AS REPORTED in a previous FrontPage article, accumulating new developments in biology are undermining the certitude of the theory of evolution on purely scientific grounds. Those readers who are committed, as a matter of religious faith, to Biblical literalism, will need no explanation why this is important. Those who are not should be reminded that the leading political ideologies of the 20th Century have all claimed to be the correct application of evolution to politics. The evolutionist basis of Nazi master-race theory is obvious. Less well-known is the fact that Marx saw his theory as Darwinian and dedicated Das Kapital to Darwin. Laissez-faire capitalism, in its most intellectually honest form, we knew in this country as Social Darwinism, as exemplified by thinkers like William Graham Sumner. Progressive liberalism in turn believed in, naturally, progress, or the continued upward evolution of society. Conservatism is the only major modern Western ideology that is not evolutionist.
Since evolution’s difficulties basically consist in a worse-and-worse fit between accumulating biological facts and evolutionary theory, not in an outright refutation, it would be a mistake to claim that evolution has been refuted, let alone that Biblical creationism is true. In fact, insofar as present facts don’t square with evolution, the kind of creationism they would square with is very different from the biblical variety. This is not the place to go into this rather speculative theory, but the vast gaps in the fossil record seem to imply, if we just take the fossils literally as they appear, a whole series of "creations" of different types of organisms scattered over hundreds of millions of years. Arguments from faith only logically follow for people who accept the premises implied by that faith. People of this kind already reject evolution, so their opinions are not at stake in this controversy.
Evolution has been used for nearly 150 years as a club with which to attack traditional values and promote dubious political ideas. On strict philosophical grounds, it may be questioned whether this logically follows from evolution, but still it has happened. But if the root idea collapses, a large amount of this mischief loses credibility. Therefore it is of great value to us to define our position as evolution is unproven, and we should demand that it be treated as such in school curricula and other places where it comes up. Some may consider this position too moderate, but in terms of intellectual tactics it has decisive advantages, not to mention being the strongest position that is warranted by the facts.
For a start, it puts the other side on the defensive by forcing them to defend their dogma without erecting a counter-dogma of our own to defend. If we did erect one, we would have just as much defending to do as they would, which would tend to imply an even intellectual contest, which they would tend to win since their position is the status quo. If, on the other hand, we confine our position to claiming that their dogma is unproven, they have to defend something and we don't. They will complain that we have attacked their theory without providing an alternative, but this won’t hurt our case since it will reveal how much their theory depends on no stronger argument than the lack of an alternative, which strictly speaking proves nothing. The key insight here is that those whose hearts are set on creationism – which I would argue is equally unproven – must discipline themselves to not even mention it. They must trust in the fact that anything that weakens the credibility of evolution helps their cause. In fact, mentioning creationism weakens the argument because it enables the other side to claim that objections to evolution are unscientific and founded on religious belief only.
Saying that evolution is unproven, as opposed to simply false, has the advantage of being both a lesser and a negative claim. People will not fail to draw the implication, but we should not assert it, because we don’t have an outright refutation and they can show this. To successfully convince the public that evolution is unproven would be a major intellectual coup in any case. Its first key effect would be to restore the intellectual legitimacy (not the same thing as truth) of creationism as a hypothesis, i.e. as an unproven reasonable conjecture which there are good reasons to believe and even better reasons to research. Michael Denton, author of one of the books reviewed in the previous article, reminds us how before Darwin most of the greatest scientific minds believed in God and saw science as supporting revealed religion, so we should not consider this possibility any stranger than, say, Newton or Galileo would have. The key point to win is that people who argue for or research creationism are not scientifically stupid or mad, even if they can’t claim to possess proof. Legitimacy is as important an issue here as truth.
Establishing the questionable status of evolution in the public mind would harm the credibility of the secular humanist establishment that has used it as an intellectual weapon. The public would realize that it has been lied to for years. Evolutionists would love to ignore the question as unworthy of debate, but if it starts to catch on with the public, they will have to address it, and once they are forced into debate, they lose, because it is the nature of debates to imply to the public that the question is "debatable," which is precisely what we are trying to establish. This collapse in credibility is something the opposition is desperately afraid of and is one of the reasons why they are fighting so desperately on this issue. Another consequence of the collapse in the credibility of evolution would be a restoration of the cultural self-confidence of the kind of people who have refused to believe in it. There is a vast intimidation effect operating in our society against people whose cultural world view does not derive from the views of the approved secular priesthood of our culture. And because evolution is one of the key linch-pins that connects actual science with the mere ideology of secular humanism, it would help bring about a divorce between these two, ending the piggyback ride secular humanism has had in which it has been able to claim that it logically follows from acceptance of science itself and derive prestige from this connection.
There is an intrinsic difficulty in debating evolution in that biology is a highly technical discipline in which the arguments of laymen can be attacked simply for the layman's lack of expertise. But we cannot as a society turn this question entirely over to the scientists. Scientists are not reliable judges here because they have an intrinsic bias in that they are committed, by the very fact of their choice of profession, to defending the prestige and cultural standing of science. If evolution is the final word on the origin of life, science, and in particular biology, has a higher claim on our respect as human beings than if it is not. So do scientists and biologists. Therefore they have an incentive to exploit public ignorance to push a dubious theory whether it is true or not.
One also gets the sense, when debating this question with scientific types, that they feel that more is at stake. A lot of them seem to feel that science depends upon the a priori conviction that there are no metaphysical causes and that attacking evolution, because it raises the possibility of creation by a metaphysical being, i.e. God, opens the door for an uncontrollable flood of metaphysical nonsense as explanations for scientific phenomena. If logic allows Judeo-Christian biology, why not New Age chemistry? Why not Taoist quantum mechanics (as has been tried in books like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters)? They seem to feel that science will crumble if the door is not kept rigorously shut against all but purely physical explanations of phenomena. The problem with this view is that it is not really a defense of science, but of a particular and dubious version of the philosophy of science. Science, which claims to be empirical, cannot show a single experiment that proves that there is no metaphysical causation. I cannot even imagine what such an experiment would look like, and I challenge anyone who disagrees to tell me what empirical observation could prove otherwise. Naturally, the point is not entirely worthless, and promiscuous use of metaphysical explanations would clearly turn science into intellectual mush. It is fair enough to make the lesser claim that anything metaphysical isn’t science, but one cannot then go on and claim that all knowledge must be scientific. How could one prove that, particularly since a proof that science is everything cannot itself be scientific without begging the question? Repeat: an a priori ban on metaphysical causation isn't science, it's a philosophical dogma. There are interesting philosophical arguments for and against it, but we're talking philosophy here, not science, and these arguments will have to stand on their own and cannot draw upon the vast credibility that science (rightly) enjoys with us as proof.
I can think of no better demonstration of the fact that philosophy matters to what we would like to achieve in this culture, or of the importance of formulating a carefully worked-out position and sticking to it with discipline. If nothing else, we have the opportunity to force the other side to allocate scarce resources to defending something they have no choice but to defend and which costs us little to attack. The more of their belief system is "in play," the less time and energy they have for extending it to control things they do not now possess. This is not a fight we have to win to derive benefit from.
Note: Since evolution is a highly technical question, in the long run its opponents will not be able to dispute it without scientific credentials the equal of its proponents. It is crystal clear that those who care about this issue should fund a scholarship program for skeptics of evolution to get PhD's in biology, evolutionary biology and paleontology. They might also try to get Denton’s book, or one like it, into their local high school’s biology syllabus.