Sam Brownback: What I Think About Evolution

The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers ”” myself included ”” reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation ”” and indeed life today ”” is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Read it all.


Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

15 comments on “Sam Brownback: What I Think About Evolution

  1. Chuck Blanchard says:

    This statement on evolution demands a response. First, the key distinction that Brownback tries to draw–accepting microevolution (evolution within a species) but implicitly rejecting macroevolution (evolution from one species into another)–is one that no serious biologist would accept. The process that would lead to microevolution is exactly the same as that would lead to macroevolution. The only real difference is time–macroevolution takes much more time.

    Creationists accept microevolution because the evidence for it is really irrefutable and because it is consistent with a young earth. But if you accept that the Earth is 4 billion years old (and not 6000 years old), the same process that leads to microevolution should result in massive macroevolution as well.

    Second, while there is some debate within the scientific community about evolutionary details, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that evolution lead to the development of species (including humans) and that natureal selection was the vehicle for doing so. Thus, Brownback’s handwaving about punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinian theory displays a profound misunderstanding of evolutionary science.

    Finally, the dichotomy that Brownback offers between accepting microevolution versus “an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world” is a false one. Dr. Francis Collins is a good example of a devout Christian who rejects an exclusively materialistic vision of the world, but who also accepts macroevolution.

    In the end I think that this is an effort by Brown back to hide his position on evolution. To the creationists, the use of code words such as microevolution will send the message that Brownback is one of them. To others, however, who don’t know the code words, it sounds like Brownback accepts a recognized school of evolution. Quite deceptive, in my view.

  2. john scholasticus says:

    I agree. It’s thoroughly confused and in many respects circular. Christians have to do better than this!

  3. Jerod says:

    #1, I think your criticism is rather unfair in drawing conclusions on matters that Brownback purposefully leaves open. Furthermore, I think you somewhat missed his point– he is not making a scientific argument so much as a theological and philosophical one, and as such, you should not expect him to draw scientific conclusions. From what I gathered, Brownback doesn’t necessarily reject macroevolution so much as he rejects rooting theological ideas regarding mankind in evolutionary theory. He– as a good Catholic should– gives primacy to the affirmation of God’s created order. To this I think Collins would certainly agree. Where the two would diverge, and where I presume you do as well, is on the unequivocal affirmation of macroevolution.

    In essence, then, your criticism boils down to the fact that Brownback is unwilling to affirm macroevolution. He does not say that it’s incompatible with his theological starting point, but simply that he is not willing to make that decision. The scientific jargon on microevolution and various models of macroevolution is certainly indicative of his ongoing attempt to discern the harmonious relationship between faith and science– I would encourage you to exercise caution when criticizing one’s engagement of this matter. Keep in mind, Brownback is a politician and not head of the human genome project! His first principles regarding the primacy of God’s created order, the non-contradiction of science of theology, and the synthesis of faith and reason are spot on. I don’t think you can fault the man for a less than expert grasp of such complex scientific theories. For one who lacks a background in science, I think he has negotiated things fairly well, and has asserted a theological and philosophical position that is perfectly compatible with the process of macroevolution, even if he remains a skeptic on the matter.

    To #1 and #2: disagree as you may with Brownback’s reservations regarding macroevolution, he has nonetheless ably articulated– (much better than most Christians can, and certainly better than the Protestant tradition’s fundamentalist or process crowds)– a perspective on science and faith that is coherent and defensible. I applaud him for this contribution, and commend the Senator on intentionally engaging the issue from within an orthodox theological framework. Well done.

  4. dpeirce says:

    Ordinarily I try to lurk a lot and comment only a little, so please forgive this intrusion. But I felt that Mr Brownback’s article and point perhaps were treated unjustly. His point appears to be that Man is not an evolutionary accident but is an evolutionary intention by God, and he gives some excellent reasoning for that. He also points out that neither a 6-day creation nor a 4 billion year creation in themselves accord with observable facts, but that an intelligent design explanation does. He deserves credit for saying that before the American public.

    Perhaps he excludes the possibility of macro-changes in his argument, but his statements in the 5th and 8th paragraphs of his article don’t really say that; instead they seem to say that the small changes occurring within a species exemplify what can be learned about creation from evolution. I hasten to add that he may have said so in other writings I have not read, but he didn’t say so explicitly in this writing.

    My impression was of a man who believes God has created the world through an evolutionary process, but that *God* did and does the creating with intention, and that Man is therefore not an accident but is a beloved and intentional being. He also points out very clearly the necessity of always leavening science and reason with faith and obedience.

    For this I give Mr Brownback 100% on his article; if he did in fact exclude macro-changes from his concept of intelligent creation, then his score falls to 90%.

    In faith, Dave

  5. alfonsoq says:

    I’m not familiar with Brownback’s other statements on evolution, and if they contradict this statement, that of course would be dishonest. But I thought this was OK and defensible. First, it’s fine to affirm microevolution because “the facts are overwhelming” and only leave the door open for macroevolution, without explicit affirmation, because evidence of such is a thousand times less. Macroevolution, while a justifiable understanding, is based almost entirely on philosophy/reason. Philosophy and science have always gone hand in hand and it is unnatural to think they can be ripped apart. And there certainly is nothing wrong with rejecting the atheistic philosophy of evolutionists such as Dawkins, et al. You can’t be a follower of Christ and buy Dawkins’ atheistic paradigm at the same time.

  6. Chuck Blanchard says:

    Dave and Jerod:
    Fair points. While my politics differ greatly from Senator Brownback, I think that there is much to admire him for–for example, he is a principal reason why Darfur is even on the political radar. He is a man of faith, and follows that faith. That is to be admired in a politician.
    Unfortunately, I think this op-ed is quite disingeneous. The terms “circoevolution” and “macroevolution” are rarely used by biologists–and least not in this context. Instead they are code words used by creationists (creationists, not merely followers of Intelligent Design). His decision to use these words is very, very disturbing. To those who are not attuned to the code words, Brownback’s op-ed may sound uncontroversial. The code words, however, are a message to creationists that he is one of them. And his silence on macroevolution speaks volumes about where he is on this central issue. (His apparent rejection of macroevolution is, in fact, inconsistent with Catholic teaching).
    I accept Brownback’s larger philisophical point about the role of a creating God (and just spend an hour last night defending this faith on a science site dominated by athiests), but he went further than this and used language intended to convey to the creationist community that he really rejects evolution.

  7. dpeirce says:

    Well, I follow your point about code words, but none of my Creationist friends would mistake Mr Brownback for one of them if they read the article. They believe in a Genesis Creation in 6 24-hour days with no possibility that God didn’t create everything exactly as it is (including the fossils and similar things studied by scientists). In allowing for change, macro or micro, he has placed himself firmly among the evolutionsts, even if he says God does the changing.

    I’ve learned to distrust code words; they can serve to alert a person but too often prove unreliable. For example, I was unaware Mr Brownbeck is Catholic. Now I look back through his article and I can see all those code words and concepts which I completely missed earlier. But now I know why I agreed with him so quickly ^_^.

    In faith, Dave

  8. Christopher Hathaway says:

    His apparent rejection of macroevolution is, in fact, inconsistent with Catholic teaching

    Chuck, there is no “Catholic teaching” on evolution. It is not a matter of faith, and wisely so given what happened the last time the church made dogma out of questions of science.

    As far as micro versus macroevolution, you may be right that there is no real difference, which is why I would say that there is no such thing as microevoltion either. All we have ever witnessed is the natural and human assisted selestion of the variants already existing in the genetic code of any species. What we have never witnessed and what evolotionists have never even adequately explained how it really works in theory is the spontaneous appearance of new genetic code.

  9. Anglicanum says:

    I don’t think Sen. Brownback was attempting to write a scientific treatise here. I think he was simply saying that he doesn’t want the scientists doing theology. That’s fair, since scientists have been saying for, oh, about 400 years now that they don’t want the theologians doing science.

    As a philosophy prof. myself, I fully agree with Sen. Brownback. Science answers how, theology answers Who and why.

  10. Barry says:

    What’s the big deal? The debate question was designed to separate the humanists from the people of faith. If you say yea to humanism, hurray for you(as the liberal media would say). If you say yea to faith then the idea is make you look ignorant, unintelligent or one of those “right wing religious” kooks. I would rather have had the candidates answer the question:
    “Does your neighbor know you beat your wife?”. I think the whole thing was a set up.

  11. sandlapper says:

    The senator’s non-confrontational statement gains him little in the highly charged atmosphere of the debate over Darwinism. The anti-creationists are so defensive that they angrily reject any little indication of disbelief in the established paradigm. If the senator really doubts macroevolution, as I do, he would not have suffered any more derision had he said so plainly.

    Microevolution is an important creationist concept. God created each “kind” of creature with an incredibly complex genome. Changing conditions, or selective breeding, draw out different expressions of that genome, so that the “kinds” are able to persist through adversities. For example, some mosquitoes are immune to an insecticide, and to their breeding allows the mosquito “kind” to survive the poison. This kind of evolution – the drawing out of previously hidden potentials from a particular genome – shows the wisdom of God in his original design.

  12. azusa says:

    # 9: “As a philosophy prof. myself, I fully agree with Sen. Brownback. Science answers how, theology answers Who and why.”

    Ah, if only the division of labor were so simple. Neo-Darwinian biology says there is no design in complex organisms, only the appearance thereof, resulting from millions of years of chance events (‘Climbing Mount Improbable’). It (or at least Dawkins, Pinker, Gould etc) declare there is no Who or Why. Human beings are simply living machines of genetic information. Christian theology, on the other hand, from the Bible through Aquinas to contemporary ID says ‘Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them’ (Ps 111.2). Modern skeptics like Johnston, Behe and Dembski really question whether the evidence – from fossils to algorithms of the ingredients of the pre-biotic soup – can support Common Descent by Natural Selection by Random Genetic Mutation.
    Will Common Descent go the same way as the two other Great Thoughts of the 19th-20th century, Marxism and Freudianism?

  13. azusa says:

    #12 The winking icon is meant to be a ) which evidently randomly mutated. No intelligent design here.

  14. Br_er Rabbit says:

    The concept of probability and random chance is the attempt of Science to avoid saying, “We really don’t know why this happens.” Faith knows why all things happen. God makes it so.

    The appearance of mankind (Adam) was not necessarily the appearance of a new physical species. All species were formed from the dust of the gound (Gen 2:7a) The appearance of mankind as God’s unique creation is summarized by Genesis 2:7, when Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul.

    Anthropologists (as opposed to newspaper article writers) know that the human species is not defined by toolmaking, for even baboons create tools. Mankind (Adam) is defined by the possession of a soul. This is best evidenced in the archaelogical record not by bones and tools, but by carved figurines and ancient artwork found in caves.

  15. SouthCoast says:

    My take on evolution is that it is the biological component of free will. Organisms make their environmental and reproductive choices and the species deals with the consequences, for good or ill. The fact that some such choices lead to maladaptation or extinction is a facet of the fallen Creation.