What have been the prevailing creationist/intelligent design explanations for the origin and development of organic beings and how have these views been challenged by Darwin’s theory of evolution?
Charles Darwin’s publication of the theory of evolution through natural selection is one of the pivotal moments in the history of science. But the theory was unveiled only in the middle of 19th century, by when great strides have already been made in other fields of science. Yet, when compared to the complexity and cumbersomeness of theories in the fields of astronomy, quantum physics or discrete mathematics, Darwin’s theory is remarkable for its simplicity. Despite this fact the theory has generated a lot of controversy – both among the general public and among intellectuals. Leading the aggression are the religiously orthodox, who see a threat to the tenets of their faith. To overcome their insecurities they adopt one of two approaches. First, they try to reject evolution as valid scientific theory for want of adequate evidence supporting it. When this fails, they co-opt the theory into a religious understanding and project the process of evolution as God’s will in action. Needless to say these defenses are the hubris of the defeated. The rest of this essay will present some prevailing creationist explanations and their successful refutation by Darwin’s theory of evolution.
In the article Designer Thinking by Mark S. Blumberg, the author counters a common rhetorical ploy by creationists. Creationists find it easy to invoke God for explaining the complex design and functioning of organs such as the eye. At first it is a seemingly sound argument, for it is difficult to believe that an organ as sophisticated as the eye could have formed through random mutations. But here is a profound misunderstanding of Darwin’s theory. The theory never claimed that organs pop into existence out of nowhere. Rather, when minute random mutations are empowered by the vast expanses of geological time, remarkable transformations occur. The eye, for all its splendor and sophisticated working, began its journey as a group of light-sensitive cells on the skin of a primitive species. As Darwin explained in Origin of Species, “numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case”. (Blumberg) Hence the seemingly robust argument from the ‘intelligent design’ camp is shown to be based upon a miscomprehension of how evolution works.
The members of the school board who decide upon curricula might find the ‘intelligent design’ argument intuitive. They may even find it appealing to common sense. But as Darwin himself and his later disciples like Mark Blumberg have shown there is neither the application of intelligence nor any evidence for design in how complex organs come into being. It is equally reassuring to note that despite the complexity and advanced functionality of organs and organisms, they have numerous imperfections as well – the blind spot being the most glaring one. Any divine creator for the eye would not have committed such a fundamental design error. It is these imperfections that decide the debate in favor of evolution. As evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould once noted, “Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution – paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.” (Blumberg)
Scholar Richard Milner’s article Darwin in Court reminds us, evolution is now being attacked by school authorities and courts alike. Nowhere is this phenomenon is nowhere more blatant than in the United States, where conservative Christians have considerable political sway. Even among the general population a substantial percentage identify themselves as practicing Christians. Within this group there is a contingency that takes the Bible quite literally along with its myths and dogma. In those states where conservatives are powerful they’ve regulated school curricula to either ban evolution or make its teaching optional. They’ve even started promoting Intelligent Design (ID) as a ‘new’ scientific theory – something that falsifies evolution and renders it obsolete. (http://www.intelligentdesign.org/) The evangelical fervor that was previously restricted to Churches has been brought into the classroom and the courtroom. These developments are nothing short of an abuse of freedom of expression and distortion of scientific truths. Although those supporting ID may succeed in their attempts at social engineering, their victory will be short lived. This is so, for no amount of politics and propaganda can suppress truth forever. It is in this spirit that the board of directors for a school should allow free scientific inquiry and open teaching of evolution.
Creationists claim that the atheism inherent in the theory of evolution is a license for anarchy and amorality. But as Edward O. Wilson reminds us in his article ‘Intelligent Evolution’, religions have actually harmed more than they have helped humanity. One of the dangers he alludes to is the easy affiliation of religion to tribalism – as was so tragically witnessed in the early half of twentieth century Europe. This combination is quite lethal for all communities that fall outside the dominant tribal identity. Wilson proposes that to counter such base impulses in humans the promotion of ‘scientific humanism’ is imperative. The ideas of Charles Darwin are a great ally in this progressive socio-political project. It is hasty to dismiss Darwin’s theories as intrinsically atheistic. Darwin showcases to humans the origins of their own primitive impulses and the crude socio-ecological conditions under which those traits evolved (first in Africa and later further outside the continent). Through this exposition Darwin lays an implicit challenge to the reader – he can continue to act out his programmed animal ways or use his infinite cognitive potential to design a better life. It is for this reason that Darwin should be an integral part of any school curriculum. To introduce Darwin to the impressionable minds of students is to open up their intellectual horizons and to stimulate their critical imagination. (http://www.richarddawkins.net/)
In the interesting article Sex, Drugs and DNA: Sciences Taboos Confronted, author Michael Stebbins makes a strong pitch to educators. He identifies the causes for the decay of the American education system and implores educators and administrators to correct course. Talking of the reduced critical thinking ability of American students, he notes,
“this has been a trend in the US for decades as the public education system was left to rot. The conservative policies that are currently growing and causing anti-science rhetoric throughout society are a symptom of educational neglect, not the cause. It does, however, contribute to a feedback loop whereby growing misunderstanding leads to failures in science education, which leads to improperly trained teachers, poorly educated students, political and societal fear and further decay.” (Stebbins)
It is critically important that we take necessary steps to prevent such as fate.
Edward O. Wilson, Article 2.1 – Intelligent Evolution, Issue 2 – Is Intelligent Design Theory Scientifically Sound? pp. 39-45.
Mark S. Blumberg, Article 2.2 – Designer Thinking, Issue 2 – Is Intelligent Design Theory Scientifically Sound? pp. 46-55.
Richard Milner, Article 2.3 – Darwin in Court, Issue 2 – Is Intelligent Design Theory Scientifically Sound? pp. 56-61
Michael Stebbins, Sex, Drugs and DNA: Sciences Taboos Confronted, Issue 2 – Is Intelligent Design Theory Scientifically Sound? pp. 62-68
Intelligent Design, Center for Science & Culture, url:http://www.intelligentdesign.org/ accessed on 9th October 2013
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason, Innovating for a Secular World, url:http://www.richarddawkins.net/ accessed on 9th October 2013
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