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In an earlier essay in Salvo (Three Things Only a PhD Can Believe, Spring 2013), I argued that there are three things that are so patently absurd and demonstrably false—that so violate objective observation, common sense, and the collective experience of mankind—that only a PhD could believe them. I identified those three absurdities as the all-too-common academic beliefs that there are no universal standards, that there are no essential differences between men and women, and that there is no clear dividing line between humans and animals.
In this essay, I will highlight three more absurdities that, despite their apparent differences, all hail from the same source. The attentive college student who takes classes in the sciences, the social sciences, or the humanities will quickly discern an unstated but unshakeable commitment to a grand scheme of cosmic evolution. Whether the subject being taught is biology, sociology, or literature, the professor will invariably proceed from an unquestioned faith in the factual truth and explanatory power of this vague, but all-encompassing evolutionary theory. And that faith, far from being confined to the laboratories of evolutionary biologists, is one that has entrenched itself at the heart of nearly all secular universities and, sadly, many Christian ones as well.
Absurdity #1: The Design We See Around Us Is Only Apparent
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, scores of supposedly objective, open-minded scientists fiercely resisted the mounting evidence that our universe had a beginning. Their prior commitment to a naturalistic, evolutionary worldview demanded an eternal ("steady state") universe, one that had always existed and that had always contained matter. Even though the Big Bang had been essentially proven by the end of the 1970s, Carl Sagan brashly began his 1980 TV series, Cosmos, by claiming that "the cosmos is all there is, all there has ever been, and all there will ever be."
To accept that the universe had a beginning would be to accept the strong possibility that there was some first cause, outside of the universe, that started the whole thing off. Physicist George Smoot, who initiated satellite observations in 1992 that gave even more evidence for the birth of the universe, admitted, "For the religious, [the evidence] is like looking at God."
Today, when almost every major scientist accepts that matter, space, and time were born out of a singularity nearly 15 billion years ago, brilliant physicists like Stephen Hawking turn to science fiction to concoct just-so stories ("multiverses") that will allow them to escape the theistic implications of the Big Bang.
Concurrent with the scientific discovery that we live in a universe that came into being out of nothing, there has arisen a growing recognition that our universe is incredibly, if not miraculously, fine-tuned. For our universe to exist and for our world to sustain life, a large number of cosmic forces (gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces, cosmological constants, and so forth) need to function within precise parameters. Nevertheless, despite the fact that science has shown that human life is unfathomably unlikely—that it is not like someone drawing the winning ticket in a global lottery, but like someone drawing the wining ticket one hundred times in a row—a large percentage of highly trained PhDs continue to attribute our existence to chance.
As it is on the macroscopic level, so it is on the microscopic. Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, hard-working scientists have revealed the staggering complexity of DNA—a complexity that Darwin, who thought of the cell as a fairly simple organism, could never have dreamed possible. Indeed, its complexity is so mind-boggling that Francis Crick—a committed Darwinian naturalist who co-discovered the double-helix structure of DNA—seriously suggested that human DNA was seeded by aliens (a just-so story that has also been entertained by New Atheist Richard Dawkins).
That Crick and Dawkins would even suggest such a thing shows that even they acknowledge the virtual impossibility of our DNA evolving by time and chance alone (that is, without direction or input from the outside). The DNA of all living creatures, from an amoeba to Aristotle, is jam-packed with complex, specified, coded information—so much so that Bill Gates has famously compared it to "a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created." The proteins that make up our genes are assembled piece by piece—not randomly, but in accordance with a detailed blueprint contained in our DNA. Even so, in the face of overwhelming evidence, PhDs across Europe and America continue to assert that the design that runs rampant through our universe and life on earth is illusory, that it merely appears to be the product of a powerful intelligence.
And that is an odd and disturbing thing. Such PhDs in the sciences will insist that they are empiricists who are guided by data and physical evidence. They will even contrast themselves with less-educated mortals who are driven by emotion or psychological need or even—horrors—religious faith. And yet, in the same breath, they will look around themselves at the unmistakable signs of design and dismiss them nonchalantly as the result of blind chance.
The reason for this strange, seemingly contradictory phenomenon is that the modern PhD (contrary to popular opinion) is not taught to construct his theories on the basis of the best available evidence. To the contrary, he is indoctrinated with the reigning theory and then taught to make any new evidence fit the theory. The academy simply will not surrender Darwinian macro-evolution, for its explanatory power is essential to the modernist project: a project that seeks to account for all things on the basis of natural, physical, or material processes.
Hawking and Dawkins, like Sagan before them, are remarkably gifted at describing the awesome wonders of our universe, but their prior commitments to Darwinism and the modernist project prevent them from really seeing what they are looking at. Like the Pharisees whose prior commitment to religious legalism prevented them from embracing and rejoicing in the miracles of Jesus, a large and vocal percentage of our educated scientific elite have eyes but do not see.
Absurdity #2: Man Is by Nature Good and Is Therefore Perfectible
And the natural scientists are not alone. Their colleagues in the social sciences have shown an equally self-imposed blindness to the true nature of man that rivals the scientific rejection of design. In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton famously quipped that if there is one core Christian doctrine that does not need to be proved, it is the doctrine of original sin. If I may add my own quip: What competing worldview can better explain the curious fact that the same human race has produced both Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler?
Actually, it is more complicated than that. It is not just that our species is composed of Teresas and Hitlers. The truly curious thing is that every man, woman, and child on planet earth possesses within himself both a self-giving saint and a tyrannical sinner. To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, the dividing line between good and evil does not run between nations or parties or platforms, but through the heart of every human being. This fact does not need to be proved; it is obvious to every person who has honestly studied his neighbors or himself. It is equally obvious that, although man is capable of great acts of nobility and charity, our species as a whole is not improving morally.
Yes, the astonishing rise in literacy and the alleviation of great swaths of soul-crushing poverty have allowed more and more people to gain more knowledge and possessions, but those advancements have not made us "better" as a species. Ethics and morality do not evolve. The twentieth century was the most barbarous, murderous, and rapacious in the history of mankind; indeed, it became so in part because the evolution of our technology allowed us to slaughter (or "reeducate") our fellow mortals on a far greater scale than was possible in the past.
So what can account for our capacity for both sacrificial virtue and narcissistic vice? Only the biblical teaching that we were made in the image of a good God but fell into sin, disobedience, and rebellion can make any sense of our strange, Jekyll-and-Hyde nature. Yet, a large percentage of today's PhDs prefer, like Rousseau before them, to look upon man as a creature who is born free, noble, and innocent, but who then gets corrupted by society. And like their predecessors among the Rousseau-inspired French revolutionaries, these social scientists prefer to look upon man as perfectible.
The problem with man, they argue, is not sin and disobedience, but ignorance and poverty. Therefore, if we can only, through liberal educational and social welfare programs, eliminate ignorance and poverty, we can propel mankind into a utopia of peace and plenty.
I suppose that one can cut Rousseau and the Jacobins some slack, but one cannot do so for PhDs living in the twenty-first century. Not only revolutionary France, but also Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Maoist China, Castro's Cuba, and Pol Pot's Cambodia have made concerted attempts to purge the human race of its imperfections and establish a secular utopia. All have not only failed, but have failed on a massive scale, and have left untold slaughter and misery in their wake. America has come closer than most nations in history to building a kind of utopia, but that is only because our Founding Fathers accepted that "men are not angels" and sought to build a hedge around our inborn depravity by instituting checks and balances in our system of government.
Still, many sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and political scientists refuse to acknowledge that man cannot be perfected. They speak of primitive drives out of which we need to evolve; they chart an upward progression from superstition to religion to science; they call upon man, as Tennyson did in the heyday of Victorian liberalism, to "Move upward, working out the beast, / And let the ape and tiger die." But they willfully blind themselves to the empirically verifiable fact that the evil men do is not merely a social disease caused by ignorance and poverty but an inherent part of our nature that cannot be weeded out by sensitivity training and the redistribution of wealth. Even pre-Christian poets and philosophers, from Homer to Aristotle to Virgil to Cicero, all of whom lacked a theological understanding of sin, perceived that there was a problem in man that education alone could not remove.
Absurdity #3: Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare Are Products of Their Socio-Economic Milieus
PhDs in the natural and social sciences who share an unquestioned (but often belligerent) faith in evolution tend to reject the common-sense observation that human nature has not changed over the 6,000 years or so of recorded history. Anyone who really reads old books—rather than treating them as specimens for "scientific" study—will see this truth plainly. We immediately recognize Achilles, Odysseus, and Antigone as members of the same human race, striving for the same noble goals and struggling with the same inner demons.
This is not to deny that cultures change or that the reigning definitions of the good life, the good man, and the good state vary from age to age and nation to nation. That is why the more historical background we acquire about Mycenaean Greece, first-century Palestine, and late medieval England, the more we will understand and engage the Iliad, the New Testament, and Canterbury Tales.
Still, despite these fluctuations, the ultimate nature of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, toward which we are drawn as a species, remains as constant as the North Star. That is why when an author like Virgil or Dante or Shakespeare pierces through his own age to touch upon issues, ideas, and themes of perennial significance, we hail their works as great and add them to the canon. Indeed, we look up in awe to the great writers precisely because of their ability to transcend their time and place to grasp and embody universal truths that all people, whatever their race, religion, or culture, recognize and wrestle with.
Alas, a large percentage of PhDs in the humanities today consider this whole notion to be unutterably naïve. Shakespeare is not for all time, but only a product of Elizabethan power politics. In fact, for many history, philosophy, and literature PhDs, there simply is no such thing as a transcendent truth. There can't be, not only because there is no divine, eternal standard against which to measure such truths, but because there is no part of our self that stands outside time and space.
Only the modern PhD, however, has the ability to rise above his socio-economic milieu to see all things clearly and objectively. As for the rest of us, we are no more able to escape from our biological destiny than are the apes from which we evolved. We are not enfleshed souls that partake simultaneously in the temporal and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual, but evolving bodies for which consciousness itself is nothing more than an epiphenomenon.
Shakespeare cannot really speak to us, for there is no transcendent medium by which his soul can touch our own; he is, like all of us, merely "sound and fury, signifying nothing." •
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