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Darwinism and Intelligent Design

A common problem is that people ask the wrong question about a subject. The classic example from operations research is the “depth-charge problem”: in WWII, aircraft-dropped depth charges were set to explode at about 50ft beneath a U-boat—since that was the average depth submarines sailed at; however, the submarines were usually sighted by the aircraft when surfaced and then depth-charged just as they dived—the charges exploded harmlessly beneath them, since they had not sunk to their average depth. Operations researchers noticed the pattern, inferred the reason, and set the depth charges to explode at about 30ft (it was not possible to set them to explode at a shallower depth due to technical constraints)—the result was a massive increase in submarine kills.

The initial research asked the wrong question, started with the assumption that the aircraft would attack a submarine in its typical situation—actually, that was exceptional and hardly ever happened. A similar situation pertains with regards to arguments—tedious arguments—over Darwinism and religion. The problem with these debates is that they always start within the Darwinian frame and so ask the wrong questions. Essentially, the religious person hears the Darwinian case and then thinks, “How do I get God into this?”. This is the wrong question.

For a start, it assumes that God is like a person with a drawing board and a green visor on his head and plans and intentions—perhaps he is not, or perhaps that is just a metaphor for God used to explain the concept to simple folk. If he is like a person, it is assumed he must have aims and directions and be consciously directing the biological process (along with everything else)—and Darwinism seems to contradict that worldview, since it says mutations happen and either survive or no; and it is this process, without any purpose, that eventually constructs, for example, an eye.

The anti-Darwinian—it used to be “Intelligent Designers” in the 1990s and 2000s—then gets very excited about the “randomness” and “purposelessness” involved in the process. Analogies as regards tornados whipping through a junkyard and assembling a 747 and monkeys at typewriters producing Shakespeare given a millennia or twelve abound. The Darwinist, for his part, hotly denies that this process is “random” as his opponents mean—he says it is simply not “directed” or “planned” from above; it is iterative and emergent. The whole debate is very tedious on both sides, with Intelligent Designers desperately trying to show that Darwin led to Hitler—an emotional appeal which is on weak grounds because although Hitlerism utilised Darwinian ideas it was as much, particularly for Hitler, based on race as spiritually conceived. The Darwinians are not quite so annoying in their propaganda—although they are pretty smug—and this is because, as we shall see, in this particular regard they have right on their side.

The “wrong question” asked in this regard is the question already noted: “How do I get God into this?”. It’s as if they are trying to squeeze God into this awkwardly shaped box, but somehow, even if you stuff him in halfway, he just won’t go—nothing “clicks”. The reason it is the wrong question is that Darwinism is a quantitative mode of analysis—even in its modern iteration, wherein it is interested in genes and not simply “number of progeny in each generation that survive”, it is quantitative. Science is quantitative—that is its strength, it mathematises observations about reality to demonstrate regularities that allow you to predict events and control your environment.

Religion, by contrast, is about the whole—the whole includes a quantitative and qualitative aspect by definition; and, by definition, science cannot be about the whole—its power relies on its ability to take out the qualitative element. Hence science is not reality—only an aspect of reality. Once we have established this to be so, we find that we asked the wrong question: there is no need to “refute” Darwinism, since Darwinism itself does not refute religion—it cannot comment on the qualitative by definition. In its own terms, Darwinism is correct—and that is why Darwinian propaganda is less annoying; however, we would not want to be run by a purely Darwinian state because such a state would be disconnected from reality—as would a purely scientific state, since a purely scientific or technocratic state must exclude the qualitative.

Conclusion: Darwinians who say that their theory has refuted God or the religious perspective are wrong—it is a quantitative theory about material biological reality that is “true” (the best hypothesis supported by the evidence) in its own terms; it has nothing to say about the whole that includes the qualitative. Similarly, “intelligent designers” have not refuted Darwinism and are wrong because they conceive God in a limited way (as a giant all-powerful man with a drawing board) and seek to refute quantitative arguments with qualitative arguments (about purpose, direction, and morality).

Taken globally, the Darwinians are more “wrong”, being more limited—taken in the specific case, the religious people who try to squeeze God into a materialist conception of biology are more wrong because God is a wider entity than that. The situation exists because modern religious people are actually much more “atheistic” than they think and so tackle even religious questions in a quasi-scientific manner that is flawed from a purely scientific perspective.

Indeed, the whole “designer notion”—the image conjured up of God as a man hard at work at his drawing board—is itself techno-scientific, it springs from a Victorian world of gears and mechanism; or, further back, to 18th-century Paley with his watchmaker tinkering with the cosmic gear ratios. It is related to this very English idea, associated with Paley, that “our religion is rational, unlike foreign cults”—Christianity, meaning the Church of England, is true because it is rational; and yet it turns out Darwinism is more rational, hence this vector of Christianity proves to be a dead end.

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