by Richard Peachey
[Featured as an advertorial in Cascade News, University of the Fraser Valley student newspaper, Nov. 6, 2009]
Regarding the recent opinion piece by David Miller (Cascade News, Oct. 16, 2009, p. 8):
From its beginning (a headline sporting a puerile pun on my surname: “Peaching to the Choir”) to its ending (a crude display of personal vulgarity), this article exhibits a disappointing lack of substance. Miller’s piece unfortunately contributes nothing to the progress of the evolution/creation debate.
Miller raises no issues of material importance, choosing instead to focus on secondary matters or ad hominem mockery. His only “argument” in favour of evolution is that the majority of scientists “don’t have a problem” with it. If his article had merely attacked me as an individual, I would not trouble myself to respond to it. But the origins controversy is of crucial importance; I therefore feel compelled to provide a detailed reply to his criticisms.
Miller charges that I have quoted only the “public scientists,” whereas there are lots of other scientists who would not agree with them. But if these others (shall we call them “private” scientists?) are not voicing their views openly, how can Miller know what they think? And what gives him the right to speak on behalf of this shy Silent Majority? How very Falwellian of him!
Miller also reasons that by having “ignored” these quiet folks, I “insult” them “by misrepresenting their work and attacking their integrity.” I’m reminded of a local election after which a letter writer argued something like this: “Only 24% of the eligible voters came out to the polls. So 76% did not vote in favour of the incumbent. Therefore he has no mandate to impose his policies on us.”
Miller’s statement that I only quote from “popular” sources is simply mistaken. The reader is welcome to go back and look at all my advertorials, starting with the Sept. 10, 2009 issue of the Cascade News. But even if Miller were correct, so what? The quotes are all from leading scientists, and my detailed citations of them make it easy to see that my representations of their views are not “caricatures.”
Next, Miller complains about my use of the term “evolutionary worldview” and my description of Bertrand Russell as an “evolutionary philosopher.”
Well, the evolutionary worldview is simply the currently prevalent understanding that life, the universe and everything (including us) are the result of unguided naturalistic processes, and a Creator is not needed (or wanted) to explain the vast majesty of the cosmos, the origin of complex, intricate cells, or the rise of Earth’s amazing biodiversity.
The evolutionary worldview thus includes the stages of cosmic evolution, chemical evolution, and biological evolution. It is held by leading scientists from a range of disciplines — whether or not they talk to each other (Miller seems to think they don’t).
When I debated the BC Skeptics in 2006, they raised no objection whatsoever to my proposed title for the debate: “Evolution versus Creation: War of the Worldviews!”
As for Bertrand Russell, he is rightly called an “evolutionary philosopher” because he held to this “evolutionary worldview”: he scoffed at God (and at Bible-believing creationists); he accepted evolution as a “fact;” and it definitely influenced his thinking.
• “The doctrine of evolution,” Russell noted with approval, “is now generally accepted,” and he recommended that his readers study Evolution: A Modern Synthesis by Julian Huxley (Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948, p. 34).
• In his famous essay “Why I Am Not a Christian,” Russell wrote: “. . . since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them, but that they grew to be suitable to it, that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.”
• According his biographer Alan Ryan, Russell estimated that Darwin was worth thirty million “ordinary men” (Bertrand Russell: A Political Life. New York: Hill and Wang, 1988, pp. 81, 161). And in a 1914 lecture on “current tendencies” in philosophy, Russell spoke of the importance of the “triumphs” of Newton and Darwin “for the moulding of our mental habits” (Our Knowledge of the External World. London: Routledge, 1993, p. 41).
• Russell’s daughter recalled: “. . . I have never regarded the mere existence of humanity as good in itself, and I can contemplate without panic a world devoid of human beings. (Unwittingly, my father was responsible for this callous point of view, having taught us that mankind was no more than an accident of evolution.)” Incidentally, Russell’s daughter in her adult years turned to Christianity — she “found it easier to believe in a universe created by an eternal God than in one that had ‘just happened.’ ” (Katharine Tait, My Father, Bertrand Russell. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975, pp. 178, 186).
All of the foregoing Russell citations can easily be verified at the UFV library (Abbotsford).
Miller asserts that my “glaring inaccuracy” in labeling Russell an evolutionary philosopher “makes the reader wonder if you’ve ever read any of Russel’s [sic] work.” If this newspaper editor had attended more closely to his own accuracy, he might have been able to avoid misspelling his hero’s name — twice in one paragraph! (The point here is not merely that a spelling error was made — none of us is perfect — but that, ironically, the error was made in the very place where Miller was trumping up someone else’s “inaccuracy.”)
It’s true that on occasion, Russell took issue with what he called “evolutionism” — for example, in Our Knowledge of the External World — but what he was really opposing was an optimistic, progressive evolutionism à la Spencer and Bergson.
In one article I mentioned Sartre in passing, and Miller is offended that I didn’t spend more time on this atheist philosopher. Sartre’s term “authenticity,” protests Miller, is “labored with dense philosophical ideas.” I won’t argue with that: Sartre is as abstruse a philosopher as you ever want to try to read. But I did not mistreat him in my brief reference to him.
Finally, concerning Miller’s “advice” to me on how to write for a university audience: I would welcome his advice if sincere — but this is, transparently, nothing more than a literary device through which he can slam my writing. If Miller could begin to show a little more “authenticity” of his own, I would be glad to engage in further conversation with him.