Evolution by God

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) has an op-ed in the New York Times wherein he tries to explain why he raised his hand at the GOP debate when the candidates were asked which of them did not believe in evolution.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

In other words, evolution is fine as long as you acknowledge the fact that everything, including the theory of evolution, was zapped into existence by a supernatural being. Those are the terms, and anything outside of that is heresy.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Mr. Brownback offers no proof to back up his claim of divine intervention except to say that he believes it and thus it is so. That’s it; end of discussion.

It’s hard to argue with logic like that; it’s like having a fight with a five-year-old child. Nothing you say can convince them that there might be another explanation for life on earth, and it is only human arrogance that assumes that if there was some supernatural being that created the universe, that being would, out of all of the millions of stars and multi-millions of planets and moons that are capable of sustaining life just within our own galaxy, pay particularly close attention to the emanations of a minority of sentient beings that populate a rather insignificant planet orbiting a rather ordinary star — or that said being would reveal the Cosmic Truth to one senator from Kansas who happened to be running for president. Mr. Brownback may call that faith and it may be the guiding force in his life, but it is presumptuous and theocratic to think that his beliefs — and only his beliefs — deserve equal standing with science.

The problem that Mr. Brownback has with evolution isn’t that it contradicts the fables of Genesis; it’s that he seems to think that Darwin’s theory of natural selection was created to disprove the existence of God. But as any good scientist will tell you, they do not start out with a conclusion and search only for the evidence that will prove their case. Rather, they look at all the evidence and follow the trail wherever it may lead. Scientific evidence does not make judgments; it just is. The mission of science is not to find the truth. The mission of science is to find the facts and subject them to rigorous proof and arrive at a logical conclusion. You may not like where it leads, but that’s your problem, not the fault of the science. Interpret them how you will and call it the truth if you wish, but conflating faith and reason will only work if faith can be subjected to the same provable methods as we use to prove a scientific theory. A true scientist is willing to accept the fact that his theory may be completely wrong. Religion is not so open-minded.

Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.



Filed under 06_bobby

20 responses to “Evolution by God

  1. There are a lot of problems with that Op-Ed, and I pointed out some of them in my piece this morning, not the least of which is the whole “God put us all here for a reason” bit, which I find particularly offensive, as it means God (assuming Brownback’s version of him actually exists) is the biggest douchebag in history. It means that He put some people on earth simply to be slaughtered and others here to do the slaughtering. That’s a wholly offensive being to honor and worship.

  2. oddjob

    He was once a fundy, but is now an Opus Dei Roman Catholic. His comments are a modern day version of the thoughts of St. Thomas Aquinas. As far as I know, they aren’t really any different than what the Vatican asserts.

    I’m not the slightest bit surprised by that, either.

  3. Um, ‘atheistic theology”?

    Okay, officially, if someone uses that as a serious term, then they are now, by definition, not qualified to be President.

    Or hold any office. At all. Or fill potholes on a construction gang. Or fill supermarket shelves. Possibly picking up roadkill, but that’s about it.

    You want to believe in a big sky fairy and reject science? Sure, go ahead. But don’t try to project your own insecurities about such onto others.

  4. He’s Catholic, isn’t he? His views (near as I can figure out, he’s not terribly coherent) are at odd with the Church’s on evolution, I think. Perhaps he ran into an educated priest or nun (there are many such, I owe much of my excellent education to them) who pointed this out to him. Slowly. With no big words.

    Plus, I am really tired of people who think Darwin’s theories = an explanation of how life on earth began.

    It’s disingenuous, for the most part, and I don’t think we should let them get away with it. They’re just trying to confuse people who are already confused about science in general and Darwin’s theories in particular.

    In related news, the Creation Museum opened this week. Salon has an article, with a lovely photo of the Adam and Eve figures in one of the dioramas. I am disappointed that they did not manage to get a friendly, vegetarian dinosaur in the shot.

  5. Hmmm, looks like my previous comment got eaten for some reason … okay, I’ll post again.

    Um, … “atheistic theology”?

    Okay, if anyone uses that term in a serious manner, they are officially now unqualified to be president.

    Or hold any public office. At all. Or fill potholes. Or fill shelves in a supermarket. Possibly scooping up roadkill, but that would be about it.

    You want to believe in a big sky fairy and reject science? Sure, go head, have a ball. But don’t project your own insecurities about such onto others.

  6. Ah bugger, looks like it took a while for my posts to show up … can someone please delete the later one? Thanks.

  7. Atheistic theology is a shot that believers take at atheists who have the guts to say it up front and call the more ludicrous fundamentalists out on their bullshit. They never seem to get that they’re pointing out that theology is based on nothing, since that’s what they’re accusing atheists of believing–they’re undermining their own point of view.

  8. His views in this op-ed do not seem all that far from those expressed by Cardinal Schönborn a few summers ago. So he does not seem to be at odds with the Church, or at least Church doctrine. I doubt that he is representative of what most Catholics think.

  9. Eric Blair

    John must not know very many Catholics. I was essentially taught the same thing in Catholic elemenatry school like, 30 years ago. Since the same line was being taught in the Catholic high school I attended, I’m assuming that the Diocese was fine with it.

  10. Scientific evidence does not make judgments; it just is.

    Word. Attaching values or ideals to one’s conclusions about skeletal vertebrae and footprints in the Tanzanian dust is NOT SCIENCE. You can’t just stop making scientific advancments as soon as you start getting morally itchy.

    You beat me to this one, Bobby. I just read the op-ed page at lunch.

  11. Actually I do know a lot of Catholics, and attended Catholic schools K-12. We were taught straight evolution, and did not get Brownback-style temporizing. My experience may not be representative.

  12. GREAT post, Bobby.

  13. Nik E Poo

    The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two.

    faith –noun
    – belief that does not rest on logical proof.

    rea·son –noun
    – to think or argue in a logical manner.

    By extension … we also cannot drive a wedge between:
    – tyranny,freedom
    – murder,morality
    – corruption,accountability

    Come to think of it. That pretty much describes the Bush Administration.

  14. Nik E Poo

    And for the record … anyone who doesn’t “get” my previous comparisons … screwed the pooch on their SATs.

    Which is to say Brownback, probably got an eleven.

  15. Nik E Poo

    Nik E Poo an intellectual elitist? Hmmm … sounds reasonable.

  16. Nice dissection. I’m glad Brownback isn’t frothing at the mouth here, but, man.

  17. like Paris Hilton talking about partial differential equations


    That nails it.

    As a person who actually does the (biological) equations involved, I just want to add my big issue with the whole Brownbackioid train of “thought.”

    Science, as Mustang Bobby says, is about facts, but more specifically it’s defined by a method. It looks only at measurable, testable, and repeatable data.

    That means it doesn’t have the tools to look at anything based on felt experience. That’s not just religion. That’s also love, truth (i.e. Truth), justice, beauty, and on and on through practically everything that really matters.

    What I’m trying to say is that science can find a cure for AIDS, religion can’t. Religion (ie morality) can tell you how to distribute the cure, science can’t.

    Big Science — maybe to a lesser extent — has made the same mistake as Big Religion. Neither one has the answers to everything, but they carry on like they do. *They’re both making the same mistake.* (Dawkins, are you listening?)

    The part I don’t understand is why this is such a difficult concept. Why are brownbackoids so bent out of shape about evolution? It seems to be a code word for them which means “cold, unfriendly world.” Why? Why evolution, specifically? Why not nuclear physics? Or the law of gravity (which keeps us from having a nice, friendly flat earth)? Or topological geometry?

  18. oddjob

    Because it lies at the nexus of a whole slew of ideas that are both accessible and also threatening. If you talked to them enough you’d find others, most particularly the dominant ideas of geology and cosmology.

    They are threatened by an old universe because the Bible cannot account for it, and their faith hinges upon their understanding of the Bible. I daresay this is still true of Brownback despite his Catholocism, for he came to that via fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. All data supporting an old universe and all ideas built upon an old universe are equally alarming to them.

    Evolution is the one that has the most immediate impact because it ties us directly to the animals instead of making the historical distinction present in Western European thought since at least the Middle Ages. It necessarily, fundamentally alters our relationship to the cosmos. They intimately understand that, and hate it.

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