In his book Why Evolution Is True, Professor Jerry A. Coyne begins by discussing a court case that involved the teaching of evolution in a public school. The school board of the Dover (PA) Area School District had adopted a simple statement to be read by high school biology teachers to their classes which said, in effect, that evolution is a theory and that Intelligent Design is an alternative explanation as to how life began. Some parents protested, and the matter eventually went to a federal court. The judge ruled that Intelligent Design was a religious belief and therefore could not be presented in a public school classroom.
Professor Coyne's comment on the case is that the decision was "a splendid victory for American schoolchildren, for evolution, and, indeed, for science itself" (p. xiii). He then goes on to say that the battle for evolution "is a part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition. What is at stake is nothing less than science itself and all the benefits it offers society."
But was the court's decision really a triumph for rationality? Frankly, it is hard to see how squelching debate and withholding information from students furthers the spirit of free inquiry. But beyond that, it can be shown that, ironically, the theory of evolution itself leads ultimately to irrationalism.
To understand why, one must go back to the situation that existed before 1859, when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species. It was widely believed then that the world was created by God and that therefore it had a rational structure and order. This viewpoint was ably stated by an English theologian and philosopher named William Paley, who argued that the marvelous adaptation of living things to their environment was evidence that they were designed by an Intelligent Being. Nature obviously has a Designer.
According to Prof. Coyne, it was Darwin's great achievement to demolish Paley's argument by showing that the appearance of design in nature was really the result of natural selection. ". . .the concept of natural theology, accepted by most educated Westerners before 1859, was vanquished within only a few years by a single five-hundred page book. On the Origin of Species turned the mysteries of life's diversity from mythology into genuine science" (p. 3).
To understand the impact that Darwinism has had on Western culture it must be noted that not only had Darwin gotten rid of the Designer, he had gotten rid of the design itself. But then what kind of world do we live in? Prof. Coyne tells us: "The message of evolution, and all of science, is one of naturalistic materialism. Darwinism tells us that, like all species, human beings arose from the working of blind, purposeless forces over eons of time" (p. 224).
But if that is the literal truth of who we are and how we got here, doesn't that mean that our lives are essentially meaningless and purposeless? Prof. Coyne does not exactly deny this, but does make what is apparently intended to be a helpful suggestion: "And although evolution operates in a purposeless, materialistic way, that doesn't mean that our lives have no purpose. Whether through religious or secular thought, we make our own purposes, meaning, and morality" (p. 231).
This last statement is worth weighing carefully, for it gives us the key to understanding the dramatic changes that have taken place in Western culture over the past century and a half. In Prof. Coyne's view, purpose, meaning, and morality have no basis in objective reality. Rather, they are artificial and man-made. To put it crudely, we make them up as we go along. And therein lies the whole problem. For if they are essentially artificial and man-made, then they carry no real weight or authority, and frankly, people are free to ignore them as they please. To a militant secularist like Prof. Coyne this may seem tremendously liberating. But it means that there are no absolute standards of right or wrong, and consequently no such thing as justice or human rights. All we are left with, in effect, is the law of the jungle, a world full of organisms competing for scarce resources, governed by the blind forces of nature, and locked in a struggle for survival.
But what then becomes of science? If there is no such thing as Intelligent Design, if the only intelligence is human intelligence, then rationality exists only in the human mind. When the scientist seeks to interpret the facts and make generalizations, he is imposing structure and meaning on a reality that does not possess these qualities in itself. Even the very concept of a "species" becomes suspect in a world where everything is changing and in a state of transition. How then can any generalization, any theory, be valid? Prof. Coyne (and his master Charles Darwin) have left the door open for Post-Modernism's radical critique of science.
Nor is this scenario the idle speculation of a desperate creationist. This has been the actual course of Western philosophy since the time of Darwin. Virtually the whole story of philosophy since that time has been the attempt to do exactly as Prof. Coyne has suggested: make our own purpose, meaning, and morality. Post-Modernism has simply taken his suggestion to its logical conclusion: all truth and rationality are artificial. The theory of evolution itself is just one more "metanarrative," and deserves no more respect than any other.
In the final analysis there is no objective rationality apart from God. Science can function only because it works in a structured cosmos created by an Intelligent Being, and because scientists themselves were created in God's image and therefore have the ability to think and reason. To reject God is to commit intellectual suicide. Ironically, Darwin the scientist destroyed the basis for science.
Christianity was the basis of a civilization. It held that there is a rational order to the cosmos, put there by an intelligent Supreme Being. Morality originates in the mind of God and is binding on all human beings. Justice and human rights are real qualities and are worth pursuing and protecting. Christianity motivated a multitude of social reformers to devote their lives to the pursuit of an ideal; making the world a better place in which to live. It inspired some of the greatest works of art and literature in human history – the music of Bach and Handel, the paintings of Rembrandt, the poetry of Milton. And what does atheism have to offer? A meaningless existence followed by the cold grave.