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FIRST-PERSON: An evolutionist meets the Maker


EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Harvard’s Stephen Jay Gould has died. His career was devoted to bedeviling creationists. Now he’s one himself, though surely not a happy one.

It is a great shame that Professor Gould has gone out into eternity unprepared to meet his maker. Imagine the blessing that would have flowed his and our way had he thrown himself on the mercies of Christ and embraced God’s Word, the Bible. Instead of reading, “It is hubris to argue that (man) is special,” we would have enjoyed the Christian brotherhood of a man pleased to proclaim that man is created in the image of God.

The obituaries call him “the Carl Sagan of biology” and “paleontology’s public intellectual.” University of Chicago paleontologist David Jablonski eulogized, “It’s hard to think of another scientist who was as visible, articulate or skilled at helping the public see the world view of an evolutionist.” Jablonski’s colleague Jerry Coyne put it simply, “He was the best publicist we had.”

Turns out evolutionary theory needs all the publicists it can get these days. It’s a smoking, wheezing, backfiring jalopy that scientists are increasingly embarrassed to drive around town. They’re using yards of duct tape to hold the contraption together. Indeed, Gould himself used a bunch of it in the form a theoretical adjustment he called “punctuated equilibrium.” Lacking evidence of gradual transition, he introduced the notion of occasional “fast forward” evolution to get us over the embarrassing spots.

Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, has shown that evolution just won’t wash at the microbiological level. You can no more produce blood-clotting mechanisms by incremental gain than you could a mousetrap. Neither the base, the hammer, the spring, the catch, or the holding bar will nail a mouse. You can’t get there in bits and pieces. It’s a package deal (“irreducible complexity”), and evolution can’t deliver that package.

Behe is joined by William Dembski, who argues that signs of intelligent design are overwhelming and make a mockery of chance. Patterns which would have the SETI folks (radio astronomers involved in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) turning back flips are routinely dismissed by evolutionists. Many of his Baylor colleagues have snubbed him for his anti-evolutionary zeal, but his influence grows.

And then there’s Phillip Johnson, the Berkeley law professor who dared to observe that the emperor, evolutionary theory, had no clothes. He’s the one who publicized the delicious quote from the January 9, 1997, New York Review of Books, one uttered by Gould’s Harvard colleague, Richard Lewontin. It bears repeating and repeating:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, …in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

Indeed.

In the popular mind, scientists are distinguished for their objectivity, and certainly there is more evidentiary accountability in physics than in astrology, in biology than palmistry. But scientists are quite human, and career interests, pride, loyalty, irreligion, inertia, and contempt can color and even determine their work. Thomas Kuhn’s landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, has opened the door wide to considering these influences.

Kuhn argues that scientists are loath to give up on their pet theories, even when “anomalies” (un-lawlike phenomena) come to their attention. They just get a bigger hammer and try make things all fit together. After all, they’ve made their names promoting and developing these ideas. Generations of students have gone out from their tutelage and are now passing along the same teachings. From learned journals to talk shows to international conferences to countless hours in the lab, study, or field, they’ve identified themselves with one way of thinking. And it’s almost impossible for them to simply say, “Never mind.”

How do things change when old theories break down and new ones take their place? Well, forgive the bluntness, but the key old guys have to die. Kuhn quotes physicist Max Planck in this connection: “…a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” It happened when Darwinism came in. It’s happening as Darwinism goes out.

Which brings us again to Stephen Jay Gould. I see his passing as another nail in the coffin for evolution. For ideas are not free floating clouds that hover over succeeding generations. Rather, their life depends upon the hospitality and enthusiastic presentation of individuals. (A word to the church.) And as those hosts and presenters die off as individuals, the vitality of the idea is accordingly diminished.

As evolution’s vitality wanes, the rhetoric of evolutionists escalates — heat to compensate for the lack of light. Whether at Chicago’s Field Museum or in the pages of National Geographic, they’re doing their best to beautify evolution and denigrate its critics. But it’s a cut flower.

Of course, atheists, agnostics, and such will always have their naturalistic theories. They have no choice. But we can enjoy their transition from swagger to anxiety as the theory takes its blows, another of which was landed this past week with the death of Stephen Jay Gould.
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Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other reflections by Coppenger can be viewed at www.listten.com.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger