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An Artist Examines Evolution


Merion West is an online news source that dubs itself “a journal where all perspectives are welcome.” They tout the fact that they have been rated by Media Bias/Fact Check as a “Least Biased” source. 

Generally, their articles seem to have deeper analysis than you will find in much of the mainstream media. For example, recent headlines include, “The Fraught Relationship Between Religion and Epidemiology,” “The Critics of ‘Social Justice,’ from Jonah Goldberg to Jordan Peterson,” and “Hannah Arendt’s Concept of ‘Impotent Bigness.’” They regularly interview newsmakers, and authors often include professors in relevant fields and others well qualified to comment. 

Left, Center, or Right

Articles are explicitly labeled by viewpoint: left, center, or right. This makes for interesting reading. To date, I haven’t seen much about evolution and intelligent design on the site, but there is a recent article entitled “When We Oversimplify Darwin.” I was curious to see what Merion West would say. The article is labeled as representing a “View from the Center.” 

It is too concerned with trying to make peace between all sides. Interestingly, the author, artist Chris Augusta, acknowledges that there is scientific debate over evolutionary theory. That’s a plus. The article links to last year’s Hoover Institution-sponsored discussion “Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution” among Stephen Meyer, David Gelernter, and David Berlinski, led by Peter Robinson, and to a Socrates in the City conversation between Dr. Meyer and Eric Metaxas.

“Paradoxical Reality”

Augusta argues that Darwin was confused about the nature of reality and didn’t come to firm conclusions regarding the existence of a designer or a central role for chance. Augusta, whose website includes some weird and spooky “Art of Evolution,” advocates for “paradoxical reality”:

Charles Darwin, that greatest of empiricists, bears witness to the raw spectacle of paradoxical nature. He sees clearly manifestations of design, and he sees clearly manifestations of chance. Reading Darwin’s letters to Asa Gray reveals a man transfixed by the blinding spectacle of contrary forces. Darwin is a deer in the headlights: He can’t move forward; he can’t move backward.

I find this conclusion absurd. Darwin clearly derived from his theory a materialistic view of the world. He wrote in his Autobiography, “There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.” For Darwin, this had sinister implications. In a poignant Evolution News article, science historian Michael Flannery noted, “Writing to William Graham (1839-1911) on July 3, 1881, Darwin saw the march of human progress in blatantly racist terms. Civilization would advance even at the cost of inevitable racial extermination.” Darwin wrote:

Lastly I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilisation than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risks the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is. The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world.

Dennett Was Not Wrong

We may dispute what Darwin felt or thought in the privacy of his study — but the bulk of his writings fall clearly into advocating for one perspective: naturalism. Why else would atheist Daniel Dennett have written that Darwinism was a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept”? Dennett was not wrong. That does not sound too “paradoxical” to me.

Augusta says poets too grapple with this “paradoxical reality” and then goes on to liken science to poetry. He offers comfort to those who, unlike Darwin and poets, are “intimidated” by paradox — but gently points out that our insistence on resolving these paradoxes through Christianity or militant atheism à la Percy Shelley is childlike. Pardon me, Augusta, I think I might vomit.

Needless to say, poetry is very different from science. It operates by entirely different rules. We don’t let poets (or artists) make rules for us; I don’t think they were consulted about how to respond to the coronavirus. Poets and artists don’t have that kind of power, and it’s probably a good thing.

As part of his closing, Augusta notes that “the universe is better described as creative than created.” Really? Actually, let’s take a look at that whole paragraph: 

This materialistic Darwinism has dominated for more than a century-and-a-half, but its own explanatory power may be waning. Proponents of Intelligent Design insist that the very complexity of life cannot be explained by essentially random mechanistic processes. But Intelligent Design is perhaps a poor choice of words that tends to shift attention away from the thing (or event) observed to some pre-existing designer. You do not have to introduce the notion of an Intelligent Designer to acknowledge the existence of order and pattern in nature. The universe may be apprehended, as it was by Albert Einstein among many others, as embodying intelligence insofar as the human mind can apprehend order and harmony. For Einstein, doing science was nothing less than an attempt to understand this intelligence. Sticking to what we actually experience, the universe is better described as creative rather than created. 

This Is Centrist?

I am at a loss. In what way is the universe creative? To be sure, materialists have mounted strained defenses against the evidence of cosmic design. But the multiverse hypothesis is bankrupt — truly a fantasy. String theory is a delusional apparition. Stephen Meyer’s forthcoming The Return of the God Hypothesis makes these things clear.

Augusta seeks to encourage tolerance and agreement. What he has written, though, is a mess. I’m baffled to see that Merion West thinks this is “centrist.” 

Photo credit: JJ Ying via Unsplash.