Science aspiring to religion

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The Article

The “Year of Darwin” continues, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, and 200th of the ineffable Charles himself. We have now survived three-quarters of it, and are feeling all the fitter for the experience.

The idea behind almost all of the public events has been to propagandize for atheism—to drive into the thick skulls of common folk that their religious beliefs are primitive, irrational and highly unfashionable; that the “cool kids” are all strict “scientific materialists.” The frustration of the Darwinists is understandable. Many of them are unhappy university professors, deep in the suspicion that the world is ignoring them. Their superior intellects are not properly acknowledged; their own students sometimes jest behind their backs.

Yet the importance of their enterprise is reflected in the number of polls that have been commissioned, showing that after decades, or rather, generations of Darwinist indoctrination, large sections of the public—not only in Red State America, but in Europe and everywhere—still don’t “get it.” They still think nature is full of teleological surprises; that man, all life and the universe itself are expressive of some mysterious purposeful order.

How can they be so stupid? How can they not see that all these things were created by Nothing?

Such polls give the whole game away: for they are tests not of what people know, but of what they believe. Behind them lies the idea that the purpose of education is to inculcate “correct” beliefs and opinions, as opposed to teaching the subject and letting the students come to their own conclusions.

Indeed, for Darwinist true believers, as for progressives generally, the worst setbacks come in the moments of greatest advance. For here they have, even in the new U.S. president, their ideal, fully evolved authority figure. The man is “frustrated university professor” writ large (Victor Davis Hanson wrote an amusing essay on “Barack Obama: College Administrator” this last week, worth a quick Internet search). Though he is not, technically, a biologist, but rather a politician, Obama’s constant hectoring against that grimly discerned Middle-American opposition, “clinging” to their guns and their Bibles, make him the perfect parody of the Darwinoid saint, Chaplinesque Übermensch, and Great Leader.

The moment when victory is declared is usually the moment in which the pendulum is turning, and all the eggs so assiduously counted are methodically broken as the bob swings back.

In the case of Darwin Year, as in progressive politics, that moment has now passed. If people still don’t “get” the message of Richard Dawkins—that “There is no God, and Darwin is his prophet”—they never will. The nature presented to their senses will continue to be implicit with purpose: with means and ends working forward, in a scandalously non-random manner.

As I’ve written before, more than once, I have no objection to Darwin himself, only to the use of him as atheist idol and patron. He did not ask for that role, and the more familiar with his writings that religious readers become, the less fear he can inspire. Indeed, this is why Darwin Year is counterproductive for the proselytizing atheists: for Darwin himself becomes exposed.

To which end, I should like to recommend the best, and most informative book to emerge from the extravaganza. It merits reading with complete attention, for it is also a fairly honest book, presenting Darwin in his historical context, and in the evolution of his own thinking, while drawing lines of connection, wherever they can be found, between the original insights and the best lab and field work of “neo-Darwinism” today.

The book is by James T. Costa, entitled The Annotated Origin (Harvard/Belknap). The first edition of Origin of Species is reprinted on wide pages with annotations down the outside columns. There are supplementary aids, including an excellent biographical directory of Darwin’s predecessors and contemporaries. No one seriously interested in Darwinian phenomena should dare not to buy this book.

What emerges from it is a very personal Darwin, who has had his “eureka!” in observing self-evident principles of microevolution, and is genuinely convinced they must apply also on the macroevolutionary scale. It is a Darwin charged with a vision of nature “rising” from lower to higher, from simpler to more complex, by some inevitable principle of progress, yet constantly slapping himself to realize that he must avoid teleological explanations. It is a Darwin frustrated, longing for faith and, to the end, a lovable but quite typical Victorian liberal. He becomes a creature in his own menage. This is, throughout, science aspiring to religion, but in the time immediately before it sutured itself with atheist smugness. It is science still alive to the possibility of major discovery; not the “settled science” of Darwinist orthodoxy with which our schoolchildren are pumped.

A dirty little heretical secret is almost out, within biology itself: that macroevolution works on different, and quite opposite principles from microevolution, and must do, or all species would be in constant flux and slur. And when that penny falls, we will again have the Darwinian excitement.

David Warren
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