The “Whether” – No One Talks About It, But Everyone Does Something About It

Author: Roddy Bullock
Subject: Apologetics, Intelligent Design
Date: 10/19/2006

“And if you really listen carefully [to scientists arguing with each other about evolution], you’re finding they’re arguing over how it occurred, not whether.”

— Eugenie Scott[1]

Time was that a scientist was of a skeptical bent, reluctant to believe anything that went beyond the data, and holding “sure” beliefs tentatively. Time was that a religious person was of a dogmatic bent, refusing to believe differently in spite of contrary data, sometimes holding dubious beliefs tenaciously. Time was.

In a strange reversal of roles, in our postmodern times, on the Ultimate Question, “Where do we come from?” religion is often liberal while science has become decidedly dogmatic. No longer do many institutions of traditional religion question how we came to be, and no longer do many in mainstream science entertain the question whether we are the result of natural, unguided causes alone. With politics caught in the middle, the debate over origins threatens the end of another important topic of polite conversation: the “whether”.

Traditional religions, overwhelmingly theistic, have largely capitulated any position of authority with respect to objective “facts” relevant to the Ultimate Question, being content instead to supply only subjective “values” that may be appropriated as desired by the willingly faithful. Those unwilling or unfaithful need not worry; there is no shortage of values from which they can choose, and by rejecting any objective authority by which to judge, all choices can be the right choices. After all, postmodernists find truth to be a human invention, and no merely human construct can legitimately restrict another’s personal choices. Tolerance and diversity reign over the just and unjust alike, with “choice” being the talisman guaranteed to rationalize most any behavior.

Ironically, in the current gale of tolerance and diversity there is one topic of discussion for which the talisman of choice can only be protected by making one choice taboo – strictly off limits and considered dangerous. Once religion surrendered its cognitive relevance, postmodern society adopted a naturalistic worldview that rejects any ultimate reality beyond matter itself, including any transcendent absolutes. With respect to the Ultimate Question, the unyielding adherence to the philosophy of naturalism predictably yields a scientific method that steadfastly requires one absolute–that only natural causes can be used to explain our existence. Regardless of the actual truth of the matter (and there is an actual truth of the matter), scientific objectivity is jettisoned, as the discussion of origins is limited solely to the how of naturalistic processes. We are no longer permitted to talk about the whether.

Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education and described once as the “police chief” of the Darwinian establishment, is not alone in her insistence that “the whether” is out of the question. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) agrees:

The scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming. Those opposed to the teaching of evolution sometimes use quotations from prominent scientists out of context to claim that scientists do not support evolution. However, examination of the quotations reveals that the scientists are actually disputing some aspect of how evolution occurs, not whether evolution occurred.[2]

But should we be talking about “the whether”? Is there not a connection between truth and consequences, between belief and actions? Is it surprising that discussion of “the whether” inescapably implicates the value-imposers of both religion and politics precisely because the answer to “the whether” implies something for both?  If the scientific conclusion affects legal, social, political, ethical, and, yes, even theological values, shouldn’t institutions of science be eager to permit open and honest dialog on the topic?

We should be talking about “the whether” because, not surprisingly, everybody does something about it. Children who grow up learning the “fact” that they are a result of purposeless processes that never had them in mind predictably act in harmful ways. If an adult is convinced that he is merely an animal, he will fulfill his role admirably in socially destructive ways. Like thunder following lightning, just a flash of “how, not if” in origins sets of the delayed-but-sure reverberations of “how, not if” in behavior that most find unacceptable. Precisely because the naturalistic creation story of Darwinism entails a questionable ethic with foreseeable consequences, and the value of these consequences can be rightly questioned, we must permit an open dialog among dissenters to the accepted wisdom of the philosophy of naturalism.

Despite Darwinists who are quick to stress their religious bona fides to appease those who are differently religious, their ban on public discourse of “the whether” is effectual and absolute. Unfortunately for students of science, when it comes to the important question of their origin, Darwinism has donned the mantle of dogma, its disciples denying any dissenting discussion or differing opinion. Should a scientist make the mistake of talking about “the whether” in public, a storm of invective, ad hominem and insult will be unleashed without restraint. And should more bullying be necessary, self-proclaimed protectors of liberty remain ever vigilant like dark clouds on the horizon, conspicuous reminders of the ubiquitous threat of lawsuits. Add law to religion, politics and science, and in academia, from grade school to universities, when it comes to origins theories discussion of “the whether” is effectively quashed.

But what if naturalism is wrong? Unless “the whether” of naturalistic evolution can be talked about, society will continue to act according to humanistic values dictated by naturalism, with predictably negative consequences. Progress starts by permitting dissenters to our culture’s current creation story a place at the table for a frank discussion about “the whether.” Only by allowing the free flow of ideas—including discussion of scientific evidence that reasonably implies the existence of supernatural intelligence—that explore this question with an honest assessment of evidence-based facts, can we ever expect to advance our understanding in a rationally meaningful manner.

Intelligent design theory supplies evidence-based facts that lead to scientific questions challenging the reigning naturalistic creation story. Asking if one can tell whether an apparently designed thing is an actually designed thing is the stuff of science. Institutions of science today suppress the design question by insisting that all scientists huddle under the tattering umbrella of naturalism. And unless Eugenie Scott, the NAS, and other guardians of Darwin’s flame recognize discussion of “the whether” as legitimately important, thereby liberating science to

[1] Eugenie Scott is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Inc. This quote from an interview entitled “Eugenie Scott: Nature of Science”,

[2] National Academy of Sciences, Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1999), p. 28 (emphasis in original).

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