The Magazine

The Human Factor

A man of science face Darwin and the Deity.

Aug 14, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 45 • By DAVID KLINGHOFFER
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Wisely turning away from this doomed approach to showing God's hand here on Planet Darwin, Collins argues that we may discover evidence of His existence and love from looking to our own hearts, and to the heavens. In this he follows the lead of Immanuel Kant, who famously wrote, "Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the Moral Law within." The incredible fine-tuning of the universe's physical laws at the moment of the Big Bang, making existence possible against unimaginably high odds, must indicate that God had us in mind when He created the starry heavens. Collins quotes Stephen Hawking: "It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create us."

But doesn't this sound like an "argument from personal incredulity" of just the kind Collins would attribute to Intelligent Design? Here is Collins on the Big Bang: "I cannot see how nature could have created itself."

The same objection may be lodged against Collins's favorite demonstration of God's being and caring. This comes from the "Moral Law," the sense of right and wrong, of charity and altruism, which he believes to be inborn in the human heart. Where else could it come from, he asks, but from God? "In my view, DNA sequence alone . . . will never explain certain special human attributes, such as the knowledge of the Moral Law and the universal search for God." Darwin, among others, would disagree. In The Descent of Man he advanced an evolutionary explanation of altruism.

In his most satisfying defense of belief, Collins brings forward a clever way of reconciling an unguided evolutionary process with God as the Creator. He points out that God resides beyond the limits of time. Hence, what appears to us as evolution's unpredictable course was, from God's perspective, entirely predictable. It's a neat perspective--except, perhaps, if we ask whether an unguided process of "creation" is still "creation" even if its results were foreseen.

I am surprised that Collins didn't try another approach to harmonizing God and Darwin, an approach I find more promising. This one is brought forward by an Orthodox Jewish scholar who deserves to be more widely known outside Jewish circles. In his own new book, The Challenge of Creation: Judaism's Encounter with Science, Cosmology, and Evolution, Rabbi Natan Slifkin also summarily dismisses Intelligent Design. On the other hand, he offers a sumptuous variety of theological and philosophical approaches to reconciling Darwinian evolution with religious faith. Slifkin's perspective, while endorsing Darwinism, holds that what may appear random and unguided in life's history may not be at all.

His writing is too fascinatingly rich to summarize here, but a hint of this line of thinking may be found in a citation from the book of Proverbs: "[When] the lot is cast in the lap, its entire verdict has been decided by God." Or as a cryptic verse of a famous Sabbath hymn, "L'chah Dodi," suggests, in Slifkin's paraphrase:

The end of the deed is first in thought, which explains that the final result sheds light on the entire process. In this case, it clarifies that when a seemingly meaningless process results in a highly meaningful conclusion, one looks back and sees that the apparent meaninglessness was a mere disguise for the goal, which was actually envisaged at the start of the entire process.

This turns Stephen Jay Gould's notion of contingency on its head. The unlikely course of evolutionary history with its ultimate product--us--actually becomes an argument for the emergence of humans having been intended all along. After all, the unlikely thing actually happened. But Slifkin's attempt at harmonizing would likely trouble Darwin, who assumed that the process not only seemed to be unguided but also was unguided.

Can we reconcile God and Darwin without changing the accustomed meaning of one or the other? I remain skeptical. Yet readers owe Francis Collins--and Rabbi Slifkin--a debt of gratitude for making us think more deeply about issues that often get swept away with trite, unexamined formulations designed to give us an excuse for not thinking. The theological and scientific paradoxes will not be resolved in a book review, nor perhaps in any book that has yet been written.

David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is the author, most recently, of Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History.