Darwinian Blithering

One Mr. David P Barash wrote a bit of typical Hitchens-style Christ-bashing, but without the stylistic wit of Hitchens. Also without the manly courage: Unlike Hitchens, Mr. Barash never actually finds the fortitude to come out and say what he means to say. This affords him wide avenues of retreat, as well as a mask of objectivity. Because he is a professor.

He has the startling news that science exiles faith! Because Darwin!

It is astonishing that some parents somewhere are paying this inarticulate or uneducated windbag good money to ruin the minds and souls of their impressionable schoolchildren. Simply the errors in straightforward logic are appalling, not to mention the lack of structure in his column: he seems to drift from topic to topic without any rhyme or reason.

Let us fisk this bit of blather.

The original is in italics, my comments in bold:


EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn’t, as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion, and how they get along. More to the point, how they don’t.

As a professional rhetorician myself, I am sensitive to the nuances of persuasive writing. The opening paragraph here attempts to raise a chuckle by likening the annual anticlerical screed he puts across to his captive audience of helpless students, a talk wherein he dismisses the compatibility between evolution and an unnamed religion, to the talk parents give to young teens about the realities of sex.

The parallel is clever, and utterly dishonest, because it casts those who believe the unnamed religion and evolutionary theory are compatible in the role of the foolish children who still believe babies are found under cabbage leaves, and casts himself, the antichristian, in the role the wise and mildly-embarrassed father.

Is it necessary for me to mention that the foolish cabbage children here happen to be the vast majority of scientists, scholars, learned men, theologians, and Christians? The only people who hold the unnamed religion and evolutionary theory to be incompatible are a small sliver of Biblical-literalistic Christians and an even smaller sliver of Biblical-literalistic atheists.

Note that the unnamed religion is unnamed in the opening paragraph precisely because to state the real thesis of ‘the Talk’ — which is, namely, to blacken the name of Christ and enforce social uniformity in blackening that Name — would be to undermine the attempt. It would be too obvious, too great a shock of cold water. The persuasive writing here is attempting, slowly, subtly, to put across an idea without naming the idea, or, rather, not an idea but an emotion: smugness and condescension.

That is the second reason why the talk is likened to telling youths about sex: the persuasion here is not logical but emotional. It is an attempt to associate the idea of the unnamed religion with the idea of childish naivety, while at the same time associating the idea of atheism with sober maturity, but more than that, to associate the idea of atheism with a feeling of fellowship, as if all we fathers who know about sex share a joke and share a wink and a smile, because we are the smart people together.

Hence, as we continue, let us count the actual number of scientific or logical arguments made, versus the number of emotional appeals to this sense of smug superiority.

I’m a biologist, in fact an evolutionary biologist…

The point of this clause is to establish the authority of the writer. He is giving his credentials as a member of the priesthood of science, I assume so that his statements will be taken ex cathedra, an infallible. In my case, since I know more than a little about biology and a lot about Darwin, I am not inclined to accept that authority since he is abusing it here.

… although no biologist, and no biology course, can help being “evolutionary.” My animal behavior class, with 200 undergraduates, is built on a scaffolding of evolutionary biology.

Here he makes a false statement, and I am a little surprised he just states it baldly, with no attempt to support it, no references, no facts, no data.

Actually, very little or nothing in biology requires knowing the ‘just-so’ stories evolutionists invent to ‘explain’ things like the size of the tail of the peacock or how the elephant got his trunk. Whether Mr Barash’s class is built on a scaffolding of evolutionary biology or not, the scientific study of biology predates Darwin by two thousand years or more, going all the way back to the Leeuwenhoek and Linnaeus, Harvey and Galen, to Alcmaeon and Aristotle.

Darwin’s theory is that the division of animals into species occurs by means of an unintentional natural selection of mates from a pool of parents who survive the rigors of the environment. These parents have a variety of traits, some of which by happenstance are better able to aid the survival chances of some parents than others traits. Hence any hereditary traits unsuccessful for a given environment during a given generation have a statistically lower chance to be passed along to the young. So, for example, among finches, a longer or shorter bill might enable the parents to crack nuts or find bugs in tree bark, and if the nuts are more nutritious or more available than the bugs that generation, the long-billed finch will outnumber the short-billed finch, and after repeated generations, the short-billed finch will die out, and then the long-billed finch will turn into another species altogether, let us say, an ostrich, with different numbers of genes, a different physiology, different behaviors and instincts, and this new species somehow becomes no longer inter-fertile with the short-billed finches.

Nothing in this theory has anything to do with animal behaviors, except for the idea that some behaviors aid in the statistical survival of the race. This is an idea that even those people who do not see by what obvious mechanism finches turn into ostriches without any intermediate forms do, in fact, accept as reasonable.

Again, I have no knowledge of how this particular teacher conducts his class, or what pains he takes to force Darwinism into the subject matter, but the fact is that Darwinism as such concerns the origin of species, not the specifics of animals behaviors. You can read THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES if you doubt me.      

It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution…

Nothing in the remaining article supports this extraordinary (and false) statement.

Biology is a vast field, and Darwinism is a speculation about the origin of species that does indeed offer a persuasive explanation for a wide number of related speculations about biology. But, technically speaking, it is not a scientific theory but a philosophical one, on the grounds that it offers no testable hypothesis. It is not ‘falsifiable’ that is, there is no possible configuration of evidence that has any ability definitively to disprove it.

Even if we saw a news species emerge from an old one (we never have) we would have no way to measure whether the emergence of the species was due to natural selection rather than some other cause.

… and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science.

Non-sequitur. Whether it is responsible or not to teach biology without evolution has nothing to do with whether many students worry (rightly or wrongly) about reconciling their unnamed beliefs of an unnamed religion with evolution, wrongly here called a science.

Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,”…

Note that, with this backhanded sneer, Mr Barash attempts to put across one of the main issue in question as if it had already been decided.

This is not even a logical error with a fancy Latin name, like ad hominem or ad verecundiam. Is it just jeering at those who have another opinion on the matter, whether the opinion is reasonable or not. It is a statement that the only possible grounds for disputing with the professor is due to an inability to grasp the question.

Mr Barash here is calling himself smart and everyone else stupid.

So, here is the second emotional appeal: please agree with Mr Barash and bask in the warmth of having the right-thinking opinions.

Darwinism is not only correctly called a theory, it even more correctly called an unscientific theory, a philosophical theory, in that it is not open to disproof by normal scientific means of measurement, observation, experimentation; and it makes no testable predictions. There is no such thing as ‘Darwin’s Law’ parallel to ‘Newton’s Law’ because Darwin makes no predictions of outcomes.

If one biologists think the peacock’s tail is large and splendid due to sexual selection by means of displaying health to male rivals, and another thinks it is due to a way to display health to potential female mates, or if a third thinks the size and splendor of the peacock’s tail has some other advantage having nothing to do with sexual selection at all, there is no possible experiment to prove or disprove one theory or the other. All three researchers can go out into the field and try to count how often large tailed peacocks versus short tailed peacocks (if any exist) attract mates or escape from predators, but the question at hand is the purpose served by the large tail, and the counting of mates and predators will not tell you that.

… but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.

Note the careful ambiguity here. The beliefs of the unnamed religion conflict with the course material. What conflict? In what way? A disagreement about the mechanism of evolution is being conflated with a rejection of the course material as a whole.

The reader is being asked to swallow the extraordinary assertion that animal behavior cannot be taught without teaching Darwinism. No evidence is given for the assertion.

And it not self evident, not even likely: common sense says that one can spend a lifetime looking at the reproductive strategies or food-gathering tactics of ants or clams without once investigating the origin of these species from any alleged common ancestor.

If common sense is wrong on this point, as it is on many points of science, we need some proof that it is.

Until recently, I had pretty much ignored such discomfort, assuming that it was their problem, not mine.

Another sneer. Now the unnamed religion is a ‘problem’, like a head-cold.

Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy.

Or like teaching chemistry without phlogiston, or teaching physics without reference to Aristotle’s theory of impetus.

The statement is unsupported and, as far as I know, simply false. How do the vast majority of biologists manage the task of teaching biology without evolution, if it is like teaching chemistry without molecules?

By my count, the article so far is up to three emotional appeals, and still at zero rational arguments.

But instead of students’ growing more comfortable with the tension between evolution and religion over time, the opposite seems to have happened. Thus, The Talk.

Again, I am sensitive to the nuances of persuasive writing. Note here that the assumption is being put across that Mr Barash was expecting students with the ‘problem’ of religion were going to become comfortable over time with the alleged tension (assumed without proof here to exist) between evolution and the unnamed religion. This is meant to imply that the Godbotherers are making themselves uncomfortable for no good reason, and that the father-figure of the teacher, reluctantly, worldly-wearing of their foolishness, now finds he must preach antichristianity as part and parcel of his course on animal behavior.

Note how he could have worded this sentence: ‘Many students, whose eager and bright young minds I respect, seeing a possible conflict between the conclusions of evolutionary biology and the beliefs of the unnamed religion, called upon me to ask if and how the two could be reconciled. Hence, the Talk.’ Do you see the difference between this sentence and the sentence as worded by the writer?

The wording of his sentence is meant to justify and excuse his stepping out of his role as a professor of biology and into the role of lay preacher preaching atheism, not what he is paid to do. He is in the role of ministering to their self imposed discomfort.

There are a few ways to talk about evolution and religion, I begin. The least controversial is to suggest that they are in fact compatible.

Least controversial? Again, an interesting way to word the idea. Mr Barash did not say that this is the majority view, the view most easily defended, or the true view. He dishonestly fails to note that he is supporting a minority viewpoint to challenge a well established and well respected one.

Perhaps I reading too much into the word choices, but if ‘controversy’ is taken as a sign of an active, courageous and intelligent mind, the sentence is not very flattering to the majority of scholarly opinion.

Score: emo appeal 4 / reason 0.

Stephen Jay Gould called them “nonoverlapping magisteria,” noma for short, with the former concerned with facts and the latter with values. He and I disagreed on this (in public and, at least once, rather loudly); he claimed I was aggressively forcing a painful and unnecessary choice, while I maintained that in his eagerness to be accommodating, he was misrepresenting both science and religion.

In some ways, Steve has been winning. Noma is the received wisdom in the scientific establishment, including institutions like the National Center for Science Education, which has done much heavy lifting when it comes to promoting public understanding and acceptance of evolution.

Finally, an admission that the viewpoint of Mr. Barash is the minority.

According to this expansive view, God might well have used evolution by natural selection to produce his creation.

This is undeniable. If God exists, then he could have employed anything under the sun — or beyond it — to work his will. Hence, there is nothing in evolutionary biology that necessarily precludes religion, save for most religious fundamentalisms (everything that we know about biology and geology proclaims that the Earth was not made in a day).

Finally, the statement of the substance of the case to be argued. This is buried in the middle of the article.

So far, so comforting for my students.

Following immediately by a sneer, another emotional appeal. (The fifth in ten paragraphs, but who is counting?)

Let us call the majority opinion (and I will take Mr. Gould as a fair representative of the opinion that has the weight of authority in the field over this fellow I’ve never heard of) the “compatibles” and the writer’s view the “non-compatibles”. This wording here is meant to dismiss the compatibles’ conclusion as being ‘comfortable’ — a subtle way of accusing the opinion of being false, adopted only for comfort’s sake, not for the truth value.

But here’s the turn: These magisteria are not nearly as nonoverlapping as some of them might wish.

Note yet again the wording. He does not say, the topics are not as nonoverlapping as the compatibles ‘hold’ or ‘conclude’ or ‘argue’ or ‘maintain’ — all of these would be to admit the rival argument is worthy of addressing like a grown up. No, Mr. Barash here once again simply thinks he must slyly imply that all opinions other than his own are based on wishful thinking, nothing else.

At this point, however, we can look forward to reaching the meat of the matter: we will be told what conclusions of the biological sciences specifically contradict the theological teachings of the unnamed religion. We should expect the writer to name a specific biological fact, and show how it contradicts a specific theological teaching. (Need I say that this expectation is naive?)

As evolutionary science has progressed…

Actually, the state of the argument today is precisely the same as it was in Darwin’s day.

If anything, the discovery of genetics and the more careful study of the fossil record has demolished both the idea of gradual changes, and robbed the Darwinists of any understandable mechanism whereby organisms gradually and naturally go from, for example, 48 chromosomes in an ape to 46 chromosomes in their alleged descendants, human beings.

The word ‘progress’ is thrown in here for the emotional appeal of making the writer’s view seem to be the modern one, and the compatibles are the throwbacks, old news, out of date.

As evolutionary science has progressed the available space for religious faith has narrowed: It has demolished two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God.

I am flabbergasted by the sheer, appalling and unapologetic falsehood of the claim here.

Evolutionary science has performed no experiments and made no observations about the belief in an omnipotent God, nor about the belief in a benevolent God. Nor are these the pillars, potent or otherwise, of the belief system of the unnamed religion, but a conclusion, an article of dogma.

The illogic here is merely astounding, as if I were to announce that recent discoveries in etymology and economics had demolished those two potent foundations of entomology: that Grimm’s Law and Saye’s Law had undermined the Frabricius system of classification based entirely on mouth parts. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with linguistics or economics would merely standing blinking in astonishment, unable to comprehend the sheer insolent stupidity of the assertion.

Reasoned arguments about the omnipotence and benevolence of a divine being are part of theology, not a part of biology. So, Mr. Barash is about to depart from his role as expert biologist and enter his role as amateur theologian.

I await with sarcastically bated breath to discover whether he will use the proper data and proper procedures of a theologian, or merely give us a brash and uninformed opinion without a single reference to scripture in Latin or Greek, or naming a single Antenicene Father. To discuss theology without reference to the subject matter and methods of theology is like, well, like discussing chemistry without believing in molecules.

The twofold demolition begins by defeating what modern creationists call the argument from complexity.

Non-sequitur. The argument from complexity is an argument for the existence of an intelligent deliberate creator behind the beauty and organization of the universe. It has little or nothing to do with the benevolence or the omnipotence of the creator, only with his intelligence, the deliberate nature of the design.

This once seemed persuasive,

Again, note the wording. Mr. Barash is appealing to the chronological snobbery of the current generation yet again. Actually the persuasive value is unchanged from Paley’s day, or, for that matter, St Paul’s.

… 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.

Here please note even in his own wording, Mr. Barash only concludes the argument is about the existence of a Creator, not his benevolence or omnipotence. If one wishes to make an argument that a creator must logically be benevolent and omnipotent, that is a separate argument that stands on separate grounds.

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.

This is a fair statement of the counterargument. Note again it is worded as if this second argument has somehow prevailed over the first and that the matter is settled. Whether settled or not, this is a philosophical and not a scientific argument, since no observation, no measurable phenomena, and no experimentation is involved at any level to resolve the dispute.

Note the non-sequitur here: Paley’s argument was that a tool that served a purpose, such as a pocketwatch telling the time, implied the existence of a toolmaker, a mind that could draw the connection between the intricate mechanisms of spring and wheels and gears and the act of counting the hours. That connection is mental, symbolic, associational, purposeful, and therefore implies the existence of a mind that can form symbols and associate symbols with purposes. The Darwinian counter argument is that a process of random natural selection can produce complexity, even great complexity.

The second non-sequitur is the assertion that because living things are complex and random mechanical processes can produce complexity, ergo random mechanical processes are sufficient to explain living things. The proper conclusion is that random mechanical processes are sufficient to explain the complexity of living things, but not their other properties, such as the purposeful nature of their organs.

And nothing in the argument proves or disproves the existence of an organizing supernatural intelligence one way or the other, or even addresses that issue.

And no Darwinian worth the name argues that proving one mechanism is sufficient to explain a phenomenon proves that the phenomenon did in fact arise from that mechanism. Proving that the pocketwatch is not so complex that a natural and unthinking process could not have created it does not prove that a natural process did in fact create it.

That is why Darwin’s theory is still a theory. It attempts to prove that the division into species is not so complex that a natural and unthinking process could not have created news species out of old. It offers no argument and no proof that this did in fact happen in this way.

A few of my students shift uncomfortably in their seats. I go on.

Again, an emotional appeal is being made very subtly by this wording. The dullard children are being told that babies are not brought by the stork.

Myself, were I in his class, I would be shifting uncomfortably in my seat once I realized my tuition money had been wasted on a loon who cannot even frame his arguments in a logical format, or stick to the topic he is being paid to teach.

Next to go is the illusion of centrality.

Wait. What? Was that the whole argument on point one? Just a blanket assertion that Darwinian speculations can explain the complexity of life, therefore Paley’s argument need not be addressed?

The central claim of Paley is that organs like wings or eyeballs have an identifiable end-purpose, a task for whose sake they exist, such as flying or seeing, and that therefore by random mutation and natural selection is insufficient to explain why blind slugs and unflying worms would develop quarter-eyes, then half-eyes, and then by random mutation give birth to a child with working eyes; or likewise half a wing, one wing, a wing and a half, than from this by random mutation give birth to a flying insect or a flying bird. In order to go from half a wing to one wing, the process of change must be directed at forming a wing, and the wing must be directed to the purpose of flight, or otherwise the half a wing would be just as likely, if it is random mutation, to turn into a fin or an organ utterly useless for any cause.

I am not saying Darwinism does not have a believable rebuttal to give to this argument, but I am saying the rebuttal needs to be on the same topic as the conclusion being rebutted. A casual dismissal that fails to distinguish between purposefulness versus complexity is an illogical response, and not a rebuttal at all.

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.

Again, another non-sequitur. The two pillars of the unnamed religion were given as belief in the omnipotence and benevolence of God. The two arguments given in reply or rebuttal are (1) the claim that natural selection can produce complexity refutes Paley’s argument that evidence of purposeful design implies a purposeful designer and (2) the claim that Darwinian evolution proves man is not distinct from other life forms.

Nothing was said hitherto about the centrality of Man to the universe (which is not something the unnamed religion believes in any case). This is a new topic.

While, I suppose, someone could make an argument linking the old topic and this new one, none is provided here. The column so far seems to be merely one random assertion after another.

And, again, the counterargument is dismissed as an illusion, and called something that people believed only because no one could believe otherwise. The assertion is false: Lucretius was born in the First Century BC, and believed and taught an elaborate theory that human beings are atoms thrown together by blind natural processes. The Hindus from time immemorial taught that the souls of animals are caught in the same wheel of reincarnation as men and titans and gods, so that merit in one life could lead to a different rank in the next: this is the exact opposite of what Mr. Barash claims.

Again, this is merely one more appeal to chronological snobbery. The Christians teach that Man is a unique creature of a loving creator endowed, like him, with reason and moral sense and an immortal soul. That teaching whether right or wrong is not an old teaching and teaching that men and animals are indistinguishable is a new teaching. If anything, the opposite is the case: philosophies and religions that teach man is not distinct from the animal world are commonplace.

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.

Technically, he means pre-historical. The linkage is speculative, to say the least, including an nearly infinite number of transitional species for which there is not a scintilla of evidence.

Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens

I am not sure what to make of this statement. It appears to be meaningless.

It is like saying the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has never been found as a ‘trait’ in Homo sapiens. The problem is that the right to life and liberty is a legal concept, not a biological one, and the means used by biologists to detect physical traits has nothing to do with the legal concept.

So, here. The immortality of the soul, the faculty of reason, the use of speech and tools, and the innate dignity of man and the brotherhood of man as being in the image of God are things perhaps related indirectly to biological traits, but they are not, strictly speaking, biological traits.

To the degree that, for example, the structure of mouth parts or brain elements has a bearing on the ability of man to speak and reason, create a civilization and right laws based on legal abstractions, these things set him apart from the other animals so dramatically that the statement on its face that man is merely a beast like a horse or mule is so obviously and insolently false as to defy mockery.

It is too stupid to mock. I can find nothing sufficiently insulting to say about it: I suggest any skeptic on this point discuss the matter with the highly intelligent and accomplished biologists, historians, and philosophers found among the horses and mules: start with Mr. Ed and Francis the Talking Mule, or Gulliver’s master among the Houyhnhnms.  

…we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.

‘Indistinguishable at the level of structure and physiological mechanism’ is precisely what we are NOT talking about, and Mr. Barash certainly knows this.

It is precisely in the areas where we are talking about mental, moral, spiritual and abstraction behaviors that we are NOT talking about structural elements. It is not the fact that man stands on two legs or has two sexes that sets us apart from Apes, it is the fact that we invent dances and pen bad love poems that sets us apart.

More dramatically, it is the fact that man is a political animal, capable of inventing speech and capable of reasoning in the abstract, that sets us clearly apart. Even social animals like insects do not write laws.

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.

Note again, by calling the alleged intellectual instability of the unnamed religion ‘current’ he implies, or attempt to imply, that the is some new argument being leveled against the unnamed religion which has the Pope and the Dalai Lama all a-twitter, a-quiver and confounded: and then Mr Barash speaks to literally the oldest question in the book, perhaps the oldest question ever addressed by man.

Theological answers range from claiming that suffering provides the option of free will to announcing (as in the Book of Job) that God is so great and we so insignificant that we have no right to ask.

Pfui. A strawman argument. That is not the message of the Book of Job.

And, again, another emotional appeal: the implication is that clear-eyed priests of science, like Mr Barash, fearless have a right to ask theological questions, whereas the unnamed religion which has the Book of Job in its scriptures, are fearful people.

Note that our amateur theologian mentions in half a sentence the core answer to the problem of pain, at least the answer offered by the unnamed religion, but he does not say what it is. This is at the same level of intellectual honesty as the joke near the end of the movie TIME BANDITS where the Supreme Being answers the problem of why God would create evil by blinking in confusion and muttering, “Something to do with Free Will, I think.”

But just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death

A non-sequitur. The question being discussed is not whether suffering exists in nature, but why a benevolent God permits it. Both sides of the argument obviously agree that suffering exists.

And this has nothing to do with whether the unnamed religion is compatible or incompatible with Darwinian theories about the origin of species.

And I cannot help raise a Vulcan eyebrow over the idea that biology rests on smidgens of insights rather than, say, scientific theories confirmed by observations of fact.

— and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things.

Another non-sequitur. It is a logically impermissible conclusion to say that because suffering exists, it is built into the nature of things, if by ‘built in’ we mean that only a natural and not a supernatural explanation is called for.

The data to be explained, the existence of suffering, is a meaningful question only in light of the supernatural. If we restrict our comments to the natural world, all that can be said about it is the fact that suffering exists: a fact no one disputes. The natural world cannot answer ‘for what purpose’ suffering exists, because such questions are philosophical or theological, which deals with the abstract or the supernatural.

The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.

I wish the writer had seen fit to include a few examples, or one, of where some biological fact has any bearing on the conclusion he claims follows from modern science. I would have liked the name of the experimenter and what his experiment was, so that I could reproduce it in my basement lab bench, and see for myself that all living things are produced by a natural amoral process with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.

As it stands, the statement is another airheaded non-sequitur.

Evolution does not necessarily lead to this conclusion one way or the other, nor does this statement follow from the previous statement or paragraph or chain of thought. From the fact that suffering exists it is impermissible to leap to the conclusion that living things are produced (I assume he means that species are created) by a natural process.

He does not show that the conclusion is unavoidable, he merely says that it is, without saying what the conclusions is, or why it is inevitable. I would have liked even an mention of what the other possible conclusions are that modern science has somehow entirely disproven.

The conclusion that the process, once proved to be natural, is amoral is a permissible conclusion once we accept the idea that moral reasoning rests on a supernatural foundation, which I am willing to grant.

The indications that there is a benevolent, controlling creator are the same now as they were in Job’s day, and the knowledge or ignorance of Darwin’s theory of the origin of species by natural selection has no bearing on this question one way or the other. We did not need Darwin to tell us that suffering exists. Every child knows this from the hour that they are born screaming.

And to debate the issue is a question of theodicy, not of evolutionary biology, and requires the means and methods of theology. Not only has that not been done in this argument, the basic question has not even been addressed.

If the answer of the unnamed religion is that suffering is possible under the reign of a benevolent creator either as a penalty for ancestral disobedience or as an expected consequence of the free will among rebel angels, or as a harsh medicinal therapy, or a consequence in nature of the disobedience of man, or a by-produce of Karmic sins accumulated in past incarnations, or whatever, then I would expect for a biological argument to be presented showing what recent conclusions of biology prove that suffering is not possible either as a penalty for ancestral disobedience or as an expected consequence of the free will among rebel angels, or whatever. Instead, we are not even explicitly told what the alleged connection is to between the existence of suffering and free will is.

That argument is not onstage in this column, merely a blanket statement, unsupported by anything, that there is some sort of alleged conflict between theological questions of theodicy and the mating habits of digger wasps except that he does not even mention digger wasps, or give any examples, evidence or persuasive words to show that the alleged incompatibility exists.    

I CONCLUDE The Talk by saying that,


My jaw drops open at this point. If this were a legal case, I would now immediately move for dismissal on the grounds that a cause of action had not been alleged. He is closing his case before having called any witnesses or offering any exhibits into evidence, indeed, without anything but an opening statement of what he hopes to prove. 

I had reached twelve examples of emotional appeals before I lost count. The number of non-sequitur was eight. In a column this brief, those are appalling numbers. It take real work to cram that many errors in this short a space. The number of attempts are rational argument stands at an even more appalling zero.

I was waiting for the argument, the proof, to be given for the basic point Mr. Barash was trying to make: that belief in the conclusions of Darwinian evolution precludes a belief in the teachings of the unnamed religion. But he neither mentioned any conclusions of Darwinian evolution, not one, he also gave no argument, and did not even make a statement, showing where the incompatibility rests.

This is pathetic. I could write a better argument in favor of incompatiblism. Anyone who actually addressed the topic could.

All we have here is one blanket, unsupported statement that Darwinian ideas of natural selection are sufficient to account for the complexity of biological structures and mechanisms; and a blanket, unsupported statement that if suffering exists in the world, the unnamed religion is false.

At am at a loss to see why even a hard core atheist (and I was a hard core atheist for four fifths of my adult life) would find this article persuasive, or even why he would say it was on topic. It seems to be a laundry list of random assertions.

… although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass my course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines.

Another non-sequitur. If the Mr. Barash had given an argument showing that reconciling evolution with theodicy was a complicated matter, involving mental gymnastics, then this conclusion would follow. But, reading this article, we have nowhere addressed the core issue, which is to show where Darwin’s theory and the unnamed religion contradict each other; and nowhere is it shown that attempts to resolve that contradiction rests on distinctions or convolutions of argument so complex that they are challenging.

And while I respect their beliefs…

There is no reply I can make to this insolent lie that does not involve swear words, so I will let it pass without further comment.

No, wait, I can say something. In the sentence immediately prior to this one, Mr. Barash just said that both evolution and religion cannot be respected, which means, logically (since he himself clearly respects biology) that he does not respect religion.

…the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines, as Professor Gould and noma have insisted we do.

Please note how insolent and blatant this confession is.

Mr. Barash does not say in this sentence that it is his considered opinion that Darwinism and the unnamed religion are incompatible. He does not say that science has proven them incompatible. He says that as least for him, it is no longer acceptable, that is, socially polite, for science to undergo the ungainly mental gymnastics needed to stick to science and not intrude into theology.

Look closely. Mr. Barash is not talking about science or philosophy, not talking about what is true or false, logical or logical. He is talking about what is ‘acceptable’.

But since when does science promote acceptable beliefs and deter unacceptable beliefs, rather than promoting true beliefs about science, and leaving matters outside of where the scientific methods can reach to their own devices?

Despite these three evolutionary strikes, God hasn’t necessarily struck out.

Eh… what? Mr. Barash has not won three arguments, or even given three arguments. First, he has said nothing about the omnipotence of God; and second, he has only offered an unsupported assertion about theodicy, which has nothing to do with the origin of species one way or the other, or any science, modern or not. Job was asking about the justice of God back in the Bronze Age. The third strike, about the distinction between men and beasts has nothing to do with the unnamed religion one way or the other, since Darwinism says only that Men are descended from Apes, which seems, if anything, to be a nobler origin than saying Man is made of dust and shall return to dust.

Mr Barash is suffering from the extraordinary delusion that he make a logical argument, or any sort of argument at all.

At the end of the movie version of “Inherit the Wind,” based on the famous Scopes “monkey trial” over a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, Spencer Tracy’s character, fashioned after the defense attorney Clarence Darrow, stands in the empty courtroom, picks up a Bible in one hand and Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in the other, gives a knowing smile and claps them together before putting both under his arm. Would that it were so simple.

Ending with another sneer. Now the compatibilists like myself and Mr Gould are simple. And yet not two paragraphs above, he and I are involved in reasoning so convoluted and non-simple that Mr Barash calls it mental gymnastic.

You can tell a man is intellectually dishonest when he reaches for any stick to beat a dog. Mr. Barash calls his rivals simple when it serves his turn to sneer at his rivals for being simplistic, and calls them gymnasts when it serves his turn to sneer at his rivals for being overly complicated and unsimplistic. That he makes basic errors in logic seems not to deter him.

And why is he talking about the character of the men who argue the opposite side at all? The whole column is nothing but an exercise in ad hominem.

I had ready to hand all my arguments from the scripture and magisterium showing how Christian teaching was not incompatible with Darwinian biology properly understood, and my copy of ORIGIN OF SPECIES to show what a proper understanding of Darwin actually entails: but I need give neither set of arguments here because I have not been called upon to do so. Mr Barash did not even make any reference to the teachings of the unnamed religion, much less quote chapter and verse from the Book of Genesis. He does not even quote from the Book of Job to give even the flimsiest ghost of an argument to support that his so-called interpretation of Job is correct. So, I pack away my arguments unsaid, since the big guns are not needed on this small target; only birdshot.  

Now, tally up your final score. How many times did Mr. Barash refer to any specific finding, experiment, observation or fact about biology? Did he mention the sexual reproduction strategies of the sea turtle or the timber wolf? Did he mention the hunting methods of the lioness, or the architectural cunning of the bee? Did he mention any facts at all, even one?

Did he say anything, anything at all, even by way of reference, which shows he actually teaches biology, or knows anything about it? No? Then if you find his conclusion persuasive, and it is not based on any fact or reference to biology, then the statement that Darwin and the unnamed religion are incompatible is not a conclusion of biology.

Did Mr Barash say anything, anything at all, even by way of reference, which shows he is familiar with the basic questions and answers of theology? Again, if you answer in the negative then the question is not based on any conclusion or deduction from theology, then the statement that Darwin and the unnamed religion are incompatible is not a conclusion of theology.

So what is it? It is a conclusion of groupthink: it is a profession using his prestige and power over children to warn them that theism is not politically correct, coupled with a rather unconvincing hypocrisy telling them they can be Christians and still get good grades in his class.

The Talk is a warning shot over the bow of Christian students unwise or unlucky enough to take a class from this creature. I am mildly astonished he flies his colors so boldly, since Leftists are a cowardly and superstitious lot, but it is a sign of the continued degeneration of our schools, once institutions of higher learning, now indoctrination centers: schools are nothing but seminaries for the cult of political correctness.