Skip to comments.Survival of the Evolution Debate: Why Darwin is still a lightning rod.
Posted on 01/07/2006 7:44:07 PM PST by MRMEAN
WHAT IS IT ABOUT EVEN the slightest dissent from Darwin's theory of natural selection that drives liberal elites (and even some conservative elites) bonkers? In the 1920s, in the days of the Scopes trial, it was the fact that anyone could believe the story of Genesis in a literal way that offended the delicate sensibilities of our cultural mavens. Then in the 1970s it was something called "creation science" that drove them apoplectic. Today it is the heresy of "intelligent design" that they seek to extirpate root and branch. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, liberals are haunted by the specter that someone, somewhere harbors doubts about Darwin's theory.
But in truth most people nowadays do believe evolution's basics--which is to say that species evolve--and most people believe that natural selection explains part of the change or adaptation. Where there is doubt or disagreement, as there always has been, is over whether natural selection explains everything. Despite what you might think from reading the New York Times, there is nothing indecent or philistine about this question, a question Darwin himself considered of the utmost importance. As he commented in On the Origin of Species, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
Enter in the 1990s the intelligent design movement, also known simply as ID, an interconnected group of biochemists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science who argue that certain forms of biological complexity, what they call "irreducible complexity," cannot in fact come into being by Darwin's "numerous, successive, slight modifications" but require instead an intelligent designer. Some scientists with first-rate credentials, namely Michael J. Behe and William Dembski, are the driving intellectual force behind the theory of intelligent design. Relying in particular on recent discoveries in biochemistry and mathematical physics, they argue that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection cannot explain the existence of some complex biological systems. That is to say, the emergence of these systems is neither mathematically nor biochemically plausible without some intelligent designer in the background. For example, according to the biochemist Behe, we haven't a clue how certain highly complex biological systems at the cellular level, such as the mechanism of blood clotting, could have emerged via natural selection. "All parts must function in synchrony or the system breaks down," he explains.
In making such claims the IDers are putting old wine in a new bottle. Some version of the design thesis is to be found in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and, perhaps most famously, in the writings of William Paley. The 18th-century English theologian argued that when we find a watch we infer a watchmaker; so too when we discover evidence of design in nature we properly infer a Maker or Creator. The basic point is that one can make a legitimate, rational inference from the orderliness and regularity of the cosmos to some sort of intelligent first mover. And it's important to point out that this inference was thought, up until recent times, to stand on its own merits, requiring no assistance from Divine Revelation.
In rejecting this inference, Darwin himself was hardly a path breaker, though clearly his assault on the inference was one of the most powerful ever made. For example, before him, the philosopher David Hume unleashed an influential critique of the notion of what he called an "intelligent cause"--a notion he viewed as utterly useless and uncertain. In sum: This is a venerable debate, indeed, and one that has never been settled.
But is this really a scientific debate, a question that science in the strict or modern sense of the term can solve? Here's where things get tricky. It is the contention of many IDers that their case for intelligent design is science, and that it should thus be taught as a part of the science curriculum in the public schools. Similarly, it is the mantra of the Discovery Institute, a think tank dedicated to furthering the cause of intelligent design, that the controversy between intelligent design and natural selection should be a part of any science curriculum. Even President Bush has weighed in on the matter, declaring that "both sides ought to be properly taught."
ID's liberal critics disagree, calling intelligent design a cover for religion, and in late December, in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover, a federal judge reached the same conclusion. At issue was the constitutionality of including in the science curriculum the reading of the following statement: "Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. . . . With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind."
Though this statement might seem innocuous enough, Judge John Jones III, an appointee of George W. Bush, concluded that "the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity," and thus to teach their theories runs afoul of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Certainly, the Discovery Institute has made clear its goal "to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."
What is one to make of this latest skirmish in our nation's culture wars? Often overlooked is the fact that one does not have to be a card-carrying liberal to have qualms about the modern-day rendition of intelligent design, and that there is much more to this story than either Orthodox Darwinians or IDers are willing to admit.
The philosopher Robert George of Princeton argues that IDers have, to be sure, performed a useful service in their critical program. They have better than most shown how natural selection comes up short as a universal meta-explanation. And they have also highlighted how many of today's popularizers of Darwinism, for example biologists Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould, have misused Darwinian theory as a battering-ram against religion. Dawkins, for one, famously stated that "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist," and that "if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane."
Well, if the point of Darwinism is to refute the existence of God, as these popularizers tend to claim, then it too would have to be excluded from the science curriculum. The Supreme Court, after all, has ruled that the state must remain neutral between religion and irreligion. In their more heated polemics, Darwin's popularizers paint themselves into this intellectual corner.
However that may be, George raises serious questions about the constructive aspect of the IDers' program, the point at which they attempt to replace natural selection with intelligent design. As George points out, there's nothing wrong with making an inference from biological complexity to an intelligent designer, an inference that is perfectly rational, even if it is not "scientific" per se. Aquinas, after all, was a great rationalist. "It is important for IDers to avoid buying into an imperialistic understanding of science, which says that if it's not the scientific method it's not rational," he comments. What's needed is not a "scientific" refutation of Darwin, but a philosophic understanding of what Darwinian theory says, and what it does not say.
Stephen Barr, a theoretical physicist at the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware, and a frequent contributor to the journal First Things on matters of science and culture, also believes that some IDers have strayed beyond the confines of science strictly understood. As he comments, "The design hypothesis is a perfectly reasonable one, but it is an explanation outside of natural science." Like George, he believes some IDers have erred in trying to shoehorn the design thesis into science curriculums. In doing so, moreover, they make a mistake similar to that of Darwin's popularizers, claiming more for their theory than the science itself allows. "There are dogmatists on both sides of the debate," Barr observes.
The former head of the President's Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, has also been following this debate. A physician and Harvard-trained biochemist, Kass credits IDers for drawing attention to various difficulties in orthodox Darwinian theory, as well as for understanding the human stakes involved in such questions. And he believes IDers are generally right in raising the question of causality--a question that should in fact be at the center of a true science of nature. In other words, these are genuinely important questions. "But the IDers' assertion that the only possible answer is a Designer-God is not warranted. There is simply no evidence in support of this proposition."
It seems pretty clear that ID, as a public teaching, is going to meet the same fate as creation science. This modern update of an older understanding will not soon be taught as part of the science curriculum in our public schools. And this may be a good thing, in so far as it isn't really "science" anyway. What's unfortunate is that the ideology of Darwinism--that is, the mistaken notion that Darwin defeated God--not only reigns culturally supreme, but also apparently increasingly has the legal backing of the state.
The policy question 80 years ago, in the famous Scopes trial, was whether a public school teacher ought to be allowed to teach students about Darwin's theory of evolution. The question of today is nearly the opposite--whether anything other than orthodox Darwinism will be taught in the public schools. This marks not so much enlightenment's progress as a narrowing of our intellectual horizons.
Adam Wolfson is consulting editor of Commentary magazine and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © Copyright 2005, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved
I imagine even the Creator would have had trouble explaining genetics, DNA and evolution to a bunch of bronze age sheep herders. It would be like explaining macroeconomics to a bunch of kindergarteners.
As humans mature, we're allowed to understand more and more of exactly how Creation itself works.
This crap makes us all look stupid.
The Bible's not supposed to be a biology textbook.
LOL. I'll bet you don't frequent these evolution threads much.
Darwin's clerics will be along shortly to tend to your reeducation.
Unlike religions, which rely on the (relative) truth of its founder. And dies likewise.
For example, are viruses alive? I personally say no, but mine isn't the only opinion. (My reasons: Viruses have no metabolism, and can't replicate unless something else does which they subvert. We can eat dead things and still live and reproduce, but viruses can't propagate unless they infect a living cell.) Viruses are very much a gray area between living and dead, anyway. And the Bible is silent on viruses, so that particular doctrine is unilluminating.
You want an example of TRUE irreducible complexity? Go to a camera shop. You will note most cameras have multiple lens in series. Lets you do neat things like Zoom in and other neat tricks that would be very valuable to a creature, yet not a single living thing on Earth has this setup! Just because we are not clever enough to figure out how nature did it does not mean its irreducibly complex!
"How did living things evolve from non living things?"
You are right. Many (not all) Libs, primarily the secularists, desperately want evolution to be taught in schools solely for the reason that it will undermine the Christian faith of the sudents. If the kids weren't required to go to those schools, the Libs would care much less about evolution. After all, how much does macro-evolution really come up in everyday life? Evolution is a vital part of their irreligious views. Like Dawkins said, evolution lets them justify their unbelief in god. That is usually the heart of it for most secularists. Secularism is their religion.
If the human race evolved from one of something, why so many different languages?
It is far from being a semantic question. Life is almost impossible to define and I say almost because maybe somebody will come up with a definition for it someday. Crystalline molecules reproduce. Black pieces of paper convert one spectra of energy, visible light, to another spectra in the infrared reange. Catalysts convert one type of molecule to another and transfer information. Fire consumes complex carbon chains and oxygen, releases heat and light and excretes smoke, and if you've ever seen forest fire jump a break, you've seen it reproduce, too. You might say, "Eventually the fire goes out." Starved of fuel, you and I will also go out.
The difference is that I can make those things, predictably, given a set of rules provided by scientific observation. I can pile all the chemicals in all the right places in all the right proportions onto a hospital bed and I can't make you. Even if it looked like you, it would not be alive.
Now that's a clever answer. See if you can explain it. Go on, we've got all day.
Unlike religions, which rely on the (relative) truth of its founder. And dies likewise.
There he goes again, equating God with religion.
I assume you're having fun. :)
I assume you're having fun. :)
"Darwin's clerics will be along shortly to tend to your reeducation."
And it won't be a pretty sight.
Dave Barry said it best:
Life is anything that dies when you stomp on it.
Full Disclosure: I'd love to read a P.J. O'Rourke piece on the subject.
Playing the role of master debator again? Many religions seem to go on and on. E.g. I haven't seen Mohammed about lately, but we've heard from his adherents as recently as 9-11.
YEC SPOTREP - [yawn]
"See if you can explain it."
UN. Negation. A perfect, symbolic fit for the nihilism of its forebears.
It is an irrelevant non answer. How's that?
"It is an irrelevant non answer. How's that?"
Rather cheeky and impertinent, since you deigned to ask, lol.
Think of life as a game. You make a copy you win. If you die before that, you lose.If you don't care to play only those that do will stay in the game and will eventually become the only living things. If you don't change with time then another player that does will sooner or later drive you to extinction. That's why we now have male and female. It allows for variation without mutation, you just mix and match genes that have already won in the test of time. You get new players every generation that have a chance on having a useful combination.
Life from non life. How did that happen? In order to answer that question you first have to define just what life is. My simple definition is self -replicating information. On the basis of this I make the claim that a new form of life has already been created by man, and it was created accidentally at that! ( By accident I mean that making a life form was not part of the intention to create it, it was man made for an entirely different reason but it just so happens it fits my definition of alive ) What is this brand new life form ? The computer virus , and I hope the dirt bags who make these annoyances never figure out how to make one as "clever" as its biological equivalent! As for how nature created the first life form I predict Saturn's moon Titan will someday yield some very important clues.
(I am not making this up) We were just going over Dave Barry on another board. Awesome stuff, I never heard that definition before.
I beg your pardon! If it's almost impossible to define "life," then you can't get hung up on how "life" began, because you have already admitted you don't know what "life" means.
Incidentally, I think I could do a pretty good job articulating why your examples aren't "alive," but I also think that, given the present state of technology, you could make a virus particle from scratch and it would work, and there are some things even more complex than viruses (that is, even deeper into the gray area of life) that could also be made from scratch. A person today, no, but things that some people consider are "alive," today, yes.
"Think of life as a game. You make a copy you win. If you die before that, you lose."
Where does that come from? It matters. Why would a single celled organism go to the trouble to reproduce? Okay, so over the course of millions of years and trials and errors, the thing has RNA that reacts to certain chemical excesses and initiates a complex reaction which results in two cells instead of one.
Why do the two cells band together? They're supposed to compete with each other.
Finally, an IDer's definition of Darwinism. Now I know what those people mean when they use this strange label.
I absolutely accept evolution and I absolutely accept the existence of God. I am not a Darwinist!
Just for fun, let's see what what sort of comments were elicited from the judge's ruling in the Dover case by Michael Behe's "persuasive" testimony:
On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: "There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred"(22:22-23 (Behe)). Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed. (21:61-62 (complex molecular systems), 23:4-5 (immune system), and 22:124-25 (blood-clotting cascade) (Behe)). In that regard, there are no peer-reviewed articles supporting Professor Behe's argument that certain complex molecular structures are "irreducibly complex."17 (21:62, 22:124-25 (Behe)). In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing. (28:114-15 (Fuller); 18:22-23, 105-06 (Behe)).[emphasis added]
In view of Behe's stunning performance on the witness stand, one is moved to opine that a wooden dummy couldn't have done any worse.
Some people are so high on their own supposed intellect that they are practically insane. I'm speaking of most adherents to the Cult of Evolution.
Unless you're a South Park fan, I don't believe you're ever going to find that a sentient being arises from this process.
Make a single celled organism that is alive, and since you can articulate why my examples aren't alive, articulate why yours is.
And there is still a huge debate over whether virusews are alive.
My edition is paperback, a reprint from Owl Books, 1987.
The inability to replicate is common to all parasites. Even humans can't survive without nutrition provided by other living things.
The difficulty drawing a line between living and nonliving is to be expected in an evolutionary scenario.
We don't know the history of viruses. They may be a relatively recent development, arising after cellular life.
"Sigh. Try reading the essay Barry's Key To Life in Dave Barry's Bad Habits (A 100% Fact-Free Book) Henry Holt and Company, NY."
Does it have the column about the whale in Oregon?
Where does that come from? It matters.
Nobody knows . We are here so it had to happen somehow. We can only guess. Until somebody manages not only to recreate it but to do so in a way that could have happened naturally. I go for the burning bridge theory. DNA was not the first molecule that encoded information. It was something simpler that eventually led to DNA. But DNA was so successful it wiped out all traces of its previous generations, like a bridge you have to cross to get to a point after which the bridge burns down making future generations wonder how they got where they are now.
Why would a single celled organism go to the trouble to reproduce?
Only those that did would win out eventually. Volkswagen stuck stubbornly to the Beetle design for quite a long time but the competition eventually forced them to change or go bankrupt. You only need one self replicating organism that is competitive to occur. After that it wipes out the non competition.
Why do the two cells band together? They're supposed to compete with each other.
This is actually a very profound question! As it turns out the vast history of life is mostly single celled so that whatever combination of cells you needed to have multicellular life was so rare it took most of the history of life for it to happen. Different life forms forming alliances against others does have its advantages though for the same reason a group of people working together is much more successful than a bunch of individuals treating each other as enemies. I think it is the same reason political parties form naturally: strength in unified numbers.
The scene from 2001 that has always stuck with me was the discovery of the stone with the dimensions 1X2X3. Every character in the movie -- and every person who saw the movie with me -- thought its very existence was apodictic proof of an intelligent designer. I have watched the movie several times since, with many different people. Each has made the same assumption. I know because I always make it a point to ask.
"Why would a single celled organism go to the trouble to reproduce?"
"Only those that did would win out eventually. Volkswagen stuck stubbornly to the Beetle design for quite a long time but the competition eventually forced them to change or go bankrupt. You only need one self replicating organism that is competitive to occur. After that it wipes out the non competition."
What do they win, from their perspective, not ours? In other words, why bother? Shouldn't the most successful cell be the one that does not expend excess energy by reproducing?
"As it turns out the vast history of life is mostly single celled so that whatever combination of cells you needed to have multicellular life was so rare it took most of the history of life for it to happen."
That's "Because." If I use something other than copper in my chemistry experiment, the teacher will ask me why the thing is red instead of green. If I tell him that I botched the chemistry and there must be iron present, I have given an answer. If I say that it's rare and it just took a long time to happen, I will get an F.
I have thouhgt it through. What good does it do the original organism? Why does the organism care if it's species continues? Where did that come from?
Reproduction is success is an artificial definition that we impose on the biological system because of our own observations.
No. Suppose you have a country where the natives don't effectively reproduce. (less than 2 kids per couple) They save lots of money they would have had to spend on their kids. Then some Muslims move in who produce 4 kids per couple. Sure the Muslims have to work harder and sacrifice more but what religion do you think that country is going to be after a few centuries? The answer is strength of numbers. You are doubling every generation and the other life form is holding study. That's how a single germ manages to kill a host trillions of times its size.
If I say that it's rare and it just took a long time to happen, I will get an F.
We know it happened from the fossil record. Why it happened is a guess. I did venture a guess, namely an alliance between two different cells gives it more of an advantage than one living alone. I suspect the first grouping of cells acted somewhat like a Portuguese Man-of-War . It's not a single creature but actually a colony of different animals acting together. We do know that once you did get multicellular animals a huge expansion of diversity was let loose. It was definitely an advantage. Funny how folks deny the existance of a puzzle because we don't have all the pieces.
You assume rightly.