September 11, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Naturalism and 9/11

It’s been seven years since the horrific terrorist attacks in America woke up everyone to the reality of evil.  Secular, naturalistic evolutionists must of necessity explain evil as an artifact of pointless, aimless, purposeless acts of nature.  Did the September day that changed the world change the aims or rhetoric of the scientists and educators who are determined to keep all mention of God out of our schools and scientific institutions?

  1. What’s the point?  Hanna Kokko (U of Helsinki) was interviewed in Current Biology.1  After using an example of “how short-sighted evolution can be” to ridicule intelligent design and the “intelligence of the designer,” she was asked, “aren’t there bigger problems in the world?”  So, turning to profundity, she quoted Bertrand Russell on the value of pure research.  She then preached on the value of thinking long-term (which is ironic, considering she had just described how short-sighted evolution can be).  We ought to consider our long-term impact on the environment, she said.  That prompted a follow-up question that seemed out of place in an exclusively pro-Darwin magazine:

    But scientists surely aren’t saints themselves are they?
    No, we fly too much but at least there is a certain honesty about it: we tend to admit that.  We’re a bit as selfish as the others, but at least we get some wicked pleasure out of saying it aloud.  We ought to complain when society hasn’t established sensible rules that serve the long-term interests of people.

    Kokko did not explain how the long-term interests of people can be reconciled with the needs of the environment, or how the morality-tinged words saint, honesty, wicked and selfish entered into the Darwinian vocabulary – except with this short anecdote, hinting that she is aware of the conundrum:

    My cousins recently looked at the proofs of a popular Finnish book on evolution that I’ve coauthored.  I was perhaps expecting them to comment on my claims that evolution has something to do with our troubled relationship with the environment, or challenge my views on how we can live humanely ‘despite’ being products of natural selection.  But what they asked me was far simpler.  They were simply baffled about where I got all this information; who told me all these cool stories?

    Safely off the hook, Kokko went on to praise the value of science education, and to admire the younger generation of Finnish students, who “show a far greater acceptance of evolution than older ones” and “are also more environmentally aware.”  So we never got to hear how she reconciles moral and theological values with the short-sighted blindness of natural selection.  Would she have grounds for calling the terrorist attacks evil?

  2. Superstition for better fitness:  New Scientist published an interesting twist on evolution: Darwin’s theory of natural selection helps explain why people believe nonsense.  Avoiding black cats and ladders and rubbing a rabbit’s foot are no longer moral failings, but rather adaptive strategies sustained by evolutionary forces.  Interestingly, the article refers to the work of the aforementioned Hanna Kokko, who, with colleague Kevin Foster of Harvard, “sought to determine exactly when such potentially false connections pay off.”  Superstition can be good for you, in other words.
        As if to pre-empt creationist ridicule for this idea, the article continued, “Rather than author just-so stories for every possible superstition – from lucky rabbit’s feet to Mayan numerology – Foster and Kokko worked with mathematical language and a simple definition for superstition that includes animals and even bacteria.”  The definition was not given by New Scientist, but the mathematical rule boils down to this: “As long as the cost of believing a superstition is less than the cost of missing a real association, superstitious beliefs will be favoured.”  (They admitted, later in the article, that this rule does not always hold.)
        Their rule seems to rely on a philosophical assumption, however.  “Real associations” can only be alleged if one presupposes the correspondence theory of truth – the confidence that our sensory perceptions correspond to external reality.  Some theologians have argued that this presupposition cannot be derived from naturalism.  It requires reference to eternal truth, which in turn requires an eternal Truth-giver, or God.
        Surprisingly, New Scientist gave the last word to a critic of the Foster-Kokko hypothesis.  One can almost hear philosophers and theologians smirking in the background:

    However, Wolfgang Forstmeier, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology in Starnberg, Germany, argues that by linking cause and effect – often falsely – science is a simply dogmatic form of superstition.
        “You have to find the trade off between being superstitious and being ignorant,” he says.  By ignoring building evidence that contradicts their long-held ideas, “quite a lot of scientists tend to be ignorant quite often,” he says.

    But then,our background philosophers and theologians ask, isn’t Forstmeier begging the question?  How does he define ignorance without presupposing the correspondence theory of truth?  And how is contradicting oneself viewed as bad, if natural selection can produce superstitious beliefs and call it fitness?  In the end, this article did not address the origin of evil, either – let alone grounds for labeling something like 9/11 as evil.  Could not superstition be judged a means of attaining fitness from the terrorists’ point of view?

  3. Those evil creationists:  Scientific American seems to be able to smell evil even if they can’t define it.  It’s those creationists trying to get their views in the science classrooms.  Suspects included VP nominee Sarah Palin (cf. Evolution News #1 and #2), Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and the Discovery Institute.  Their crime: using buzzwords, rhetorical shifts, faulty reasoning (“They have this idea that it’s a zero-sum game, so anything you can do to knock evolution down actually promotes creationism without having to say the word”), and retooled approaches to sneak creationism into the classroom (but see Evolution News).
        The article failed to explain, though, why any of this is bad in Darwin’s universe.  After all, “evolution is the linchpin of modern biology, explaining everything from antibiotic resistance in bacteria to the progression of species found in the fossil record,” the article said.  If evolution explains everything, surely it could explain the fitness of the majority of the human population that wants creationism to get a fair hearing.  On what moral grounds, then, or by what force of natural selection, could the NCSE resist these efforts?  Robert Crowther responded to this article for Evolution News.
  4. Teaching points:  As stated in the update to yesterday’s entry (09/10/2008), a consortium of scientific societies is planning a big public forum to promote evolution.  A key goal of the meeting is to explain why intelligent design is not science.  Needless to say, no advocates of ID were invited on the panel.  This seems a continuation of the pro-Darwin strategy immediately after 9/11.  PBS aired a series on Evolution with no explanation for moral evil, and no opportunity for opposing views to get a hearing (see 09/18/2001).

It appears that the naturalistic evolutionists have not changed since 9/11.  In most cases when they talk about morality, (1) every moral condition is to be explained by amoral natural processes, including terrorism; (2) they presuppose values that are difficult to account for in Darwinian terms, and (3) morality notwithstanding, they preach that creation and intelligent design are to be sternly opposed – as if they are evil.
    For those who want to hear both sides, a stimulating online debate is in progress.  Opposing Views.com seeks to air the best arguments of “verified experts” on both sides of controversial issues.  This month’s debate is “Does intelligent design have merit?”  Visitors can not only read the views of senior fellows of the Discovery Institute (cf. Evolution News) going up against the NCSE and Americans United, but can vote on who is winning and submit their responses – something Casey Luskin at Evolution News is rallying readers to do.


1.  Q & A: Hanna Kokko, Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 17, 9 September 2008, Pages R726-R727, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.06.042.

Once you unmask the naturalist’s quandary that nothing he or she says can make any judgments about truth or morality, it’s over.  If we hit the buzzer every time they borrowed Judeo-Christian concepts and words, they would not be able to get an edge in wordwise, or vice versa.

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