Feb 3, 2011

Darwin the Prophet

There are two types of creationists: those who do not understand science, and those who do but deliberately lie about it.

Albert Mohler falls into the first category.  Thus, this speech in which he mentions that:

We need to be reminded that Darwin was not the first evolutionist. We need to be reminded that Darwin did not embark upon the Beagle having no preconceptions of what exactly he was looking for or having no theory of how life emerged in all of its diversity, fecundity, and specialization. Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution.
As if it proves something, but of course it does not.  The idea, contradicted by other sources that I have read on the subject, that Darwin set out with malice aforethought to gather the necessary evidence with which to foist his theory onto the world is presented as if he could simply disregard the mountains of evidence so collected by attacking the man himself.  It's a classic ad hominen, but more than that it is revealing of a deeper cultural meme.

Creationists of all stripes seek to paint evolution as a religion, conflating findings with doctrine, facts with catechisms, research with scripture, and scientists with prophets.  Most obviously, this is done out of a projection--it is how they view the world, and so it is by extension the way that they subconsciously imagine that others view the world.  It is also done to place themselves on equal footing: drag evolution down by claiming that, as a religion, it can't be taught in public schools, either, or else elevate their own position by means of a false equivalence.

This explains the numerous attacks on the character of Darwin and on the specific text of Origin of Species.  By attacking Darwin, they are displaying the same basic impulse as atheists who impugn that Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier or that Mohamed was a pedophile--discredit the prophet to bring down the religion.

It is true that our obligation to give serious consideration to arguments diminishes with the dishonesty of the presenter and his track record of bloviating nonsense.  But even Deepak Chopra could still get something right.  Likewise, even if Darwin were a racist lying monster who set out to prove evolution with malice aforethought because he was mad at God and then later recanted on his deathbed, that wouldn't make evolution false.  Why?  Because evidence and argument exist independently of their presenters.  We don't hold evolution to be true because we revere Darwin as some sort of prophet who provided the world with a way to reject God, we hold evolution to be true because human chromosome 2 is a fusion of two great ape chromosomes, and also because it happens in the lab.  The theory stands on the merits, not on the authority of a prophetic figure.

The same goes for attacks on Origin: understand that fundamentalism holds and reinforces an all-or-nothing mindset regarding Holy Writ.  Just look at Mohler again:
As we are looking at the Scripture, we understand it to be as it claims, the inspired and inerrant word of God. Every word inspired by the Holy Spirit. We believe that the speaking God speaks to us in this word. This is an inscripturated revelation of the one true and living God.
 Or again:
[I]t is the scripture, the inerrant and infallible word of God that trumps renderings of general revelation, and it must be so. Otherwise we will face destruction of the entire gospel in intellectual terms.
If any one thing in the Bible is proven to be wrong, according to the inerrantists/fundamentalists, then the whole thing goes to hell (and never-you-mind that the two creation stories in Genesis contradict each other on the order of creation among other things).  By projection and the false consensus effect, they imagine evolution to work in the same way, and thus proudly trumpet the admitted errors in Darwin's work.

To which the obvious rejoinder is: 'so what?'  It takes a special kind of stupid to believe that a book cannot be right on some points and wrong on others, or that a scientific understanding cannot be generally correct despite unknowns or errors in certain details.  That's true of Darwin, and that's doubly true of the Bible, a compilation written by dozens of different authors across a time-span of centuries.

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