I respect Stephen Barr’s writings on science and religion, but his response to my brief post is an exact example of the process that I was writing about, and that I called “Emma-ization,” after Darwin’s gentle and supportive wife. Notice the shape of his argument, which really is not much of an argument at all. His argument takes the form of, “Well, all my friends (or all those good people) seem to agree about something, so they can’t all be wrong.” Let’s put his argument in a more precise form: A. There are lots and lots of Emma’s out there, putting the best possible spin on Darwinism. B. Emma’s, by definition, are very nice people. Many of them are even Christians. C. Nice people don’t believe in bad things. D. So gee, they must all be right.

Let me answer his specific complaints:

1. I don’t agree that the idea that Darwinism has philosophical, moral, and theological implications is obvious and trivial. Perhaps we would need to debate about the differences among entailment, implication, deduction, and causation. There are many scientists and philosophers who think that Darwinism has implications, but those implications are not necessary (they are not logical implications, that is). In other words, Darwinism is a theory that rises above its various philosophical, cultural, and metaphysical consequences.

Now notice that Barr himself believes this: He says that the philosophical implications of a scientific theory depend on the philosophical implications you begin with. In other words, there are no philosophical implications of any scientific theory except the philosophy that is imported into the scientific theory. Barr thus abstracts scientific theories out of their social and moral context, which can be done with some degree of success for some scientific theories, but not Darwinism. I argue, albeit much more forcefully and carefully in my forthcoming book, The Dome of Eden: A New Theory of Creation and Evolution , that Darwinism is intimately connected to what is ordinarily called Social Darwinism, which makes many Darwinians of the Emma variety uncomfortable, and thus the argument that scientific theories do not have logical philosophical implications. The fact that Newton thought the stability of the solar system require God and Laplace a century later demonstrated that gravitational perturbations balance over time has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

2. Nonetheless, I am not saying there is a straight line from, say, Darwin to Hitler. The line, like all such cultural trajectories, is complex and crooked. In my forthcoming book, I talk about Good Darwinian Cops and Bad Darwinian Cops. The GDC’s say that Darwinism is a theory that doesn’t change anything, so don’t worry about it. They are the Emma’s of the world. The BDC’s think Darwinism changes everything. It is sometimes hard to argue with Darwinians because many of them can play both kinds of cops at the same time.

3. Third, natural selection does not cause anything. It is not an agent. At best, it is a process of elimination. I find that scientists often just do not see some of the fundamental problems with Darwinism, like the argument I was fed all throughout my schooling that biological change has no direction, no telos , and thus purposive terms have no place in biology. Let me just say here that Darwinism is a powerful theory, that in its orthodox form it overreaches descriptions of biological change and becomes a metaphysical system, and that in terms of science alone, it has so many conceptual as well as empirical problems (the causation problem I just mentioned is just one of them) that the debates over Darwinism are really just beginning. What we don’t need are more Emma’s assuring us that nice people wouldn’t believe in bad things. Keep a closer eye on your friends than your enemies.

Articles by Stephen H. Webb

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