Ted Byfield: A statue sets off the latest evolution in the argument over evolution
Colby Cosh, the dependably interesting columnist in the National Post, scored again last week. He had noticed that Dayton, Tennessee, venue of the famous Monkey Trial in 1925, had erected a statue of Clarence Darrow, defender of the science teacher John T. Scopes, charged with teaching high school students that men were descended from apes. The prosecuting attorney was William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic candidate for the presidency, and a militant Presbyterian defender of biblical accuracy. (The Scopes trial became a nation-wide circus. It is covered at length in our Christian history series, Vol. 12, p. 66)
But why the statue of Darrow? Surely Bible Belt Tennessee would have been on the side of Bryan? Because, Mr. Cosh explains, Dayton had erected a statue of Bryan 12 years ago. It was now doubtless trying to achieve balance. After all, the trial had put Dayton on the map of the world. It was covered by 200 newspaper reporters. For no other reason, people still visit Dayton. Many are believers in evolution. Why demonstrate a bias against them? “The Monkey Trial is eternal,” writes Mr. Cosh, “winding its way through American life decade after decade.”
Well, I certainly agree with him on that. So I decided to investigate how it’s unfolding in the current decade. What’s the latest evolution in the story of evolution? A name that kept reappearing was that of John Rennie, a former editor of the Scientific American, holding a B.Sc from Yale and having worked in some lab for ten years. He describes himself as a “journalist of Science.” His photos suggest someone in his twenties– youth ( I sigh) nowadays being a prerequisite of credibility. He is in fact two years short of 60. But he’s a good writer and a gifted street-fighter journalist, who’s fun to read, though some in the chilly world of modern scientific endeavour no doubt shudder at his occasional plunges into unrestrained scorn for the religious.
Anyway, when the 20th-Century Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was asked whether he “believed in evolution,” he replied that the word in modern usage had two meanings. There is the scientific theory of evolution, and there is the “myth” of evolution. The myth is not scientific; it is purely romantic. Lewis called himself incompetent to pass an opinion on the theory; he definitely rejected the myth, as did many of the scientists he knew, he said. For the theory merely presents evolution as a process of endless change with no discernible goal or outcome. The myth presents it as a process of endless biological improvement leading towards an ultimate perfection in humanity. To use Mr. Rennie’s term when he’s discussing religion, the myth is “nonsense.”
How the myth came about is not difficult to see. Evolution per se leads us nowhere. Beyond our brief span in this life lies northing whatever. All our endeavours come to nothing; all stories come to nothing; all works of art will disintegrate and perish; all beauty will vanish. Beyond what we can touch, hear, see and smell in the here and now lies nothing whatsoever. Life, in other words, is totally without purpose or meaning. That is the message the theory, insofar as it has one.
This article continues at [Ted Byfield Blog] A statue sets off the latest evolution in the argument over evolution