Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks often of his religion—but he tailors it to fit his politics, and it focuses on works over faith
J. Budziszewski is a government professor—with an emphasis in political philosophy and ethics—at The University of Texas at Austin and a nationally known Christian social conservative. Among his recent books: How to Stay Christian in College, On the Meaning of Sex, Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law. I interviewed Budziszewski in Austin about his critique of the Darwinist theory that underlies many academic ideologies.
You were a socialist at the University of Chicago, but left college after two years. I thought that if I was serious I should get out into the world, mingle with the proletariat, and learn a trade, so I dropped out and that’s what I did.
You moved to Tampa and became a welder. I found a want ad that said, “Welder’s helpers needed. Must be willing to work.” I showed up and said, “I’m willing to work, but I don’t know how to do this.” They didn’t care.
As you became a welder, what did you learn about your fellow proletarians? I found revolution was not on their radar screen. True, they had a certain resentment toward the bosses, but a lot of them wanted to start small businesses and be bosses on their own. By the way, they were just as suspicious of the union bosses as they were of the company bosses.
After two years you went back to college and eventually received a Ph.D. at Yale. I realized I needed to be back in school: Something in me was not fulfilled by this kind of life. I needed to get into the intellectual life. That’s what I’m made for.
And you eventually realized you’re made to be a follower of Christ? Eventually. Fundamentally, I had abandoned Him because I didn’t want God to be God and wanted myself to be God—the usual reason. But I found that it’s hard to place limits on the denial of fundamental reality; it became harder and harder to believe anything at all. After a dozen years, God granted me the perception that my own condition was objectively evil. This broke through my denials. When I realized that I had been wrong—about everything—I gave in completely and returned to Him.
What made you a critic of Darwinism? After returning to Christian faith I thought, “Natural selection: Fine. That’s what God did. He arranged for the universe to function in such a manner that natural selection could produce what we see.” It wasn’t for theological or biblical reasons that I began to develop doubts. It was for scientific reasons—purely, exclusively. I looked at the data. I spent more than a year reading both pro- and anti-Darwinist accounts and discovered that the Darwinist explanations don’t explain what they purport to explain.
‘The most distinctive things about us—what Christians call our spiritual qualities—can’t be explained by natural selection.’
Can you name something that natural selection doesn’t explain? The most distinctive things about us—what Christians call our spiritual qualities—can’t be explained by natural selection. Tell me the adaptive value of a sense of beauty. Or say you are moved to awe by Bach’s Air on the G String: How does awe help you to pass on your genes to the next generation? One sociobiologist, an atheist, speculated that a gene for believing in God would help social groups cohere. But then why not just have a gene for cohering? Why should natural selection first produce a gene that makes us need to believe in something nonexistent, and later produce another that makes us think it does exist? Besides, I haven’t noticed that believing in God does make people cohere. It can make them war against each other because they worship different gods. These are such crazy, made-up, ex post facto explanations.
Does evolution explain origins? Many people think, “I don’t have to wonder about the origin of the universe because evolution has already explained it.” Even if natural selection explained the origin of species, it doesn’t explain the origin of a universe in which natural selection can operate. You need a universe in the first place, and it has to work a certain way. Why is there something instead of nothing? And why this something instead of a different one? Perhaps you say, “I believe in a multiverse, an infinity of universes. We just have the luck to live in one which includes us.”What happened to Occam’s razor? It seems extravagant to postulate an infinity of universes just to avoid the necessity of believing in God. And it doesn’t work anyway, because then you have to ask why there is a multiverse instead of nothing, and why it is organized in one way and not another.
What do you think of theistic evolution? Well, theistic evolution is an ambiguous term. One doesn’t have to deny that there is such a thing as natural selection. It does explain things like why finch beaks get longer and shorter. But it is logically and philosophically implausible that natural selection could explain the human spiritual attributes we’ve mentioned, because they have no adaptive value. So if theistic evolution means God made the universe but natural selection took over from there, it’s nonsense.
Lots of Christians don’t want secular friends and colleagues to think of them as idiots. If you want to be protected against being considered an idiot you have to stop worrying about whether you’re considered an idiot. Come out of hiding. Stop avoiding the issues. Go on the offensive. Talk back. Demand that the other side present its reasons. Examine its logic. Don’t allow the opponent to define idiocy as not accepting the conventional opinions. Real idiocy is fear of following the evidence to its conclusions.
I’ve saved the hardest question for last: What does “J.” stand for in J. Budziszewski? Did I mention that I am not the only J. Budziszewski? Hard to believe, isn’t it? One of the others complained to me that he was losing clients because people were getting us confused. But what the “J.” stands for, or whether it stands for anything, really is a hard question, because I’ll never tell.
—J. Budziszewski blogs at undergroundthomist.org