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Eric Hoffer’s Skepticism About Darwinism

Tom Bethell

ENV is pleased to welcome guest blogger Tom Bethell, a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Regnery) and other books.
Many years ago I interviewed Eric Hoffer (1898-1983), and may have been the last journalist to do so. Widely known as the Longshoreman Philosopher, he was for years a member of the dockers’ union in San Francisco, but his views were not those of your typical stevedore. He had published The True Believer in 1951, and more books after that. Impressed by the breadth of his mind and the unconventional nature of his opinions, I wrote and asked if I could come and interview him. That was in 1980. He invited me to come.
He had written that “when God died in the middle of the 19th century there was immediately set in motion a process which tended to reverse the separation of nature and human nature.” Darwinism, and the intellectual currents of his day, “aimed to reduce human nature to nature.” Biologically, man was now seen as nothing more than “a superior monkey.” Politically, he was an automaton who could be manipulated by a Mao or a Stalin.
Hoffer’s refusal to join the parade of thinkers who accepted that man was little more than a boastful ape was perhaps his finest hour as a philosopher. It showed him at his most independent. And his perception of the unique qualities of man encouraged him to ponder man’s Creator.
Out of the blue, when I arrived in San Francisco, I asked Hoffer whether he believed in evolution. His reply was immediate: “It’s easier to believe in God.”

Later I studied his papers at the Hoover Institution, where they are open to researchers. I found this in a notebook:

The mindlessness of nature frightens us, particularly when we see the minute dovetailing and mathematical precision of its structure . . . That chance should accomplish over immensely long periods what only the subtlest intellect could devise frightens us. And it is this fright which drives us to see the hand of an all-knowing God in the workings of nature. We cannot stomach chance, and at bottom we really do not believe in it. We more readily believe in God.

He also resisted the modern tendency to imagine that science and religion are in opposition. On the contrary, the early scientists had taken inspiration from the creation that so manifestly surrounded them. They tried to work out how God has done it. Science emerged from this study of God’s handiwork.
In his article “God and the Machine Age” (reprinted in The Ordeal of Change) he made the point that early scientists such as Galileo and Kepler “really and truly believed in a God who had planned and designed the whole of creation–a God who was a master mathematician and technician.” Hoffer wrote:

It sounds odd in modern ears that it was a particular concept of God that prompted and guided the men who were at the birth of modern science. They felt in touch with God in every discovery they made. Their search for the mathematical laws of nature was to some extent a religious quest. Nature was God’s text, and mathematical notations were His alphabet.

Hoffer’s skepticism about evolution is not well known, but I believe that many thoughtful people, even though they have never studied the subject, reject Darwinism in their minds. As the lawyer Norman Macbeth told me years ago: “We know in our bones that it isn’t true.”
Macbeth wrote a great little book called Darwin Retried in the 1970s, and it was my conversations with him that started my own study of this subject. Macbeth’s comment stayed in my mind, and it helps to explain to this day why the opposition to evolution is so widespread.
Richard Dawkins wrote in his latest book The Greatest Show on Earth that

the evidence for evolution grows by the day, and has never been stronger. At the same time, paradoxically, ill-informed opposition is also stronger than I can remember.

What he says about the evidence for evolution growing is the opposite of the truth. In reality it is getting weaker. The key to understanding this is Hoffer’s comment about nature’s “minute dovetailing and mathematical precision.” The more we study life at the molecular level, the more precise that dovetailing turns out to be. It has reached the point where it is impossible to believe that it arose by the natural selection of random variants.
In the 19th century, German contemporaries of Darwin such as Max Schultz and Ernst Haeckel thought that a cell was a “simple lump of protoplasm.” That was pure fiction, invented by the materialists of the day to make Darwinian evolution seem more plausible. Everything we have learned in the 150 years since then has shown that, far from being “undifferentiated protoplasm,” the cell exceeds in complexity a modern hi-tech factory.
Before the Human Genome Project we thought we knew what a gene was–a well defined nucleotide sequence. Now its complexity is seen to be so great that the old concept of the gene will probably have to be abandoned. (See “What Is a Gene?Nature, 2006.) As the research grows, the minute dovetailing is shown to be more and more precise at every level. It is pure deception to pretend that we know how it happened.
Contrary to Dawkins, the alleged evidence for evolution becomes less plausible with every passing day.

Tom Bethell

Long-time journalist Tom Bethell is author of the newly released book Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates. Praised by Tom Wolfe as “one of our most brilliant essayists,” Bethell is the previous author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science.