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If Darwinists Won the Debate, What Would They Say to Impart Comfort, Meaning to Those in Grief?

David Klinghoffer


At ENV we stick mainly, though not exclusively, to the scientific stakes in the evolution controversy. Sometimes, as Mike Flannery did yesterday, we reflect on Darwinism’s record as an influence in culture and ethics — including “eugenics, racism, imperialism, cutthroat capitalism, and crude materialism” — not because that record should be determinative in the scientific debate, of course, but because it highlights what’s otherwise at stake.
It is possible, as a historian, to set down that sorry history in a narrative. John West and Richard Weikart have done so in ample, scholarly detail. There’s an aspect of the matter, though, that’s harder to characterize but is no less important. It’s the way that the “Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature” (as Nagel puts it) would, if triumphant, deprive us of a whole tradition of seeking meaning, comfort and consolation in pain.
As I was driving kids to school today we listened to the interfaith service in memory of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. President Obama spoke well, beginning with an apt citation from the Bible, and several clergy of a variety of faiths were very moving. So imagine if Darwinists won the day. Jerry Coyne writes at Why Evolution Is True about how he’s studying up on theology in order to knock it down. The man’s immaturity as a writer and thinker is so evident that I can’t see any genuine threat on that front.
But in a Peter J. Bowler-style counterfactual exercise, let’s say Coyne writes a new book and wins the day, convincing the culture that since Darwinian evolution is true and religion false, we will have to give up the latter in favor of the former and the picture of the world it suggests. Imagine how impoverished we would be not least in a time of crisis. Take away the language and themes of spiritual counselors like the ones who spoke in Boston today. What have you got now?
Put in their place some midget of a Darwinian — what would you call him? Not a minister. I don’t know. Sort of a social worker I guess — I mean no disrespect to MSWs, my mother is one, but that is about the best you could expect in a world where Darwinian materialism was triumphant. A tragedy occurs and this Darwinian social worker gets up to advise and conciliate an anguished city and a grieving country. What in the world does he say?
Does he show them a PowerPoint presentation of videos of cute cats? What then? Man needs meaning. We crave it, especially when faced with adversity. I challenge any Darwinist readers to write some comments down that would be suitable, not laughable, in the context of speaking to people who have lived through an event like Monday’s bombing. By all means, let me know what you come up with.
Image credit: Wikipedia.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.