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Friday, September 08, 2006

Darwinist Theodosius Dobzhansky was not an orthodox Christian believer!

I cannot believe I am hearing this nonsense again! The debate over purposeless Darwinian evolution retails more urban legends than a group of high school girl's smoking in the women's can.

In the Correspondence section of Nature, we can read, from U Kutschera , Institute of Biology, University of Kassel, Heinrich-Plett-Strasse 40, D-34109 Kassel, Germany (Nature 443, 26(7 September 2006) | doi:10.1038/443026b), yet another defence of Theodosius Dobzhansky, as a Darwinist poster boy for theistic or even Christian faith, sort of:

Dogma, not faith, is the barrier to scientific enquiry

[ ... ]

He collaborated for many years with Ernst Mayr, who, when asked about his religious views, replied: "I am an atheist. There is nothing that supports the idea of a personal God. On the other hand, famous evolutionists such as Dobzhansky were firm believers in a personal God. He would work as a scientist all week and then on Sunday get down on his knees and pray to God" (Skeptic 8, 76-82; 2000.

In about 1950, Dobzhansky and Mayr founded our modern 'atheistic' evolutionary theory. Their work showed that Christians and atheists can cooperate to develop scientific theories, as long as religious dogma is not mixed up with facts and experimental data. Unfortunately, this is exactly what young-Earth creationists and intelligent-design theorists are doing. They should read the 1973 essay in which Dobzhansky - an open-minded, non-dogmatic theist - thoroughly refuted their irrational claims.


Dobzhansky was, of course, free to believe whatever he wanted, but in what sense was he a Christian or a theist?

Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones, who keeps up with these things better than anyone I know, has the goods on Dobzhansky's real state of faith. He writes me,
Dobzhansky really was an orthodox believer. That is, if you don't count "fundamental beliefs of traditional religion, such as the existence of a personal God and of life beyond physical death"!:

and quotes :
Dobzhansky was a religious man, although he apparently rejected fundamental beliefs of traditional religion, such as the existence of a personal God and of life beyond physical death. His religiosity was grounded on the conviction that there is meaning in the universe. He saw that meaning in the fact that evolution has produced the stupendous diversity of the living world and has progressed from primitive forms of life to mankind. Dobzhansky held that, in man, biological evolution has transcended itself into the realm of self-awareness and culture. He believed that somehow mankind would eventually evolve into higher levels of harmony and creativity. He was a metaphysical optimist." (Ayala, F.J. & Fitch, W.M., Genetics and the origin of species: An introduction," _Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA_, Vol. 94, July 1997, pp.7691-7697, p.7693.

Ayala was Dobzhansky's student, incidentally. Now, I have to admit, I smile when I think of the middle Americans who go away from a meeting with the Darwinist spokesfolks, vastly relieved to hear that Dobzhansky was a "religious man," and there they can go back to sanctified materialism with a good conscience. They certianly do not want to know that Dobzhansky's views would hardly qualify him to be considered a Christian, let alone Orthodox, because the basic statements of the Creed stand in fundamental opposition to them.

Steve Jones offers some more information that might help:
Those who really understand Darwinism, but still have spiritual inclinations, have the option of making a religion out of evolution. Theodosius Dobzhansky - Gould's prime example of a Christian evolutionist - actually exemplified the religious dimension of Darwinism. Dobzhansky discarded the traditional Christian concept of God, followed Teilhard de Chardin in spiritualizing the evolutionary process, and worshipped the glorious future of evolution. ... See Francisco Ayala, `Nothing in biology makes sense except the light of evolution,' The Journal of Heredity, vol. 68, pp.3, 9 (Jan.-Feb. 1977). Ayala described his teacher's religion as follows: `Dobzhansky was a religious man, although he apparently rejected fundamental beliefs of traditional religion, such as the existence of a personal God and of life beyond physical death. His religiosity was grounded on the conviction that there is meaning in the universe. He saw that meaning in the fact that evolution has produced the stupendous diversity of the living world and has progressed from primitive forms of life to mankind. Dobzhansky held that, in man, biological evolution has transcended itself into the realm of self awareness and culture. He believed that somehow mankind would eventually evolve into higher levels of harmony and creativity.'" (Phillip E. Johnson, "Response to Gould", Origins Research, Access Research Network, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring/Summer 1993, pp. 10-11. )

also from Johnson:
The leading Darwinist authorities are frank about the incompatibility of their theory with any meaningful concept of theism when they are in friendly territory, but for strategic reasons they sometimes choose to blur the message. When social theorist Irving Kristol published a New York Times column in 1986 accusing Darwinists of manifesting doctrinaire antitheism, for example, Stephen Jay Gould responded in Discover magazine with a masterpiece of misdirection. [Gould, S.J., "Darwinism Defined: The Difference Between Fact and Theory," Discover, January 1987, pp. 64-70] Quoting nineteenth century preacher Henry Ward Beecher, Gould proclaimed that 'Design by wholesale is grander than design by retail,' neglecting to inform his audience that Darwinism repudiates design in either sense To prove that Darwinism is not hostile to 'religion,' Gould cited the example of Theodosius Dobzhansky, whom he described as `the greatest evolutionist of our century, and a lifelong Russian Orthodox.' As Gould knew very well, Dobzhansky's religion was evolutionary naturalism, which he spiritualized after the manner of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. A eulogy published by Dobzhansly's pupil Francisco Ayala in 1977 described the content of Dobzhansky's religion like this: `Dobzhansky was a religious man, although he apparently rejected fundamental beliefs of traditional religion, such as the existence of a personal God and of life beyond physical death. His religiosity was grounded on the conviction that there is meaning in the universe. He saw that meaning in the fact that evolution has produced the stupendous diversity of the living world and has progressed from primitive forms of life to mankind. Dobzhansky held that, in man, biological evolution has transcended itself into the realm of self- awareness and culture. He believed that somehow mankind would eventually 44 Darwinism and Theism evolve into higher levels of harmony and creativity.' [Ayala, F.J., "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," _Journal of Heredity_, Vol. 68, January-February 1977, pp. 3, 9] Evolution is thoroughly compatible with religion-when the object of worship is evolution. (Johnson, P.E., "Darwinism and Theism", in Buell J. & Hearn V., eds., "Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?" , Foundation for Thought and Ethics: Richardson TX, 1994, pp.43-44.)
So now you know what to think when you hear someone retailing this "Dobzhansky as believer" nonsense.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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