|Carrying the Mail|
As a biologist and a Christian, I was pleased to see “Finding Darwin’s God,” by Professor Kenneth R. Miller ’70 in the BAM (November/December). We hear all too little from scientists who have a religious faith. At the same time, it is hard to believe that slightly over half of Americans refuse to believe they have evolved from other species, while according to recent polls, about one-third of them believe in aliens, ghosts, Big Foot, and the lost city of Atlantis. A considerable number believe Elvis Presley is still alive!
“I believe in Darwin’s God” is a good answer to the question of what kind of God you believe in. One might also use Archbishop Tutu’s answer, “My God is the source of all truth, including scientific truth.”
Arthur C. Gentile, ’51 Sc.M.
Kenneth R. Miller plays linguistic legerdemain in “Finding Darwin’s God.” While he may have lucidly mapped the route that makes it possible to believe in both the supernatural and Darwinian evolution, he is merely preaching to the choir. Either one believes or one does not.
Unfortunately, he has only proven that the whole package requires a leap of faith in which critical thinking is intentionally suspended. Creationists get the leap out of the way early and dispense with logic immediately. A thinking person requires more ingenious ploys that only postpone the inevitable leap of faith.
Miller’s cogent rationalizations serve instead to make the one fundamental question unavoidable: Why is it necessary to invoke the supernatural at all?
Susan C. Linsley ’64
The unfortunate result of taking evolution beyond the origin of species, and into the origin of life itself, is quite frankly the paucity of scientific evidence. There simply aren’t the sheer number of missing links in the fossil record required for the kind of trial-and-error process pre- dicted by chance mutations. In fact, many mathematicians, such as Sir Fred Hoyle, have questioned the plausibility of chromosome formation by chance.
Paleontologists have long been aware of this, and some have come to doubt taking Darwin’s theory of natural selection too far. Stephen Jay Gould dances around the subject by positing “punctuated equilibrium,” which states that the lack of fossils indicates that evolution operates very quickly during times of natural selection and then stops.
What is most annoying about trying to square evolution’s deist philosophy with Christianity and other religions is that they are rightly perceived to be fundamentally opposed to each other. That the Vatican has embraced evolution is a danger signal that it no longer believes its own messages. And evolutionists masquerading as Christians are involved in wishful thinking.
Nicholas W. Jansen ’81
While I am not comfortable with Miller’s assertion that “evolution is the key to understanding our relationship to God,” two points in the article made an impression on me. First, his description of our relationship to God gets to the heart of the Christian faith. God created us with free will, because free will is a prerequisite to the loving relationship God desires from all of us, as it is to any relationship among humans.
Second, Miller’s statement that if we consider “the contingent events in the families that produced our individual lives as consistent with a Creator, then certainly we can do the same for the chain of circumstances that produced our species” appealed to my reason. This point also reinforced my conviction that the Bible provides satisfying answers to the questions “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” while falling short of answering the question “How did I get here?” To answer the how, I must, as Miller argues, rely on continuing advances in science.
The greatest commandment Jesus taught is for each of us to “love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind.” I’m glad to see Professor Miller is not afraid to use his mind to engage his students and readers in this fascinating pursuit of God’s ways.
John Feehrer ’86
Of the logical leaps and sidesteps that Miller takes, the most dismaying is his repeated conflation of belief and spirituality. By carefully choosing which atheist views to present, Miller leaves the impression that there can be no spirituality and no morality without God. To broaden our perspectives as introductory biology students, Miller had us read Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos. Here I suggest a reading from Vonnegut’s Palm Sunday, which presents atheism differently than Miller: “There is a willingness to do whatever we need to do in order to have life on the planet go on for a long, long time.... And that willingness has to be a religious enthusiasm, since it celebrates life, since it calls for meaningful sacrifices.... And thank God we have solid information in the place of superstition! Thank God we are beginning to dream of human communities which are designed to harmonize with what human beings really need and are. And now you have just heard an atheist thank God not once, but twice.”
Miller argues that creationists severely underestimate and undervalue God when they challenge evolution. I argue that Miller severely underestimates and undervalues humankind when he invokes God as the only source of spiritual and moral guidance.
Mark L. Siegal ’93
Yes, superstition is an instinct like sex, mother-child bonding, and eating. It is the only instinct unique to humans. Only humans are capable of the arrogant remark, “Man is created in God’s image.” If looked at closely, however, the reverse is evident: “God is created in man’s image.” The former remark leads to the dangers of absolutism.
Miller is also mistaken when he writes, “The God of Abraham does not tell us which proteins control the cell cycle. But he does give us a reason to care.” Caring comes from the altruism and attachment instincts, which are mammalian neurobiological entities originating in evolution, not religion. Caring existed long before man did. No one needs a “reason” to care.
Faith is about relief of fear and is fine as long as it’s perceived in that context. When faith is seen as true, real, and rational, however, we end up with absolutist policies such as dogma, ritual, and genocide. Until all human instincts are understood as part of our evolutionary heritage, their misperceptions will cause strife rather than love.
Dan F. Umanoff ’67
I have a friend in the life sciences who was a graduate student at Brown while I was also there. He wanted to do a thesis on reptile blood types. Innocent enough, but when it appeared that his findings might be critical of the evolutionary model, he was told to drop the idea. When he refused to do this, he was given a master’s degree and told to find another graduate school (which he did, successfully completing his project elsewhere). So much for scientific objectivity!
Samuel A. Elder ’56 Ph.D.
Professor Miller says it plainly: “If faith and reason are both gifts from God, then they should play complementary, not conflicting, roles in our struggle to understand the world around us. As a scientist and as a Christian, that is exactly what I believe. True knowledge comes only from a combination of faith and reason.”
Richard H. Bube ’47
Faith is predicated on belief. Often the beliefs are systematic and represent a doctrine, but they are beliefs, not bound by objective observation. Science, on the other hand, depends on unfettered inquiry, on the repeatability and reproducibility of its observation. Science is enriched by a pyramid of facts; not by faith, reason, or a search for absolutes.
The individual scientist may derive a sense of gratification related to his or her faith, but this is extraneous to the scientific enterprise and should not be construed as a part of the methods or intent of science. Faith and science are separate and any attempt to intersect them confounds and demeans the value of both.
Robert E. Silverman ’46
The article was also infected with some absurd statements. Miller writes, “If we accept a lack of scientific explanation as proof for God’s existence, simple logic would dictate that we would have to regard a successful scientific explanation as an argument against God.” Of course, simple logic tells us no such thing. As a high school logician will tell you, “A implies B” does not then mean that “not A implies not B” (although it does mean that “not B implies not A”).
Miller makes the preposterous statement that “The trouble is that science, given enough time, generally explains even the most baffling things.” Although science describes ever more precisely an infinitely large set of behaviors concerning the natural world (creating even more baffling questions while it does so), it is completely unequipped, and does not try, to answer the even more infinitely large set of transcendental, philosophical, spiritual, and mystical questions afoot, most of which can certainly be characterized as baffling. “Who made God?” is a pretty good example.
I do not wish to pillory Miller, who is on the right side, but this article really does need demurral. With allies like Mr. Miller, the anticreationist movement could be in some difficulty. More distressingly, this article does not favorably, or fairly, reflect Brown scholarship.
Alan Brown ’69 M.A.T.
My only puzzlement about the piece was the word mankind throughout;
I’d have thought that publications at Brown, which had one of
the first major women’s issues programs in the country, would
have style guidelines recognizing that such words are no longer
Peggy Rosenthal ’64
His “Finding Darwin’s God” is the most disturbing article I can remember reading in the BAM. Its argument is that creationists should not attack evolution because it is not incompatible with the creationists’ underlying belief in God the Creator. That may or may not be true. Either way, why should a Brown publication be concerned with persuading the anti-intellectual fringes of anything?
Leaving aside the editorial policy that led to publishing such a piece, the article itself is at best devoid of intellectual merit. Miller frequently makes statements to the effect that some scientific findings are “not inconsistent with” the existence of “The Creator.” I think he is almost always right in those cases. It is, however, at least equally true that none of those findings is inconsistent with the absence of “The Creator” -- a fact he ignores. This puts his article on much the same footing as Oklahoma’s proposed school-textbook disclaimer that evolution is “a controversial theory” based on an “unproven belief.”
Professor Miller often writes, “As a Christian I believe...” Why should we care about what he believes as a Christian? I care about what he as a scientist has found supported by evidence. Does he really not understand that the general validity of any belief is independent of who does or does not believe it?
Allen R. Ferguson ’41, ’43 A.M.
Converting the masses from theism to Darwinism requires abundant and convincing evidence. Instead, what we see is: (1) transitional forms are not evolving all around us into new species today; (2) ubiquitous transitional forms are noticeably lacking in the vast fossil record, but there are explosions of life forms without ancestors; and (3) life is amazingly complex.
Even a one-celled bacterium is far beyond the ability of human designers to create in a laboratory from elemental molecules artificially available in abundance. In the wild, those elemental molecules must first be built while hostile forces work to destroy them. Then a million of them must be perfectly sequenced and oriented to make a bacterium DNA capable of reproduction, again fighting the hostile Second Law of Thermodynamics, which destroys complexity each step of the way. With 3 billion elemental molecules in human DNA, the probability that they would all arrange themselves into such DNA by random, purposeless mutations and natural selection, given an eternity of time, is essentially zero.
What is needed is a quantum leap in the science of origins. Perhaps that leap will come from liberated minds at Brown, who critically and objectively examine all the evidence, both pro and con.
Richard Farynyk ’79
Mr. Jansen, for example, cites a supposed lack of fossil evidence for evolution. Sorry, but he’s wrong (see Chapter 4). Similarly, the assertions that Darwinism is nothing more than a religion unsupported by scientific fact are refuted in Chapters 3, 4, and 5 (Mr. Farynyk) and in Chapters 6 and 7 (Mr. Elder). Quite frankly, Mr. Elder’s insistence that certain avenues of scientific research are suppressed to fit a Darwinist agenda will strike anyone familiar with the vigorous and open reality of scientific inquiry as just so much nonsense.
Ms. Linsley’s question about invoking the supernatural at all is treated in Chapter 7, “Beyond Materialism,” and Mr. Umanoff’s argument -- shared with E. O. Wilson and Steven Pinker -- that religious belief can be explained by evolution is countered in Chapter 9. I’m afraid both Mr. Silverman and Mr. Siegal are guilty of reacting to what they think I believe rather than what I actually wrote. Yes, I did write that “as a Christian... I believe that true knowledge comes only from a combination of faith and reason.” Curiously, Mr. Silverman dissents from my article by asserting that “faith is predicated on belief.” Of course it is, and that is exactly why the very phrase he objects to begins with “I believe.” Mr. Siegal, my former student, finds an “impression” in my writing that “there can be no spirituality and no morality without God.” Sorry, Mark, but that’s not what I believe, and it certainly is not what I have written.
Two letters call for a special response. Mr. Brown calls one of my statements “absurd” and another “preposterous.” He’s wrong, and here’s why: If a creationist were to advance (as most do) a series of unexplained scientific questions as proofs for the existence of God, then every time science answers two or three of those questions, the creationist case for God becomes a bit weaker, and that was exactly my point. Mr. Brown is free to find this reasoning “absurd,” but I suspect that few other readers would share his sentiment.
Finally, Mr. Ferguson wonders if Brown actually allows me to teach freshmen, and “if so, why?” He objects to a Brown publication addressing itself to the “anti-intellectual fringes,” and he finds it “intolerable” that a Brown scientist writing in such a publication would profess any sort of religious belief. Fortunately, Brown abolished religious tests for its faculty in the nineteenth century, allowing the University to do what Mr. Ferguson cannot: tolerate honest professions of belief and disbelief in a free exchange of ideas. To Mr. Ferguson, I extend a special invitation to observe as many of my lectures to Brown first-year students as he might wish. In Biology 20, my introductory biology class, Mr. Ferguson will discover that my students are taught biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, developmental biology, physiology, and most especially, the idea that holds all of biology together -- evolution. I trust he would approve.
I am not sure the Brown community fully appreciates the remarkable achievement our varsity football team and the athletic department under Dave Roach have registered this season (Sports, January/February). Brown has now won fifteen out of the last sixteen games. This year it won the Ivy crown for only the second time in history, sharing the honor with Yale, a team it beat by one point in its opening game this season. In virtually all statistical categories, Brown ranked first as well.
But the achievement is not simply coming in first. Brown, like all the Ivies, does not give athletic scholarships, and in addition it suffers from having the smallest endowment in the Ivy League. In recent years, it also had to fend off criticism for its handling of the Title IX lawsuit, a fight Brown fought honorably but lost. (I am not about to rehash that argument except to say hats off to the women for challenging the policy and to Brown for mounting a solid, though ultimately flawed, defense based on principle.) Dave Roach has managed his department throughout with aplomb, sincerity, conviction, drive, and skill. Apart from the obvious accolades earned by the team and its coaches, he deserves our thanks and praise.
Mike Gross ’64
Yes, for the sixteenth time in the forty-four-year history of Ivy football -- more than 36 percent of the time -- the title has been shared. In three of those years -- 1966, 1969, and 1982 -- the crown was shared by three, out of eight, teams!
Though I don’t follow sports closely or even understand the finer points of football, for a long time the idea of a “shared championship” has struck me as absurd. And while I usually just skim the sports section of the newspaper, a Nov. 18 article in the Providence Journal about the Ivy League ban on postseason football in the NCAA I-AA playoffs struck me as required reading. The prohibition is particularly puzzling in that successful Ivy teams in all other sports are routinely permitted to play in the postseason.
How can anyone believe that playing a few additional football games will push Brown, Harvard, and Yale down the slippery slope to academic perdition? I am the first to deplore the overemphasis on sports in our culture, but if the Bears had faced off against the Bulldogs on Thanksgiving weekend for sole possession of the 1999 Ivy title, would it have meant the end of Western civilization as we know it? At the very least, the Ivy League’s governing body, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents, should amend its rules as follows: “If regular season football competition results in a two- or three-way tie, an intraconference playoff game or two, as needed, shall be held to determine a single Ivy League champion.”
Paul J. Palmera ’65
ELEGY AND JOY
I can only express quiet gratitude for Robert Wexler’s words (Finally, November/December). There is no pleasure taken from the experiences of his family and the death of his son, but his expression of them is a beautiful elegy and an occasion for rich reflection.
I was also very pleased to read the article about the Jabberwocks a capella group (“Blue Blazers in a Paisley World”) in the same issue. In 1964--65, I was a choral assistant in the last of Erich Kunzel’s years at Brown. He had developed a vibrant and large choral program on campus, and under his direction the Brunaires had become a prominent and, yes, music department--sanctioned alternative to the Jabberwocks.
When in the spring of 1965 Kunzel was offered a position with the Cincinnati Symphony, there were well over two hundred singers in the various choruses on campus, not counting the Chattertocks, PDQs, and Jabberwocks. The next fall, I think there were fewer than one hundred choral auditionees, and the choral program temporarily imploded.
The resurgence of college a cappella groups over the past fifteen years is a wonderful development. The current Jabberwocks will realize, thirty years from now, how exhilarating it is to join voices with their younger counterparts in a shared history and common harmony. The Brown of the late 1960s had thrillingly capable and creative actors, directors, singers, musical theater composers, opera producers, writers, instrumentalists, and other spirits, including faculty, who helped make College Hill buzz. It’s great that there is so much music on the campus now, and that such joy attends it.
John Duffy ’67 A.M.