Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sam Brownback--Evolutionist?

Senator Sam Brownback, the right-wing Republican presidential candidate from Kansas wrote an op-ed piece for the May 31 New York Times. In his column, he explains what he meant when he raised his hand during the May 3 Republican presidential debate when the moderator asked which candidates didn't believe in evolution.

The original question was asked of John McCain, who said "I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also." In other words, McCain endorsed a sort of theistic evolution. The question then asked was "is there anybody on the stage that does not agree, believe in evolution?" Brownback, Mike Huckabee, and Tom Tancredo raised their hands.

Brownback writes:
The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.
Here, Brownback is being disingenuous. McCain clearly stated that he believed in evolution, but that it didn't mean that he was an athiest--that he believed that God had a hand in putting together the world. Brownback is simply trying to have his cake and eat it, too--to claim that he believes in evolution, even though he makes it clear later in the piece that he doesn't agree with any science that contradicts his beliefs:

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.
In other words, as long as reality doesn't interfere with Brownback's beliefs, he's all for paying attention to it. Brownback's support for the teaching of intelligent design--warmed-over creationism--is nothing new. My guess is that Brownback truly is a Biblical literalist, but has taken so much crap from the media for that ridiculous stand that he feels the need to disassociate himself from his beliefs--at least until the election is over. His base is not reading the opinion page of the Times, and if they do, they'll understand what's going on.


Kevin Clark said...

I think you are misjudging Brownback a bit. For one, he is a Catholic, which means that he presumably subscribes to the Catholic view of Scripture, which is that it is not meant to be viewed as absolutely historically literal. I also agree with Brownback that the question, "Do you believe in evolution?" is too complex to answer yes or no, since it has to do with what exactly one means by evolution and what exactly is one's view regarding the philosophy of science.

It seems that by evolution, some people mean that the process must necessarily be random in the most fundamental sense. Even Kenneth Miller seems to subscribe to this a little bit in "Finding Darwin's God." But personally, I cannot see how a traditional theist can think that evolution is an utterly random process, unknown to God. If God is outside of time, then he has to able to understand the entirety of the time line. Hence, no point in the time line can be unknown to God.

I also don't think that it's entirely unreasonable to reject a scientific explanation that contradicts previously known facts. For example, Stephen Barr points out that in the early 1900's, it looked like the entire universe was determined, and that if you knew the current state of the universe, you could with absolute accuracy predict all future states. Now, if that were true, and it appeared to be from the science of the day, it would mean that human beings could not have free will. If you could predict all future human actions from past actions, then obviously no human choice would be involved. If at that point a Christian had said, "Yes, the science indicates humans do not have free will, but my religious beliefs are otherwise, and I am sticking to those beliefs" he would probably have been ridiculed for it. But he also would have been right, since the advent of quantum mechanics opened up the idea that the future cannot be predicted from the past.

I wrote this quickly, and it's not as well constructed as I'd like, but I'll post anyway.

Archaeopteryx said...

Hi, Kev,
My point was that Brownback was pandering. He certainly didn't have to answer yes or no, but he did anyway--and now he's trying to have it both ways--"I believe in evolution, but I don't." His op-ed in the Times was a perfectly reasonable one (until the last paragraph) for a Christian who believes in evolution, but it was also inconsistent with what he said in the debate (basically "I don't believe in evolution") and also what he has said in the past. He's been a strong supporter of teaching ID in the schools, and a darling of the Discovery Institute.

And certainly, it's reasonable and proper to reject a scientific explanation if there is any rational basis to do so. "It contradicts my religious beliefs" doesn't qualify as rational.

O/T--you mentioned before that you were planning on writing some fiction, and I totally didn't ask you about that. What gives?

Kevin Clark said...

Well, I'll agree with you that his last paragraph is inartful at best. But he does have a point about atheism/materialism posing as science, which I think you would agree with as well.

Regarding my own writing, it's nothing terribly exciting. When I was in college, I did a lot of short story and article writing. I was pretty successful in having things published. After college, I went into writing computer software, which is another type of creating. I did that both at my regular job and in my spare time, so I did not have much time for other things.

But after writing software in my spare time for so long, a while ago I just got kind of tired of it, and felt like I wanted to go back to writing fiction and also some nonfiction articles for magazines. So I've done a little of that, with a small amount of success.

I'm also sort of writing two novels. One is an historical novel set in the Plymouth Colony around 1650. It deals with Puritanism and the conflict of a man between his family and his religious beliefs. I wrote about 40,000 words but then got a little stuck, although I have lately thought of some new twists, so I'm hoping I can finish it.

The other novel is something of a murder mystery, but it goes into a lot of topics that we've discussed, including intelligent design, the nature of religious belief, and what would be proof of the existence of God, and whether proof would matter. It also deals with DNA, prime numbers, data encryption, international terrorism, rogue Russian nuclear weapons, 9/11 conspiracy theories, etc. I think the main idea is good, and if I can pull it all together, it should be an interesting read.


Archaeopteryx said...

That does sound interesting--I can't wait to read it. Sounds like a much more interesting read than the stuff I've had published--small-time studies on the feeding habits of desert birds. Not much character development, and the plot is pretty much all about eating bugs.

hipparchia said...

mmmm, bugs!

yours would definitely be more interesting than mine, the feeding habits of bacteria. talk about lack of character development.

Archaeopteryx said...

Hipparchia--are you a biologist, too?