From Novak--Evolution as Science, Evolution as Philosophy


from No One Sees God
Michael Novak

And so, when a Christian reader comes across Professor Dawkins's argument that God cannot exist, because all complex and more intelligent things come only at the end of the evolutionary process, not at the beginning, the Christian's first reflex may be to burst out laughing--but as an attentive student, he is also obliged to observe that, yes, from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, that must in fact be so. The argument may be intellectually or philosophically satisfying, yet when its practical implications are compared with those of the Christian viewpoint, evolutionary biology may not be attractive as a guide to life. If one wants to be an evolutionary biologist, however, one must learn to confine oneself within the disciplines imposed by that field.

From a Roman Catholic point of view, at least, there is no difficulty in accepting all the findings of evolutionary biology, understood to be an empirical science--that is to say, not as a philosophy of existence, a metaphysics, a full vision of human life. It is easier for Christianity to absorb many, many findings of the contemporary world--from science to technology, politics, economics, and art--than for those whose viewpoint is confined to the contemporary era to absorb Christianity. That is just one reason that we may expect the latter to outlive the former.

It is obvious that Dawkins, at laast, is quite aware of the conventional limitations of the scientific atheist's point of view. He writes that "a quasi-mystical response to nature and the universe is common among scientists and rationalists. It has no connection with supernatural belief." A few pages of his book, in almost every section, are given over to showing how an atheistic point of view can satisfy what have hitherto been taken to be religious longings. Atheism, too, he shows, has its consolations, its sources of inspiration, its awareness of beauty, its sense of wonder. For such satisfactions, there is no need to turn to religion. Dawkins does good work in restoring human subjectivity, emotion, longing, and an awed response to beauty to the life of scientific atheism. For Dawkins, scientific atheism is humanistic, a significant step forward from the sterile logical positivism of two or three generations ago.

Let's leave aside for the moment the question of whether Dawkins actually argues for progressive complexity--I haven't read the book, but knowing what I do about evolutionary thinking, I tend to doubt that. It is a oversimplification of the complexity of thought and theory surrounding evolutionary biology.

What is gratifying to me is the support given from a non-scientific quarter for the need to separate the philosophical components of evolutionary biology from the empirical components. At this point Novak does not go into detail, and I don't recall any more detailed discussions in the matter; however, the assumption of randomness implicit in much of evolutionary biology is simply that--an assumption that has neither rigor nor demonstrable scientific validity.

What is also very nice is the idea that rational, thinking Christianity, as opposed to a too-literal cleaving to the exact words of Scripture, is better able to encompass all of the works of the human mind, than a philosophy that is based on rational empiricism. This should be obvious for anyone with an iota of intellectual integrity. Christianity, and Catholic thought in particular, is inclusive--it is the living demonstration of the words of Jesus, "Who is not against me is for me." (I know, the opposite is said as well, however, Catholicism, tends to embrace this view of the world--at least today.)

Novak accords Dawkins's disturbing diatribe with a great deal more respect that it probably deserves as argument, and in doing so, pulls from the morass something that can help us all in our faith lives.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 7, 2008 7:22 AM.

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