Randomness and Intelligent Design
The controversy resulting from Cardinal Schönborn's opinion article in the New York Times has engaged, among others, faithful and well-informed Catholics who nonetheless disagree with each other on matters of substance. In his criticism of Cardinal Schönborn’s statement (“The Design of Evolution,” October), Stephen Barr was right, I believe, to focus on two crucial points: the relation between finality or purpose and the modern scientific method, and the meaning of randomness. Yet, at the risk of temerity, I will say that Barr's article adds to the confusion that prevails when these two points are discussed.
In Barr's example of shuffled cards, he concludes: “The scientist and the poker player do not look at things from God's point of view, however, and so they talk about ‘probabilities.'” Precisely. And that is why “random genetic variations” are “foreseen” from God's point of view and have determinate causes. It is only because the scientist is unable to discover or track the causes that he terms an event “random.” And what the scientist predicts in terms of probabilities are really unknown (to him) certainties.
It won't help to invoke Laplace, claiming that his universal determinism and the Newtonian physics that underlie it have been superseded. It is a philosophical (not theological) principle that every event must have a cause. And Cardinal Schönborn is entirely correct in quoting with approval John Paul II: “To speak of chance . . . would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation. . . . In fact this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause.” Barr agrees with this, too. But he goes on to say, “But to employ arguments in science based on statistical randomness and probability is not necessarily to ‘oppose' the idea of chance to the existence of God the Creator.”
The confusion arises when scientists and non-scientists alike speak of “random” or “chance” mutation. In the minds of many of them this does equal “uncaused” and therefore “unplanned”—and therefore opposed to the existence of God the Creator. Barr rightly maintains that this is not science. And so does Cardinal Schönborn, which is why he calls it “ideology, not science.” But many scientists do make this equation. And many say so publicly, some quite stridently—Richard Dawkins and James Watson being notable examples. It is to these that Cardinal Schönborn's criticism is directed. And it is not an intrusion of theology or philosophy into science; it is a higher order of knowledge showing where science has gone beyond the limits of its own method. One cannot deny the principle of causality, upon which meta-scientific assumption all science depends, without undermining all science and all knowledge.
If we cannot discern the existence of order in the universe, despite our limited ability to comprehend that order, we cannot discern the existence of a good Creator. Yet Barr risks overemphasizing disorder when he describes planning without correlation: “So God, though he planned His work with infinite care, may not have chosen to impose certain kinds of correlations on certain kinds of events.” Our human perspective, especially in its scientific mode, may be quite limited in the correlations it can determine, but that does not mean that our human reason cannot discern a greater order to the cosmos through its laws.
And here is the nub of another source of confusion: Modern science does not investigate finality or purpose. It limits itself to “natural” phenomena: material and immediate efficient causes. Therefore, from within its own (very successful) method, the scientist as scientist can neither conclude that there is not an Intelligent Designer, i.e. that physical processes are unguided or unplanned, or, for that matter, that there is one. But the scientist as a human being can affirm the latter. As Cardinal Schönborn puts it: “by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world.”
I think Barr's recourse to contingency also adds to the confusion. He can perhaps be excused since the document of the International Theological Commission he cites is itself confusing when it refers to “a purely contingent natural process.” When St. Thomas refers to “contingent causes,” he is speaking of causes that do not have their natural or necessary effect because they are impeded by other causes. His example is the seed that doesn't germinate because the “germinating force” is impeded. Contingency is a red herring in this debate because, for St. Thomas, “contingent” is not equivalent to “statistically random” or “uncaused.”
The present controversy began with a cardinal. Cardinal Newman in his discourse “Christianity and Physical Science” said: The Physicist “contemplates facts before him; the Theologian gives the reasons of these facts. The Physicist treats of efficient causes; the Theologian of final. The Physicist tells us of laws. The Theologian of the Author, Maintainer, and Controller of them.” And, quoting Macaulay approvingly: “it is not easy to see that a philosopher of the present day is more favorably situated than Thales or Simonides. He has before him just the same evidences of design in the structure of the universe which the early Greeks had.”
The Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Stephen M. Barr's article is thoughtful and penetrating, but his criticism of Intelligent Design misunderstands the crux of the theory. Barr rightly observes that the presence of randomness at one level of a process does not preclude the designedness of the process as a whole. (My example would be the screen saver that makes kaleidoscopic patterns on my desktop with a random number generator.) ID thinkers do not dispute this point. No ID thinker suggests that if there is any randomness in a process whatsoever, it cannot be designed. What some of them do suggest is that if any aspects of the outcome of the process cannot be reasonably explained by randomness alone, or physical law alone, or by a combination of randomness with physical law, then it is reasonable to infer that intelligent agency has also been at work. This is a different proposition than the one that Barr attacks, and it escapes his critique. Indeed, if an ID thinker is defined as anyone who considers design to be empirically detectable, then Barr himself is an ID thinker, for as he writes, “even within the neo-Darwinian framework, there are many ways that one could see evidence of . . . the directedness of the universe and life.” The only thing that needs to be cleared up is how his criteria for detecting design differ from those of the other proponents of ID.
University of Texas
It was a pleasure to read Stephen Barr's “Design of Evolution.” His previous articles have also been impressive, and in this case I especially liked his way of finding the “both/and” rather than insisting on the “either/or.” The randomness and chance that evolution theory emphasizes are brought within the scope of scientific analysis, but at the same time the mechanics of evolution can be brought within the intent of a grand design. In fact, as has been pointed out, “natural selection” is a teleological expression!
The theory of evolution does not require it to be beyond the reach of an intelligent design (or else it would not be a theory), nor does the theory of design require it to be restricted to formal methods that exclude natural selection.
Brendan Kneale, FSC
De La Salle Institute
Cardinal Schönborn says, “evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense [is] an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.” According to Stephen M. Barr, the cardinal “has slipped into a definition of a scientific theory,” something the cardinal, who is not a scientist, apparently should not be doing. But whether he is defining science or not, the cardinal is right. And he gives his statement an even sharper point by quoting the installation homily of Benedict XVI, “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Perhaps what is going on, to the evident distress of Barr, is a process of correction. The Church is in the world and its members think the world's thoughts, but when things go too far, the Church returns to its ancient truths, and restates them.
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Separating philosophical extrapolation from scientific fact is a difficult task when it comes to the topic of evolution. Stephen Barr's insightful critique of Cardinal Schönborn's letter on the subject goes a long way toward this end, but while I commend him for his effort I do though think that he was a bit harsh on the cardinal.
Barr takes the cardinal to task for “slipping into the definition of a scientific theory, neo-Darwinism, the words ‘unplanned' and ‘unguided,' which are fraught with theological meaning.” The cardinal is not responsible for this misstep; these words have been slipped into neo-Darwinian theory by many influential evolutionary thinkers, and that was no doubt the impetus for the cardinal's article.
Most popular neo-Darwinian writers have blurred the distinction between natural selection as a scientific theory of evolution and the separate philosophical position that evolution is unguided and therefore atheistic. Nearly all of the leading Darwinian authors—Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Douglas Futuyama, etc.—have explicitly stated that neo-Darwinian theory is incompatible with the Christian faith. As Futuyama has written, “Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere mechanical mechanisms—but this seems to be the message of evolution.” This is the version of neo-Darwinian evolution that the cardinal is trying to refute. Unfortunately, as Barr points out, the cardinal probably bit off more than he could digest in a short op-ed piece.
Barr, for his part, does an admirable job of untangling the scientific position of neo-Darwinism from the unsavory philosophical positions that have become part and parcel of the theory. In doing so, though, it is important to note who did the tangling in the first place: It wasn't the cardinal.
Stephen M. Barr replies:
I must confess to puzzlement at the first several paragraphs of Father Fessio's letter. It certainly sounds like he disagrees with me about something, but I can't quite make out what. For, after saying that I have added to the confusion on the subject of chance and evolution, he seems to second me on point after point: “Barr was right to focus,” “[Barr] rightly concludes,” “Barr agrees with this too,” and “Barr rightly maintains.” Still, there are some points where I disagree with him (reciprocating his “temerity”). He says, “It is only because the scientist is unable to discover or track the causes that he terms an event ‘random.'” That is simply not the case. As I explained in my article (and illustrated with two examples), there are circumstances in which the causes of the events are known or easily traced, but where nevertheless there is the kind of lack of correlation among events that I called “statistical randomness.” (In this sense of the term “random,” by the way, one should not apply it to single events, as Fessio does, but to ensembles or sets of events.)
I must also demur when Fessio says that Cardinal Schönborn's article “is not an intrusion of theology or philosophy into science.” I am happy to learn that such an intrusion was not the cardinal's intention. Consider, however, these words of the cardinal's New York Times piece: “defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma have often invoked the supposed acceptance—or at least acquiescence—of the Roman Catholic Church when they defend their theory as somehow compatible with Christian faith. But this is not true.”
Well, if one is talking about what the Catholic Church accepts as compatible with faith, one is certainly talking about theology. It may be natural theology, but it is theology all the same. The only question, then, is whether “neo-Darwinism” is science.
For understandable reasons some people mistakenly imagine that neo-Darwinism is a philosophical system, or entails one. As the letters from Joseph Fessio and Daniel Kuebler rightly emphasize, the blame for this mainly lies with such scientists as Richard Dawkins and James Watson. I suspect, however, that it may also have a linguistic basis. Very few scientific theories, as opposed to philosophical schools, are called “isms” and named after their founders. One does not talk about Maxwellism, Heisenbergism, or Einsteinism. The prefix “neo” also is more common in philosophy. Nevertheless, “neo-Darwinism” is a scientific term. It is univocal and its meaning is generally agreed upon. It refers to the synthesis of Darwin's theory of natural selection with the science of genetics that took place in the 1920s and 1930s through the efforts of such men as Sewall Wright, J.B.S. Haldane, and R.A. Fisher. One may consult any number of dictionaries, old or recent, general or scientific, and one will find that each gives only this definition of the term. Consequently there can be no gainsaying the fact that in condemning “neo-Darwinism” one is condemning a scientific, not a philosophic, theory.
By contrast, the word “contingency” does have several meanings that can be distinguished. I bow to Fessio's expertise and grant his exegetical point about St. Thomas's usage. But the several meanings of the word contingency are obviously closely related, so I do not think that the International Theological Commission was at all confusing things. Nor do I agree that “contingency is a red herring in this debate.” Rather, it lies at the heart of the debate, as the commission astutely recognized.
Let us look at St. Thomas's example of the “germinative force,” because it furnishes a wonderful illustration of how chance plays a role in biology. Why doesn't this force unfailingly produce its natural effect? Because many conditions must be satisfied, such as good soil, moisture, the right temperature, the absence of creatures who will eat and destroy the seeds, and perhaps the presence of other creatures who will eat and excrete and thereby both distribute and fertilize the seeds. And these conditions, in turn, depend on many other factors, such as the weather. In other words, there is a “vastly complex web of contingency” involved (to use a phrase from my article, in which “contingency” is used in an ordinary sense). And thereby does the germination of the seed become subject to the vagaries of “chance.” Indeed, it is part of the “reproductive strategy” of many species of plants to produce a great quantity of seeds to compensate for the small probability that any one of them will succeed in being fertilized and germinating.
Fessio insists quite properly that we can discern order in the universe and that it points to God. As I have written a book recently that devoted many pages to making just that argument, I do not think I “risk overemphasizing disorder.” On November 9, Pope Benedict gave an address in which, quoting St. Basil, he warned about those who think the world is “left to the mercy of chance” and is without “direction and order.” If this is what Fessio is worried about too, I assure him that I am on his side and that of St. Basil and the pope. The whole point of my article was precisely to demonstrate that the narrow concept of randomness that is used throughout all branches of science is compatible with a divine Providence that governs and directs every event in the universe.
As Fessio notes, “The present controversy began with a cardinal.” Sadly, there is another, much older precedent, that involved a cardinal and science. Cardinal Bellarmine was a great saint and a brilliant theologian, but he helped unintentionally to prepare the way for a fateful collision. In the present case, I am firmly convinced that such a collision will not take place, the distressing forecast in David Shale's letter notwithstanding.
I thank J. Budziszewski for his very kind words. In referring to my “criticism of the ID movement,” however, he mistakes me. There is nothing in my article that expressed or implied any criticism of the ID movement. On the contrary, I mentioned that movement only to praise its leading lights for recognizing that “statistical randomness, chance, and probability can be part of legitimate explanation of phenomena” and for rightly insisting that the issues they raise are to be settled scientifically. I agree with everything Budziszewski says in their defense. (This isn't to say I don't have criticisms of the ID movement, only that I did not express them in my article.) If being an “ID thinker” meant only what Budziszewski defines it here to mean, I would indeed count myself as one.
I have no doubt that Allen Hertzke's essay (“The Shame of Darfur,” October)—written in part at my expense—will earn him kudos from the likes of Nicholas Kristof and Ben & Jerry. That alone should worry him.
Hertzke's description of my views on the issue is uncharacteristically and indefensibly inaccurate. I am not soft on the government of Sudan, and only the grossest exaggeration could imply that I am its appeaser. Moreover, and contrary to what Hertzke asserts, I do not believe that the United States lacks the leverage to bring about a satisfactory peace agreement in Darfur. Quite the opposite, I believe that pressuring the Darfur rebels and rejecting the anti-Bush, anti-Christian Right campaign now being conducted in the guise of saving Darfur could bring about a satisfactory peace agreement in a matter of months.
I received criticisms similar to Hertzke's when I helped pass a Sudan Peace Act without any capital-market sanction provisions in it. (It did not seem to matter to critics that Congress never would have passed legislation with such provisions.) Even more intense criticism came when I helped pressure John Garang by making it clear that his SPLA forces would forfeit U.S. support for their cause—support I had helped build—unless they began seriously to negotiate with the government of Sudan. Both acts were among the best and most effective things I have ever done.
Calling names has its virtues, but it can't be an end in itself. Naked condemnation should be accompanied by appeals to the prudence of your target and to the better influences within its camp. When one doubts one's capacity to overthrow a regime or replace it with a better one, condemnation is useful only as a means of creating leverage for carefully thought-out and well-defined changes and reforms.
I believe that, however unintentionally, Hertzke is adopting the priorities of an establishment that was largely silent for more than twenty years about the North-South war in Sudan, in which millions were killed at the hands of the government. (In that war Christians were killed at the hands of Muslims, which made it a “complicated” situation to many of the same elites who find Darfur easy grounds for anti-Bush outrage.) Hertzke follows the lead of Darfur activists like the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, who condemn with Old Testament fury those who don't want to do “more” in Darfur even as they favor appeasing with subsidies and legitimacy a North Korean regime that starves and murders millions.
The worst of the killings may be over in Darfur, but its people still suffer grievously. How can we end this? The Ben & Jerry approach—Ben (or was it Jerry?) got arrested at the Sudanese embassy to the applause of anti-Bush activists—has many harmful effects. First, shrill protests aren't likely to be productive, because the Sudanese government, with support from Europe and China, will resist pressure to give the Darfur rebels what they really seek, which is the right to form a separate government. Further, such a balkanizing deal would ensure a similar war in eastern Sudan.
Further still, U.S. rejection of a separate Darfur state was a critical basis on which Khartoum accepted the North-South agreement. Finally, and critically, the Ben & Jerry approach ignores the fact that the government of Sudan and its leaders can be made to do the right thing—a matter clearly demonstrated by their forced and grudging acceptance of the North-South peace agreement and, for the most part, their present-day compliance with its terms.
There's more: Hertzke ignores the progress towards a Darfur agreement that can be brought about by putting pressure on the former southern Sudanese rebels now serving as senior officials in the government of Sudan. For example, progress towards peace in Darfur can come from making much-needed U.S. aid increasingly contingent on the efforts of former SPLA leaders to urge the Darfur rebels to engage in serious bargaining. Such a linkage would be controversial, but would yield far more than Hertzke's condemnations.
Also, in focusing exclusively on the government of Sudan, Hertzke ignores what even the New York Times has recently reported: that the worst and most savage marauding terrorists in Darfur—the Janjaweed militias—may no longer be under the government's control. Thus Hertzke may be calling for policies that have all the force and value of pushing on a string.
Finally, Hertzke ignores the record of Darfur rebel groups like the SLM, which now seems engaged in war within its own ranks as often as it is with the government of Sudan. SLM Chairman Abdul Nur recently charged that Darfur rebel groups are “looters . . . who want to perpetuate chaos in the region.” The target of his accusation was SLM Secretary General Mani Minawi.
How do Hertzke's moralisms square with the facts? And what does Hertzke actually want to be done? Does he want more access to refugee camps by relief workers? In a serious negotiation, that is possible. Does he want more African Union troops protecting enclaves for refugees and other targets of the Janjaweed? With effort and serious negotiating, that is also achievable, even though some Darfur rebel groups have recently taken to attacking and kidnapping African Union soldiers. No-fly zones? Assuming they aren't already in force (reports are conflicting), those are clearly possible. So why create profound disincentives to such outcomes by signaling to the government of Sudan that it will be condemned no matter what it does in Darfur, and no matter how little the rebels wish to negotiate a meaningful peace agreement?
And why isn't Hertzke more forthcoming about whether he supports the formation of a separate government for Darfur, which is the objective of many of the rebels? Or about whether and to what extent rebel groups have been violating ceasefire agreements? If, as Hertzke urges, responsibility for all that goes wrong in Darfur is pinned on the government alone, fighting in Darfur and the unspeakable suffering that goes with it will continue, because a war that in which Khartoum can be blamed for every evil will only strengthen the separatist agenda of many rebel leaders. (The same is true if Hertzke desires war-crimes trials for officials of the government of Sudan; he needs to be up-front about the costs of this objective in the form of continued war and violence in Darfur.) On the other hand, if Hertzke doesn't share the aims of the Darfur rebels and wants a peace agreement more than he wants retribution against the Sudanese government, why doesn't he say so publicly? Then he would see what can be gained from the government in the form of peace concessions.
Allen Hertzke remains my friend, but he must take a long step back from his shameful dismissal of Christian-led human rights initiatives towards North Korea and the against the trafficking of women. On what grounds does Hertzke compare the relative merits of engagement in Darfur to campaigns focused on human rights abuses or the worldwide scourge of sex trafficking? Numbers killed? A lower potential for success? Fewer ripple-effect benefits for other persecuted people around the world? In this business, you are utopian (that is, self-indulgent and immoral) if you haven't given tough thought to choosing between priorities.
Hertzke also needs to step back immediately from libels against Christians that have become a core element of the Ben & Jerry story of Darfur—the claim that evangelicals (and George Bush) cared about southern Sudan's Christians but are indifferent to the suffering of Darfur's Muslims. In fact, Hertzke's charge of Christian indifference occurs in the very same article in which he acknowledges that Christian groups have actively prayed over, protested, and condemned the government of Sudan for its actions in Darfur. How many more prayer vigils will it take to get Hertzke to let up on the Evangelical activists he condemns for not doing “more”?
In the end, Hertzke's essay will only increase the pressure on Christian human rights activists, the Bush administration, and others to take the course of least political resistance and follow the Ben & Jerry party line, condemning the government of Sudan with escalating dudgeon. But taking out more full-page newspaper ads, calling for war-crimes trials, and holding more protest meetings that ignore the conduct of the Darfur rebels will not bring about peace in Darfur. It will have the opposite effect, encouraging the rebels to do what any shrewd advisor would tell them to do in the current environment: keep the pot boiling.
What Hertzke advocates will lead to more of what human rights movements do not need: appeals to broad goals devoid of specific, achievable objectives. Such moralizing will have deadly consequences, because it increases the likelihood that the Darfur refugee camps in Chad will fester and create perverse incentives that abet intractability and irresponsibility (and far worse), just as the Palestinian refugee camps have. It will be deadly, too, because it makes it harder to bolster opposition to North Korea's Nazi-like practices or rescue millions of girls from the hands of predatory pimps—winnable causes that could generate additional reform throughout the world.
I've opposed promiscuous moralism in everything I've done, including my role in the North-South Sudan peace agreement, which angered activists—many of them friends—who knew more about how to condemn than how to negotiate the peace agreement that has meant so much to the people of southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. One-sided moralism is especially wrong in the case of Darfur because a satisfactory peace agreement is there to be had if pressure is applied to both the government of Sudan and the Darfur rebels.
It is tragic that Allen Hertzke chose to tar those who seek to apply such pressure. Unrecanted, Allen's piece will help surrender the field to shrill voices of condemnation and partisan manipulators and reduce maneuvering room for those with more promising approaches to ending the tragedy of Darfur.
Allen Hertzke makes two points with which I wholeheartedly agree. The first is that the ethnic cleansing in Darfur commands the attention and action of American Christians. (A central tenet of Christian morality is that injustice is not only perpetuated by the actions of unjust men but also by the inaction of just men.) The second is Hertzke's indictment of the American religious community for its “fragmented” response to the atrocities in Darfur, especially when compared to the courage and intensity with which many American Christian groups tackled the protracted North-South war in Sudan. This apparent indifference is made more conspicuous because it was Christians who were murdered in the North-South war, whereas the majority of the 400,000 slaughtered in Darfur were Muslim.
I disagree, however, when Hertzke contends that North-South peace became a priority for the Bush Administration because “the issue had politically mobilized a critical mass of the American Christian community.” Since Christian conservatives comprise a crucial part of the president's political base, the author presumes that they can get Darfur on the administration's agenda. But it is not at all clear that the White House would make Darfur a priority, even if conservative Christian groups put more pressure on it to act. The administration seems willing to talk up the Christian conservative cause but rarely spends any political capital on it. Yes, the administration worked hard to ensure that a North-South peace agreement was realized, but that was during the run-up to an election for which Bush needed the support of the evangelical community. Since his reelection, Bush has done very little to address any of the issues dear to religious conservatives. Access does not necessarily translate into policy results when a president is in his second term.
That said, while the president is, as the author acknowledges, in a difficult position where both action and inaction will invite criticism, the costs of inaction should be considered within the larger context of Bush's foreign policy. Failure to act in Darfur undermines the moral tenets, and thus the moral credibility, of current U.S. foreign policy, whose central principle is the defense of the natural rights of all mankind. Continued inaction in Darfur imperils every other foreign mission the United States undertakes.
Allen Hertzke's thorough synopsis of the atrocities in Sudan helps us understand the problems at hand. His desire to elevate the issue and increase aid to Darfur is noble and deserves attention. We can and must increase involvement in Sudan, and specifically in Darfur. Hertzke misses the mark, however, when he overlooks the tremendous role Christian organizations continue to play in speaking out against the travesties in Darfur.
When Hertzke accuses the faith community of minimal involvement, he overlooks groups such as Samaritan's Purse or Persecution Project. The involvement of Samaritan's Purse in Sudan has increased recently as they extend their reach to embrace the whole of the country, especially Darfur. Similarly, Persecution Project is extensively involved in aiding Darfur refugees. Allegations that such groups discriminate against Darfur's Muslim population are utterly false.
As for Hertzke's critical assessment of the Bush administration, it should be noted that the administration is the loudest voice in the world speaking out against what has been happening in Darfur. The United States has provided most of the humanitarian aid in Darfur, saving thousands from starvation. This administration has also called the Darfur situation “genocide”—the first time in history that term has been used to refer to an ongoing situation.
Hertzke also ignores another piece of the story: Groups like MoveOn.org are ostracizing the NGOs already working on Darfur by re-defining the problem as entirely “Bush's fault.” As Tereza Dud, a southern Sudanese attending a “Day for Darfur” gathering, said in a recent article by Faith McDonnell, “Maybe this is just a rally for people who don't like Bush.”
Having said this, however, I want to pay tribute to Hertzke: He has done a heroic job of pointing out human rights violations around the world, and in most cases I have applauded his strong support of the evangelical community. We owe him a great debt, and even as he continues to prod us—justly, and sometimes not as justly—he's doing a great public service.
Charles W. Colson
Allen D. Hertzke replies:
My article on Darfur clearly elicited strong reactions. Let me express, at the outset, my appreciation for the letters and interest this article has sparked. Daniel Allott makes a good point that second-term presidents may not respond to constituent pressure with the same alacrity as during their re-election phase. But as Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court shows, the administration does respond to a groundswell from its religious base, and if a unified religious community demanded more vigorous engagement on Darfur the issue would vault higher on the president's agenda.
Charles Colson does a service in highlighting the laudable and expanding work of Christian organizations in providing relief to Darfur refugees. Most major evangelical organizations take pains not to discriminate, especially in providing relief. And for only a few sectarian groups does it appear that their response to the crisis is affected by the fact that Darfurians are Muslims. But as I noted, a fragmented political response by the evangelical community to Darfur may lead others to the false allegation that born-again Christians only care about fellow believers. Unfortunately, as also mentioned in my article, this impression is already taking root in certain circles, and it threatens to tarnish the great triumph of the faith-based movement in bringing an end to the North-South conflict.
Colson emphasizes that the Bush administration has done more than any other government in response to the Darfur tragedy. True. Yet the administration continues to send mixed signals to the Sudanese government. Recently the State Department upgraded the status of Sudan on slavery and human trafficking (despite the many southern slaves still held in the north, and abductions and rapes in Darfur). Moreover, it allowed—even encouraged—Sudan to hire a high-priced lobbying firm to improve its image and downplay continued Janjaweed violence.
Colson does raise a real problem in the politics of Darfur, one in which groups with an anti-Bush axe to grind attempt to hijack the movement for their ends. While I alluded to this potential for disingenuousness, the point benefits from Colson's greater emphasis. Still, is there any reason that Christian leaders cannot fashion their own coordinated and measured response to Darfur completely detached from the MoveOn.org types?
And then there is the letter from my friend Michael Horowitz, as formidable an adversary as anyone can have. I am an admirer of his herculean human rights efforts over the past decade, and any misrepresentation I may have made of his views on Darfur was unintended.
Horowitz makes a number of helpful recommendations that could easily be incorporated into a reinvigorated presidential engagement on Sudan. His most cogent point is that by not conceding the sins of the rebel groups I failed to acknowledge the need to bring pressure on both the Darfur rebels and the government of Sudan to end the crisis. I agree. Recent developments suggest the challenges of dealing with the fractious rebel groups, but there is no contradiction between demanding that President Bush make Darfur a much higher priority (as I do) and pursuing the dual pressure course Horowitz favors. So what prevents the president from doing so? Indeed, if the administration brought high-level pressure on all sides (the Darfur rebels, the National Islamic Front in Khartoum, and the SPLM leaders now a part of the Sudanese government), combined with massively increased aid and dramatically enhanced security measures, I would applaud, and maybe even Nicholas Kristof would, too.
Horowitz's complaints provide an opportunity to clear up some things. First, I did not say that he is soft on the government of Sudan or its appeasers. I suggested that he had arguments about how complicated the issue is, complications that he elaborates on in his response. These include an ardent set of assertions: that unilateral condemnation of Sudan will foster intransigence of the rebels, that the threat of war-crimes tribunals undermines negotiations, and that Khartoum may not fully control the Janjaweed. A careful reading of my piece shows that I articulated these themes—though not quite as vigorously as Horowitz himself—as reasons he parts company with some of his allies on previous campaigns. But dwelling alone on these still-debated points unfortunately can undermine the sense of urgency the crisis cries out for.
Horowitz also contends that condemnations of Sudan by Darfur activists somehow hem Bush in. If that were the case, what explains the administration's current rather benign posture toward Khartoum in spite of such condemnation? No one is seriously talking about allowing Darfur to split off from Sudan, and the president, in announcing a fresh diplomatic initiative, could clearly enunciate such reassurances to Khartoum even while he demands their cooperation in ending the crisis.
As to interfaith initiatives on North Korea and trafficking, they are profoundly laudable and deserve to be chronicled—a narrative I began in Saving God's Children and plan to continue. But human rights campaigns need not be zero-sum. Victories in one area often create momentum and cachet for another. Thus there is no reason to slight Darfur as too complicated. Indeed, the faith-based movement is accustomed to such contentions and currently confronts similar arguments—from the State Department and elsewhere—that North Korea is “too complicated” for human rights “interference.”
Horowitz himself spends more ink on the rebel groups' sins and errant agendas than Khartoum's. No doubt this is to counter what he sees in the Darfur campaign as simplistic condemnation of Sudan, along with anti-Bush and anti-Christian Right elements. But that seems a caricature of the breadth of the groups involved in the Darfur coalition, including some evangelical ones. A recent full-page ad in the New York Times sponsored by a host of Jewish groups avoided condemnation entirely and called for the kinds of measures I recommended: increasing humanitarian aid, expanding the African Union force and mandate, and enhancing U.S. logistical support. Nowhere is there a call for war crimes tribunals and retribution, or condemnations of President Bush.
Reasonable minds can disagree on strategy. But condemning the government of Sudan for staggering atrocities in Darfur does not mean that one must therefore be trucking with an “establishment” that ignored the southern conflict, Bush-bashers, or those who favor appeasing the North Korean regime. More important, my considered appraisal of the evangelical lobby was not meant to libel born-again Christians as indifferent to Darfur. What I said is that the response has been fragmented thus far and that some voices active on the south are silent on Darfur. In conversations with staff for members of Congress, this is what I hear, that they are not getting the same kind of constituent pressure from the evangelical community on Darfur that they did on southern Sudan.
What matters in Washington is how high on the agenda an issue is. Religious mobilization can achieve heightened administration focus on Darfur without jeopardizing other human rights initiatives. Plus, there is no reason the evangelical elite, with its clout, cannot frame its own public posture, say by announcing expanded church aid appeals, lauding Bush for his leadership in the South, and then challenging him to elevate his personal stakes in ending the tragedy in Darfur.
Calling for the faith-based movement to make Darfur a higher priority does not imply the adoption of empty moralizing gestures that Horowitz rightly views as potentially counterproductive. I tried to avoid this by including specific recommendations made by well-grounded bipartisan entities. Other ideas—such as a special envoy with presidential access to engage all sides or a NATO bridging force to assist the African Union—have since been advanced to deal with the obviously complex dimensions to the crisis. Ironically, without engaging Darfur more aggressively, church leaders might unintentionally allow the issue to be hijacked by the MoveOn.org types, which is precisely what Horowitz fears.
Ultimately the question comes down to this: Can the Bush administration do more to end the crisis in Darfur? The answer is: Yes, it can. And increased religious activism need not reduce the president's maneuvering room to mount smart initiatives on multiple fronts. To be sure, the whole region is fragile, complications abound, and success is not guaranteed, but “never again” will ring hauntingly if the highest levels of the U.S. government are not engaged in halting the slow-motion decimation of a people—and if the American religious community does not do all it can to make that happen. This is a great moral issue, one that deserves our voices and strategic visions.
Thanks to Father Richard John Neuhaus for his poignant analysis in “The New Europes” (October). Poland is truly a light in the spiritual darkness of that continent. Notwithstanding Neuhaus' mostly sagacious and incisive remarks, I would particularly like to caution against some possible miscalculations that I detected. He states quite optimistically that “some studies suggest that the general population of western Europe is not as secular as many think.” Well, maybe so, but that would seem to contradict prevailing European social attitudes, particularly regarding issues like abortion, gay marriage and adoption, prostitution, drugs, and public nudity. Poland is clearly exceptional in this respect, and I doubt anyone can foresee western European social policies or attitudes changing anytime soon.
Europe's demographic future is an intriguing topic for those of us interested in demographics. The risk, I think, is not as great as feared by Neuhaus and others. Populations ebb and increase throughout history. The baby dearth of the 1930s (when America had a stagnant economy with double-digit unemployment) was followed by the baby boom of the 1940s and 1950s. Likewise, the ancient Greek population recovered after the Mycenaean collapse during the Homeric age, and Europe's general population recovered from plague and war many times.
Even if no such demographic recovery occurs, should we be so alarmed at the Islamic ascendancy in Europe? While I dare not ignore or underestimate the threat of international terrorism, should people of faith not cautiously welcome the increase of the faithful in a nearly faithless population? Let me make clear that I would like to see a reemergence of Christianity in Europe as much as anyone, but how likely is such a thing?
Joseph Bottum on P.G. Wodehouse (“God and Bertie Wooster,” October) reminded me that a few years ago I offered a course called “The Comic Muse.” It started with Aristophanes and ended with Wodehouse's Quick Service. In between we met Petronius Arbiter, some Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson, Molière, Swift, Dickens, Trollope (The Warden), Waugh, and Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim among others. I suppose the students' doubts about the seriousness of the comic were tamed a bit by my insisting that solemn the texts were not; serious, they certainly were, despite a perceived disengagement in the points of view. I hope Thalia—the inspiring Olympian—was pleased.
What especially troubled me was the void so clear and howling beneath Wodehouse's excellent and very funny prose. Unfairly, I guess, the nothingness underneath his work kept intruding as I read and analyzed and talked. There is no way I could dismiss from my mind that grizzly Hemingway closure to his nihilist and creedal display in a “Clean, Well-lighted Place.” You might remember the Our Father and the Hail Mary are reduced to a parodic nothing.
I still read Wodehouse and agree with almost everything Bottum said in his article, but was Wodehouse's talent, evident in so many novels and stories, wittingly or unwittingly producing a body of work potentially corrupting? I raise the question, and not in a mere rhetorical fashion.
Timothy V. O'Hara