Friday, June 01, 2007


Having brown stuff where grey matter should be

Sam Brownback (R-KS), the biggest idiot in the Senate (all right, I'm being unfair; he shares top billing with James Inhofe (R-OK)), is running for president. Happily, he doesn't have a snowball's chance in... in Kansas... of winning. Anyway, during the debate among the ten Republican contenders (so far), they were all asked whether they “believe in evolution”, and Senator Brownback was one of three who said no (the others were Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee).

Yesterday's NY Times published an op-ed piece by Senator Brownback, titled “What I Think About Evolution”, which starts thus:

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.
Fair enough — it ought to be good to hear his explanation. Especially after reading the second paragraph:
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.
Quite so; Senator Brownback makes a reasonable point: there's more to this than “I believe [x],” or “I don't believe [y].” Maybe he's going to explain how he does, indeed, accept the science of evolution, but believes that it was set in motion by God or some such. Let's see where he goes with this.

The next paragraphs contain nuggets of sense, here:

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason.
...and here:
People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us.
Ah, but then he shows the Sam Brownback who merits the tie with James Inhofe by coming out with this:
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.
...and this:
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.
Cow doots.

There certainly is “one single theory of evolution”. That there are disagreements about aspects of it is often the case with scientific theories. The beauty of science is that alternative explanations for observed phenomenon are studied until we can sort out whether the evidence better supports one than another. We don't declare one to be “truth” because it was written in a holy book. (And, of course, here the senator trots out the “Darwinism” term, which is used only by detractors, not by scientists. We can see where he's going here, and it's nowhere new.)

Continuing on that paragraph: evolutionary theory does not raise the question of “whether man has a unique place in the world”. It's not an issue that we concern ourselves with at all, when considering how species evolve. If a philospher or a theologian — or an idiot senator — wants to contemplate that, that's fine. But let's not criticise science for not answering it, because it has no need to ask it in the first place.

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.
Hm. He'll “let the facts speak for themselves,” and then he tells us what he believes. I see no facts here.
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.
Pure, made-up fantasy, designed to make him feel good about himself. It's a “fundamental truth” because he believes it, and not for any other reason. It's perfectly OK that he believes that. But belief is not evidence and belief is not science.

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.
Let me rephrase that for him: “I'm happy to accept theories that agree with the made-up stories that I already believe. Anything else is ‘atheistic theology’ [whatever that is], and I'm going to stick my fingers in my ears and say, ‘Not true, not true, not true, I can't hear you!’”


Dr. Momentum said...

When you're a politician, all you have to do is say something that sounds good enough so that the supporters can rally behind it.

Of course what he's saying is garbage; but will it play in Peoria?

Quite possibly.

First a theist has to agree that his religious belief has nothing to do with science.

Then he has to reconcile his belief with the fact that god is either a phenomenon of the universe or he doesn't exist.

Or he has to just say "I don't want to think about it" -- which would be fine as long as people like Brownback weren't trying to claim that their theologians are somehow authorities on... you know... reality.

Barry Leiba said...

Ah, and now I'm back from two days of meetings and catching up on blogs... and I see that everyone else blogged about this yesterday. Oh, well. I like my title better, at least.

Mike Haubrich said...

Okay, so if each and every one of us was born with a purpose where does that leave the stillborn. What is their purpose? The hundreds of thousands that starve to death, or are mowed down and hacked by Janjaweed, are born the day before a tsunami, etc...what are their purposes?

I have a special purpose, and I know it well, but the Church disapproves.