In an attempt to explain why he raised his hand when asked if he did NOT believe in evolution during the first Republican presidential candidate debate, Sam Brownback has an op-ed in today’s New York Times where he tries to elaborate on his answer:
As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.
You know this is going to be good…
I’m no expert in evolution. But I found several mistakes he made. More educated biologists (or more well-read blog readers) could probably find a lot more.
If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.
Nice to know that he believes in microevolution. I’m not sure, though, that there is a proper dichotomy here. Microevolution versus no God? What’s that all about?
Fundamentalists like Brownback who don’t understand science typically reject the idea of macroevolution, where changes happen at the species level or higher… even though macroevolution is simply microevolution over a long span of time. That, at least, would’ve been a better pairing in the paragraph above.
There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today.
So this is reason to discard it? All scientists with a brain believe in evolution, even though they may disagree on the specific mechanisms. It’s like Brownback is saying we should completely reject the idea of defense in basketball because some coaches prefer a zone defense while others prefer man-to-man.
The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident.
No scientist says that evolution is an accident. To quote a very passionate advocate of evolutionary theory, Richard Dawkins, “Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random.” Natural selection acts purposefully by selecting for the most well-adapted genes. Those genes come about by random mutations that get passed on to future generations. It is no “historical accident” that man came to exist.
… I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him.
Most biologists do NOT think God has a hand in evolution. And many people of faith understand this as well. If anything, some people may say God started the evolutionary process. But educated people understand that natural selection is, in fact, a natural process.
I hope my biology’s not wrong in anything I said above. If it is, I’m sure you’ll correct it.
In case you can’t log in to the NYT website, I’m reprinting the op-ed piece below the fold.
What I Think About Evolution
IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.
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.
People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.
The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.
There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.
The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.
Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.
Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.
The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.
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.
Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.
Sam Brownback is a Republican senator from Kansas.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Republican, Sam Brownback, New York Times, evolution, microevolution, God, Darwinism, punctuated equilibrium, Richard Dawkins, natural selection, Kansas[/tags]