The Mind of the Maker
AS I AM SURE has been covered in the English press, Kansas’ board of education recently voted that a particular theory of evolution would not be included on the state’s education tests; at which vote people who never stop praising diversity and intellectual freedom and respect for alternative realities and new paradigms and the challenging of orthodoxies, reacted like a Spanish inquisitor faced with Friedrich Nietzsche.
I don’t greatly care whether the theory of evolution is right or wrong. As both Newman and Chesterton noted, God could create the world quickly or slowly, and as long as one believes that He created the world and all that is therein, the way in which He did so can be left to the scientists to ponder. The problem, as it has turned out, is that mainstream scientists since Darwin have insisted on answering the question by ruling out in advance the possibility of creation, quick or slow.
As the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said five years ago, “It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent. . . . Natural selection excluded God as the explanation accounting for the obvious design of organisms.”
So such scientists ruled out a religious answer by insisting on . . . a religious answer. I’m sure this explains the chattering classes’ horror at the vote in Kansas: this was not a simple mistake they could laugh away but a gross heresy, and a heresy that had actually gotten some public approval, enough approval, in fact, to take away their monopoly on religious instruction in the public schools of Kansas.
Evidence of a creator
Looking at the question without any dogmatic commitment, it is certainly possible that a divine power might one day have said “Let there be elephants! Let there be aardvarks!” Science cannot prove that a divine agent was at work, but scientists can look at all the possible explanations for elephants and aardvarks and (if the evidence requires it) eliminate the others.
It is only a commitment to materialism that prevents them from doing so, as scholars like Philip Johnson in his Darwin on Trial have shown (and shown from their own words). There is for them, for all practical purposes, no God, but they still have to explain this enormously complex world. The only explanation left them is that it developed as it did from random and impersonal forces, which Darwin — intending to exclude God — called natural selection.
This essentially religious commitment explains why in spite of the huge holes in the evidence they act as if natural selection is true. But in fact the world itself shows that it had a designer who knew what He was doing, evidence which can be seen by scientific investigation without reference to religious principles. (Though it has, of course, religious implications, not least the revival of arguments from design for the existence of God.)
This observation of the facts at hand is called “Intelligent Design” and is the subject of a special double issue of Touchstone, which I very much commend to you (information for ordering it follows). The guest editor, William Dembski, whose The Design Inference was published last year by Cambridge University Press, gathered thirteen of the major figures in the field, including Philip Johnson and Michael Behe.
The authors explain the idea of intelligent design and the failures of Darwinism and of the modern “neo-Darwinist” attempt to rescue the theory. They also expose not only Darwinism’s philosophical bias but the intellectual tricks — and often pure bullying — by which its advocates advance the increasingly discredited theory as if it were self-evident and eternal truth.
Perhaps the easiest aspect of intelligent design to explain here is Behe’s “irreducible complexity.” Behe, the author of Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, explains in his article that an “irreducibly complex” system is one that can only work when all parts are present and put together properly. This sort of system cannot have evolved gradually because it does nothing useful until it is complete.
Look at a mousetrap. A mousetrap cannot evolve because to catch a mouse it must have all the pieces together and in working order. Accidentally adding a piece of cheese to a flat piece of wood does not begin the evolution of the mousetrap because the cheese does not increase the thing’s ability to survive — it will be not naturally selected because it doesn’t do anything. Thus a mousetrap is clearly designed.
Behe shows that we now know, as Darwin didn’t, that this is true of human, animal, and even plant cells. Cells are filled with irreducibly complex systems, for example the one that sends proteins to the right parts of the cell and not to others. His explanation of these systems is too complex to repeat (you should, as I said, order the issue), but it does seem conclusive.
A nagging worry
Unless I miss my guess, some of you will be squirming, because in the public mind rejecting Darwinism is so closely associated with backwoods fundamentalists with floppy Bibles and shotguns who, as the joke goes, go to family reunions to find a wife.
In his article Johnson exposes several of the tricks by which dogmatic evolutionists cover the lack of evidence for their claims. One is to act as if their only critics were seven-day creationists intent on imposing a religious doctrine and ignoring the scientific evidence. To avoid this, Johnson favors the title “empiricists” rather than “creationists” for his movement, which in fact includes scientists who do not believe in God.
Another trick, pulled in its guidebook on teaching evolution by our own National Academy of Sciences — equivalent in status and power to your Royal Society — is to use evidence that doesn’t actually prove the point. One of the favorite examples, featured in the guidebook, is the fact that the bills of finches on the Galapagos Islands get bigger after a drought, when they need to crack bigger and harder nuts.
This, said the NAS, is “a particularly interesting example of contemporary evolution.” The problem, as you have already noted, is that this change does not produce a new bird, it only produces bigger beaked finches.
Even worse, the article to which the guidebook referred but which it (surely intentionally) did not cite by title was called “Oscillating Selection in Darwin’s Finches”
and it noted that after a flood, the finches’ beaks returned to normal. It is as if one were to predict the evolution of a superman, having found that whenever the local football team started winning, the local men gained twenty pounds because they spent more time than usual sitting in front of the television drinking ale and eating crisps.
The development of complexity is a case where Christians can be the better scientists, unburdened as we are by certain restrictive religious dogmas. Darwin said that if “any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” You can now hear the crash, and in the silence that follows the voice of Genesis 1.
David Mills is director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and editor of The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Eerdmans). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
Copies of the “Intelligent Design” issue of Touchstone can be ordered with a credit card from the circulation manager, Bobby Maddex, at < firstname.lastname@example.org >. A single copy is $8.00 plus $3.00 postage anywhere in the world. (The magazine, subtitled “A Journal of Mere Christianity,” brings together Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox to imaginatively present the Faith and criticize secularism).