Proving, once again, that atheists and fundamentalists are brothers under the skin, Dr. Barash goes to war against stuff that, while it’s really important to a lot of Fundamentalists, are entirely beside the point to Catholic thought, as well as making the usual category errors of slipping metaphysical claims in under the guise of “science”.
The twofold demolition begins by defeating what modern creationists call the argument from complexity. This once seemed persuasive, best known from William Paley’s 19th-century claim that, just as the existence of a complex structure like a watch demands the existence of a watchmaker, the existence of complex organisms requires a supernatural creator. Since Darwin, however, we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness. Living things are indeed wonderfully complex, but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon.
Thomas is not interested in the argument from complexity, which usually boils down, in the hand of ID advocates to a God of the gaps argument: (i.e. we can’t see how complex living systems evolved naturally, therefore God). It’s an argument from exception to the rules, in this case, the rule of entropy.
Thomas never argues from exceptions to the rules. He argue from the existence of the rules. “Why is there anything? Why does it behave according to laws? Why are those laws intelligible?” In short, Thomas argues from the laws that are very basis of science itself to the existence of a Lawgiver. (When this dawns on atheists, it can often be hilarious to watch them attempt to deny that the universe has knowable and intelligible laws–in other words, the science and reason exist–just to squirm away from the possibility of You Know Who.)
Next to go is the illusion of centrality. Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness. Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens
A couple of confused muddles here. First, it is a metaphysical, not scientific, statement that man is or is not “central” in some Grand Scheme of Things. Science is worthless for determining that. In Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not central to the story. But in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Hamlet is the one on the periphery and R&G are central. It depends on who is telling the story. If, as Barash says, no one is telling the story, then sure, no one is central to the story because there is no story. But that is a faith statement, not a scientific one. It is something Barash is bringing *to* the data, not something he is getting from it. If he says “Looks pretty mindless to me!” that’s an excellent statement of his perception of the data, but not a statement about what “science” shows lies behind the data because science can’t tell us anything about anything beyond the metric properties of time, space, matter and energy. It’s like concluding that, since your bathroom scale cannot register anything about the alleged “beauty” of a Mozart Concerto, such beauty–and Mozart–do not exist. The fact that the world of Hamlet looks absolutely absurd to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as they wander in and out of it does not mean that world is what it appears to be to them.
For the same reason, it is silly to speak of science (the study of nature) failing to discover a “literally supernatural trait” in humans. What does that even mean: a gene for working miracles? And why would a supernatural trait makes us central to some cosmic plan anyway? Obviously, way to find out if we are central to a cosmic story is to ask the Storyteller. But, ironically, the claim of the Christian tradition is that we are not central. God is central. Our importance is due, not to a literrally supernatural trait, but to the fact that God loves us. And the love of God is no more measurable to science than my love for my wife is. Meanwhile, as he invokes natural processes to explain the evolution of the human organism (something Catholic teaching has no big problem with since it has always acknowledged secondary causes are real causes) he continues to miss the real questions: Why is there anything? Why does that something obey laws that result in mechanical processes leading to life. So Thomas takes a remarkably evolutionary view of the self-organizing properties which God has invested in Nature when he writes:
Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.
— Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268
Both of Barash’s arguments are muddled restatements of the second of the only two arguments against the existence of God Thomas could find in the whole history of human thought:
Objection 2: Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.
Translation: Everything seems to work fine without God, so there’s no God.
What that argument overlooks is “Why is there an ‘Everything’? Why are there any rules governing how the Everything works fine? How is it possible that those rules are intelligble to us at all?” Thomas has an answer for that because he has a metaphysic. Barash has no answer for that because it has not even occurred to him to ask those questions as he is busy arguing with Paley and the Discovery Institute and appears to have never heard of St. Thomas.
Finally, Barash concludes:
Adding to religion’s current intellectual instability is a third consequence of evolutionary insights: a powerful critique of theodicy, the scholarly effort to reconcile belief in an omnipresent, omni-benevolent God with the fact of unmerited suffering.
In other words, Baby Boomers have just discovered suffering, and the suffering of the innocent, and are now presenting this with a flourish to the followers of a religion that is literally founded on the body and blood of an innocent man who was tortured to death. Checkmate, Theists!
In other words, he concludes with Thomas’ first objection to the existence of God:
Objection 1: It seems that God does not exist, because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.
Translation: Bad things happen, therefore no God.
This too, in addition to being about as new as the blood of Abel and not really the devastating result of “scholarly” insight, is again a switcheroo of science for metaphysics.
I wonder if I could get the Dominican’s to get him over to the Newman Center for a conversation with an actual Thomist? Could be interesting!