Sen. Brownback is Confused about Evolution



Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho (


Also of interest is "God
is not a Scientific Hypothesis

and "Creationism:
Bad Science; Wrong Religion


Enlightened reason, taken captive by faith, receives life from faith

. . [this reason] does not fight against faith but promotes it.

–Martin Luther


Evil things are done with God himself setting them in motion.

–Martin Luther


          Conservative GOP Senator and
presidential hopeful Sam Brownback says that he believes in evolution.  This
confession is either intellectually confused or it is a political ploy to gain
support with a wider group of voters.  I’m assuming that it is the former
and not the latter.


          In an op-ed in The New York
(5-31-07), Brownback proposes that we should give evolution the
"seriousness it demands." He claims that "we cannot drive a wedge between faith
and reason," and because they are complementary, "there cannot be any
contradiction between the two."


          As a theistic humanist, I believe
that human experience itself will provide "values, meaning, and purpose," but I
will respect Brownback’s choice to take these on faith alone. But I reject his
odd contention that "faith purifies reason so that we might be able to see more
clearly."  I point out the danger of this below.


          Brownback’s confusion comes when
he says that he only believes in microevolution within species, and he rejects
the claim that new species come into being by natural selection, the crux of
evolutionary theory. 


accept microevolution but condemn the evolution of new species as unbiblical.
They are more consistent and intellectually honest than Brownback in affirming
their belief that God created all species de novo, a position strongly
implied in Brownback’s column.


          There is overwhelming evidence
that human beings descended from a long line of ape ancestors. We share 98
percent of our genetic material with our chimp cousins. Chimps can learn sign
language and teach it to their offspring, and we now have evidence that they use
medicinal herbs.


As long as
Brownback and creationists insist that we are unique divine creations, then
their faith and reason will not get along. Brownback repeats the doctrine of
special creation so often that it becomes a dogma that will brook no challenge
from reason and science. 


If faith purifies
reason so that it sees only religious doctrine clearly, then we have Martin
Luther’s "enlightened reason, taken captive by faith," one that "does not fight
against faith but promotes it."  Luther once called reason a whore, but here it
is a slave to faith.


Like many critics
of evolution, Brownback assumes that belief in evolution forces one to embrace
"an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no
place for a guiding intelligence." To interpret science as metaphysics rather
than simply a time-honored method to interpret empirical data is "scientism" not
true science.


If Brownback’s
"guiding intelligence" is a deity that knows all of the future and causes
everything to happen, then human beings have no free will, and they have just as
little value as in the materialistic worldview that both he and I reject. 
Bringing in a traditional God causes more problems than it allegedly solves.


If God causes
everything, then he produces evil as well as good. We know that sickle cell
anemia evolved for a specific reason in Africa, where it protected the natives
from malaria, but it became a debilitating defect for those unfortunate enough
to be brought to America in chains.


however, are left with a profound moral dilemma with this and many other similar
examples.  Natural selection has no moral scruples, but creationists must defend
a deity who creates a myriad of things that can have both good and evil effects.


          Senator Brownback is a Roman
Catholic and in a recent response to his column, Robert T. Miller, assistant
professor at Villanova’s Law School, finds Brownback’s position confusing. 
Miller also demonstrates that his views of the relation of faith and reason do
not conform to Catholic tradition, established by St. Thomas Aquinas 750
years ago.


          If the
good saint were alive today, he would protect reason from slavery and not allow
it to be taken captive by faith.  I’m also sure that he would embrace all of
evolutionary theory, not just a minor portion of it.



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