Double-Dealing in Darwin

Are intellectuals allowing dogma in science but not in religion?

BY: Michael Ruse


A "cowardly flabbiness of the intellect afflicts otherwise rational people" when it comes to confronting the faults of religion. Thus noted Richard Dawkins, the Oxford University zoologist and passionate advocate of evolutionary theory, berating the rest of us for failing to realize that not only can one be an "intellectually fulfilled atheist," but that the "universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." Dawkins has spoken of a conversion experience when he realized the power of Darwinism. His conversion experience, his total devotion to Darwinism, his insistence that evolution answers all questions and other views of creation answer none, sounds an awful lot like ... a religion.

Such is certainly the suspicion of the noted paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University, who has labeled Dawkins and certain other current evolutionists "Darwinian Fundamentalists," likening the fanaticism of their cause to the Biblical literalists who opposed the teaching of evolution and who precipitated the Scopes' "monkey trial" in 1925. Of course, Gould has his own axes to grind, from his own Darwin-amending theory of "punctuated equilibria" -- evolution by leaps and bounds -- to his notion that science and religion occupy different domains and thus logically cannot come into conflict. But perhaps, for all that, he has a point.

The history of evolutionary thought shows that it has long been more than just a scientific hypothesis. For Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's grandfather, it was an upward march through the animal kingdom, leading to humankind: a progressive vision, endorsing and justifying the British success in the Industrial Revolution, and rivaling the then-prevalent Christian Providentialism. Far from needing God's grace, Erasmus Darwin believed, the forward arrow of evolution proved that humans can go it alone. It wasn't just that natural selection theory had to be proven; theology had to be disproven, too.

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