Many will argue with the conclusion of my title, but there are so many examples of outright intellectual vacuity from people who anoint themselves with the title “conservative” that it is fast becoming a synonym for “ignoramus”. We’ve lately been laughing ourselves silly at the absurdity called Conservapædia, but here’s another flabby, nutritionally empty scrap of junk food to chew over: a site called The Intellectual Conservative. In particular, I call your attention to yet another right wing rejection of a valid, well-established science by someone completely oblivious to either the principles or the evidence, in an article asking whether biology has a “Rational Evolutionary Hypothesis?” The author doesn’t seem to know anything at all about biology, but he has heard two names — Darwin and Dawkins — and no, sir, he doesn’t like ’em. He dislikes ’em so much that he’s willing to lie about them.
In Darwin’s evolutionary hypothesis, and in the many variants since 1859, the fundamental thrust, indeed the starting point for Darwin himself, was to disprove what he called the “damnable doctrine” of God as the Creator of the cosmos and of life on earth. All events, for the evolutionists, are attributable to material causes, without the intervention of a Creator existing before and outside the universe.
Wow. That paragraph is so wrong it’s hard to know where to start. However, let’s be clear on one thing: no evolutionary research has as its fundamental thrust, or even as a subsidiary incentive, the idea of disproving any gods. That whole concept is irrelevant to science. That goes for Darwin’s initial work, for the work involved in the neo-Darwinian synthesis, or for work in modern molecular biology, genetics, ecology, development, etc. The author, Thomas Brewton, is just making stuff up.
For a concrete example, let’s take a look at Darwin, one of only two evolutionary biologists this fellow has ever heard of. He quotes Darwin as calling the notion of a creator god a “damnable doctrine”—but did he really? The quote came from Darwin’s autobiography, which is available online, so it’s very easy to check. What was the “damnable doctrine”?
But I was very unwilling to give up my belief [in Christianity];—I feel
sure of this for I can well remember often and often inventing
day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans and manuscripts
being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere which confirmed in the most
striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it
more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince
me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last
complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never
since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct.
I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be
true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the
men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and
almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.
And this is a damnable doctrine.
Although I did not think much about the existence of a
personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here
give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old
argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed
to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has
been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the
beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an
intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be
no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action
of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.
Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.
So…quite contrary to Brewton, Darwin did not set out to disprove Christianity; he had doubts, but he was day-dreaming of the discovery of evidence confirming the New Testament. The damnable doctrine was not the idea of a creator god at all, but the notion of hell and damnation for people he loved.
His studies did lead to increasing doubt about a designer, and he’s clearly backing away from any idea of a deity that intervenes in the course of life’s history. Does he reject the idea of “God as the Creator of the cosmos and of life on earth” as a starting point in his work? No. Does he come to that conclusion even at the end of his life? No.
Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.
This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt–can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.
Alas, even a mind as great as Darwin’s is susceptible to the argument from incredulity, but at least he was sensible enough to recognized that the argument was flawed and weak.
The key point here, though, is that Brewton was wrong, and completely misrepresented Darwin’s views while maliciously quoting him out of context and applying his words to a completely different idea. Or perhaps more likely, he never even read the source he was claiming to be quoting. Intellectual conservative? More like intellectual fraud.
The rest of Brewton’s article is similarly bereft of any kind of scholarly foundation. He has read only Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker and its summary of theories of abiogenesis, and from that alone concludes that there is no evidence for a natural origin of life.
For evolution to stand on its own two feet, Darwinians must be able to explain how life was created by purely material factors. This they singularly fail to do. And without a materialistic beginning of life, there can be no purely materialistic, Darwinian evolution of life forms.
Darwinians therefore gloss over the origin of life and focus instead on the hypothetical mechanism of natural selection, through billions of tiny, random modifications over eons, which might plausibly have differentiated a single, original elemental life form into all known life forms of today. To date there have been only unsuccessful attempts in chemistry labs to create life from inorganic chemicals. Every theory attempting to explain the origin of life has collided with contradictory facts in chemistry and geology.
Complete nonsense. No, no one has created a life form in the lab (but we will, and when we do, you just know these cretins are going to say, “See? It required an intelligent designer!”), but none of the scientific explanations are fact-free speculations. The only source of “contradictory facts” is religion, which postulates all kinds of bizarre guesses about how life originated that typically do not accommodate themselves at all well to the actual data.
One essential observation that has been reiterated and reinforced and is currently unassailable is a simple one: life is chemistry. Dig into the cell, and there’s nothing mystical there at all—it’s all material processes, natural mechanisms, and quantifiable chemistry. There are no Jebons, no vitalistic essences, no individual component that can’t be recreated in a test tube. To suggest that life cannot arise from mere chemistry is nonsensical, because life isn’t anything but chemistry and physics.
For another, Dawkins book is not a detailed summary of the scientific evidence for abiogenesis, which, contrary to Brewton’s assertions, is not nonexistent. For a popular treatment of the subject, I recommend Robert Hazen’s Gen•e•sis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which
I previously reviewed. There is quite a bit of observational evidence of chemical traces in ancient rocks, and there is also ongoing experimental work on the steps in the pathways, all of which Brewton misses. There isn’t yet a definitive answer, but progress is being made; by hinging his argument for a godly intervention on the creation of life, Brewton is placing his god in a shrinking chink in our knowledge, another lovely example of the self-defeating nature of the god-of-the-gaps argument.
Brewton is also clearly spitting mad about Dawkins characterization of his peers, as he repeats this infamous quote at the beginning.
Richard Dawkins is one of today’s most widely known defenders of Darwinian evolution. Professor Dawkins goes beyond defending evolution, using extravagant language to attack the personal qualifications of anyone who questions Darwinian evolution. Of such people, he opined, "It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)."
When creationists repeat that quote and then go on to babble incompetently about scientific matters, I really wonder if they are ever concerned that what they seem to be doing is confirming the validity of his claim. Thomas Brewton is probably not insane, he may not be stupid (although the possibility is still viable), but he is definitely ignorant. Like Dawkins, I’d rather not consider him wicked, but if he actually read Darwin’s autobiography and then mangled it so thoroughly, wickedness or stupidity really are the only two choices.