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FIRST-PERSON: Getting over our love for Darwin

Editor’s note: Today, Nov. 24, is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Charles Darwin published his “Origin of Species” in 1859. There he presented the classic formulation of his theory of evolution. Lady Ashley, reacting to the theory at the time, remarked, “Let’s hope that it’s not true; but if it is true, let’s hope that it doesn’t become widely known.” Lady Ashley’s second hope has failed: Darwin’s theory is everywhere and has now become textbook orthodoxy. This year, universities around the globe are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species as well as the 200th anniversary of his birth.

But what about Lady Ashley’s hope that Darwin’s theory is false? Darwin presented a bleak picture of ourselves: We are mere modified apes; we are the “winners” in a brutal competitive evolutionary process, most of whose players are “losers,” wiped off the evolutionary scene before they could leave a legacy; the traditional Christian view that we are made in God’s image is simply a story we tell to convince ourselves that we’re special.

Intelligent Design supporters like me view Darwin’s theory as untrue and even as laughable: The theory purports to give a materialistic account of life’s development once life is already here, but it has a gaping hole at the start since matter gives no evidence of being able to organize itself from non-life into life. The fossil record, especially the sudden emergence of most animal body plans in the Cambrian explosion, sharply violates Darwinian expectations about the historical pattern of evolutionary change. The nano-engineering found in the DNA, RNA, and proteins of the cell far exceeds human engineering and remains completely unexplained in Darwinian terms.

Darwin lovers are quick to reject such complaints. After all, as novelist Barbara Kingsolver declares, Darwin’s idea of natural selection is “the greatest, simplest, most elegant logical construct ever to dawn across our curiosity about the workings of natural life. It is inarguable, and it explains everything.” Kingsolver is no fan of Christianity. Yet many Darwin lovers are Christian. Francis Collins, who directs the National Institutes of Health, is a Christian Darwinist. Leaving aside a healthy skepticism that regards every scientific theory as refutable in light of new evidence, Collins exempts Darwinian evolution from such skepticism: “evolution, as a mechanism, can be and must be true.”

Any theory that explains everything and that can and must be true is either the greatest thing since sliced bread or the greatest swindle ever foisted on gullible intellectuals. The Intelligent Design community takes the latter view, siding here with Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote: “I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it’s been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books in the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has.”

Still, it’s easy to understand why so flimsily a supported theory garners such vast support. It provides the creation story for an atheistic worldview. If atheism is true, then something like Darwinian evolution must follow. Hence, any attack on Darwin becomes an attack on the atheistic secularism that pervades our culture. Nonetheless, even though atheism implies Darwinism, the reverse is not true: Darwinism does not imply atheism. Indeed, Christian theists who embrace Darwin abound.

The wedding between Darwinism and Christianity, however, is an uneasy one. To be sure, plenty of marriages are uneasy, and uneasy marriages are often endured because divorce can entail more difficulties than endurance. Thus, when I got involved with the evolution controversy 20 years ago, I naively thought that any Christian, given sufficient evidence against Darwinism, would immediately jump ship. Darwinian evolution, according to Cornell historian of biology Will Provine, is “the greatest engine of atheism ever invented.” Why should Christians stick with such an engine when it’s no longer needed?

Little did I realize how infatuated many Christians are with Darwin. Having convinced themselves that design is an outdated religious dogma, they embraced Darwinism as a form of enlightenment. And having accommodated their faith to Darwin, they became loath to reexamine whether Darwinism is true at all. Unlike Lady Ashley, Christian Darwinists hope that Darwinism is true. But is it really? In this year of Darwinian bacchanalias, let us soberly reassess whether Darwin’s theory is indeed true. And if the evidence goes against it, as the Intelligent Design community is successfully demonstrating, then let’s be done with it. In that case, reconciling Christianity with Darwinism becomes a vain exercise, solving a problem that no longer exists.
William Dembski is research professor in philosophy and director of the Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and author or coauthor of several books, including “The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems” and “The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design.”

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  • William A. Dembski