179 Our Meaningful World

Whether or not the world is meaningful is a meaningful question.  Giving one answer, an eminent physicist, Stephen Weinberg, verbalized the nihilism pervading modernity by declaring that the universe “seems pointless.”  He personally does science not to discover any deep purpose or meaning to things but simply because it is a momentarily interesting way to spend one’s time.  On the contrary, argue Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, in A Meaningful World:  How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature (Downers Grove:  IVP Academic, c. 2006), “the universe is meaning-full” (p 15) because God’s made it.  

Wiker and Witt begin by exploring Shakespeare’s “Hamlet and the search for meaning,” noting the absurdity of arguing (as does the Darwinist Richard Dawkins) that a group of monkeys, aimlessly typing for a million years, could produce the play.  In fact, “Hamlet” reveals the sheer genius of the man Shakespeare—evident in the depth, clarity, symmetry, and elegance of his works.  Furthermore, “the living world is more like Shakespeare’s Globe Theater than a tidy and tightly bound circle of the watch” (p. 52).  To take a reductionist approach to Shakespeare’s dramas—tabulating the sequence of particular letters, or looking for repetitive phrases, or explaining everything (as did Freud) in terms of sexual desires—would effectively prevent one from actually understanding their message.  Such endeavors, however, “are akin to the Darwinists’ overly tidy treatment of vision or the cell.  In each case the critic analyzes the work narrowly, ignoring the larger context, be it ecological, aesthetic or otherwise” (p. 56). 

Add to Shakespeare the mathematical genius of Euclid!   The authors guide us through the proof for the Pythagorean theorem and discern therein “the inherent, necessary and universal order of geometrical things themselves, an order that preexists our attempts to uncover it and that inflames the geometer’s desire to know it” (p. 96).  What we know, when we think geometrically, are immaterial figures—forms in our minds, not material objects.  “The struggle to understand the demonstration about right triangles is the struggle to grasp something that is immaterial” (p. 97).  Still more:  the logic and beauty of mathematics is equally evident in the periodic table so basic to chemistry.  It demonstrates an “underlying order” that is “far more elegant and harmonious than even the most conspiracy-minded chemist could imagine.  They suspected a beautiful melody.  They discovered a symphony” (p. 135).  Indeed, “The periodic table of elements, in all its exquisite order, fits the qualities that we traditionally associate with the works of genius to the highest degree” (p. 171).    

And the periodic table is quite elementary when compared with the complexity of the living cell.  To Darwin, of course, it was a “black box,” a little blob of matter, unknowable because of the limited powers of 19th century microscopes.  “We now know that even the simplest functional cell is almost unfathomably complex, containing at least 250 genes and their corresponding proteins, each one extraordinarily difficult to produce randomly and none of which can function apart from the intricate structure of the cell” (p. 201).  Like the sentences of Shakespeare, the amino acids and proteins in cells could hardly have been accidentally assembled, for they “are defined from the top down” (p. 212).  In a recent (2001) biological treatise, The Way of the Cell, published by Oxford University Press, Franklin Harold notes that even a simple “’bacterial cell consists of more than three hundred million molecules . . . and requires some 2,000 genes for its specification’” (p. 223).  Furthermore:  “’There is nothing random about this assemblage, which reproduces itself with constant composition and from generation after generation.  A cell constitutes a unitary whole, a unit of life, in another deeper sense:  like the legs and leaves of higher organisms, its molecular constituents have functions.  . . . molecules are parts of an integrated system, and in that capacity can be said to serve the activities of the cell as a whole.  As with any hierarchical system, each constituent is at once an entity in itself and a part of the larger design; . . .  Organization, John von Neumann once said, has purpose; order does not.  Living things clearly have at least one purpose, to perpetuate their own kind.  Therefore, organization is the word that sums up the essence of biological order’” (p. 223; italics added by authors).  Consequently, you cannot understand a cell in terms of DNA, for “DNA is not the ultimate cause of biological formation; rather DNA is the informational material used by growing organism (just as words are the material for Shakespearean Drama” (pp. 226-227).  

This book is most intriguing.  Getting the reader to ponder Shakespeare and Euclid, Boyle and Behe as witnesses to intelligent design is quite an achievement!  Among the impressive list of those praising this book is James Sire, who says:  “I have been reticent to affirm the value of the cosmological argument from design, but no longer.  Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt have convinced me that from literature to mathematics, physics to biology, the very phenomena of the world breathe intelligence.  A Meaningful World is a masterful argument, a tour de force, framed with brilliance and wit.  Here is a convincing case for a universe charged not only with meaning, but with the glory of God.”  

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Francis S. Collins led the government team of geneticists that successfully pursued the Human Genome Project.  When the project was completed, President Bill Clinton commended his work, declaring: “‘Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind.’  But the part of his speech that most attracted public attention jumped from the scientific perspective to the spiritual.  ‘Today,’ he said, ‘we are learning the language in which God created life.  We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift’” (p. 2).  Though the President may have overstated the case, his words receive validation in Collins’ The Language of God:  A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York:  Free Press, c. 2006), wherein he effectively gives witness to his faith in Christ and explains how his scientific work enhances his religious belief.  He argues “that belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science” (p. 3).   

Reared in an irreligious home, Collins had little interest in theological issues until he completed his graduate work and began working as a medical doctor.  He took a loosely agnostic position—a kind of ‘willful blindness’ he now suspects—that freed him to live pretty much on his own terms.  But at the age of 26, by the bedside of a devout Christian woman who gave witness to her strong faith and bluntly asked him what he believed, he began to seriously consider ultimate things.  He realized that nothing could be more important than discerning whether or not God exists.  So he decided to investigate the question.  A Methodist minister, in response to his inquiries, gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  “In the next few days, as I turned its pages, struggling to absorb the breadth and depth of the intellectual arguments laid down by this legendary Oxford scholar, I realized that all of my own constructs against the plausibility of faith were those of a schoolboy” (p. 21).  He was most deeply impressed by Lewis’s Moral Law argument for God’s existence, and repeatedly praises Lewis throughout this book.

More than intellectual conviction, however, Collins longed to know this God in whom he believed.  That apparently involved living righteously—something he found himself unable to do.  Then he began to be truly honest with himself and admitted that he was a “sinner” in need of grace.  He also began to seriously consider the God-man Jesus Christ and “read the actual account of His life for the first time in the four gospels, the eyewitness nature of the narratives and the enormity of Christ’s claims and their consequences gradually began to sink in.  Here was a man who not only claimed to know God, He claimed to be God.  No other figure I could find in any other faith made such an outrageous claim.  He also claimed to be able to forgive sins, which seemed both exciting and utterly shocking” (p. 221).  Accepting the atoning work of Christ on the cross led to an equally important corollary:  “Faithfulness to God required a kind of death of self-will, in order to be reborn as a new creation” (p. 222).  So, a year after coming to the conclusion that God exists Collins came to Christ.  While hiking in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, “the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance.  As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over.  The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ” (p. 225).  

Years later, in 1989, serving as a volunteer in an African hospital, Collins was profoundly moved by some kind words from a young man suffering tuberculosis.  “Nothing I had learned from science could explain that experience.  Nothing about the evolutionary explanations for human behavior could account for why it seemed so right for this privileged white man to be standing at the bedside of this young African farmer, each of them receiving something exceptional.  This was what C.S. Lewis calls agape.  It is the love that seeks no recompense.  It is an affront to materialism and naturalism.  And it is the sweetest joy that one can experience” (p. 217).  Importantly, in this moment Collins “also saw more clearly than ever before the author of that goodness and truth, the real True North, God himself, revealing His holy nature by the way in which He has written this desire to seek goodness in all of our hearts” (p. 218).  

Thus it is as a deeply committed Christian that Collins has worked on the very cutting edge of science and also pondered “the great questions of human existence.”  Regarding the origins of the universe, he finds the Big Bang theory and the Christian belief in creatio ex nihilo remarkably congruent.  Indeed, as “Arno Penzias, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who codiscovered the cosmic microwave background radiation that provided strong support for the Big Bang in the first place, states, ‘The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five Books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole’” (p. 76).  Regarding life on earth, Collins espouses what he calls “theistic evolution,” crediting God for overseeing an evolutionary process that proceeds by natural selection.  (Parenthetically, he highly commends the work of my PLNU colleague, Darrel Falk, who sets forth a similar position in Coming to Peace with Science).  Collins acknowledges, however, the great mystery of the actual origin of life, since “at the present time we simply do not know.  No current hypothesis comes close to explaining how in the space of a mere 150 million years, the prebiotic environment that existed on planet Earth gave rise to life” (p. 90).  

In his own realm of expertise, genetics, Collins shows how his study of the human genome enabled him to engage in “deciphering God’s instruction book.”  “For me, as a believer,” he writes, “the uncovering of the human genome sequence held additional significance.  This book was written in the DNA language by which God spoke life into being.  I felt an overwhelming sense of awe in surveying this most significant of all biological texts” (p. 123-124).  This leads him to set forth his belief in “BioLogos,” a “belief that God is the source of all life and that life expresses the will of God” (p. 203).  It is, however, “not intended as a scientific theory.  Its truth can be tested only by the spiritual logic of the heart, the mind, and the soul” (p. 204).  In other words:  knowledge comes from testable science whereas belief is an inner, subjective inclination.  

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Some time ago, while reading Against the Idols of the Age (an edited collection of Australian philosopher David Stove’s writings, reviewed in my “Reedings” #155), my interest was piqued in Stove’s Darwinian Fairytales:  Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution (New York:  Encounter Books, c. 1995).  Stove’s “object is to show that Darwinism is not true:  not true, at any rate, of our species” (p. xiv), and he does so with rigorous logic and factual clarity unclouded by any personal objection to either philosophical materialism (which he seems to favor) or Darwin’s hypothesis of “evolution through natural selection.”  Ironically, he says, “Darwin’s explanation of evolution, even though it is . . . still the best one available, is not true” (p. 46).  

He begins by noting “Darwinism’s Dilemma,” which is this:  “If Darwin’s theory of evolution were true, there would be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive:  a competition in which only a few in any generation can be winners.  But is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species” (p. 3).  Stove then details “where Darwin first went wrong about man,” showing how Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population (the key to his thesis regarding natural selection) seriously misled him.  Since, as Stove demonstrates, “it is rational to conclude that the Malthus-Darwin principle is false, it is rational to conclude that the Darwinian theory of evolution is false” (p. 96).  The very notion that every species procreates until available resources are exhausted simply has no factual basis.  It may be true of pine trees and salmon, but it is hardly true of mammals and (especially) man.  “Go to the extreme case,” Stove says, “and consider the most privileged classes of people that history can show:  the people for whom the probability of death from starvation or in battle was lowest, and to whom the best medical attention of the time was available.  Such classes have never been prolific of offspring in anything like the degree to which they were privileged.  They have never even managed to maintain their numbers by reproduction” (p. 64).  

In truth, Darwinians continually contradict themselves—though blithely unaware of their illogic.  Consequently, Stove says, “All Darwinians have a remarkable asymmetry of mind where their own species is concerned.  On the one had there is the human life which both by experience and by reading history and  literature, they know a great deal about; but all of this they put to one side, as having nothing to do with theory.  They have to put it aside, because of course this human life contains not a single instance of the famous Darwinian struggle, and in fact consists entirely of disconfirmations of that theory.  But on the other hand, Darwinians draw endless confirmations of their theory from the lives of extinct or hypothetical or imaginary or impossible human beings concerning whom they know exactly as much as they rest of us do:  namely nothing” (p. 83).  

Stove also scrutinizes the claims of “sociobiology”—a currently fashionable version of Darwinism (popularized by Richard Dawkins) that explains virtually everything in terms of “selfish genes.”  It is, ironically, Stove says, “a religion:  one which has genes as its gods” (p. 248).  “According to the Christian religion, human beings and all other created things exist for the greater glory of God; according to sociobiology, human beings and all other living things exist for the benefit of their genes” (p. 249).  Both positions, to Stove, are irrational beliefs, not scientific demonstrations.  One may prefer one or the other beliefs—or neither—but he should acknowledge the difference between science and religion!  To Christians, God is immortal, invisible, holy and wise, whereas genes are the “immortals” in sociobiology, thus making it a current and fashionable version of polytheism.  Certainly genes, “like viruses, have a strong tendency to self-replication.  But to describe genes as ‘selfish’ on that account, or on any account, would be just as nonsensical as describing viruses as ‘selfish.’  Genes can no more be selfish that they can be (say) supercilious or stupid” (p. 175).  Think for a moment about the latent contradiction in this position.  “Two bacteria of the same parentage have 100 percent of their genes in common, and therefore must, according to sociobiology, exercise 100 percent altruism towards each other.  So how are they going to be able to compete with one another for ‘the means of subsistence?’” (p. 208).  It’s clear, of course, that they could not.  But simple facts and logic apparently do not deter Dawkins et al. from defending their theory!  

Moving from the lowest level of life, bacteria, to the highest, human beings, it is obvious that if selfish genes dictate everything they should shape our behavior.  Thus a leading sociobiologist, William “Hamilton wrote that ‘we expect to find that no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person but that everyone will sacrifice it for more than two brothers [or off-spring], or four half-brothers, or eight first-cousins’” (p. 227).  In response, an astonished Stove declares:  “Was an expectation more obviously false than this one ever held (let alone published) by any human being?” (p. 227).  Yet prestigious evolutionists routinely make such claims.  And, indeed, “Altruism ought to be non-existent, or short-lived whenever it does occur, if the Darwinian theory of evolution is true” (p. 201).  In fact, altruism abounds, but the fitness theorists “publish hundreds of articles every year, in which kind altruism is both denied and casually explained in terms of shared genes.  These two things may be logically inconsistent with one another.  But what of that?  It’s a ‘successful research program,’ isn’t it?” (p,. 246).    

Rather than a “successful research program,” Darwinism is a naturalistic philosophy, remarkably akin to that of the German pessimist Schopenhauer, who died in 1860 and probably never  heard of Darwin.  He is “the true philosopher of Darwinism.  He was so before Darwinism existed, and he is so still” (p. 296).   “Schopenhauer’s central theme is the universality and, among organisms in general, the overridingness, of the sexual reproductive impulse.  He calls this impulse ‘the will to live,’ or ‘the Life Force.’  This impulse or will or force is purposive—nothing more so, or more effectually so—but not conscious” (p. 294).  This will reduces all beings, whether bacteria or bananas or baboons or humans, to puppets instinctively obeying an inner impulse to preserve the species through reproduction.  Denying, as Darwinians must, the freedom of man’s will, he lamented that a person “can absolutely never do anything other than precisely what he does at that particular moment.”  There is, Stove says, in Schopenhauer’s  1819 masterpiece, The World as Will and Representation, “the grinding and constant pressure, in every species, of population on the supply of food” with “the hair trigger readiness of population to increase, in particular, if the food supply gives it the smallest chance to do so.  The struggle for life among conspecifics, which results from this unsleeping and untiring attempt to increase, is universal, constant and pitiless.  Not even the Hardest Men among Darwinians have ever portrayed the struggle for life more uncompromisingly than Schopenhauer does” (p. 294).  Schopenhauer, who deeply influenced Friedrich Nietzsche (and C.S. Lewis in his atheist years), found life utterly meaningless, an irrational struggle to survive for no particular reason.  To him, life is “a striving without aim or end.”  

However “successful” it has been in scientific circles, Stove says there is a distinct “irrelevance of Darwinism to human life” (p. 307).  Man’s historical concern for, and commitment, to such things a truth, goodness, and beauty, cannot be explained in accord with the Darwinian template.  As an intellectual exercise, one could simply go through the dictionary listing words that refer to meaningful things that cannot be explained by Darwinism.  Indeed, the most valuable human attributes are “injurious” from a survival of the fittest evolutionary perspective.  So Stove concludes “that on the subject of our species, Darwinism is a mere festering mass of errors:  and of errors in the plain honest sense of that word too, namely, falsities taken for truths.”  If you’re interested in flowers and fish, Darwinism will prove quite helpful.  “But the case is altogether different, indeed reversed, when our own species is in question.  If it is human life that you would most like to know about and to understand, then a very good library can be begun by leaving out Darwinism, from 1859 to the present hour” (p. 325).