Intelligent Design Makes All the Difference in the Worldview
I’ve changed my mind on intelligent design. I used to take the default path of most Catholics in recent decades — that is, accept that Darwinian evolution happened, precisely as scientists said, but insist that God was somehow “behind it.” I won’t rehearse again here how evidence changed my mind. You’d be better off reading Eric Metaxas’ Is Atheism Dead?, or Stephen Meyer’s The Return of the God Hypothesis, or Michael Behe’s Darwin Devolves.
Suffice it to say that what convinced me wasn’t the problems Darwinism or its offshoots entail for orthodox Christian theology. It was the abundance of evidence against the Darwinian model. I didn’t even know what those theological challenges were, not until I read the massive anthology Theistic Evolution, which lays them out savagely. Whole decades of otherwise puzzling, destructive theological drift suddenly make sense once you’ve read that book. Turn the key and hear all the tumblers click inside the lock.
It’s that drift, the place whence it comes, and the endpoint toward which it goads us, that I propose to talk about here.
Do not mistake me. I wouldn’t for all the world prostitute my intellect by denying scientific evidence just because it raised theological issues. Nor would I ask others to do that. If biologists could explain the origin of life, or the Cambrian explosion, or the development of irreducibly complex biological machines like the human eye, using Darwin’s mechanism, I would doff my cap to science. I’d trim my theological sails accordingly, and use the new map to sail — just as I have done with evidence that the world is some 13 billion years old and counting.
But they can’t. Read one of those books I mentioned, and you’ll see it proved over hundreds of pages. Darwinism in any form is in crisis, deep in denial, dependent on scientists’ fideistic attachment to materialism. Like good Mormon archaeologists studying bones in Arizona, they cling to Darwinism despite the lack of evidence for it.
How Our Worldviews Work
And I think I know why. Most people don’t make decisions about their worldview based on sequenced logical arguments. For one thing, a great many worldviews (from solipsism to Scientology) are internally self-consistent, once you grant their premises. And discerning which premises are truthful is neither easy nor straightforward.
But I don’t think that’s how most people approach it anyway. I believe that nearly everyone, including scientists and philosophers, starts at the other end. They see a worldview’s conclusions, and decide if they are convincing. Do they seem to fit with how life and the world appear to be? If so, they’ll trace back through the arguments that led to those conclusions, maybe test if they are sound. A few will go even further and worry over the premises. It’s the rare, rare soul who will get to that point and decide, “Oh wait, the foundation is flawed. I must have been wrong!” (The most common word for such brave souls is “ex-Communists.”)
What’s the Darwinist “Sense of Life”?
So what are the conclusions of Darwinism, what “sense of life” does it match up with, and how does that sense appeal to us in our fallenness? Clearly, whole books could be written on that subject. But I want to be, as always, brief and irritating. (In the sense of some sand in a pearl, I hope.)
So I will use works of art as little shortcuts, to help paint the picture. The Darwinist sense of life, in melancholy moments, was captured best by Matthew Arnold’s famous poem, “Dover Beach.” I’ll quote the crucial lines here:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
“Dover Beach” is the voice of the oh-so-sophisticated former believer, who once treasured fond fantasies of a personal God and Savior. But he gave up those childish things when he boldly faced the fossils at the natural history museum, then wrestled with the arguments of biblical critics. He treasures as much as any clergyman the noble aspirations and humane sensibilities that arose in the Christian world. But he knows that they are baseless. He mourns them as a child does his lost faith in Santa Claus.
Darwinism in a Different Mood
Here’s a very different artwork by a very different Darwinist: The film The Triumph of the Will, by Leni Riefenstahl, expressing the worldview of arch-evolutionist Adolf Hitler. Watch as much of the film as you can (it’s gorgeous but utterly tedious), and you’ll get the point.
Here we see the Darwinist doing a happy Bavarian “slapping dance” on the grave of a personal God. He has seen through the sentimental, prudish and womanish scruples that Christianity formerly employed to suppress the conqueror’s spirit. He’s part of the bold new elite with the courage to face nature’s stunning ruthlessness and wastefulness. Yes, it’s red in tooth and claw, and we’re called to lick off that blood, then get stirred to go spill far more. As Richard Weikart proved, the only “God” Adolf Hitler believed in was a personified Nature, whose one law was the brute survival of the fittest, and whose gospel demanded the constant sacrifice of the weak.
Most People You Meet Are Cocktails of Matthew Arnold and Hitler
To the degree to which any modern person has let Darwinism seep in and color his worldview, his sense of life, ethics, and religious attitudes will be a mishmash of these two attitudes: Matthew Arnold’s nostalgia for a world full of meaning and value, and Adolf Hitler’s gleeful embrace of ruthlessness and power.
To choose an obvious instance: The pro-choice modern progressive. Show him polar bears stranded on dwindling ice, and he won’t think, coldly: “Ah, a species unsuited to the current climate of the planet. It will likely disappear, and be replaced by something more fit.” Instead, he will feel (as he should) a keen regret at seeing a piece of Creation vanish.
Confront that same person with a law prohibiting the abortion of Down Syndrome children? He’ll start to say things that wouldn’t have been far out of place in Hitler’s health ministry, with its thriving eugenics program directly inspired by the work of Margaret Sanger.
When will the progressive decide to channel Arnold, and when Hitler? That depends entirely upon the whims of the herd he follows. Confront him with his inconsistency as often as you like. It won’t do any good. He has already accepted that the universe itself is grossly inconsistent with human hopes and aspirations. He will cling to them when convenient, and drop them as they’re unfashionable.
For those who strive to cling to orthodox Christianity, the psychological impact of Darwinism is much subtler, of course. I will explore that in a future column.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”