Do "Darwinists" Really Lack Compassion?

By Steven Mahone

David Klinghoffer has exploited the recent national tragedies to insult people he calls “Darwinists,” a term that he incorrectly conflates with callousness, indifference, and atheism. My colleague Steven Mahone was unimpressed by Klinghoffer’s post, penned the following reply, and graciously agreed to share it with our readers.

Update, April 24: Mr Mahone seems to have gotten Mr. Klinghoffer’s attention.

David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute is despondent over the recent string of tragic events that have befallen our nation. This despondency is understandable – especially since every mentally healthy person I’ve come across either in person or on social media shares essentially the same sorrow and anguish for those who were affected. Which is why I’m confused as to the intent of Klinghoffer’s recent online article, If Darwinists [sic] won the debate, what would they say to impart comfort, meaning to those in grief? In that article, Klinghoffer seems to imply that it would be a difficult task indeed for anyone who’s not inclined to pre-order the latest “game changing” polemics from his colleagues Berlinski, Meyer, or Luskin, to offer genuine consolation or even a sincere word of encouragement to anyone who is in need. Klinghoffer is convinced that while those cold, heartless, and impersonal men and women of material science might be able to cure the disease, afterwards you’d better not expect anything more than a firm handshake.

Kinghoffer is wrong. He is wrong not because he knows less than anyone else about our human condition but because he doesn’t know any more than anyone else about what it “all means.” If Jerry Coyne (an accomplished molecular geneticist singled out for attack by Klinghoffer) discovered tomorrow that a capital-D designer was solely responsible for every allele, codon, and nucleotide in our genome, he might not change his mind without kicking and screaming, but he’d eventually relent. And guess what? My suspicion is that after the dust settled, Rocky Road would still taste just as sweet for Jerry, and the pain of a lost loved one would still be no less heartbreaking.

On the other hand, should there be no designer and no ultimate explanation beyond what we can grasp and appreciate in the here and now, then I would not be surprised one bit if Klinghoffer still found a way to get his children to school on time, and I doubt that he would be any less concerned for their well-being and happiness than he is right now. Like it or not, that’s the best answer to the question posed in Klinghoffer’s column: Anyone who cares is someone who can comfort. Anyone who has ever been hurt is someone who can offer insight into what it takes to deal with grief. And anyone who has ever contemplated what is important in this life has already found meaning and purpose. Klinghoffer can speculate further for himself but he accomplishes nothing of value to do so for the rest of us.

What Klinghoffer and many of the likeminded fellows at his institute do not appreciate, is that this answer is good enough. We deal with devastation and suffering by helping others to overcome their grief because that in itself provides the hope we will all need to carry on. We empathize with those who are dying because we know it is our fate as well and we’ll do our best to assure them that everything that they did to make a difference in this life will live on for just as long as it is needed.

A number of years ago I had a radio debate with the Discovery Institute’s Jay Richards, who insisted that the universe was designed in such a way that we could imply purpose and meaning simply because of our privileged place in the Cosmos. I then asked him what it meant for our “privileged place” when over 99.9999 % of the universe is completely inhospitable and indifferent to us. Let me paraphrase his roundabout answer: “I’m really not sure.” Actually, not a bad answer, but not all that comforting either. Welcome to Mr. Klinghoffer’s club.

Steven Mahone is an Engineer and a founding member of Colorado Citizens for Science.