Darwinist professor David Barash gets ‘theological’ in the classroom

But his presentation is a one-sided, intellectually dishonest attack on religion

by and

David P. Barash

For years, evolutionists have maintained almost total control over biology classrooms, dogmatically excluding the case for creation and presenting only biased, evolutionary interpretations of the facts. But for biology/psychology professor David P. Barash from the University of Washington, it’s not enough that he and his companions monopolize academia with their secular narrative of biological beginnings.

Barash (1946– ) is well known for his radical anti-Christian views. His book Peace and Conflict Studies (2002) has been criticized for Marxist–Leninist views and for a moral equivalence between Islamist terrorists murdering innocents in their fight for imposition of Sharia tyranny and soldiers fighting for genuine freedom.1,2

Unfortunately, Barash now thinks that his biology class is the proper forum for explicitly attacking his students’ religious convictions, as he shamelessly announced in his recent New York Times op-ed.3

In publishing such views, the NYT is at least displaying some sort of historical consistency. Its star reporter Walter Duranty (1884–1957) was a cheerleader for Stalin’s evolution-spawned genocide4 in the 1930s, including the Holodomor (Ukrainian Голодомо́р = ‘extermination by famine’). Consistent with the evolutionary denial of the sanctity of innocent human life made in God’s image, Duranty infamously said, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,” where ‘breaking eggs’ = murdering people, and ‘a few’ = tens of millions.5,6

Barash’s atheistic pulpit—his classroom

Evolution, Barash says, proves that (a) living things were not designed, (b) humans are not exceptional, and (c) God cannot be both all-powerful and all-good.

Barash addresses these issues in a class on animal behavior (of all things, though this was also Richard Dawkins’ specialist field) in an effort, he claims, to help students whose “beliefs conflict with the course material.”3 So Barash sees himself as the hero, coming to the aid of his languishing students with this heartwarming and compassionate message: your religious beliefs simply lose to evolution—problem solved! Of course, Barash claims he isn’t trying to eradicate God altogether. But he certainly is trying to stamp out anything that would challenge his materialistic outlook, any notion that vaguely resembles historic Christianity, and any God worthy of worship. As his fellow atheist William Provine says:

… belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.7,8

This religion-bashing seminar is a severe abuse of power. As a public university professor, Barash’s role should not be to proselytize, but to educate—fairly informing students about all sides of legitimate academic disputes. Sadly, however, Barash’s approach to education is nothing more than a prejudicial, intellectually dishonest attempt to indoctrinate students into his own anti-Christian worldview.

Below we will shortly analyze how Barash’s article misrepresents and largely ignores the case for creation. It is nonetheless useful as a sort of ‘hostile witness’ against those who claim that compromising with evolution and long ages will ‘win them to Christ’—in reality, most of the ‘winning’ goes the other way.9,10 Indeed, atheists (soi-disant ‘humanists’) have made it clear for decades that they want to use ‘educational’ classrooms as atheistic pulpits. E.g. longtime secular-humanist activist and second-hand bookstore owner John Dunphy was very frank in a widely acclaimed (and subsequently re-affirmed) essay:

I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level—preschool day care or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new—the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism … .
It will undoubtedly be a long, arduous, painful struggle replete with much sorrow and many tears, but humanism will emerge triumphant. It must if the family of humankind is to survive.11

False alternatives

Barash makes a case for his own view on the relationship between science and religion by contrasting it with a single alternative, as though there are only two options. The first option he presents to his undergraduates is the concept of ‘non-overlapping magisteria’, or NOMA, championed by the famous evolutionary paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002).

According to NOMA, science deals in the realm of facts and evidence while religion deals with values and (blind) faith. The two domains cannot contradict each other because they never intersect. So while science and religion do not disagree, neither do they talk to one another. Of course, NOMA is easily discredited by counterexamples, and Gould clearly didn’t really believe it himself. Indeed, our ministry focuses on defending the true biblical Christian faith, which is not contrasted with reason or evidence but with sight. So Barash rightly dismisses NOMA as “misrepresenting both science and religion”.3

However, the only contrary perspective that Barash presents is his own ‘conflict thesis’—that “evolutionary science” has backed religion into an ever-shrinking corner. Far too many people, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, push this discredited thesis, ignoring the historical and logical evidence that real science exploded only under a biblical world view.

But if Barash’s New York Times summary is truly representative of his teaching, he hardly even acknowledges, much less addresses, arguments that challenge evolution or support biblical creation. Instead of dealing with the best creationist arguments, he presents caricatures that informed creationists are careful to avoid (e.g., denigrating evolution because it is called a ‘theory’). And he tries to overcome his opponents with elephant hurling (e.g., he asserts: “everything that we know about biology and geology proclaims that the Earth was not made in a day”).3 One wonders whether Barash would fare as well in front of his students if he actually had to face real creationist arguments rather than his superficial portrayal of them.

Shielding evolution from criticism

Instead of allowing students to hear from all sides of the controversy, Barash tells them evolution is beyond question. He insists, “Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules.”3 His statement would clearly have been news to leading chemist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Philip Skell (1918–2010), the ‘father of carbene [CH2] chemistry’,12 who pointed out:

Certainly, my own research with antibiotics during World War II received no guidance from insights provided by Darwinian evolution. Nor did Alexander Fleming’s discovery of bacterial inhibition by penicillin. I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin’s theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No. … I found that Darwin’s theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss. …
The efforts mentioned there are not experimental biology; they are attempts to explain already authenticated phenomena in Darwinian terms, things like human nature. Further, Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive—except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed—except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.
Darwinian evolution—whatever its other virtues—does not provide a fruitful heuristic in experimental biology.13

Furthermore, are Barash’s students prompted to consider how men like Linnaeus, Pasteur, and Mendel founded sub-disciplines of biology without any help from Darwin? Are they told that Dr Marc Kirschner, founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, has admitted, “Molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all”? Have they heard how evolutionary assumptions have often hindered scientific investigations, encouraging scientists to write off so-called ‘vestigial organs’, and ‘junk DNA’, for example, as non-functional byproducts of the evolutionary process? Perhaps Barash himself would do well to learn about how creationists accept rapid adaptation and even speciation, and yet recognize why these types of changes are precisely the wrong sort of change needed to turn microbes into men.

It is unlikely that Barash’s students will learn about the many scientists who support creation, or even those scientists who, although they maintain faith in evolution, have abandoned key aspects of the dominant neo-Darwinian model—challenging such icons as the tree of life and the adequacy of the mutation/selection mechanism.

If Barash is so confident about evolution, then surely for the benefit of his students he could answer CMI’s 15 Questions for Evolutionists. Also, Barash could explain how evolution overcomes the problems of genetic entropy and Haldane’s dilemma, why transitional forms are characteristically absent from the fossil record at higher taxonomic levels, why we see highly similar genetic sequences in organisms which could not have inherited those sequences from a common ancestor, and why we find carbon-14 in diamonds and unfossilized soft tissue/DNA in dinosaur bones, just for starters.

Of course, the danger in exposing students to this kind of information is that they might actually find the case for creation convincing, so it’s much safer for Barash to simply sweep such problems under the rug. Indeed, his fellow anti-creationist Eugenie Scott tacitly admitted that if students heard criticism of evolution, then they might not believe it(!):

In my opinion, using creation and evolution as topics for critical-thinking exercises in primary and secondary schools is virtually guaranteed to confuse students about evolution and may lead them to reject one of the major themes in science.14

Oversimplifying the argument from complexity

Recall that Barash claims that three specific religious—actually, Christian—teachings have been overturned by evolution. We’ll consider these one at a time, beginning with what Barash refers to as “the argument from complexity”. According to Barash, creationists argue that “the existence of complex organisms requires a supernatural creator.”3 Actually, what we say is that a high degree of specified complexity points to intelligent design. That is, in our experience structures which are both very complex and non-random can always be traced back to an intelligent source.

PhotoXpress sand-castle

For example, when one considers a particular pile of sand, it would take much information to specify the positions of the individual grains, thus it is complex. However, because many different arrangements of sand will also be featureless sand piles, it is not specified. Precisely because there are so many possible featureless sand piles, there is a high probability of sand forming sand piles by random actions.

By contrast, there may be some sand grains that are regularly shaped hexagonal crystals of quartz (silicon dioxide SiO2). This shape is non-random, but it is also very simple, needing very little information to describe it. And the key point is that the shape is determined by the component atoms of silicon and oxygen that lead to chemical bonds of a certain length and angle.15

A sand castle, on the other hand, is both complex and specified, because a castle is a specific and non-simple shape. Of great importance, the sand-castle’s shape has nothing to do with the physical or chemical properties of sand. So it is this combination of specificity and complexity that we recognize in sand castles, and this is the basis on which we intuitively recognize design.16

Now, specified complexity also occurs in living things and, in particular, it is a feature of the information they carry in their DNA. And as physical chemist Michael Polanyi (1891–1976) pointed out, this complex information, like the sand castle shape, has nothing to do with the physical or chemical properties of the DNA building blocks:

As the arrangement of a printed page is extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so is the base sequence in a DNA molecule extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule. It is this physical indeterminacy of the sequence that produces the improbability of any particular sequence and thereby enables it to have a meaning—a meaning that has a mathematically determinate information content.17

Also, whenever we see specific complexity and have observed its origin, it always comes from an intelligent source. So it is scientific to argue from analogy (which Darwin did all the time) that where we have not observed the origin, its source was likewise intelligence. Ergo, living things were designed. But Barash doesn’t bother to refute creationist arguments regarding genetic information or specified complexity. He just blithely asserts that all living things were produced by an “entirely mechanical phenomenon.”3 But then what Barash needs to show are not merely examples of mutation and selection causing changes or even increasing complexity. Barash needs to demonstrate that natural processes can regularly generate a novel, genome-building type of genetic information. But will Barash actually provide such a demonstration, or is he asking his students to simply take his word for it?

Tarnishing God’s image

The second Christian claim that Barash attacks is the idea that human beings are made in God’s image. He says that we are not “distinct from other life-forms”, not “chips off the old divine block”, and that “no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens.3 Basically, Barash thinks human beings are nothing but machines made of meat. But this is awfully dismissive of a whole array of facts to the contrary. First of all, human beings are not reducible to mere molecules in motion, because we have a consciousness that defies physicalistic explanations. We are directly aware of our own inner selves, and we recognize the difference between, on the one hand, a scientist electrically stimulating our brains to cause motion of our limbs and, on the other hand, our own voluntary will to move those limbs. So it is disingenuous for Barash to claim that we have not discovered any ‘supernatural’ aspect to human beings when every free act a person performs seems to originate from the immaterial self, and science does not tell us otherwise.

Also, the self persists through time even though our brains and bodies are constantly changing. On a physicalist view, it’s hard to understand how the self could be unified or endure through time.

Even some atheists like philosopher Thomas Nagel have recognized that the mind stubbornly resists attempts to understand it from a naturalistic perspective.18,19 But Barash has not even acknowledged these challenges, let alone refuted them.

Additionally, beyond the fact that human beings are more than matter, we have many qualities that distinguish us from animals. Humans can contemplate deep thoughts, put ourselves into another’s shoes, and instinctively learn to communicate with grammar and syntax. We engage in creative practices like art and music. We also wrestle with moral considerations that go far beyond the altruistic tendencies of certain animals, and we engage in spiritual practices. The chasm between us and animals is immense. So, once again, Barash does his students a disservice by being highly selective in the information he presents. He has not come close to demonstrating that humans are unexceptional. In fact, Barash’s own behavior shows that he recognizes certain key differences between humans and other creatures, since he regularly lectures at the university, but not at the zoo.

Stumbling over the Fall

Barash’s third target is the character of God Himself. Here, Barash points to the problem of reconciling God’s power and goodness with the fact of suffering and he claims that common theological answers fall short. This is because, he says, “suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things.”3 In his mind, human beings cannot be blamed for the evil in the world, because natural evil precedes them. According to the evolutionary narrative, long before humans and over millions of years a “totally amoral process” produced all living things as well as associated “ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death.”3

Certainly, Barash is correct that if evolution were true, (or even its associated vast geological ages) the cruelty manifested in the world throughout its history would be inconsistent with God’s character. Proverbs 12:10 says: “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,” but if God needlessly used a cruel process of suffering, death (the ‘last enemy’, 1 Corinthians 15:26), and disease over eons to bring about mankind, His own righteousness would be in doubt.

Thankfully, this is not the way the Bible says things happened at all. Instead, God created a “very good” world in the beginning (Genesis 1:31), and only later put a curse on creation because of the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:17–19, Romans 8:19–2320). In the biblical view, a suffering world did not generate humans; humans generated a world of suffering. Even natural evil is attributed to the Fall. From a biblical perspective, then, suffering in nature is perfectly consistent with a God of love.

Unfortunately, as is his pattern, Barash fails to interact with the biblical answer to his objection. The facts are consistent with the account of history recorded in Genesis, and therefore we can understand how God can still be good and in control despite all the suffering that occurs throughout creation. But since Barash assumes rather than argues for evolution, his students are prevented from hearing the biblical reason why suffering exists.

Double standard

It is amazing that the partiality enshrined in Barash’s lesson plan became public not because he was exposed by his ideological opponents, but because he himself volunteered that information. In the centers of intellectual power today, creationists and other Darwin dissenters have a hard time maintaining their positions even when keeping their heads down, and they often get expelled anyway. But an evolutionary professor can openly proclaim that his lectures will argue against basic truths of Christianity, and there is hardly a public outcry.21,22 If creation is disqualified from public education because it is too ‘religious’, then why isn’t Barash called on the carpet for getting too ‘religious’ as well?

Published: 11 October 2014

References and notes

  1. Horowitz, D., ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, studentsforacademicfreedom.org, 7 November 2004. Return to text.
  2. Bawer, B., The Peace Racket, City Journal, Summer 2007; city-journal.org. Return to text.
  3. Barash, D.P., God, Darwin, and My Biology Class, New York Times, 27 September 2014; nytimes.com. Return to text.
  4. Grigg, R., Stalin: from choir boy to communist butcher, Creation 31(1):52–54, 2008; creation.com/stalin. Return to text.
  5. Taylor, S.J., Stalin’s Apologist: Walter Duranty: The New York Times’s Man in Moscow, Oxford University Press, 1990. Return to text.
  6. Herring, M.Y., Useful Idiot [review of Taylor, Ref. 5], Contra Mundum, 1995; ukemonde.com. Return to text.
  7. Provine, W.B., ‘No free will’ in: Catching up with the Vision, p. S123, Margaret W Rossiter (Ed.), Chicago University Press, 1999. Return to text.
  8. Cf. Batten, D., Arguments evolutionists should not use: 21. Evolution is compatible with ‘religion’, creation.com/evo-dont-use, 18 March 2014. Return to text.
  9. Batten, D., Karl Giberson unmasks himself: ‘Fifth columnists’ in our seminaries, creation.com/giberson-unmasked, 22 May 2014. Return to text.
  10. Cosner, L., Evolutionary syncretism: a critique of Biologos, creation.com/biologos, 7 September 2010. Return to text.
  11. Dunphy, J.J., A Religion for a New Age, The Humanist, January–February 1983. Return to text.
  12. Skell, P.S. and Woodworth, R.C., Structure of Carbene CH2, J. American Chemical Society 78(17):4496–4497, 1956 | doi:10.1021/ja01598a087. Return to text.
  13. Skell, P.S., Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology, The Scientist, 29 August 2005; the-scientist.org. Return to text.
  14. Cited in Witham, L., Where Darwin Meets the Bible, p. 23, Oxford University Press, 2002. Return to text.
  15. Thus quartz belongs to the trigonal crystal system, which often expresses in hexagonal prisms. Return to text.
  16. Sarfati, J., Is the design explanation legitimate? Refuting Evolution, ch. 9, 1999–2012. Return to text.
  17. Polanyi, M., Life’s irreducible structure, Science 160:1308, 1968. Return to text.
  18. Nagel, Thomas, Mind and Cosmos: Why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012). Return to text.
  19. Nagel has recognized that many atheists, including himself, fervently desire atheism to be true, so often resort to “ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind.” See “I hope there is no God!” Return to text.
  20. Smith, Henry B., Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s Fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19 23a, J. Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007; creation.com/romans8. Return to text.
  21. Bergman, J., A Story of Two Professors, Acts & Facts 33(6), 2004; icr.org. Return to text.
  22. Sarfati, J., The tyranny of tolerance , Creation 25(4):6, 2003; creation.com/tolerance. Return to text.