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On Not Going To Camp

Darwin and Relativism

In a recent NPR segment on religious anti-Darwinism, a young person-of-faith declared that evolution could never be finally, completely proven, whereas Creationism has already been completely proven — "because the Creator," she explained, "is in my heart."

Of course, I puzzled over how this could be understood as proof. What if something else — Darwin, maybe, or perhaps The Destroyer — is in MY heart? Or what if her "heart" changes and she loses faith? How then are we supposed to decide how the biological world came to be the way it is? It would seem that proof based on "hearts" leaves us standing on awfully shaky ground.

The religious opponents of evolution frequently accuse evolution of encouraging "relativism," although I've never heard an explanation of just what this means, as if it were self-evident. It's not self-evident. Science has an awfully firm bedrock foundation for its knowledge — the world, the physical universe, the empirical field. Science changes its mind about things more often than, say, the Vatican because its understanding of the universe deepens and expands, and because it openly corrects its mistakes.

How is science somehow more "relative" than other forms of knowledge, particularly those based on faith (that is, "the heart")? Although Christianity has The Bible (actually, a wide variety of Bibles) to turn to for continuity, it's difficult to see that Biblical study has brought great consistency to Christian thought, either between sects or within a given sect over time. To base belief (that is, what one holds to be the case), on what amounts to culture and desire is relativism so extreme as to make me dizzy.

On July 9th, I had to re-read a paragraph on the front page of the New York Times three or four times.

It was in an article about an editorial written by the archbishop of Vienna, a close confidant of Pope Benedict XVI, in which he asserted, in essence, that Darwinian evolution is not true, and belief in it might not be compatible with Catholic faith. This assertion was apparently encouraged by Benedict, in a betrayal of Pope John Paul II's general friendliness to evolution and science.

What made me stop and re-read, over and over, was the NYTimes article's seventh paragraph, which reads, in its entirety:

Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory.
What's so startling is that these facts were printed in an American newspaper as facts. Most news venues would cut this paragraph on the grounds that "sounds" biased. But it only sounds biased because the facts it contains ordinarily go unreported, or are reported only as the assertions of an expert who is, in turn, contradicted by an opposing expert.

So American journalism has its own trouble with relativism in its tendency to "seem" objective while actually measuring that objectivity by its appearance. It would be better to BE objective regardless of appearance — as the New York Times has done in this case — or even to be openly biased. To be both biased and to pretend to offer objective journalism results in a relativism unlike anything Darwin would have tolerated.