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Darwinism, Metaphysics And A Godless World

(The following piece makes reference to the late philosopher of science David Hull’s ‘God Of the Galapagos’.  Hull died peacefully earlier this week at the age of 75)

Much has been said about how in The Origin of Species, the problem of suffering in nature tinted Darwin’s view and convinced him of a world that bore none of the expected hallmarks of a loving God (Ref 1). Indeed in a letter to a friend Darwin reflected on the “misery in the world” and expressed his aversion towards the female digger wasp that, ghastly as its feeding habits were, could not have been the product of a,”beneficent and omnipotent God” (Ref 1, p.12). So it is that we begin to understand biophysicist Cornelius Hunter’s assertion that much of Darwin’s own theory was based not on scientific premises but instead on a personal expectation of what God’s creation should look like (Ref 1, p.13). Darwin was disenchanted with Christianity and he wrote as much in the autobiographical account of his younger years (Ref 2, p.57). But he was also deeply affected by the ugliness of nature and what this meant for the existence of a benevolent God. As he wrote:

“A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas….the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.” (Ref 2, p.90)

Theologian John Haught commented on how much the existence of such suffering and pain has become a barrier to faith in the biblical God for many a skeptic today. As Haught noted:

“For many scientific thinkers…the science of evolution has clearly aggravated objections that have always been leveled against the idea of God, including those we find in the Book of Job. Why does God allow all the suffering and waste in the millions of years of evolution? Scientists speculate, for example, that over ninety-nine percent of the species evolution has produced are now extinct. What sense can we make of the epochs of suffering and loss that lie beneath the surface of nature’s present order?” (Ref 3, p.123)

Darwin saw the apparent suffering throughout nature as the product not of an all-loving God but rather as a consequence of a God who had lost his omnipotence, his control and his sovereignty over his own creation. God, according to Darwin, would not have wanted so much suffering and toil in his own creation. One of Darwin’s favorite volumes- John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’- revealed Satan’s revenge against earth itself and the death of all of God’s creation (Ref 2, p.84; Ref 4, p.579). In other words, natural selection became the best answer to the problem that our world did not present evidence for Darwin’s benevolent God. Such metaphysical reasoning has been handed down to contemporary evolutionary biology (Ref 1, p.14).

Darwin’s theory was in part a solution to the problem of suffering in so far as the blind unguided search it proposed, appeared much more in tune with the blundering and toiling natural realm that he had observed (Ref 1, p.16). For zoologist Richard Dawkins the apparent indifference of nature has haunted him just as much. Indeed much of Dawkins’ view on evolution is founded more on strong metaphysical assumptions than on any scientifically objective argument (Ref 5, p.17-18). In his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins gave a detailed account of the macabre sexual habits of the praying mantis revealing a natural world that appears more blindly indifferent than purposefully designed (Ref 6, p.5). Similarly Harvard psychologist Steve Pinker lashed out at the idea of a God-created universe and the implicit moral conduct that came with it:

“It’s natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it is also natural to think that the sun went around the earth. Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity’s highest callings. Our bodies are riddled with quirks that no competent engineer would have planned but that disclose a history of trial and error tinkering a retina installed backward, a seminal duct that hooks over the ureter like a garden hose snagged on a tree, goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long gone fur. The moral design of nature is as bungled as its engineering design. What twisted sadist would have intended a parasite that blinds millions of people or a gene that covers babies with excruciating blisters? To adapt a Yiddish expression about God: if an intelligent designer lived on Earth, people would break his windows. The theory of natural selection explains life as we find it, with all its quirks and tragedies. We can prove mathematically that it is capable of producing adaptive life forms and track it in computer simulations, lab experiments and real ecosystems. It doesn’t pretend to solve one mystery (the origin of complex life) by slipping in another (the origin of a complex designer). Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white coated technician in the sky.” (Ref 7)

In the same way, philosopher of science David Hull gave his own rendition of the cruelties of nature, and in the process revealed just how metaphysics had tainted his own views:

“What kind of God can one infer from the sort of phenomena epitomized by the species on Darwin’s Galapagos Islands? The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror. Millions of sperm and ova are produced that never unite to form a zygote. Of the millions of zygotes that are produced, only a few ever reach maturity. On current estimates 95 per cent of the DNA that an organism contains has no function. Certain organic systems are marvels of engineering, others are little more than contraptions. When the eggs that cuckoos lay in the nests of other birds hatch, the cuckoo proceeds to push the eggs of its foster parents out of the nest. The queens of a particular species of parasitic ant have only one remarkable adaptation, a serrated appendage which they use to saw off the head of the host queen. To quote Darwin, “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars”. Whatever the God implied by evolutionary theory and the data of natural history may be like, he is not the Protestant God of waste not, want not. He is also not a loving God who cares about his productions. He is not even the awful God portrayed in the book of Job. The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.” (Ref 8 )

This ‘requiem of nature’ was published in Nature- a leading scientific journal that prides itself in objective commentary and bias-free journalism. Yet clearly here an offensive has been made against the God of Judaism and Christianity. Rather than ‘one long argument’ fully objective and free of personal bias, Dawkins, Pinker and Hull emphatically illustrate how naturalistic evolution presents an account heavily riddled with metaphysical speculation.


1. Cornelius Hunter (2001) Darwin’s God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil, Brazos Press, A division of Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan

2. Charles Darwin, The autobiography of Charles Darwin, Copyright held by Nora Barlow in 1958, W.W. Norton and Company Inc, New York

3. John Haught (2001), Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution, Paulist Press, NY

4. John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Lost, Edited by Alastair Fowler, 2nd Edition 1998, Longman Inc, New York

5. Richard Dawkins (1996), God’s Utility Function, Phoenix, a division of Orion Books Ltd, London

6. Richard Dawkins (2003) A Devil’s Chaplain, Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson London, UK

7. Claudia Wallis (2005), The Evolution Wars, Time Magazine, August 15, pp. 27-35

8. David Hull (1991), The God of the Galapagos, Nature, Volume 352, pp. 485-486

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2 Responses to Darwinism, Metaphysics And A Godless World

  1. Rather than ‘one long argument’ fully objective and free of personal bias, Dawkins, Pinker and Hull emphatically illustrate how naturalistic evolution presents an account heavily riddled with metaphysical speculation.

    No it doesn’t. You’ve presented a series of examples of people engaged in metaphysical speculation in connection with evolution. This does not imply that evolution itself is “heavily riddled” with metaphysical speculation.

    You can accept the evidence for evolution or not. Your choice. If you see a metaphysical issue with evolution that’s your issue to deal with yourself – it’s not part of the theory.

  2. Mike: the metaphysical aspects are built into Darwin’s theory, because if the theological arguments are false and God would in fact have created the world as it is presently, then Darwinism is false, or at least seriously undermined.

    Also, evidence in itself means very little. There is evidence for UFO’s and Big Foot. The problem with the ‘evidence’ for evolution is that most, if not all of it, is equivocal (open to multiple interpretations).

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