As you can see by the links on the right, I am a fan of the Discovery Institute. As its website says, “The Institute discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty.” Those are three concepts that are very near and dear to my heart. As a result, I get their Discovery Institute Views, and I read with interest the Summer 2010 edition.
On the front page of that newsletter, there was an article about Wesley J.
Smith, senior fellow at the Institute’s Center for Human Rights and Bioethics. He is a champion of human exceptionalism, the seemingly obvious concept that people are more valuable than other forms of life on this planet. At first, it seemed a bit odd to me that this concept needs a champion, since it is, as one of my chemistry professors used to say, “intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.” As I learned from the article, however, there are people who actually attempt to argue against this self-evident idea.
One such person is Peter Singer, professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. In 1979, he published a textbook called Practical Ethics. In 1993, a second edition was published, and that’s the one I found at the library. After skimming parts of the book and reading other parts, I can definitely say that this is one guy who has taken the hypothesis of evolution and twisted it into lunacy.
Now before I go any further, let me make two points perfectly clear. First, unlike many of my creationist colleagues, I do not have a problem with the philosophical underpinnings of the hypothesis of evolution. Indeed, as Dr. Hunter points out in his book, Darwin’s God, evolution can, in some ways, elevate one’s idea of God, because it takes Him out of the “dirty” day-to-day affairs of nature. In essence, a God who “set everything up” so that humans would be the inevitable result of natural processes working on their own is not only an incredibly powerful God, but He is also a God who is not “sullied” by nature’s “unsavory details.”
Second, I don’t think that the inevitable consequences of the hypothesis of evolution are necessarily evil. As I mentioned in my review of Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled, while Hitler and others used evolution as a justification for all sorts of nastiness, evolution did not cause the nastiness. Evil people caused the nastiness, with evolution just being a handy prop to carry along the way. In addition, without Darwin, young-earth creationists couldn’t have a rational view of science, since young-earth creationists require microevolution to produce the diversity of life that we see today from the created kinds that were preserved on Noah’s Ark. Thus, not only is evolution not evil, one facet of it allows me to have a Biblical worldview.
Having made those two points, however, I think it is certainly possible for individuals to take evolution to ridiculous extremes, and that is what Peter Singer has done. In his textbook, he frequently uses the phrase “nonhuman animals.”1 What is the source of this phrase? It comes from the hypothesis of evolution. According to that hypothesis, humans are just another type of animal. Sure, we have many evolutionary novelties compared to the other animals, but fundamentally, we are animals and nothing more.
It is important for Singer to use this phrase a lot in his book, because he wants you to think of people as no more special than any animal on the planet. That way, he can define the word “person” in reference to cognitive abilities rather than in reference to species. After that, he can say things like this:
Hence we should reject the doctrine that places the lives of members of our species above the lives of members of other species. Some members of other species are persons: some members of our own species are not. No objective assessment can support the view that it is always worse to kill members of our own species who are not persons than members of other species who are.2 (emphasis mine)
Note what he is saying here. Not only do some animals qualify as “persons,” but more importantly, some humans do not qualify as persons. What kinds of humans don’t qualify as persons? Singer is happy to tell you:
There are many beings who are sentient and capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, but are not rational and self-conscious and so not persons. I shall refer to these beings as conscious being. [sic] Many non-human animals almost certainly fall into this category; so must newborn infants and some intellectually disabled humans.3 (emphasis mine)
So Dr. Singer is saying that newborn infants aren’t persons, and neither are some intellectually disabled humans!
Now remember, this guy is a professor of ethics at a major university, and he is saying that babies and some of the mentally-challenged are not people! Surely he doesn’t meant that, does he? Well, here’s what he says:
So it seems that killing, say, a chimpanzee is worse than the killing of a human being who, because of a congenital intellectual disability, is not and can never be a person.4
Now unlike many of my creationist colleagues, I am not going to say that this kind of nonsense is the natural consequence of evolutionary thinking. Instead, I will make the obvious point that this kind of nonsense is the result of not thinking much at all.
There are clear differences between people and any of the animals on earth, and that objectively tells us that there is something special about human beings. Whether we attribute this specialness to the Image of the Creator or a lucky coincidence of mutations acted on by natural selection, anyone with the ability to observe understands that humans are fundamentally different from all animals, including the apes.
Robert M. Seyfarth, for example, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dorothy L. Cheney is a professor of biology at the same institution. They have studied monkeys extensively, and they know there is a big difference between monkeys and people. In a research paper, they indicate that monkey do have a social sense of themselves, but they say:
This sense of “social self” in monkeys, however, is markedly different from self-awareness in humans…Although monkeys’ knowledge of social relationships may exceed that of many other social mammals, they apparently achieve such knowledge without reflecting actively upon their behavior, examining their own knowledge, or conceiving of themselves as social agents. They place themselves within a social network without being aware of doing so.5
Both of these researchers are evolutionists, yet they see a big difference between monkeys and people. Of course they do, because they have studied monkeys extensively. People who watch monkeys at a zoo can immediately tell that there is a big difference between monkeys and people. Clearly, then, someone who studies them in depth should come to the same conclusion, whether or not that person is an evolutionist.
Indeed, in a more candid moment, Seyfarth said:
They’re not furry little humans. They’re just monkeys.6
That’s an obvious statement that is independent of your worldview. It is simply an easy-to-observe fact.
I don’t know if Dr. Singer has simply not spent much time at the zoo, or if his powers of observation are just stupendously poor. However, I can say this: While the hypothesis of evolution can be used to support his nonsense, it takes more than evolution to reach Dr. Singer’s conclusions. It takes an amazing ability to ignore the obvious.
1. Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2nd Edition, 1993, see for example, pp. 56, 57, 110, 117, etc. (Sometimes Dr. Singer hyphenates the word so it is “non-human;” sometimes he does not. I am not sure if there is an arcane grammatical reason for this, but it is a bit distracting.)
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2. Ibid, p. 117
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3. Ibid, pp. 101
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4. Ibid, pp. 117-118
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5. Robert M. Seyfarth and Dorothy L. Cheney, “Social Awareness in Monkeys,” American Zoologist 40:902-909, 2000
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6. Richard Conniff, Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals, WW Norton, 2009, p. 136
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6 thoughts on “This Isn’t Evolution – It’s Lunacy”
First, let me say that I appreciate your site. It is great to see competent scientists discussing origins from a creationist perspective while simultaneously pointing out the stupidity and inanity of evolutionary ideas.
Secondly, I agree that Singer is a lunatic!
However, I must disagree with you on several points in this post. I don’t understand how, as a Christian, you can write
“I do not have a problem with the philosophical underpinnings of the hypothesis of evolution.”
Surely, the philosophical underpinnings of evolution are religious in nature and, as such, are diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview. Indeed, your post http://blog.drwile.com/?p=1586 last week about PZ Myers underscores this point.
Perhaps I have misunderstood what you meant by philosophical underpinnings of evolution? Please explain.
Also, while I think I understand what you mean when you say “I don’t think that the inevitable consequences of the hypothesis of evolution are necessarily evil” I think that you are probably wrong.
I presume that you mean that the hypothesis itself is not evil? The problem is, the logical consequences of BELIEVING the hypothesis are evil.
Logically, a belief in evolution leads to a rejection of God. A rejection of God is actually evil in and of itself and it destroys the only foundation for morality. Without a moral foundation, man’s sinful nature inevitably leads to evil actions, often, while rationalizing those actions as good (ala, Peter Singer)!
Wasn’t the Holocaust simply the consistent application of natural selection and survival of the fittest? Hitler thought he was benefiting mankind by eradicating those he determined were weak.
Hi Michael – thanks for your kind words and your excellent comment. I would agree with you that the philosophical underpinnings of evolution are religious in nature. They end up relying on assumptions that can’t be tested. Thus, that makes them religious. However, I don’t think they are necessarily opposed to the Christian worldview. PZ Myers is clearly opposed to the Christian worldview, and he is VERY religious in that opposition. However, I don’t think his opposition comes from the philosophical underpinnings of evolution. Instead, it comes from his application of evolution. He uses evolution as an explanation for a universe without a Creator. That is clearly opposed to the Christian worldview, but that is just his application of evolution. Others, such as the folks at Biologos, apply evolution differently, and a a result, they do not oppose a Christian worldview.
I don’t agree with the folks at Biologos, but I understand where they are coming from. They think God organized the physical laws of the universe so that evolution would produce everything we see today, including people. This keeps God’s hands “clean” of the “messy” business of creation. In their mind, this elevates God. Thus, their application of evolution leads to their Christian worldview.
The philosophical underpinnings of evolution are very specific. They are wrapped up in the idea that the natural world can be explained without reference to anything supernatural. As a scientist, I not only have no problem with that idea, I actually like it a lot. It would be wonderful to be able to explain the natural world without once relying on a supernatural event. That way, we could eventually have a universal theory of everything. That’s what the folks at Biologos want. They believe in a Creator God, but they believe he created the laws by which the universe runs, not the details of nature. As a result, if we can discover those laws and understand them fully, we can understand everything there is about the natural world. I don’t think this is an anti-Christian view. In fact, you could at least argue that this requires a much more powerful God than the God of creationists. It’s one thing to be able to create a bunch of things. It’s another thing to be able to create autonomous laws that go out and do all that creating for you. It could be argued that the latter takes more power than the former.
To me, the problem is that the world doesn’t look the way you would expect if that’s what God did. It looks as if it was created a relatively short time ago, which necessarily implies a series of supernatural events. Thus, while I don’t have a problem with the philosophical underpinnings of evolution, I have a problem with the fact that observations don’t support the philosophy.
I strongly disagree with your statement, “The problem is, the logical consequences of BELIEVING the hypothesis are evil. Logically, a belief in evolution leads to a rejection of God.” I understand that this is a popular notion among creationists, but I don’t think it stands up to the facts. There are a lot of truly amazing Christians who are committed evolutionists. I don’t think C.S. Lewis, for example, is responsible for a whole lot of evil. He certainly didn’t reject God. Indeed, he is responsible for others coming to God. In addition, while I think his philosophy leaves a bit to be desired, it would be very hard to categorize him as illogical. Nevertheless, he was a theistic evolutionist. His logic and his belief in evolution did not lead him to evil or the rejection of God. I could cite many, many other Christian leaders who are truly doing wonderful things for God but are nevertheless both logical and theistic evolutionists. It is hard to imagine that all those people can believe in a hypothesis that logically leads to evil and the rejection of God.
I actually disagree with your statement that a rejection of God destroys the only foundation for morality. I would agree that it destroys the only absolutely correct foundation for morality, but belief in God is not the only basis for morality. Many east Asian cultures, for example, have no God concept at all. Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism have no God concept, yet they were used to form extensive moral systems. Indeed, if you read many serious philosphers, you will find elaborate moral systems that they devise from what they think is pure reason. Obviously, all these moralities have faults when compared to a morality based on a Christian worldview, but you can’t dismiss them as not being moral at all.
I also disagree with the concept that the Holocaust was an application of evolution. Evolution is blind. It has no specified outcomes. Hitler thought he was producing a “Master Race,” but he had goals as to what this Master Race would look like. That’s not evolution. Evolution produces what actually works, without worrying about some future goals. Unless Hitler was all-knowing (and he clearly wasn’t), his goals would not produce a Master Race, because he didn’t know enough to know what would actually work. Thus, he was not using evolution. He was using his own artificial selection. I also don’t think that Hitler’s methodologies would have changed one bit if evolution had not been around in his time. He simply hated people who were different from him, and he wanted them dead. Evolution was just a nice excuse to get that done.
Now please don’t think that I am defending evolution here. I am not. However, I am trying to determine what evolution is and what it isn’t. That’s the only way to be able to properly evaluate it. Of course, I could be dead wrong on all this, but it seems to me that evolution in and of itself is not evil. Only certain applications of it are.
Thanks for the detailed reply. There’s alot there that I would like to touch on but I can see that this might get very long.
I am somewhat confused that you don’t think the philosophical underpinnings of evolution are necessarily opposed to the Christian worldview. Essentially we are talking about naturalism. Naturalism seeks to explain nature without invoking the supernatural whereas the opposite is obviously true of Christianity and YEC.
In fact, it seems to me that the two ideas ARE necessarily opposed. It is almost(?) a defining feature of the two ideas.
Quoting your reply “The philosophical underpinnings of evolution are very specific. They are wrapped up in the idea that the natural world can be explained without reference to anything supernatural.” How exactly is that NOT opposed to Christianity?
Regarding PZ Myers, you state that “I don’t think his opposition comes from the philosophical underpinnings of evolution. Instead, it comes from his application of evolution. He uses evolution as an explanation for a universe without a Creator.” You seem to be saying that his belief in evolution leads him to exclude a creator but I would challenge that and say that it’s actually the other way around. He a priori excludes the Creator and is therefore left with the only alternative to explain the universe, evolution.
As for the Biologos crowd, I think that theistic evolution is an oxymoron and that they do oppose the Christian worldview. Whenever they encounter an apparent conflict between Christianity or the bible and so-called ‘science’, it is always the biblical view that must be compromised and never vice versa.
To me, having a Christian worldview involves interpreting the world through biblical glasses but at Biologos they interpret the bible through worldly (in this case ‘scientific’) glasses.
I hope that is clear. To summarise, I think that it is the philosophy that leads to the science (assuming consistent application). I.e. naturalism leads to evolution while Christianity leads to creation.
You are right…this could get really long. Don’t feel compelled to continue the discussion, but I actually enjoy this kind of “back and forth,” so I would be thrilled to continue it.
I certainly agree that the philosophical underpinnings of evolution are opposite that of YEC, but I don’t think they are opposite that of Christianity. This, of course, might be a difference between your way of thinking and my way of thinking. In my view, YEC is certainly a possible interpretation of Scripture, but I don’t think it is the only interpretation of Scripture. For example, many of the early church fathers did not think the days in Genesis were 24-hour days. Indeed, they didn’t think they were days at all, which means they didn’t see Genesis 1 and 2 as historical narrative. If many of the early church fathers did not take the creation account to be historical narrative, I am not sure how we can say that modern Christians must view it that way. Thus, while I hold to the YEC interpretation of Scripture, I don’t think it is the only possible interpretation. Thus, I don’t think YEC and Christianity are equivalent.
You ask how the idea that the natural world can be explained without reference to the supernatural is not opposed to Christianity. It all depends on how you view the creation account in the Bible and other references to it. If you view them as not historical narrative, and there are some good arguments to support that view, then there is no contradiction between Scripture and the idea of God setting everything up so that evolution could produce what we see today. Indeed, as I have said before, such a Creator is probably more powerful than the YEC Creator. Now I don’t agree with those arguments, but I can’t dismiss them out-of-hand.
I certainly cannot read minds, so I don’t know whether or not PZ Myers started with no belief in God or a belief in evolution. However, I can definitively say that if you read his writings, he uses evolution as evidence that there is no God. He uses other things as evidence for this as well, but evolution is a big one. Thus, it seems to me from his writings that he is applying evolution to indicate there is no God. However, lots of people apply evolution as the means by which God created. Thus, I don’t see that belief in evolution leads to a rejection of God.
I understand that you think theistic evolution is an oxymoron. However, there are a lot of Christians who don’t, and some of those Christians are doing or have done some amazing things for the kingdom of God. In the end, that’s something you have to come to terms with. Your reasoning forces you to believe that people like C. S. Lewis didn’t have a Biblical worldview. That’s something I just can’t wrap my head around.
I also think you aren’t fairly representing what the folks at Biologos are doing. They are not putting science over Scripture. I know that is a common YEC characterization of them, but I just don’t think it is fair. What they are doing is saying, “Let’s see what valid interpretations of Scripture exist, and let’s use what we know to help us understand how to interpret Scripture.” Let me give you a less heated example. In Matthew 24, Jesus is talking about what seems to me to be the end times. He then says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24:34, NASB). Now…the obvious interpretation here is that his use of “generation” means a group of progeny. Thus, the most obvious interpretation of this verse is that Jesus told those people that they or their progeny would be alive for the end times. However, that’s not the ONLY meaning of the Greek word. Another (less used but still appropriate) meaning is “race.” Thus, most orthodox Christians use what they know (that the end times haven’t happened yet) to choose “race” as the proper interpretation of this verse. This means Jesus said that the Jewish people would not die away before the end times. So in this case, Christians use what they know to choose from among the various possible orthodox interpretation of Scripture.
So what the folks at Biologos do, and what I think a lot of theistic evolutionists do, is look at the possible orthodox interpretations of Scripture regarding creation, and they use what they know to help them choose between those interpretations. I do exactly the same thing. Of all the possible orthodox interpretations of creation, I think science best supports the YEC interpretation. That’s why I am a YEC. Since the folks at Biologos view science differently, they choose a different orthodox interpretation of Scripture.
Your last sentence is interesting, because I totally agree with it. Naturalism does, indeed, lead to evolution. Christianity does, indeed, lead to creation. So a Christian who believes in a God that is so powerful He can set things up in order for the laws of nature to produce everything in the natural world sees naturalism as leading to creation by evolution.
Thanks again for the reply doc. I also enjoy this as it is good exercise for my brain!
Unfortunately, time, or a lack thereof, will not allow me to interact with all of your points like i would like to right now.
I must say though, your reply sounded somewhat post-modern. Perhaps I am too black and white but I prefer to think that there is only one correct interpretation of a passage but there may be many applications. Do you agree with that?
Assuming you do, the laws of logic then kick in. The law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle forbid me from believing that theistic evolution or even old-earth creationism are correct. In other words, if YEC is correct then OEC and TE are incorrect.
Also, I would prefer to discuss ideas rather than individuals (or groups). Your mention of CS Lewis smacks of an appeal to authority. I appreciate many of the things that Lewis has written but he is still human and human’s are fallible.
I am still having trouble reconciling your statements about naturalism vs Christianity. If we agree that naturalism a priori excludes God, then even the theistic evolutionist disagrees with that, surely?
You state, “…then there is no contradiction between Scripture and the idea of God setting everything up so that evolution could produce what we see today.” that might be so (i don’t think it is) but naturalism doesn’t even allow God to start the big bang off.
Thanks for your reply. Yours is not the only brain that gets a workout in these kinds of discussions!
I am definitely not being post-modern here. However, I am being less “black-and-white” than you are. I agree that there is only one CORRECT interpretation of a passage. However, I am not willing to say that I am sure I happen to have that correct interpretation. That’s the key issue for me. I THINK that the correct interpretation of Genesis is in a YEC framework. However, I am not willing to say that all other orthodox interpretations are wrong. You certainly are right that “if YEC is correct then OEC and TE are incorrect.” However, given the fact that there are some reasonable arguments for interpreting Scripture as the OEC’s do, and given that there are some reasonable argument for interpreting Scripture as the TE’s do, are you really willing to say that you know FOR CERTAIN that the YEC interpretation is the correct one?
I certainly don’t want to use the argument from authority. I was not using C.S. Lewis in that way. I was using him as evidence. You said that belief in evolution leads to a rejection of God. As counter-evidence, I gave you C.S. Lewis as a man who believed in evolution but never rejected God. Indeed, he brought many to God. That seems to be rather strong evidence against your claim.
I think you misunderstand the idea of naturalism as TE’s use it. Naturalism as they use it does not exclude God. It excludes God from the OPERATIONS OF THE NATURAL WORLD. There’s an important distinction there. A TE thinks that we can understand how the universe operates (including how life started and how it got to where it is today) without invoking any supernatural events. However, that doesn’t exclude God. Instead, it makes God the creator of the natural laws that produced the universe we see today.
A good person to read on this is Gerald Schroeder. One of the great things he points out is that physics and ancient Hebrew agree on one big thing – you can’t understand what happened before the universe began. A person who is a proponent of the Big Bang says that the first event in the history of the universe that we can model takes place 10^-43 seconds AFTER the start of the Big Bang. It is impossible to learn about anything that happened prior to that time. Thus, you can’t learn anything about the VERY START of the universe. Schroeder says that the way the phrase “In the beginning” is written in ancient Hebrew, it specifically implies that you can’t learn anything about what happened BEFORE creation began. In Schroeder’s mind, then, both the naturalist and the theologian START at the same place – you can’t learn anything about the very beginning of the universe.
Thus, the naturalist can definitely allow God to be the One who started the Big Bang. In addition, one can see things that are NOT material in this universe (love, ideas, morals, etc.). Those are clear indicators of God, and since they are not a part of the natural world, naturalism has no explanation for them and no way to analyze them. That’s what God’s Divine Revelation is for.
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