Sunday, March 1, 2009

Natural selection: Darwin's God killer

It's been 150 years since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, yet public acceptance of natural selection seems as elusive as ever. A recent poll in the United States, for example, revealed that most Americans don't believe in evolution; 51% of respondents still believe that God created humans in present form while 30% think that humans evolved, but that God guided the process.

The fact that the majority of Americans reject evolution outright is likely due to the generally weak understanding of scientific principles and the ongoing devotion to biblical literalism in that country. But the explanation as to why 30% believe that God 'guided the process' is a bit more involved, one that speaks directly to the larger problem.

There's a definite 'want to have my cake and eat it, too' aspect to this position. It's often voiced by the statement, 'You can believe in evolution and still believe in God -- there's room for both.'

But what this position flatly ignores is the ultimate power of Darwin's 'dangerous' idea, that natural selection is a stand-alone process that does not require the intervention of a higher power. Consequently, it has become the fuel that powers scientific naturalism -- the conviction that all phenomenon, whether biological or physical, can be explained by autonomous processes.

Since time immemorial, religions of all sorts have offered their creation stories. It was Darwin, however, who finally explained how we really got here. And his explanation -- that we're descended from animals -- was particularly upsetting to Christian sensibilities. No longer a creature positioned between God and the animals, Darwin reduced humanity to nature. The notion that humans were just another animal in the forest was -- and still is -- a very difficult pill to swallow.

This is ultimately why evolution remains largely rejected to this very day. Human arrogance has gotten in the way and many of us fear the implications. If we lack that 'divine spark,' and if God doesn't really exist, what's to prevent us from brutalizing each other? Are humans subject to the laws of nature rather than the laws of God? And what does it even mean to speak of 'human nature?' Is that as seemingly malleable as our physical form?

These may be challenging and provocative questions, but it's in response to the truth. Without it and our devotion to reason we live in a state of confusion and fumble in the dark.

Given the evidence in support of natural selection, and given that sensible people can no longer withhold reasonable consent on the matter, the cognitive dissonance created in the minds of the faithful must pound like a migraine. Their prescription has become this fatuous and pathetic attempt to reconcile religion and science -- the suggestion that God is somehow still in charge and directing traffic. It's delusion as comfort food.

I'd like to end this article by suggesting that we'll eventually get over it, and that someday we'll all accept natural selection as truth. But given that 150 years have passed and we're still largely in denial, it's an open question as to whether or not the greater public will ever come to accept Darwin's creation story and our place in the Universe.

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