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“Saving Darwin” — What’s the point?


I’ve known Karl Giberson over a decade. In the early days, he was a respectful critic of ID. That now seems to have changed with the publication of his most recent book, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (go here for the Amazon listing). The subtitle is curious. Ordinarily one believes in a religion and attains competence in a field of scientific inquiry (does it matter if I believe that quarks really exist? isn’t it enough that I can apply the standard model?). Giberson’s subtitle inverts our ordinary epistemic attitudes (was it intentional?).

The title is more interesting still — Saving Darwin. Why should anyone want to save Darwin? Aren’t his ideas strong enough so that he can save himself? Does anyone seriously consider saving Newton or Einstein? The Publishers Weekly review of Giberson’s book is revealing in this context (go to the Amazon listing linked above):

Drawing on his fundamentalist upbringing and experience teaching physics at an evangelical college, Giberson has a native understanding of how conservative Christians feel and think about evolution. As a Christian evolutionist, he finds himself occupying a frequently misunderstood middle ground in the midst of a culture war, fought with culture-war weapons by culture warriors. Behind the culture war, Giberson sketches an engaging historical narrative including Darwin’s background in intelligent design, what really happened at the Scopes monkey trial and how catastrophist geology derived from Seventh Day Adventism found an audience among the evangelical mainstream in the post-Sputnik era. By tackling the debate in cultural as well as scientific terms, Giberson does greater justice to the motivations of Christians who reject evolution. Yet he does not conceal his frustration—on theological as well as scientific grounds—with the rubbish of scientific creationism, which has climbed onto the radar screens of American intellectual culture only as a bad joke. Giberson’s sarcasm, however honestly come by, may cause the book to alienate an evangelical audience it might otherwise engage.

So in Giberson we have an erstwhile fundamentalist who used to reject evolution, got some education, swallowed Darwin hook, line, and sinker, and now spends his days justifying why his move to embrace Darwin was the better part of wisdom — all the while proudly proclaiming that he remains a Christian. Given the mental contortions required to remain a Christian once one embraces Darwin, Giberson is loathe to admit that Darwin is passe and the mental contortions were unnecessary. Hence the need to “save Darwin,” for in doing so Giberson saves his own intellectual and spiritual credibility.

This last paragraph seems largely right. It is a bit of psychologizing, which is what Giberson seems to do throughout his book to the ID side. Let me suggest that we all move beyond such motive mongering and look at the actual scientific evidence that bears on the truth of Darwinian evolution and ID. To that end, you’ll do much better reading my new book with Sean McDowell, Understanding Intelligent Design (I just received my first author’s copy yesterday via UPS), than reading Giberson’s latest. Mike Egnor, a world-class neurosurgeon who appeared in Ben Stein’s EXPELLED, has this to say about it:

Bill and Sean have written a superb book that I wish I had when I was in high school — it would have spared me decades of believing in Darwinism! This book presents a crystal-clear overview of the most important and exciting development in science in our lifetime — the growing recognition that life and the cosmos reveal clear scientific evidence for design by a Mind.

Too bad Giberson didn’t have this book before his exposure to Darwin. In that case he might have been saved from Darwin rather than spending his days trying to save him.

Dembski seems more intent on criticising the title of Gibersons's book and uses a neurosurgeon to commend his own book!!! Suggests the scientific world might not think his views serious. Anyway, it is about time Christians got over this issue and moved onto more serious matters of discovering what it is to live lives based on the teaching and example of Jesus - and, of course, learning what the Bible really is all about and is not about eg, science of the earth. Trouble is the God of too many fundamentalist Christians is too small! dandycooper
Thanks, Bill. For some time I have been wondering -- and inquiring -- what Darwin brought to the table that is both (i) correct and (ii) non-trivial. So far, I am not aware of anything. I don't see much worth saving. Don't misunderstand. Darwin was a gifted rhetorician; but in my estimation his theology was lacking, his methodology poor, and his conclusions wrong. Spectacularly so. Eric Anderson
Fross, what do you mean by "evolution"? Somehow I think that will help us very much in understanding whether your Christianity meshes with "evolution". Eric Anderson
I Think Giberson is doing ID a great service in choosing 'Saving Darwin' as the title of this book. Isn't it obvious that Darwin could not be in need of salvation unless he is on the verge of death? A great confession is in the title, that the Darwinism vs ID war is being won by ID. Why else would anyone think it needs saving? Academia may not know it, the majority of biologists may not see it but with these varied books on trying to save him coming out it's obvious the great manitous of Darwinism have failed. We are now at the point where Darwin needs saving. Hallelujah! :-) Borne
coming from a large family of Christians who all accept evolution, I seriously don't see how evolution conflicts with Christianity. I do remember a friend of mine asking "why would God use such a wasteful and cruel process to create everything?". He had theological reasons as to not accept God creating everything that way. I remember thinking it's no different than the belief that the majority of humanity will go to hell. (which seems equally as wasteful and cruel under the same criteria) Fross
Scordova, It figures, just as underestimating the complexity that is being found in the cell has been the source of my biggest mistakes in understanding ID, so to, it would go to reason, never to underestimate one of the leading teachers of ID. bornagain77
Bornagain77: Dr. Dembski, I bet you never thought, when you entered this field, that you would have to master psychology as well.
The first of Dr. Dembski's many degrees was in psychology. scordova
Giberson follows the boring pseudohistorical approach to put ID in the creationism box. ID is not creationism, it is a fresh way of looking at real data. ID may sit well with some creationists and not sit well with some of the "feelings first" approach to theology of the TEs, but that is not the point. idnet.com.au
Off topic; Beautiful video of Coral Reefs set to Polynesian music: http://www.godtube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=716bbc48ba4e3f9dd06b bornagain77
allanius: That is a good list. May I presume to add one more item. How about that edifying compendium of all human wisdom, "How Religion Poison's Everything." StephenB
This post is shocking. Please show Darwin the respect he deserves. Just a few of the true and beautiful things about our culture that may be lost forever if ingrates like you succeed in scuttling the Good Ship Darwinism and its facile contempt for the deity… …poetry without rhyme or reason… … entire museum walls consisting of blank canvasses… … “modern” music that nobody wants to listen to… …scrap metal masquerading as sculpture… …novels that abandon plot for pompous prose… …tyrants masquerading as science philosophers… ….bluestockings in the English department… …the whoppers of “evolutionary psychology”… …diversity initiatives… …the Noble Savage… …pornography chic… …self-proclaimed intellectuals… …the Sprit of ’68… …political correctness… …smug nihilism… …Howard Zinn… …progressivism…utopianism….Marxism…fascism… …the assault on religion, marriage and family… …rampant STDs… Darwin lent a mighty hand to these hallmarks of modern culture by killing God. What would be left of Modernism if we took them away? allanius
Bill, You make a good point about competence vs. belief. Do you need to believe that Schroedinger's Cat exits in a limbo between dead and alive until you open the box and see if it's dead or not in order to understand quantum uncertainty? Heck no. Likewise you don't need to believe that dinosaurs became extinct millions of years before the first human walked the earth in order to understand how bacteria acquire resistance to antibiotics. In fact I think historic biology is a huge waste of time. There are far more things of great importance in modern biology (the study of living tissue) for students to learn than there is time to teach it. Wasting time with the useless historic biology (the study of imprints in rocks) is just plain stupid. DaveScot
Hi Dr. Dembski, The sock knew that already. Charlie
Theistic evolutionists use their faith the way politicians use "plausible deniability." It allows them to practice extremism in the name of moderation. "What, me a Darwinst ideologue? Why I'll have you know that I am a "devout" Christian! StephenB
Thank you! soplo caseosa
Soplo: I don't wish Giberson ill, nor is that Amazon number bad (it may be better than all of my books right now), nor do Amazon numbers correlate precisely with impact. The problem is that Giberson is trying to save something that's not worth saving. Think of Darwinism as an old dilapidated house. There comes a point when it's not worth salvaging and needs to be razed. We've now reached that point, and you can quote me on it (given how the other side operates, I'm sure I will be quoted on it; this is one of the advantages of having one's every step scrutinized). William Dembski
If it is any consolation, Giberson's book is only ranked at number 16,057 on Amazon. That is not very impressive, so I have to assume it is not making any impression on anyone. soplo caseosa
Dr. Dembski, I bet you never thought, when you entered this field, that you would have to master psychology as well. bornagain77

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