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A Fog Over the Intelligent Design Debate

Editor's Note: This is crossposted at David Klinghoffer's Beliefnet blog, Kingdom of Priests.

A pair of dueling websites, one that just went live, are engaged in an important argument over whether religious believers should continue to be fed the "opium of the people." That's the famous phrase Marx Karl used to deride all of religion. One kind of faith actually deserves the description, however. It's called theistic evolution, a convoluted justification for thinking that belief in God and belief in Darwin's mechanism of blind, churning, unguided, and purposeless evolution can be meaningfully reconciled.

The new website is Faith and Evolution, from the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. It features all kinds of resources -- writing and video, debates, questions and answers, and much else, including a number of contributions from yours truly. Do check it out and let me know what you think.

Faith and Evolution presents a striking contrast with Dr. Francis Collins's theistic evolution site BioLogos, courtesy of the Templeton Foundation. Dr. Collins and his associate Karl Giberson also blog here at Beliefnet. At F&E, you'll find my analysis of Dr. Collins's ideas on religion and evolution. One very useful thing about F&E is that it highlights debates both on the science of evolution and on the social impact of Darwinism, whereas BioLogos is more like a single-perspective sermon.

Collins and Giberson are sincere Evangelical Christians -- as far as I, a Jew, can tell -- and undoubtedly innocent of all guile, but they represent an insidious trend in religious and intellectual life. This genuine opiate of the masses works as a stupor-inducing fog, enveloping the debate about intelligent design versus Darwinism. The fog lulls you with the thought that between the idea of design in nature, and that of no design in nature, there is actually no need to make a choice.

The human genome, for example, is written in the "language of God," as Dr. Collins wrote in the title of his bestselling book. Yet the genome is riddled with "Junk DNA" just as you'd expect from the product of a Darwinian process, driven by randomness and guided by no design or intelligence. Language of God? Language of Junk? Both are right! School's out! Everybody celebrate!

Not only is this theologically, intellectually and scientifically vacuous -- actually, that wouldn't be so bad -- it would not qualify as insidious. What does qualify is the way this fog-generating machine of theistic evolution, its influence spread by the media, has given to countless otherwise thoughtful people intellectual permission to turn off part of their brains, lowering their defenses. This is just what the Darwin Lobby needs, people of faith complacently casting their vote for a cultural force that undermines faith. Lenin is said to have called such people "useful idiots." He was not a very nice person.

You see the effect most poignantly in religiously and politically conservative circles. Conservatives should be the first to grasp that "ideas have consequences," as Richard Weaver put it. Darwinism's corrosive effects on faith, on belief in human dignity and the sacredness of human life; the sinister way Darwin's theory has had of inspiring social movements of organized evil -- these are solid reasons to go back and look again critically at the science. Does natural selection operating on random mutations really explain the history of life without the need for a guiding spiritual force outside nature? Did the software in the cell, DNA, really write itself?

For many of us who should know better, it's easier, whether intellectually, socially, or both, not to come too close to the edge of the sacred mountain of Darwinism.

My image is from Exodus 19, which Jews will be reading in synagogue tomorrow for the festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost. When God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses at Mt. Sinai, he warned that the people should "Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall surely die" (v. 12).

"Descend, warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to see, and a multitude of them will fall. Even the priests who approach the Lord should be prepared, lest the Lord burst forth against them" (v. 21).

This was on the third day of the Israelites' preparation for receiving the Sinai revelation, when "there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain" (v. 16).

Something of this same sacred awe surrounds Mt. Darwin, its holy peak lost in cloud and fog. People are afraid to violate its borders to see, lest the prestige of the Darwinian idea burst forth against them, and a multitude will feel socially humiliated at being associated with the phantom menace: "creationism."

I invite you to investigate for yourself. Faith and Evolution provides some very apt and accessible resources. Contrary to myth, this mountain may be ascended, the fog dispersed.