BOOKS & THE CULTURE Ducking the God Question BY JAMES E. MCWILLIAMS Darwin’s Gift: To Science and Religion By Francisco J. Ayala Joseph Henry Press 256 pages, $24.95 The Creation-Evolution Debate By Edward J. Larson University of Georgia Press 88 pages, $22.95 As often happens when a topic lands in the eye of a media hurricane, Darwinian evolution is now being examined from a sensationalis tic extreme. “Creation science” serves as the reliable bogeyman lurking on the outskirts of reason. Also known as “intelligent design,” this account of life’s origins seriously propounds that the world is only a few thousand years old, God directly created it, and the biblical flood was a real event that mercifully left standing a pair of each animal species. The most legitimate justification for the media’s decision to approach the theory of evolution through creationism is that creationists have been threatening to infect biology classrooms in public schools across the country. That’s bad for everybody. But, perhaps less justifiably, the view from the extreme has the added benefit of piquing a sense of intellectual superiority among the rational masses. In the face of such utter booboisie pap, reasonable people are cued to roll their eyes at biblical literalists speaking in tongues, frequenting mega-churches, and blathering nonsense at school board meetings. When Judge John E. Jones, in the 2004 case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, declared that it took “breathtaking inanity” for the Dover school board to include ID as a viable alternative to Darwinian evolution, members of the “realitybased” community indulged the pleasure of kicking a stupid idea while it was down. This, of course, was fun. But creationism is a cheap, intellectually facile framework for placing the theory of evolution in context. For all their potentially disproportionate impact, creationists are a remarkably whacked-out minority, a deliciously fat and juicy target for our contempt. Most devout believers on the broad western spectrum of religiosity have effectively potentially competing demands of religious belief and scientific knowledge. Even the National Academy of Sciences argues that “within the Judeo-Christian religions, many people believe that God works through the process of evolution” and that “God has created both a world that is ever changing and a mechanism through which creatures can adapt to environmental change over time.” Few really submit this wishy-washy idea to serious scientific testing, but it’s much more common than fundamentalism, not to mention a staple of rational believers. It would be far more challenging intellectually \(and it might even generity-based rationalists grappled with an issue that Darwin himself urged us to consider: that the human capacity for morality does not have a basis in religion at all, but rather in the behavior of our animal precursors. In other words, what if the public debate over Darwin moved away from “creationism versus evolution” \(which confirms what ratioto “God and evolution” versus “no God and evolution” \(which scares the bejesus out of many right-thinking people who underlay the liberality of enlightA recent spate of “Down with God” books suggests the forms this debate might take. Richard Dawkins, the most convincing of the recent atheist flame throwers, has employed his status as an Oxford University molecular biologist to systematically illuminate the thesis of his most recent book, The God Delusion. With prose as sassy as it is informed, Dawkins lambastes Darwinian rationalists who believe in God as intellectual chubbies failing to acknowledge what he sees as the improbability of God’s existence. Whereas many prominent scientists drop their well-honed investigative tools at the imposing door of the metaphysical, Dawkins subjects the question of a creative super-intelligence to scientific scrutiny and findsno surprise herethe probability of proving God’s existence is about the same as proving the existence of a flying spaghetti machine. “Faith!!!” the believers will insist. But Dawkins, like an attack dog going after a chew toy, will have none of it. Joining the “Down with God” books are a series of “Up with the Apes” volumes, including Frans de Waal’s Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved. De Waal and others have found the roots of morality in our animal nature and, in so doing, embraced Darwin’s view that humans have an innate capacity for morality that has evolved alongside other such useful devices as the eye, brain, and opposable thumb. Books on Darwinian evolution are a dime a dozen these days, but on the whole they go flabby in the “Down with God/Up with Apes” context. Creationists, after all, are so much easier to cast as idiots. To better appreciate just how difficult it can be for even the most devout intellectuals to confront the godless implications of Darwinism, one need look no further than Francisco Ayala’s Darwin’s Gift: To Science and Religion and Edward Larson’s The CreationEvolution Debate. These books are bound to be relatively peripheral volumes among the spate now dropping down the publishing chuteAyala’s is more of a textbook than a punchy 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 1, 2007
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