For my bio class I've been investigating Darwinism and I promised to write something about my explorations. I present some preliminary conclusions here.
Now I need to warn you that my results are a bit unsatisfying to a compulsive contrarian like me. Yes, I'm proposing a way that Darwinism and Providence are compatible. But I think this explanation is a little different from the usual hand-wavy, quasi-philosophic incantations that accompany such apologetics. The argument rests purely in ordinary non-sectarian reason (assuming from religion only the definitions of its terms). The upshot is that the conclusion refrains from shuffling religion off to "the kiddie table," that is, to its own "magisterial realm" completely divorced from the visible, real world.1
The Christian (and I surmise traditional Jewish) idea of Providence is God's complete and ultimate control over every single event in His creation: strictly speaking THERE IS NO CHANCE:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will.2
Modern science invokes chance when a system involves too many complications to treat in detail or with generality. The classic example is tossing a coin: a physicist could model all the classical mechanics of the process, but there are too many uncertainties in measurement of boundary conditions to predict outcome with any accuracy, so he just treats it as a fifty-fifty chance of each side landing up.
In other words, science invokes chance to express ignorance of causality.3
So my basic point is that the "random" mutations that Darwinians use to "explain" the genetic novelty that natural selection works4 on is no explanation at all, but really just a way of saying "we can't explain the particular events that caused adaptive mutations." Now, I'm not faulting Darwinists for invoking chance, as it is almost certainly impossible to say why a particular cosmic ray struck a particular codon in the DNA of a particular sparrow's germ-line cell to make the species mutate in a special adaptive way. Such are the limits of modern science.5
This is where Providence has an opening to big enough to pilot an aircraft carrier through.6
Of course, some Darwinists will derogate such an explanation as a "God in the gaps" theory. Fine. But labeling an explanation "chance" is no better than labeling it "God." Neither Providence nor chance is a scientific explanation: Providence isn't "scientific" (that is, naturalistic) and chance isn't an explanation.
So despite my visceral reaction against saying it, I have to conclude that Darwinism, as a scientific theory, is not incompatible with Providence.
The Limited Efficacy of Numbers
The problem is when some Darwinists try to extend the reach of science to the domain where science must remain silent. There are permanent limits to scientific methodology, especially the quantitative.7 What's problematic is the claim that because we can't scientifically find a cause then there must be no cause ("chance").8
Atheistic Darwinists have completely over-reached when they invoke Darwinism to deny evidence of design in creation and thus of the reality of its Creator.9
[N]eo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science.
The key word phrase is "absolutely unguided." The touchstone of modern science is measurement. Science can no more speak definitively of absolutely everything than it can measure absolutely everything. One can certainly hypothesize that the universe is infinite, for example, but such an assertion can never be scientifically confirmed.
The Panda's Thumb discussion thought-provokingly flagged the Cardinal's clarification as inconsistent with the op-ed. Among the sentences highlighted:
Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.
What might have annoyed them is the phrase "overwhelming evidence... in biology." On the surface there does seem to be an inconsistency: on the one hand, the Cardinal is saying there's overwhelming evidence for design in biology and on the other hand he's saying that scientists can validly say there's no evidence of design.
The difference turns on what one means by "biology."
On the one hand, the design in nature is evident to anyone who looks at the order in the natural world with an open mind: the merest child spontaneously asks who made the world.10 Biology, in this broad, traditional sense, can't help but see design.
On the other hand, biology—like everything else these days—is following physics in becoming uniformly quantitative. Concentrating purely on quantity strips the world of the living enfleshment of qualities.11 This is not to say that quantities are not important (could I be a physicist and believe that?), but simply that they don't suffice to explain the world completely. It is biology in this narrow, quantitative sense that is blind to order and design. After all, how does one reduce to mere numbers a multi-faceted, metaphysical reality like order12?
So the problem is not the scientific theory of Darwinism; the problem is taking Darwinism to be a complete, comprehensive explanation of life in general, and human life in particular. As far as religion is concerned, Darwinism is not a wide-ranging wolf, but a yipping yard-dog.
Conventional wisdom would say that science is master of the visible world but might gratuitously grant religion a small fiefdom of reality. What I'm saying is that science (Darwinian) has a small kingdom that poses no threat to the very real and sizable domain that religion owns outright. There is a frontier between the two that science is impotent to cross—whether or not it can see it. That Darwinists might "deign" to tolerate religion is like believing the fantastic claims of the businessman in The Little Prince to own unreachable planets.
Why the Popular Mistrust?
Scientists assure us Darwinism is scientifically true, but with all their equivocations (one example discussed here) it's hard not to suspect there's an extra-scientific agenda lurking in the background, especially when you've got Doctors Gould and Dawkins weilding Darwin as a club for atheism.
Darwinian friends, let's be reasonable here. If this sort of evangelizing atheistic Darwinists—the kind that superciliously affix "Darwin" amphibian logos to their cars— misrepresent Darwinism, then why aren't "scientific" proponents of Darwinism evangelizing just as sincerely against these people's misconception that Darwinism supports atheism as they are for teaching Darwinism in schools? And if not, how can anyone seriously believe that teaching Darwinism in public schools is non-sectarian?
To swallow that fish-story would really require "blind" faith.
The Deeper Lesson
Gould, Dawkins & Company insinuate that if God's effects aren't scientifically measurable, then He isn't real. That's the real danger: failing to realize that science is not the last word on absolutely everything. To see only the magnified shadow is to make the Darwinian mouse that casts it your master. Don't grant atheistic evolutionists that power.
As great as modern science is, it has very real limits—limits that all of us, scientists and citizens, disregard at the cost of our freedom.
1. Cf. Gould's "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" (NOMA).
2. Mt 10:29, cf. Lk 12:6.
3. For the philosophically minded, chance is the intersection of two otherwise independent lines of causality (Aristotle). You go to the market and happen to run into a friend. Neither of you coordinated the meeting. There was no interaction between the lines of causality: they are independent. "Chance" doesn't explain the meeting, but can only express our ignorance of the cause. Western civilization, and indeed science itself, is built on the belief that everything in the visible world has a cause, whether we can know it or not. To define chance as the cause is to resort to pure irrationality.
4. As you can read in any biology textbook, natural selection only eliminates individuals from populations, but doesn't explain where the genetic variation/novelty came from in the first place. Random mutation is the empiriological explanation for genetic novelty. You can think of the gene pool of a population as precisely a pool of genes or characteristics. Natural selection only siphons off and disposes of some of the pool, narrowing it, not expanding it. Random mutation is what causes the pool to broaden, according to Darwinists.
5. What I am faulting them for is saying that chance is an explanation.
6. This is not to say that God sticks his finger into the universe everytime there's a genetic mutation, but that every mutation is part of his Design from all eternity; there need be no break in the self-consistency of the physical universe. On the other hand this doesn't necessitate deism, cf. Jn 1 and Col 1. See also J. Pelikan's chapter on the historical Christian belief in Christ as Logos and Archetype of creation in Jesus Through the Centuries.
7. For example, the ideology called "empiricism" says that only the measureable is real; unfortunately "empiricism" is itself immeasureable.
8. This very same disease afflicts the conventional, Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.
9. See St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, chapter 1, itself a paraphrase of Wisdom 13. Also the pronouncements of the First Vatican Council.
10. Formally philosphically, the principle of sufficient causality tells us that the maker of a thing can have no less perfections than the thing he makes, so whatever perfections anything in the universe has must be attributable to its Creator, and primarily these are the transcendentals: Truth, Goodness, Unity, etc.; but also the rational perfections of human beings: intelligence and will.
11. For more on qualitative (non-ID) biology, see the Nature Institute.
12. Negentropy (negative entropy) is a likely candidate, but is only analogous to order. Information is another proxy, and the attempt to equate order with information can have validity, but limited.
Christoph Schönborn, "Finding Design in Nature," New York Times (July 7, 2005).
John L. Allen, Jr., "Follow up news: Schönborn and evolution," National Catholic Reporter (August 5, 2005 Vol. 4, No. 43).