Letters to the Editor: November 1983
For True Science
I read with interest S.L. Varnado’s article, “Confessions of a Lapsed Evolutionist” (Sept.). Unfortunately, I found his discussion of the controversies surrounding Darwinian evolution leading the reader away from the fight, rather than into the heart of the battle. His position of “don’t know,” embellished with gracefully phrased ad hominem arguments, surrenders the biological sciences to the enemies of orthodoxy.
The most important step is to distinguish Darwin’s theory in itself from the elaborations on it that are being peddled to the public. Darwin developed his theory to synthesize three sets of observations: (1) the earth is extremely old; (2) over time life has tended to become more complex; and (3) intraspecies adaptation to different conditions. Since the publication of On the Origin of Species (note the conjunction, which says much about Darwin’s attitude toward his work), Darwin’s theories have proved to be extraordinarily useful in organizing and evaluating data in these and related areas; as Medawar and Medawar note in The Life Science, “For a biologist the alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all.”
That Darwin’s work has proved controversial to our own day is not evidence of bad faith among proponents of Darwinian-ism as much as evidence that Darwinianism is truly a scientific theory, and as such, is continually being judged against new evidence. A scientific theory is a tool for understanding; it is honed constantly (and is discarded when it breaks). The controversy surrounding Darwinianism concerns not whether to believe it, but whether to use it; being agnostic about Darwinianism is like being agnostic about a screwdriver.
Space does not allow me to deal with Varnado’s article point by point (although I must point out that most of his arguments, such as that of the wing, can be rebutted). My point merely is that science does not involve faith. Questions of God, truth, and freedom are beyond the scope of science, except as they directly apply to scientific activity. Most scientists shy away from applying their theories to these topics — for example, Pavlov, despite his study of conditioned response, believed in free will. Unfortunately, Darwinianism is presented by some as unquestionable and as explaining more than it can explain; commentators add dollops of “great clockmaker” deism and Hegelian idealism to make it into a turgid pseudo-religion.
Varnado labored to demonstrate what scientists freely admit: that Darwinian theory is not all-encompassing, and that scientists can make fools of themselves. A more useful exercise would have been to distinguish truly scientific writing (each page of which testifies to the subtlety and profundity of the Creator, whether its author realizes it or not) from derivative works that turn science into pseudo-religion. True science should be supported and scientism exposed as folly; Varnado, unfortunately, did neither.
Cancel My Subscription
I subscribed thinking the NOR had to do with a progressive and humane interchange about religion. I find, however, that it is sectarian in the extreme, written mostly by men, mostly for men. Please cancel my subscription immediately.
Regarding the article against abortion (by Jacqueline R. Kasun) in your September issue: I hope you’ll have the decency to donate what’s left of my subscription fee to pay for five or 10 minutes of counseling for a pregnant 11-year-old girl — the one who’s supposed to look to a helpless infant for friendship while playing mother, while nursing her torn vagina.
For you to assure such a one of Someone else’s love is cheap. Paying for the vicious pain your views inflict costs quite a lot — but you don’t have to pay it, do you?
Patricia A. Madsen
Jacqueline Kasun’s article, “Abortion: The Hard Cases” (Sept.), evidences a beautiful, comforting, Divine touch. Inspiration is there.
Your magazine contains so much that is stimulating and provocative spiritually. It is a great relief from the secular humanism pervading most of the religious literature of our time.
Rev. James Johnston, S.M.
Queen of All Saints Church
Not the Words Themselves
I was disappointed by Dale Vree’s antifeminist reply to a feminist criticism (letters, Sept.).
I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is, however, the product of its time. (As is any mythology timely.) Holy Scripture, written at a time when men were men and women were property, is bound to reflect just that cultural bias. The portion of the Bible which is holy and universal and timeless is not the words themselves but the meaning within the words — the very Spirit of the Lord. The Holy Spirit, speaking through men of one time and one language is heard by people of another time and in another language. The spirit of the Law, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” is universal in time, though the letter may not be. The spirit of the Law, “Love the Lord your God with all that is within you,” will not vary, though the words and languages are permuted a thousandfold.
Therefore, I will neither ask nor permit a woman to “submit” herself to me. I believe I am following in the spirit of the example of Jesus Christ, who rejoiced when Mary came sharing her humanity and chided Martha for her subservient and jealous attitude.
I look forward to the time when I submit myself to full, beautiful sexual union and I expect an equal commitment from my woman partner. I do not wish for either of us to submit to each other in any way.
I would very much appreciate the help of any NOR readers who can tell me how to get hold of a copy of two out-of-print books. One is John Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua. The other is The Sacrament of Silence by the French writer Georges Silvestre. It appeared about 1926 and is a novel about a Roman priest who kept inviolate the seal of the confessional, refused to tell the authorities what he knew about a murder, and himself was tried, convicted, and executed for the murder without revealing his confidences. I would welcome word of either the English translation or the French original.
Edward A. Johnson
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Positive changes can happen when we are willing to work, suffer, pray, make concrete proposals, go up the chain of command, and take the heat.