Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Lee Harris on Darwinism and I.D.

Tom Cerber calls our attention to this very long Lee Harris article, in which he contends that even scientists have to believe in "intelligent design." Here are a few of the relevant paragraphs:

The notion that there was an intelligent designer who created absolutely everything from scratch and in accordance with a rational plan is the psychological precondition of the willingness to look for patterns that are hidden to the ordinary gaze. Unless we believe that there is a code to be deciphered, we are psychologically reluctant to devote hours of our life, let alone our life itself, to the pursuit of deciphering it. We think, "Oh well, it may be all meaningless garbage," and decline the challenge of explicating the possibly inexplicable.

In short, the belief, or illusion, if you will, that the world is the result of intelligent design has been the necessary condition for the construction of Western science, and it explains the otherwise mysterious fact that science, in any genuine sense of this world, arose only in countries that were part of Christendom.

Intelligent design, in other words, was a constructive illusion. Who cares if an idea be true, if it has proven so fruitful in generating insights into the nature of things-a point that Immanuel Kant makes in his last great work, The Critique of Judgment, where he argues that in order to do science at all, scientists must begin by assuming that the universe has a far greater orderliness and intelligibility than these same scientists can ever hope to prove. Rather, they must begin by having a faith that the universe has been intelligently designed, in order to inspire them with the determination to discover this design, no matter how long it takes or however serious the obstacles to such a discovery prove to be. If, on the other hand, scientists began by assuming that the universe was simply a random, capricious, lawless hodge-podge of unconnected events, then who would ever be stirred to seek hidden patterns of regularity and veiled orders of significance?

If you can’t find the time to read all of Harris’ article, at least read Cerber’s excellent summary.

Discussions - 16 Comments

Mr. Knippenberg, you are obviously no scientist and neither is Lee Harris(an obvious political hack). ID is a fraud which needs political front groups like the Discovery Institute in order to even see the light of day. And please don’t cite Dembski as an example of a biologist because he isn’t. Dembski isn’t even credible in the mathematical community.


I am sorry but Darwin was an idiot. I can’t believe the left you follow Darwin, Marx, etc. all idiots. Darwin actually thought that giraffs had longer necks over time because they strecthed them out. The only thing of his that isn’t stupid is natural selection which is stating the obvious. The strong will survive blah, blah blah.

Dear .... You refer to the difference between Lamarckian and Mendelian transmission of traits. Lamarck believed incorrectly that the experience of the parent could be transmitted to the child. Mendel discovered the gene. Darwin did not know of genese when he first wrote on Origin of Species.

Read Dawkins if you want a great description of a real biologist who needs no illusions about intelligent design!

I see your point Fung and consede (until I can check up on it) that I may have confused the studies and findings of different people. However, does that negate the fact that Darwin was wrong?

In what sense was Darwin wrong? Natural selection occurs...who disputes that? As for ID, Darwin himself believed in God and thought he had made the original lifeforms.

For my money, evolutionists should stop trying to disprove religion or the existence of God...that’s not science at all, but ideology. On the other hand, some religious people need to calm down about evolution. Clearly something like evolution has occurred, and denying it makes religious people look hidebound and irrelevant to the modern era. There is ample "cultural space" for both points of view, and the conflict is silly.

Evolution has always greatly troubled me. Here are the reasons:

1. Evolution destroys the possibility of fixed ideas in relation to physical reality (Platonic ideas must be false). How do we know what a cow is? I think the typical response is, we look at an object, notice that is corresponds to our idea of something, and thing believe that that thing is our idea. Assuming evolution is true, this process cannot exist. Assume a "cow" has a genetic mutation, and has two udders? Is this thing a cow? If it is not, why, if it is why? Evolution requires all ideas about our physical world to be arbitrary and encourages people to believe that nothing is "real." We could argue that only substantial changes should change the "cow" into something else, but I think even minor changes in DNA, etc. would require us to admit that that object is no longer a "cow," in other words there is no such thing as stable groups. I think this is devastating.

2. Much like evolution destroys fixed ideas about physical reality it must also destroy fixed ideas of a moral nature. Ideas about what an object should/should not do are based on the nature of that object. We can say we should not kill others because they are people; this command presupposes that there are things such as people. Because evolution holds that definitions of physical reality are arbitrary (see point 1 above) then only "people" that the majority classify as people are people. Assume a person is born with two hearts, is he a person? Why or why not? At what point do changes make an object into a new organism with new rights or duties? Assuming that the most superior organism has superior rights (chain of being), if a new breed of people evolved, would they have superior rights in relation to normal people, or if inferior people developed would they have inferior rights in relation to normal people? Locke derived people’s rights from their duties to God, but obviously as the organism that is people change, those duties, and possibly rights, would change as well.

3. Since evolution destroys moral foundations, the idea results in moral anarchy. I do not know how one would out argue social darwinists. Humans are animals, animals compete for resources, therefore why should humans observe any limits to competition for resources, why not fight, kill, etc. if it suits one’s interest. I assume people would argue that humans evolved to follow some sort of "moral code," that enables the species to survive and that might be correct, but what is to prevent a person from evolving a conflicting moral code (see point 2 above). What moral reason does a super human or normal person with a new moral code have not to kill millions if it would allow him to most effectively utilize his resources?

Finally, on a side note, I find environmental concerns by people who believe in evolution to be most amusing. Evolution assumes that no species has a moral right to survival. Specices survive if they can gather sufficient resources and fight off predators. Humans are just another species, and may do with other species as they wish. If evolution is true, then environmental arguments center on humans, not the moral rights of animals. Humans might conserve because it pleases us, or because if we destroy too much it would destroy us as well, but we certaintly do not conserve because of moral reasons; the reasons are practical (prudence) not moral.

None of my objections disprove evolution. It is very possible it is correct, and natural selection and adapation have been proven with bacteria, etc., but I think we ought to realize the philosopbhical results of the theory. I am not smart enough to combat them, and I wonder if evolution and classical liberalism can coexist (or even modern liberalism and evolution)?

Please, please "...." just stop embarrassing yourself.

"I am sorry but Darwin was an idiot. I can’t believe the left you follow Darwin, Marx, etc. all idiots. Darwin actually thought that giraffs had longer necks over time because they strecthed them out."

Yeah buddy, "giraffs" that "stecthed" their necks out. But Darwin and Marx were idiots... it couldn’t be you who’s the idiot, could it?

Edward- I agree with you, but I would argue that few scientists or "evolutionists" are actively trying to "disprove religion or the existence of God." It would be an utterly futile task- science and religion are clearly separate realms. That’s why "intelligent design" is so frustrating- it’s not just another theory that deserves equal consideration- it has nothing to do with science. There’s no experiment that can be done to prove or disprove that some higher being had a hand in creating life.

Funny, none of you have actually addressed the Harris article. Did any of you read it?

Once again Phil your anger and personal attacks are unwarranted. Refer to comment#4 where I conceded to Fung that I was mistaking Lamarck for Darwin. You just have the urge to attack people and fail to realize I made a mistake and conceded to it long before you made your post. However, the question I proposed is still valid. Why are Darwin’s theories still theorys? Why are they not scientific fact? Here is something to chew on.

Darwin taught that many little changes over a long period of time will add up to big changes. Darwin predicted that the fossil record would either prove or falsify his theory. Darwin realized the difficulty the fossil record (missing links) gave his theory when he said, "Why, if species have descended from other species by fine graduation, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion, instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?" Today, top evolutionists know that Darwin’s predictions of what the fossil record would reveal have failed.

It is a well guarded fact that many evolutionists rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution over 20 years ago. Stephen Jay Gould, a professor at Harvard University and one of the foremost authorities on evolution in the world said, "The extreme rarity of transitional forms (missing links) in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontologists,...we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study". Natural History, Vol. 86. Gould is still an evolutionist, he just rejects much of Darwin’s theory.

Mark Ridley, another evolutionist from Oxford University said in The New Scientist magazine in June 1981 p 831, "a lot of people just do not know what evidence the theory of evolution stands upon. They think that the main evidence is the gradual descent of one species from another in the fossil record. ...In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationalist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favor of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation." Because the fossils simply do not support many small changes between kinds over a long period of time, many evolutionists have at least been honest enough to admit this and have come up with a new theory called, "punctuated equilibrium" or the "hopeful monster theory". From the fossil record, they know that change didn’t take place in small gradual steps, so they assume that the change took place in quick "quantum leaps" over long periods of time. In Darwin’s theory, the changes were so slow and gradual that science cannot observe the evolution. The new theory says the change takes place so quickly it that too cannot be observed. Unobservable science? What a contradiction!

Steve S. - I enjoyed reading your thoughtful reactions to the evolutionist argument. I have a couple of thoughts in response, though not one for each point!

First, the fundamental difference between belief systems is NOT in the beliefs themselves, but rather in ultimate validation: how do we know what we know? for scientists, empiricism, for theologians, it is faith, for solipsists, it is subjective experience, and so on.

This is part of the problem, I think: Instead of merely disagreeing over a theory, creationism vs evolution is a debate about validating knowledge.

This also is why the "debate" is so emotional: it isn’t about a couple of facts, but rther about the ultimate nature of the universe. If scientists are right, then your fears are justified: Humans and their distinctions (moral, epistemological, social) are no more special or "chosen" than are starfish, dogs, and viruses. And then, reality must be rethought. Perhaps reality is characterized by change, and stasis (as physicists tell us) is the characteristic of the dead organ and organism.

But, none of this is to say that there is no order, and that all is chaos. There is order, everywhere, but (if scientists are correct) it is simply NOT a human-centered order. From Copernicus, Galileo, Hubble, Darwin, to Freud, to Dawkins, the "great" scientific theories have served to place humans in the "bit player" role in the movie that is history.

Again, if science is correct, we can accept that, and still try to carve out meaning in our existence. Such meaning, however,would be regarded as a human, or social construct, and not a "commandment." Personally, I find that effort (the construction of ethical and epistemological systems) much more impressive than I find obedience to commandments.

A final thought: If Science is correct, then your fears are unfounded, since both evolution AND moral systems have coexisted for millenia!


Glad to know I am not completely crazy. I reread my comments and cringed because I was too extreme. Obviously some things do have a firm basis in reality, rocks are not evolving (I do not think?), and basic physical laws are constant (I think?). What troubles me is the concept of no fixed order of living beings. Can you come up with some theory as to why superhumans should not kill of normal humans, or why normal humans should not enslave subhumans (this argument seems like Brave New World)? It seems you offer an argument of force. You seem to claim, the majority gets to create the moral rules for living, they have no basis in objective morality, they simply exist because the majority likes them, and if someone breaks these rules the majority may deprive the rule breaker of his freedom, or in extreme cases, kill him. This seems exactly like the argument Thrsymachus (spelling?) offers in the Republic. People band together and make rules about how to live, they make these rules because it is unpleasent to be harmed by others, but people do, and have every right, to break these rules when they can get away with it. This also seems like the Athenian’s argument in the Melian Dialogue: The weak must suffer what the strong find in their interest. Or we could flip the argument around and think about Nieztche’s argument in Genaology of Morals. The weak make the strong behave because they do not like being oppressed by them. What right do the weak have to do this? What if it were better for the strong to rule? The weak many can only make the strong few obey because of their greater force. If the strong could slowly kill of the weak through some plot, I do not see why they could not.

Like I said, evolution makes everything much more confusing.

Steve S- You are much better versed in Philosophy than I am, so please bear with me.

First, a reason for not subjugating and/or killing off the weak? Kant’s moral imperative, strikes me as one reason. Another (that represents an amalgam of many things I’ve read and observed) is that killing off any class of beings messes with the natural order of things.

Killing off wolves causes the deer herd to weaken, which causes the plants to over-grow, etc.. A better example might be the way we have fought a war against bacteria, and microorganisms, with the result that "they" have become much stronger and resistant to our weapons. We kill of the weak bugs, and the remaining ones are de facto stronger, and reproduce, and get better at making us sick. In this argument, I follow Gregory Bateson (Mr. Margaret Mead) who suggested that human purposiveness and consciouss-ness are relatively narrow tunnels of view from shich to make global decisions.

So, pragmatically, it seems to be ill advised to kill weak "anythings."

I also have no problem with social contract theory, which suggests that we cannot trace the origins of our laws and mores, but that they have "survived," because WE have survived thus far. But, I don’t think this makes me a social darwinist. Which leads me to my last point:

What frightens ME about globalism is the way that capitalism and "westernization" seem to be devouring every social and cultural variant in their paths. Cultures and societies provide so many experiments in ways of living, and different morals and ethical systems, etc, it bothers me when I perceive how global economics and media (and war) seem to be doing away with any "natural" selection of cultural and societal variations.

This is not a worry for those who agree that the U.S. is the best of everything, and that humans are the apple of God’s eye, but what if they are wrong? What if the Papuans have a better idea? What if "more evolved" actually means "greater longevity" and the viruses end of inheriting the earth?

This set of worries seems like a good reason to adopt the best ethical and moral systems that we can, and to not go around killing off people or other groups.

Phil, your point that religion can’t be empirically verified is accurate, of course. On the other hand, much of evolutionary theory is in the same boat. Evolution is a path-dependent process (indeed, sometimes a chaotic process), and geological accidents, climate change, etc. can produce profound and lasting biological trajectories. Given this complexity and the utter uniqueness of some natural history, it is doubtful that evolutionary theory can be neatly tested like physics or chemistry. Some evolutionary sequences may in fact be forever lost to empirical observation. Therefore, faith and intuition also play a role in evolutionary science, suggesting the need for some humility on both sides of this argument.

I had another thought about a concern (above) regarding Darwin having been wrong about a few things. There is a story about Darwin nearly having been prevented from going on the famous voyage of the Beagle. The reason? The captain of the ship saw that Darwin did not have a "mariner’s nose."

In Darwin’s day, physiognomy was a fairly well accepted method of ascertaining and categorizing personality types. Other "sciences" that had come and gone included Mesmerism (which included realigning the body’s metals and minerals using magnets" and phrenology, which included "reading" the shapes of people’s heads.

My point is that scientific knowledge progresses precisely because incorrect thinking can be demonstrated to be incorrect. Progress depends on the public disconfirming of previous "knowledge."

Other systems rarely progress this way: We know little more about astrology than we did 100 years ago. We know little more about Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness monster, or aliens from outer space. I would submit that we know little more about Jesus and God than we knew 100 years ago.

But, we know a great deal more about cancer, about depression, about the mechanics of learning, about post-traumatic stress disorder, about space, and about the evolutionary chain of humans and their predecessors than we did 100 years ago. This means, however, that scientists should (they don’t always, but good ones do) accept the changing nature of what is "true." It also means that an early version of a theory (Freud, Darwin, Copernicus) must BE wrong in places for that theory to lead to more accurate understanding of the universe.

It is always sad to see people try and use quotations from credible scientists to support political and religious viewpoints. Such is the case of the anonymous poster above with his quotation of Mark Ridley. If you first go to
you will also find Ridley’s quotation. You will also notice that the pathlights website is very much against science. The people who administer this site seem to feel threatened by science of all kinds. However, if you are genuinely curious about evolutionary biology you would be better off to look first at It is a good starting point for learning more about the field.

Lee Harris is flat, raving, wrong (although he is often very much worth reading, in my humble opinion).

The only thing "required" to make a universe worth the effort of rational inquiry is not a designer, but rather structure, pattern, and consistency.

Maybe such things, which our universe is blessed with, are the result of an intelligent designer, but then again, maybe not. It is entirely possible that such things are simply preconditions for human life, and we, in our anthropomorphic way, ASSUME that they are therefore created by an intelligence.

Furthermore, if an intelligent designer is REQUIRED to explain the organization and complexity (and presumed consistency) of our universe, than what is REQUIRED to explain the existence of the intelligent designer?

A really super duper hyper intelligent super papa designer (and who or what created him (her))?

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