April 19, 2007


In the beginning: The debate over creation and evolution, once most conspicuous in America, is fast going global (The Economist, 4/19/07)

Darwin-bashers in America suffered a body-blow in December 2005, when a judge—striking down the policies of a district school board in Pennsylvania—delivered a 139-page verdict that delved deeply into questions about the origin of life and tore apart the case made by the “intelligent design” camp: the idea that some features of the natural world can be explained only by the direct intervention of a ingenious creator.

Intelligent design, the judge found, was a religious theory, not a scientific one—and its teaching in schools violated the constitution, which bars the establishment of any religion. One point advanced in favour of intelligent design—the “irreducible complexity” of some living things—was purportedly scientific, but it was not well-founded, the judge ruled. Proponents of intelligent design were also dishonest in saying that where there were gaps in evolutionary theory, their own view was the only alternative, according to the judge.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which has spearheaded the American campaign to counter-balance the teaching of evolution, artfully distanced itself from the Pennsylvania case, saying the local school board had gone too far in mixing intelligent design with a more overtly religious doctrine of “creationism”. But the verdict made it much harder for school boards in other parts of America to mandate curbs on the teaching of evolution, as many have tried to do—to the horror of most professional scientists.

Whatever the defeats they have suffered on home ground, American foes of Darwin seem to be gaining influence elsewhere. In February several luminaries of the anti-evolution movement in the United States went to Istanbul for a grand conference where Darwin's ideas were roundly denounced. The organiser of the gathering was a Turkish Muslim author and columnist, Mustafa Akyol, who forged strong American connections during a fellowship at the Discovery Institute.

To the dismay of some Americans and the delight of others, Mr Akyol was invited to give evidence (against Darwin's ideas) at hearings held by the Kansas school board in 2005 on how science should be taught. Mr Akyol, an advocate of reconciliation between Muslims and the West who is much in demand at conferences on the future of Islam, is careful to distinguish his position from that of the extravagant publishing venture in his home city. “They make some valid criticisms of Darwinism, but I disagree with most of their other views,” insists the young author, whose other favourite cause is the compatibility between Islam and Western liberal ideals, including human rights and capitalism. But a multi-layered anti-Darwin movement has certainly brought about a climate in Turkey and other Muslim countries that makes sure challenges to evolution theory, be they sophisticated or crude, are often well received.

America's arguments over evolution are also being followed closely in Brazil, where—as the pope will find when he visits the country next month—various forms of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism are advancing rapidly at the expense of the majority Catholic faith. Samuel Rodovalho, an activist in Brazil's Pentecostal church, puts it simply: “We are convinced that the story of Genesis is right, and we take heart from the fact that in North America the teaching of evolution in schools has been challenged.”

Even in the United States, defenders of evolution teaching do not see their battle as won. There was widespread dismay in their ranks in February when John McCain, a Republican presidential candidate, accepted an invitation (albeit to talk about geopolitics, not science) from the Discovery Institute. And some opponents of intelligent design are still recovering from their shock at reading in the New York Times a commentary written, partly at the prompting of the Discovery Institute, by the pope's close friend, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna.

Of course, a jury trial in the Dover case would have arrived at the opposite verdict. Darwinism can only prevail in front of the 13%ers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2007 4:43 PM

So, how do you explain both the inter-relatedness and the diversity of life on earth? Howabout the fossil record? Or the observed evolution of all sorts of bacterial and viral diseases? Must be a pretty crazy designer.
We don't regard Newton as having the final word on the laws of physics, but does that mean we've stopped teaching his ideas in school?
The most significant difference between what you call "Darwinism" and what I call "creationism" is that the latter is grounded in the supernatural. Rather than ground an idea based on the observable interactions between all forms of life and the earth they come from, intelligent design makes a desperate plea to recognize this imaginary, metaphysical power outside life; the same plea that has been used to legitimize authoritarianism, in all its forms, for thousands of years.

Posted by: gupta at April 19, 2007 5:43 PM

Except that Reason isn't based on reason. There is no rational basis for your belief in yourself. You've just chosen a superstition that fits your psyche.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2007 8:04 PM


Either leave the site now, or enjoy it and relent. (it is quite enlightening)

Your quip about authoritarianism is quaint, but utterly backwards. Look at PC judges, purchased school boards, and the lockstep ideology of your own worldview, and you'll quickly notice that the most doctrinaire Christian is more open-minded than any "school board" member.

Posted by: Bruno at April 19, 2007 11:41 PM

The most significant difference between what you call "Darwinism" and what I call "creationism" is that the latter is grounded in the supernatural.

The irony is that even if "Darwinism" is completely correct, we still are left with the fact that evolution greatly favors "creationism", and that "Darwinists" represent an evolutionary dead end for the species. Evolution is telling the Darwinists "Resistance is futile. Sit back and enjoy the ride."

Posted by: BrianOfAtlanta at April 20, 2007 1:21 PM