San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Evolution or Intelligent Design?

THERE are four metaphysical, that is, reasoned, proofs for the existence of God: the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, eternal truth and the argument from design. They are rarely heard nowadays from even the most passionate prelate, because most religions have abandoned the futile struggle to reconcile faith with reason and have returned to their home base in faith.


Consequently, it is a major surprise to read that the Christian fundamentalists of the U.S. city of Seattle, who of all people emphasize the supremacy of faith, have launched a ferocious attack on the neo- Darwinians under the banner of “intelligent design.”


In brief, their reasoning is that extremely complex body parts such as the eye could not possibly have evolved by the slow and chancy process of mutation and natural selection, as the Darwinians insist. That being so, they could only have been created by a supremely competent designer, i.e., God, who could put all the interlocking parts together at one time. And if this is true, then Darwin’s teaching (which we developed over millions of years of random change and survival of the fittest) must be false.


We might safely leave the combatants to battle it out by themselves, except that some public schools in areas of strong faith have taken to teaching intelligent design in preference to Darwinian evolution, inviting legal action by outraged nonbelievers. It must be emphasized that this has little to do with the question of religious teaching in public schools, which, contrary to popular belief, is not prohibited by the First Amendment.


What it does have to do with is the intransigence of both sides, each of which insists that the other has no right to an audience. So this is simply act two of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which the Darwinians were put in the dock and triumphed not because of the rightness of their cause but because of a legal technicality having nothing to do with the principles at stake. Thus, pending court proceedings, we have a splendid opportunity to tell either or both sides how to go about their business.


For example, speaking for the Darwinians, we may ask who created our vestigial and useless tail and appendix, and why; or, more painfully, why an intelligent designer ordained the progressive narrowing of the female pelvis while the fetal head continued to expand. Or, speaking for the fundamentalists, we might ask how the London starlings contrived to darken their protective coloration within a few years to match the soot-covered landscape of the Industrial Revolution, and back again after the great cleanup; or how the common influenza virus mutated in a matter of months into a strain that killed nearly 50 million people in 1918-19.


The answer to this last question opens up such a can of worms concerning the reason for differential mutation rates that I cannot imagine how any honest jury could decide on the facts, which promises a rousing fight. So, as the weather people say, we are keeping a close eye on developments.


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