Huckabee Revolution

The Associated Press/February 6, 2008
Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee’s recent primary victories across the South have brought new focus to the long-simmering debate between science and religion.  The former Baptist preacher’s public and popular rejection of evolutionary science has underscored the success of religion in refuting science’s claim to a defining role in the progress of civilization.  That success is being echoed across the nation.
     The New York Times reported just last week that the aerospace research center at Boeing, the giant aircraft manufacturer, has replaced the wing design team on the Boeing 787 with theology PhDs.  The move was a direct response to criticism that the new generation of jet engines had become wholly dependent on scientific principle to the exclusion of more faith-based ideas.  Said one executive, “For far too long, we have allowed aerodynamics alone to dictate the parameters of aircraft development.  We believe that turning the design of these wings over to the preachers recognizes the essential and necessary partnership between science and religion.”
      There are changes afoot also in the pharmaceutical industry.  Eli Lilly is poised to announce a major restructuring of its research and development program.  According to the press release: “The company’s dependence on the science of biochemistry has been under review for quite some time.  We feel that the time has come to emphasize the role of revelation in the development of life-saving drugs.”  Joel Osteen, the well-known tele-evangelist, has agreed to serve as acting head of R&D, promising to replace Lilly’s costly research facilities with a “Laboratory of the Soul.”  Separately, Lilly’s shares closed higher yesterday on news that fellow evangelical, Pat Robertson, had agreed to appear in Lilly’s new “A Little Piece of Heaven” ad campaign promoting Cialis, its erectile dysfunction medication.
      At the same time, the chairman of a major medical school accreditation association announced sweeping changes in medical school curriculum.  Under the new system, the association will drop anatomy and organic chemistry in favor of updated course offerings such as “The Saints and their Miracles; an alternative view for the medical practitioner”.  Likewise, the onerous routine of medical residency may be replaced by a structured program of bedside prayer vigils.  Said a spokesman: “Frankly, we looked at the Afghan model and found that we had a lot to learn.”
      Finally, Microsoft, the software giant, is instituting its own changes.   The company has launched a new initiative to phase out the old binary algorithms in its next generation OS, and replace them with a more scriptural logic. The decision, however, may reflect more pragmatism than faith.  Bill Gates, speaking at a recent conference in San Diego, surprised the audience with his criticism of the often quirky Windows operating system.  “We’ve spent billions trying to make that suckerfish work”, he said, “an appeal to the Almighty is about the only thing left.”

Evolution and Design

April 28, 2008
Dear Reverend,

     Your recent article concerning evolution was thoughtful and well-written but, to my mind, begs for a rebuttal on a number of points.
     As we all know, Charles Darwin, the author of what we call “evolution”, wrote the Origin of the Species to explain the variety of life on our planet.  He concluded, based on years of thought and observation, that the dynamic at work was “natural selection” – or the ability of successful species to change and adapt to their environment.  Prior to that time we really didn’t understand the diversity of nature.  It was nice to think that God simply made the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea.  But to many that explanation fell short.  Although he did not understand the mechanism, Darwin did recognize the “random” character of adaptation, and it did trouble him a great deal from a spiritual perspective.  
     Although man’s curiousity about the world stretches back to the earliest times, scientific advance has not been steady.  Greek and Roman civilizations made strides toward turning mystery into knowledge and reason.  The Fall of Rome, however, turned the clock back, and we entered 1000 years of tyranny that demanded that all thought conform to religious doctrine.  It is not accidental that during the Dark Ages little progress was made in bettering the lot of human beings.  It is also not accidental that such things as steam engines, electricity and penicillin came along only after reason broke free of religious authoritarianism.
     As much as I admire your convictions and your obvious good intentions, many of us regard “intelligent design” as proof that the Dark Ages are not completely behind us.  We look at Islamic fundamentalists, for example, and see that religious absolutism remains alive and well.  We believe that the future of society requires that we protect the distinction between scientific knowledge and religious belief.  There is room for both, many believe, but the two categories are essentially different.  We fear that intelligent-designers have lost that message.
     My strongest criticism concerns the fallacy that evolution and design are merely competing theories.  I believe this fallacy is particularly dangerous, first, because intelligent fellows like you should know better, but second, because it intentionally wraps its arguments in the jargon of science to mislead us into thinking that the two notions are comparable.
     They are not.  Evolution is, in fact, a remarkably sophisticated, comprehensive and detailed theory that explains phenomenon from the mammalian characteristics of the great whales to the behavior of anti-oxidant enzymes.  From the psychology of the human brain to the genetic clocks built into the mitochondria of each human cell, evolution opens a panorama of understanding of the world around us.
     Design, on the other hand, to put it plainly, explains exactly nothing.  It points to the “failures” of evolution, and does a victory lap.  Although you raise the strawman of the Scientific Method (and then decline to do much with him), I believe that you actually misconceive how science works.  When, in your view, evolution “fails” to explain this or that, you conclude that design is vindicated.  This is nonsense.  Most scientific experiments fail.  Indeed, many scientific discoveries arise from the most interesting failures.  The fact is that the physical world is deeply complex.  We don’t understand lots of it.  That we don’t, and that we frequently bump into a wall trying, does not prove design, but underscores how difficult real science is.                                                                                                                                You refer to the “monopoly” of The Theory of Evolution, as if it were a crime family bossing the scientific waterfront.  One might as persuasively include the monopoly of the Theory of Gravity or the Theory of Electromagnetism.  I believe, with all due respect, that you are missing an important point.  If a young biologist were to stumble over proof that evolution was in fact erroneous, akin to Einstein’s historic de-bunking of the theory of the “ether”, this person would, like Einstein, find himself not a pariah, but rather a hero.  Science, as the pursuit of flawed human beings, may not be perfect, but neither are we living in North Korea.  A discovery that refuted evolution – and we are not speaking of some crack-brain, pseudo-science – but a real discovery, would rock the foundations of science, just as did the theories of Newton and Einstein, and spawn a generation of celebrated professorships.  To misunderstand this betrays a profound blindness about the world we live in – and about the real integrity of science.
     You complain also, if I understand you, that supporters of evolution are somehow picking on the design supporters, even violating their civil rights (the great bogeyman of the Modern Age).  I cannot see that point either.  Science cares no more about design than the quarterback cares about the fat guy shouting at him from the stands.  He has work to do.  All that supporters of evolution are saying is that if you don’t subscribe to science, you don’t get a seat at the scientific table.  Science can be ruthless and will not tolerate cranks.
      Of course, Evolution may explain a lot, but it does not explain everything.  Life is too rich and complex.  “Evolution” itself has undergone substantial change.  We have traveled from the early notion of “survival of the fittest” to a theory of steady mutational change, to the prevailing idea of environment-driven “punctuated equilibrium”.  Notably, design suffers no such growing pains.  The proponents of design simply sit on the sidelines and heckle.  They are not, to make a point of it, scientists.  In fact, they are quite the opposite.  They are anti-scientists who are unhappy, as was the Roman Church with Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Copernicus and the hundreds of others who challenged the existing power structure.  The proponents of design are simply threatened by evolution.  And I can’t say I blame them.
      Religious faith in the Age of Science is difficult.  The cold, random character of evolution, man’s unmistakable descent from earlier primates, the vast antiquity of the Earth, the incomprehensible size of the universe, the baffling and bizarre behavior of matter at the quantum level, and other progeny of science unsettle our faith.  It unsettles mine.  But finding faith and morality in the modern world – the real world – is the challenge, isn’t it?  Denying evolution, and cobbling up some hollow and jejune substitute, is beneath both of us.