Some notes on evolution, values, and possible “design”

Some notes on evolution, values, and possible “design” January 23, 2019


A trilobite
Trilobites were very well adapted to their environment for a very long time,, so on precisely what scientific grounds does Richard Dawkins judge squirrels or humpback whales or humans to be “better”?


“Natural selection . . . has lifted life from primeval simplicity to the dizzy heights of complexity, beauty and apparent design that dazzle us today.”  (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion [Mariner Books, 2008], 99)


Commenting on this very passage, the atheist writer Curtis White says “Even if we were to take Dawkins’s enthusiasm seriously, shouldn’t we at least ask, what do you mean by ‘lifted’?  Is it that you think it’s better to be human than a primordially simple trilobite or dinosaur?  Why?  Why is “complexity” a good thing?  You say, ‘Evolution is not just true, it’s beautiful,’ but what do you mean by ‘beauty’?”  (Curtis White, The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers [Brooklyn and London: Melville Books, 2014], 17.)


I’m reminded of a remark from Albert Einstein, himself a scientist of some repute:  “Science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.”


To put it another way, science can tell us how things came to be, how things work, and how to do things, but it can’t tell us what things to do or whether those things are good or beautiful.




I freely admit it:  I’m very interested in the arguments advanced by the “intelligent design” movement.


So, in that light, I’ve enjoyed the exchange to which I supply links below, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you were to enjoy it as well.


But first, here are some notes on the players:


David Klinghoffer is an Orthodox Jewish author and essayist, based in the Seattle area, who is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.  He formerly wrote a regular column for the weekly Jewish newspaper The Forward and is still an occasional contributor there.  He writes frequently for National Review.

Kevin D. Williamson is an American conservative political commentator who is currently a roving correspondent for National Review.

Michael J. Behe (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is an American biochemist and author who serves as a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.

Wesley J. Smith is an American lawyer, bioethicist, and author and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.


Here followeth the play:


David Klinghoffer (17 January 2019):  “The Ultimate Question of Life’s Origins”


Kevin D. Williamson (18 January 2019):  “Irreducible Perplexity”


David Klinghoffer (20 January 2019):  “More Than a Technical Debate”


Kevin D. Williamson (22 January 2019):  “Authority Figures”


Wesley J. Smith (22 January 2019):  “Stifling the Intelligent Design Debate Is Bad Science”


Michael Behe (23 January 2019):  “On Intelligent Design, Do Your Own Homework. Make Up Your Own Mind.”


David Klinghoffer (23 January 2019):  “Michael Behe’s Marshall McLuhan Moment”


David Klinghoffer (23 January 2019):  “Self-Induced Blindness: Round 3 with Kevin Williamson”



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