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The Modesty Chronicles

David Klinghoffer


They’ve got a humor-impaired satirist at The New Yorker called Andy Borowitz. This week he offers the following headline, “Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans.” You can pretty much write the rest yourself, though I was surprised that he leaves out any direct mention of the obvious targets — skeptics on climate change and Darwinian evolution. I suppose the reader is expected to fill those in for himself:

MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report) — Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life, a sobering new study reports.

The research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, identifies a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any form of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them.

“These humans appear to have all the faculties necessary to receive and process information,” Davis Logsdon, one of the scientists who contributed to the study, said. “And yet, somehow, they have developed defenses that, for all intents and purposes, have rendered those faculties totally inactive.”

While scientists have no clear understanding of the mechanisms that prevent the fact-resistant humans from absorbing data, they theorize that the strain may have developed the ability to intercept and discard information en route from the auditory nerve to the brain. “The normal functions of human consciousness have been completely nullified,” Logsdon said.

Groan. But notice the irony. Most of the folks who condemn skeptics like us are, in fact, the ones that are unable to assimilate, process, or even just accurately restate counterarguments or counterevidence.

In principle, there’s no reason you couldn’t have a thoughtful person who rejects the case made by ID advocates or Darwin skeptics but nevertheless can explain in detail what that case is and why he thinks it fails. Yet critics like that are exceedingly rare. Far more common is the “My Side’s Got It All Figured Out” profile, matched by the supercilious attitude of a guy like Andy Borowitz.

Or Jerry Coyne. What you get, much too often, is blockheaded hubris — of the kind reflected, for example, in the title of Coyne’s forthcoming opus, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. (On the bright side, the book is already getting beaten up in the academic community itself for Coyne’s “unacceptably simplistic understandings of religion generally and theology specifically.” See the review in the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

The opposite perspective is one of modesty, and something I’ve noticed in our science coverage here lately has been an appeal to evolution advocates to exercise a little of that overlooked virtue.

Today, for example, Ann Gauger concludes her series on the white spaces in evolutionary thinking — problems in Darwinian theory, pertaining especially to development, that are not just unsolved but likely unsolvable in a materialist paradigm. See:

The occasion for Dr. Gauger’s series was the release of a new video, “How to Build a Worm.” The video sparked hostiles replies from Darwinists who think that, when it comes to explaining the evolution of a humble creature like C. elegans, a roundworm, they’ve got it all figured out. Discovery Institute’s Paul Nelson countered those responses, the most interesting of which came from Washington University biologist Ursula Goodenough, writing at Jerry Coyne’s blog Why Evolution Is True. See Dr. Nelson’s posts here:

It would be very good to have a response to Paul Nelson from Dr. Goodenough, don’t you think?

All of that was sparked by a ten-minute video about a worm. For the broader case for modesty in the context of thinking about evolution, here are a couple of excellent new articles by ENV‘s Casey Luskin for World Magazine. Luskin nicely crystalizes the primary, and seemingly intractable, difficulties facing Darwin advocates:

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if an evolutionist came along and admitted,

Look, I don’t buy the argument for intelligent design because [SUPPLY HERE A REASONABLE EVALUATION OF THE CASE FOR ID, REFLECTING A CAREFUL READING OF THE PRIMARY SOURCES]. But yeah, our account of how life arose without guidance or purpose faces considerable scientific challenges. We’re working on those and hope to get back to you within a certain, not unlimited time period.

Man, the humility to concede that matters are more complicated than your preferred position in a given debate would lead you to wish… What a concept!

Image credit: NASA/ORAU Richard Moore.

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.