No Friends in High Places

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Creationists frame their debate with Darwinists as about the past, for example, insisting we didn't descend from apes but did coexist with dinosaurs at the Earth's biblical beginning 6,000 years ago. Darwinists shouldn't buy that framing because what's really driving the creationist isn't the past but the future, and their fantasy of shaping it by divine intervention.

For the religious, Gods are omnipotent friends in high places. Pray right and you can get your God to override natural law on your behalf. People have long petitioned supernatural powers to pull such strings, and yet, for all the talk of miracles, we find not a single case of divine intervention that isn't hearsay or easily explained away as coincidence well within the realm of the naturally possible.

Miracles overriding natural law don't stand up to the kind of everyday scrutiny even the most devout creationists employ on practical questions. Creationists won't take a plane, drive a car or have surgery made safe by prayer alone. They love prayer but rely on scientific standards, standards that not one supposed miracle ever withstood. Praying may change you, but it doesn't change nature.

It's either childish or arrogant to think God will pull strings for you, turning nature off or upside down to give you some leg up. Intelligent design is really just a wish that God will override nature whenever you decide it would be intelligent for him to do so.

And where God doesn't override nature, creationists do it for him by simply ignoring nature on His supposed behalf -- the divine intervention of willful ignorance.


It's hardly humble to think that God or nature do your bidding if you pray nicely or believe fervently. Altering our futures requires us to admit finally that belief in divine intervention is arrogant. It's time to humble ourselves before the reliability of natural law, lest we go the way of the dinosaurs.

With a Perspective, I'm Jeremy Sherman.

Jeremy Sherman teaches evolutionary epistemology at the University of San Francisco.