Thursday, February 28, 2013

Peter and the Darwinian Wolves

Peter Hitchens, brother of the famous atheist Christopher, is himself as unlike his late brother in his theological commitments as could be. He has a fine column in the UK Daily Mail in which he responds to critics who complain that his confidence in, and enthusiasm for, the efficacy of natural selection falls short of what's expected from informed modern laity by the Darwinian priesthood.

The column is interesting throughout, but a thought he shares toward the end struck me as particularly worth emphasizing:
Mr Platt’s assertion that ‘to suggest that the theory is “based upon speculation, not upon observation” is an insult to Darwin, and to the many biologists who have studied and refined the theory over the years.’ , with its interesting use of the word ‘insult’, is a mild but important warning of the inquisition-style rage which quickly enters arguments on this subject, and which is in fact the biggest single argument against the theory. Why are its supporters so furiously intolerant of doubt and dissent, if they are so confident?
It is indeed striking that when one visits web sites which discuss intelligent design one usually finds calm, reasoned arguments and patient respect, even occasional admiration, for those who disagree. On the other hand, Darwinist websites often offer little more than bitter vituperation for those who hold a different opinion. A sense of inquisitorial hatred often pervades the posts and the smell of smoldering heretics hangs thick in the air at these places.

I think Hitchens is correct that the anger and hostility bespeak a lack of confidence in the defensibility of the writer's position. It's a good rule of thumb that people who are confident of their convictions and their ability to articulate them don't feel the need to resort to name-calling and insult, and people who do often aren't.

Such behavior often appears in debate when someone becomes aware that his opponent is making him look bad in front of his fans and followers or that the cause to which he's devoted his life is at risk of collapsing all around him. He thinks, perhaps, that he can nevertheless maintain the allegiance of his admirers by out-shouting his opponents and publicly mocking them and their ideas.

Eventually, though, his disciples and others begin to wonder, if their master's ideas are so powerful, why doesn't he just simply refute the arguments that are raised against them? Why employ dodges and diversions? Why obfuscate the issues by resorting to ridicule and ad hominem?

Of course there are many Darwinian materialists who don't behave this way, but the point is that there are an awful lot who do. Why is that?