Blind Spot)

Not only are these beginnings of naturalism not understood, but Deism, the distancing God from the world, was not worked out by religious skeptics; it was done by theists who thought that an absentee God would be even more worthy of respect.

But an even richer irony is that the Darwinists, who label any criticism of evolution as ‘religious’, have, from the beginning, based their own arguments on what Hunter refers to as “theological naturalism.”

Hunter documents this claim by first recounting the 17th-century disagreement between Isaac Newton and an influential Anglican cleric and science writer, Thomas Burnet. Newton, of course, had discovered the elegant laws of motion that keep the planets swirling in their orbits, but he also “believed that these laws had their limits. Not only could they not construct the system in the first place” but irregularities would occur that required divine intervention. (21Science’s Blind Spot) Thus, Newton was no Deist. Indeed, as one incisive commentator puts it, “Newton himself did not hold what came to be called the Newtonian worldview.” In contrast, Burnet, who corresponded with Newton and was widely admired, wrote, “We think him a better Artist who makes the clock that strikes regularly at every hour .  .  . than he that hath so made his Clock that he must put his finger to it every hour to make it strike.” (20-21Science’s Blind Spot) In other words, God should not be reduced to playing the role of a 24/7 celestial handyman for His own bungled creation.

Much the same critique was offered by Leibniz, and also Kant who wrote that it is appropriate to the wisdom of God that the cosmic structures “develop themselves in an unforced succession out of the universal laws.” (22 Science’s Blind Spot)

Even William Paley, famous for his clear expression of the design argument, expressed admiration for a God who could not only create objects that had a watch-like precision, but Who also could make them so that they would work on their own and even replicate themselves. Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who unlike Paley was a religious skeptic, reflected a pervasive belief of the time when he wrote : “The world itself might have been generated, rather than created.  .  .What a magnificent idea of the great architect ! The Cause of Causes ! ” (22 Science’s Blind Spot)

This religious sentiment gained popularity across the board, dovetailing with Charles Lyell’s immensely influential concept of “uniformitarianism” which was thought to be more conducive “to a properly worshipful attitude” than instantaneous creation would be. It was better if nature were seamless and did everything on its own.

As the influence of the Bible declined under the attacks of the Higher Criticism, nature and reason alone came to be prized as sources for religious belief. Belief, thus, was seen as a logical conclusion to be drawn from the facts of nature which were available to everyone even those who, by no fault of their own, had not heard of the Bible. The title of Matthew Tindal’s 1730 book,Christianity as Old as the Creation, makes the point.

Closer in time to Darwin and of immediate influence on him was the pristine world view of the Victorians. But this view withered when contrasted to the world revealed to Darwin on his five-year trip to South America. There he witnessed the horrors of slavery and the brutal life of aboriginal peoples, as well as the abundance of bizarre and inexplicable plant and animal life.

Then Darwin read Thomas Malthus, the Anglican parson and political economist, who contended that nature wills the death of millions of people because the population will always increase faster than the food supply. Malthus’ idea became grimly popular and Darwin saw it as another example of nature’s indifference.

Certainly atheists like Steven Weinberg and Richard Dawkins see naturalism as merely the way things are. But, as Hunter reminds us, in his latest book, “the atheists are a sideshow; the mandate for naturalism in science arose from theism, not atheism.” (49 Science’s Blind Spot)

Other thinkers may find Hunter’s thesis an intriguing revelation; but, for various reasons, they hesitate to challenge the reigning paradigm.

The historian, for example, knows that naturalism is an historical episode; nonetheless, he is impressed by the inexorable march of technical progress in the last 400 years which parallels the rise of naturalism. What he may not know is that the impressive success of naturalism in the experimental sciences has not been duplicated in the historical sciences.

The theologian is afraid to change the status quo and permit religion back into the discourse. Sure, religion may temporarily get a boost by using God to explain the present unknowns, but when science comes up with better explanations to fill the gaps, “God will be crowded out.” (48 Science’s Blind Spot) The philosopher, for his part, understands what naturalism is. Thus he looks at the findings of science with skepticism, knowing that even the most respected scientific theories may be unproveable and that science at times relies on useful fictions and constructs. But he will put up with the status quo because he fears religious activists who might corrupt science to serve their preconceived ideas.

But the evidence for a completely naturalistic explanation in biology as well as in cosmology is in tatters. Materialists like Francis Crick and Fred Hoyle while admitting that the universe is designed, nonetheless still insist that some combination of natural causes did the heavy lifting. Crick says that space aliens did it; Hoyle said that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, chemistry and biology to make the universe. Other cosmologists extend the possibilities by saying that an infinity of extinct universes, for which there is no evidence, had enough time through trial and error to naturally make our universe. Yes, the original multiverse concept was offered as an attempt to resolve problems caused by quantum theory. But has such speculation become a way for cosmologists to postpone infinitely, ever having to say that they are wrong? If one were sufficiently cynical, one could say that the intent of such airy speculation is to keep alternative views on the defensive. Regardless, no one from the naturalist camp appears ready to consider another possibility.

Even though, as Hunter reminds us, “naturalism is not a discovery of science — it is a presumption of science as currently practiced.” It “arose within the history of ideas and that, like any idea, it might have its limits.” (47 Science’s Blind Spot) Indeed, saying that naturalism is science is itself not scientific.

In the experimental sciences, when doing things like studying the ontogeny of a frog, naturalism can explain a great deal. But it is less useful as an explanation of human consciousness. Naturalism also is not up to the task of explaining certain phenomena in the historical sciences, an area which encompasses the study of origins. This is not to say that naturalism should be ruled out as an explanation in either of these areas; insisting on this would also be unscientific.

Hunter wisely sees that when naturalism is misapplied, science is hampered by a “blind spot” which prevents otherwise sensible people from seeing worthy alternatives.

For Hunter, “the evidence for design is overwhelming.” (147 Science’s Blind Spot) Michael Denton, a medical doctor, PhD molecular biologist and religious agnostic, is also a strong design advocate. In what is, perhaps, the singularly most important book of the last half century, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, he writes: “. . . the inference to design is a purely a posteriori induction based on a ruthlessly consistent application of the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, but it does not depend on religious presuppositions.” (341)

In Denton’s 1998 sequel, Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology reveal Purpose in the Universe,   he exhaustively shows how user friendly the universe is. He concludes this detailed but limpid book by writing:

Whether one rejects or accepts the design hypothesis, whether one thinks of the designer as the Greek world soul or the Hebrew God, there is no avoiding the conclusion that the world looks as if it has been uniquely tailored for life: it appears to have been designed. All reality appears to be a vast teleological whole with life and mankind as its purpose and goal . . . Four centuries after the scientific revolution apparently destroyed irretrievably man’s special place, banished Aristotle, and rendered teleological speculation obsolete, the relentless stream of discovery has turned dramatically in favor of teleology and design . . .  (387-389)

Denton and others like him should not be ruled out merely because their pronouncements stand outside “the relatively narrow band of naturalism,” as Hunter puts it. (144 Science’s Blind Spot) Accepting design as a possible explanation in the study of origins would redirect science away from the narrower path of naturalistic explanations and down a wider and more encompassing path toward truth.

Design advocates, for their part, are not unalterably opposed to naturalistic explanations when such explanations fit the evidence. Perhaps the evolutionist’s idea of common descent is true, though more evidence must be forthcoming to make the case.

The main obstacle to the acceptance of intelligent design is the same rationale the Darwinists use to support evolution: The world has too much evil and is poorly designed. But design does not presuppose perfection; only a certain view of a designer presupposes perfection, imagining “a greatergod” who could’ve or should’ve. And that gets us back into theology. As do discussions of evil which is difficult, if not impossible, to measure scientifically.

Besides, as with vestigial organs, science simply does not know or understand the differences between imperfect and perfect designs. For example, certain design features involve trade-offs. Thus it is not coincidental that many engineers are attracted to design theory. They would be among the first to understand that when designing a house, the designer can’t put the attic in the basement, nor place all the windows so as to take perfect advantage of the sun as it moves in different seasonal paths across the sky. Of course, one could argue that the Designer, being all powerful, should be able to adjust the sun’s movement to satisfy the desires of each of the residents of the home during various times of the day as well as allow the sun to perform its many other functions. The weaknesses of such an argument are obvious.

Regardless, a great variety of arguments do need to be hashed out. Surely Hunter’s trilogy is incisive and bold enough to encourage such a consilience to occur. Perhaps then people will recognize the differences between science and theology. Failing to do so, limits the responses that we are able to give to that most important question: Where did we come from?

©2011 Terry Scambray

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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